Yr Ymchwiliad I’r Gwersi I’w Dysgu Yn Sgil Clwy’r Traed A’r Genau: Ymchwiliad I’r Achos O Glwy’r Traed A’r Genau Yn 2001
I wish to make a statement about the Foot and Mouth Disease Lessons to be Learned (Anderson) Inquiry report which has been published today, 22 July 2002. I am placing a copy of the report in the Assembly library.
The report is the culmination of a great deal of work by Dr Anderson and his team and I am very grateful to Dr Anderson for producing it to such a demanding timetable. It contains over 80 recommendations which will now be considered in great detail by an official group chaired by DEFRA and including all relevant Government Departments and devolved administrations. The aim of that group will be to produce a UK Government response to the inquiry later this year. In view of some of the specific references to Wales, I will wish to consider how the Welsh Assembly Government will also respond to the report within the next few months taking account of the views of Assembly Members and all interested parties in Wales.
Dr Anderson fully recognises the impossible circumstances faced by Ministers and officials in 2001, the inevitability of the severe impact of such an outbreak and the heroic efforts made by farmers, local people and government officials to limit the effects of and finally overcome the disease. Nevertheless, he has looked carefully at the handling of the crisis last year and produced recommendations in three broad areas:
- Developing and maintaining a national GB strategy for disease avoidance and control;
- Developing and maintaining appropriate contingency plans and ensuring effective preparedness; and
- Managing an outbreak of disease.
I strongly support the development of a national GB strategy for animal health and disease control. As Dr Anderson recognises, this needs to be produced in partnership with the farming industry and the wider rural community. The Welsh Assembly Government will ensure that interested parties in Wales have a major say in how this should be developed with Wales’ interests taken fully into account.
On contingency planning, we have already made real progress in Wales. An interim contingency plan has now been sent out for public consultation after extensive work led by the Assembly but involving a very wide range of partners and stakeholders. I hope that Assembly Members and their constituents will let us have their views and comments so that we can further improve the plan and ensure we are as prepared as possible for any future outbreaks. These responses, together with Dr Anderson’s recommendations, will enable DEFRA to produce detailed contingency plans which should be available by early 2003. The Welsh Assembly Government will be fully involved in that work. We will also be working closely with DEFRA, the Welsh Local Government Association and others to ensure that Wales is ready and able to respond effectively to other infectious animal diseases should they arise in future months and years.
The work that has been done so far has been completed despite the fact that the Assembly continues to have no legal responsibility for control of Foot and Mouth Disease in Wales. We believe that we have done as much as we can to put in place clear and effective arrangements within the current legal framework. However, as Dr Anderson recognises in a number of areas, there are clear advantages to local decision taking, the ability to tailor national policies to local circumstances, short and clear chains of command and sensible delegated responsibilities. He also mentions the tensions and practical difficulties we faced in Wales as a result of the lack of legal powers and responsibilities, both of which remained with DEFRA throughout last year’s crisis. It is, therefore, disappointing that Dr Anderson recommends the establishment of an agreement between the Assembly and DEFRA for co-ordinating the management of disease outbreaks rather than the full devolution of legal powers for which we, and many others in Wales, have argued.
The Welsh Assembly Government continues to believe that the current legal situation is unsatisfactory and fails to recognise the constitutional position Wales now enjoys. We will continue to work with DEFRA on the implications of transferring to the Assembly the relevant animal health powers, which I believe will enable any future crisis to be handled more effectively and efficiently in Wales. I will also discuss the way forward with the Secretary of State for DEFRA at the earliest opportunity. I see clear advantages to our having the same powers as Scotland in this area of disease control.
Dr Anderson also recommends retaining the 20 day animal movement restriction pending a detailed risk assessment and wide-ranging cost benefit analysis. This is an issue about which deep concerns have been raised in the farming industry in Wales and I well recognise the difficulties it will cause as we approach the autumn livestock trading period. It is essential that we strike the right balance and I have written to the Secretary of State in DEFRA seeking a solution which will enable us to guard against the future spread of animal disease while recognising the damaging effects of the current restriction on Welsh agriculture.
Copies of the report are also available on the following website: