Foot-and-mouth Disease

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 2 October 2008.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 2:15, 2 October 2008

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2635, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the Scudamore report into foot-and-mouth disease.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 2:58, 2 October 2008

The debate allows us to consider the review by Professor Jim Scudamore, with support from John Ross, of Scotland's response to last year's foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Surrey. I am sure that we all thank Professor Scudamore and John Ross for their substantive and helpful report, which makes several positive recommendations that can only help to protect Scotland's livestock sector through improved preparedness for the future. The report was published just before the summer recess. The debate will help to ensure that the Parliament's views are reflected in how the recommendations are progressed.

Members will recall that the foot-and-mouth outbreak was confirmed on 3 August, following the leak of the virus from the Pirbright site. On confirmation of the disease, the Scottish Government acted quickly to put in place movement restrictions, given the significant uncertainty of disease spread and how devastating its impact can be.

Our handling of those movement restrictions reflected an important lesson that was learned from the 2001 outbreak reviews. Throughout, we worked with stakeholders to minimise the impact of the necessary restrictions. We worked hard to lift them whenever and wherever it was considered safe and appropriate to do so. Our ability to do that was heavily supported by the analytical work on risk levels to Scotland that was undertaken by the Scottish Government's centre of excellence in epidemiology, population health and disease control.

Within days of the restrictions being lifted after the first outbreak, the disease was again confirmed in Surrey on 12 September. That was a devastating body blow to the industry, which had started to see the light at the end of the tunnel after the earlier disruption, and it happened at the peak time of the year for animal movements, particularly in the sheep sector.

It was clear to me that we must do everything that we can to reduce disruption in future, so I commissioned Professor Scudamore to review Scotland's handling of the outbreak.

Overall, the Scottish response to the outbreak was a strong team effort between Government, industry and others. Professor Scudamore concluded:

"the FMD outbreak was handled well by the Scottish Government which reacted swiftly and in line with contingency planning arrangements."

On the contribution of the wider agricultural community and everyone else who was involved, including Scottish Government officials, Professor Scudamore said:

"The Scottish agricultural community as a whole should be commended for their role during this difficult period in working with government to reduce the risk to Scotland of disease incursion and spread."

The Scudamore report provides an invaluable set of conclusions, many of which are applicable to areas beyond foot-and-mouth disease. In taking forward the conclusions, we will be ambitious and apply the findings broadly.

Supporting animal health and welfare is a priority for the Scottish Government. High levels of animal health and welfare are good for animals, for the livestock sector and for Scotland. We have a reputation for quality produce, to which animal health and welfare contributes. The Scottish Government acknowledges that good standards contribute to a sustainable livestock industry. Although we do not currently have the budget for animal health and welfare, we will continue to maintain our support for areas for which we have financial responsibility.

Although Government has a significant role to play, I stress that the only people who can make a real difference to animal health and welfare standards are animal keepers. Government's role is to help when that is appropriate. Animal keepers must recognise their responsibility and the potential impact of their actions. We recently witnessed examples of poor practice when, for bewildering and incomprehensible reasons, some individuals saw a need to source stock from bluetongue-affected areas.

We asked Professor Scudamore to review our actions and to identify measures that would mitigate the impact of future outbreaks and practical steps that we could take to protect our red meats sector. He made 55 recommendations, which we are working to implement.

Sensible sourcing of stock is just one element of disease preparedness—the first theme of the report. We have accepted that movement licences should be prepared in advance, particularly to allow low-risk movement to happen quickly when that is appropriate. Such an approach would reduce some of the pain of a necessary movement ban and will be informed by detailed risk assessments, to justify movements. High-risk movements are less easy to relax and it is important that the reasons for that are understood.

The package will sit alongside the contingency plan and will provide clarity on what will happen in an outbreak, thereby allowing farmers and crofters to plan for themselves. The national contingency plan worked well in practice, but the review found areas for improvement, particularly in highlighting links to other, more operational plans such as those of Animal Health. The experience of last year also showed that the plan lacks detail on the implications of a movement ban. We have accepted those points and we have commissioned an independent expert to revise the plan, which will then be put out to public consultation in November. The plan will continue to be a framework, to reflect the reality that every outbreak will be different.

We will also consult on the communications strategy, which is an integral part of our disease control response. Changes will build on innovations that we made last year, such as our use of text messaging.

During the outbreak, there was considerable discussion about regionalisation within Great Britain to allow resumption of exports from areas that were considered to be low risk, such as Scotland. The term "regionalisation" often meant different things to different people. The report highlights the challenges that are associated with regionalisation in the United Kingdom, given the nature of food chain logistics and supply routes. For example, 55 per cent of Scottish lambs are slaughtered outside Scotland—that was highlighted last year. That can make it harder to concentrate activity in a geographic area, which in essence is what the regionalisation debate is about.

Later this year, I will meet stakeholders to ensure that there is a common understanding of the issues and that there is consensus on the right approach for Scotland. Our aim must be to minimise the risk of disruption to our industry from events elsewhere while maintaining all our important trade links. In advance of that meeting, my officials have been considering practice elsewhere in Europe. We have had initial discussions with the European Commission. The discussions have highlighted the complexity of regionalisation and raised the possibility of assisting some or all Scottish islands. Of course, it would depend on the specific disease scenario, but trade with other countries could be permitted in the event of an outbreak.

Our discussions with industry might include abattoir provision, particularly in rural areas. It is in the industry's interests to maintain a good network of abattoirs, to retain production in Scotland and to protect Scotch and Scottish brands. I was pleased to note the recent approval of the Islay abattoir.

Overall, Scudamore concluded that relationships among Administrations worked well. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had to deal with extremely difficult circumstances and, in the main, performed well. However, communications among the Administrations were not perfect. One of several examples that come to my mind is the fact that, despite the existence of previously agreed official communication channels, I first heard of the Pirbright connection to the outbreak via BBC News 24. As members can imagine, my officials would have preferred to have had advance warning. We need to work on our communication channels.

The review highlighted other areas for reform. First, although the Scottish Government has full responsibility for animal health and welfare policy, the budgets are held on a Great Britain basis. That results in a lack of alignment of policy and financial responsibility, which is in no one's interest. Secondly, the arrangements are managed under a concordat written in 1999. There is a wide divergence in the understanding of the spirit and intent of the arrangements, and the people who wrote the concordats are no longer working in the relevant departments.

We are working hard to update the arrangements. The joint ministerial committee is considering the revision of the overarching memorandum of understanding among all the Administrations of the United Kingdom. That will follow on naturally from the resolution of GB budgets. We await imminent information from DEFRA on current spend so that we can conclude discussions on the potential devolution of GB budgets. This week, we have seen DEFRA making decisions under the cost-sharing umbrella, which impact on Scotland through DEFRA's control over the budget.

I must stress that, although I am keen to achieve better alignment of policy and budget responsibilities, I will accept only an offer that is right for Scotland. We must ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to deal with the contingent liabilities of a large outbreak like that of 2001. In that context, I welcome the Liberal Democrat amendment to the motion.

We must also recognise that the negotiations are happening against a financial background of a falling baseline. No matter what the outcome, we will need detailed discussions with stakeholders to inform them of what are likely to be difficult decisions about our funding priorities in the months and years ahead.

Control over the budget will allow the Scottish Government to take decisions that are in Scotland's best interests. At present, financial decisions are principally taken by DEFRA ministers with input from those in the devolved Administrations. We are working to address that, but we must get the right solution for Scotland, not just any deal that DEFRA cares to offer us. It is essential that we minimise the impact of DEFRA's cost cutting on any budget that is eventually transferred to Scotland.

The European Commission recently announced its intention to introduce new animal health legislation by 20 November 2008. I am keeping a close eye on developments in Europe so that we are prepared both to influence and to respond in the best interests of Scotland. However, DEFRA has decided to implement responsibility and cost sharing ahead of the European timetable. Although I have much sympathy with the principles of responsibility and cost sharing, I am already on record as having concerns about the DEFRA timetable and about the importance of demonstrating that its proposals are affordable and consistent with a sustainable industry, particularly at this time of significant economic pressures on Scotland's rural communities and livestock sector.

Once we are clear about the outcome of negotiations with Whitehall and we know Europe's timetable, I will make proposals for the Scottish agenda for animal health and welfare. On the back of the report, I have already announced that we will take forward the review of the delivery landscape, and we are establishing a short-term, issue-focused expert forum to do that. We must continue to engage with stakeholders as we have done successfully on bluetongue vaccination.

Finally, we must make more of our European Union relations. They worked well during the outbreak last year, and we have made more progress. A ban on Scottish exports was threatened because bovine tuberculosis-positive animals were imported to the Netherlands from south of the border. Thankfully, our negotiations as part of the UK team ensured that Scotland escaped it.

We are committed to building our contacts. I wrote to Commissioner Vassiliou to welcome the European Commission's recent announcement on an animal health strategy, using the opportunity to seek changes in the current bluetongue regulations.

Each outbreak is unique, and we will learn lessons from the last outbreak just as those dealing with it learned from 2001. Foot-and-mouth reminds us that our livestock sector faces many challenges. I note the Labour and Conservative amendments, and I welcome the fact that they highlight many of those challenges.

The Scottish Government is urgently addressing many of the issues through the common agricultural policy health check and the review of the less favoured area support scheme, which is one of the main support mechanisms. We are also addressing the recommendations in Professor Scudamore's report, which I hope that we can all work together to take forward to ensure a sustainable livestock sector in Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament supports the Scudamore report's conclusions on Scotland's handling of the 2007 foot and mouth disease outbreak, contained in Foot and Mouth Disease Review (Scotland) 2007, and welcomes the Scottish Government's commitment to take the recommendations forward, including consideration of any potential opportunities for regionalisation and other steps to minimise the potential future disruption to the Scottish livestock industry.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 3:09, 2 October 2008

For colleagues' information, let me first welcome Rhoda Grant to the Labour rural and environment team. Rhoda Grant will help to provide maternity cover for Karen Gillon, while the latter recovers from the successful arrival last week of Johann Maggie. I am sure that members will want to join me in recording our best wishes to Karen and her family.

It is a sobering thought that, although last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak did not reach Scotland, we were heavily affected by its impact. Therefore, the Scudamore report is a welcome review of what lessons we can learn for the future and what priorities the Scottish Government should act on to prepare for, and to avoid, such outbreaks in future.

Obviously, last year's outbreak caused major economic damage to our farming industry, our rural communities and the operation of many companies. Clearly, it was a horrendous time for communities financially and it caused much uncertainty for businesses. The after-effects are still being felt by many.

As the cabinet secretary observed, the circumstances of last year's outbreak were different from those of the 2001 outbreak, but the impact was still severe. A welcome conclusion that can be drawn from the Scudamore report is that, although it lists 55 recommendations in total, there is clear evidence of lessons having been learned from the 2001 outbreak. I join the cabinet secretary in putting on record our praise for how the many agencies, farmers and communities dealt with the crisis last year. However, it is obvious that improvements could be made in how we gear up to avoid another outbreak.

The Labour amendment draws attention to two areas in which we consider that more work is needed to create better options for the future, and it also highlights the need to help the pig industry, which is still suffering from the aftermath of the outbreak. We deliberately lodged an add amendment because we have taken at face value the Scottish Government's intention to make progress on the recommendations in the report. Although we agree with the two points that are highlighted in the motion—namely, the consideration of regionalisation and of other steps to minimise future disruption to the livestock industry—we have attempted to focus debate on the issues that we believe would help those points to be taken forward.

In particular, the issue of abattoirs needs to be addressed. As we have discussed several times in the current parliamentary session, the location of abattoirs goes to the heart of the issue about the long journeys that our animals need to travel to slaughter. We believe that a more localised approach would add value to animal welfare and would be better for local farming communities. I will come on to say what we think needs to be done later in my comments.

Secondly, we have highlighted the unique circumstances of our islands, which must be central to any future discussions on regionalisation. The islands are the easiest place to start with that. There is an extremely strong case for allowing a regionalised approach to kick in at the start of any future problem.

Thirdly, our amendment highlights the need to support the pig sector. As recently as yesterday, the NFU Scotland made representations to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee on the case for action.

As Scudamore acknowledges, regionalisation is not a simple issue. Our view is that we must be careful in considering the implications of such an approach. Clearly, we share an island with England and Wales and our food chains are highly centralised. In addition, the market for much of our livestock—particularly of the sheep industry, as last month's report from the Royal Society of Edinburgh highlighted—is down south. Therefore, there would be challenges in going for a simplistic approach to regionalisation. The most recent outbreak never reached Scotland or the north of England, but the livestock distribution chains, the strategy of containment and the importance of consumer confidence were such that the whole country was deeply affected. More thought needs to be given to the issue.

We have consistently argued that the Scottish Government could have done more to support our farming industry last year. Faster action should have been taken. In fact, we believe that last year's outbreak made the case for devolved Government. As the minister has highlighted, our actions must be an integral part of the GB response to dealing with the big picture of the crisis, but we must have flexibility to initiate support for farmers who are experiencing a harsher climate and may face more problems as any crisis drags on.

Recommendation 42 highlights the fact that the Scottish Government should recognise that, especially if foot-and-mouth disease occurs at certain critical times of the year, there should be a trigger point for a welfare scheme. The trigger point should be set out in the Scottish Government's FMD contingency plans. I hope that the minister will accept that recommendation. One lesson that can be learned is that, depending on the time of year, our agriculture industry can be hit particularly badly, as happened last year. We strongly support recommendation 42.

Labour MPs and MSPs lobbied the UK Government on the particular issue of relaxing the rules on driver hours. We recognised that when animal movements were allowed again, there would be a huge backlog and swift action would be needed to enable the industry to get back on its feet and start to deal with the backlog as swiftly as possible. Again, the report recommends that trigger points be established jointly with DEFRA and the Department for Transport. We would be interested to know what progress has been made there to ensure that if a derogation is needed, it would be a straightforward issue and could be swiftly secured.

We believe that the role of the Scottish Government is crucial in creating a more viable and sustainable industry. That is why, in all the debates on farming over the past few months, such as on LFASS and the rural development programme, we have highlighted the particular issue of local abattoirs. I am glad that the cabinet secretary mentioned them in his speech. The issue of local abattoirs across the country must be considered. The matter commands cross-party support and is part of a joined-up approach to local food procurement. If we are going to get sustainable, viable markets for our livestock industry, we need to complement the existing retail and processing opportunities for our farming communities and have a more localised approach. The matter should not be left up to individual communities; there should be a strategic approach that links agricultural policy more securely with rural development policy and economic development policy more generally. We understand the economic logic of our existing food chains, which is why we think that there needs to be Scottish Government intervention if we are to see new markets and new food supply chains being established. We understand that there are no easy options in debates on regionalisation—that point is highlighted in the Scudamore report—but work must be done on those issues.

We particularly think that our islands need to be protected from the worst impact of foot-and-mouth disease. Because they are not part of the main European epidemiological unit, there should be opportunities for negotiating opt-outs from an early stage. That should just be a given, unless there are arguments that would override that. The presumption needs to be shifted.

One of the key sets of recommendations in the Scudamore report concerns the review of the concordats that govern relationships between the UK and Scottish Governments. We have now had two full sessions of the Scottish Parliament and two outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease during that time. We agree that this is an appropriate time to review the effectiveness of the concordats. We welcome the fact that discussions are continuing.

I will not spend much time talking about the importance of relationships between the UK Government departments, because the cabinet secretary highlighted that. A fascinating part of the report recommends the drafting of

"a guidance paper on relationships with the Devolved Administrations in order to stress the importance of respecting confidentiality and of being as open as possible."

I am sure that if we talked to all the ministers around the UK Governments, they would each have examples of areas in which they would have liked to have seen guidance that would have helped to achieve a balanced approach.

On the Liberal Democrat amendment, having read the Scudamore report, we believe that a number of options must be considered, and different options are set out in the report. We will not support the Liberal Democrat amendment without consideration of other parts of the equation. It is not that we are hostile to considering devolving a proportion of the animal health budget; we think that now is the right time to discuss the matter. However, what is the answer to recommendations 35, 36, 37 and 49, for example? It seems to us that we must consider all the issues together rather than pick one element. As the cabinet secretary highlighted, there are both complexities and dangers in going down the route that the Liberal Democrats suggest, so we want it to be considered properly. As one of the parties to the Calman commission, we would want the suggestion to be looked at in the round, alongside other devolution issues. We are not against discussing the issue—now is the right time to do so—and the Scudamore report puts it centre stage for this debate, but we think that more work is required and we do not believe in an incremental approach. Every time that somebody suggests that something—either devolved or reserved—needs to be sent one way or the other, we must take a proper, coherent approach.

There are issues in the report that need action. Looking back, it is much easier to see where the actions needed to be taken—that is always the case. However, we welcome the fact that, a year on, we now have an independent report. We would like the Scottish Government to identify which of the recommendations it will implement and what the timetable is for that.

Finally, on the fact that there are still industries that are suffering from last year's outbreak, our amendment refers to the need for practical help for our pig industry. Only yesterday, representatives of the pig industry called on the Scottish Government to do more to help out. The minister established a pig task force, but our understanding is that it has not done what the NFUS thinks needs to be done to support farmers who are still struggling. We have not been specific or prescriptive, but we think that it would be a good move if the Parliament as a whole supported action this afternoon and called on the Scottish Government to do more. The NFUS believes that its case is well argued and that there are precedents.

I move amendment S3M-2635.3, to leave out from "to minimise" to end and insert:

"such as the role that local abattoirs might play and the unique circumstances of Scotland's islands; notes however the continuing difficulties experienced by the pig industry, and calls on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to support the Scottish pig industry and to consider further action to minimise the potential future disruption to the Scottish livestock industry."

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 3:20, 2 October 2008

I declare an interest as a farmer, and indeed one whose business was adversely affected by the foot-and-mouth outbreaks in 2001 and 2007.

I welcome the report compiled by Jim Scudamore and John Ross and point out that we would not be having the debate if the Labour Government at Westminster had acted responsibly and not allowed foot and mouth to escape from Pirbright. Indeed, routine maintenance of the secure drainage system at the research establishment, documented by DEFRA as far back as 2003, was all that would have been required to stop the outbreak happening, and the Labour Government stands condemned in the eyes of rural Scotland for its negligence. As documented in the report, the outbreak happened at absolutely the worst time of the year for sheep producers, and did economic damage to pig and cattle farming as well as to hauliers, processors and exporters. That the outbreak could have been avoided is little short of criminal. The Labour Government has still to accept responsibility for its actions or, in this case, inaction.

However, we are where we are, and today Scottish Conservatives welcome the report and its conclusions. We welcome the categorisation of the priorities in the report as high, medium and low, and agree that among the 55 recommendations, recommendations 20, 23, 28, 54 and 55 should be high priority. Scottish Conservatives believe that it is vital that a fully developed UK risk hierarchy is created—recommendation 23—based on veterinary assessments, but that as much flexibility as possible should be built into the system.

Common sense dictated that Scottish islands would be less at risk than Scottish border areas from the spread of FMD from England, yet for too long they were treated similarly. We agree with recommendation 20 that priority movements and scenarios with appropriate timetables should be created as part of future contingency planning. Of course, different strains of FMD and their respective virulence make contingency planning and a one-size-fits-all approach almost impossible, but different scenario planning for a future event can only be beneficial. I welcome the minister's comment that he will consult further on that in November. In that regard, I would suggest that recommendation 53 be raised to a high priority and that a formal review and regular updating of UK plans is vital, as the most up-to-date science and methodology of dealing with the disease worldwide must be noted and learned from. Although it goes without saying that Scottish contingency plans must be updated and kept under review, I acknowledge the sterling work of Charles Milne and his team, the stakeholder group and the minister during the recent crisis.

On regionalisation, Scottish Conservatives would support the recommendation that our Government should work with DEFRA and the EU to produce a standardised set of terms for regionalisation in the event of an FMD outbreak. The establishment of detailed rules for the movement of livestock and associated products between different risk areas and zones is essential. If such plans had been in place in 2007, Scotland might have escaped much of the devastating impact of the outbreak.

Protocols need to be developed between DEFRA and our devolved Government, and existing concordats should be reviewed to deliver a more coherent and fit-for-purpose vehicle to deliver a response to a future outbreak of FMD. Areas of financial responsibility should be more clearly defined to allow better contingency budget planning and to deliver a greater sense of accountability. While we believe that that should be part of the Calman inquiry, I welcome the minister's work in that area so far.

As I said earlier, we are where we are, and today—as our amendment notes—our food producers, processors and crofters are still coming to terms with the financial impact of the most recent outbreak. Indeed, I warned at the time that the full financial effect of the outbreak would be felt only in June and July this year—a time of year when farming overdrafts are at their highest. It is no coincidence that the exodus of sheep and cattle from our hills in Scotland is accelerating. For some farmers—particularly tenant farmers—and crofters in our most fragile areas, FMD was the straw that broke the metaphorical camel's back. The 5 per cent reduction in breeding sow numbers since June last year bears witness to that.

I will be fair: the Government, by paying £6 per head per ewe, acknowledged the seriousness of the case at the time. Our pig producers were less fortunate: many of them suffered crippling financial losses and remain uncompensated to this day. They are vital in keeping abattoirs open throughout the country, and I endorse Sarah Boyack's remarks in that regard. With breeding sow numbers at a record low, one has to fear for the critical mass of the industry—which is concentrated in the north-east of Scotland—notwithstanding the current better market returns for producers.

We welcome the Scudamore report's analysis and recommendations. However, we believe that the Scottish Government must now do what it can to plan for any such future event. In the wake of the FMD debacle, the Government must continue to support our rural areas, where morale is low following a difficult harvest and wet summer and viability is problematic. Aside from contingency planning, farmers and crofters must believe that the Government is interested in securing a viable future for them, which means removing the barriers to farmers doing what they do best: producing food.

Entrepreneurial endeavour must be encouraged by reducing red tape and regulation. The Scotland's Environmental and Rural Services report, which is expected to contain detailed recommendations on reducing that burden in a meaningful way, cannot come soon enough.

An integrated land use policy must be established as soon as possible—

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I point out to the member, as he mentioned the SEARS project, that this week I chaired a meeting of the SEARS board and we are already well on target with the reduction inspections. I have already met farmers who have been inspected once instead of three times by the agency. The work is progressing well, but we have more to do.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

I am grateful to hear that work is progressing, and I look forward to legislation being repealed as a result of it.

Renewing the Scotland rural development programme priorities as early as January is fundamental for food security, which must be considered intelligently alongside demands for more housing, forestry, recreational space and environmental enhancement. The report is good and welcome, and it should be adopted and acted upon. However, it cannot be considered in isolation, and the Government must do what it can to take our land-based industries forward in a positive way.

I move amendment S3M-2635.1, to insert at end:

"notes the continued economic impact of the outbreak on Scotland's beef, sheep and pig farmers, and calls on the Scottish Government to address proactively the continuing decline in livestock numbers across Scotland."

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 3:27, 2 October 2008

Like John Scott, I declare farming interests. Today's debate marks an important step forward in how we deal with future outbreaks and threats of foot-and-mouth disease and other diseases in Scotland.

Recently, as the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment noted, we have watched as bluetongue has crept into parts of England—God willing, it will not make its way across the border to Scotland. It is important to note—I am glad that the cabinet secretary did so—that bluetongue incidents in England this year have all resulted from infected imported animals. I hope that, as the debate continues long after 5 o'clock today, Mr Lochhead and his officials will seek to protect Scotland from infected animals crossing the border or coming in from further afield once the vaccination programme starts running. I also hope that they will make a plea to farmers and others not to import animals from infected areas at all—there is no excuse for that.

We welcome Jim Scudamore's report and I am pleased that the Government is committed to taking forward its recommendations. That will be a long and complicated process, but a necessary one. No one—especially no one who lives and works in my region, the South of Scotland—wishes to see a repeat of what happened in 2007 and 2001.

I was at the coalface during the outbreak in 2001, hill farming and acting as a go-between for NFUS members and officials. I was fielding folk's heartbreaking and life-destroying concerns every minute of the day. People's livelihoods were wiped out overnight, as all members will have seen on television. I witnessed that at first hand, and I never want to live through that outbreak or last year's again.

The timing of the 2007 outbreak was worse, as livestock were ready to be moved off the islands and the hills for the winter. The distress and economic impact that both events caused directly and indirectly cannot be overestimated, and neither can the animal welfare implications of the outbreaks and the effect of the outbreaks on the number of sheep—as John Scott mentioned—and cattle in Scotland.

We therefore need to create a workable system of protection for Scotland's flocks and herds that safeguards a future for our livestock producers through healthy markets at home and in the EU and, of course, the important international markets. In other words, we need to create a system that reacts quickly and flexibly to the needs of the Scottish situation.

The key issue is how we can protect Scotland from disease while getting the market back to normal as quickly as possible so that we do not allow significant damage or disruption to the rural economy and the livestock sector. The bottom line in an FMD situation is that there has to be unfailing communication and clear arrangements between the Scottish and UK Governments. As an aside, I say that I have no doubt that the UK Government should tighten up customs to reduce the chance of illegally imported meat entering the country in future.

Regionalisation is imperative. It became crystal clear early in the 2007 outbreak that, for both economic and animal welfare reasons, we needed restrictions to be relaxed in a monitored way to allow businesses to operate where it was safe for them to do so. A regionalised system is critical for the future.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I think that everybody would welcome the member's point about regionalisation. He talked about his experience in 2001; one of the big differences between 2001 and 2007 was the growing appreciation in 2007 that regionalisation could provide the solution. Does he accept that that argument has now been made in the farming community?

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I believe that it has been made.

I also agree that we need to consider a future funding mechanism for policies on the control of exotic diseases in Scotland. That brings me to the Liberal Democrat amendment. Agriculture is devolved and we therefore have full control of animal health and welfare policy, yet DEFRA still controls the funding for that. As responsibility for policy has been fully devolved to the Scottish Government, it is only logical that the budgets to deliver that policy should also be devolved, including the funding that is required to control major outbreaks of disease.

The current position is an anomaly of the Scotland Act 1998. The money that Scotland gets from the Barnett formula does not include money for animal health, which is kept instead in the overall UK animal health pot. Scotland's share of the money would be better used if it was devolved, but with the proviso that we still had access to the UK Treasury's reserve if and when required. After all, there are no natural or trade barriers between Scotland and England, and not many of us want to erect any such barriers.

At present, when Scotland decides to follow its own policy route, we retrospectively look to DEFRA or the Treasury to fund our policies. Colleagues will recall that the problem arose last year when a welfare disposal scheme seemed to be the only way in which to deal with animals that were left on the hills without enough food, but the implication of our following our own policy was that there was no guarantee of any funds from DEFRA or the Treasury to cover the costs to the Scottish Government.

I acknowledge the cabinet secretary's attempts to have Scotland's share of the agriculture budget fully devolved. I sincerely hope that he and others will support the Liberal Democrat amendment, which calls for exactly that but, importantly, with an emphasis on our still having access to the UK Treasury's reserve. I hope that the negotiations will result in a devolved budget that is proportionate to the importance of agriculture in Scotland's broader economy.

I ask all members in the chamber to support the Liberal Democrat amendment.

I move amendment S3M-2635.2, to insert at end:

"believes that, although the devolution settlement has largely been a success for Scottish agriculture, the current position whereby Scotland decides on animal health policy but has no control over its funding is an anomaly of the Scotland Act 1998, which is detrimental to relationships between the two administrations, and calls on the Scottish Government to press the case for devolving a proportionate share of the animal health budget currently held at Westminster to Scotland, while preserving the right to access the UK Treasury reserve fund."

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 3:33, 2 October 2008

The review of the response to the outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in Scotland in August and September 2007 makes a number of key points. Broadly, it applauds the Scottish Government's reaction and the actions that it took. The Government reacted quickly and effectively when it became clear that there was an outbreak, despite working within limited remits. Some of today's debate is about the scale of those remits and their limits.

Listening to the opening speaker for the Labour Party, I found it interesting that the UK Government was prepared to blur the question of moral and legal responsibility for compensation for foot-and-mouth disease, which lies with it, by trying to avoid the issue of transparency and pleading that certain things ought to be confidential. If we did not know that—

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

No, because I want to develop my point. I am talking about what we experienced.

As the minister has suggested, some decisions that were made by ministers at DEFRA were not in the best interests of Scotland. Decisions also changed, and we would have liked more transparency.

I welcome the backing of the NFUS for the recommendation on the devolving of budgets to the Scottish Parliament. The NFUS said:

"We endorse the recommendation that the financial arrangements are made clear and that budgets, where appropriate, are transferred fully intact to the Scottish Government to implement all the policies related to exotic disease control."

A call for regionalisation recognises the strength of the Scottish Government's position. We could take forward a range of policies that are more important to us than they are to people further south.

In relation to animal welfare, we have heard from Labour about the pig industry. As the task force reported, the pig industry wanted two headage payments, but it was impossible to meet many of those kinds of demands. If we want a pig industry in the future, we will have to consider it in terms of our policy on the security of our food supply. We will have to ask whether the industry can be organised differently and whether the monopoly that seems to be developing is good for the industry in this country. We might even have to consider extensification and how we grow the feed for pigs. Issues of animal welfare, of biosecurity and of food security all tie in together.

Inevitably, remarks have been made about the import of cattle affected by bluetongue. If we have a strong policy of using native breeds that are suited to our conditions, there should be less and less need to import cattle. It is important to acknowledge that there are good commercial reasons why we have developed the use of European breeds of both cattle and sheep. However, when we consider food security and biosecurity, we have to wonder whether we can continue to allow the free market in beasts that are alive. I think that we can find ways of doing things differently.

Consideration of the report and of our experience of foot-and-mouth disease, and consideration of the potential impact of bluetongue, led me to wonder about our ability to do testing here in Scotland. We have the technical ability, although we hope that it will never be required. However, the contingency plan for dealing with exotic diseases will have to be turned into a national plan, and we will have to be able to test here, so that things can be done more quickly.

Biobest, which is based at Edinburgh technopole—my colleague Alyn Smith MEP visited it recently—specialises in veterinary virology. Biobest offers herd care to farmers and has expertise in testing for numerous diseases. However, it finds it difficult to find approval to test when there are outbreaks and the Westminster Government steps in. That is an example of why we have to regionalise our policy and why we have to ensure that we have the capacity to undertake such testing here in Scotland. We need the full range of abilities in order to tackle any outbreaks. I hope that the cabinet secretary will take up that point in summing up.

I represent the Highlands and Islands, and our island issues will be mentioned by other members. They are a special case. Because we have to remove so many sheep in the autumn, there have to be plans for dealing with that in any year. We could have a summer during which very little feed is growing, so we have to be able to deal with that.

If we are going to have more local slaughtering, will we, like Austria, allow part-time abattoirs? In certain places, abattoirs would have to be part-time. If we are going to have them, can we work out a business plan to support a wider range of abattoirs? I would like to see that. I hope that we can agree that a national plan for dealing with exotic diseases should also consider such issues.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 3:40, 2 October 2008

I first spoke about foot-and-mouth disease in the chamber—indeed, in its predecessor up the Royal Mile—on 28 February 2001, when the results of the first two suspected cases in Scotland, both of which were in my constituency, were being anxiously awaited. Six years and seven months later, having returned to the topic on several occasions in between, here I am again. Perhaps I should apologise to the chamber for speaking about foot-and-mouth disease yet again. However, the frequency with which the topic has been discussed in the Parliament has been born out of necessity, not choice.

As the cabinet secretary has described, there has been an iterative process as we have learned how to improve our response to further outbreaks in the future. The Scudamore report on the 2007 outbreak is the most recent contribution to that process of improvement. The report rightly mentions the hard work and dedication of the staff in the Scottish Government and their delivery partners in minimising the impact of the 2007 outbreak in Scotland. It commends the Scottish agricultural community as a whole for its role in working with the Government, and I commend the cabinet secretary for his efforts during the 2007 outbreak to keep MSPs such as me informed about what was happening. I recall getting a telephone call from him as I was waiting outside the catacombs in Paris, telling me that the animal movement restrictions were going to affect the Dumfries and Lockerbie agricultural show—which, for the first time, I was not attending. The report also rightly looks at what can be learned and makes various recommendations.

Like other members, I will address the issue of regionalisation. The review's conclusion is that Scottish agriculture is so closely integrated into the UK that Scotland should remain a part of the GB epidemiological unit—a phrase that I would not try to say after a couple of glasses of wine. The reasons for that are explained in chapter 3. There is no physical barrier between England and Scotland as there is between England and Northern Ireland. In the 2001 outbreak, the first cases that were detected, at the beginning of March in Dumfriesshire, originated through contact with infected animals at the markets in Hexham and Longtown. The high number of animal movements across the border makes the tracing and inspection of all animals that are moved into Scotland difficult. Indeed, the present state of our information technology systems for animal tracing in the UK makes them not really suitable for that task.

However, the report suggests that we could consider regionalisation within Scotland on the basis of risk assessment, as happened to some extent in 2001. Other European Union countries are developing that approach. The Netherlands is mentioned in the report as being, like Scotland, a major exporting country that is well advanced in developing contingency plans for regionalisation in the event of an outbreak within the country, in a neighbouring country or elsewhere in the EU.

It is not proximity to the origin of an outbreak that is most important, but the movement of livestock, vehicles, people and equipment between the areas of outbreak and other areas. It is those factors that would need to be assessed to ascertain the FMD status of each area. The report recommends that the Government develop and consult on a number of regionalisation scenarios.

Those could include, as Sarah Boyack said, creating a different status for the islands, which are physically separate from the mainland; for areas where there are low stocking densities and few animal movements; or for areas where there are physical barriers that discourage animal movements across the boundaries.

Dr Scudamore's report states that the relationship between DEFRA and the Scottish Government worked well on balance but that there were some issues of contention between the two Administrations. The report suggests that the concordats that were drawn up in 1999 should be reviewed. As the cabinet secretary said, there were times when DEFRA failed to inform the Scottish Administration of developments. On the other hand, there were times when the Scottish Government made assumptions despite being given contrary evidence from DEFRA. The sheep welfare scheme is a contentious example of that.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Can the member elaborate on how we did not communicate properly with the UK Government on the sheep welfare scheme?

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Dr Scudamore goes into that in chapter 6. DEFRA informed the Scottish Government on 15 August that it was not going to implement the sheep welfare scheme, yet the Scottish Government—maybe an official—seemed to continue to believe that there would be a Great Britain-wide scheme. That, unfortunately, led to the impression that the Governments were bickering as the industry was suffering.

To return to the concordats, I believe that they might be historic concordats in a different sense of the word "historic", as they should be consigned to history and reviewed, because they are no longer relevant to the current situation.

As others have said, one of the issues that became apparent during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was the excessive distances that animals are transported for slaughter. Of course, that is highly undesirable from the point of view of animal welfare, the environment, disease control and our efforts to develop the potential of locally sourced food in the interests of economic development and tourism in our communities. It does not make economic or environmental sense to transport animals hundreds of miles, in some instances, to be slaughtered and then to transport their carcases back for processing.

In June, at the Royal Highland show, the Scottish Government announced the progress that it was making in developing its national policy for food and drink. I hope that locally sourced food will become part of that policy. In fact, we argued for that two weeks ago in the debate on less favoured area support. As others have said, progress in that regard will require an increase in the availability of local abattoirs and local food-processing facilities. That will add value to food products in rural communities. A strategy to increase the number of abattoirs would help rural economies and contribute to the ability of Government to apply a regional strategy in the event of an animal disease outbreak. I would, therefore, be interested to hear from ministers how that approach will be progressed.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party 3:46, 2 October 2008

Other members have ably recalled the impact that the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak had on Scotland's rural communities. The impact was felt no less keenly in crofting than in farming communities, as people in my constituency and other Highlands and Islands constituencies will testify.

The marginal nature of crofting will have been brought home to the cabinet secretary recently when he saw the lamb prices at the mart in Stornoway, and to the chamber more generally yesterday, when we debated the Government's response to the Shucksmith report.

Crofting is essential to the social fabric of a place such as the Western Isles, although its existence is continually under threat, either from the economic climate or from actively daft proposals such as Europe's plans for the electronic identification of animals. Last year, the greatest threat to the sector came from the inability to move livestock to mainland markets, which was coupled with a long-term threat that it might prove to be impossible to import rams from the mainland.

The outbreak fell at the worst possible point in the agricultural year. The problem, of course, originated some 500 miles away and was not of the Scottish agricultural industry's making. It was not the fault of English farmers, either. Unlike in the 2001 outbreak, there was little mystery this time about where the virus had come from—there was no need this time to speculate about whether pigs had been fed Chinese food. The foot-and-mouth virus that has destabilised the farming industry in Scotland was, as we know, released in error from a UK Government lab. Nonetheless, it fell to Scotland to act quickly to minimise disruption here, and the Scudamore review praises the Scottish Government for doing just that, saying that there is widespread agreement that the Government here handled the situation well. Indeed, within three hours of the outbreak in England being confirmed, an action plan was put into effect by Scottish ministers.

None of that is to minimise the pain that ensued. However, the fact that action was taken quickly allowed the action to be brought to an end quickly, too, with movements within the islands being among the first relaxations.

I am sorry but, at this point, the consensual tone—which I would dearly love to be maintained on issues that are of such obvious consequence to rural Scotland—will have to be abandoned.

"It is time the gloves were taken off and, if need be, for battle to commence. If this means that the Scottish government has to publicly, forcefully and loudly promote a policy which is at odds with its Westminster counterpart, then so be it."

Those are the words not of the SNP but of the magazine The Scottish Farmer.

The one thing that not even the most zealous advocate of the UK Government could argue with a straight face is that the UK Government was helpful on the issue of compensation. There is not the slightest doubt that, although the Scottish Government paid out, the responsibility lay with the UK Government. As the NFUS and many others have pointed out, given that the UK Government paid out after the 2001 outbreak, there is no reason why it should not do so after the 2007 outbreak.

To this day, the attitude of Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, remains shrouded in mystery, to put it politely. Over the course of a weekend, his draft speech promising assistance to Scottish farmers and crofters was mysteriously abbreviated to remove such a promise. That was despite the fact that, for reasons that are best known to those who wrote the Scotland Act 1998 and its attendant concordats, although policy on animal welfare is devolved, the budgets that govern it are reserved. If there was any further room for doubt, the Scotland Act 1998 (Concurrent Functions) Order 1999 spells out that the Scottish Government retains responsibility for disease compensation payments made under the tuberculosis and brucellosis legislation but the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will make compensation payments for all other notifiable diseases. All that is even before we bring to mind whose lab it was that released the infection in the first place.

The reason for bringing all this to the fore a year on is that Scotland has had to find support for compensation from within existing budgets. It has had to use moneys that could have been used to support other areas of agriculture and rural development, despite not having any legal responsibility for making compensation payments.

If, God forbid, there is another outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, we have to learn from Scudamore's recommendations. We should pursue a science-based approach of the kind that Scottish ministers pursued in 2007. As other members have said, we should also examine the case for more localised restrictions on movement, where that is consistent with scientific advice. Above all, we have to act quickly. We must heed Professor Scudamore's call for a clearer set of ground rules between the UK and Scotland; that means that we should revisit the concordats—which, in many respects and on the face of it, one would have thought were pretty clear—if they remain open to wilful misinterpretation, as recent evidence suggests they do.

First and foremost, we have to find a solution that puts to the forefront the interests of our farmers and crofters. We have to ensure that never again are they subject to the kind of disruption that they have suffered as a result of foot-and-mouth disease in recent years. Professor Scudamore's recommendations are to be welcomed in that context.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 3:52, 2 October 2008

There can be few more critical episodes in the life of agriculture than an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. As other members have said, over the past decade, we have seen the devastating impact that an outbreak of FMD anywhere in the UK can have on livestock and livelihoods across the entire country. It is right that we should learn the lessons of the most recent outbreak and apply them in planning our response to any further potential outbreaks.

Over the time of the previous and current Administrations, we have been fortunate to have at our disposal in Scotland highly expert and dedicated Executive staff to advise ministers. In such situations, ministers always have to take a science-based approach. Only the rashest minister would ignore the expert advice and guidance that is available to them. Scudamore makes the point that we need to retain that expertise in Scotland. I share that view, and I hope that his reference does not imply that there is a threat to that expertise. I am sure that the minister can reassure the chamber on that matter in his summing up.

Scudamore makes many recommendations. I have no doubt that the cabinet secretary will want to implement them all—indeed, many are entirely uncontentious and technical in nature. Scudamore is clear on the need for Scotland to remain part of the GB epidemiological unit; industry stakeholders endorse that view. He makes it clear that Scottish agriculture is so woven into the UK market and supply chains that it cannot be seen as a separate entity. That is the context within which the report refers to the debate on regionalisation. Scudamore makes it clear that the matter is not straightforward but highly intricate, and that the price of any change that is not thoroughly thought through could be high.

On regionalisation, the report can give the impression of facing two ways. In paragraph 7 of the executive summary, the report makes it clear that

"Unless there is a change in the trading patterns within GB it is difficult to envisage how many of the potential options for regionalisation of Scotland would be economically viable or practical to administer."

That points us in the direction of doubting the practicality or wisdom of adopting a regional approach, using Scotland as a region. There should be no glib talk of regionalisation being a simple process or panacea.

However, the report then appears to open up the debate about possible regionalisation by referring to a number of scenarios and discussing the need for detailed cost benefit analysis, full economic appraisal and the like. It concludes:

"This would enable the Scottish Government and stakeholders to evaluate the options and to agree a clear policy on regionalisation in the event of a future FMD outbreak."

We must be clear that Professor Scudamore is not saying that there should be a policy of regionalisation; he is urging a clear policy debate about the question of regionalisation. After close examination, the conclusion could be that regionalisation was not in all circumstances in Scotland's interests. If there is to be further investigation and examination of regionalisation—I have no problem with that and support it—the debate must include the merits or otherwise of Scotland not being one unit or one region.

At the time of the last outbreak, I was struck by the talk about how far Surrey was from the Scottish border. The implication was that somehow because the outbreak was far to the south it was wrong that we were caught up in its consequences. However, such comments ignore the fact that parts of Scotland are much further away from the Scottish border than Surrey is. Scotland covers a huge area and if, God forbid, Caithness, for example, were to be the source of a future outbreak, might not the people of Dumfries and Galloway wonder why they were caught up in a single Scottish region for some purposes?

As Sarah Boyack said, the unique position of our islands is an issue. In any debate about regionalisation, we must consider what special provisions and arrangements could be put in place to give them maximum protection, but also maximum freedom. I noted what the minister said about that and am encouraged by his comments.

Our amendment draws attention to the issue.

I am not naive enough to believe that any of this is easy—it is not at all easy. Just as the GB agriculture industry is interwoven between Scotland, England and Wales, it is also interwoven between different parts of Scotland, with animal movements taking place on a vast scale. All I say, in the context of a regional approach, is that the question whether Scotland is naturally one region must be explored. I have an open mind about the outcome.

As other members have said, opening up a debate on a regional approach raises issues about where current slaughtering activity takes place. The supermarkets are hugely influential in that regard. What seems like sound commercial sense to the supermarkets in the normal foot-and-mouth-free periods that we enjoy can suddenly seem like a major impediment to our markets when an outbreak occurs. However, change to that process will be colossal. Rob Gibson alluded to some of the economic facts that might come to bear in thinking about alternatives. Without the co-operation of the supermarkets in a wider national emergency planning framework, the issue will present massive challenges, but we must think about it as part of the debate about developing a more local approach to slaughtering and to our food market. We should not underestimate the challenges that we face.

Sarah Boyack referred to the plight, which is still outstanding, that faces the pig industry as a consequence of the previous FMD outbreak. The NFUS has been critical of the Government's response to its own task force. In fact, yesterday's NFUS press release made it clear that none of the task force recommendations had been followed through. The Rural Affairs and Environment Committee will ask the minister to come and give further evidence on the matter—I hope that he can do that.

Professor Scudamore points to some friction between the Scottish and UK Governments. He highlights the belief in the south that some of the suggestions that have emanated from Scotland are politically motivated rather than scientifically based. I am sure that ministers would deny that and Professor Scudamore states that, in his view, any such belief in the south was not correct. However, the fact remains that that belief was held and it could have had an effect on inter-Government relations and actions. It is a serious matter.

If I wanted to do so, I could make trenchant political points about the way in which the Scottish Government sometimes conducts itself, but I will resist that temptation and make only the following point. The way in which Governments deal with each other is hugely important. If an atmosphere is engendered in which motivations for actions can be questioned, that can have real consequences. If those consequences affect the action that is taken in emergency situations such as foot and mouth, they can be very serious. The fact that Governments develop apparatus to deal with each other, for the most part very civilly, is not an accident. I encourage the Scottish Government to reflect on that matter as part of the process of re-examining the concordats to which Professor Scudamore refers.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Given that the member raised the subject, can he provide clarity by saying whether he believes that the Scottish Government took any decisions during the foot-and-mouth outbreak on a political basis?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I make the point that Professor Scudamore makes—he does not believe that the people in the south should have thought what they did. My point is that they thought that, and that there are reasons why they thought that. I simply suggest that the Government should reflect on that.

Professor Scudamore has written a good report, which should help to improve future planning arrangements. I am sure that the actions that will flow from the report will do just that.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 4:00, 2 October 2008

I very much welcome the debate. The amendments to the motion, including the one in my name, and the exchange that has just taken place between the cabinet secretary and Mr Peacock, should not mask the fact that there is general political consensus on the issue and on the recommendations that emerged from Professor Scudamore's review. As other members have said, we owe Professor Scudamore, John Ross and others a significant debt of gratitude, and I gladly add my thanks to them. I am also happy to endorse the welcome that is set out in Richard Lochhead's motion for

"the Scottish Government's commitment to take the recommendations forward".

Last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak caused significant disruption and hardship for our agricultural sector. The costs have been estimated at around £32 million. However, although there were days and weeks last summer when it did not feel like it—Jim Hume, John Scott and Elaine Murray spoke from experience—we had learned many of the lessons that arose from the previous outbreak in 2001. Last year was an uncomfortably early test, following on from 2001. By and large, the test was passed, but Professor Scudamore has highlighted ways in which everyone involved can help to develop our level of preparedness.

The review and the debate are important, and what we commit to do in the future, in both reducing risk and managing outbreaks, is crucial.

As Elaine Murray and other members have done, I record again my thanks to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment and his officials—not least Charles Milne—for their efforts to keep me and other members informed during last year's outbreak.

Although the disruption to farmers and crofters in Orkney, as well as to the wide array of ancillary and related businesses, was significant, I am aware that it could have been markedly worse. The fact that it was not worse was due in part to the willingness of the veterinary services, officials and ministers to listen to the points that were being made by my local industry, Orkney Auction Mart and me. I say that in the hope that the positive lessons that were learned last year will not be lost.

The experience shows that, in Scotland itself, it was possible to take measures that were proportionate with the level of risk and which did not insist on the maxim of all together or not at all. That was very welcome, and I certainly endorse that approach. Indeed, I am conscious that calls might be made for a similar approach to be taken in proposals that are being developed by Scottish ministers to combat the serious and present threat of bluetongue. Again, I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for his engagement with me and my local industry on that issue, and I look forward to developing those discussions in the coming days.

The Government motion lays particular emphasis on the review's recommendations regarding regionalisation, but last year's experience demonstrates, as Peter Peacock said, that we cannot afford any lazy or partisan assumptions about what that might mean. We do ourselves no favours by insisting "It's our oil" but also "It's your exotic animal disease." I recall from the debate last September that some Scottish National Party members urged ministers to class Scotland as a single epidemiological area. To do that would stand science on its head, and I am glad that the cabinet secretary gave the notion short shrift; he set out the reasons for that again this afternoon. The simple fact is that Great Britain is a single epidemiological area. The way in which our agricultural industry is set up—and must continue, if it is to remain sustainable—involves considerable trade flows north and south of the border. That trade involves live animals as well as a wide variety of animal products. I note in passing that, sadly, too much processing of Scottish primary produce is still done outside Scotland, representing a loss to our economy of much of the added value of those products. I know that the cabinet secretary will wrestle with that issue, as did his predecessor.

The cross-border trade is of vital importance, particularly in the areas that are represented by my colleague Jim Hume. When Scottish ministers seek

"to minimise the potential future disruption to the Scottish livestock industry", as the Government motion states, it is essential that they do not simply seek to draw a cordon sanitaire along Hadrian's wall. Rather, they should make the case with stakeholders north and south of the border for a rigorous and effective—but also proportionate and risk-based—response to any outbreak of disease. I would like to hear the views of the Minister for Environment on that when he sums up.

The Liberal Democrat amendment seeks to address an anomaly of the devolution settlement that has become more obvious over time and which draws further support from the experience of both FMD outbreaks. As members are aware, the Scottish Government has full policy responsibility for animal health and welfare, yet the budget still resides with DEFRA. Whatever justification existed back in 1999—I recognise that budgets were generally spent through UK-wide bodies such as the former state veterinary service—that disjuncture between policy and budget has become increasingly unsustainable, not least because of the challenges that are involved in unravelling it.

I understand that DEFRA ministers are not opposed in principle to such devolution of resources. Unfortunately, Treasury ministers have the upper hand, so time is of the essence. The Treasury has long had an agenda of passing on the cost of disease outbreaks to the industry, despite a lack of clarity over the nature of the risk and what is and is not in the industry's gift to control.

Time is of the essence in making the changes that will match up policy and budgets. Since 2006-07, the overall budget for animal health has been depleted; as the cabinet secretary said, any transfer now must not risk the maintenance of existing activity. It is worth pointing out that, given the proportionately high levels of livestock in Scotland, a simple Barnett calculation is likely to be inappropriate and inadequate.

A similar situation exists with Animal Health. With headquarters in Worcester and funded by DEFRA, the agency operates in Scotland to policy determined by Scottish ministers, who have their own chief veterinary officer and veterinary team at Pentland house. That seems to make little sense. The CVO and veterinary team should have a direct link and communication with veterinary implementation on the ground in Scotland.

Our amendment is not about pulling up the drawbridge but about finding a more sensible means of working. Crucially, it would require Scottish ministers to be able to continue to access the UK contingency reserve fund. At present, applications are made when large amounts of unforeseen expenditure are incurred by any of the UK Administrations. That is a sensible approach and must be safeguarded. The issue goes to the heart of why the failure of the UK Government to compensate for damages that were incurred last year is unacceptable.

The changes that we propose would enable a more sensible distribution of responsibility and resource, and address Professor Scudamore's calls for greater clarity about and understanding of financial arrangements. I hope that they will enjoy the support of the Parliament.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party 4:06, 2 October 2008

Today's debate has been a useful opportunity to thrash out what happened during last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak and to examine ways of ensuring that, if another outbreak occurs, measures are in place to deal with it swiftly. I am heartened to hear the cabinet secretary's thoughts on how we can take forward some of the Scudamore report's recommendations.

I am sure that all members agree that we cannot afford to let the farming industry experience any more heartache. For that reason, we must guard against future outbreaks and ensure that, if there is an outbreak, what Government does is appropriate. Only a fortnight ago, we debated in the chamber the plight of Scotland's hill farmers, many of whom are retreating from the hills because of the industry's precariousness. We heard that incomes are down but feed bills are rising. Because of that fragility, we need to ensure that everything that is within the powers of the Parliament is done to protect Scotland's food producers. As we noted in the debate on hill farming, it is not just farmers who suffer; the web of industries that rely on producers—abattoirs, butchers, float drivers and marts—is also affected.

The foot-and-mouth outbreak had significant pertinence to the South of Scotland region that I represent. In September last year, there was a suspected scare at Lanark mart after one sheep was found to have lesions inside its mouth. Thankfully, the results of tests came back negative. However, after testing, the complete shutdown of the mart and delays in sales, buyers went home leaving many lots unsold. The mart was praised for its efforts, but the impact on incomes was felt by farmers not just in Clydesdale but throughout the country.

We all remember the sinking feeling of reading about the outbreak in Surrey last year. My sister, who is a member of a young farmers club in Dumfries, told me that folk in that group were in tears, as the news brought back memories of the previous time that the area suffered an outbreak of foot-and-mouth. As Jim Hume indicated in his personal account of what happened in 2001, the images of the mass cull of millions of sheep and cattle in that year remain fresh in the memory of people in the South of Scotland.

If news of the outbreak were not bad enough, reports of what the UK Government had said were a sucker punch too far. As Alasdair Allan indicated, there was utter disbelief at the actions of Hilary Benn, who said in one breath that the UK Government would help Scotland's farmers but in the next that it would help only the English livestock sector. Not only were Scotland's farmers penalised for an outbreak hundreds of miles away, through no fault of their own, but they had to hear that they were being abandoned by the UK Government.

It is clear from the Scudamore report that such mishandling and lack of communication cannot be replicated and that better communications and relationships need to be established between the two Governments. I know that the Scottish Government did everything that it could to force Westminster's hand at this awful time for rural Scotland, but co-operation needs to be two way. The UK Government needs to work constructively with the sector here and to realise the error of what happened last year. I hope that the Scudamore report will serve to focus the mind.

One Clydesdale farmer told me how he was affected by the foot-and-mouth scares, how his income fell, how his day-to-day business was interrupted, and how he could not get lambs to the butcher or to other grazings. He also said that, in light of the messages that he heard from London, it was a bizarre anomaly that the Scottish Government has the policy tools to deal with foot-and-mouth disease but not the direct funding. It is clear from what he and others have said that what happened last year cannot be replicated. That is why I am pleased that the report was produced.

The report praises the Scottish Government for the way in which it handled the foot-and-mouth outbreak and notes that it acted in the best interests of the Scottish industry to ensure a return to normal conditions as quickly as possible. It is important that it also acknowledges the work of the stakeholders who attended meetings at short notice and contributed their expert knowledge and advice in working with the Government to ensure a speedy recovery from the crisis.

Although the report praises the Scottish Government, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Instead, we must ensure that the recommendations and thoughts that are included in it are considered and acted on in a sensible and appropriate manner. I am pleased that there will be a consultation in November.

The co-operation of the UK Government will be needed to implement the recommendations fully. I hope that that Government takes heed of what the report says and considers devolving budgets for service delivery to the Scottish Government so that it is responsible for the delivery of disease control. I think that farmers want that and that the NFUS backs it.

A fortnight ago, many of us spoke passionately in the hill farming debate about how we must protect rural Scotland and how different and special our rural economy is. Areas that cover 85 per cent of Scotland are recognised as less favoured areas; that means that there cannot be a homogeneous, one-size-fits-all policy operating centrally. Ideas about isolating Scotland from certain disease controls in order to protect itself and its export markets must be explored.

Given the ever-increasing amounts of international exports, it is clear that Scotland will not always be free of disease in the future. Therefore, we need to be clear about who will support our farmers and who will compensate them if another disaster occurs. Our Government must work with the UK Government and the EU—that is important—so that our distinctly Scottish voice is heard loud and clear. My preference is for the Scottish Government to have full control; it should look after Scotland's rural communities and agricultural interests. Indeed, it may come as no surprise that I can think of a simple way to end the blurring of lines that separate which Government is responsible for which area of disease control policy: one layer of Government could be taken out of the equation. Until that happens, I hope that the Calman commission will, as Sarah Boyack suggested, look closely at the Scudamore report and realise the real and tangible merits of devolving more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 4:12, 2 October 2008

Some members may be surprised that I am taking part in this debate—some of our front-bench members certainly are—but I hope that my colleagues from rural parts of Scotland will not mind my intruding on their territory. I remind them that foot-and-mouth disease is not solely a rural problem; it can and has affected other parts of Scotland, such as the area that I represent in deepest Lanarkshire.

I welcome the Scudamore report, and record my thanks to Professor Scudamore and his team for carrying out the review. The report is a wide-ranging and comprehensive analysis of the problems that foot-and-mouth disease can bring to urban communities as well as to rural communities.

My constituency of Hamilton North and Bellshill is home to only four small farms, which make up little of the local economy. More than 1,500 jobs rely on fish processing in my constituency, which puts the scale of farming in it into context. However, those jobs give me as a representative of a landlocked urban constituency more than a passing interest in rural affairs.

My area is synonymous with logistics and transportation; it is also home to one of the largest rendering plants in Scotland. Therefore, when a foot-and-mouth problem emerges, my constituency—particularly the community of Newarthill—becomes central to addressing one of its outcomes. I fully understand the importance of abattoirs and rendering plants because of that and commend their work in general terms. However, more attention must be paid to the impact of those businesses on the communities in which they are established, particularly during periods of crisis.

The extensive use of the Omoa works in my constituency when animal culls were necessary highlighted several issues. As the plant is some distance from where the animals involved are reared, the carcases are transported hundreds of miles to it. Many of us will find it hard to remember a hot summer in Scotland, but when a local plant exudes nauseating odours into the air around urban villages even in the dead of winter, members can imagine the level of the problem that a little heat can add to the already abhorrent smell that comes from the plant. I assure those who are not familiar with that smell that it is one of the most awful smells that anyone has the misfortune of experiencing. I grew up in Newarthill. Like others in the village, I had to live with the smell day in and day out.

I am in no way suggesting that rural communities should suffer the smell just because they produce its source. I am saying that the regulation of such plants must be stringent, so that, wherever an abattoir or rendering plant is located, it has no adverse impact on its surroundings. I am not suggesting that the plant in my constituency needs to be closed. I welcome the jobs that it provides, but I urge a drive to make abattoirs local. Positive aspects of that would be employment opportunities for local people and the obvious reduction in carbon emissions.

Had the previous owners of the Omoa works remained in place, I would have argued for the plant's closure—I argued for that in the past. At the time of the foot-and-mouth crisis, the plant made great play of the fact that it was indispensable, so it was above the law. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency had a terrible problem in trying to make the company comply with odour emission regulations. The company had a strong bargaining position and knew it, so it felt under no obligation to respect the community. In that period, the emissions that affected local communities increased beyond the serious existing problem. However, the plant is now under new ownership and is operating in a manner that locals accept is greatly improved. That is clear evidence—if it were needed—that rendering facilities are not a problem in themselves.

For practical reasons, it makes more sense for dead animals to be transferred to a facility that is close to the area where they were killed. That would mean that the smell that is generated is not as strong as that which my constituents experience all too often when dead animals are transferred from places such as Aberdeenshire and beyond and are left to putrefy in lorries while waiting to be rendered, having decayed as they travelled hundreds of miles.

Abattoirs provide a useful service, but the sector should have more competition, so that communities are not blighted by selfish companies such as that which operated in my constituency. I urge the Scottish Government to develop more local abattoirs to help the farming industry first and foremost, and to give us a more effective and competitive system when disposing of animals during crises that diseases such as foot and mouth cause.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party 4:18, 2 October 2008

I have experience of dealing with a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. As the director of protective services with Highland Council in 2001, I was in charge of the council's animal health and welfare and emergency planning responsibilities. As such, I was put in charge of the council's response to the outbreak that year.

I was a leading player in the multi-agency emergency group, which was established to co-ordinate the Highland response. That group included representatives from many bodies, such as council departments, the police, the NFUS, the Scottish Executive's Environment and Rural Affairs Department and Highland Health Board.

One controversial measure that we introduced was disinfectant baths on the roads that led into the Highlands, so that every vehicle that entered the region was disinfected to prevent its carrying in the disease. Other concerns were the closure of countryside paths and the movement of animals into and around the Highlands, which caused us several severe headaches. That time was difficult and stressful for everyone, but we were ultimately successful. The key to our success was that we acted quickly and decisively, just as the Scottish Government did last year.

I welcome the Scudamore report's conclusions on Scotland's handling of the 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak in Surrey. I also welcome the Scottish Government's commitment to take forward the report's recommendations.

As has been said, although the disease came nowhere near Scotland, the impact of the outbreak and of the UK Government's reaction was keenly felt by Scotland's hard-pressed farmers—even farmers and crofters in Shetland, who are many miles from Surrey. I am sure that the farmers of Surrey would agree that that was ridiculous in the circumstances. As Peter Peacock said, some parts of Scotland are further from the border than Surrey is, which reinforces the need for regionalisation.

The Scudamore report makes key points in support of the Scottish Government's reaction to the outbreak and its subsequent actions. For example, Professor Scudamore said that the Scottish Government's actions were

"in the best interests of the Scottish industry".

He also said:

"As soon as FMD was confirmed in August and again in September the Scottish Government acted quickly and decisively".

Professor Scudamore said:

"There has been a perception in England that a number of the actions taken by the Scottish Government were purely for political reasons and not related to best scientific and veterinary advice. From the evidence available this does not appear to be the case. The Scottish Government took appropriate action".

I hesitate to mention Peter Peacock again, but his comments on the matter were bizarre and probably related more to Labour paranoia than to anything else.

The source of last year's outbreak was a UK Government-owned laboratory in Pirbright, in Surrey. There is no doubt that the UK Government badly let down Scotland's farmers and the 67,000 people who are employed in the industry in Scotland when it refused to accept responsibility for the impact of the crisis. When news of the FMD outbreak and its implications for Scotland became clear, the Scottish Government reacted quickly and effectively, despite the fact that it had a limited remit. The Scottish Government's actions were supported by the NFUS. The report commends stakeholders for their work with the Government during the crisis.

However, Labour and the Lib Dems, who had just been thrown out of power by the Scottish electorate, accused the SNP of using the crisis as an opportunity to pick a fight with Westminster. That was hardly a constructive contribution at a time when Scotland's farmers were facing potential financial ruin and there was a real possibility that animals would starve.

Our farmers, who faced the loss of their livelihoods as a result of a crisis that flowed from a Government hundreds of miles away, had every right to seek compensation there and then. After all, £24 million was paid in compensation as a result of the 2001 outbreak, as Alasdair Allan said. However, our farmers' pleas fell on deaf ears. Hilary Benn was going to announce a fast-track compensation programme for Scotland's affected industries, but when he made his speech in the House of Commons no offer was made to Scotland's livestock industry—I make no apology for repeating what Alasdair Allan said in that regard. However, £12.5 million was made available to farmers in England. That confirmed beyond doubt the belief in the Scottish industry that the UK Government was playing politics with Scottish farmers' livelihoods and our vital livestock industry, just as it is playing politics with the Scottish council tax benefits system.

The Scudamore report underlines the fact that as a small nation Scotland was better able to use its communication channels with industry stakeholders during the crisis. That clearly demonstrates the advantages of handling such matters ourselves, to the benefit of the industry and affected communities. The Scottish Government's swift response helped to keep Scotland free of foot-and-mouth disease. I am pleased that the report backs the Government's desire to devolve animal health budgets. It is vital that that should happen before DEFRA reduces expenditure on animal health.

I whole-heartedly welcome the report and the Scottish Government's commitment to taking forward the recommendations that it contains.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 4:24, 2 October 2008

It is groundhog day.

We have had a useful and interesting debate. I rectify my earlier error in not welcoming Rhoda Grant to her maternity cover duties, and I salute the maiden contribution of our new urban farmer, Michael McMahon—he is not in the chamber.

Although amendments to the motion were lodged, the debate has highlighted the degree of consensus in the Parliament on Professor Scudamore's review and the Government's response to it. I commented on that during my earlier speech when I talked about the rationale behind the amendment that I lodged. It might be helpful if I take a little time to consider the amendments in the names of Sarah Boyack and John Scott.

It will not surprise Sarah Boyack to hear that I respond well to any motion or amendment that seeks to highlight the unique circumstances of Scotland's islands. Unlike the more impetuous Mr Allan, I will resist the temptation to go into detail on how that is so; suffice it to say, I firmly agree with the sentiment.

In fairness, as I said earlier, my experience during last year's outbreak was that, on the whole, the Government and its agencies recognised that uniqueness. I recall making representations on several occasions on sanctioning the movement of animals on and between islands at the earliest opportunity, and I also successfully argued against requiring animals to be sent for slaughter to the central belt when facilities were available closer to hand in Dingwall. However, I urge the cabinet secretary to ensure that all the lessons are learned, whether they are positive or negative.

The point about local abattoir facilities has merit. I know from experience the critical role that Orkney Meat plays in my constituency. Not only does the facility provide jobs, it retains value in the islands, ensures that Orkney can continue to trade on the basis of quality, and helps to support a wide range of other businesses, from local butchers and retailers to those involved in the tourism sector. Nevertheless, the costs are not insignificant. As the cabinet secretary is well aware from our recent correspondence and our meeting yesterday, where it is not possible to dispose of waste locally the costs involved in shipping waste product off island are not inconsiderable.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Does the member accept that, notwithstanding the desirability of increasing slaughter capacity in Scotland, the limiting factor is cost—veterinary costs in particular? As he has been in correspondence with the minister, does he know how that could be addressed or from what budgets funds might come?

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I do not know whether the member is referring to local abattoir costs or veterinary costs.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I did not quite understand the intervention. If the member wants to write to me, I will correspond with him.

I take this opportunity of thanking Richard Lochhead for his assistance with Orkney Meat's problems, although I remind him that a solution has yet to be identified. Local abattoirs can serve a useful role. Sarah Boyack articulated that well, as did those from the Islay abattoir who gave an excellent presentation in the Parliament during the recent Scottish food fortnight.

The second part of the Labour amendment highlights a serious problem and one that the Government has singularly failed to get to grips with in the past year. It would appear that there is now a stand-off between the industry and ministers, which is deeply worrying and extremely damaging to that key part of the agricultural sector.

Members will recall that ministers were forced into agreeing to set up a task force last year, such was the sense of anger among pig farmers that their interests had been ignored when the Government announced its plans for compensation. For ministers then effectively to ignore all the task force recommendations beggars belief. A funding package of £1 million was announced amid the now customary fanfare of spin and hype but, as other members have noted, the NFUS made it clear to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee that that was made up of recycled money and addresses none of the farmers' concerns and that £700,000 has not been released and is subject to as yet unspecified constraints.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

It is erroneous to say that we have ignored all the recommendations because some are being taken forward. I accept that two key recommendations were not taken forward, including that for two separate headage payments. We felt that they would not provide value for money or help the long-term sustainability of the sector. I hope that the member will accept that comment and the fact that major changes have taken place in the industry since the report was first compiled.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I certainly accept that there have been changes since the task force was set up and its report was published, but the words about recommendations being ignored were the NFUS's, not mine. Ministers will have to resolve those issues and do so quickly. The Liberal Democrats will support John Scott's amendment, although it presents me with some difficulty. I agree that last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak continues to have an economic impact on the industry and that the Government should address proactively the continuing decline in livestock numbers across Scotland, but the amendment, and indeed the Tories, would have a great deal more credibility were it not for the fact that, during the recent debate on LFASS, they failed to lift a finger to help bring forward payments for farmers and crofters. In light of the serious cash-flow problems faced by those in hill and island areas, earlier payments would have made a real difference.

Tory MSPs like to assert that they are the farmers' friends—indeed, as we get closer to the December council meeting, we will no doubt hear that they are the fishermen's friends as well. However, as the Government is increasingly finding, simply asserting that something is an article of irrefutable faith is not credible. It needs to be based on real action, and it is time for Mr Scott and his colleagues to assert themselves more in holding the Government to account.

As I said earlier, in pursuing opportunities for regionalisation, the Scottish ministers must not overlook the interconnections within the farming industry in Britain. As the minister acknowledged, such connections help to explain why we are a single epidemiological unit. Co-operation, collaboration and good communication must be at the heart of the approach of the respective Government ministers and officials, as the cabinet secretary pointed out in his opening remarks. That does not—and should not—preclude robust arguments being made where genuine differences of opinion exist, but those must not be driven by ulterior political motives.

I share the frustration and anger that is felt by the industry, the cabinet secretary, Alasdair Allan and The Scottish Farmer at the refusal of UK ministers to make their contribution to compensating those who suffered losses. The cabinet secretary is also absolutely right to express disbelief that he and his officials learned of the source of the 2007 outbreak from BBC news. However, holding press conferences in Westminster to release correspondence between ministers is not the manner in which the industry, the public or this Parliament expects the Scottish ministers to behave. As Jim McLaren said in evidence to the Calman commission last month,

"Antagonism is always generated between Administrations of different colours, which is unhelpful."

In effect, he was saying, "An exotic animal disease on both your houses."

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative 4:31, 2 October 2008

I, too, add my congratulations to Karen Gillon and welcome Rhoda Grant to her new role. I will miss Rhoda's presence on the Public Petitions Committee.

This afternoon's debate has been constructive and, by and large, useful. Like other speakers, I add my thanks to Professor Jim Scudamore and his team—including former NFUS president, John Ross—for producing a practical and positive report that has been generally welcomed by the farming industry. The report addresses most of the concerns that Scottish farmers and crofters have about tackling future animal disease outbreaks.

As John Scott said, the Scottish Conservatives support the broad thrust of the report. Like Professor Scudamore and speakers from other political parties, we pay tribute to the good work that was done in 2007 by a number of key organisations, including the Government's executive agency Animal Health, the Meat Hygiene Service and local authorities. The work that was done by many individuals, including those in the agricultural sector, was crucial in reducing the risk of disease incursion and spread. Their work minimised the impact that the outbreak in the south-east of England had on Scotland—an outbreak that, as we have heard, could have been avoided.

We agree with the NFUS that the shortcomings in surveillance in Surrey that resulted in the re-emergence of foot-and-mouth disease are unacceptable and need to be addressed. We also agree with the cabinet secretary that those who keep animals must take responsibility for monitoring their welfare.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

Does the member also agree with the NFUS that the budget for animal health should be devolved to Scotland?

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative

I will come to that in a minute.

Last year's outbreak in England could hardly have come at a worse time for Scotland's livestock farmers—and the sheep sector in particular—not least because grazing was running low even before the movement restrictions were imposed. Thus, it was essential that disruptions to the norm were kept to an absolute minimum while, at the same time, a science base was adopted.

Sadly—as we heard in the recent parliamentary debate on hill farming and as is highlighted in the excellent reports from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Agricultural College—economic conditions for our sheep farmers and crofters have deteriorated since last year. The Scottish Government's immediate focus must be on doing whatever it can to support that very fragile sector, which is experiencing the loss of critical mass in sheep numbers in many areas.

The report's recommendations on the development of a risk hierarchy for priority movements based on veterinary assessment and a review of Scotland's foot-and-mouth disease contingency plan to ensure that it is fit for purpose are both commonsense proposals that we look to ministers and officials to deliver without delay.

The Scottish Conservatives also welcome the priority that the report gives to regionalisation. We recognise that complexities are involved, but regionalisation is desired by our farmers and crofters. It is important that preparations are made now so that the groundwork is completed. Given that regionalisation will involve working closely with other UK Administrations and the EU Commission, I welcome the fact that the cabinet secretary has already engaged with the Commission on the issue. I hope that he will continue to press the EU and the UK Government on regionalisation. If Scotland could maintain its export status in the event of a future outbreak in the south of England, that would be a huge lifeline for our farming sector.

We share the concern about the lack of clarity about which Administration has responsibility for key areas, particularly funding. We fully support the recommendation that existing concordats are urgently reviewed and that financial arrangements are made clear. However, to answer Jim Hume and to follow on from what John Scott touched on in his opening speech, because we are reluctant to pre-empt the outcome of the Calman commission's continuing work, we, like Labour, will not support the Liberal Democrat amendment. It is essential, however, that we get clarity in those areas and that the lines of responsibility are as open and as clear as possible to all stakeholders. We are happy to support Labour's amendment, which focuses on the problems still facing the pig industry and on the benefits that remote and rural Scotland could derive from the return of local abattoirs.

Most farmers and crofters in Scotland felt that communication was strong during last year's outbreak. The Conservative party is grateful for the efforts made by the cabinet secretary and the chief veterinary officer to keep us informed as the outbreak progressed. Nevertheless, we agree with the report that the communications strategy should be updated to take account of the recommendations and that the most modern technology should be used to ensure that communications are as smooth as possible.

It is pleasing that the generally consensual tone of the debate reflects the welcome that most people in the agricultural sector and all related stakeholders gave to the Scudamore report's publication earlier in the year. We all undoubtedly hope that we will not see a recurrence of the devastating foot-and-mouth disease in the future. However, implementing the report's recommendations should go a long way towards making Scotland as well prepared as possible to deal with an outbreak in the most effective way and allow normality to return to the sector as speedily as possible after an outbreak is confirmed.

Given the severe economic pressures that currently face farmers and crofters, it is vital that they can feel confident that the Government has in place all the necessary systems and procedures to minimise the impact of any future outbreak. We urge ministers to work closely with NFU Scotland and others, as they implement the report's recommendations, in the interests of not only Scottish farmers and crofters, but the Scottish rural economy.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour 4:37, 2 October 2008

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am grateful for the time. I thank members for their good wishes.

Unlike others, I want to put on record our thanks to the staff involved for their hard work and dedication. We thank, too, the Scottish agricultural community for working with Government.

I want to amplify comments made by Jim Hume. We have had a wholly technical debate, but the outbreak affected people and we cannot forget its effect on those who had to live through it. They did not know when their stock could be moved and were sometimes caught out with their stock in the wrong place. They had to worry about that and find solutions. We must always remember the human cost of an outbreak. I am glad that lessons have been learned from the 2001 outbreak; that is heartening. However, the report highlights the need to take into account changing circumstances and the need for robust planning.

An issue that has come up a lot in the debate is the need for regionalisation. Elaine Murray said, and others agreed, that we need to be part of the UK epidemiological unit—I laughed at other people trying to say that, and now I have got my comeuppance. Our trading patterns are such that we cannot cut ourselves off from the rest of the UK. Light lambs go south to markets and slaughter for supermarkets is done outwith Scotland, so we must be careful about how we take regionalisation forward. My colleague Peter Peacock talked in depth about the complexity of the issue.

Richard Lochhead rightly said that there must be consensus when considering regionalisation—I very much agree. Liam McArthur said that regionalisation had to be risk-based and proportionate so that our response was proportionate and that it was not just about drawing lines on a map. We do not want regionalisation to close down trading links, as the industry is struggling enough. However, we must consider that approach as a contingency. As the Scottish Government's report "Foot and Mouth Disease Review 2007: Economic Impact in Scotland" says, islands lend themselves to regionalisation. It states:

"Hence a plausible alternative approach might have been to treat Scottish islands as separate from the mainland".

I would like something like that to happen. People on islands watched as restrictions were lifted in Northern Ireland, while they had much more biosecurity than in other areas. The issue must be considered in the round.

If regionalisation is to work we must consider the location of abattoirs. The Government is considering using the less favoured area support scheme and the rural development programme to help provide abattoirs. However, as many members have said, including Sarah Boyack and Rob Gibson, we need a strategic approach. There is no point in leaving it up to local communities to establish abattoirs in their areas, because they must be strategically placed so that they fit in with the contingency plan that we draw up. Elaine Murray highlighted the issue as being important if we are to access local food. If we are serious about encouraging local markets and local food, we must have local abattoirs.

There are issues to address, such as whether the abattoirs would be part time, how they would be funded and where they would be built. Michael McMahon talked about the wider issues of rendering plants and travel distances. All those issues must be considered seriously and in the round. Richard Lochhead talked about Government giving responsibility to the agricultural community, but the Government has a role to work with the community to identify the areas and the approach. There is consensus in the Parliament that local abattoirs would be a good thing, so I look forward to members supporting our amendment, which highlights the need for such abattoirs. The contingency plan would also affect the siting of abattoirs and rendering plants, and many members talked about the planning process for that.

We must consider our response to outbreaks that occur at different times of the year, because that would change the way in which we deal with them. Richard Lochhead mentioned that the second outbreak was badly timed for the sheep sector in the Highlands. It was at a time of year when most sheep were being transported to market, so there was a big impact on the industry. Therefore, in drawing up a contingency plan, we need to consider the different sectors, the various times of year and market patterns. A contingency plan is not a document that is drawn up and put on the shelf; it has to be taken down and worked on as market conditions change, so that it is mindful of those conditions.

As Sarah Boyack said, the contingency plan could include issues to do with working time directive derogations. When are derogations triggered? Do we have to push for them, or could they happen automatically? Richard Lochhead mentioned applying for movement licences in advance. I would be grateful to hear more about that. He talked about low and high risks and risk assessment, but we need more information on how that would work. If proposals are being drawn up, it would be a good idea to consult the industry. John Scott mentioned scenario planning and ensuring that we keep up to date with scientific processes.

All members seemed to agree that we must review the concordats and their effectiveness. It is disappointing that the concordats that were in place in 2001 and which appeared to work well when a Liberal Democrat rural affairs minister was dealing with them could not cope when we had a change of Government to the SNP. Many SNP members have used the debate to have a go at the devolution settlement. I am grateful to Dave Thompson for reminding me of the reasons for the concerns about leaks of confidential information. His leader, the First Minister, released confidential information at a press conference—he did not try to hide that. I am not sure that Scudamore says that there was no reason for the mistrust; that leak was blatantly a reason. My colleague Peter Peacock talked about that, and about the need to have a grown-up relationship with other Governments. The matter cannot be dealt with whimsically, or in the way in which it has been, and the present Government needs to examine it closely. We cannot play politics with people's lives—the issue is much too serious.

The Liberal Democrats raised the funding issue, but—as my colleague Sarah Boyack said—we cannot support their amendment. It is not that we are not willing to discuss the matter, but we feel that the funding and the devolved settlement need to be considered in the round as part of the Calman commission.

Alasdair Allan and John Scott attacked Labour ministers because of the Pirbright outbreak. I expect that from Alasdair Allan, but I gently remind John Scott about the Tory Government's handling of the BSE and salmonella outbreaks. In contrast to that, the Labour Government acted quickly, asked the correct agencies to examine what had happened and took decisive action.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Will the member accept that the BSE outbreak was totally different? The best scientific advice that was available from the Swann Committee and the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee formed the basis of the Government's position at that time—1996—which is completely different from not carrying out the maintenance programme at Pirbright.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

Every outbreak and crisis is different. I was trying to make the point that the Labour Government took decisive action. It is the action that a Government takes in a crisis that is important.

A lot of members talked about the pig industry. It is crucial that we protect that industry, and I am concerned about the issues that members have raised. I am also concerned by the suggestion that European, or non-UK, pork is being marketed in the UK with a UK label. We rightly have high welfare standards that cost our pig farmers more. I am not arguing against those, but food must be labelled properly to ensure that people know what they are buying, how they are buying it and that they are supporting our industry.

I would like to talk about a lot of other issues, but I am running out of time—I did not think that that would be possible. I am glad that we have learned lessons from the 2001 outbreak and that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment is talking about the lessons that the Government can learn from the 2007 outbreak.

Our amendment highlights practical action. Regionalisation is complex, but it needs to be explored as a possible vehicle to protect our industry, and that has to be done while protecting our markets. We need to explore all avenues to minimise future disruption of our livestock industry in the case of any future outbreaks, but we also need to safeguard the industries in the current climate. I urge the minister to act on our concerns.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 4:48, 2 October 2008

I welcome Rhoda Grant to her new—albeit temporary—role, while Karen Gillon is away breeding an even larger majority for herself in Clydesdale. I offer my congratulations and those of my party to Karen and her new arrival.

I also welcome Liam McArthur to his new position. I am sure that he will not mind my saying that he chided me yesterday for not having welcomed him, but I am glad that I waited until today because I saw a truly remarkable performance. I have never heard a member speak twice in the same debate, but he could go further: I would now like him to speak for and against a motion in the same debate to prove his versatility.

Those who do not want political plain speaking should look away now, because I have three strong political points to make before I get to the consensual part of my speech.

First, Peter Peacock's remarks on political influence on decision making were disgraceful. He used dog-whistle politics of the worst sort to play to the lowest common denominator in the Labour Party, which demeaned the debate and his contribution to it. There is no evidence that there was such influence: Scudamore specifically says that there was not, so it should not have been referred to as it was.

Secondly, I will speak about compensation, which flows from that. DEFRA speaks about cost and responsibility sharing, but on this occasion it shirked its responsibilities and refused to meet the cost. There is no way we can get around that fact, so it is surprising that Labour members did not mention it. The farmers did not come to the Scottish Government asking for resources. They went to the UK Government because all the law in practice said that that is where they should go, but they got nothing. The Scottish Government, with its limited resources, had to step up to the plate and provide a package. Those are the facts, and we should have them on the record.

Thirdly, I am disappointed that neither Labour nor the Tories will support the Lib Dem amendment. In our usual generous way, we will support all the amendments, but there is an important point to be made about the Liberal Democrat amendment, which should be supported. It is not just that we support the ideas that it contains, nor even that the Lib Dems support them; it is that the ideas are supported by NFU Scotland, whose press release states:

"Animal health and welfare is a devolved matter but the budgets are not and these remain buried in Westminster. Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs ... has voiced his concern over this arrangement and he has our full support in having this anomaly addressed as soon as possible."

Scudamore makes the same point in paragraph 21 of the report.

Many people suspected that the Calman commission was always going to be a fig leaf and an excuse for inaction. When there is consensus and a clear demand for action that will make a practical difference for our farmers, it should be supported. I hope that, even at the eleventh hour, the Conservatives and Labour will change their view of the Liberal Democrat amendment.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Does the minister understand that, although we are sympathetic to the amendment, the issue should not be dealt with in isolation? The discussion should take place in the round, which is why we believe it is an issue for Calman. We do not oppose the amendment in principle.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

First, the matter is urgent, so we cannot wait—DEFRA budgets are already shrinking. Secondly—to use an agricultural term—fine words butter no parsnips. We should take some action and not just talk about it.

The rest of the debate was consensual, so I will draw attention to some of the issues that Parliament has addressed and agreed on. The first is regionalisation, which we are happy to accept is an opportunity and not a certainty. The Scottish Government is committed to engaging with stakeholders throughout the supply chain to get clear agreement on what regionalisation means and under what circumstances it would work for Scotland. Our trading partners and the European Commission must agree to the proposals, but the door is open to discussions on regionalisation and what might arise from it. We should support that progress.

Secondly, the islands were mentioned first by John Scott and then by Alasdair Allan, Rob Gibson and a number of other members. The Scottish Government did give the islands special treatment based on the science, and would expect to do so wherever possible. We can possibly get EU support to allow the islands to continue to export, subject to particular circumstances, and the matter will be much to the fore in our upgraded contingency plan. Given my responsibility for crofting, I remember that difficulties arose daily. We need to build into any contingency plan any arrangements that operate as of right, but we have to negotiate that. We cannot impose it.

On welfare slaughter, which Sarah Boyack raised, the role of the welfare slaughter scheme will be reflected in the contingency plan. It will not and should not be a first choice, and the need for it can be reduced by effective contingency planning. On drivers' hours, which she also spoke about, we continue to raise the matter with the UK Administration: we are engaging directly with the UK Government on the matter. We must avoid the difficulties that arose in 2007, because they impacted both on animal welfare and on individuals' earning opportunities.

We all agree about abattoirs and we know that further action is necessary. This summer, I visited the small abattoir on Tiree, just as last year I was at the small abattoir outside Castlebay on Barra. An effective service can be provided close to the supply route, but we have to ensure that we do that as a matter of negotiation; we cannot impose that, either.

It is important to recognise that not all is doom and gloom. Movements in prices in the past year have benefited a variety of producers in all sectors. There are many problems, but they can be addressed. The Scudamore report, like the Government in its actions, segments the problems, addresses them and tries to build confidence in the sector. Earning capacity is based on confidence. One of the confidence-building measures will be a contingency plan on which we can consult. Rhoda Grant mentioned risk assessments related to the contingency plan. Part of the consultation on the full contingency plan will have to be consultation on risk assessments.

We could go into a whole range of other issues.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I will resist the temptation.

A number of members spoke about the human cost of foot and mouth. Elaine Murray said that, when she received her call from the cabinet secretary last year, she was outside the catacombs in Paris. I was outside the Dumfries and Lockerbie show, and the feeling there was one of extreme nervousness and worry. People in Dumfries had enormously bad memories of 2001, and those memories came flooding back. The nervousness was made especially obvious by the fact that the animal lines at the show were empty. Normally, they are completely full. That was a feature of show after show during the summer. The shows that survived were almost empty because there were no animals.

The impact of foot and mouth is still felt in the south-west of Scotland. On Sunday I was in Moniaive, where I was opening the "Striding Arches" project—Andy Goldsworthy's new sculpture project within the landscape. The genesis of the project was Andy Goldsworthy's concern for the area, and the feeling that there had to be new things happening and new signs of hope. Foot and mouth is still a strong memory in the area.

The job of any Government is to communicate and to build confidence. A number of members have paid tribute to Richard Lochhead in the role that he played, and I want to tell one story that brings that home, because it is not just Scudamore who acknowledges Richard Lochhead's important role. The first thing I was told when I arrived at the Dumfries show in the morning was that he had already spoken to the show's secretary to reassure her about the arrangements that were being put in place. The cabinet secretary did not just chair national meetings, but was in touch with the people who matter on the ground. It was the leadership that was shown by him, by the Scottish Government and by the people who worked for the Scottish Government—in alliance with the farming community in Scotland—that made all the difference. The one thing that we must remember is that we did not get foot and mouth. Unlike in 2001, when the infection caused enormous problems, in 2007 the disease did not come here. We had effective controls, we had leadership and we had plans that worked.

As every member has said, all outbreaks are different. We do not know what the future will bring: future outbreaks will not be the same as previous outbreaks. However, if we have a flexible contingency plan, if we have the right risk assessments and if we have the will of the farming and rural communities to support the difficult, costly and time-consuming measures that will have to be put in place, then we will have a real opportunity—[Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Order. There is too much noise in the chamber. I am sorry about that, minister.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

If we have all those things together, we will have a real opportunity of taking this issue forward and ensuring that, if there is any threat in the future, we will overcome it.

I will return to two points. First, the responsibility that we expected to be shown by DEFRA was not shown: the cost was not paid, so the Scottish Government measured up as it had to measure up. Secondly, we do not rest on our laurels. The Scudamore report was commissioned in order to find out both what worked and what did not work. We will now take the report forward. We are always keen to do better: that is the hallmark of this Government and it is fortunate that we are here to do it.

Meeting suspended.