Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): On bird flu, is the Prime Minister personally convinced that all the necessary preparations have been made? In particular, are there sufficient quantities of bird flu vaccines, and when will the Government set out the circumstances in which vaccination will be used? Is it not essential that we avoid repeating the mistakes made during the foot and mouth outbreak, when decisions on such issues were made too late in the day?
The Prime Minister: I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman on vaccination. A series of people—our chief scientific adviser, the chief veterinary officer and others—advise us and sensibly we follow their advice. I am not an expert on this issue and nor is the right hon. Gentleman, but these people are. The reason why we have taken the view against vaccination, on their advice, is that they say that although vaccination is effective in stopping birds dying, it is not effective in stopping the virus spreading. Their worry has always been that vaccination masks the disease, rather than stopping it spreading. That is their reason and it is sensible in these circumstances to stick closely with the expert advice that we receive. And yes, I am satisfied that—in so far as it is possible—we have all the necessary precautions in place.
Mr. Cameron: Yesterday, the chief scientific adviser said that he anticipates that bird flu will arrive in Britain.
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Why are the Government waiting until April to carry out the full field trial of their contingency plans? Is there not a strong case for bringing forward that trial?
The Prime Minister: The advice that we have is that exercises engaged in during January—and during this month—provide us with a sufficient basis for the precautionary measures that we are going to take. In addition, the so-called Newcastle strain of the disease, which led to an exercise being carried out last December, has given us a fairly strong basis on which to work. But as I said earlier to the right hon. Gentleman, there are people whom we meet regularly—I met them myself just the other day—in order to be satisfied that the necessary precautions are in place. It is important that we maintain the right balance between taking the right precautionary measures and not worrying or concerning people unduly. As the chief scientific adviser said, the fact that the H5N1 virus has been found in Europe enhances the risk of it coming here. Its possible spread into poultry involves one set of considerations, but whether that transmutes into some different, human form of the virus is a completely separate issue. As I said, we get regular updates from those who advise us about the precautions that we should take, and we try to strike the balance that I set out, in the right way. I am very happy to make available to the right hon. Gentleman any of the information that we have so that he can satisfy himself on that point too.