Part of Mr Ainsworth's speeches 12th Nov 2001 during the debate preceding the 2nd reading of the Animal Health (Amendment) billMr. Ainsworth: The Government have set up a smokescreen, not a full independent public inquiry. If the right hon. Lady had nothing to hide, she would have nothing to fear from a public inquiry. In the absence of such an inquiry, people will inevitably be led to the conclusion that the Government have something to hide. That suspicion will haunt her for the rest of her political life. It has been left to county councils to fill the gap left by the Government's cowardice. Northumberland has announced a public inquiry, and Devon has already reported its preliminary findings,
A widely circulated letter from Alan Richardson, a retired veterinary surgeon who worked for the Home Office and for MAFF, and who was involved in the 1967 outbreak and offered his services in Cumbria during the latest outbreak, provides further compelling evidence of incompetence, bureaucracy and sheer stupidity on the part of officials acting on orders from Ministers. Mr. Richardson reported for duty on 28 February at the Carlisle office, which he found
"completely overwhelmed. And the bemused confusion among the staff of all ranks proclaimed there had been no contingency planning at all."
He went on to report
"excessive bureaucracy . . . administrative chaos . . . dithering . . . wasted time . . . bizarre priorities . . . ludicrous procedures . . . Many young, foreign and inexperienced veterinarians were manipulated, even bullied, by HQ staff."
Worse still, he reports " Before the General Election, HQ tried to resist positive diagnoses; even where there was little doubt".
What instruction had those officials received from Ministers to resist positive diagnoses before the general election? Given that the Prime Minister had by then taken personal control of the crisis, was there perhaps a deliberate attempt to stifle bad news in the run-up to the general election? That is one of the issues that a full independent public inquiry could get to the bottom of.
As well as condemning the handling of the outbreak, the Devon inquiry offers a series of sensible recommendations for future action, dealing with the training of officials, animal movements, vaccination, the disposal of culled animals and compensation. None of those is to be found in the Bill. Even more bizarre is the way in which the Bill pre-empts the outcome of the Government's own inquiries into the catastrophe.
Far from identifying and addressing the faults in the way in which the system was applied and seeking to right them, the Bill seeks to put even more power into the hands of the very people who were responsible in the first place for the bloody shambles, the heartache, the callous disregard for animal welfare and the massive costs to rural businesses and public funds.
The Bill provides for the mass slaughter of almost any animal that Ministers decide should be killed. Clause 1(3) makes it clear that it is "immaterial", in Ministers' considerations, whether any such animals have been
"affected with foot-and-mouth . . . suspected of being so affected . . . in contact with animals so affected . . . exposed to the infection", or even "treated with vaccine".
..many people giving evidence to the various public inquiries that have now been established have gone out of their way to criticise officials and the clumsy and often belligerent way in which they operated. I know that officials will need to get approval from a magistrate before exercising the new powers, but I do not know how a magistrate will know whether a request for mass slaughter is justified. I hope that the Minister will explain that.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk): We in the Select Committee questioned the Minister on that point, and I asked whether magistrates were to be given special training. I am afraid that he replied that that was not a matter for him. Given that the magistrate concerned might have to remove the livelihood of a member of his community, , I ask the Minister to produce an answer today or, at the very worst, in time for Committee.That magistrate will have to rely simply on the word of officials or of the Minister. Given that the Government's credibility, and especially the Department's, is at such a low ebb, the magistrate will be in an extremely difficult position. The Secretary of State clearly has no understanding of how discredited her Department has become. Many will ask why, after all the mess and chaos over which the Government have presided and which they have, in many ways, abetted, anyone should trust the word of the Secretary of State's officials on FMD.
Farmers or other people responsible for animals will not get the chance to put their case. The sentence will, in effect, be summary and based on the evidence of the Department alone. That is not only unreasonable but unjust.
On the front page of the Bill, the Secretary of State baldly states:
"In my view the provisions of the Animal Health Bill are compatible with the Convention rights."
That means the European convention on human rights. She may be aware of legal opinion that disagrees. If nothing else, it looks as if the Bill will be good news for lawyers.
The National Sheep Association goes so far as to suggest that the compensation arrangements in new section 35A in schedule 1 are
"an evil tool which is the product of a devious and nasty mind!"
Ministers have much explaining to do on compensation.
Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friend will be aware that matters of compensation must also be considered by the European Commission. Was not it interesting that the Secretary of State made no reference to her discussions with the EU? After all, we are part of a single market.
Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend makes a good point, because it appears that the Bill has been drafted without reference to the EU framework. As I said, forthcoming international discussions may have significant ramifications for the handling of diseases and the Government have pre-empted their outcome.