Hague launches tirade on Animal Health Bill

Animal health
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William Hague launched his new role as a rural champion, using his first backbench speech since stepping down as Tory leader to lambast the Government's handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

He attacked ministers for failing to hold a full public inquiry into the epidemic, and accused the Government of a series of blunders.

He told MPs: "The whole attitude of the central personnel in this Government ... is that disaster in the countryside is an inconvenient news story rather than a major policy issue."

Mr Hague, who has expressed his desire to speak out on rural affairs from the back benches, said the Animal Health Bill "is not based on a sound, independent, considered and comprehensive analysis of what happened".

The Bill gives officials greater powers to enter farms and do so-called contiguous culls of animals on farms next to premises infected with foot- and-mouth. It also gives ministers the power to use vaccination in the event of a future outbreak. The Bill raises the prospect of cutting compensation to farmers who fail to take full biosecurity measures.

But Mr Hague said it did nothing to prevent disease being imported into Britain. He said: "It is incredible that you can still bring in meat on an aeroplane if you are a passenger as long as you claim it is for personal use. If the Government expects farmers to improve biosecurity it is reasonable for ministers to improve the biosecurity of the whole nation."

Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the Bill removed anomalies in current legislation so officials could deal "swiftly and effectively" with any new outbreak of disease.