Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative 6:00 pm, 7th October 2002

I share the implied view of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and would be reluctant to accept the vaccination strategy until the science is clear. I have always been dissuaded from embracing the concept of vaccination until I am sure that it is clear and my recollection is similar to that of the noble Lord's.

For the second time today, I was struck by the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, who was not in his place when I spoke earlier. Previously today he dazzled us with his scholastic knowledge of Greek and he has dazzled us again with his infinite good sense. As I said to the Chamber previously, it is a pity that he did not become the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I turn to the points in the proposed new clause which deal with contingency plans for the stated diseases. Perhaps I may detain the Committee for a few moments by speaking of contingency plans through the eyes of one who between 15 and 19 years ago had the honour of being responsible for them. I want to repeat what I said to the House about 18 months ago.

When I was responsible for such plans, there were three or more scares—I forget precisely—that an outbreak of foot and mouth disease was suspected in the country. Happily, on each occasion it was a false alarm. However, I remember asking officials on each occasion whether they were absolutely sure that in the event of a scare becoming a reality the department was utterly prepared with a contingency plan which followed in close terms the report of the Northumberland committee of 1967. On each occasion, I asked officials to review whether the plan was ready to go if the worst happened. On each occasion, I was told, "Yes, we have looked into it and the contingency plan is ready to move into action". I am sure that that was right and I have no reason to suppose that it was not.

However, there is no doubt that in the intervening 16 years eyes went off the ball. The proposed new clause suggests that the contingency plan for each disease should be identified; that the plan should be published; and that there should be annual testing of the plan. Looking back, 15 to 19 years ago, I must tell the Committee that I wish I had insisted on something similar. I asked the question which needed to be asked and received the answer which I badly wanted to hear. However, it would have been better if we had had an obligation to publish contingency plans for the diseases and to have an annual testing of them. I do not believe that it would have taken enormous resources within the department and it would have been clearly proved.

Like other Members of the Committee, I hope that if the Minister is unable to accept the new clause—my noble friend suggested that she would not be surprised if that were so—he will try to write into the Bill provisions which in the same terms will deal with contingency plans. The old phrase that time spent on reconnaissance is rarely wasted is extremely appropriate in this case.