http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199697/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds02/text/21007-06.htm#21007-06_head0

Animal Health Bill

3.38 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

With the leave of the House, I shall now make a Statement on the Government's position on the Bill. On 25th July, we considered the scrapie provisions of the Bill, and I gave an undertaking that I would let noble Lords know how the Government intended to deal with the parts of the foot and mouth disease inquiry reports that relate to the Bill. I recently wrote to noble Lords who had participated in earlier debates, indicating how the Government had taken account of the reports of the FMD inquiries, with regard to the disease control parts of the Bill, and setting out my proposals for government amendments. I also indicated how I had taken account of the points made at Second Reading and during discussion of the two procedural Motions on the Bill in March and July. I shall expand on that in a moment.

First, however, I must apologise to noble Lords who received that letter. Not all the amendments to which I referred will be before the Committee today. Specifically, the amendments on the contingency plan and on import controls are not yet finalised. Due to unfortunate delays, I have been unable to table in time the amendments relating to the publication of reasons for using the new preventative slaughter power and the requirement to consult on and publish a disease control protocol and the amendment requiring that compensation for compulsorily slaughtered FMD vaccinates be set at 100 per cent of the market value of the animal at the time of slaughter. I can assure the Committee that all those amendments will be tabled for the Report stage and that they will follow the outline I gave in the letter to which I shall refer soon.

The Government, as a matter of priority and before finalising our full response to the Anderson and Royal Society reports, have been assessing the recommendations of those reports and of the National Audit Office in relation to the contents of the Bill. We have decided that we should amend the Bill in a number of ways to reflect the terms and recommendations of the inquiries and some of the points raised in this House and elsewhere. I believe that we have been able to address some of the concerns of the stakeholders, such as the NFU, with some of our proposed amendments.

I should make clear that our comprehensive response to the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries were intended to be published in late October or early November and I cannot pre-empt the publication of that response on other matters. However, we have given priority consideration to those aspects of the inquiries that could impact on the Bill.

The Lessons to be Learned inquiry, under Dr Anderson, mentions the issue of legislation and makes two recommendations. The first is that,


    "The animal health legislative framework should be robust, unambiguous and fit for purpose. This was not the case during the 2001 epidemic. The powers available in the Animal Health Act 1981 should be re-examined, possibly in the context of a wider review of animal health legislation, to remove any ambiguity over the legal basis for future disease control strategies".

Secondly, it said that,


    "Provision should be made for the possible application of pre-emptive culling policies, if justified by well-informed veterinary and scientific advice, and judged to be appropriate to the circumstances".

Those recommendations support the central part of this Bill, which deals with the new power to cull animals,


    "to prevent the spread of the disease",

and, implicitly, to clarify the powers of entry.

I should also make it clear that although the Government do not agree that the Animal Health Act 1981 powers are "ambiguous", as suggested in the report, we nevertheless recognise that greater clarity would be desirable and that current powers do not go far enough to underpin some aspects of disease control—notably pre-emptive culling and emergency vaccination—which the inquiries advocate.

The Government's view is that we need to obtain the additional culling powers and powers of entry for vaccination or culling as soon as possible through the present Bill and that that should not wait for a wider review of animal health legislation. However, I believe that the recommendations in the Lessons to be Learned inquiry report clearly support the need to obtain the additional powers provided in the Bill as a matter of urgency.

I also need to deal with the issue of vaccination in the light of the reports which have appeared in the media from the EU and the concern about how we might use vaccination in a future outbreak. It is important to recognise that the powers in the Bill relate not only to slaughter but also to alternative and complementary strategies for combating the virus, specifically vaccination. For vaccination to be effective, it requires just the powers of entry and the speed of execution that the Bill will provide. Vaccination, even more than culling, will fail if there are loopholes in the system.

The option of emergency vaccination now forms part of the Government's interim contingency plan for the control of foot and mouth disease. The Government's view is that the powers in the Bill, particularly those allowing clearer powers of entry to vaccinate, are critical in ensuring that any future emergency vaccination programme could be completed comprehensively.

The Government's preference, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear in July, is that a vaccinate-to-live policy should be used wherever possible, in line with the Royal Society report. However, there will be scenarios where vaccinate-to-slaughter may be appropriate. The Bill will complete the powers we need effectively to implement whichever strategy is appropriate in the prevailing circumstances. Powers are also needed for serological surveillance through the administration of blood testing.

The Bill strengthens the powers in two main respects; first, the need for clear powers of preventive slaughter together with the power to slaughter vaccinated animals, and, secondly, the need for powers providing for swifter entry to farms for the purposes of vaccination, slaughter or testing. Together with existing legislation, these powers will provide for a wide range of disease control options.

The Government have tabled some amendments and, as I indicated, intend to table further amendments directly addressing concerns which noble Lords have raised about the nature of the Bill's powers. Those will introduce some significant changes to the Bill.

I shall table an amendment that requires the Secretary of State to publish the reasons for using the new preventive slaughter power. Before using the power, the Secretary of State will have to publish a justification of the need to use it in the prevailing circumstances. I shall also table an amendment introducing a requirement to consult on, and publish, a "disease control (slaughter) protocol".

I am aware that some have criticised the Bill for removing the so-called "right of appeal" against entry for vaccination, slaughter or other purposes, but that is not the case. The Bill replaces the current procedure for securing entry to premises on the authority of a High Court injunction with a far swifter procedure based on a magistrate's warrant. However, the existing procedure whereby a farmer may seek review by a senior vet of a decision to cull and make representations to him will continue to be available. However, in response to concerns regarding the warrant procedures, I have tabled amendments to strengthen the conditions in the Bill that a magistrate must be satisfied have been met before granting a warrant to obtain entry.

Concerns have also been expressed that the Government might not fully compensate farmers if vaccinated animals were compulsorily slaughtered for disease control purposes. I believe that there are strong grounds for clarifying the position. I shall therefore table an amendment requiring compensation for compulsorily slaughtered vaccinates to be set at 100 per cent of market value of the animal at the time of slaughter; that is, as if it had not been vaccinated.

I also had intended tabling an amendment providing for the Government to report annually on actions taken to prevent illegal imports of animal products, in addition to the existing requirement in the 1981 Act to report on diseased live animals imported into Great Britain. In view of the fact that we have not tabled an amendment in time for the Committee stage, I am prepared, with qualifications, to accept Amendment No. 96 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Livsey and Lord Greaves, to the same effect. It may be necessary to tidy it up subsequently, but the principle is accepted and I am prepared to accept the amendment.

One of the overriding themes of the inquiry reports is the need for contingency planning. We have done much work on that during the past year. Nevertheless, given the weight placed on that issue by the inquiries, it is appropriate that we require on the face of the Bill that the Government prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a national contingency plan. I had hoped that I could have tabled the amendment for the Committee stage, but I can assure noble Lords that I will table it in good time for Report.

Finally, the Bill provides for an adjusted compensation scheme designed to encourage high standards of biosecurity on farms by adjusting compensation where biosecurity provisions have not been observed. I am aware that in farming circles there has been considerable opposition to that part of the Bill. The inquiries do not help us here. The Government regret that the industry and the opposition parties have not felt able to go down that line, which could improve biosecurity. However, it is also true that the National Audit Office report points out some serious concerns about the whole operation of the valuation system and the system for compensation and raises the degree to which taxpayers should meet full compensation in all circumstances. In the light of that, we now intend a full- scale review of the basis of compensation and valuation in the case of foot and mouth and other diseases. As regards those other diseases, the arrangements differ somewhat. This will need to take into account issues of risk sharing and proposals for levy or insurance-based schemes and will therefore go considerably wider than the provisions of the Bill.

We have therefore decided not to proceed with this provision of the Bill and will be accepting the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, which deletes that part of the Bill and the associated schedule.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for repeating a quotation, but the point of the Bill is summarised in the Phillips inquiry into BSE. It stated that,


    "legislation should clearly empower Ministers to take precautionary measures in a situation where the existence of a hazard is uncertain".

That is precisely why we brought forward the Bill.

It is true that the Bill adds to the sets of circumstances in which an animal could be culled the criterion "to prevent the spread of disease". But that should not lead to the culling of more animals. The opposite will be our aim, as considerable scientific evidence supports the view that by culling or, indeed, vaccinating quickly in the early stages we could prevent further spread of the disease.

The proposed amendments together provide a package which will result in a Bill that provides the Government with the powers they need but at the same time meets some of the concerns expressed in the House. They will ensure that the Bill is reasonable and proportionate and that decisions will be explained in an open and transparent manner. I apologise for the length of the Statement. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whitty.)

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, do the Government have any intention of allowing noble Lords other than those on the Front Benches to have a copy of the very extensive and complicated Statement he has made? Going at the speed he did, the Minister was asking much too much of most of us if he expected us to digest this very detailed Statement. It would be quite unfair to the House—and especially to the Back-Benchers who had no notice of what he was going to say—to continue any discussion on the Bill until a copy of the Statement has been made available to all noble Lords.

Lord Whitty: Although not all of the amendments set out in the letters I sent to noble Lords who participated in the debate previously are tabled today, we intend to do so. The only additional information is that we propose accepting the amendment on import controls and the amendment to delete the adjusted compensation.

I shall ensure that a copy of the Statement is made available in the Printed Paper Office as rapidly as possible. This will ensure that noble Lords who are interested are informed of the Statement and will enable us to proceed appropriately when we reach those parts of the Bill.

I reiterate that the purpose of the Statement is to underline that the intentions in the letter, which most noble Lords who have previously participated have already received, will be fulfilled.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I should like to add my concerns to those which I suspect will be expressed by other noble Lords. My noble friend asked when we received the Statement. I was surprised that my copy, which was brought up especially for me, arrived on my desk at 2.40 p.m. today. Had I been in the Chamber during Questions, I would not have received it. The Statement took some 12 minutes to read. I have had a chance to look at it, but obviously not in great detail. As my noble friend said, clearly we need to do so.

Perhaps I may make one or two comments on where we are. Today we have had a second Statement on a second Bill on which the Government, through their own fault, have got themselves into a mess yet again. That is nothing new with this Bill; it was running into a mess back in March. The Government have had six months to get their act together. Indeed, since we last debated the Bill, nine weeks have elapsed before the Government have decided to get their act together.

I am sure that most other noble Lords who tried to work on the Bill during the Recess—which most of us did—found it most difficult having to wait for government amendments which did not arrive That is why I make no apology for Amendment No. 103A, to which we shall come later, being so huge and difficult. It seeks to force the Government at least to debate the broader issues to which the noble Lord referred. We have been very patient with the Government but on this occasion, on this Bill, they have dealt with us somewhat shabbily.

The Government said that they would wait for the reports of the National Audit Office, the Royal Society and Professor Anderson, look at the costs and the science surrounding the issue and come up with conclusions. If I were to refer to many of the issues which came out of the reports I would be accused of making a Second Reading speech—which, heaven forbid, I do not wish to do at this stage—but there are three matters arising which are relevant to the way in which we should now proceed.

One matter concerns the whole question of contingency plans. As it stands, the Bill deals only with slaughter; it does not deal with any other options. That is something we should look at. The reports deal also with the way in which the State Veterinary Service operated and with alternative measures. They were reinforced by the European Parliament's recently produced Working Group 5a report, of which other noble Lords have had copies. Paragraphs 50, 54 and 57 of that report—I could refer to many more—highlight the question of vaccination and how it should fit into some kind of animal health protection or animal health legislation.

Paragraph 50 refers to the fact that the decision on vaccination is in any case not a purely scientific matter but a political one, and yet we are being asked today to give approval to issues about which we need to talk more broadly than we are able to with the Bill as it stands. Paragraph 54 states that vaccinations are available which make it possible, at least on a herd by herd basis, to distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals. When we debated the Bill in March it was not said that it was possible to do that. It now is—and yet we still have the same Bill, with promised government amendments for which we are waiting. Paragraph 57 very tellingly states that vaccination must be considered as a first-choice option from the outset when an outbreak occurs. That is a major change from what we have been considering. Those three issues perhaps highlight the very difficult position in which the Government have placed us today.

Obviously there are many other points I should like to raise but I shall leave them and allow other noble Lords to make them in their contributions. I am grateful that the Minister has indicated the Government's acceptance of two of our points, but if it had not been for the push from our Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches and other noble Lords who have tabled amendments, I suspect that the Government would not have moved the Bill forward. We are going one step forward with at least two hands tied behind our backs because we do not have the amendments to which the Minister referred. It is a ridiculous position to be in.

Amendments were laid by the Opposition and other noble Lords in September—well before October—but we still await some government amendments. We acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has moved to rid the Bill of some of the worst conditions surrounding the issue of warrants and to clarify the kind of people who will be required to assist inspectors and to ensure that inspectors are reasonable in their demands for help. But the Government have had time to serve us better. They surely cannot accuse the previous government of putting them in this position. I wish to record my extreme unhappiness of continuing with a Bill—we shall be debating it again tomorrow—on which we have some information but still do not know when government amendments will be available or what they will include.

Lord Moran: My Lords, as usual I declare a marginal interest—our very small herd of Welsh Black cattle in mid-Wales.

Speaking as one of the usual suspects on the Bill, I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for the letters he has sent me, as promised, informing me of what the Government intended to do and giving me some of the amendments he planned to move. These letters were helpful and I have listened carefully to his Statement, although, like others, I shall wish to study it carefully.

The government amendments change some of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the Bill as it stood—for example, limiting the requirement to provide assistance to the keeper of the stock and those in charge of the animals. They also meet one or two of the other points made in earlier debates in the House. Finally they seek to meet some of the points made in the reports of the inquiries, to which the Government are only to respond at the end of this month or in early November.

But a number of the key recommendations seem to have been ignored. For example, the Royal Society's report, which struck me as particularly valuable, called for contingency plans to be brought before Parliament for debate and approval; the Government to bring before Parliament a framework for the contingency plans covering the principles involved in handling outbreaks of infectious exotic diseases; the tightening of import controls over meat, together with a much more co-ordinated approach at every level by all bodies concerned with import controls; a commitment to consider emergency vaccination as part of the control strategy from the start of any outbreak instead of as a last resort—the Royal Society says that emergency vaccination could be far more appropriate than the alternative of extensive culling—the preparation of a regulating framework and practical arrangements, including the supply of vaccines; consideration of ways to minimise animal movements; and a national strategy for animal disease research.

None of that was mentioned in the noble Lord's letters or covered by the government amendments but some of those matters were included in his statement. The noble Lord stated in his letter to me of 25th September that


    "the central features of this part of the Bill remain unchanged".

I read that with despair. I said on Second Reading on 14th January that the Bill might more appropriately be entitled the "Animal Slaughter Facilitation Bill". On 26th March and 25th July, I said that Part 1 was,


    "based entirely on legalising and extending the mass slaughter of animals".

I am astonished that under the huge weight of criticism in your Lordships' House and outside, the Government should still be keen on a policy of mass slaughter. Little wonder that Dr. Anderson called in the lessons to be learned report for a


    "reappraisal of prevailing attitudes and behaviours"

within DEFRA. The Government and the department seem determined not to listen to their critics. Help is at hand. I am not an enthusiast of the European Union—I would be much happier if we came out of it—but we belong for the present. Agriculture is one of the areas for which we have handed over responsibility to Brussels—which has, it seems, decided to take over the running of foot and mouth policy from the UK and other member states. Reports in the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times on 12th and 13th September said that the Commission was planning to take over responsibility for the handling of foot and mouth disease and to that end had prepared a draft directive that is to be published this month. Meantime, an interim report has been published by the rapporteur of the EU temporary committee on foot and mouth.

I have not seen the whole text but reports quote that committee as saying that,


    "The mass slaughter policy employed to control foot-and-mouth disease last year was based on flawed scientific models and probably did not help curb the epidemic".

The policy was said to have,


    "dubious legal grounds and may have led to animal welfare abuses".

The committee makes a number of recommendations, including


    "vaccination as a 'first choice' control option in future".

It added that


    "some farmers were intimidated and pressurised into having animals culled".

I would normally be reluctant to see responsibility moved from London—where we can at least put our views to the Government, however little attention they pay—to Brussels, where we have no influence. In this instance, I admit that in contrast to an invincibly obstinate British Government bent on making mass slaughter easier, the European Parliament's committee seems to be taking a much more enlightened view—almost identical with that of the Royal Society, laying the main emphasis on emergency vaccination-to-live.

My noble friend Lord May, president of the Royal Society, kindly sent me the text of a speech by Commissioner David Byrne to the EU temporary committee on 12th September, in which he said:


    "It is no longer acceptance to the public that large numbers of animals can be slaughtered and destroyed now that new diagnostic tests have been developed and are available which differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals . . . the Commission is of the view that emergency vaccination should be moved to the forefront of the response mechanism in the event of future outbreaks . . . vaccination had been viewed as a weapon of last resort. It is now time to break with this approach".

Commissioner Byrne added that there would shortly be a Commission proposal for a European Council directive on foot and mouth disease on those lines, which he described as a "blockbuster" proposal running to more than 130 pages.

Like many of your Lordships, the Commissioner spoke also of,


    "serious concerns that poor controls over imports from third countries were at the origin of last year's outbreak".

We have now heard from the boss. The draft directive is to be published this month. In the circumstances, surely it would be sensible to defer consideration of the Bill until we know exactly what the directive says, whether the Bill is compatible with it and whether we need a Bill at all now that the Commission is taking over the problem.

If we are to proceed, it would seem sensible for the Bill to have at least specific guidelines and powers for dealing with reactive vaccination, explicit requirements for contingency planning and regular consultations with experts on disease control. Those provisions need to be as clearly prescriptive as those for preventive slaughter and to provide for keeping fully up to date with scientific advances. We do not want the Bill to be out of date by the time it receives Royal Assent.

I hope that we shall hear from the Minister soon about his plans, now that he has heard his master's voice and had ample time to study the inquiry reports. I hope that the noble Lord will decide to wait until the draft directive is published.

A vote at this stage would not be appropriate, especially as the official Opposition is holding its policy conference this week. However, if the Government remain obdurate, the House may wish to divide on the issue on Report.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I have great sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who spoke with a great deal of wisdom and raised a number of important points. I thank the Minister for accepting our amendment on imports, for which we are most grateful.

It has been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to discuss the issues so I welcome the opportunity provided by the statement to make a few comments. I cannot see how we can address a contingency plan adequately with no amendment before us. Nor is there any amendment on a new preventive slaughter policy, when the policy adopted in 2001 was so controversial. Indeed, we await a disease slaughter control. Vaccination is a crucial aspect and one that caused frenetic debate at all levels during the 2001 outbreak. I echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that the EU will tackle many of the issues within one month. There is also a report from the European Parliament on the British Government's conduct in 2001.

All those factors could contribute greatly to a far better Bill. I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that the department requires additional legislation in case of another outbreak before a new Act is in place. I view the Bill as interim legislation to cope with that situation but down the line much more comprehensive legislation will be required to ensure that our law is contiguous with that of the European Union. The points made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord could be taken into account to produce eventually a good Bill and Act. If the Minister's intention is that the Bill should serve as an interim measure, he should make that clearer than he has done.

Lord Carter: My Lords, we should remember that the Marshalled List contains 320 amendments. Every subject that noble Lords, quite correctly, want to discuss in Committee is there. We can debate the contingency plan in dealing with Amendment No. 99. We can debate strategy in relation to Amendment No. 103A, vaccination in relation to Amendment No. 268, and the European Union report in relation to Amendment No. 316. The House is not being denied the chance to debate these matters in full and hear the Government's response.

The Government—unusually—have already said what they intend to do. The discussion in Committee will inform the drafting which the Government now say they will bring forward on Report. The situation has been extremely unusual. As a result of the way in which the Bill has been handled in this House the Government have already had the chance, before the House goes into Committee, to indicate their thinking on the various issues. We have seen the letter that has been sent out and some amendments have been proposed. So the Government have indicated their thinking. We can debate all the various issues in Committee, hear the Government's response and possibly improve the Government's thinking. Then, in the normal way, the Government will bring forward amendments at a later stage. That is entirely normal.

Earl Peel: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is right. That is the normal way to proceed. But the Minister has in effect just delivered a Second Reading speech at Committee stage, so we do not find ourselves, as it were, in the normal mode of procedure. The Minister wrote to many of us who are involved with the Bill, and I was grateful to receive his letter. But the noble Lord has raised important issues. Some clarity is required. Before we can proceed, we need to know what is happening.

On the question of vaccination, has new information come to light during the course of the summer which will have a bearing on the way in which this House will determine the outcome of the Bill? With the leave of the House, I should like to raise two specific questions on vaccination.

First, is it the Government's intention that compensation will be payable for animals which are vaccinated and not slaughtered? As matters stand, such animals may not necessarily be allowed to enter the food chain. It seems a gross injustice if an animal can be vaccinated, not be allowed into the food chain and not be compensated for. I should be grateful if the Minister would give the House a clear indication of what would happen in that case.

Secondly, in the letter that the Minister kindly circulated to us, he refers to the most appropriate strategy in any future outbreak. It is perfectly clear to me that the most appropriate strategy will be to try to find a system of accurately testing suspected livestock within as short a period as possible, thus ensuring that hundreds of thousands of animals are not slaughtered unnecessarily and that farmers' livelihoods are protected. Before the Summer Recess, it was my knowledge that such a system was not in place. But do I gather from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that matters have changed? If that is the case, the situation is very different and there should be incorporated within legislation a clause that makes effective testing mandatory before any culling can take place. If that is done, the farmer concerned can be satisfied that his stock have in fact contracted a particular disease, matters will be above board and everyone will be clear as to what is going on. Will the Minister be kind enough to tell the House whether that is now the situation? If so, it is very different from what it was when we discussed the Bill previously.

4.15 p.m.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Moran. His wisdom, as always, should be listened to. The situation is fluid, as he and other speakers have made clear. I am concerned that we shall be discussing legislation that will be out of date in six months' time.

I recognise the Minister's need to be able to deal quickly with an outbreak of disease. He can probably have the assurance of most people in the farming industry who have been involved with the recent foot and mouth outbreak that they will have the support of the farmers whose animals are involved. I do not think that there is any doubt about that. However, the Minister needs to reassure us that the measures to be taken are not over the top.

The Minister may have heard a programme on Radio 4 on Friday or Saturday on which a Mrs Morris from my locality, Worcester, spoke about the numbers of animals that were killed unnecessarily because they were regarded as contiguous to animals that were not infected at all. We need to bring into legislation the new rapid diagnostic tests and all the differences in terms of vaccination—whether the vaccinated animals will be killed or whether they will live and possibly enter the food chain. There needs to be an exercise in public education. People need to understand that most of the animals that they eat now have already been vaccinated against a number of diseases and that we suffer no problems as a result.

So I have all kinds of concerns about the Bill. My own preference is to wait and see what the EU comes up with, then to introduce a Bill dealing with all those matters in one go, properly, at our leisure. The noble Lord should trust the farmers. Incidentally, he made a blanket reference to farmers. Most of the severe problems arose in relation to dealers. There is a need to distinguish in legislation between what I call proper farmers, and dealers. I should be grateful if the Minister would give that some thought.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, we are in an unusual position in debating these matters at Committee stage. I agree with the remarks of the noble Countess and the noble Earl, Lord Peel.

It is appropriate that we should consider in general terms why we are where we are in relation to the Bill at this stage. Most of us hoped that we should not be at this stage. At Second Reading in January, most of criticised the Bill sharply. A great deal of time has elapsed since then and there has been a great deal of change, not least in the science of vaccination. Major reports have been published and others are pending. The European Union report is to be published shortly, and there is the Government's definitive response to their own inquiry reports. It seems extraordinary that we should be pursuing detailed Committee points on parts of the Bill when we still do not know what amendments the Government propose to bring forward on some critical and important matters.

We have just had an extended debate on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill and on the extraordinary procedural difficulties that we are in as a result of having substantive amendments moved on Report when the issues involved ought to have been discussed at Second Reading or at the very least in Committee. It places the House in an extraordinary position in trying to tackle important issues.

Because so many criticisms were levelled at this Bill at Second Reading, I believe that most noble Lords expected far more radical changes to be made by the Government. I echo what has been said in gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his kindness in writing to me and in sending in advance a copy of the essence of his Statement. I want to express gratitude for some of the government amendments which have met some of the criticisms that were made in the course of the Second Reading debate and the debate in March. However, I still feel that this is a deeply defective Bill.

Were I a theologian—I hesitate to claim that title—I would say that this is a sinful Bill, giving the word "sin" its proper root meaning. Every student of elementary New Testament Greek is told that the word "sin" comes from a word in classical Greek which does not mean "doing a bad thing"—that is the wide misunderstanding of sin—but which means "missing the mark". Thucydides refers to people throwing a spear or shooting an arrow and missing the target. There is reference to someone who takes the wrong turning on a journey. That is "sin". It is making a mistake of that kind, falling short of what you should be aiming at. In Plato and Aristotle the word has come to mean "an error of judgment". By any standard, this Bill misses the mark, falls short of where it should have gone, takes many wrong turns and fails to address a great many of the issues which were extremely pressing at the end of the foot and mouth outbreak this time last year.

One can imagine what was going on in DEFRA this time last year: an attitude of despair, total bewilderment and perplexity. The outbreak had been a disaster and its handling had been a catastrophe. There were various targets which could have been addressed by new legislation, in particular illegal meat imports. We still await action on that. If we simply debate the amendments we shall not have a serious debate about how we control illegal meat imports.

I returned twice to an airport in this country during the summer Recess. I had absolutely no indication that anyone minded what I brought with me. There was no notice, no questions, no sniffer dogs—nothing. The NFU survey of 10,000 people returning to this country produced exactly the same result. Ninety-nine per cent of those people did not know about it. I was looked for it. It is not in this Bill. It may be that we shall have the promise of further amendments at Report stage, but is that good enough?

Are proper information systems in place? There was such confusion over this matter during the outbreak. Have we the opportunity to debate that during the course of this Committee stage? The State Veterinary Service was dismantled by the previous Conservative government in the 1980s. That service needs to be rebuilt. There should be adequate contingency plans which are rehearsed and practised regularly.

We may have the chance to touch on some of these matters as we debate the amendments. But the fact of the matter is that, as several noble Lords have said, we need comprehensive, new legislation which goes to the root of all these issues and not simply to look at one aspect of one part of the solution to the problem, which is how we deal with an outbreak through culling or vaccination. I welcome the references to vaccination which have crept into these amendments, but I hope that there will be vaccination to live and only in exceptional cases would there be vaccination to slaughter.

We really do need new legislation. We need to go back to the drawing board and to produce a comprehensive Bill which will win the enthusiastic support of the farming and livestock industry. I am very worried that if we pursue this debate at this stage of the Committee proceedings on a limited number of amendments, we do so knowing that the farming community is deeply hostile to what is going on and still does not believe that the Government understand the position and the problems which farmers face and the despair which affects so many of them. The 407,000 people who took part in the march cannot have been wrong. Many agendas were running on that particular day. I fervently wish that we could be addressing more of those questions than simply the small number which will arise during this Committee stage.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps I may detain your Lordships' attention for a very short time. I totally accept what the right reverend Prelate has said about the need for a new and comprehensive Bill. I have tabled a series of amendments which are based on the assumption of slaughter. There is no other assumption. For that purpose certain new rights are claimed such as entry into premises and co-operation: if people co-operate this will happen; if they do not, then that will happen, with penal conditions and so forth.

Nobody has written to me about it and there is no reason why they should. I have been sitting here and listening to what is going on. It now appears that the whole scenario has changed. What am I supposed to do with my amendments? They are designed wholly for slaughter, but we are now going to talk about vaccination. I suppose that the best thing to do is to pack it in and, so to speak, shove off. But is that the way to deal with the Bill? How is it to be dealt with? Am I going to be given time to talk to a few of my friends in the farming community and redraft my amendments? Lord, no! There is not an earthly chance of that. It is the kind of imposition against which I personally protest and I do not believe that the House should indulge it.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I say to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, the right reverend Prelate and others, that we are following a slightly unusual procedure today because, under pressure from noble Lords during the first day of Committee, I was asked to make clear at the beginning of the second day how the Government intended to proceed with the remainder of the Bill. That was broadly welcomed by the House and that is why I made the statement today, which is now available in the Printed Paper Office.

We need to recognise the history of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, asked if it was an interim measure. We first proposed this Bill several months ago in the shadow of the foot and mouth disease. The House voted not to proceed with it at that point until we had the outcomes of the committees of inquiry. We now have them. Since July we have considered in detail the implications for this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that he is unhappy that the central features of the Bill still remain. The reason is that there was very strong support for it in the two inquiry reports. They indicated very clearly, first, that we needed to widen the scope for slaughter and vaccination to ensure that we can carry out a disease-control strategy which had some pre-emptive culling or vaccination. Secondly, the powers of entry needed to ensure that we rapidly carried out those powers. Both those measures are now firmly based in the recommendations of the reports and that is why the central features of the Bill have not been significantly altered.

What has altered is the reassurances that people sought about the warrant procedure, the protocol and clarification of the reasons for such a policy. I am committed to all of them. They are either on the agenda today in my name or I am committed to producing them for Report stage. The same applies for contingency planning and import controls where I have indicated that I will accept the gist of the Liberal Democrat amendment.

We have also responded to the strong view from the industry that the provisions on adjusted compensation would not be appropriate and that as they stand they would alienate rather than help to carry out disease control. With that section being removed, I believe that the bulk of the farming industry would actually support the remaining provisions of this Bill. Therefore, I do not believe that it is going against the view among farmers in general, although some will have different opinions.

The issue of vaccination has obviously concerned a number of noble Lords who have spoken. I made clear from the early stages of this Bill that the powers we were seeking were those needed for a wholesale vaccination process as much as for a wholesale culling process. One needs powers for rapid entry in order to carry out vaccination as much as one needs them for culling. Indeed, it could be argued that for a vaccination process to be effective one needs even fewer loopholes than one can afford under the culling process.

It is true that the Royal Society and, it would appear, the European committee to which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred, and others, say that vaccination should be higher in the priority of weapons used in disease control. We made a Statement on 25th July which I repeated in this House. We indicated that we accepted the proposition that vaccination should be a weapon of first resort, where appropriate, rather than last. Not all circumstances will be appropriate: the vaccination available may not be appropriate. Moreover, we accept the recommendation that the procedure should be normally to vaccinate to live rather than was the case as regards the options we considered during the previous disease and the options followed in the Netherlands, namely, vaccinate to kill.

What is needed and what this Bill provides, are powers to cover all of those options so that we have flexibility, clarity of law and speed of operation to carry out vaccination to live or as a prelude to slaughter or to the culling process. The powers are the same. If the EU raises the priority given to vaccination, we shall still need these powers to carry out the vaccination programme.

Therefore, the issue of whether we carry out vaccination more substantially than we carry out culling and whether the balance changes represents an important signal to the farming community and to society at large as regards how we would deal with a future disease. However, in terms of the powers in this Bill, those same powers will be required. That is why the central part of the Bill has not changed. I am conscious of the anxieties about proportionality, about transparency, and about explanations given to farmers and other livestock owners. All such issues are now covered either by the amendments that I have tabled for today, by amendments tabled in the names of other noble Lords, or, indeed, by amendments that will be available on Report.

I believe that we shall end up with a better Bill than the one with which we began. It will certainly be a slightly narrower Bill than was the case originally. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said, that does not preclude our returning to some of these issues in pursuit of a more substantial piece of legislation at a later stage. When first proposed, this Bill was meant to cover us for the immediate period. It will still need to cover us for some considerable time until we have fully developed the animal health strategy that emerged from the reports, including the European report that will shortly be before the House.

However, in the immediate period, we have already lost several months by not having the powers that the Government were convinced we needed earlier in the year. The committees of inquiry support the fact that we need those powers and, by and large, with the compensation requirements removed, the farming community accept that we will need them. Without further ado, I suggest that we move forward to deal with the substantive amendments. Therefore, I beg to move, once again, that the House resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.

4.30 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I have one suggestion for the Minister to consider. We have about four weeks until the State Opening of Parliament. Would it not be miles better to take away this Bill, reintroduce it in the dog days of the early part of the Session to your Lordships' House and do so in a way whereby we could have time to consider it properly and get it through this Chamber in, say, six weeks? We would have it ready to go to the Commons before Christmas, and it could be out of the other place fairly quickly. In those circumstances, the Bill would have been well scrutinised in this place and we would not have this gobbledegook of how not to approach legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is clever enough to realise the advantage of my suggestion. As for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, he is much cleverer than the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He can certainly see the advantage of such an approach. I am not being beastly to the Government; I am trying to suggest to them a way out of what is a ghastly legislative muddle. We must get this right. If we do it in the way now proposed, it is likely to become a sort of Mark l, gold-plated "Dangerous Dogs Bill". I am sure that neither the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, nor the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would like to see that happen.

Earl Peel: My Lords, without going into the merits of who is the cleverer, perhaps I may return to the simple question of vaccination. I believe that I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, told us that the powers of entry are the same whether or not vaccination is the means of controlling the disease or part of the culling process. I am sure we all acknowledge that fact; indeed, we all acknowledge the need for the Government to have such powers. However, I have one fundamental point to make and should be most grateful for the Minister's response.

I refer to the question of vaccinated animals that are not slaughtered but are prevented from entering the food chain. In such circumstances, is it the Government's intention that farmers with such animals will be fully compensated? The answer to that question is absolutely essential to the way that this Bill proceeds.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the Minister said that he needs these measures. However, in a state of emergency, has he considered issuing orders to cover such matters? This has been done frequently to cover all sorts of situations in emergencies on previous occasions. Further, as other noble Lords, especially the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, have suggested, will the noble Lord consider taking away the Bill and rehashing it to take into account not only what the European Union is saying but also what the other reports have found? In that way, we would have something that is a composite, not a hotchpotch.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I have three quick questions for the Minister. First, he said that the Government have reconsidered the position on vaccination. However, there is nothing mentioned in the Bill, which raises the question as to how he will proceed in that respect. Secondly, on the question of the amendments that the Government have not as yet tabled, we are told that we should wait for the Report stage. Can the Minister say whether or not we shall be able to debate those proposed amendments in Committee, rather than having but one chance to consider them on Report? Obviously, the Committee stage of a Bill gives us the chance to have a debate around the amendments that are laid. Clearly, if they are not brought forward before Report, we shall have a one-go-only situation.

Thirdly, I turn to compensation. I should like to put on record our thanks to the Minister for the fact that he has acknowledged the position with regard to compensation. When commenting, the Minister touched on insurance and levy systems that I know are under consideration. I believe that the latter would have implications but, again, there is nothing in the Bill in that respect.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, if I accepted the noble Baroness's amendments it would have the effect of removing compensation issues from the Bill, except for those in the specific clause regarding compensation for vaccinates to which I shall return shortly. It would mean that the whole system of compensation would be delayed until further policy decisions have been taken and further legislation introduced, and would include the wider issues of risk sharing and of possible insurance or levy-based schemes upon which the Government propose to consult at some length with the industry. Therefore, such issues are not appropriate for this Bill. All those matters now fall outside the scope of this legislation.

I turn to vaccination, which is referred to in the Bill and in some of the amendments. In particular, the powers of entry relate to entry for vaccination and for blood testing, as well as for culling. We will have some culling in any situation; for example, even if we maximise the use of vaccination elsewhere, we will kill the clearly diseased animals. Therefore, even if we fully adopt the recommendations for a vaccinate-to-live process, there will be a mixture of measures. A vaccinate-to-live process is very complicated to introduce as the mainstream choice of weapon to deal with the disease: it requires not only EU backing but there are also implications in the OIE review as regards how vaccinated meat is dealt with in the trade.

Further, we must consider how the domestic meat industry and the retail industry deal with meat from vaccinated animals. Until the position is clear, it is difficult to answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Peel. The Bill provides for 100 per cent compensation for vaccinated animals where they are slaughtered. If a vaccinate-to-live programme were introduced, it would be largely dependent on the trade being prepared to take vaccinated meat on the same terms as non-vaccinated meat. If the situation were different we would have to consider the noble Earl's question, but we have not yet reached that point. Therefore, it is not covered in the Bill.

In relation to the issues raised by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, both of whom sought to delay the Bill, I should point out to the noble Countess that the use of orders would not fulfil the aims of this legislation. Orders can be put forward only within the confines of existing primary legislation. The Animal Health Act does not provide sufficient powers in terms of the scope of vaccination or slaughter and in terms of the scope of the powers of entry to enable us to deal with it through secondly legislation—

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but how does he compare this with the TSE 2002 regulations, which constitute an order and give huge scope; indeed, they cover everything, from taking one's computer out of one's home and killing every animal on the farm?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the noble Countess knows, that is a ludicrous interpretation of the TSE regulations. Those regulations stem primarily from European legislation, not primary legislation. Dealing with foot and mouth stems from the Animal Health Act 1981 and, therefore, in terms of orders and secondary legislation, we are confined by the terms of that legislation.

We have been considering the measures for a long time. We have the wisdom of three important reports, which broadly support the central thesis of the Bill. We have had plenty of comment from the farming industry, scientists, vets and Members of this House on the appropriateness or otherwise of the measures. Some 300 amendments have been tabled, so obviously a number of noble Lords can see ways of improving the Bill, which I hope that we can now go on to debate. I see no further need for delay.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, the noble Lord did not answer my question about whether we could debate fully on Report—as if we were in Committee—the amendments that the Government have not yet put down.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that it is in neither my power nor hers to alter the procedural rules of the House. Report stage will be as normal.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I must correct the noble Lord. It is quite possible for the House to move that we can do that. It was done on the peerage Bill. It is called recommitment. Perhaps it might be a good idea to consider that procedure. I would much rather the Government started all over again, because I think that would be quicker and more sensible, but that is another argument.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Earl is clearly right that a resolution of the House would be required to alter the proceedings. That is a matter to be considered by the usual channels. As of today, Report stage will be as it normally is.On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Cox) in the Chair.]

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 96:


    Before Clause 14, insert the following new clause—


"ANNUAL REVIEW OF IMPORT CONTROLS
In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 10—
"10A ANNUAL REVIEW OF IMPORT CONTROLS
(1) The Ministers shall prepare a report during each financial year which will—
(a) review all activities of government departments, the Food Standards Agency, local authorities, customs, police authorities and other relevant public agencies directed to the prevention of the introduction of disease into or within England and Wales through the importation of animal products and matter, whether animate or inanimate, and other things;
(b) identify the nature, origin and quantity of such animal products and matter and stating whether the product or matter was destined for personal or commercial consumption;
(c) assess the making of any orders under section 10 of this Act;
(d) assess the effectiveness of any action taken under an order made under section 10 of this Act; and
(e) propose such further action as may, on the basis of advice given to the Ministers by suitably qualified individuals appointed as scientific advisers to the Ministers, be required to further reduce the risk of disease being imported.
(2) The Ministers shall lay their report before Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales at the end of each financial year.""

The noble Lord said: It is a privilege to move this amendment, because of the great concerns that have been expressed by informed people in the agriculture industry, the food industry and the veterinary profession, who regard the provisions on the import of animal meat into this country as wholly unsatisfactory. I acknowledge that the Minister has said that he will accept the amendment.

We require an annual review of import controls, with Ministers preparing a report during each financial year to review all activities of government departments that are connected with import controls, including the Food Standards Agency, local authorities, Customs and Excise, police authorities and other relevant public agencies directed to the prevention of the introduction of disease into or within England and Wales through the importation of animal products and matter, whether animate or inanimate, and other things. The amendment would bring together all those departments and any annual report produced would be a composite of their findings.

The report would also identify the nature, origin and quantity of such animal products and matter and state whether the product or matter was destined for personal or commercial consumption. It would assess the making of any order under Section 10 of this Act and the effectiveness of any action taken under such an order. On the basis of advice given to the Ministers by suitably qualified individuals appointed as their scientific advisers, it would also propose such further action as may be required to reduce further the risk of disease being imported. Ministers would lay the report before Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales at the end of each financial year.

The amendment is a comprehensive way of tackling the problem of illegal imports. I have heard various estimates of the problem, the highest being that 6 million containers come in through the ports of this country. Another estimate is 1.7 million. There is no doubt that many containers carry illegal imports. We do not have adequate controls. I welcome the fact that sniffer dogs are now being used at Heathrow, but I was rather dismayed to learn that there were only two and that they were the only ones operating in the country. When I entered Australia from New Zealand last winter, my size 12 shoes were removed immediately and I had quite a job getting them back because I had been on farms in New Zealand. New Zealand farms are pretty clear of disease and there is a fairly pristine environment over there. We have nothing like that sort of control.

We can report on these matters, but the big questions are how effective the measures are going to be and what action will be taken to make import controls of animal products much more effective. On 1st May in the other place, my successor in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency, Roger Williams MP, introduced a Port Protection Authority Bill, which would establish an authority,


    "to exercise those powers and responsibilities now exercised by port health authorities, trading standards authorities and HM Customs and Excise; to monitor the legality, quality and integrity of imported goods and to collect any duties upon them; and to report annually to Parliament on its effectiveness in carrying out its duties".

The purpose of that Bill is to strengthen import controls at sea ports and airports by simplifying the structures and making the lines of accountability much more transparent. As I have said, there is a great deal of public concern about the control of imports. Large quantities of drugs, tobacco, alcohol and meat are smuggled into Britain each year. The current system of import control is very complex and involves a number of agencies, including Customs and Excise, which is responsible to the Treasury, trading standards departments, which are local authority functions, and port health authorities, which are local authorities in their own right.

Trying to monitor imports of animal products into this country is a complex process. The annual report suggested in the amendment would be a considerable move forward. Are the Government actively pursuing the streamlining of those bodies to ensure that we have an effective control system, which could be a super-authority covering all departments addressing illegal imports of food, drugs and other things?

The amendment is a milestone on the way to that kind of legislation, but we need immediate legislation to ensure that an annual report is produced. It should be the result of careful gathering of information by all the authorities concerned and should result in effective action by the Government against illegal imports of food, which may bring with them foot and mouth disease and other infectious diseases that cause the kind of mayhem that occurred during 2001 with foot and mouth. We never want to see that again. The amendment is an important part of a control to ensure that we do not. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: It may be for the benefit of the Committee if I make it clear that, as has already been said, I am prepared to accept the amendment. Some marginal tidying up may be needed, but I accept the principle of what the noble Lord says.

The Government are already engaged on the other matters of enforcement of import controls, including looking at the jurisdiction of the various authorities involved. However, that is not a matter for legislation, most of which is European. The requirement here is to report to this House, to another place and to the National Assembly for Wales. We fully accept that.

Lord Monro of Langholm: The Minister should not expect to escape quite as easily as that. However, I am glad that he has agreed to accept the amendment in principle. I declare an interest—as I have many times in foot and mouth debates—as one who was deeply involved and who lost his stock. I feel very personally about some of the issues in the Bill.

It is quite right that we should have this type of detailed report from the Government each year. Had we had one over the past few years, I am sure that the country would have picked up the fact that the Government's contingency plans were totally inadequate. That, as it turned out, was indeed the fact. The three reports we have had have been a devastating criticism of the Government's handling of the foot and mouth epidemic. It would therefore be useful if the Government annually had an opportunity to show that none of the defects will recur and that they will be much nearer the ball in dealing with any future case of foot and mouth.

In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, rightly pointed out the agriculture industry's grave concern about imports. I have raised the issue on various occasions in the past 18 months, but I have received pretty unsatisfactory replies. Today, the Minister has a chance to give more detail about what the Government have achieved in import control. We keep hearing that there will be more inspectors here and there, but what has happened on the ground? How many cases of illegal import have inspectors discovered? How many prosecutions have we had?

What is being done to deal with countries such as Argentina and South Africa where foot and mouth is endemic? Are those countries still sending unlimited quantities of beef to this country? As we know, there is currently complete turmoil in Argentina. Are we confident that the government services are operating effectively in the various designated areas which are supposed to be free of foot and mouth? Or is beef being shipped willy-nilly from that country, where foot and mouth is endemic, and are we picking it up in this country?

I am very concerned that we have not taken adequate steps since the foot and mouth outbreak to prevent the import of all sorts of meat into this country. I think that the majority of the farming community believes that the outbreak began in the Newcastle area from imported meat. Had we had strict controls, with luck, the whole issue of foot and mouth over the past two years would not have arisen. I ask the Minister to tell us now, in detail, the action that he has taken. That is the point of this amendment. It proposes an annual report to set out in detail the action being taken on import controls.

I should like to raise with the Minister one other important point—liaison between England, Wales and Scotland. Foot and mouth knows no boundaries; it crossed the border thousands of time during the epidemic. The Scottish Executive says it has taken action and introduced legislation and that all is well, and the Government are implying that this Bill will ensure that sufficient resources are available to deal with another outbreak, but I should like to think that there is genuine liaison between England, Scotland and Wales in relation to foot and mouth. I feel that the countries are currently going in slightly different directions and wonder whether, whatever action the Government take to prevent outbreaks, because of devolution and Scotland's legislative independence the link-up between countries is adequate to deal with cross-border problems such as foot and mouth, brucellosis and even scrapie.

I therefore believe that this amendment, which the Government have accepted in principle, will give them a chance to set out in detail each year the steps that they are taking to raise the standard of foot and mouth prevention in this country. I believe that the Government would have been defeated in the Lobby had they not accepted the amendment. It proposes an important way of ensuring that prevention and contingency planning remain a high priority within the Government. I certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, in his amendment.

Lord Moran: I very strongly support the amendment; it is absolutely right that we should have an annual review of import controls. I also agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Monro, said. However, I am also struck by the fact that we have raised this issue every time the subject has been discussed, ever since January, and practically nothing has been done. The right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Hereford, pointed out that he has twice recently come into this country but that no one asked or showed him anything in relation to meat imports.

Some noble Lords may have watched last night's "Panorama" programme about corruption in racing. Time and again during the programme, the representative of the Jockey Club was asked why it had done nothing. He said that the issue was all very difficult and that there was not enough evidence and so on. The comments seemed utterly futile and reminded me very much of the line that the Government have taken about the import of animal meat, which everyone agrees is probably the cause of last year's outbreak. Apart from reporting to the House annually, the Government should deal with this matter firmly and now.

Earl Peel: Like the Minister, who I am absolutely sure has visited many farms and spoken to farmers and representatives of the industry over the summer, I have met my fair share of farmers. If one issue comes out more strongly than any other, it is the import of illegal meat products. I cannot stress powerfully enough how strongly the farming fraternity feels about the need for the Government to take urgent action to curtail this illegal trade.

The difficulties arise in two channels. The first is the conventional channel where the level of testing is simply not sufficiently rigorous. The second is the import by ordinary passengers in their suitcases of illegal meat products such as bushmeat which commands a very high price on the black market. I am very well aware that the Minister himself is deeply concerned about this issue; I have heard him speak about it on Radio 4 and have read his remarks in the newspapers. Concern and action, however, are two very different things.

Like my noble friend Lord Monro, I look forward to hearing in some detail the Government's plan to deal with the problem. One of the difficulties is that various agencies have responsibility for dealing with it. Perhaps the Government intend to introduce legislation to establish one agency to deal with it; the Minister may be able to expand on that possibility. I have no doubt, however, that Amendment No. 96 will go some way in helping us to learn what the Government are doing about the issue.

I suspect that the only way in which the difficulty can really be dealt with is to increase considerably both the level of commitment and the level of investment in personnel and surveillance equipment. Such equipment is already available and being used in Australia and America. Indeed, anyone who has visited America will know only too well how vigilant it is in these matters. Why we cannot emulate such countries, particularly in view of the fact that we are an island, I simply do not know.

I hope that the Minister will take this matter much more seriously than has so far appeared to be the case. Frankly, we would save ourselves a huge amount of money in future if we got the whole question of illegal importation sorted. The chances of reducing a future outbreak of foot and mouth or any other such disease would be greatly enhanced. I looked forward to the Minister's response.

5 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: I say to the Minister how pleased I am that the Government are to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey.

I have a question about the use of dogs. During the Recess, I heard that two trained dogs would be used in relation to illegal meat. Some time ago, with the Drugs Misuse Group, I visited the hangars at Heathrow to watch dogs working in relation to drugs. The hangars are absolutely vast. Two dogs are just a drop in a tiny ocean. The problem is a huge ocean and at least 200 dogs are needed. In the report, will we be told how the whole thing works and what is being done? As the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, the import of illegal bushmeat is very worrying. Monkeys, gorillas and all sorts of tropical animals are coming in and being eaten.

I heard during the previous Session that the veterinary school for tropical diseases in Edinburgh will close. That is absolutely mad. We need it. It could help to provide aid to developing countries. Many of their veterinary officers have died of AIDS and other trained people are needed to replace them. If we really take this matter seriously, we have to consider many ways of preventing disease coming in.

Lord Marlesford: I back up the comments of the noble Baroness.

The Minister may be aware that I have asked a number of Questions on this subject in recent months. He should be aware of that because he signed a good many of the Answers. In one Answer, he said that enforcement was not a matter for legislation; but—my gosh—it is a matter of concern: deep, deep concern. At the moment, the concern does not begin to be allayed.

The noble Baroness referred to the issue of two dogs. Let the Minister at least tell us the current and projected strength of the canine defence force of this country.

One of my Questions was about whether it was possible to discriminate, in terms of investigation and surveillance, at an airport between passengers arriving from different destinations. There are obviously limited resources; we should focus them where they are needed. The Answer that I got was that it was not appropriate to discriminate between passengers coming from different places. Is that really true? None of this gives one any confidence that anything is going to be done or is being done. I totally support the amendment of the noble Lord on the Liberal Front Bench; of course we support it. However, it is action that is needed, not just words. Frankly, to say that this is not a matter for legislation is not good enough.

Lord Jopling: I begin by declaring an interest as a farmer, although at the moment I have no livestock.

I was very struck by the speech of the right reverend Prelate. I had a similar experience the day before yesterday. I found myself on Saturday in the airport at Atlanta, Georgia. As my wife and I were mooching through the duty free shop, she picked up a sealed package of smoked ham and said to me, "Look, this is that very good smoked ham we had two or three days ago". I was about to say to her, "I hope you're not thinking of taking it back home", but, before I could do so, she said to me, "Oh my God! We should find ourselves on the front page of the newspapers if we took this home". With that in both our minds, when we came back into Gatwick yesterday, I, like the right reverend Prelate, looked very carefully to see what steps were being taken to warn passengers arriving by air that the importation of meat is illegal. At least I believe that it is illegal. I saw absolutely no signs of any sort.

I very much welcome the Government's announcement. In his Statement, the noble Lord said that he intends to table an amendment providing for the Government to report annually on actions to prevent the illegal import of animal products. We are all grateful for a copy of the Statement, which we have now received.

I strongly support the new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the Government might have to tidy up the new clause. We all understand that because careful drafting is needed. When the Government consider doing so, I hope that they will be prepared to add a new provision strengthening paragraph (a). I want a sub-paragraph to be added—I speak in broad terms—that will explain what steps have been taken at airports and seaports, as well as in relation to the Channel Tunnel, to warn people entering this country that it is illegal to import meat, that those doing so will be subject to very heavy fines and that anyone who did not know and who finds himself importing meat illegally should give it up before leaving the airport. That helpful step should be highlighted in the new clause.

Like other noble Lords, I am most concerned about the fact that the Government have just come round at this late stage—18 months after the outbreak last year—to the fact that something needs to be done about imported meat. We have all been saying for months and months that this is a major hole in our arrangements and that it causes great dangers of a new outbreak. The Government's incompetence in handling the outbreak is not in the past; it is still going on. They are still not addressing that problem sufficiently urgently.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us whether he will amend the new clause to ensure that each year the report will explain exactly what has been done to warn people entering this country of the illegality and folly of their actions if they have illegal meat with them.

Lord Plumb: Before the Minister responds to the many questions and comments, I add my voice to those who have spoken of their concern about this issue. You, Minister, are well aware of the many farmers around this country who have expressed their concern: this matter is their priority. We are concerned that there should not be another outbreak. We are also concerned that regulations should be in place so that, in the event of something happening, we are able to cope with it and the Government are very much in control.

But are we doing enough on the import front? It is appropriate that this matter should be raised before anything else in the debate, although it is taking a little time. However, it is appropriate that it is raised and that it is raised in this way. It is hoped that imports will appear as the first item in the Bill in terms of what the Government will do by way of control. Therefore, I support the proposal tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for an annual review of the activities of all departments to identify the nature and origin of imported products.

The Minister said clearly that he accepts the amendment, and we welcome that. Therefore, why are we spending time on it? We are doing so because—this very simple point has just been raised by my noble friend Lord Jopling—we need an answer. I am well aware that some time ago the Minister launched a publicity campaign aimed at raising public awareness of import rules and the reasons for them. What has that achieved? As was said by the right reverend Prelate—other noble Lords have supported his comment and I can, too—it has done absolutely nothing. Among the 10,000 people consulted on what was called "Holiday Watch", only 4 per cent said that they had noticed anything and 96 per cent said that they knew nothing.

As I came though an airport only last week, I asked what precautions were being taken or what advice was being given to people passing through the airport. The girl looked at me and said, "My dear, it's all over. You don't have to worry any more. Foot and mouth disease has finished". Something far stronger than that type of answer needs to be given to passengers. Surely consumers, producers and taxpayers would feel far better if positive action were taken and if the country were able to see that action was being taken in order effectively to bring about import controls.

I was not able to take part in the earlier debate but I have seen the report from Europe, as, I am sure, has the Minister. In it he will see that the question of regionalisation is raised, together with the difficulties relating to imports. Undoubtedly he will speak about that now. At the same time, that report contains the toughest measures on import controls that I have yet seen. Therefore, having seen the measures proposed, I hope that the Minister will incorporate them in the final report.

The Countess of Mar: I, too, support all those who have expressed concerns about imports and the lack of controls that exist at present. Over and over again at Question Time, the Minister has been asked what is being done about import controls. He says that we are having meetings with this and that person and with this and that group and that everyone is being consulted. But at the end of the summer, 18 months after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, all we have is two sniffer dogs.

When introducing the Bill at Second Reading, the Minister said how urgent and important the Bill was and how badly needed it was. He has—Ministers generally have—the power to stop imports coming into the country. I see the Minister shaking his head, but they do. Section 10 of the Animal Health Act 1981 states:


    "The Ministers may by orders make such provision as they think fit for the purpose of preventing the introduction or spreading of disease into or within Great Britain through the importation of . . . animals and carcases . . . carcases of poultry and eggs; and . . . other things, whether animate or inanimate, by or by means of which it appears to them that any disease might be carried or transmitted".

The Minister has the powers to make orders to stop people bringing in such items. But what do we have? Two sniffer dogs. And all this talk, talk, talk achieves nothing.

I wonder whether Ministers have carried out a cost-benefit exercise on providing sniffer dogs and environmental health officers to inspect loads and baggage entering the country and the cost of the last foot and mouth outbreak. The benefits of import preventions and even posters on the walls at airports and ports would be enormous compared with doing nothing except having meetings. Frankly, I am appalled by the lack of action in these circumstances when something could have been done very much sooner.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: If the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will forgive me—this is his amendment—I believe that I should respond to one or two of the points raised, although I am not sure that many of them are apposite to the content of the Bill.

The regulation of imports from third countries into this country is governed by European legislation. The Government have recently been very successful in getting the EU—Commissioner Byrne—to agree that the one kilogram exemption, which currently might have allowed Lady Jopling to bring in her smoked ham, assuming that it was not too large, should effectively be reduced to zero, with a number of exemptions. Nevertheless, the EU has moved very much in the way that we have advocated it should. That is the legislative structure.

With regard to the enforcement structure, noble Lords are right that more could be done. More has been, and will be, done. There will be additional personnel, and we have initiated a number of pilot schemes. The scheme involving sniffer dogs is a pilot; it is not intended that there should be only two dogs. If it works, clearly the scheme will be extended substantially. A number of spot checks are, and will be, based on far better sharing of intelligence. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that, although we cannot discriminate, we base our spot checks on intelligence.

There is more that can be done on that front, including in relation to information. Despite the fact that no noble Lord seems to have seen them, a significant number of posters have now been mounted in airports for those entering the country on long-haul flights. Unlike America, the bulk of our passengers arrive from the European Community, and that is a single market. We are now taking steps to ensure that more people are informed both at the point of departure and on the airline. However, in order to be effective in that regard, we require the co-operation of the airlines and airports abroad. We have made a breakthrough on that front.

As regards the longer-term deployment of resources, we shall shortly receive the outcome of a risk assessment as to how disease might enter this country. That assessment will cover not only the legal and illegal paths of entry into this country but also the question of how disease might enter the food chain thereafter. It is important that Members of the Committee recognise that, however draconian the measures, one cannot be absolutely certain of keeping out diseased or illegal meat. In practice, tonnes and tonnes of illegal meat enter the United States and even Australia. Therefore, we need to combine internal controls with minimising the threat from outside.

As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and others who made this point, there is an overlap of jurisdictions of agencies. We are currently in the process of examining that overlap to see whether some rationalisation and enhancement would be helpful.

I believe that that deals with the points of regulation enforcement, information and jurisdiction. No doubt Members of the Committee would like to have more details and, once we have received the review of the operation of the various authorities, I shall let noble Lords who have taken part in this debate know the outcome of that review.

However, today we are debating the issue of an annual report covering all those actions. I believe that paragraph (a) of the new clause proposed in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, covers most of the areas. If it is necessary for it to be more explicit, no doubt we can consider that. But I support the noble Lord's amendment and ask the Committee to do so.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his comments. I know that he takes this matter extremely seriously and has stated so on numerous occasions. We have been calling for far stronger action, and I am grateful for the support shown for the amendment from all quarters of the Committee. There are currently many inadequacies. Some noble Lords have referred to those inadequacies; for example, the lack of dogs for ferreting out illegal imports. More dogs are required. We also need notices at airports and ports and warnings of the consequences for people who illegally import meat foodstuffs into this country, including confiscation at appropriate points. I thank the Government for accepting the amendment. It gives me pleasure to move Amendment No. 96 on the annual review of import controls as part of a new clause before Clause 14.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 14 [The Minister]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 97:


    Page 10, line 14, leave out "Agriculture, Fisheries and Food" and insert "Environment, Food and Rural Affairs"

The noble Baroness said: This is a tidying up amendment. The former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was disbanded in June 2001 and its responsibilities passed to the new department, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As we are revising the 1981 Animal Health Act, I believe that we should also update the title of the new department which is responsible for the implications of the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: A dissolution order has been approved in draft by both Houses and was presented to Her Majesty in Privy Council on 26th March. Consequently the order received Her Majesty in Council's approval, so the functions of the Minister under the Animal Health Act 1981 were transferred to the Secretary of State on 27th March. An amendment to the Bill has been tabled and follows in the government amendment to delete Clause 14. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

The Earl of Onslow: That Her Majesty's present advisers do not know which department is responsible shows how sloppy the Bill is. We all want animal health to be carried out properly, but the whole Bill has not been thought through and it is sloppy and inconsequential. This is not how to conduct legislation. This is a perfect example of why the Bill is wrong. We want animal health to be protected properly and I include the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in that because I give him credit for wanting to do the right thing. Surely the Bill must be worded correctly rather than in this sloppy manner. There is a general indication of sloppy thinking—grade four minus, go to the back of the class and wear a dunce's hat!

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is fully entitled to his opinion which he expresses with great force. I defend those who constructed the legislation. I have reported to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, the factual position. In view of his long service in the House I am sure that the noble Earl knows that we have followed the appropriate procedure with Her Majesty in Privy Council.

Baroness Byford: I thank my noble friend for his intervention. While I could not possibly comment on it, it reinforces some of our concerns about the Bill. We are struggling to cope with the Bill in its present form. A serious point to take from my noble friend's contribution is that we are asked to give extra powers to this department without any checks or balances, although noble Lords have tabled amendments to ensure that there are some. However, I accept what the Minister has said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I have already spoken to the Question whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 negatived.

Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 98:


    After Clause 14, insert the following new clause—


"ANNUAL REPORT ON ANIMAL DISEASES
In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 10—
"10B ANNUAL REPORT ON ANIMAL DISEASES
The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament in each calendar year a report on measures taken by government departments and agencies and other public bodies to prevent the importation into the United Kingdom of the diseases mentioned in Schedule 2A.""

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 98 is similar to Amendment No. 96. I believe that the matter has been fully debated and so it is not my intention to raise additional matters to those already raised and which I hope will be related to this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, that to a large extent this amendment is subsumed by the wording of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that has just been adopted. In so far as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, feels that it is not, perhaps he will contact me before any tidying up is engaged in at a later stage. I believe that the point has already been covered.

Lord Plumb: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 99:


    Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

"PART A1 CONTROL


NATIONAL ACTION PLAN FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASES
In the Animal Health Act 1981 (c. 22) the following section is inserted after section 16—
"16A NATIONAL ACTION PLAN FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASES
Ministers shall make a national plan covering the measures applicable for the eradication and prevention of such specified disease and for addressing related matters—
(a) subject to an order laid before and approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament;
(b) subject to consultation with statutory appointed individuals, bodies and other organisations;
(c) subject to a formal review every three years; and
(d) which comes into immediate effect upon confirmation of a disease.""

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 99 relates to creating a national action plan for infectious diseases in Part A1 on control in the Animal Health Act 1981 which this Bill amends. The clause is inserted after Section 16 which will become Section 16A on a national action plan for infectious diseases.

Lord Carter: Is the noble Lord moving Amendment No. 99 and speaking to Amendments Nos. 100 to 103?

The Countess of Mar: Is the position that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, is speaking to all the amendments in the group, Amendments Nos. 99, 100, 101 and 103?

Lord Carter: The noble Lord is moving Amendment No. 99 but it is grouped with other amendments, so the discussion now is on Amendments Nos. 99 to 103. I was anxious that we did not discuss each one individually.

The Earl of Onslow: I suggest that we should reappoint the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as Chief Whip so that the proceedings may be better organised. I note that he is nodding with glee. Perhaps that can be appreciated on all sides of the Committee.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I shall now comment on the other amendments and I apologise for not doing so earlier. Amendment No. 100 relates to disease prevention in Part B1 on consultation and inserts the words:


    "following consultation with the relevant local authority or authorities".

I believe that that is extremely important because we all know that local authorities have a massive part to play in ensuring that a national action plan is effective and that disease is controlled at a local level. I congratulate many local authorities on their activities when they are confronted by such a situation.

Amendment No. 101 relates to management practices. It states:


    "The Minister shall make orders—

(a) creating an institute dedicated to the study and analysis of stock management practices." That is important because the management of stock in particular—and certainly in my lifetime—has changed radically. That is one of the findings of the independent reports. It is a good idea to incorporate a best practice and for that to be disseminated among livestock keepers. The encouragement of a health plan for stock, which is arranged with a named private veterinary surgeon, would be a big leap forward in improving practices and in ensuring that we have the situation fully under control, or at least as under control as we can in often difficult circumstances.

Amendment No. 102 classifies the definition of premises considered at risk of disease, subject to affirmation by Parliament. That is a controversial matter at the time of outbreaks of, for example, foot and mouth disease. I am sure that other Members of the Committee will want to make points on that subject.

Finally, Amendment No. 103 refers to reports. It seeks insertions into the 1981 Act. It seeks to elicit the number of established veterinary personnel, which is a vexatious problem. We all know that the State Veterinary Service has seen a massive reduction in veterinary personnel. We could argue about whether they have gone sideways into some other activity. However, I should like to congratulate the State Veterinary Service on its excellent work. I believe that more veterinary personnel in strategic positions in the field would be a good improvement. The amendment refers to measures and practices on conduct to eradicate and prevent disease and risk scenarios. There is also reference to a report to Parliament.

Those are my comments on these amendments. I note that Amendment No. 103A is being taken separately. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: This group of amendments covers a number of issues. Most would be covered in the Government's commitment to produce and lay before Parliament a contingency plan, which would deal with issues of a risk assessment of the kind of disease control mechanisms that are required of the structure of the veterinary service, and so on.

I have indicated in my Statement and in my letter to Members of the Committee that I propose to bring forward an amendment relating to contingency planning. Most of these issues could be dealt with in that context. The noble Lord will no doubt be disappointed that, although I say it can be laid before Parliament, my amendment is unlikely to include the affirmative procedure. Nevertheless, perhaps we should discuss that when we have my amendment before us. If we took each amendment separately there would be some difficulty with each. But the requirements and how far we want parliamentary involvement in a contingency plan, which is covered by the next amendment of the noble Baroness, are best dealt with at a later stage. No doubt Members of the Committee will want to comment both on these and other amendments. I therefore ask for the Committee's indulgence and ask it to consider them at that stage.

The Countess of Mar: While the noble Lord is considering matters to bring forward on Report, perhaps I may ask him to bear this point in mind. A number of private vets are contracted to DEFRA for specific purposes—for TB, brucellosis testing and that kind of thing, and in the markets for inspecting animals. When I first started in farming I remember that our vet used regularly to carry out a whole farm assessment for us. With the narrowing of profits in farming such assessments have dropped off. In particular, large animal vets have noticed the fall in their incomes because farmers are no longer employing them to carry out such assessments. I recognise the importance of having a vet on one's property to look at one's animals periodically. Can the Minister consider how this practice might be reconstituted in some way or another?

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: Can the Minister confirm where his contingency plan will appear in the Bill? The shape of this piece of legislation is important. It is quite offensive as it stands because Clause 1 immediately goes into slaughter. We recognise that there will be cases where action has to be taken. The Bill would be more user-friendly and more likely to be welcomed by the farming community if this kind of action in extreme circumstances were set in the context of an overall plan which comes first. Therefore, can the noble Lord tell us where he expects to put his contingency plan and whether there should be some kind of pre-amble before we get to the detail of killing animals or—I hope—vaccinating rather than killing them? My concern is how the Bill is presented and the priority with which these matters are addressed. Can the Minister give us some reassurance about that?

Lord Plumb: Before we have the reassurance, I share equally the views of the right reverend Prelate: I do not know where this will fit into the Bill. I was pleased with the Minister's comment that this is something that we ought to take into account, to consider and to think of.

I turn to Amendment No. 101, the proposed new clause on management. I fully understand what it says. It states:


    "The Minister shall make orders——

(a) creating an institute dedicated to the study and analysis of stock management practices". That is fine. However, we have more consultants in this country now than we have farmers. We can set up another institute, but who will be on it, how will it advise farmers, and what kind of recognition will the farmers give to that advice? There are ways and means—perhaps this again is a matter that we should discuss outside the Bill—that can help and perhaps improve the relationship with the veterinary practice. We recognise that those involved with large animals are becoming fewer in number. In that sense I believe that it is a question of finding ways and means of improving the relationship between all parties.

The Earl of Onslow: I wish to raise another point on this issue. I declare an interest as I have quite a few sheep. We had one or two which were turning their toes up in the air. So the vet had to come out. The vet's bill was about #250. The value of a sheep in the market at the moment is about #45 to #50. So the economics of getting veterinary assistance to farm animals is very different from what it was even 10 or 20 years ago. That matter should be borne in mind. The vets buy Mercedes and the farmers go bust.

Lord Whitty: In relation to veterinary surveillance, there are recommendations in the Royal Society report which lead us to assess the situation as regards the State Veterinary Service and relations with the private veterinary service. The response to those reports will deal with that issue. It is not really a matter of legislation.

The commitment to produce a clause dealing with contingency planning will not go into full details because a contingency plan is necessarily a living document and one which will feed on experience around the world in dealing with animal diseases, and foot and mouth in particular. But the commitment will be to ensure that we do draw up a contingency plan and that it is laid before Parliament. As to where that will be, to answer the question posed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, it will be pretty early in the Bill, because it will deal with many other issues in the Bill. When the Committee reads the amendment, it will find that it is prior to any of the more contentious issues with which we have been dealing today.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Before I withdraw the amendment, I should like to respond to one or two of the Minister's remarks. I point out that the contingency plan available resulted from the 1967 foot and mouth disease outbreak, but applies to all such diseases. It appeared at the beginning of the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak that the only source of information was the excellent Northumberland report, which came to conclusions. Where that fitted into the Government's contingency plan to deal with the disease was not clear, and there are many lessons to be learned. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will address the point, but everyone should know what procedures are contained in the national contingency plan and exactly what is the plan, so that from the first minute of the known outbreak of an infectious disease, we can pursue that course of action as fast as possible. Indeed, we can then measure how effective we have been in tackling such an outbreak. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford is right to ask where that will feature in the Bill and in what order. I am glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, say that it will appear early on. That is right; we need to know exactly where we are.

I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Plumb said about relationships and instituting best practice. When I lectured in agricultural colleges, we always tried to let students know what was best practice. I believe that there is a much more effective system for disseminating information in the Scottish colleges. The advisory service in Scotland adjoins, and is a part of, the colleges and there seems to be a better communication system there to farmers on the ground, now that ADAS has become rather expensive for some smaller farmers. That whole area needs to be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, is right to say that that requires considerable discussion outside the Bill.

So, given the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that he will table his own contingency plan amendment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 100 to 103 not moved.]

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 103A:


    Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

"PART C1
STRATEGY

STRATEGY FOR CONTROLLING ANIMAL DISEASES
Before section 15 of the Animal Health Act 1981 (c. 22) there is inserted—
"14A STRATEGY
(1) The Minister may produce a strategy for controlling the incidence of the diseases listed in Schedule 2A in the United Kingdom.
(2) The strategy shall include—
(a) a three-yearly review of the world-wide incidence of each of the diseases listed in Schedule 2A;
(b) the resultant recommendation of steps to be taken in the United Kingdom to prevent the incidence of each disease listed in Schedule 2A;
(c) the incorporation of the steps identified in paragraph (b) into a contingency plan for each disease;
(d) the publication of each contingency plan;
(e) the annual testing of each contingency plan and the publication within six months of a critique of the outcome of the tests;
(f) the implementation of the relevant contingency plan upon the outbreak of any disease;
(g) the monitoring of the implementation of each contingency plan;
(h) the reporting, within four months of the official notification of the end of any disease outbreak, of the successes, failures, strengths and weaknesses of the control process and of the method of implementation.
(3) The Minister may investigate, recommend and implement vaccination programmes—
(a) for the emergency control of any disease listed in Schedule 2A in any animal species; and
(b) for the permanent control of all such diseases in animals in particular circumstances.
(4) The Minister may fund research into levels of susceptibility to diseases listed in Schedule 2A experienced within the United Kingdom since 1992, as between species and within each one according to the circumstances of the affected animals.
(5) The Minister may collate research into the viability of permanent vaccination programmes against diseases listed in Schedule 2A.""

The noble Baroness said: This amendment has been tabled because I, too, share the thoughts expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. To me, to start straight into a Bill with a part entitled, "Slaughter" and nothing else seemed foolhardy and unwise in the first instance.

My amendment is lengthy. There is no way that the Government will accept it, although the Minister said that the Government will propose a contingency plan, for which I am grateful. I tried in framing the amendment to reflect certain important matters that the Government may take on board and build on in later amendments. It attempts to incorporate two items identified as important by all three foot and mouth reports: namely, the National Audit Office, the Royal Society and the Anderson reports.

The first plank of the strategy covers contingency planning, where the first priority is to maintain a watching brief on the incidence of exotic diseases. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, spoke of her concern about the closure of the part of Edinburgh University that deals with that. Perhaps when he replies the Minister can tell us more about the plans for that university. More than one comment has been made to the effect that had more attention been paid to the pan-Asian "O" strain of the foot and mouth virus, the UK would have been better prepared. In his report, on pages 42 to 45, Anderson presents maps and commentary on the progress of that strain. On page 44, the Royal Society uses maps to make the spread of that virus leap off the page at any reader. The Royal Society also sounded a serious alarm on page 29, in sections 360 to 367, about the northward spread of bluetongue and African horse sickness. Let us not say in future that the Government were not warned.

A watching brief is no good without an alert for those likely to be affected. There follows a plan of action in which local knowledge is key—all reports reflect that. Knowing what lies ahead and how to fight it, we must then make the contingency plans public and regularly test them to ensure that they continue to be workable. In his response to earlier discussion, the Minister said that he concurs with that. Local authorities' emergency services could produce a book on factors that have disrupted their regular incident simulation: for example, closed roads, buildings in the middle of previously open spaces, diversions of public services and even the removal of telephone boxes have all in their own way caused little hiccoughs. It is no use running simulations or similar tests if there is no thorough review of what went wrong and right and why. That should be followed up by recommendations for improvements.

Once the need arises, contingency plans must be actioned, their implementation monitored and their performance analysed. We are anxious that that analysis should cover performance in the front line and back at base; it must consider all departments, agencies and public and private bodies and individuals concerned. The recent foot and mouth outbreak served only to highlight how many different departments, people, and organisations are involved in coping with an outbreak.

The second plank of any strategy must be vaccination-about which we spoke at length earlier. On pages 87 to 111—a lot of pages—the Royal Society has a great deal to say on that matter and makes four recommendations. In brief, it says that emergency vaccination should be seen as a major tool of first resort, along with the culling of infected premises and known dangerous contacts. We have already spoken about that and agree with it. The report states that, for controlling foot and mouth outbreaks, the policy should be vaccinate to live. That is where we may have moved on since we met and discussed the matter in March.

I know that my noble friend Lord Onslow was specific in wanting the question of vaccination raised at a much higher level. But, if I may say so, we were then struggling with the fact that there was no answer to the question of what happened to vaccinated animals: would they go into the food chain and would compensation be available? It made vaccination difficult at that stage, but from our earlier comments, I think we have moved on, and I hope that in his response the Minister will pick up on that progress. If he can give the House a further indication of the Government's thinking, that will be welcome.

The policy of "vaccinate to live" necessitates the acceptance that meat and meat products from all vaccinated animals should be able to enter the food chain normally. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that there is no reason why that suggestion of the Royal Society should not be accepted, and that no one has raised that as an issue.

Anderson also devotes a whole chapter—pages 120 to 129—to vaccination. He recommends that the Government ensure that the option of vaccination forms part of any future strategy for the control of foot and mouth disease. In his response to our earlier discussions, the Minister indicated that the Government accepted that. The fact that he is nodding his head reinforces that.

Following the production of the EU report into the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, Commissioner Byrne said, on 12th September, that,


    "the Commission is of the view that emergency vaccination should be moved to the forefront of the response mechanism in the event of future outbreaks".

Any strategy should cover emergency control, but we should also consider special groups of animals for whom permanent control may be indicated—for example, animals in zoos or wildlife parks, or rare breeds. We touched on that matter in earlier debates. However, I would like the Minister to include a comment about it when he responds.

Since the end of the outbreak, there has been a rash of informed comment on apparent peculiar behaviour patterns. Letters to the Veterinary Record in June and July referred to the possibility that ewes on the point of giving birth and whole flocks immediately after gathering and colostral vaccination are more easily and more seriously affected by foot and mouth disease. On page 20 of its report, the Royal Society makes an interesting and—possibly—highly important comment. It says:


    "Infectivity is not readily destroyed by ultraviolet radiation but is particularly vulnerable to acid conditions below pH 6 and alkaline conditions above pH 10. Whereas infectivity might be stable for a few weeks under neutral conditions (pH 7), it survives for only two minutes in a slightly acidic pH 6 environment".

I am no scientist, and I find all that a little challenging. However, the Royal Society has made a suggestion, and the Minister should comment on it in his response. Our amendment is an attempt to ensure that government support for such future investigations continues.

We also consider that vaccination for the permanent control of some—if not all—of the diseases listed in Schedule 2A may become a practical necessity if the spread of those diseases continues. For instance, if African horse sickness were to become endemic, the horse-racing industry might need protection, along with animals involved in eventing, showjumping and dressage.

The amendment is wide-ranging. I do not expect the Government to accept it as it stands. However, having tabled it in September without knowing what the Government's thinking was, I hope that the Minister will highlight some of the suggestions in our list from (a) to (h) and indicate which they might consider including in their contingency plan, which we await.

As the Opposition, we do not have the facility to draft major legislation. However, we feel that the principles behind the amendment are important, and we hope that the Government will take them on board before the Bill becomes an Act. I beg to move.

The Earl of Onslow: The quotation about the "sinner that repenteth" springs immediately to mind. I must congratulate the Government on coming round to the concept of vaccination. I wish only that they had listened to someone who took five O-levels—I failed history—in 1954 and learnt a fraction of science, which he did not even bother to take at O-level. The money spent on selling Mrs Messenger's cottage so that I could be sent to Eton was almost totally wasted. If I was able to come to the conclusion that I did, which was no great intellectual achievement, surely the clever-clogs in the department and the Government should have been able to reach it too. Other people, much cleverer than I, advocated vaccination. Vaccination was being practised, but, to go back to biblical analogy, there was a certain amount of passing by on the other side.

I shall continue the biblical analogy by saying that we must forgive sinners who repent, and I shall go on to a slightly more difficult problem. The European Commission demanded that a contingency plan should be drawn up to deal with foot and mouth disease: it would appear that that was not done. The Government were warned that type O was rampaging all over the place and that that was likely to happen here too. However many plans we produce, however many strategies we contrive, however many plots we cook up to make sure that certain things do not happen, nothing will make up for the fact that people have not paid attention to what happened. Plans lie in drawers and gather dust.

Every report on foot and mouth disease has been preceded by the words "If only we had paid attention". The report of the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, and the Duke of Northumberland is, I believe, preceded by such a statement. If we do not keep our eye on the ball, it will not matter what is on the statute book. Unless people pay attention to what is happening, things will go on getting worse. Thank goodness we are now considering vaccination. We will never again slaughter God knows how many animals in a blind, ignorant, witchcraft-driven policy.

The more I see of the amendments to the Bill, the more I want to say to the Minister that he should take the Bill away and come back with a proper one next time. I see that he is looking uncomfortable: so he should. He is now grinning because he does not want to admit that he is uncomfortable. We want a proper Bill. I say that to help the Government, not to cause them difficulties. We want the things that my noble friend Lady Byford said were necessary. We want some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, mentioned. The Government admit that we want them, but they are all over the place. The changes will come in on Report and at Third Reading but, because the Bill will have been half-chewed in this House, it will have to go back to another place, where they will not have time to do what is needed. That is a crazy way to legislate.

The Government must be big enough to say, "We have made a mistake, and we want to do it better. Our aim is the same as yours, and some of us think that there are better ways of achieving it".

The Countess of Mar: I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, explaining why she wanted the amendment. As she went through each point, I thought, "I do that already". As a food producer, I am required to have a system of hazard assessment and critical control points. I must account for everything that I do in my cheese making. That is precisely what the noble Baroness is asking the Government to do. It is a good idea. If the Minister will not accept the amendment, he should seriously consider tabling a more refined one. The noble Baroness is to be congratulated on tabling her amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: I also support the amendment or something very like it. I hope that the Government will propose a preamble to the Bill that covers the same ground.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, might have been firmer in her proposals. I would like subsection (3) to say:


    "The Minister shall investigate and"—

perhaps—


    "may recommend and implement".

Subsection (5) should say:


    "The Minister shall collate research".

It must be done and should not remain optional. It is essential that we put it in terms stronger than those in the amendment. There is still time for the Minister to incorporate them in his contingency plan or in the preamble to the Bill and I hope that he will do so.

While I, from this Bench, welcome repentant sinners, I am not sure that the noble Earl is right in believing that this particular repentance could have taken place in 1954. I suspect that only this summer has it become clear that it is possible to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals. That is the critical difference, so it is a last-minute repentance and we cannot blame the Government for not having repented sooner.

6 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: This is a well-informed debate and I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Hereford that the provision requires more force. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on a well-researched amendment. It is very detailed and it needs to be in order to be effective. Emergency vaccination is important and where possible the animals should live.

I commend in particular the noble Baroness's remarks about local knowledge. It is vital. In 2001, I was greatly distressed by the fact that local knowledge was completely overridden. People who knew a great deal about their locality—about how much livestock were here, there and everywhere else—were not consulted. That included myself and I forced myself on to the scene at one point because I was so distressed about what was happening. Local knowledge is vital and the proposals in the amendment and the strategy are to be commended. If the amendment is not acceptable to the Minister, it has provided a great deal of food for thought. If necessary, perhaps he can produce an equally detailed amendment covering the same points but drafted differently.

Lord Carter: I want to make two brief points. I do not have the Anderson report in front of me, but I am sure that it mentioned vaccination and that the science is still uncertain and unclear. Perhaps the Minister can tell the Committee about the latest state of the scientific play as regards vaccination. I am sure that all Members of the Committee will agree that to embark on a vaccination policy before the science is clear might be as dangerous as the previous situation—

The Earl of Onslow: I believe that the Anderson report refers to the situation in Uruguay where there was a similar outbreak. They vaccinated and slaughtered only 10,000 cattle. It started earlier and ended earlier and they vaccinated to slaughter. The science of vaccination is sound and has been applied for the past few years. Although I do not have chapter and verse in front of me, I am pretty certain that that is what Anderson stated.

Lord Carter: That could well be so, but from memory I am certain that the executive summary of the Anderson report states that the science is still unclear—or words to that effect.

Furthermore, the vaccination-to-live provision is already contained in the Bill. Clause 4(2) states:


    "The Minister may cause to be slaughtered any animal to which this section applies".

"Shall" cause to be slaughtered is vaccination-to-kill, but the Minister "may" cause to be slaughtered; in other words, he can do so or not. Therefore, the power to vaccinate-to-live already exists.

Lord Jopling: I share the implied view of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and would be reluctant to accept the vaccination strategy until the science is clear. I have always been dissuaded from embracing the concept of vaccination until I am sure that it is clear and my recollection is similar to that of the noble Lord's.

For the second time today, I was struck by the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, who was not in his place when I spoke earlier. Previously today he dazzled us with his scholastic knowledge of Greek and he has dazzled us again with his infinite good sense. As I said to the Chamber previously, it is a pity that he did not become the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I turn to the points in the proposed new clause which deal with contingency plans for the stated diseases. Perhaps I may detain the Committee for a few moments by speaking of contingency plans through the eyes of one who between 15 and 19 years ago had the honour of being responsible for them. I want to repeat what I said to the House about 18 months ago.

When I was responsible for such plans, there were three or more scares—I forget precisely—that an outbreak of foot and mouth disease was suspected in the country. Happily, on each occasion it was a false alarm. However, I remember asking officials on each occasion whether they were absolutely sure that in the event of a scare becoming a reality the department was utterly prepared with a contingency plan which followed in close terms the report of the Northumberland committee of 1967. On each occasion, I asked officials to review whether the plan was ready to go if the worst happened. On each occasion, I was told, "Yes, we have looked into it and the contingency plan is ready to move into action". I am sure that that was right and I have no reason to suppose that it was not.

However, there is no doubt that in the intervening 16 years eyes went off the ball. The proposed new clause suggests that the contingency plan for each disease should be identified; that the plan should be published; and that there should be annual testing of the plan. Looking back, 15 to 19 years ago, I must tell the Committee that I wish I had insisted on something similar. I asked the question which needed to be asked and received the answer which I badly wanted to hear. However, it would have been better if we had had an obligation to publish contingency plans for the diseases and to have an annual testing of them. I do not believe that it would have taken enormous resources within the department and it would have been clearly proved.

Like other Members of the Committee, I hope that if the Minister is unable to accept the new clause—my noble friend suggested that she would not be surprised if that were so—he will try to write into the Bill provisions which in the same terms will deal with contingency plans. The old phrase that time spent on reconnaissance is rarely wasted is extremely appropriate in this case.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness recognised that the amendment is wide and touches on many aspects of disease control, prevention and intelligence, many of which are not really appropriate for legislation but are clearly appropriate in the consideration of the reports and the outcome of the way in which the disease was handled last time.

I am proposing that we put within the Bill—this is the amendment I shall bring forward on Report—a commitment to contingency planning. However, contingency planning is not as wide as the clause. Contingency planning concerns how we should deal with a disease were it to break out. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, my predecessor departments had contingency plans; indeed, there was a contingency plan for foot and mouth and other diseases. However, it is clear from our experience of foot and mouth disease that we need to upgrade them very significantly and to broaden the range of possible outbreaks from a relatively small number, which was covered by a quite detailed contingency plan, to a situation where—as actually happened—60 or so cases occur before we discover the disease. The foot and mouth disease contingency plan we shall produce, and which I wish to see reflected in the Bill, would be a template for contingency plans for other diseases of the kinds referred to by the noble Baroness. So the contingency planning part of that, in process terms at least, would be in the Bill under my amendment.

It would not, however, deal with all the issues of substance referred to by the noble Baroness and many other Members of the Committee. The issue of vaccination is not appropriate for legislation in terms of it being absolutely definitive that we would adopt a vaccination strategy rather than a culling strategy. That proposition is not in any of the reports or in the expected report from Europe. Clearly a very substantial amount of culling will be involved. I do not think that anyone is indicating that we should not cull diseased animals. Very few are suggesting that we do not cull obvious direct contacts with those animals. Where vaccination comes in is as a pre-emptive fire-break or control mechanism whereby we control the spread of the disease beyond those animals identified as diseased or subjected to the disease.

The Earl of Onslow: The Minister raises a very valid point. Will he inquire of the Uruguayan authorities how they did it, what they did and when they did it? One does not want to be clever, but they succeeded and it would seem a sensible idea to go and look at how people design things that work and to learn from them.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: I do not disagree with that. The Uruguayan vaccination campaign to control foot and mouth was confined to cattle. The disease that we experienced in the UK was spread almost entirely by sheep and sheep movements. Obviously there are sheep in Uruguay, but the Uruguayans did not include the vaccination of sheep—which is, of course, much more difficult, particularly with our topography—in their campaign. They were successful in dealing with the outbreak by vaccinating cattle because the disease at that point was still only in cattle and therefore only a relatively small number of diseased animals and those close to them had to be destroyed.

However, we cannot immediately transfer that experience to the British outbreak or any potential future European outbreak. The vaccination science and vaccination operations are not as clear cut as some of the comments made in the debate would suggest. Indeed, as Anderson said, in moving more substantially to vaccination there are hurdles to overcome and the science is not clear, as my noble friend Lord Carter said. Quite apart from that, many farmers and other operators have extreme doubts about adopting the vaccination strategy.

However, we accept the view of the Royal Society and Anderson, and the putative view of the European committee, that we should be prepared to consider vaccination as part of the immediate strategy rather than as a last resort strategy. However, there is no analogue of any control of the disease which is exactly equivalent, or anywhere close to equivalent, of the sheep-carried disease which we dealt with in this country.

There are also the operational difficulties to which I referred in my remarks to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, during a previous intervention. There are issues as to whether vaccinated meat would be acceptable to the trade, both domestically and internationally.

The Earl of Onslow: Can the Minister confirm that at the moment we are importing vaccinated meat into this country and that it is being sold? If that is the case, the scare as to whether people will eat vaccinated meat vanishes in a puff of wind. The Minister is being briefed, so he had better listen.

Lord Whitty: Vaccinated meat which is legally imported into this country has to be subjected to heat treatment. Therefore, that is not the same as saying that all meat can go into the food chain on the same terms. It is not quite the equivalent, although it is certainly true that vaccinated meat is being eaten by British consumers. Vaccination of poultry and other animals is quite frequent. I do not believe British consumers entirely understand that, but nevertheless it is the case. However, imported vaccinated meat would be treated before it could go into our food chain.

I make this diversion because some of the issues are too complex and strategic to be reflected in a fairly narrow Bill. If my suggested amendment on Report is accepted, there will be a requirement on the Government to take these matters into consideration in their contingency plan and to lay that contingency plan before Parliament.

That is as far as I can go on this amendment. I cannot accept it as it stands. I understand what the noble Baroness is driving at but I do not think that it is appropriate for this legislation. I hope that the assurances I have given on the issues that have been raised will be accepted by the noble Baroness. As the issue of vaccination will no doubt be returned to at subsequent stages of the debate, I hope that people will understand exactly what is being said and how the Government are dealing with the recommendations of the various inquiries in relation to vaccination.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I find that answer slightly disappointing. In moving the amendment my noble friend made it clear that she did not think there was the slightest chance of the Government accepting the amendment. Even with her persuasiveness and charm she was unable to move the immovable object opposite her. I had hoped—I do not think it is unreasonable—that in the circumstances that the government amendments are not ready now, the Minister should take advantage of the situation by saying that at least some of the points raised by my noble friend would be incorporated in those amendments. Clearly in their state of unreadiness there is home in them for such good sense.

I particularly mention two points to which the Minister did not refer—that is, the three-yearly review of the world-wide incidence of each of the diseases mentioned in Schedule 2A and the resultant recommendation of steps to be taken in the United Kingdom to prevent the incidence of each disease. Both points are important and I should like to hear something about the Government's intentions in regard to them.

I was rather surprised that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford should allow his optimism to overleap his good nature and say that the Bill had some prospects of ever being made user friendly. That is going far too far beyond the boundaries of reality. I hope that the right reverend Prelate, whose opinions I greatly respect and to a large extent share, will not be so unrealistic in the future.

Before I sit down I should like to say a word about my noble friend Lord Jopling, whom I have known for many years. When I had the misfortune of being the shadow agriculture Minister, he had the misfortune of helping me to avoid mistakes. One does not often see former Ministers going out of their way to express regret and sorrow at not taking a certain sensible course of action. Tonight, my noble friend clearly said how sorry he was that even though he had the good sense to ask whether there was an adequate contingency plan, he accepted an assurance that there was without asking to take a look at it and having it published. I am sure that was a pity.

My final point to the Minister is on the vexed issue of meat imports. They cause great irritation and if on top of that they are a source of danger, that would be absolutely intolerable.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: I live in hope, perhaps unrealistically, that the Bill will be ever be user friendly. I detect a degree of convergence. I wonder whether we can lean on the Minister. If there is no prospect in the immediate future of a broader Bill offering many of the provisions that the Committee would like to see, I suggest that it should include a preamble that includes some kind of strategy. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is headed "Strategy". A strategic prospect is needed, so that people know what the Bill is attempting to do in the context of an overall strategy that is reasonably convincing. Then we can spell out in detail how we shall deal with disease, if and when it breaks out.

I suspect that the Minister is not quite right. I believe that the indications are that the European Union report will be more positive about vaccination than the noble Lord allowed. It may even be the case that science has moved on since Anderson was doing his work. I press the point that if there is time for a further amendment on Report, it could include an element of strategic description. That would be enormously helpful.

 

The Countess of Mar: The noble Baroness's strategy is also good discipline. It makes one sit down and look at each issue step by step. What is the hazard? The hazard is this disease. What are the critical control points? Airports? Farmers being sloppy? Vets carrying illnesses from one farm to another? How is one to control them? Then there should be a report at the end. That is something which I do every day. I am used to it and can recommend it. Even if it comes at the beginning of the contingency plan, that would help. It would bring everything into a framework. I earnestly ask the Minister to think about it much more seriously than he has indicated that he might do.

Lord Prior: I have come to the debate rather late, for which I apologise. I want only to twist one or two tails.

I can just imagine the scene around the table when this amendment was being discussed with Ministers. I can hear the civil servants saying, "Minister, this is very dangerous stuff. This will lead us into all sorts of difficulties and a lot of unnecessary work". Sir Humphrey would say, "Minister, I think that we had better turn it down".

Actually it is a sensible course to pursue. If there were proper discipline, as the noble Countess said, we would overcome a lot of our problems. Not only that—we would create a lot more confidence than there is at present. I beg the Minister to think again, not take the advice of his civil servants. They are far too conservative and far too keen on these occasions—I have great admiration for civil servants on many occasions—to say, "This is going to create a tremendous amount of work and would be an absolute minefield. Minister, please turn it down". I hope that the noble Lord will not listen to them.

Lord Carter: I will just point out to the noble Lord that I spent 10 years as an Opposition Front Bench spokesman on agriculture. I cannot remember how many times that I moved amendments asking a Conservative Government to report to Parliament, produce plans or whatever. Almost invariably, those amendments were turned down. With this Bill, we have already seen the acceptance of an amendment covering reporting on imports and a commitment to producing a contingency plan. The noble Lord was just a little unfair.

Lord Prior: I do not think that our party was any better when in office—and I do not suppose that when I was a Minister all those years ago, I was any better. All we are trying to do is improve the situation.

Earl Peel: If the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was so keen on the idea when he sat on this side of the Chamber, presumably he still retains that view. He should be welcoming my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Carter: There is to be an annual report on imports and a contingency plan. As a member of the Opposition, I asked for both for 10 years.

Baroness Byford: I will jump in before the Minister does so. I follow the thinking of my noble friend Lord Peel—that as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, pushed for such measures, surely he must support them. I hope also that when we were in power, we never introduced such a rotten Bill, which highlights the practical difficulties. I thank the Government for acknowledging that there are difficulties and for being willing to do as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said.

I am grateful for the support of the noble Countess, Lady Mar. She copes with risk assessment in her everyday life. She regards it as essential and I certainly do. My noble friend Lord Onslow commented about contingency plans and vaccination policy. According to the European report, things have moved on since Anderson took his views—although people such as Fred Brown were pushing for vaccination, saying that tests were available, and held their ground strongly. That is another argument and perhaps we shall reach it later.

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. He said that I was not being strong enough. Perhaps that is because I had been through his beautiful city, which I had never visited before. The amendment was put together 1,200 feet up in the Brecon Beacons, thinking what could we do to introduce some kind of strategy in the form of an amendment. We share the same concerns at the right reverend Prelate. I once described this measure as the Animal Death Bill, which I still think it will be if we are not careful, and said that we were going straight to slaughter. We walked and sat among the sheep, trying to think of ways of tempting the Government to attempt that which my noble friend Lord Jopling thinks impossible and which my noble friend Lord Prior says that we should do anyway.

I watched the civil servants in the Box—although perhaps that is something to which I should not refer—thinking "No, Minister" and quietly smiled to myself. But perhaps that is unparliamentary. If it is, I apologise.

I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. As to the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, he is right that science is not clear and about what Anderson said. I have the book with me but could not find the right page. The EU report to which we have referred many times this afternoon comments at paragraph 47:


    "The Commission failed to review the Member States' contingency plans within an appropriate period following the introduction of the ban on prophylactic vaccination in 1992. At the time of the 2001 crisis it had still not reviewed the contingency plans of the UK, the Netherlands or France".

As to vaccination, the report states at paragraph 51:


    "Experts attending the hearings held by the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on FMD were not agreed amongst themselves"—

that is one of the problems referred to in our debate earlier today—


    "as to the appropriateness of vaccinations to stem an outbreak or eradicate the disease, from the point of view, inter alia, of veterinary medicine or in the light of the epidemiological considerations. However, many of the experts stressed that, under certain conditions, emergency vaccination is a better way of controlling FMD than the 'stamping out' method. The issue of vaccination needs to be resolved in the context of the particular situation. It must also be seen in the light of the seriousness of the risk of future FMD outbreaks due to the particular control method adopted".

Suggestions are made in the document which I hope noble Lords will accept.

I turn finally to paragraph 54—which relates to the query of the noble Lord, Lord Carter:


    "The vaccines currently available make it possible—at least on a herd by herd basis—to distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals. It is true that the problem of transmission of FMD by carrier animals (animals in which the virus can under certain circumstances still be detected more than 28 days after infection but which may possibly not be producing any antibodies to non-structural proteins or displaying clinical symptoms) still remains in principle and is not quantifiable so far".

So the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is right in his thinking on that point.


    "However, many experts consider the risk of transmission of FMD by carrier animals to be extremely slight".

I hope that my quotations from the working document may help to fill in some of the gaps and explain why I believe that matters have moved on since we discussed this matter previously. Yes, I have heard what other noble Lords have said either in support or in terms of expressing some slight concern on the question of vaccination.

On the question of meat entering this country from countries where foot and mouth is endemic, perhaps the Minister will clarify one point. I was not aware that the meat had to be heat treated, but I was aware that it had to be de-boned. The Minister almost implied that it had to be heat treated, and was heat treated, but I do not believe that it is. Again, I look for guidance on that point.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peyton for his support on some of these points. I hope that the Minister will take on board some of the suggestions in the amendment. I had it in mind, if I did not receive an encouraging response to my amendment, to put the matter to a vote this evening. However, because of the discussion on all sides of the Chamber, I would rather wait to see what the Government have to say and give them a chance to return to the matter on Report. My noble friend says that I am "very kind". I could take Members of the Committee through the Lobby now—and lose heavily, I fear. I hope that, knowing that I had intended to press the amendment to a vote, the Minister will realise how seriously I view the matter. I hope that he will respond to a couple of my queries before I withdraw it.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: I was attempting to clarify the situation in regard to meat imported from areas where there has been foot and mouth. The noble Baroness is right to say that it has to be de-boned. But there are also some stipulations in relation to its being heat treated in certain circumstances. In a sense, I put it the wrong way round. The principal qualification is that it should be de-boned; heat treatment is a supplementary qualification in some circumstances.

I appreciate the importance that the noble Baroness places on this matter. There is a difficulty in the way in which we deal with legislation as regards what the right reverend Prelate suggests should be a "preamble". We do not normally legislate in terms of preambles or strategies; we legislate in terms of powers and duties. The duty here is clearly on the Minister to produce a contingency plan which meets many of the objectives that lie behind the noble Baroness's amendment. To promise to go further than that in the direction of her amendment would not be appropriate. That is why I have had to take the attitude that I have.

The Earl of Onslow: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may return to the importation of vaccinated meat. I believe—I am open to correction; I seriously seek knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment—that we still import considerable amounts of meat from Uruguay and the Argentine. I suspect that in those countries foot and mouth is endemic. I know that the Argentines make enormous use of vaccination. Are we not importing any meat, off the bone, raw or frozen, which is then sold. The term "heat treated" is used. Does that meat have to be cooked? I refer, for example, to meat used in pork pies and other such products. I know that the Committee would like to know the answer to this important question. It would clarify the general information.

The Countess of Mar: While the Minister is waiting for a reply from his officials, is it not the case that meat from a dead animal goes through a phase where it becomes fairly highly acid—in other words, it goes below 6 pH—and at this point any foot and mouth virus within it will normally be killed. The only parts of a dead animal where foot and mouth has been found to survive are the lymph glands and the bone marrow. The treatment required is often a matter of making sure that the meat is allowed to become acid before it is chilled, so it is kept at room temperature for a while so that the normal biological effects take place.

Lord Whitty: I believe that the noble Countess is right on that point. That is why we refer to a combination of de-boning and treatment. The meat is not required to be cooked.

The noble Earl is correct to say that we import from both Uruguay and Argentina. In Argentina, following the last outbreak of foot and mouth there, they have reverted to a process of what is effectively pre-emptive vaccination. Therefore, virtually all meat from Argentina has to be subject to those controls. There are other parts of the world where foot and mouth is endemic. Some regions have been excluded from exporting to Europe while others have retained that ability—South Africa being one and Botswana another. In those cases we are not talking about foot and mouth being currently endemic in the regions from which the meat is imported. I do not know whether that helps to clarify the position for the noble Earl. If there are greater complications, I had better write to him.

The Earl of Onslow: It would be most helpful if the Minister could provide detailed information. We should all like to have such information.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I think he understands the feeling of the Committee that there may be a way for the Government to find a suitable amendment that will at least meet us halfway, although I shall not hold him to any promise—he stated clearly that he would not make such a promise. I am grateful to him. The matter is of great concern to us all. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 [Foot-and-mouth disease]:

Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 104:


    Page 1, leave out lines 9 and 10 and insert—


""(c) only those animals which the Minister believes, on the public advice of the chief veterinary officer, should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.""

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, perhaps I may be permitted to make a comment on the last point made by the Minister. He kindly wrote to me in answer to a question that I raised some time ago. I asked for the figure for imports from countries where foot and mouth disease is endemic. The figure that he gave is written on my heart. It was 108,339 tonnes, during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, coming from six countries that I know well, including Uruguay, where foot and mouth disease is endemic. A copy of the letter has been placed in the Library. The answer can be found there, although it may have been updated.

This amendment is very much related to Anderson recommendation number 38 on page 99, if anyone wishes to check it. The amendment would leave out lines 9 and 10 and insert the words proposed.

The wording in the 1981 Act was only one stage less emphatic than that proposed by the Minister. In 1981 it was seen as practical and workable. The Minister now tells us that it was found to be inadequate. The interpretation of the 1981 Act was at the root of most of the considerable aggravation which occurred during the outbreak of foot and mouth. Nowadays people are looking for greater explanation than hitherto.

The amendment therefore recommends suggestion number 38 in the Anderson report, but it is a little more specific as to when we should look for the well-informed veterinary and scientific advice. That advice, of course, has to be from those who fully understand the situation. That is important and it needs to be published with the reasons for using the preventive slaughter powers. There is much talk about slaughter. God forbid that there should be any further outbreak, but we hope that further slaughter would be kept to the absolute minimum because it is quite obvious that we are going to move towards some form of vaccination.

We also believe that the advice should come from someone who is a recognised authority on foot and mouth disease. During the last outbreak it was clear that the veterinary profession was occasionally in disagreement with the statisticians or whoever it might be. There were differences of opinion on so many issues. Therefore, it is a matter of concern that we get our act together in future so that that can be avoided.

Amendment No. 105 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I shall speak to Amendment Nos. 107 and 110. Amendment No. 107 is an effort to ensure that owners have a chance to share in what the Minister thinks or has reason to believe. The idea that a Minister and all his officers and employees can act on what they think is becoming increasingly unacceptable in the present day.

Amendment No. 109 is a subsidiary amendment to Amendment No. 104. The amendment is worded to cater for the Government rejecting the previous amendment. It is an effort to define a little more clearly the scope of the thinking that the Minister should employ and to remove any sense that decisions can be arrived at arbitrarily. The importance of this amendment is to stress the need for focused reasons for action in situations of stress, anxiety or emergency. It is all too easy to adopt a blanket approach. The danger is that the thinking process stops in such circumstances.

Amendment No. 113 relates to the current notice of slaughter, not including the reasons, and page 1, line 10, of the Bill. The suggested amendment follows on from Amendment No. 104 where the Minister is being given advice by the Chief Veterinary Officer. With this amendment in place it should ensure that the information is shared by those most affected. Those are my amendments. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): I advise the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 105 to 111 inclusive.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I start by expressing my warm agreement with almost everything that my noble friend said. After all, it is my habit to agree always with the Front Bench and with the greatest respect. I believe that I have done so consistently today.

I always find that there is something objectionable in the phrase "As the Minister thinks" in any Bill by any government. I am not suggesting for a moment that Ministers do not think from time to time, but I at least ask the Government to take note of the possibility that every now and again Ministers do not think all that deeply or, alternatively, that they get it wrong. I find there is something offensive in the suggestion that because a Minister thinks something, action should follow accordingly. I do not accept that point of view.

In fact, I prefer my noble friend's amendment to the one I have tabled, but mine has the virtue of simplicity, brevity and of being easily understood. In this context and in this arena I realise that, far from those being virtues, they are cardinal defects and give my amendment absolutely no chance of being accepted by the noble Lord opposite.

The Countess of Mar: I love to hear the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, speaking. He is so good and so blunt in what he says. I heartily concur with what he has said: let us have facts instead of beliefs and thoughts. That is the only point I have about Amendment No. 104 which states,


    "only those animals which the Minister believes, on the public advice of the chief veterinary officer".

Those words are absolutely fine. My Amendment No. 110 is incorporated in Amendment No. 104 so I am quite happy.

Lord Greaves: This is an interesting group of amendments which, on the face of it, are about different kinds of things. But they are all based on a basic unease at the bare statement that the Minister can do whatever he thinks is right. The amendments are all attempts either to define the basis on which the Minister or the Secretary of State should think, the basis of the information which he should look at before he thinks, or the way in which he has to communicate the reasons for his thoughts.

My noble friend and I have Amendments Nos. 108 and 112 in this group. The first is very much along the same lines as the amendment tabled by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, which she has just spoken to. We are suggesting that the Minister should think on the basis of an evaluation of a formal, written risk assessment undertaken by a suitably qualified veterinary inspector.

Our second amendment is an attempt to include a failsafe mechanism based on the suggestion that two people should be involved in the decision rather than one. That is a different argument, but it tackles the basic problem in the Bill. There is a great fear that arbitrary decisions will be taken on the basis of inadequate consideration by too few people. Whether we are talking about the Chief Veterinary Officer being consulted, as the Conservative amendment suggests; whether the owner should be consulted; whether it is a question of defining the basis on which the Minister should think, as in Amendment No. 109; whether it is a local veterinary assessment, as the noble Countess and ourselves suggest; whether it is the suggestion that the reasons have to be provided in writing by the Minister or there should be a double lock built in as regards the number of people who make the decisions, are all evidence of the widespread concern which exists at the very simplistic and direct approach that is being taken in this Bill to what can be quite horrific decisions, as we are aware, for individual farmers, not to mention the individual animals.

All these amendments are designed to probe the basis upon which the Minister will "think". We shall listen with great interest to the Minister's explanation of how he will think. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, seems to believe that he will not think at all, but I am sure that he will do so. The Minister may say that some of these matters are covered in other parts of the Bill; indeed, that is the case with one or two of them. However, as other Members of the Committee have said, there is grave disquiet about the phrase, "the Minister thinks". It would, therefore, be helpful if the Government could find a different way to express this in the Bill, as well as incorporating some of the safeguards suggested by the amendments.

 

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: Once again, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has been lulled by the beauty of the Brecon Beacons into an unduly charitable way of expressing the matter. However, I suspect that we need the phrase "good reason to believe". I follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in believing that it is better to talk about a "suitably qualified veterinary inspector" than the Chief Veterinary Officer who will clearly have to devolve any decision to a local expert in each case. Indeed, the Chief Veterinary Officer will not be dashing around the country like a maniac to investigate every possible case. Clearly, in practice, this will have to be devolved to someone in the local area. We need to emphasise the importance of there being "good reason" for such a life-and-death decision being made.

Earl Peel: I think that I support the principles behind the amendment. The effective control of disease must clearly be the principal objective of both the Minister and his officials, while at the same time minimising slaughter wherever possible. As I said earlier, there seems to be one major defect in the Bill; namely, that if and when—I am still not sure whether we have reached that point—an effective means of detection is put in place, it seems essential that it must be implemented before slaughter takes place. Surely that is the only fair way to deal with the situation. It would give everyone in the industry that much more confidence if it were obligatory for such tests to be put in place.

I am not entirely sure that the amendment before the Committee would actually go some way towards delivering that aim. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to advise me in that respect. However, if it would go some way towards achieving that objective, I should certainly welcome it. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's view as to whether or not he thinks it would be appropriate to have an amendment in the Bill that would trigger the use of any technique that is able to detect disease quickly and effectively without deterring the Minister and his department in their ability to slaughter when it is thought necessary to do so.

Lord Whitty: The trouble with these amendments is that they attempt to pin down the decision in relation to a specific case in terms that really relate to the overall slaughter strategy. The expectation that the broad strategy should be explained is clearly reasonable. It follows, therefore, that the Minister's thinking should be based on a rational, reasonable, and proportionate broad strategy. That is why I have indicated my intention to bring forward an amendment that will commit the Government to provide an explanation of why the wider slaughter powers are necessary. This would specify the area, the disease, the species, and the circumstances in which such powers would be used. That is different from the implication that in every case we would have to provide in writing the reasons for slaughtering a particular batch of animals.

If Members of the Committee think about it, the latter is not a practical proposition when one is trying to contain the spread of the disease. Indeed, in primary confirmation of the disease, it is possible that some of the available technology will enable us to move more cautiously than has previously been the case. Once the disease has occurred, we need to move as rapidly as possible. I do not believe that such constraints on rapid action would be appropriate.

As to the question of whether or not the Minister "thinks", I should point out to the Committee that this terminology derives from the Animal Health Act 1981. We are not giving the Minister any more powers; we are simply changing the criteria upon which he should base those powers. In terms of the general powers, we are requiring him to give a clear explanation. We are not actually inventing a new ability for the Minister to "think" or to use his subjective judgment—

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I want the Minister to be quite clear in his mind about what I am trying to say. I should just add that any precedent—the fact that something has been done before—is no possible excuse. It may be some sort of palliation, but it could never be an excuse.

Lord Whitty: Much of the Bill consists of amendments to a previous Act and, therefore, uses some of its terminology. But we are both tightening and constraining the range within which the Minister can, if you like, "think", as well as requiring him to make transparent and clear the reasons for his thinking in this way. It seems to me to be a positive move, even if it does not go all the way towards deleting the words "the Minister thinks", which would lead to other consequential amendments.

A number of the other points raised by way of these amendments will also be met largely by the requirement that I intend to bring forward; namely, that the Minister would be required to explain the basis of the general strategy to slaughter if that were the road that we intended to take. Taken severally, I do not believe that the amendments would help the circumstances. Amendment No. 112 would require two people to be involved in the decision. Again, once the general policy is clear, someone will have to take a decision on its implementation at the local level.

Some of the other amendments would clarify the way in which such a decision could be queried, but it seems to me that a requirement for two people to be formally involved in taking an individual decision when the disease is rampant would slow down our ability to deal with the disease. The whole thrust of the legislation is to speed up the process of dealing with the disease and thereby avoid the unnecessary culling of animals. Indeed, that might cut across the process in certain circumstances.

Although I accept that a degree of transparency is required and that it is incumbent upon the Minister to provide for that in the Bill, as regards the overall justification for the slaughter strategy I do not believe that further constraints on individual decisions would be appropriate.

Lord Plumb: I thank the Minister for his response. I also thank all those Members of the Committee who spoke to this group of amendments. As I said earlier, the latter were based on the Anderson report. It is a question of clarifying some of the issues that are of concern to many people who lost their stock during the previous outbreak. They are confused: there was misunderstanding between the various sections of people who were involved. Therefore, the amendments were tabled in an effort to bring about some clearer thinking and some clarification on some of the issues that arose.

As ever, my noble friend Lord Peyton makes us all "think", and the Minister has thought about the amendments. I hope that that thinking will bring about at least a report, or reference, to the issues that have been raised. There needs to be some clarification. In those circumstances, I thank all those who have contributed to this debate. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Peyton for his support of the amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

[Amendment No. 105 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 106:


    Page 1, line 9, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 124, 133, 139, 145, 150, 152, 155, 158, 162-163, 165, 168, 170, 172-173, 175, 177, 179, 181, 186-188, 191, 193, 200, 203, 298 and 300.

I have gone through the list properly in consideration of the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, with regard to things being done properly. These technical amendments reflect the recent transfer of functions order whereby the Secretary of State will carry out functions previously fulfilled by the Minister. As a result, we need to amend the provisions relating to scrapie and foot and mouth disease, and other provisions, so that the relevant powers will be transferred to the Secretary of State.

I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is not in his place. He referred to sinners repenting. I hoped that he would be able to withdraw his unwarranted attack on the officials who drafted the legislation. As the noble Earl knows only too well, and as noble Lords are aware, officials can draft legislation only in the light of the factual and legal position at the time. Because of the timing of the Bill and the delay involved, the officials, when they drafted the legislation, quite properly referred to the position before the transfer of functions order. These amendments are the first occasion on which the Government can put the matter right. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 107 to 110 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 111:


    Page 1, line 10, at end insert—


"but, notwithstanding the power in section 87 of this Act to amend the definition of "animals" by order, no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph which are not susceptible to infection of foot-and-mouth disease."

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment Nos. 114, 117 and 115.

Amendment No. 111 is designed to restrict the number of animals that must be slaughtered. The amendment states that,


    "no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph which are not susceptible to infection of foot-and-mouth disease".

I am sure that Members of the Committee will have been lobbied as I have. The NFU, in particular, supports the amendment. It is designed to limit the Minister's powers to slaughter animals that are susceptible to foot and mouth disease. There has been concern that by the use of ministerial orders under the 1981 Act, these powers could extend to animals such as farm horses and dogs. When the issue was raised with Mr Morley in another place, he said that the Government did not intend to apply the slaughter power to non-susceptible animals. There is, therefore, no reason why the Government should not agree to the amendment. If the Government agree not to kill animals that are not susceptible, it seems logical that this amendment should be made to the Bill. I am not sure why the Government did not wish to accept the amendment moved by my colleagues in the other place.

I turn now to Amendment No. 114. During the 2001 outbreak, there was great emphasis on isolation and biosecurity. Farmers, farm workers, members of farming families, vets, milk-tanker drivers, postmen and election canvassers were all asked, "Is your journey necessary?" As a result, contractors ran out of work, routine animal inspection ceased, and children either stayed on the farm and missed school or attended school and stayed with friends. Biosecurity in the shape of foot baths, wheel washers and vehicle valeting was, rightly, introduced everywhere. Either these measures are effective or they are not. If they are, animals that are kept indoors, away from other animals or from anyone who has had contact with other animals, and that are subject to stringent biosecurity regimes, should be protected from slaughter, unless or until one of their number succumbs to foot and mouth disease.

Taking Amendments Nos. 115 and 117 together, we contend that no democratic legislature should ever allow for the destruction of people's livelihoods without crystal-clear reason. Subsection (3) is part of Clause 1, "Foot-and-mouth disease", which is contained in Part 1, entitled "Slaughter". To make a qualification by conferring, under this part of the Bill, the right to slaughter unaffected and non-suspect animals that have not had contact with the disease is unfair, unreasonable and, to a certain extent, unparliamentary—I will come stronger, as the right reverend Prelate tells me I must.

In another place, at the first sitting on the Committee stage, Mr Morley criticised the 1981 Act for providing opportunities for all sorts of legal challenges. Founded on a variety of reasons, only some of which were reasonable, these challenges delayed the contiguous cull. The Minister added:


    "The Bill makes it absolutely clear what the Government may choose to do on the basis of veterinary and scientific advice".

That may be Mr Morley's understanding of the Government's intentions—indeed, he stated it in another place—but it is not the intention with regard to the implementation of the Bill. Such an intention is certainly not reflected in the Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will state why the Minister suggested in another place that that was his understanding, despite the fact that it did not appear on the face of the Bill.

Page 1, line 9, refers to


    "any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered".

Page 2, line 2, states that,


    "The Minister may by order amend Schedule 3".

Page 2, line 32, contains the words:


    "The Minister may cause to be slaughtered".

No reference is made to veterinary or scientific advice. I wish to make clear that what is being said in the other place is not reflected in what we are being asked to do here. My purpose, particularly in Amendment No. 115, is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to clarify the Government's intentions.

Moreover, there is a presumption in Mr Morley's statement that the contiguous cull was right and proper, and that anything that impeded it was wrong and improper. After the three major reports—the National Audit Office report, the Royal Society report and the Anderson report—we all know that the contiguous cull was not axiomatically right and proper. Page 97 of the Anderson report states that in Scotland,


    "a decision was taken to apply the contiguous culling policy pragmatically and only . . . at the edge of the epidemic zone . . . These policies worked well".

The National Audit Office report considered on page 4:


    "The implications of the vaccination could have been more fully considered".

At page 117, the Royal Society report said:


    "The detailed exploration of the most appropriate culling strategies for particular circumstances is a vital research area, which should begin forthwith".

In addition, the European Parliament's report of 16th September 2002 raises no fewer than 12 points on vaccination. Does the Minister accept the comment in point 50, which I think I quoted earlier, that the decision on vaccination is not always a scientific matter, but a political one? If so, what is the Government's response to point 57, which says that emergency vaccination, with the aim of allowing animals to live, must be considered as a first choice option from the onset of the outbreak?

These are important issues. Amendment No. 117 would leave out "immaterial whether or not" and insert "material that". Amendment No. 115 would leave out "it is immaterial" and insert,


    "the chief veterinary officer shall only advise the destruction of animals"

when his advice has been taken into account.

This is slightly confusing because we have already gone round the circle on previous amendments, but I beg to move Amendment No. 111.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Although I normally support my noble friend with enthusiasm and salute the charm with which she speaks to amendments, on this occasion I think she has got things a little wrong. It is surely unreasonable of her, on this day of all days, with the experience of the past three or four hours to guide her, to expect that the Minister will clarify the Government's intentions. That would be asking him to exercise miraculous powers, which he does not have. The Bill has proved beyond all shadow of doubt that the Government's intentions are immune to clarification, even by such a genius as the Minister on the Front Bench.

My Amendment No. 116 is distressingly simple and for that reason is bound to fail. No one would dispute that the fact that animals are affected with foot and mouth disease or are suspected of being so affected is a material fact. Nor would anybody doubt that the fact that animals have been in contact with others so affected is also a material fact. The same applies to those that have been exposed to infection or treated with vaccine against foot and mouth disease. These are all clearly relevant material facts. The Bill says that it does not matter whether they are material.

That heightens my concern about the level and quality of the Minister's thinking, which is referred to in paragraph (c) inserted by subsection (2). I hope that the Minister will attempt to clarify this extraordinary situation in which the Government are suggesting that, at the stroke of a pen, Parliament can make material facts immaterial, or at least can decide that it does not matter whether they are material.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Subsection (2) inserts:


    "any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease".

That raises some key issues. Amendment No. 111 is particularly important, because it exposes the vexatious issue of the contiguous cull, which caused enormous problems in 2001. I spent a fortnight trying to protect a herd of British Friesians, which are becoming increasingly rare. They were inside a property, not out on the farm, and there was a contiguous cull on the neighbouring farm. We can all quote examples of that. After a fortnight the herd was slaughtered. That was a loss of a considerable gene pool, because, as most of us know, the Canadian Holstein has become the main black and white cow in this country now. The issue caused no end of angst in my former constituency, where people could not understand clearly why they were being told that their flocks or herds had to be slaughtered. I have to concede that in the Brecon Beacons, where animals were on the open hill and 18,500 were slaughtered, there was perhaps a case for doing such a thing, although it caused a great deal of distress at the time.

It is extremely important to have accurate assessment. I know the problems. There is very little time in which to make the assessments and come to material conclusions. The amendments begin to clarify the circumstances in which we could perhaps avoid the unnecessary slaughter of animals without contributing to the spread of the disease. I do not underestimate the difficulty of achieving that. We have the possibility of ring vaccination coming up. That will help to overcome some of the acute difficulties and may help to solve the problem in the future. I shall not talk about general vaccination, because that raises a lot of difficulties relating to consumption and exports, but in the longer term—and perhaps even in the shorter term—ring vaccination will help to overcome the problem.

The issue that we are confronting is very important. Psychologically, the farming community in the areas affected is still suffering from it. People have still not come to terms with having to have their animals slaughtered. We are talking about the reasons and what we can do to improve matters. I therefore support the amendments.

Lord Monro of Langholm: As one who was involved in the contiguous cull, I think it important to clarify the procedures when a cull is likely to take place. The amendments would help to do that. With a foot and mouth epidemic all around, one could contemplate that a contiguous cull within the three kilometre limit was a possibility, but when it comes it comes swiftly. On the Friday the veterinary officer and my vet came to see the stock and agreed that they were all healthy, but were within the mileage limit. On Saturday there was the valuation and the setting up of the pens for slaughter and on Easter Sunday came the slaughter. One does not have much breathing space to consider whether there is a reason to object to the cull. In any case, when there is a huge epidemic in the area it would be very wrong for any farmers to try to stand out against the cull if it was in the interests of the majority to get on with it.

However, a number of cases, particularly in the hefted hill flocks, ended up in court cases in Edinburgh. They needed clarification, because the chance of a hill ewe crossing a boundary, which never really happens with a hefted flock, was so remote that most people thought that the hefted hill flock cull was going a step too far.

What my noble friend has suggested would clarify how and when the cull should take place—and whether it should take place at all. That will help the farming industry if we have another outbreak of foot and mouth, although I hope we do not.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: I think that it is generally recognised by everyone who has reflected on what happened last year that we could never again contemplate culling on the scale that took place. It is just intolerable and unacceptable that we could consider such things. I believe that the following phrase in line 12 of the Bill goes to the heart of what is found most objectionable about the Bill in its original form. The Bill states that,


    "it is immaterial whether or not".

Such phraseology has a kind of indiscriminate arrogance about it which I believe is extremely offensive.

It is preposterous to suggest that paragraph (d) can stand in relation to that phraseology, so that it would be immaterial whether or not animals have been vaccinated. It cannot possibly be immaterial whether or not they have been vaccinated, particularly as all noble Lords are agreed, I think, that we are moving towards a much wider and much more intelligent use of vaccination.

This particular phrase must be changed. I do not mind by which method it is changed or by whose amendment it is changed. To say that "it is immaterial" is not something that can remain in the Bill. I urge the Minister to accept that this must be changed in some way.

Lord Carter: The use of the phrase is intended in law to restrict the particular meaning and to ensure that if there are animals outside these four categories—for example, in a firebreak cull—they could still be slaughtered. I am not sure that the phrase has all the meaning that the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, have given it. I believe that it is there for legal reasons which I am sure that the Minister will explain.

I have two very brief points on Amendment No. 114, which is this business about,


    "animals . . . which have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement by any government department of an outbreak".

We should remind ourselves that the outbreak was in the country for about a month, we think, before it was recognised and announced. Animals that were outside during the time that the disease was in the country, although we did not know it, and moved indoors on the day before the outbreak would still have been susceptible. I therefore think that there is a fatal weakness in the drafting.

The one redeeming feature of the FMD outbreak, as bad as it was, was that it did not spread to any extent to the pig population. If it had done, the results would have been very serious indeed. Almost all pigs are kept indoors.

The Countess of Mar: What these amendments indicate is the need for rapid testing, which I gather is now well on the way. I hope that the Minister will agree that once we have rapid testing, we will not need this clause in the Bill either. This is another reason for delaying the Bill until we know exactly what is happening. Rapid testing was well on the way when Fred Brown was here; it just had not been audited and authenticated by various departments in either this country or the EU. I ask the Minister to consider whether a government amendment would be appropriate in this case.

Baroness Strange: I support Amendment No. 111 because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, pointed out, the provision might cover dogs and horses which could never get foot and mouth because they do not have cloven hooves. Will the Minister table an amendment to clarify the position, so that no dogs and no horses are killed in this way?

Lord Whitty: I think that this debate is driven by two misunderstandings, one of which relates to the terms of the current legislation, in relation to which I think I can provide some comfort to noble Lords. The other misunderstanding relates to the intent of the Bill. Given some of the more recent remarks, I think that I will not be able to provide such comfort on that point.

As the Bill stands, the new powers of slaughter could not be used to slaughter non-susceptible animals. The reference to "animals" in the Bill is dependent on the definition in the Animal Health Act 1981, which states that only ruminants and swine can be slaughtered for the purposes of the control of foot and mouth disease. Consequently, all these scares about the susceptibility to slaughter of dogs, horses and even budgerigars and canaries—which have not been mentioned today—

Baroness Thornton: What about goldfish?

Lord Whitty: Yes, one might even include goldfish. None of these would fall within the definition of "animal", as repeated in this Bill, in the Animal Health Act 1981. I therefore think that I can lay to rest those concerns. The Act would have to be amended to change that definition, and Ministers have no intention of doing so.

As for the other point, I thought that it was clear that part of the Bill's intention, which was very strongly supported by the Anderson inquiry, is to extend the circumstances in which slaughter may be carried out to include preventive culling. "Pre-emptive culling" is the term that Anderson uses. This clause is designed to do that. I know that some commentators, and perhaps some noble Lords, will not like that, but it is a central intent of the Bill and is strongly supported by both Anderson and the Royal Society.

People are concerned about this clause and the "immaterial" provision because, hitherto, before they could be slaughtered, we would have had to prove that animals fell within the categories outlined in the clause to which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and others have drawn attention. In other words, the animals would have to be diseased, exposed to the disease or reasonably expected to be exposed to the disease. If, however, we provided a new power that extends the scope to pre-emptive culls as required by Anderson, one would have to say that the above constraint could be overridden when a pre-emptive cull is being undertaken. Those who oppose that provision oppose a basic tenet of the Bill and a basic strand of the thinking of both of the main inquiries into the matter.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: I thought that vaccination was going to be used for that purpose.

Lord Whitty: The proposition particularly from the Royal Society but also to some extent from Anderson and the Europeans is that the vaccination option should be considered as a first resort, but not as a replacement for all culling and not necessarily as an absolute priority. As I said in speaking to a previous amendment, there will have to be some culling provisions in relation to both diseased and exposed animals. In some circumstances there will have to be a firebreak cull, and in other circumstances there will have to be a firebreak vaccination. We hope to vaccinate to live rather than to vaccinate to kill, as was previously being contemplated.

As it is pre-emptive, the vaccination proposal—not in this clause but in the equivalent provision—also requires the powers of entry provided for in the Bill. Hitherto, everything has been based not on pre-emptive or preventive culling and vaccination but on the proposition that animals are or might be exposed to the disease. As I explained earlier—I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, was in the Chamber at the time—it is wrong to think that the recommendations which the Government have accepted on taking a much more positive line on vaccination replace the need for culling diseased and exposed animals or, in some circumstances, for culling for pre-emptive purposes.

This clause very explicitly expresses the recommendation of the Anderson inquiry to clarify the powers in this respect. Indeed, that is one of Anderson's most powerful recommendations. As I said, those who oppose the provision would go against Anderson's recommendation. I would therefore not be prepared to accept amendments along those lines.

I also do not think that the suggested exemption for animals kept indoors would be appropriate. I think that it is inappropriate not only because of the detailed reason spelled out by my noble friend Lord Carter, but because an animal could still be a carrier of the disease or exposed to the disease although it had been indoors for much longer than the incubation period. I therefore believe that we must have the ability to slaughter animals that are kept indoors to restrict the spread of the disease.

As I said, I do not think that the earlier concerns expressed most more recently by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, are valid. The concerns about preventative culling are valid. However, if the Committee were to go along those lines, it would be very much flying in the face of the recommendations of both of the main inquiries. I therefore hope that the Committee will not pursue that.

7.30 p.m.

The Countess of Mar: Will the noble Lord kindly address the question that I raised about the rapid diagnostic tests? They would probably eliminate the need for the clause altogether, because we would be able to diagnose very quickly whether animals were infected.

Lord Whitty: No. Not all advances in relation to the diagnostic tests have been fully validated but there is an advance which, we hope, will identify diseased animals and determine whether exposed animals were actually subject to the disease. However, it would not provide the basis on which one would carry out a pre-emptive cull. A pre-emptive cull, by definition, does not require us to be able to prove that an animal had the disease. That is precisely the firebreak or wall strategy that Anderson said should be more clearly available to us in legislation but which is not present in the current legislation. We are increasing the scope—I make no bones about that—but we do so in line with what the report suggests.

The Countess of Mar: I am trying to say that a pre-emptive cull would not be necessary if we had a rapid diagnostic test. One would be able to test every animal to find out whether it was infected. There would be no need to go round culling all over the place.

Lord Whitty: That might reduce the requirement but when large-scale movements of sheep on hills are concerned, for instance, there is no way in which we would be able to carry out diagnostic tests in the way the noble Countess suggests. That would in some circumstances restrict the need for a pre-emptive cull but in other circumstances—in which the disease was virtually out of control and we needed to build a barrier to its spread—a pre-emptive cull would be the obvious weapon for us to use. The problem (and the reason why Anderson suggested that we needed to make this explicit in the legislation) is that at times there was an argument about whether the contiguous cull was always justified in terms of exposure. Sometimes the contiguous cull's primary purpose was preventive. That is where Anderson's reference to ambiguity in the current legislation applies. I do not believe that it is quite as ambiguous as he indicated, but he firmly said that we need to clarify that there is a right to engage in preventive culling.

The Earl of Onslow: Will the noble Lord clarify what we know about diagnostic equipment? So far as I can gather, that equipment was developed in relation to germ warfare. It involves the method whereby someone—or a sheep or cow—breathes on to something, whereupon a computer recognises whether a virus is in the air that is breathed. The test is instantaneous. When that was suggested earlier during the outbreak, people said, "Oh, it has not been tested under field conditions". No one then said, "What a smashing time to test this instrument, when there is a major foot and mouth outbreak", although it could have been extremely useful. These diagnostic tests came as a result of germ warfare.

Moreover, I do not know whether the noble Lord is aware—or even whether I am 100 per cent correct—that at the outbreak of the Gulf War, there was a panic about diagnosing disease-borne attack—

The Countess of Mar: I believe that the noble Earl means to refer to anthrax.

The Earl of Onslow: Yes, anthrax. A portable machine was designed and built at Porton Down—it was used in the Gulf and was diagnostically efficient—within three weeks. Those machines work, and we must consider them. The moment at which one can diagnose quickly and easily, one can use such machines. It is no good the noble Lord saying, "We cannot diagnose sheep". Yes we can. One herds them into a pen and one makes them breathe into something, or one puts a bullet in their head. That is the same thing.

Baroness Wilcox: Not quite!

The Earl of Onslow: My noble friend says, "Not quite", but it involves the same amount of effort.

Will the noble Lord and his department please look more carefully at such diagnostic instruments?

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: I do not want to return to the diagnostic test although I am sure that important steps could be taken in that direction. I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, says about animals being kept indoors—they may have been exposed previously and the disease may be present but not detected.

I do not believe that the Minister understood the force of what I was trying to say: perhaps I am the only Member of the Committee who feels this way. There is a disagreement between us about whether a pre-emptive cull and a pre-emptive vaccination are equally valid policies; I do not believe that they are. I hope that we are moving towards a policy of normally using pre-emptive vaccination, with pre-emptive culling being used in exceptional circumstances. The phraseology should cover that. The cavalier use of the word "immaterial" conveys entirely the wrong impression, which will be greatly resented in the farming community.

We must find a way to express the fact that there may yet be exceptional circumstances in which it is still necessary to cull animals in such categories but not in relation to paragraph (d), because if vaccination works, we will certainly not cull animals that are covered by that provision. It is the tone of voice that desperately needs to be altered. I hope that the Minister will say that he understands that and will do something to change the provision's phrasing. There may be occasional—exceptional—circumstances in which pre-emptive culling is necessary of uninfected and unsuspected animals. However, we need to say that in a way that reassures people, rather than make people feel as if they are being hit over the head with a blunderbuss of a policy that can be applied absolutely indiscriminately anywhere and to any animal.

Baroness Mallalieu: I support the comments of the right reverend Prelate; he conveys exactly my feelings.

Listening to the way in which the Minister responded to this group of amendments, I became profoundly depressed. It seems to me that we are learning nothing from all that occurred last year. It is absolutely crucial to get away from the situation that one farmer described to me: he said that for the first time he understood what Shakespeare meant by the "insolence of office". We are providing powers to do more of the same, although that went wrong. I appreciate that the Minister said that he needs such powers and that he has not got them. However, the circumstances in which they could conceivably be used in future, after all that has happened, must be very limited indeed. We should look beyond simply trying to take powers to justify what went wrong last time and look at ways of avoiding ever having to use them again in such a way.

Baroness Byford: I intervene in view of the last three contributions. I am sure that the Committee has the necessary resolve. We are very concerned about the use of the word "immaterial"; we want to have "material" in the legislation because there are material facts that should be taken into consideration. Perhaps I should give the Minister another chance before deciding what to do with the amendments.

Lord Whitty: If the right reverend Prelate or the noble Baroness can find a word that means the same as "immaterial" without wrecking the Bill, I might consider it. However, that is not what is being proposed. The whole point of using the term "immaterial" is that it is no longer necessary, in relation to animals that fall under the four categories, for us to engage in a policy of pre-emptive culling, as was firmly recommended by the Anderson inquiry. Changing the word "immaterial" to "material" would have exactly the opposite effect. That is why this is a wrecking amendment; it would wreck not only the Government's intention but also the very firm recommendations of the inquiries.

I turn to the point of my noble friend Lady Mallalieu. Clearly, because we have taken on board the recommendations about being more positive about using vaccination as a strategy, we hope that the number of occasions on which a pre-emptive cull was proven to be necessary would be limited. Nevertheless, we cannot exclude the possibility—for logistical reasons or because the disease was running out of control—that we may need to engage in a pre-emptive cull. Nor can we ignore the firm recommendation of the inquiries that we need to clarify the law to that effect. If the Committee wishes to pursue this amendment, it must recognise that it does so in the face of the recommendation of the inquiries, which the House has hitherto said are the main reasons for delaying progress on the Bill. Therefore, I would not recommend the Committee to go down that road. If it were to do so, far from meeting the concerns of the farming community, I believe it would be acting seriously against its interests.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Before the noble Lord sits down, I do not believe that I made the point very well in my previous remarks on my amendment. The noble Lord must avoid letting the law look plainly silly, which it would do if he continued to make the statement that obviously material facts shall cease to be material. That is a real "sillyness" and it must be taken out of the Bill.

Lord Carter: Perhaps my noble friend would agree that the wording means that, in applying sub-paragraph (1)(c), the application shall not be restricted to the four cases listed below. That is all that it means.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Then why not say so?

The Earl of Onslow: The wording actually says that we can go and kill anything whenever we want to, however we wish, simply because we believe that we should. The use of the word "immaterial" means that that is exactly what one can do. That is what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said. It is the arrogance of power and it is very unattractive. It does not matter whether it comes from our side, the opposite side or the Liberals in 1909. It is still arrogance of power, which is unattractive.

Lord Whitty: I cannot conceive that the proposed sub-paragraph bears the interpretation that the noble Earl has just put on it. As my noble friend Lord Carter said, it is intended to say that the categories of animals will not be confined to the previous considerations. If Members of the Committee wish to use a different word from "immaterial" and wish to come forward with an amendment on Report, I shall obviously be prepared to consider it. However, I am not prepared to consider allowing on to the statute book a measure which entirely reverses the intention of the clause and the intention of the inquiry.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to hear what the Minister has just said.

Earl Peel: I return to a point that I raised earlier. I tried to explain to the Minister my hope that somewhere in the Bill the Government would make a commitment that, if effective diagnostic tests were in existence, there would be a statutory obligation on those making the decisions to use those tests before they decided to go ahead with the pre-emptive power. Is that or is that not a possibility? If the Minister could give us an assurance along that line, I believe that Members of the Committee would be far happier.

Lord Whitty: I have already made two commitments. One was that there would be a published slaughter protocol; the other was that the Secretary of State would have to make clear the reasons for the general strategy in terms of disease control. Both would be public documents, and neither was required during the outbreak of the disease last year. Therefore, with those commitments we should make a considerable advance in terms of transparency.

If the diagnostic tools were universally accepted, one would expect that to feature in a disease protocol. Although substantial advances have been made, there is also an international dimension to this issue in terms of tests which are internationally validated, both in this context and also in the context to which the noble Earl referred earlier distinguishing between vaccinated and diseased animals. However, if the tests were to be totally validated, I should expect that to be reflected in the disease protocol. We have not quite reached that point yet, but it will obviously be a consideration when we draw up the protocol.

The Countess of Mar: I am very much at heart with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. To use the word "immaterial" is to say that it does not matter. Would the Minister be prepared to place the words "it does not matter" on the face of the Bill? Would he be happy with that wording? That is what he is saying. He is saying that it does not matter whether or not the animals have been affected, whether or not they have been exposed or any of the other points listed. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, made a very strong point. Is the Minister happy with the words "it does not matter"?

Lord Whitty: I suspect that "immaterial" is neither a Civil Service nor a ministerial word but a legal one. I can blame the lawyers and possibly reach some consensus in this Chamber. However, it does not mean that "it does not matter" in the sense to which the noble Countess referred but that it is not the determining factor. As I said, if there is a better way in which to express that, I shall consider it. However, as I also said, the amendments before us reverse the meaning rather than clarify it.

Baroness Byford: We are still debating Amendment No. 111. I hesitated slightly because we have jumped from one amendment to another. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 112 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 113:


    Page 1, line 10, at end insert—


"( ) After sub-paragraph (1) insert—
"( ) Where the Minister uses the power under sub-paragraph (1)(c) above he shall give, in writing to the keeper of the animals, his reasons for doing so.""

The noble Baroness said: It is a little while since we debated the group containing Amendment No. 113. Although the Minister responded to my noble friend Lord Plumb, I do not believe that he gave a satisfactory answer. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

7.46 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 113) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 62; Not-Contents, 80.

Division No. 1

CONTENTS

Alton of Liverpool, L.
Avebury, L.
Barker, B.
Blatch, B.
Byford, B.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Chelmsford, Bp.
Chester, Bp.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Cox, B.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B.
Elton, L.
Falkland, V.
Fookes, B.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Geddes, L.
Greaves, L.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Henley, L.
Hereford, Bp.
Hogg, B.
Hooson, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jopling, L.
King of Bridgwater, L.
Kingsland, L.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Lyell, L.
Maddock, B.
Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Mar, C.
Marlesford, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Monson, L.
Moynihan, L.
Northesk, E.
Onslow, E.
Palmer, L.
Peel, E.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Plumb, L.
Rawlings, B.
St. John of Bletso, L.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Selborne, E.
Selsdon, L.
Sharples, B.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stodart of Leaston, L.
Strange, B.
Waddington, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Wilcox, B.

NOT-CONTENTS

Acton, L.
Ahmed, L.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Bach, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Blease, L.
Borrie, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter, L.
Chandos, V.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Crawley, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Dixon, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Filkin, L.
Gale, B.
Gavron, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Grenfell, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Haringey, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Chesterton, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Jordan, L.
Judd, L.
Kilclooney, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lipsey, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Mitchell, L.
Morgan, L.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Renwick of Clifton, L.
Richard, L.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sawyer, L.
Simon, V.
Thornton, B.
Turnberg, L.
Varley, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Winston, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

7.57 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 114 to 117 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In doing so, I suggest that the Committee stage of the Bill recommence not before 8.57 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Click here for part two
 
http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199697/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds02/text/21007w01.htm

Animal Health Bill

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

[Amendment No. 118 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill): I should tell the Committee that if Amendment No. 119 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 120 because of pre-emption.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 119:


    Page 1, leave out lines 17 and 18.

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is linked with Amendments Nos. 122 and 123. The clause states in effect that, whenever the Minister "feels a slaughter movement coming on", he can go ahead without paying any attention to whether the animals he wants killed have been exposed to infection.

My reading of the three UK reports leads me to believe that the National Audit Office was less than impressed with the cost-effectiveness of the pre-emptive cull. Anderson and the Royal Society did not in any sense praise it. Anderson commented how much better the Scottish authorities were at implementing their control of the disease. The report from the EU is still awaited, but Commissioner Byrne, in his speech of 12th September, reported that the Commission feels,


    "that emergency vaccination should be moved to the forefront of the response mechanism".

He then added that stamping out,


    "must also remain possible as a strategy for reducing the number of susceptible animals in the vicinity of an outbreak".

None of this appears to me to be adequate justification for a clause which declares that it is immaterial whether animals have been exposed to foot and mouth.

I now turn to Amendment No. 120. It is obvious that I am in retreat before the weight of numbers of government representatives, particularly in another place. However, I am seriously concerned about the principles involved here. Given that the Government insist on slaughter policies which are totally unrelated to the Title and sub-Title of this part of the Bill, they must be made to exercise these powers reasonably and responsibly.

The cattle we are discussing have not got foot and mouth; they have not been in contact with infected animals nor with people whose lives take them onto infected farms; nor have they ever been exposed to infection under any government definition, but nevertheless the Secretary of State, who sees all things and who must be obeyed, decrees their demise. At the very least, we are asking that the post-killing action should be carried out expeditiously. A delay of more than 48 hours is cruel and inhumane and likely to cause extreme distress to both the owners and obviously the keepers of the livestock affected. I again refer the Minister to number 60 of the working party recommendations which states that emergency vaccination ought always to be used in cases which make it possible to avoid mass burial or burning on pyres. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I refer to Amendment No. 120. I believe that it is very important indeed that animals are buried within the 48-hour period. I am speaking from memory, but if one examines the Northumberland report I believe that the conclusion was that they should be buried very much quicker than that. I believe that it was 12 hours. Perhaps someone will correct me on that.

One matter which was apparent during the recent outbreak was that animals were not buried rapidly enough. I am sure that we all remember that Brigadier Birtwhistle was brought into Cumbria to sort out the problem. I know that it was a very bad outbreak and that there were many cases. Had the outbreak been controlled at the beginning; had the Army been involved at a much earlier stage and in sufficient numbers; and had local contractors also been involved at an earlier stage, I believe that we could have achieved a much better burial rate instead of having many thousands of carcasses lying around the countryside. We must never see such a situation again. I believe that a 48-hour rule is a good start. However, I think that it should be somewhat less than that; in fact, considerably less.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness has confused me slightly. As I understand it, she has spoken to Amendments Nos. 119 and 120.

Baroness Byford: I apologise to the Minister. This is my mistake. Some confusion arose because my two colleagues were not here at the restart of proceedings. Amendment No. 120 should be discussed with Amendment No. 121. Therefore, perhaps we can take Amendments Nos. 118 and 119 at this stage, and deal with the other amendments in due course.

Lord Whitty: Amendment No. 119 in part goes over some of the territory we were debating before the dinner break in relation to the word "immaterial" in that it seeks to delete part of subsection (3). The arguments put forward by the noble Baroness suggest that she was indeed thinking of not allowing an extension of the powers to provide for the pre-emptive cull. I simply repeat what I said before dinner; namely, that this does increase the scope. It also reflects a clear recommendation of Anderson that we should clarify and increase the scope in this regard.

If the objection is to the word "immaterial", I have already said that a more mellifluous form of words might be considered. However, the points of principle still apply, as does my commitment to bringing forward an amendment that would include a requirement to produce a slaughter protocol to deal with some of these points in terms of the anxieties expressed.

In relation to Amendment No. 120, which deals with the disposal of carcasses, clearly the objective must be supported. The difficulty about accepting a 48-hour deadline—or, indeed, any other deadline—unless supported by the contingency plan, is that at the height of an epidemic such as the one we witnessed last year, disposal is of a lower priority than slaughter, vaccination, or whatever strategy is adopted. If the logistics meant that we could not meet the disposal target but that was the only target specified in primary legislation, we would be in difficulty as regards deciding the priorities in terms of disease control.

Although I fully support the objective of this amendment—namely, to reduce the time taken to dispose of carcasses—I could not accept the proposal as an overriding commitment when compared with commitments that should be dealt with in the national contingency plan. Therefore, rather than place on the face of the Bill a provision stating that we would deal with it in the contingency plan—

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I thank the Minister for giving way. The noble Lord has rightly addressed his response to those who are directly involved in tackling the disease. However, there are many capable machine operators in the countryside driving JCBs, and so on, who are not involved in that process. Likewise, Army personnel are not involved in that side of the matter. It seems to me that they could have been deployed at a much earlier stage to tackle that side of the problem—that is to say, the burial of carcasses—while the tackling of infection could have continued at the same time and been accomplished just as rapidly, if not more so, than was the case.

The Countess of Mar: Was it not the publication of pictures of bloated animals with their feet in the air that had such a disastrous effect on our tourism industry? Further, was it not the sight of these animals lying in fields near houses where children lived that had a disastrous effect on the psychology of children and of their parents?

Lord Whitty: The noble Countess is correct to highlight the pyres method of disposal. We have said quite clearly that we would not resort to the use of mass pyres in future. The interim contingency plan clearly states that aim—

The Countess of Mar: I was not talking about the mass pyres; I was talking about the delay in getting rid of the bodies of animals.

Lord Whitty: There are two aspects to the matter; first, how quickly we can dispose of bodies in the height of an epidemic, and, secondly, how rapidly we can gear the logistics to achieving that aim without undermining the efforts regarding disease control. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, is partially right to say that different people would be carrying out such disposal. However, he is not entirely right. Clearly, some of the support logistics and the allocation of personnel could be very tight, especially in areas like, say, Cumbria, where the disease was so rife at any given time. In such circumstances, one would have to make a choice between disposal and eradication through slaughter, or prevention through vaccination or pre-emptive cull.

For those reasons, I would prefer not to see a target included in the primary legislation, even if we could come up with ones for this and other aspects of the disease eradication programme in the contingency plan. If targets were included, they might be given primacy over other possibly more important aspects of disease control logistics.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful for the Minister's response to the amendment. Obviously, we were anxious about the possibility of carcasses being left to rot or remaining visible as happened during the previous outbreak. The Bill is likely to be changed yet again if vaccination proposals come into being, so it is difficult to push the Government to accept some amendments, given that they may later be altered. On the other hand, tremendous damage was done not only to the farming community but to the entire rural community and the UK as a whole.

As the Minister knows, numerous people cancelled their holiday to Britain because they considered our country to be diseased and did not wish to come here. That had huge financial implications for businesses in the UK. I would have thought that the Government would welcome an amendment that requires them to get rid of carcasses within a 48-hour target. However, I have heard the Minister's comments, and I will give the matter due consideration. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 120 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 121:


    Page 1, line 20, at end insert—


"( ) In sub-paragraph (1A) above, where none of paragraphs (a) to (d) applies to the animals in question, the Minister shall serve on the owner of the animals (or in default of the owner being traceable, the keeper of the animals) a notice containing a reasoned justification for his decision to require the slaughter of animals, and no slaughter of animals shall take place until at least 24 hours have elapsed from the serving of the notice.""

The noble Baroness said: I apologise for my confusion as regards the order of amendments. I will deal also with Amendments Nos. 131 and 268. In Amendment No. 121, we wish to delete from the start of the published amendment to "question, the Minister" and to insert


    "where the Minister decides to apply sub-paragraph (1A), he".

Given that no diagnosis has been made of foot and mouth disease, and without reasonable cause to suspect that infection has been found, reasons for slaughter are required. Any Minister invoking paragraph (1A) in support of his discretion to slaughter must be required to give alternative reasons. The alternative must be in writing and served in a fashion that incorporates proof of delivery and of receipt. The recipient should have a minimum of 24 hours to assimilate the ministerial argument and to set in train any necessary appeal.

The public perception is that consultation is replacing decision-making at local and intermediate level. The media, the press and members of the Select Committee in another place complain of foregone conclusions and of questionnaires carefully worded to elicit desired responses. They complain of lack of responses from Cabinet members and Ministers. We must not worsen the situation by allowing open-ended powers that would, among other things, render legal personal animosity, group persecution, action as a result of flawed research or of advice from an irrelevant source, or action to cover up errors.

I turn now to Amendment No. 131. Page 108 of the Anderson report states:


    "The issue of disposal and the inadequacy of provision for it had been noted in the Drummond Report in 1999 and further acknowledged by the State Veterinary Service in July 2000. The Dutch experience of disposing of nine million pig carcasses during the outbreak of classical swine fever in 1997 could have served as a warning for other countries to be prepared for a similar eventuality".

Indeed, we had our own swine fever outbreak here. The fact is that nothing was done. We fear that unless the need to prepare is enshrined in law nothing will be done again until it is too late.

Even without the endorsement of the learned professor, we would wish to see something on the face of the Bill setting disposal standards for the Government. The people's horrified reaction to the layers of rotting carcasses has made it abundantly clear that this level of ineptitude must never be repeated. Not only did farmers suffer, because it was their livestock that were killed, but their families were on the receiving end at a highly critical moment. Other rural businesses, especially tourism, suffered dreadfully. The evident public revulsion kept visitors away from affected areas in particular, but also from the countryside in general. As someone said in a radio interview: who wants to come to eat lunch at a country pub half a mile up the road from a heap of manure and maggots? Those same country pubs and rural businesses had no compensation for DEFRA's failure to handle the corpses with alacrity.

Perhaps, from the Government's point of view, the strongest argument for tight standards in carcass disposal is their own recently published strategic review of diffuse water pollution from agriculture in England and the imminent EU draft directive on environmental liability. The Secretary of State explained in a Written Answer published in Hansard on 19th September that,


    "the proposed Directive could have additional positive environmental benefits, by requiring higher standards of remediation and by encouraging operators to take additional precaution".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/9/02; col. 268W.]

I should have thought that several hundred decomposing bodies lying in a field, especially when the weather is warm, would fall well within the remit of that directive.

Similarly, nutrients from the over-application of fertilisers cause diffuse pollution from agriculture. As we saw during the outbreak, the Environment Agency was greatly concerned over the leakage from burial sites and into streams. Above-ground decomposition is one thing. But equally, or perhaps more, alarming is the pollution that cannot be seen. The strategic review of water pollution incorporates a paper prepared to inform the Government's thinking around objectives. It concludes, among other things, that there is a need for co-ordination of models from the catchment to the national scale, predicting and monitoring the effects of any policy measures. A slaughter policy that does not set standards for burial, removal or treatment will undoubtedly be at odds with the Government's environmental targets.

The criterion for Amendment No. 268 is defined in the Northumberland report and in the disease contingency plan. However, as we have seen all too clearly, the system can become overwhelmed. It would be sensible to have a fallback position, as proposed in the amendments, from the point of view of the animals and of human psychology. Anderson writes on page 108 about the inadequacy of provision for disposal. Page 89 of the NAO report records huge sums spent on disposal. A sizeable proportion of that arose from having to make arrangements in a hurry with no preparation.

Our main concern is to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2001. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: This is a very important amendment. The Minister has started to address some of the problems with the identification of mass burial sites in 2001 and appeared to indicate that perhaps policy was changing on that. There were clearly problems with the preparation of objective geological analysis of sites and consideration of issues such as run-off into river basins. There was a mass burial site at Mynydd Epynt in my former constituency that was very unsuitable geologically. Work was stopped on that site as a result. The road that ran next to the site was opened only last week, having been closed for the past 10 months. That was very inconvenient because—for noble Lords who know the area—it cut off about 20 miles of the road across the Epynt. Although the site has been restored, pollution is still running into the River Towy, and there is evidence that it is running into the River Usk catchment.

I am not talking about the burning of carcasses so much as the burial of carcasses. As the Northumberland report indicated, where possible, carcasses can be buried on farm sites. However, it is difficult for the Environment Agency to find sites that are sufficiently good and do not result in pollution. The issue requires considerable and detailed examination, the result of which should be a procedure that ensures properly buried carcasses at suitable sites sanctioned by the Environment Agency. I am well aware that the recent outbreak was so great that the problem was particularly difficult to deal with. Consequently, the matter requires great forethought. Suitable sites have to be identified now and not during the middle of a huge outbreak. If that is done properly, I think that some of the problems can be overcome.

Lord Whitty: Amendment No. 121 would impose two requirements: a slaughter notice to be issued, and then no slaughter for 24 hours. On the first point, I agree that it is important that there is transparency in the decision. That is why we have stated our intention to introduce a new policy of issuing slaughter notices to farmers whose animals are to be culled. The whole purpose of the notices is to formalise the process of notifying of the need to slaughter, to provide documentary evidence, and to explain the justification for slaughter to the stockholder. Notices will be served whenever animals are to be slaughtered and not simply under these new powers, which is a distinct improvement on the requirement that existed last year.

I do not, however, think that a 24-hour delay would be appropriate. A fixed delay would be inappropriate even if the slaughter were to be done on preventative rather than exposure or disease grounds. We want to get on with this process as rapidly as possible and building in a 24-hour delay could jeopardise that process. There is, of course, always the possibility of asking for a review by the district veterinary manager. I would not, however, wish to see a 24-hour delay built in.

Amendment No. 131 takes us back to disposal. Although disposal should be carried out as rapidly as possible, it should also be carried out in the best possible way and, as I said, in a way that does not undermine other efforts. We are therefore not happy about including a 48-hour target or about specifying the priority to be given to disposal.

Under the new interim contingency plan, and according to the current policy, we have a disposal hierarchy that is substantially different from that which operated previously. The hierarchy is as follows. The best form of disposal is by rendering; the second by incineration; the third by landfill on approved sites—although this would require the permission of the landfill operator, and we are setting up contracts to that effect—the fourth by burning; and the fifth by mass burial or farm burial. The problem with establishing a 48-hour target is that we run the danger of re-arranging the disposal hierarchy. Therefore rendering is best but if one cannot do that within 48 hours, one may resort to mass burial or on-farm burial. Pyres, of course, do not feature in that list; they are excluded.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: What are the Government doing about creating more rendering capacity and siting that rendering capacity nearer to where livestock exists to speed up the whole process? What work has been done in that regard?

Lord Whitty: We are discussing with the rendering industry how capacity could be made available urgently and on what terms; likewise with landfill operators. Instead of having to negotiate contracts from scratch, as we were effectively doing during the previous epidemic—running to stand still—this arrangement would be in place as part of the contingency plan in advance of any future disease. The noble Lord was right to suggest that rendering capacity is finite. Nevertheless, we should have the ability to maximise capacity this time, which we did not have previously.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for his response. He did not respond to Amendment No. 268, which involved the alternative of using a vaccine.

Lord Whitty: The requirement to vaccinate if disposal capacity was insufficient could compromise other efforts. Vaccination in general must be part of a planned priority list of where we would vaccinate, whereas this approach appears to envisage that we should give priority to vaccination when disposal capacity is inadequate to meet the 48-hour target. I know that that is covered by a separate amendment but the strategy appears to be: "If you cannot meet the 48-hour requirement, vaccinate to slow down the disposal rate". In fact, vaccination and the logistics of vaccination need to be directed at the priority areas in order to stop the disease spreading. That would imply a priority to help out in relation to the disposal side, which again is the wrong priority at the height of a disease.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for that but I do not necessarily follow his argument. I shall come back on a couple of issues.

In relation to Amendment No. 121, I accept that notices are required to be and will be given. On the proposal that no slaughter should take place within 24 hours, I accept what the Minister says. However, there is a major concern about the question of a challenge, which, as the Minister knows, happened last time. There may be provisions in the Bill that I have missed that allow for the possibility of that challenge without slaughter having taken place first; in other words, if someone wanted to make a challenge, he could do so in relation to testing. That might overcome the issue. My understanding is that there is no such proposal in the Bill. I am not absolutely convinced in relation to Amendment No. 121.

On Amendment No. 131, I accept that there may be circumstances in which carcasses cannot be removed or buried or that disposal cannot take place within 48 hours. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, touched on rendering. Have the Government set themselves any targets about how they would bring in or make available such a system and geographically where would it be? Will animals be trundled around, as they were last time, from pillar to post to reach rendering sites? I accept that the Government have decided that burning and burial are last resorts. They were first resorts last time. However, big questions remain. We still do not quite know how the system will cope if a large number of animals are killed next time. I am still concerned in that regard.

If animals have to wait for disposal for more than 48 hours and are going to rendering, is the idea still that they will be left on the farm where they have been destroyed and that they will not be moved off that farm to another place before going to rendering?

I believe that part of the cause of the problems and the great distress which occurred during the previous outbreak was the fact that families saw their animals lying dead for days and days. I was going to say "weeks"; that is perhaps a little unkind, but I believe that in one or two cases the animals may well have been left lying for a week. In responding to these amendments, I wonder whether the Government had considered moving the animals to a designated place if a delay were to occur before rendering could take place. Perhaps the Minister will answer that point.

Finally, I turn to the question of vaccination and the hope that vaccination rather than cull will be used as the first resort. Where a real outbreak of the disease is seen to occur, would it not be sensible for animals to be vaccinated in order to ease back on the pressures on the Government in disposing of the animals? Although the Minister did not agree with me, I cannot see a reason for not accepting the logic of that argument. He seemed to indicate that the vaccines might be needed elsewhere—perhaps in another attempt to control the cull. But I should hope that there would be sufficient vaccine to cope with any such emergency in the future. I do not see why the two should be in opposition; they could be used together. I wonder whether the Minister slightly misunderstood my argument in relation to Amendment No. 268 and thereby suggested that it was not necessary. Perhaps he will kindly clarify that point.

Lord Whitty: I shall attempt to do so. I was making the point that Amendment No. 268 would put on to the face of the Bill an area in which vaccine should be used but which would not necessarily be the priority area if one was engaged in a strategy which primarily relied on vaccination. It suggests that vaccination should be used where difficulties are experienced with disposal, whereas the disease control priorities might be in an entirely different part of the county or country. That is why I would not want vaccination to be prioritised in that sense. I am not saying that we should not use vaccination to slow down disposal requirements; I am saying that we should not give priority to it.

As to Amendment No. 131 concerning whether there would be an intermediate step between farm slaughter and rendering, I believe that the general answer to that would probably be "no". There is difficulty enough in creating burial and other mass sites. Ideally one would go straight from the farm to rendering as rapidly as possible. However, I was querying whether we could always do so within 48 hours. There is no built-in half-way house because of the lack of rendering capacity.

Of course, it must be borne in mind that during the last few months of the outbreak of the disease, even with the rather inadequate arrangements that were in place with rendering companies at that time, the rendering capacity was capable of dealing with the throughput. Only at the height of the disease was a problem experienced. If we consider the hierarchy, I do not believe that we are often left with significant problems on the farms. However, there may be particular areas where a temporary problem occurs.

The Countess of Mar: Before the noble Lord sits down, I am a little puzzled. There is an urgency behind the Bill. The Minister has stressed that since January, although we are now in October. Yet he says to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that the Government have still not sorted out the rendering capacity in case of another outbreak of foot and mouth disease. It is now 18 months or more since the last outbreak began. Yet we still do not have something as important as this in place when rendering is the prime means of disposing of the carcasses. Is it not time that someone pulled their socks up?

Lord Whitty: I do not believe that I said to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that we had nothing in place. I said that I could say which plant would be the designated rendering plant at the time. However, we have discussed with the rendering and landfill industries the terms on which their premises would become available were an emergency to arise. They would become available immediately, and we would not have to engage in the often quite difficult contractual relationships experienced on the previous occasion. So there is an understanding with the industry. However, I cannot say which rendering plants would deal with a volume of carcasses from a given county. We have to play it by ear, but the understanding is there and the contractual arrangements can be triggered.

9.45 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: On the Clonmel principle that we would not be starting from here if there is another outbreak due to the acceptance of vaccinations, and the principle thereof, I hope that we shall never have to slaughter that number of animals. The argument is about how we dealt with last year's outbreak as opposed to how we deal with an outbreak the next time around. No one in their right mind would do what happened last time. We shall vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. Everyone will say that we knew that all along. We were in favour of the exchange rate mechanism until we came out of it; it is that syndrome. I suspect that the rendering argument is slightly arcane and slightly unnecessary simply on the grounds that it will not arise because we will vaccinate and will not have to slaughter however many millions of animals. That is probably not very helpful.

Baroness Byford: The intervention of my noble friend Lord Onslow, useful or not, brings us back to where we started today. We are dealing with a Bill that was out of date before we started to discuss it, which shows the nightmare that we are in. Over many weeks and months we have had to prepare our amendments on the assumption that the Bill is as it stands. We now find ourselves in a totally different scenario and it is difficult to argue the case for something that would be applicable to what we have in front of us when we should be talking about something to the side of us. I hope that I am not the only one who finds this experience very difficult. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 121.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 122 and 123 not moved.]

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Extension of power to slaughter]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 124:


    Page 2, line 2, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment when speaking to Amendment No. 106. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: With the leave of the Committee, this amendment occurs repeatedly, so I take it that I can invite the Minister to move such an amendment formally in future and that the Committee will be content therewith.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 125:


    Page 2, line 4, after "of" insert "infectious"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 125 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 126, 127 and 128. My noble friend Lord Peyton is no longer in the Chamber so I shall deal with just those four amendments.

This is a probing amendment. As far as we can see, with the possible exception of scrapie, this Bill is intended to deal with infectious animal diseases. However, under the current wording of the Bill, the powers could extend to animals that are genetically diseased or suffering from radiation or acute dehydration or any other manner of ailments that could be passed on from dam or sire. Perhaps the Minister will explain the extent of his intentions in the application of the Bill and ask the draftsman to consider the wording that will adequately describe its extent and not leave it open to endless interpretation. For that reason we suggest including the word "infectious".

On Amendment No. 126, the introduction of a three-kilometre cull showed how arbitrary such a policy could be. The amendment is intended to offer some protection to owners of animals that are regularly kept in isolation. The very fact that such a cull is to begin before the announcement of any outbreak means that it cannot be quickly wheeled into place once an announcement has been made.

The provision could also apply to newly purchased animals held in isolation under the 20-day rule. That rule has been introduced in an educated attempt to stop the spread of foot and mouth should it ever be imported again through the markets. If it is adequate for the purpose, the implication must be that animals kept indoors must be considered to be relatively safe from infections unless or until their own premises are affected. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, spoke to that when we had an earlier debate around the issue.

In relation to Amendment No. 127, although the Minister has already suggested that he would be paying full market value, I should still like to move the amendment, which is on page 2, line 6, after "compensation" insert "at full market value". If the BSE outbreak taught MAFF nothing else, it should have taught it that playing around with fractional values is the one guaranteed way to leave farmers—who are probably earning between 1 per cent to 2 per cent on their capital, which is, to a large extent, their livestock—manoeuvring around to find a way out. In Ireland, BSE earned the title of the "JCB disease", not to put the blame on Mr Bamford but because there were a few identified cases and a sense that there were a great many unexpected holes in the ground.

This is a direct implementation of Recommendation 61 of the Anderson report. Anderson's Recommendation 61, page 150, advises government and the livestock industry to explore how incentives might be used to raise standards. We believe that restricting compensation to three-quarters of market value is diametrically opposed to the professor's view. We suggest that the Minister should reinstate the full market value as a basis for all compensation and adjust it up or down as a particular circumstance dictates. I believe that the Minister earlier indicated that he appreciates that.

Amendment No. 128 is another approach to the question of the appropriate level of compensation. That is clearly laid down in the 1981 Act. The present Bill seems to be fixed on doing it differently. Section 36(3) provides for anything seized for the purpose of preventing the spread of foot and mouth or any other disease to be paid for at its value before seizure. Anything less than market value will open the door to temptation on the part of some farmers, perhaps, whose profit margins, as we all know, are desperately low so as to be incapable of absorbing the loss.

When one considers the items that are condemned along with the livestock, it is totally unreasonable to legislate for destroying them for anything below their value at that time. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I support the noble Baroness on the question of market value, which is extremely important so far as concerns Amendment No. 130. I am slightly concerned about Amendment No. 126, which refers to keeping animals indoors and totally isolated. The matter depends very much on the premises and whether or not they are downwind of an outbreak. That is particularly pertinent in the case of pigs and wind-borne transmission of foot and mouth disease. Although I should like to think that we could find some circumstances where some animals kept indoors in certain types of sheds might be insulated from an outbreak, if we are to consider such provisions the precise circumstances in which they would apply must be accurately defined.

The Earl of Onslow: On the valuation question, there has been reasonable criticism that can go both ways. In the most recent outbreak, people were waiting for valuers to go to see cattle before they were slaughtered. I am not sure that that is a good idea. Surely, it must be possible to take a list of people's herds if they must be slaughtered and to do so quickly as opposed to waiting for a valuation. It appears that the valuation process was over-complicated and, in some cases, was slightly over-generous. That brings the farming industry into disrepute and makes disease control that much more difficult. If we are to slaughter, we must slaughter jolly quickly. I hope that with the advent of vaccines, that will not arise, but the Government should address that question publicly.

The Countess of Mar: Can the Minister tell us what diseases he envisages falling under the clause? I can think only of infectious diseases to which it might apply. It might be well to make that distinction of infectious diseases. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, made clear the reason why the amendment concerning animals kept indoors should not be accepted.

I agree with noble Lords who have spoken about compensation at full market value. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that there were problems with waiting for valuers. I agree, but on the other hand there is a difference in value between a cull cow and an in-calf heifer and I know of individuals who were claiming that they had in-calf heifers when in fact they had cull cows. Some valuers were unable to distinguish between the two. There are enormous difficulties. One animal can be worth twice the price of another. That is fraught with problems and we must rely on the honesty and integrity of those involved. Perhaps the animals should be seen before they are slaughtered.

Lord Greaves: First, I apologise to the Committee because I had to dash out and missed a small part of the debate. However, it may be for the benefit of the Committee if I say that we had requested a stand part debate on the clause that we are due to reach in two or three group's time. As the debate is spreading in that direction, we can ask the questions that we wanted to ask on that now and save a little time later.

I have been slightly confused by this debate. As I understand it, Clause 2 is all about diseases other than foot and mouth and extending the powers in the 1981 Act to other diseases, as the Secretary of State sees fit. In the light of that, the first question to ask is that asked by the noble Countess, Lady Mar: which other diseases do the Government envisage that encompassing? At present, they could be any disease, but the kind of slaughter or vaccination regime that is appropriate for the diseases set out in the schedule to the 1981 Act—cattle plague, pleural pneumonia, FMD, swine fever and poultry diseases—is not necessarily applicable to diseases that are not spread in an infectious manner and which can be dealt with in other ways.

There is concern that the schedule could be used to deal with transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. We discussed TSEs in Committee before the recess, but there is concern that the provision could be extended to cover TSEs when they are clearly an entirely different kind of disease that is not, so far as we know, infectious between animals and certainly does not spread rapidly in that way.

So the first question is: what other diseases will the provision cover and why should we not write into the Bill a requirement that they should be infectious diseases? If the Minister does not like the term "infectious", what term would he like to allay the fears of people who believe that, perhaps not under the present Secretary of State or the present Minister but in future, the Bill could be used in other ways?

The second broad question is about how the regime—the rules and regulations—envisaged might be covered by the new powers, which are very broad. As I read them, they allow the Secretary of State to create, by way of an instrument passed by affirmative resolution, any regime that he or she wants for any disease to which he or she decides it should apply. Have I read that right? Is it as broad as that? Or is it restricted in some way to the more detailed rules that we are discussing with regard to foot and mouth disease? Is it an extension of the foot and mouth disease rules and regulations, as set out in the Bill, to other diseases? Or does it, in effect, allow the Secretary of State to create, by means of an instrument, any kind of regime that he or she wants? That is fundamental.

The other question raised by the amendments relates to the detailed matters arising from those concerns. There are questions relating to compensation, indoor stock and so on. Those are a few of the questions that we are debating in the context of foot and mouth disease. Will the gamut of rules and regulations apply to the other diseases? If not, what will?

10 p.m.

Lord Jopling: At this stage of our consideration, I must ask the Minister for the Government's view of the susceptibility of animals that are kept indoors. This is the appropriate moment for such a question.

During the dreadful outbreak last year, I was astonished to find that the disease did not spread into the intensive pig herds in the north of England and down the east side of England. I live and have a farm in North Yorkshire, close to the A1. There were outbreaks of foot and mouth disease within 10 miles to the east, within 10 miles to the west and about 10 miles to the north. A large pig unit—about 700 pigs, I think—only a mile east was taken out because it was owned by someone who had had an outbreak further over. It was thought that there could be a dangerous connection. Mercifully, I did not get the disease on my farm, although—dare I say it—I would have been infinitely better off today if I had. Thank goodness, I did not.

I am surrounded, particularly to the south, by some highly intensive and efficient pig units. Given everything that I was taught about foot and mouth disease at university and elsewhere, I was astonished that the great intensive pig herds of north and east Yorkshire did not contract the disease and that it did not go through those areas like a prairie fire. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is nodding his head; I am grateful for that. He knows a great deal about such things. Ever since the outbreak, I have been puzzled as to why the disease did not spread into those highly intensive pig units. Could it have been that this type of virus was more likely to be contracted by sheep than by pigs and that pigs were not susceptible to it? Or could it have been that most pigs are kept in environmentally controlled units?

At this stage of our consideration, before we turn to the more pointed discussions at the Report stage, it is important for the Minister to give an answer, if he would be so kind. He may not be briefed on the issue—I realise that it is technical—and I do not want him to think that I am trying to blind him with science. However, it is important that before the Report stage we have an idea from the Government why pigs, which are always said to be more susceptible to foot and mouth disease, did not contract it. It was principally confined to sheep, which we always thought were less susceptible than pigs. If the Government's view was that pigs did not contract the disease because they were in enclosed, environmentally controlled units, that would be helpful to us in framing this legislation.

I know that in recent years the practice of keeping sows outside has grown. I have never owned pigs in my life, but I know that there is a growing belief that keeping sows outside is a good way of breeding pigs. If one drives up and down the A1 and the M1, as I do, one often sees pig units out in the fields. The pigs, with their small shelter, have a run of open fields. One would have thought that the pigs in those open-field units would have been more likely to contract foot and mouth disease last year. I was astonished that they did not.

If the Minister cannot give an answer now, I shall understand, but it would be helpful if he would be good enough to write to everyone concerned within the next week or so after his officials have had time to consider the points raised. We would like to know the Government's view of the susceptibility to disease of animals which are kept indoors and those kept outside.

I note what my noble friend has included in her amendment in trying to make an exception of those animals constantly kept indoors from the day before the announcement of an outbreak. However, in framing the regulations we must understand this important issue. I do not press the Minister to move into waters which are out of the depth of Ministers, but perhaps during the next two weeks he could inform us of the Government's view because that would be most helpful to all Members of the Committee.

The Countess of Mar: From my observation of what happened during the recent outbreak, animals appeared to be infected by direct animal-to-animal contact, as with sheep going to market. I also noticed that in Worcestershire—it may have occurred in other counties—a postman went from farm to farm carrying foot and mouth disease. He also kept animals of his own. A relief milker picked up the infection from the cattle he was milking and carried it to his own sheep. Various farmers also visited one another, thereby infecting the animals. In some cases, it was said to be done deliberately, but that is anecdotal evidence.

It is very interesting that nowhere in the Bill are there any controls to prevent humans from one farm visiting another farm. Under the original Act one is able to prevent people from coming onto one's premises or into one's buildings if one is afraid of infection, but there is no legislation to prevent people from infected premises going onto other premises. It is important that we should think about this factor because it concerns direct contact.

The noble Lord may be interested to know that Fred Brown tried to infect pigs with foot and mouth disease but, even when he had them in the same room with fans going between them, he did not infect them. The only time they became infected was when they had their noses in the same trough.

Earl Peel: I, too, have often asked myself why the particular strain of foot and mouth virus did not spread as quickly as it might have done through the pig units of Yorkshire and down the east coast. But surely it would be unwise to consider legislation based on one particular kind of foot and mouth virus because, as I understand it, there are several strains.

The Earl of Onslow: There are 26.

Earl Peel: My noble friend Lord Onslow tells me that there are 26. One has to be a little cautious when one looks at this particular virus, interesting though the facts are.

Lord Carter: This is not the occasion for an arcane discussion on pig husbandry. It is of course an irony that the whole outbreak was first identified in a sow on a production line. I said in relation to an earlier amendment that, knowing how infectious the disease can be if it gets into pigs, bad as the outbreak was, it was a godsend that it did not get into the pig herd, particularly in Humberside.

It is not a point for this Bill, but we should look at the incidence among outdoor herds and indoor herds. Was the pig unit that was taken out 10 miles south of the noble Lord's farm an indoors or outdoors unit?

Lord Jopling: It was an indoor unit about one mile to the east of my farm.

Lord Carter: If it was an indoor unit, that completely destroys Amendment No. 126. Animals that were kept constantly indoors were taken out as a contiguous cull.

The Earl of Onslow: I believe I wrongly advised my noble friend Lord Peel. I have been corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Plumb. There are 72 strains of foot and mouth.

It has arisen during the debate that the outbreak primarily involved sheep. The outbreak of 1965 or 1967 primarily involved cattle. Why is it that one bit of it seemed infectious to sheep and one bit infectious to cattle but it did not go into pigs? Do we have any information? I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty; I am a seeker of information. We do not know, and it would be helpful to have some information.

The Countess of Mar: It may also be of interest to know that 90,000 piglets were killed in Taiwan from the same strain. So pigs were affected there.

Perhaps we should congratulate the pig keepers in our country on the very high health status of their animals and for the extreme precautions they sometimes take to prevent their pigs becoming infected. We have a wonderful pig industry in this country. Those responsible are to be congratulated on the fact that foot and mouth did not sweep through it.

Lord Whitty: We have had a very constructive discussion on pig farming. Perhaps I may now deal with the original amendments. Amendment No. 125 seeks to limit the scope of any extension to other diseases to "infectious" diseases. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, implied, that would by implication rule out any genetically transferred diseases or, possibly, even contagious diseases.

The Phillips report states that we should be prepared to provide for systems to deal with diseases of which we are not yet aware. Having a restriction relating to infectious diseases only would restrict the ability to extend these powers to other forms of disease.

10.15 p.m.

The Countess of Mar: I am sorry but it is a ridiculous answer to say that precautions should be taken against diseases of which we are not even aware. How could that be done? That is grasping at the air. How could such precautions be taken unless we got rid of all the animals? I said to a noble Lord on the Liberal Benches the other day that if we got rid of all the animals there would be no animal diseases—then every precaution could be taken against diseases that we do not know about. That is a ridiculous argument. We must know the hazards before any precautions against risks can be taken.

Lord Whitty: I return to the Phillips inquiry, which advised the precautionary principle, so we had the framework of the regime in place. The way in which the powers are applied would be different for a genetically transferable disease from a infectious disease but some of the same powers—such as powers of entry—would be needed. The noble Countess says that could not be done for an unnamed disease but an affirmative resolution would be required. Once the disease became apparent, we would bring forward an affirmative resolution to extend the provisions to that disease—infectious or otherwise. Not only does that not apply in the abstract but there would be a parliamentary procedure before we defined the disease to which it applied. But we would need the same kind of powers in the case of a disease that was transmitted other than by infection.

Lord Greaves: After the noble Lord has taken further advice, perhaps he could say on Report what other means of transmitting diseases he is thinking of, other than infection. Contagious diseases are indeed infectious diseases. The noble Lord mentioned genetically transmitted diseases. The one genetically transmitted disease that the Bill covers in detail is covered in a separate section because the Government accept that it needs to be dealt with separately. If there is a need to extend powers similar to TSE powers to other genetically transmitted diseases, why is that not in the scrapie part rather than in this section? We need to understand other means of transmission that might require what are actually quite draconian powers.

Lord Whitty: It is in the scrapie section because that part deals with flock improvement, not an outbreak of disease. This section deals with an outbreak of disease that might turn out to be genetically transferred. As to contagion and infection, there are medical arguments about whether the two are equivalent. Inserting the word "infectious" could suggest that it limited the interpretation, although I would hope not.

I originally thought that Amendment No. 126 related to pets. As the noble Countess indicated, one of the main means of transmission is by individuals handling animals—be they pets or farmyard animals housed indoors. If they mix with other animals, there is no reason for animals housed indoors being less susceptible to disease than those kept outdoors.

I probably agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, that I will write to him about pigs. Clearly pigs are susceptible to the disease, although apparently not as susceptible as the other species. The difference was probably because they were not moved around in the way that sheep and cattle were moved around. Where there was infection, it applied indoors and outdoors. As the noble Countess said, there were examples in other countries.

The Earl of Onslow: The noble Lord said something very interesting—that pigs are not susceptible to this strain. Is that what he said?

Lord Whitty: Yes.

The Earl of Onslow: Do we have any information as to the susceptibility of different animals—be they goats, sheep, pigs or cattle—to the various strains of foot and mouth? If we do, that should alter our whole attitude to disease control.

Lord Whitty: I shall need to take advice as to the precise answer. Off the top of my head, it is that we have post facto statistical views of where an outbreak has taken place, but not a veterinary view as to why an animal is more susceptible to one strain than to another. We can only do this post facto; therefore, it is not much of a guide to future action.

The Earl of Onslow: The noble Lord said that pigs are less susceptible to this particular strain. I found his comment very interesting. I may be totally wrong, but if that is what he said, there must be more information on the matter. It cannot be based merely on outbreaks; it must be based on some scientific evidence.

Lord Whitty: No, it is entirely based on statistics. They appeared to be less susceptible. But, as the noble Countess said in relation to Taiwan, other countries have a different statistical experience. There may be medical and environmental reasons behind it, but we do not have that information. If I am wrong, I shall let the noble Earl know.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 127 and 128 dealing with compensation. As I indicated earlier, so far as concerns compensation for vaccinates which are slaughtered, I agree, and I shall be bringing forward a slightly differently worded amendment to ensure that compensation for vaccinates slaughtered for foot and mouth purposes will be 100 per cent of the market value. There are arguments about how the valuation is set, but they are for a later period.

These two amendments attempt to extend the compensation arrangements to other diseases. As I said at the start of our proceedings, compensation arrangements in relation to other diseases, are not necessarily for 100 per cent of the market value for slaughter of any kind. There are different arrangements for different diseases. Therefore, we shall try to have the equivalent for vaccinates to the normal compensation for slaughter in that disease, which will not in all cases be 100 per cent. I indicated also that some rationalisation of the system so that there is greater equivalence between diseases is probably desirable, but again that is for a longer term assessment of the compensation regime.

Section 36(3), referred to in Amendment No. 128, applies to compensation not for animals but for things seized. Therefore, the implication that this relates to animals is not correct.

Baroness Byford: I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a longer debate than I expected. Perhaps I may refer to the amendments in reverse order.

I take it from what the Minister said that he will not consider our Amendment No. 128. There is no way that the Government would pay compensation for objects seized rather for than animals taken.

In regard to Amendment No. 127, seeking compensation at full market value, we had this argument earlier. The Minister kindly indicated that the Government would pay the full market value. However, he went on to say that different arrangements may be in place for different diseases. I shall need to study his remarks carefully and may well wish to return to the matter. I do not understand why other diseases should be treated differently. We have all been coping with the aftermath of the foot and mouth outbreak, which was particularly difficult. Before that, there was the smaller outbreak of swine fever. When we are examining new legislation in the hope of introducing better provision, I wonder why we cannot manage to set the same level of compensation across the whole and why it has to be set at different standards for different diseases. Perhaps the Minister wishes to comment.

Lord Whitty: I am referring to an historic inheritance. Even the regulations covering swine fever are different from those covering foot and mouth. It is a two-tier system of compensation for diseased animals: 100 per cent in some cases and less than 100 per cent in others. Some of the other regimes for diseases which thankfully we have not had recently provide for either fixed sums or less than 100 per cent. That is one of the reasons why we need a complete review of the compensation system.

Baroness Byford: It is one of the many very good reasons why we need a completely different Bill, but that is another matter. The noble Lord has indicated that the Government are going to pay the full market value in compensation only as regards animals killed as a result of foot and mouth and that other infectious diseases will be dealt with according to the particular circumstances of the case. In a Bill concerned with animal health it seems odd that matters are left in limbo. One would have thought that we could have addressed the matter within this Bill. For something which has taken place before and which may have been good or bad, it seems illogical not to have drawn it into this Bill and tidied it up. But perhaps that is a subject for another day.

As regards Amendment No. 125, I am somewhat disappointed that the Minister does not accept our very small insertion of the word "infectious". I wish that I could tempt him further, but I believe that I cannot do that tonight. I suspect that we shall return to that quite frequently.

In referring to the broader and interesting debate about foot and mouth disease and pigs, perhaps I may say that we have the last little pigs going out this month because we are going out of pig production. I, too, have been very surprised that the pig industry managed to avoid being caught up in this particular outbreak of foot and mouth. It is true that many of us keep pigs indoors, but further along from us on the lighter land there are outdoor pigs. One would have thought that perhaps those pigs would pick up the disease sooner. Certainly those of us who keep pigs are very careful about who comes and what happens. Very tight regimes have been set up.

Perhaps I may digress a little. The same applies to the poultry industry. I do not believe that I have washed my hands and boots so many times as when visiting a poultry unit. These matters are hugely important. I am grateful to Members of the Committee for the very practical support they have given and the questions they have raised.

I ask the Minister to add to the list of things he is going to do. Has the department compiled any statistics on those animals which were "killed out" but which were kept indoors and were infected rather than being contiguous culls? I believe that is something we should know before the next stage of the Bill. There may be implications from which we can learn. I do not expect the Minister to have the figures to hand and it is certainly a late hour. I hope that the Minister will be able to produce the information for us next time.

Have the Government carried out statistical breakdowns as regards where, what and why the animals were killed? We agree that it was sheep which were predominantly affected this time whereas before it was cattle. How many of them have been looked at in the light of the progress of the disease from A to B? If the Minister has those facts to hand, it would be enormously helpful to those of us taking part in the debate to have them circulated to us in advance. That might save time on the discussion on the Floor of the House, which is likely to be more than two weeks away. Such information would be very helpful.

I know that we had an earlier debate and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, took part. One cannot argue that just because animals were kept indoors they did not develop the disease. However, it might be something which the local inspector would take into greater consideration in defining biosecurity rules.

Forgive me for being unable to give the name, but someone said that there were no biosecurity rules laid down. It may have been the noble Countess, Lady Mar. I refer her to our Amendment No. 311, which we shall certainly not reach tonight, but at some other stage. We were well aware that the Bill as it stands is very draconian for farmers and those who look after livestock. It puts no requirements on the department but keeps those who look after the animals at arms length. We believe that there should be a provision on the face of the Bill that includes people who work for the department, vets, or whoever else might be involved in the same way. We have in mind the way that livestock are kept and cared for.

I hope that that consideration shows that we are equally concerned about the way that the disease was probably transferred—namely, that it was not purely from animal to animal. It was actually by human contact, which does not mean just the farming human contact. With those few comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 126 to 129 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 130:


    Page 2, line 14, at end insert—


"( ) The Minister shall, for animals slaughtered under this section, pay compensation which shall be the value of the animal immediately before it was slaughtered."

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to ensure that the Minister shall, after the animals have been slaughtered, pay compensation to the full value and do so immediately. In sub-paragraph (2) of Schedule 1, provision is made for the Minister to adjust the compensation payable for animals slaughtered because of disease other than foot and mouth. The Bill should be unambiguous in the treatment of compensation for slaughter to prevent the spread of any disease.

As has already been mentioned, it is possible to argue—DEFRA has done so—that most animal infections are in some measure due to the action of farmers; for example, the farmer chose to attend a market on a certain day, or, he allowed a contractor on to his land without inquiring too closely into his precise movements over the previous two weeks. However, it is not possible to blame the farmer for having a farm that is next to, or downwind from, infected premises.

If the Minister decides to slaughter with no evidence of infection present for the reasons of contiguity or relative position, then he must pay 100 per cent compensation. Indeed, the Bill must ensure that he does so. In several of the amendments that we have already discussed we have asked for such valuations to be taken on the day when the animals are slaughtered. However, the Government might consider having the valuation from the start—that is, the first day of the outbreak—rather than on the day before that person had their animals killed out. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: This takes us back to what we were discussing earlier. This amendment would require 100 per cent compensation to be given in all the diseases to which these provisions were extended. That is not the current situation as regards all other diseases. The noble Baroness may argue that, logically, it should be. However, that is not the case. We are considering the structure of compensation and the way in which it is administered; namely, disease by disease, which is a much longer-term process than we have in the Bill. Therefore, I would resist the suggested extension under this amendment.

Earl Peel: Perhaps the Minister can enlighten the Committee in one respect. Am I correct in my understanding that it is not the noble Lord's intention to discuss the issues on compensation for foot and mouth within the Bill because he wishes to return to the issue and discuss it at a later stage? Alternatively, is it the Government's intention not to deal with compensation under this legislation but to introduce further legislation later to deal separately with such issues? Can the Minister tell us the nature of his plans on this particular issue?

Lord Whitty: There is but one issue to which I wish to return as regards compensation in this Bill, but, by saying that, I am pre-empting the discussion that we shall have shortly on Clause 3. My current intention is not to return to compensation, except in relation to the 100 per cent market value for vaccinates under the FMD disease control measures. I shall have my own wording in the amendment to achieve that aim.

As I have already pointed out, the report of the National Audit Office identifies a number of flaws in the present compensation and valuation operation. It also raises implicitly the issue of risk-sharing, which involves insurance and levy. It will take time to assess and consult upon those complicated issues. Therefore, further legislation on the issue would be required in due course, following our animal health strategy, which we hope to complete early next year.

Lord Jopling: Some of the Minister's words fill me with disquiet. I hope that he will expand on his comment that the Government are exploring the possibility of insurance. Does that mean that they are minded to move from providing compensation in such cases, leaving it to people in the industry to insure themselves? I hope to heaven that the Minister did not mean that, but it sounded suspiciously as though he was saying that the Government intend to move from the compensation approach that has been taken in foot and mouth cases and during other outbreaks for as long as most people here can remember. If they are minded to toll the industry, this is a total bombshell for the Animal Health Bill.

I listened carefully to the Minister's comments, and, if he means what I thought he did, he must come clean now and tell us what exactly is in the Government's mind.

Lord Whitty: My comments had nothing to do with the Animal Health Bill. However, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, did not mishear me. For at least one year, I have been saying that in the long term we must examine how the risk should be shared between the industry, the Government and the taxpayer. That would not mean a precipitate move away from the compensation system, but we must consider long-term options to avoid such bills as fell on taxpayers in the past. Our measures must be compatible with the industry's interests and may take a long time to establish. We are in discussion with representatives of the industry, the insurance sector and others to establish our options. We have not decided how to act, or in what timescale to do so. That issue is not reflected in the Bill.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: The insurance industry appears to indicate that the risk is uninsurable and that it is not prepared to go down that path. I wonder what measures the Government are taking to persuade the insurance industry that they can shell out sufficient funds. Alternatively, will the premiums for producers be so great as to be unaffordable? A can of worms is being opened on this huge issue. This is a question for another day, as we need to discuss this complete change of principle in great detail.

The Earl of Onslow: There is a jolly good case for abolishing the compensation culture. However, that cannot be done without a largely free market and an unsubsidised agriculture industry. Our agriculture industry is bound by rules, subsidised and restricted by the CAP and the Department of EFRA, or whatever it is called. It is perfectly possible to insure against the risk of foot and mouth disease, if it is considered over five years. The incidence in one year was catastrophic; however, it can be insured against over a reasonable period.

However, as long as we have a highly regulated industry, with the Government saying this and the Government saying that, we have to have compensation. With a freer market, less regulation and less of the CAP, I suspect that we could expect farmers to bear their own risks and take their own responsibility. I would welcome that, although that is not what we are talking about in the clause.

Baroness Byford: The Minister may want to come back on this issue. My noble friend Lord Jopling heard him correctly. We had spoken about the issue earlier. It is slightly ironic that the department that totally failed to cope with doing its own job in managing disease control and stopping disease coming in now wants to get rid of its responsibilities for paying out for some of its errors.

Lord Carter: The Companion says that the debate should be relevant to the Question before the House. The Question before the House concerns Amendment No. 130, which has nothing to do with insurance.

Baroness Byford: I suspect that the noble Lord is not quite right. The amendment talks about compensation.

Earl Peel: I may be able to help my noble friend. I simply asked the Minister about the Government's intention. The Minister then revealed his plan to substitute present levels of compensation with some insurance policy.

Baroness Byford: I think that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has given me a double whammy. I was right in the first place and my noble friend was right. We are talking about compensation. If what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said is correct, we are talking about the Government ending up paying less compensation in future if they can manage it. My noble friend Lord Plumb said that he used to be insured. Many farmers were, but one problem was that insurance premiums became so high that people could not afford them, so they stopped insuring. We are back to square one.

The EU working report, to which we have referred earlier today, suggests that only 80 per cent of compensation for some diseases may come from what the report calls "the public purse", in whatever form that takes. It is not acceptable to expect the buck to keep passing back to the farmers, who are currently struggling to make a minimum wage if they are lucky. My noble friend Lord Onslow said that the risk is insurable. It would be, but we have to remember that more animals are kept now than were kept in years past, there is more movement of animals and there is much more global movement. People come in and out of this country. The chances of disease being brought in and out of this country grow as more of us come to and fro. We talked about vets earlier in the day. The number of vets out in the field has not gone down. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, quoted that the other day. However, it has not gone up pro rata with the increase in the number of animals, so there are fewer visits to the farm. The cycle keeps going on and on.

I thought that this was not a difficult amendment, but it has taken on another look. I am glad that the NFU supports it. At this stage the best thing I can do is withdraw it, but we shall return to it. I thank noble Lords for their support and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 131 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Adjusted compensation]:

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Byford: I oppose the inclusion of Clause 3 in the Bill. Not one of the diseases listed on page 9 of the Bill is endemic in Great Britain. Great Britain is composed of islands and protected from contamination from its neighbours by a minimum of 20 miles of sea and an underground tunnel. Then again, with the number of people transiting illegally through the tunnel, I am not sure that it truly does provide such protection.

Nevertheless, infection will not seep in, and it is highly unlikely to be blown in. It will have to be brought in. Once imported, unless it is stopped in its tracks, its movement to the first and possibly subsequent points of infection or contagion will, unless the whole procedure is deliberate, be totally uncontrollable and unpreventable by the first, second and even third recipient.

In my opinion, it is highly likely that the owner or keeper of livestock will be dismayed, angry and upset about the diagnosis of an exotic disease among his charges. Indeed, I am sure that he definitely will be upset. If it is immediately clear that the infection has not been prevented by the officials charged with doing so, he might also be rude. However, that is not an adequate reason for lopping off one quarter of his compensation cheque. Depending on the numbers involved, such a deduction could cost him more than a fine at level one, two or three.

I question whether, in the circumstances of the first, second or third infection victim, the courts might not consider it cruel and unusual punishment to penalise the farmer by so adjusting his compensation.

Lord Carter: As I understand it, the Minister intends to agree with the noble Baroness to remove Clause 3 from the Bill, which would also remove Schedule 1. There is no need to spend much time persuading him to do it because he has already said that he will do it.

Baroness Byford: I am delighted to hear it. I shall offer the Floor to the Minister so that he can say it publicly. If he does not do so, I can return to the issue.

Lord Whitty: As I indicated in my opening speech, the Government have recognised the strength of feeling among some people that the clause could be counterproductive. I regret that the farming sector and the opposition parties have not recognised that it could provide an incentive to biosecurity. However, as it is rather crude, it merits further consideration in our wider assessment of compensation, valuation and so on. I shall not reopen that whole discussion now. I therefore accede to the noble Baroness's opposition to the inclusion of Clause 3 in the Bill. As Schedule 1 will consequently fall, as will the next few groups of amendments, we shall be able to move on to Clause 4 either tonight or later, as the usual channels have now decided.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord Carter. The possibility had been suggested earlier, and I was not for one moment suggesting that the Minister might change his mind in the intervening period. I wanted at least to make a start on the clause. As I spent several hours putting together my speech on this clause, I am glad that noble Lords were able to hear a little taste of it. I thank the Minister for accepting our suggestion.

Clause 3 disagreed to.

Schedule 1 [Adjusted compensation]:

[Amendments Nos. 132 to 190 not moved.]

Schedule 1 negatived.

Clause 4 [Slaughter of vaccinated animals]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 191:


    Page 2, line 31, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Click here for October 8th debates

 

Portcullis image and link to site home page The United Kingdom Parliament
Advanced Search
 
Home
Glossary
Index
Contact Us
Parliament Live

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Animal Health Bill

3.13 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House again in Committee on Clause 4.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): Before calling Amendment No. 192, I should inform the Committee that, were it to be agreed to, I should not be able to call Amendments Nos. 193 or 194 because of pre-emption.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 192:


    Page 2, leave out lines 32 and 33.

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may remind the Committee of what I am trying to leave out of the Bill—these brutally simple and rather chilling words:


    "The Minister may cause to be slaughtered any animal to which this section applies."

As we read in subsection (1),


    "This section applies to any animal which has been treated with vaccine for the purpose of preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease or such other disease as the Minister may by order specify."

Those words are simple. They make no concession to anyone: man or beast. They are, as I said in my first remarks, which were pretty well drowned by the exodus of noble Lords, brutal in their simplicity. They are useful in this respect and this respect only: they contain and comprise the whole spirit of the Bill. The Government are clearly saying: "We were right last time; we are always right. But last time we did not have

8 Oct 2002 : Column 144

quite enough protection against people who invoked the law against us. This time, we shall make no such mistake. We shall have this absolutely sweeping, uncompromising provision:


    'The Minister may cause to be slaughtered any animal to which this section applies.'"

I do not intend to make a long speech, but I hope that the Minister has fully received the message—from me, at any rate—that that is a brutal piece of legislation of which the Government ought to be heartily ashamed. I am sorry that they have stained the Order Paper with the Bill and seek to stain the pages of the statute book with such a horrible measure. I do not intend to prolong my remarks at this stage; nor, I imagine, will I be tempted to press my amendment to a Division on this occasion; but I beg the noble Baroness not to underrate the strength of feeling that lies behind this simple amendment, which I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: I follow my noble friend, who has clearly expressed his view on the amendment. The amendments grouped with it reinforce our concern about those words in the Bill. Members of the Committee may remember that when we considered the Bill many months ago, I cast it as the Animal Death Bill, and the two lines to which my noble friend strongly objects underline the Government's thinking. That is a tremendous shame, because during the summer, as we reflected yesterday, the European Parliament's working group has recommended that vaccination to live should be the first choice option. But as we recommence consideration of the Bill today, that option is not for us to consider; we must consider what is before us, by which I am as appalled as is my noble friend.

While supporting my noble friend so strongly, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 194, 195, 201, 202, 204 and 205—I hope that I am correct about the grouping. Turning to Amendment No. 194, the Minister has the option of deciding whether or not the circumstances are right for an animal to be slaughtered. The object of the amendment is to give a terminal date to that power, so that the owner of the animal does not have perpetually hanging over him the possibility that the Minister may finally decide to slaughter.

Amendment No. 195 addresses the fact that the clause is too widely drafted and tends to give legal justification to all kinds of actions. During the most recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, we all saw on the television and will remember with horror the chasing of cattle with motorbikes and rifles. Our modification of the clause might not make such action immediately illegal, but would sweep away the chance that a clever lawyer might be able to justify such action under the clause as drafted.

No doubt the Minister will assure us that the department would always act reasonably and in an appropriate manner, but I suggest to the Committee that that did not happen during the 2001 outbreak,

8 Oct 2002 : Column 145

and it is the same department to which we are supposed to give even greater, open-ended powers. The amendment would add the requirement to act in a "reasonable" way to the powers under the clause.

There are two issues relating to Amendment No. 201. First, there is the general objection to the Minister empowering himself to pay compensation for an act that he has ordered. Secondly, the Government can take powers to vaccinate animals upon the satisfaction of certain conditions. Then, the Government can decree that all animals—or all animals of a certain type—that have been vaccinated shall be slaughtered. There is no way in which that second action can be laid at the door of the farmer. Moreover, biosecurity is irrelevant, so how can the farmer be penalised?

I understand that, under article 1 of protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the state may deprive a person of his possessions in the public interest only if its actions are provided for by law and are proportionate. I query the validity of the entire section. The report of the European Parliament's working group puts forward a vaccination to live policy. If that proposal is adopted, where would it leave the new section? Our amendment is supported strongly by the National Farmers Union.

Amendment No. 202 outlines the most fair form of compensation. Although it should not happen, the vaccination of an animal against foot and mouth disease may cause a fall in its market value. For example, a cow may be valued at #700 before it is vaccinated but, once vaccinated, be worth only #400. The Minister may decide later to slaughter the animal, forcing the owner to forego the possibility that the animal's market value may have recovered.

I turn to Amendment No. 204. We wait to see what legislation the Government propose to bring in to secure full implementation of the new EU directives and of the findings of the inquiries, particularly the Royal Society inquiry. We have had the reports, but we have not received a response from the Government. I understand from the Government that that will not appear before the end of this month and that our wait may go on into next month. By that time, the Bill will have left the House. In the absence of new government legislation, we do not want to see the Government exercise such powers without referring to Parliament.

Amendment No. 205, which is our last amendment in the group, pre-supposes either that the Government have accepted the amendment to subsection (1) or that they have accepted that compensation should be at market value. Certainly, if the Minister decides to pay less than market value and empowers himself to do that, his action should be subject automatically to parliamentary scrutiny.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I speak to Amendments Nos. 197, 198 and 199 and also to Amendment No. 205, which we tabled jointly with the Official Opposition. With the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, we are discussing the slaughter of vaccinated animals. We agree with the

8 Oct 2002 : Column 146

noble Lord's amendment, and I will not comment further on it, as the noble Lord has made clear the case for it.

Amendment No. 197 would strengthen subsection (3)(b) to read:


    "which is otherwise reasonably required in connection with the slaughter".

That test must be put in place to allow the vets and inspectors who are making the decisions to stop and think precisely about what they are doing. They should think, "Is it reasonable to slaughter this animal in these circumstances?"

Subsection (4) of new Section 16A says that the Government must pay,


    "compensation of such an amount as may be prescribed by order of the Minister".

We want 100 per cent compensation, and, in that respect, the effect of Amendments Nos. 198 and 199 is similar to Amendments Nos. 201 and 202, tabled by the Conservative Front Bench. Amendment No. 201 stipulates that compensation should be,


    "the value of the animal immediately before it was slaughtered".

Amendment No. 202 says that compensation should be,


    "the market value of the animal before it was vaccinated".

One way or another, the compensation must be 100 per cent, if the slaughter is ordered by government officers. Amendment No. 199 would enact that provision.

We have added our names to Amendment No. 205, tabled by the Conservatives. It refers to enforcement, an issue that has been covered by speakers on the Conservative Front Bench.

Lord Williamson of Horton: We are dealing with the issue of the slaughter of vaccinated animals. I hope that, before the Bill completes its passage through the House, the Minister will update us on progress towards the conditions necessary to make possible emergency vaccination as an alternative to extensive culling, in line with the Royal Society report. I attach great importance to that report, which signposts the way to the handling of any future outbreak by proposing the culling of infected animals or dangerous contacts, along with the use of vaccination-to-live as an appropriate alternative to extensive culling.

The Minister will recall that the report indicated that there were some issues to be solved—validation of marker vaccines, tests to distinguish between vaccinated and vaccinated-infected animals—and concluded that,


    "With significant effort by DEFRA, this should be possible by the end of 2003".

We are now being asked to legislate, but we would like to be assured that we are making progress towards what is set out in the report or, if we are not, that we intend to make such progress. The issues go together. It is likely that there will be a change in policy in the next few years, and we must move forward along that line, if we are to support what is in the Bill.
 

 Lord Carter: Throughout the passage of the Bill—earlier this year and yesterday—I have been

8 Oct 2002 : Column 147

bewildered by the attitude of the Opposition and of some other noble Lords. For example, there were some unusually intemperate remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, who spoke about what the Government were saying. It is not the Government who are saying it; it is the Anderson and Follett reports. The Anderson report says:


    "The animal health legislative framework should be robust, unambiguous and fit for purpose. This was not the case during the 2001 epidemic".

That supports the central proposition that the extra powers that the Government are now taking in the Bill are required. They were required even before the reports. The Government introduced the Bill knowing that we needed extra powers. The central proposition advanced in the Bill—that the powers are required—was borne out by Anderson and Follett.

I have one simple question. As a result of a decision of the House, with which I disagreed, we had to wait for the reports. Are noble Lords now saying that we should ignore them? They have already supported the central proposition that the Bill is required. Silly remarks about the "Animal Death Bill" do not help.

Baroness Byford: I object to the noble Lord's inference: the Bill is about the killing of animals.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Carter: It is about slaughter; the noble Baroness is correct. That is blindingly obvious. The Bill was drafted because the Government realised during the 2001 epidemic that extra powers were needed. It was held up because this House said that we should wait to see the two reports before proceeding. We waited. The reports supported the Bill's central proposition that the extra powers were required. The Government have reacted to the recommendations in the reports and are tabling some detailed amendments on Report to deal with them.

Should we now ignore those reports and, as was suggested yesterday, drop the Bill, even though the extra powers are required? If—God forbid—there were a further outbreak of foot and mouth disease we would need emergency legislation within 24 hours to give the Government the powers in the Bill.

I turn to vaccination. I said yesterday that unless I am misreading the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is wrong about vaccination. She said that the Bill is about slaughter, which it is. It is also about vaccination. Clause 4, which is headed, "Slaughter of vaccinated animals", states:


    "(1) This section applies to any animal which has been treated with vaccine for the purpose of preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease or such other disease as the Minister may by order specify".

That means vaccination can be used either as a pre-emptive strike to protect the animals or as a prophylactic for a whole herd or whatever.

The crucial subsection is (2), which states:


    "(2) The Minister may cause to be slaughtered any animal to which this section applies".

8 Oct 2002 : Column 148

If it said "shall cause", that would be vaccination to kill, but the Minister "may cause to be slaughtered"; that is, he has a choice. That therefore provides the option of vaccination to live. However well intentioned, the noble Baroness does not understand the Bill. It already contains a provision for vaccination to live.

This House has to make up its mind. If it wants to kill the Bill and take responsibility for doing so, it should do so, but it should not criticise the Government continually for producing a Bill specifying extra powers recommended by two independent inquiries. The Government will be amending the Bill to take further account of the recommendations in the reports. That is the proper and responsible way for the Government to behave. To do otherwise, as some members are suggesting, would be extremely irresponsible.

The Earl of Onslow: I am not at all bewildered. I suspect that the likelihood of the Government accepting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, to insert "reasonably", is non-existent. But they are happy to make sure that it is immaterial as to whether the animals are diseased or anything else. They can go around shooting what they like. They are offended when I say that, but that is what the Bill says.

This is typical of the Government, who ride roughshod over our liberties. That is seen in the Bill. It has also been suggested that the Government made a Horlicks—if that is a parliamentary term—of the foot and mouth outbreak because they did not have the right powers. That was not the reason. They made a Horlicks because they did not ban movement for five days; because they did not call in the army quickly enough; and because of their administration in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—at that time the Queen had not changed its name—which kept alive the animals awaiting slaughter. That was nothing to do with a lack of power. It was administrative incompetence, not reading the Northumberland report and general shambolic misbehaviour.

For the Government to say, "We now need powers that we may use unreasonably if we wish"—

Lord Carter: It is not the Government who are saying so; it is the Anderson report:


    "The animal health legislative framework should be robust, unambiguous, and fit for purpose. This was not the case during the 2001 epidemic".

Baroness Byford: It is the Government's Bill, not Anderson's Bill.

The Earl of Onslow: I do not see Dr Anderson on the Front Bench. I see Ministers of the Crown on the Front Bench, introducing a Bill full of tyrannical and unreasonable ways of behaving. It is the same Government who would like to try to remove rights to trial by jury and who are contemplating the abolition of the double jeopardy rule. They are also contemplating various other illiberal alterations to our criminal justice system. They say that the Government

8 Oct 2002 : Column 149

know best and they can do what they like without let or hindrance, immaterial and unreasonable though that may be.

The Government should think again about the Bill. I think that everyone accepts the need for a new Bill. We accept that the Anderson report must be taken into account in legislation, but on this side we are not bewildered. We happen to believe—at least, I do—that liberties of the subject are extremely important and should not be overridden by an arrogant executive.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: At the risk of incurring the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and even the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, perhaps I may say that I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is saying. I suspect that the problem is that the language of this part of the Bill dates back to a previous era before we were taking the prospect of vaccination to live into account. Clearly, in some cases there may be good reason for a Minister to call for the slaughter of an animal that has been vaccinated.

I suggest to the Minister that it would be helpful if on Report Clause 4(2) could be expanded to read:


    "The Minister may cause to be slaughtered any animal to which this section applies, if good reason can be shown why the animal should not go into the food chain".

If we are trying to improve the Bill, we want to introduce the assumption that vaccination will normally be vaccination to live. There still has to be the possibility of vaccination for slaughter, but we want to change the emphasis and the tone of the Bill, as I said yesterday.

I support Amendment No. 202. It is the only just form of compensation as matters stand. The present likelihood is that if an animal is vaccinated its value would be reduced. I hope that we will reach the point where its value is enhanced. That may come to be the case, but it is not at the moment. I strongly support Amendment No. 202 rather than Amendment No. 201, because it safeguards adequate levels of compensation at this stage. The problem is that circumstances are changing as we go through the Bill, which is taking a long time. I hope that the Minister will understand what I am trying to say about vaccinated animals being slaughtered. We need to explain why in exceptional circumstances it may still be necessary to slaughter a vaccinated animal.

Lord Carter: I forgot to make a point about compensation for vaccination. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, made a good point about 100 per cent compensation. She should remember that she supported a Government which for BSE paid only 50 per cent of the animal's value because it was worthless as it had the disease. Eventually they had to change that to 100 per cent, because the 50 per cent policy almost certainly led to the spread of the disease. But I leave that matter on one side.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 150

When my noble friend responds, I hope she will make it clear that the value that will be placed on the animal will be the 100 per cent value of the unvaccinated animal.

Lord May of Oxford: I would like to speak briefly in support of the amendment and to make some more equivocal remarks than the rather polarised remarks that we have been hearing. I am broadly sympathetic to the Bill's aims, which respond to a need to make clearer the powers that one has if one wishes to enter farms. For understandable reasons the Bill has been overtaken by events; by subsequent excellent and insightful reports and probably by actions in the EU.

We are debating only a part of a larger picture. I am in favour of the amendment because I should like the word "reasonable" to appear wherever possible, and more. I much appreciate the letters that have been put around by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the sensible things that have been promised in regard to addressing some of the unanswered questions, but I wish the powers over what is euphemistically called "preventive slaughter" to be similarly spelled out for "vaccination to live".

In particular, I support the recommendations of the Royal Society report—with which I am considerably familiar, understandably—that contingency plans should be brought before Parliament for debate and approval. The Government should bring before Parliament a framework for the contingency plans which covers the principles that will be involved in handling outbreaks of such diseases in future and which looks across the broad spectrum, rather than the understandable but, by virtue of its history, imbalanced Bill that is before us. Hence my approval of "reasonable".

Lord Monro of Langholm: The noble Lord, Lord Carter, is being unfair in his criticism of the Opposition in regard to this extremely disappointing Bill. He does not seem to realise that we are in favour of good legislation and that we are trying to make this Bill better. It is a bad Bill. We are trying to make it better and to translate the reports, which are so significant, into legislation. That does not mean to say that the Government have got it right each time they have translated the reports into legislation. Under his Amendment No. 192, my noble friend Lord Peyton criticises the draconian powers contained in Clause 4, and we have every right to ask whether it is necessary to have such strong wording in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, should take his mind back to the time of the foot and mouth epidemic and remember how we on this side of the House, week in and week out, were calling on the Government to use the powers they had to get on and make decisions, and not to drag the matter out much longer than in fact turned out to be necessary. He should remember how local authorities and the Army wanted to act, and yet were prevented by the Government from getting on with stamping out the epidemic as quickly possible.

So it is quite wrong for the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to indicate that we are not entirely in support of measures required to stamp out foot and mouth

8 Oct 2002 : Column 151

should it ever—one hopes not—re-occur. It is sometimes right for the Opposition to criticise the language in the Bill—for example, the draconian wording that we are trying to remove under Amendment No. 192. It is notable that there is no appeal against the procedure contained in those two lines, unlike in other clauses of the Bill where at least officials have to go to a justice of the peace for approval to enter a farm.

My noble friend Lady Byford is right to raise again the issue of compensation and market value. She has explained carefully to the Committee, both yesterday and today, that, once a beast is vaccinated, at the present time it suffers a serious drop in value. We are trying to make the Government understand that. Until the food chain has accepted that vaccination is quite safe and that there is no worry at all to the consumer, there is bound to be a significant drop.

In any event, I wish we could get away from the word "compensation". The issue relative to a farmer is the loss of market value. As I have explained, I lost my sheep flock last year under the contiguous cull, and in one day I saw 45 years of bringing up a sheep flock of reasonable quality fly out of the window. One gets no compensation for the value of the herd or the flock that day, or for the next four or five years that the ewes would have been in production; one gets no compensation for loss of profit over the years. One gets only the market value on the day the stock is slaughtered. We should put into the Bill "market value" rather than "compensation", because that is where the true impact lies.

I support my noble friend Lord Onslow in his criticism of the Government in regard to the Bill. We want to see a much better Bill and we have every right to indicate, through the many amendments that we have tabled, how we think the Bill can be improved. I am very disappointed with the progress we have made in improving a Bill which is most disappointing for the farming community and, directly, for the public at large.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: One accepts—or I do at any rate—that when Ministers come to this House and say that they require an additional power which they may have to use in the event of a future outbreak, we should listen to what they say and give them that power. But I should say to my noble friend Lord Carter that criticism of the way the Bill is currently drafted does not come solely from the Opposition; it comes from some of us on his own Benches who have paid close attention to the progress of the Bill.

In urging that legislation should be robust, unambiguous and fit for the purpose, Dr Anderson did not specify legislation which should be blanket and unfettered by reason. All we are asking is that the Bill be drafted in such a way that any future Minister who comes to exercise these powers is bound to pause and ask himself what is the basis of the use of that power. As presently drafted, the Bill is blanket, unfettered

8 Oct 2002 : Column 152

and, potentially, in the hands of a Minister—and we do not know who it may be at some stage in the future—capable of being misused.

The criticism is not unreasonable. It should not disappoint my noble friend Lord Carter, who is, as we all know, a very fair man. It is something that noble Lords on all sides of the Committee should want to see incorporated into the Bill now.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I totally support everything the noble Baroness said. I would have said the same but I could not have said it as well.

My noble friend Lord Peyton was totally right to bring this clause as it stands to the attention of the Committee because we cannot seek Royal Assent for the Bill in this form. That would be a monstrous imposition. The Committee will be indebted to my noble friend Lord Peyton for having raised this point.

I agree with the contribution of the right reverend Prelate. This clause has to be qualified. I, at least, would wish it to be qualified with the words "subject to the provisions of this Act". That would qualify the powers of entry provisions with which I propose to deal later on.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: Perhaps I may ask for clarification in relation to Clause 4, which deals with proposed new Section 16A and the slaughter of vaccinated animals. There is a large difference between those animals which go into the food chain for meat and those animals which are used for breeding purposes. In the definition contained in the clause, there is no clarification of the difference between breeding stock and animals going for meat. I believe that there should be. If the breeding stock is vaccinated, why should there be a drop in value? I do not understand it. If vaccination works, why should there be a risk of animals being slaughtered?

We saw in the last outbreak the real problem of people querying the value of valuable breeding stock. They simply did not understand. The problem is that many people do not understand what goes into the breeding of the good, valuable stock that is part of our heritage. I should like to see a definition in the Bill to distinguish between animals used for breeding and animals used for meat.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Perhaps it would help if I set the amendments in context. The Government's foot and mouth disease control strategy is to eradicate FMD quickly. Nevertheless, one of the objectives of any disease control strategy is also to minimise the number of animals slaughtered consistent with eradication and control of the disease.

Use of emergency vaccination in future outbreaks will be a key option as part of the disease control strategy. As the Secretary of State's Statement to another place on the FMD inquiries made clear, the Government would ideally use a vaccinate to live strategy if emergency vaccination were used. Future scientific advances may allow vaccination a larger role but it could still be used only in conjunction with slaughter, movement restrictions and biosecurity.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 153

The Government have not yet formally responded to the inquiry reports but the Secretary of State's Statement to another place on 22nd July included the following:


    "Another key issue that has drawn much comment is the contentious issue of vaccination, on which both inquiries made recommendations. We can immediately accept two specific recommendations: that, as in 2001, we should ensure that the option of vaccination forms part of any future strategy for the control of FMD; and that any emergency vaccination policy should in future be not 'vaccinate to kill' but, ideally, 'vaccinate to live'".—[Official Report, Commons, 22/7/02; col. 672].

The Lessons to be Learned Inquiry and the Royal Society report recommend that future outbreaks of FMD should be dealt with primarily by "stamping out", but that emergency vaccination should be an important adjunct to this primary strategy. And the Royal Society report recommends that a vaccination policy should be on a "vaccinate to live" basis. However, we should not wish to rule out the use of a "vaccinate to slaughter" policy as there may be situations when that is appropriate.

Any development or change to UK policy on FMD vaccination has to take place within the framework of European regulations and agreed international disease control and trading standards. As noble Lords taking part in debate on the Bill are fully aware, vaccination is a complex issue. Any steps to use it would require full consideration of all the implications for the disease, the handling and control of vaccinated animals and products, and wider implications for the EU's FMD-free without vaccination status. Use of foot and mouth vaccines is prohibited unless specifically authorised by a European Commission decision following confirmation of the disease. I hope that that helps to set some of this in context.

In the general context, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the issue of human rights and EU law. The powers in the Bill are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Clause 4 compensation will be payable for animals slaughtered in accordance with the convention rights. A further issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, to which I shall come shortly.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, raised a point about the report and about Dr Anderson not being on the Front Bench today. That is self-evident. It is for the Government to place before Parliament recommendations which flow from the Anderson report, and that is what we are seeking to do in the Bill.

The Earl of Onslow: The noble Baroness has been converted to my point of view. That is exactly what I was saying: it is a government Bill. That is all I was saying. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, was saying that it was an Anderson Bill. The sinner in heaven repenteth—lovely!

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I should be in danger of getting totally lost in these matters. We have had a large number of references to Pen-y-ghent and Pen-y-fan. Following the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, can occasionally lead those on the Government Front Bench into a blind alley.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 154

There is a further important general point. There were cases where delay in action was partly due to the absence of certain powers which are now set out in the Bill. The question was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton—as it was by the noble Lord, Lord Monro—of whether the Government needed more powers to be able to act quickly. I can assure the noble Lord on that point and shall write to him on the detail.

Turning to specific amendments, Amendment No. 192 would remove the power to slaughter vaccinated animals. This power is necessary for the conduct of a vaccination campaign, whether vaccinate to live or vaccinate to slaughter. Where vaccinated animals are subsequently shown by distinguishing tests to have been infected with the virus, they will need to be slaughtered. Such a policy is in keeping with the recommendations of the Royal Society report, as I hope the noble Lord, Lord May, will accept. I am delighted that he has joined us on this issue.

The Earl of Onslow: The noble Baroness made an important point. She said that an animal which has been vaccinated and which has been subsequently shown to have had the disease has to be killed. Am I right or wrong? Without meaning to be rude to the noble Baroness, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord May, will be able to answer the point better than either she or I can. Presumably the animal is cured of the disease and is now immune, if it has had it, and therefore cannot pass it on. Is that the case? I am a seeker after information.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I used the term "have" in relation to the disease, not "have had". If an animal is shown to have the disease, or, I believe, to be a carrier of the disease—I shall write to the noble Earl if I am wrong—

Lord May of Oxford: It may be helpful if I intervene. If the infection is acquired at around the same time as the vaccination, that can happen. If I may lapse into pedagogic mode, that is partly why we do not vaccinate small children against measles too soon: the vaccine will not take, as they are protected against the disease by maternal antibodies, which are fading. It is quite a complex matter and there is a window in which that can happen.

4 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I see that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is grateful. However, I assure him that he is not as grateful as I am for the noble Lord's intervention.

Therefore, for those reasons, it is essential that we are able to retain the option of slaughtering vaccinated animals, but any decision on the slaughter of vaccinates would be made in the light of consultation with interested parties. The exit strategy of the vaccination campaign would depend on why we were vaccinating—for example, to prevent the disease from spreading—and would also take into account a cost-benefit analysis of the different strategies.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 155

These provisions in the Bill fill a gap in the existing legislation and make no presumption about the time at which slaughter of vaccinates would, if at all, be necessary. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, will not press his Amendment No. 192. Should he require further information after Committee stage, I shall be delighted to provide it.

Amendment No. 194 would unnecessarily restrict the Minister's ability to slaughter vaccinates. The three-month cut-off point is arbitrary to a degree. It is difficult to be certain. The provisions make no presumption about the time at which slaughter of vaccinates would, if at all, be necessary.

There may be situations in which vaccinates may need to be slaughtered over three months after vaccination. For example, we could find that animals are infected beyond that period and need to be slaughtered as part of a problem of the associated herds and flocks.

Therefore, we would be in difficulty. However, we recognise the underlying point as regards accepting an absolute limit.

Amendment No. 195 would require any action taken under the powers in this section relating to the slaughter of vaccinated animals to be reasonable. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and others, made that point. We strongly support the principle on which the amendment is based. All our actions should be reasonable, and I Hope that I can reassure noble Lords that we would always act reasonably. Indeed, Ministers have a public obligation to do so in the exercise of their duties. However, noble Lords may unwittingly be suggesting an amendment that could limit that obligation. In addition to acting reasonably, Ministers also have a public law obligation to act proportionately. If for the purposes of this legislation we were to restrict the term to "reasonable" and not include "proportionate" it could limit Ministers' obligations. I assure noble Lords that there is a legal requirement to be both reasonable and proportionate.

Amendment No. 196 would have little real effect. "Otherwise" adds clarity in this context, and it separates subsection 3(a) and 3(b), making both parts complementary and comprehensive. If "otherwise" is removed, there would be an overlap between Section 16A(3)(a) and Section 16A(3)(b), rather than the linkage of the two distinct activities.

Action may be required to enable an animal to be slaughtered and it could include entering premises, rounding up animals, verifying their identity and completing paperwork. Action that is otherwise required in connection with slaughter could include the removal of animals or carcasses from premises, and their disposal. Those lists are not exhaustive. The wording of the Bill is consistent with provisions in the 1981 Act. For example, Section 16(2)(b) deals with permitted action for treatment after exposure to infection or,


    "action which is otherwise required in connection with that treatment".

8 Oct 2002 : Column 156

It would therefore be inappropriate to accept Amendment No. 196.

Amendment No. 197 would specify on the face of the Bill that any action taken in connection with the slaughter of vaccinated animals under the new powers would have to be reasonable. The tasks concerned could include bringing machinery on to the premises, identification, valuation or disposal. I hope that I have reassured the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford that Ministers are required and are under an obligation to act reasonably and proportionately at all times. I assure noble Lords that guidance to the field on action that can be taken in connection with the slaughter of vaccinates—such as identification, bringing machinery on to farms, valuation or disposal—will specify that such action must not stray beyond what is reasonable.

Amendment No. 198 would remove the provision requiring Ministers to pay compensation for slaughtered vaccinates of such an amount as to be prescribed by order. We recognise that setting compensation at market value would significantly increase the likelihood of any future vaccination programme achieving full uptake. On that principle, and without prejudice to any future compensation policy in respect of healthy animals, the Government have decided to specify on the face of the Bill that slaughtered FMD vaccinates will be compensated at their market value as if they had not been vaccinated. Amendment No. 198 is therefore unnecessary. I hope that noble Lords are satisfied with my reply.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, the power contained in the Bill is to slaughter to prevent the spread of disease regardless of the intended use of the animal. However, I feel that I have not given her as comprehensive an answer as she would have liked, so I will write to her as soon as possible.

Amendment No. 199 would specify that compensation for animals slaughtered under the powers in the Bill would be 100 per cent. Although the amendment does not specify what the 100 per cent relates to, I presume that it refers to the market value of the animal. As I have just said, the Government have decided to specify on the face of the Bill that slaughtered FMD vaccinates will be compensated at their market value as if they had not been vaccinated. In those circumstances, I hope that noble Lords will agree that Amendment No. 199 is not necessary.

Amendments Nos. 201 and 202 would specify that compensation for all compulsorily slaughtered animals would be 100 per cent of market value before slaughter or vaccination. I have already referred to that point and I hope therefore that those amendments will not be pressed.

Amendments Nos. 204 and 205 would convert the order-making power to specify what level of compensation should be paid for compulsorily slaughtered vaccinates from a negative resolution procedure to an affirmative one. The Government have decided to specify on the face of the Bill that slaughtered FMD vaccinates will be compensated at

8 Oct 2002 : Column 157

their market value as if they had not been vaccinated. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will not feel it necessary to pursue these amendments.

I apologise for the length of time that I have taken to reply. I have sought to cover all the points made, and I would be grateful if any member whose point I have not covered would tell me now or later, and I will write to them as soon as possible.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I wish to make two points. First, it is clear from the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord May, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, which relate in part to my Amendment No. 197, that the use, wherever possible, of the word "reasonably" would improve the language of the Bill. If the Government wish also to include the word "proportionate" it would make the Bill a friendlier piece of legislation. The Minister should not merely inform us that the requirement of reasonableness is implicit; it needs to be spelt out.

Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, may want to comment on compensation. An important issue is the time of valuation, that is to say, whether it takes place just before vaccination, or at the beginning of the outbreak. This is a very important issue. We obviously welcome the fact that compensation at market value would be given, but it is important that the time at which valuation takes place is specified.

The Earl of Onslow: I have a question on which the Minister might wish to pray in aid the noble Lord, Lord May. She said that slaughter after the three-month limit might be slightly artificial. For how long does the vaccination last? If a disease is contracted, does it persist? I presume that those factors would affect the decision on whether a limit should be applied to slaughter policy.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I fear that the noble Lord, Lord May, indicated that he did not wish to speak again. Often, I have looked hopefully towards the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, but I received no response from him either. It would be wiser for me to write on the subject of how long vaccination lasts.

I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, about the timing and the process of determining the value—of which the Government are committed to paying 100 per cent—and I shall send copies of the letter to other noble Lords.

I am always nervous about answering at the Dispatch Box on a question to do with legal advice on whether laws depend implicitly or explicitly on the use of particular words. I understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, makes. If the legal advice is that it would not present any problems, I undertake to look at whether we could come back to "reasonable" and "proportionate", but if there is going to be a battle between the noble Lord and the lawyers, I fear, speaking from the Dispatch Box, that I may fall slightly towards the lawyers.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: The noble Baroness has adopted a most accommodating bedside manner. She

8 Oct 2002 : Column 158

has been very unprovoking and has given us no reason to complain on that account. However, I fear that in the content of her speech she has said very little to ease my anxieties. Throughout her remarks she has given no sign of her awareness of the feelings that underlie the amendment and that have been provoked by the clause. The noble Baroness looks puzzled. If she wishes me to expand on that I shall gladly do so.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I fear that I gave the noble Lord the wrong impression. I understand the strength of feeling and I shall read carefully everything that has been said. I appreciate that some very strong views have been expressed.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: That is some relief to me. I am obliged to the noble Baroness for her undertaking to read what has been said. I, too, shall read her speech with the utmost care to make sure that I have not missed some nugget that would cheer me up, but I fear that that is not the case. The noble Baroness started by saying that she was going to put the matter in context. To continue with my reference to her bedside manner, that was a good way of smoothing the sheets down so that the patient could be comfortable. However, it does not make me entirely at ease with what is left.

I, too, should like to put the matter in context. The noble Baroness has to accept that, even before the epidemic, the reputation of MAFF was not perfect. It did not enjoy a reputation of reliability, integrity and all the rest of it with the farming community. That was the start. The handling of the epidemic was far from immaculate. Even the Government have from time to time admitted that mistakes were made—and they certainly were.

Much has been made of the Anderson report, which called for a requirement that powers be clear and unambiguous. That does not mean that anything that is both clear and unambiguous is unobjectionable. There is no doubt that the clause is very clear and unambiguous, but that is not all that Anderson said. He did not say that anything that met the requirement of being clear and unambiguous would be all right by him—very far from it.

I remind the noble Baroness that the Bill and my amendment were drafted before the Anderson report was visible and long before the Royal Society report. The point that I wish to labour is that the feeling generated in the past is still there and very much alive. The subsection that I should like to delete says:


    "The Minister may cause to be slaughtered any animal to which this section applies".

There is no mention of "reasonable". Putting the word in would not necessarily make the provision unclear or unambiguous. The Government and any authority wielding such powers must make some concession to the unease that is felt about somebody getting it wrong. No government, let alone this one, are in a position to say that Ministers never make mistakes. Most Ministers' careers are dotted with mistakes. A Minister coming clean and saying, "Yes, I am sorry, I made a mistake" is rather rare, although that does not mean that it does not happen.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 159

I apologise for making one further point. I should like to be absolutely clear that the noble Baroness is not inhibited by any shortcomings of mine and fully realises the widespread depth of feeling about such provisions. I may have fallen short in my description of it. I hope that she will fully understand what she is really up against. Some gesture should be forthcoming from the Government at a later stage of the Bill.

I do not want to prolong my remarks, but I must apologise to the noble Baroness for the fact that in my zeal on my first amendment I omitted to mention Amendment No. 196, which is also in my name. Subsection (3)(b) contains the words,


    "which is otherwise required in connection with the slaughter".

What is the value and meaning of "otherwise"? Is it a weasel word, or is it merely for decoration? If the latter, it could conveniently be omitted. If, on the other hand, it is a weasel word, perhaps the noble Baroness can explain its inward meaning.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for not having made clear that I had spoken to Amendment No. 196, as it was grouped with the others, although the noble Lord did not speak to it. If, as I fear, he finds my answers slightly short of satisfactory, I shall of course write to him on the subject and try to sort it out.

I accept the strength of feeling in the Committee on the issue of reasonableness. That is why I told the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that if I am able to have due regard to that and to respond to the feeling of the Committee I shall do so. I shall take that issue away. I hope that the Committee will accept that I am making that statement in good faith.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 193:


    Page 2, line 32, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"

The noble Baroness said: I omitted in error to refer to Amendment No. 193 yesterday, but it deals with exactly the same subject. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 194:


    Page 2, line 32, after "slaughtered" insert "within three months of the date of vaccination"

The noble Baroness said: I should like to come back a little on the Minister's response, for which I am grateful. I am slightly surprised that her colleagues—if I may so call them—in the Box cannot answer the question. We have included a three-month time limit in the provision because, as I explained earlier, we feel that the commitment should not be open-ended. In

8 Oct 2002 : Column 160

other words, without the amendment, the power could apply nine months or even one or two years after vaccination.

Earlier, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, spoke about the importance of breeding stock which is extremely valuable and takes years to build up. It would be undesirable if the threat of losing that stock were to hang over farmers for an unspecified period. Do the Government have plans to address that issue? If not, I should be grateful if the Minister would clear up the position and provide us with more guidance before we return to the issue on Report.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I give that undertaking. I failed to deal with the point earlier not because the officials in the Box failed to supply an answer but because it arose while I was on my feet and I did not have time to consult. Had I know that the noble Baroness would return to the point, I would have consulted the Box while the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, was speaking. I shall of course take up the issue.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 195 to 198 not moved.]

 

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 199:


    Page 2, line 38, leave out from "under" to end of line 40 and insert "the powers given to the Minister in this Act, the Minister will pay 100 per cent compensation"

The noble Baroness said: I thank the Minister for her indication on the issue of compensation payment. However, it would help us enormously if we had more detail before Report. Although we dealt with the point yesterday, it is still very much up in the air. The Bill does not cover it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I give an undertaking to write to noble Lords who have shown an interest in the issue.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 200:


    Page 2, line 38, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 201 and 202 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 203:


    Page 2, line 40, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 204 and 205 not moved.]

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 206:


    After Clause 4, insert the following new clause—


"NATIONAL CONTINGENCY PLAN

8 Oct 2002 : Column 161


In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 36—
"36A NATIONAL CONTINGENCY PLAN
The Government shall prepare and regularly maintain, in consultation with interested public and private bodies, a national contingency plan for foot-and-mouth disease and other specified diseases, which shall be laid before Parliament.""

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 206 is our proposal for a national contingency plan. As Members of the Committee who were in the Chamber yesterday know, the Government have indicated that they will propose their own national contingency plan. I hope that that position has not changed overnight.

We are asking the Government to,


    "prepare and regularly maintain, in consultation with the interested public and private bodies, a national contingency plan for foot-and-mouth disease and other specified diseases, which shall be laid before Parliament."

We are asking that such a plan be prepared, regularly updated and maintained in consultation with other bodies. Yesterday, the Minister said that the Government are giving such a commitment. We are pleased that they have accepted the weight of our arguments.

Anderson devoted a whole chapter to contingency planning and made six associated recommendations. One of his major criticisms of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, made on page 34, was that although the then animal health contingency plan had been checked in 2000, implementation of the Drummond report recommendations was proceeding slowly. I hope that the Minister will be able today to update us on subsequent developments. The obvious inference is that the department must be answerable frequently and openly to a higher authority.

According to the National Audit Office report, on page 29, the national contingency plan had been approved in July 1993. The work in 2000 consisted mainly of updating contact names, telephone numbers and minor facts. Work had in fact been done on local plans, but four of the 19 plans had not been updated in years. I am sure that Members of the Committee will be disappointed and concerned by that fact.

The National Audit Office report says that the contingency plans coped in areas where the outbreaks were small but not in the worst-hit areas where many more farms were affected. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I support Amendment No. 206 and its proposal for a national contingency plan. In the interest of brevity, I should point out that many of these points were debated yesterday in relation to our Amendment No. 99 and Amendment No. 103A. In those debates Ministers told us that a national contingency plan was an integral part of their plans and would be outlined in due course. I support the amendment and trust that the Government will keep their word in relation to yesterday's assurances.

The Countess of Mar: I, too, support the amendment. However, I ask the Minister whether it is not a European Union requirement for the British Government to have a contingency plan for foot and

8 Oct 2002 : Column 162

mouth disease that must be periodically revised and approved by the European Union? Was that not done with the July 2000 version? I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, whether the contingency plan applies to all animal diseases or only to foot and mouth disease, as does the current contingency plan?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): I should first apologise for not being present for the beginning of the debate. As I indicated yesterday, the Government intend to table an amendment that is not dissimilar to Amendment No. 206. Although I should like to finalise this with my legal advisers, the intent of our amendment will be in line with the requirements of Amendment No. 206.

An interim foot and mouth contingency plan is currently available and will shortly be not so much finalised as continually updated. In answer to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, the foot and mouth contingency plan will serve as a template for the control of other diseases. In addition, however, specific contingency elements will be developed to deal with other diseases. That point would presumably be covered by Amendment No. 206, and it will certainly be covered by the amendment that we shall table.

In principle, therefore, I am at one with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. With the leave of the House, I shall table an appropriate amendment on Report.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for that clarification. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, was right to raise a point which I have specifically dealt with in my amendment. Under "National contingency plan", the amendment states that,


    "In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 36."

Designated as Section 36A, it states that,


    "The Government shall prepare and regularly maintain, in consultation with interested public and private bodies, a national contingency plan for foot-and-mouth disease and other specified diseases, which shall be laid before Parliament."

I am satisfied with the Minister's reply and look forward to his tabling of the government amendment. I am also extremely grateful. Ministers have appreciated the weight of our argument and are moving forward on this occasion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 207:


    After Clause 4, insert the following new clause—


"EXPIRY
Part 1 of this Act shall cease to have effect on 31st December 2004."

The noble Lord said: The purpose of Amendment No. 207 is to probe the intentions of the Government as to the status of the legislation that is proposed in the medium term. When the Bill was first put forward there was a very clear impression given that it was interim legislation and that it would at some stage be

8 Oct 2002 : Column 163

replaced, supplanted or added to by further legislation following the reports of the Anderson committee, the Follett report and so on. Indeed, we are now promised a report from the committee of the European Parliament which many of us are looking forward to reading.

A long time ago—it seems a long time ago—back in January when we had the Second Reading of the Bill, there was considerable discussion and debate as to whether the Bill should proceed. My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer is recovering from a serious operation. I am sure that the whole Committee joins me in wishing her a good recovery so that she can once again take her place in the Chamber. At Second Reading she moved an amendment which would have had the effect of delaying consideration of the Bill. Subsequently the noble Lord, Lord Moran, invoked a procedure which I believe had not been used within living memory—not even that of Members of this Chamber—and, as a result, the Committee stage was postponed for several months.

At Second Reading the Minister made some comments which I wish to quote as they are pertinent to the question we are discussing. He said,


    "We look forward to learning the longer-term lessons that those investigations will yield ... in relation to those lessons about which we are already aware, we should take steps to rectify the situation now. That is what the Bill is about".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 838.]

He added, at col. 842, that,


    "the Bill reflects the lessons already learnt from foot and mouth disease; the need for us in the coming months to have a full armoury of weapons, should the disease recur".

We have heard that constant refrain from the noble Lord and the Government. I believe that that view is broadly shared in the Chamber. The noble Lord referred, also at col. 842, to,


    "the time when we can take into account the full outcome of the inquiries which we have set up to look into the disease and the lessons learnt on a longer-term, more strategic basis. At that point—

this is the part I emphasise—


    "I have no doubt that the Government will need to come forward with both legislative and operational proposals in more comprehensive detail".

Yesterday the Minister said in his statement that,


    "I should make clear that our comprehensive response to the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries were intended to be published in late October or early November and I cannot pre-empt the publication of that response ... However, we have given priority consideration to those aspects of the inquiries that could impact on the Bill".—[Official Report, 7/10/02; col. 22.]

The Minister also referred to various government amendments that would be brought forward.

There is an interesting question concerning the status of the legislation now as regards the Government's intentions. Is this still regarded—as I believe many regarded it six months ago—as interim legislation which will be replaced, or is it permanent, long-term legislation? Will any further legislation that results from the Government's consideration of the Anderson, Follett and, no doubt, other inquiries that will emerge later this year—very soon later this year,

8 Oct 2002 : Column 164

one hopes—be additional legislation building on the Bill or will it be replacement legislation in some kind of omnibus Bill that takes over from this Bill? In other words, is this Bill a short or medium-term answer to the immediate problems to allow the Government to deal with a new outbreak or outbreaks of other diseases should they occur—heaven forbid—in the interim, or is it intended that this legislation will still be on the statute book in 10 or 20 years' time? The purpose of tabling the amendment I am discussing is to probe the Government's intentions. It is important that we know the position. I am not sure that we have yet received a clear statement from the Minister on the matter. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: I add my weight to the question that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised. I believe that we all agree that we are in some difficulty as regards debating this Bill at this time. I too should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the Government's thinking on that aspect of the Bill and on the sunset clause that is proposed. I look forward with interest to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Earl Peel: I pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Presumably, as far as the Government are concerned, the deliberations of the Anderson and Follett reports are of a voluntary nature. They can interpret those reports as they wish and they can introduce legislation accordingly. However, I refer also to the deliberations of the European Parliament. As I understand the position, those recommendations will be compulsory and the Government will have to introduce legislation accordingly. Whichever way one looks at the matter one can assume only that further legislation will be needed to finish the business with regard to foot and mouth.

Lord Whitty: The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked a number of questions, not all of which I can answer. However, I shall try to put the matter in perspective. When the Bill first appeared—some time ago now—it was still, as I said yesterday, under the shadow of the disease. It was considered to be needed urgently in order to cover the situation should an outbreak recur. In the event, Members of this Chamber delayed the Bill until after the reports we are discussing had been received.

The comments I made at an earlier stage of the Bill, to which the noble Lord referred, were made without knowledge of the detailed recommendations of the reports. However, the reports endorse the central provisions of the Bill. The reports also cover some other aspects, either directly or implicitly, which are not in the Bill. There are a number of problems with animal health legislation, some of them alluded to yesterday, which the Government will have to take into account in developing our animal health strategy over the next few months. Until that strategy has been developed we shall not be clearer as to what type of additional legislation will be required and whether that legislation will be additional to the Bill—or the Act, as I hope it will become—or whether it will be

8 Oct 2002 : Column 165

consolidating legislation which will incorporate the Bill and other legislation. That decision has yet to be taken.

The clause we are discussing is clearly a sunset clause, and a fairly short-shrift sunset clause at that. It presumes that we shall have legislation on the statute book in the parliamentary Session after next. Given the history of animal health legislation and the difficulties that have arisen in that regard, it would be unwise of any government to commit themselves to such a sunset clause. As the main provisions of the Bill are endorsed by Anderson and the Royal Society, I do not wish to call it interim legislation. It may be incomplete legislation but I suspect that the long-term legislation will either keep the Bill in place or broadly incorporate its powers. Therefore, I do not believe that it is appropriate to include a sunset clause. I certainly do not believe that it is appropriate to include a short-term sunset clause, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.

Clearly, the position will have to be reviewed in the light of the development of the animal health strategy taking into account all the points made in the reports, our experience and, indeed, as the noble Earl indicated, the European developments which will emerge in a few months' time. As of now, I believe that the main provisions of the Bill will be fairly longstanding. However, as regards the exact nature of the subsequent legislation, I cannot give any clearer an answer than I have just attempted to provide. Therefore, I resist any attempt to insert a sunset clause into the Bill.

Lord Greaves: I am grateful to the Minister for giving an interesting clarification of his and the Government's thoughts, which has been useful. That was main purpose of the amendment.

In reply to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, I believe that the conclusions of the European Parliament's committee of inquiry, if that is what it is, will not be binding on anybody. It is simply a committee of inquiry, as I understand it, which is producing a report. If the result is future directives or legislation from the European Parliament or otherwise in Europe, that would be binding. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, knows more about these things than I do and he agrees with me. He is nodding. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

It was an interesting clarification, but I am not sure that it was what many of us wished to hear. Nevertheless, on the basis of that clarification I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Treatment: power of entry]:

[Amendment No. 208 not moved.]

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 209:


    Page 3, line 19, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: This amendment examines the situation as we find it in the Animal Health Act 1981. It amends subsection (3) which refers to treatment and

8 Oct 2002 : Column 166

the power of entry and enforcement in the Bill. The subsection omits the words from "taking with him" to the end.

I wish to probe the Minister's mind, if I am in the correct part of the Bill. I know that I shall be corrected if that is not the case. Section 16(2)(b) of the Animal Health Act 1981 has been referred to. It states,


    "which is otherwise required in connection with that treatment, and for the purpose of exercising those powers any officer of the Minister may, subject to the production of his authority on demand, enter any land or premises taking with him such persons, if any, which he considers requisite".

My interpretation is that, subject to the production of his authority on demand, he may enter any land or premises, full stop. That is what will remain as a result of the words in the 2002 Bill. That indicates that no persons will be taken with him as he considers requisite. I wonder about the background to that and why these changes are asked for. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: This is a formulation which we have used elsewhere in the Bill and therefore I defend its consistency. It alters the provisions of the 1981 Act. The effect of the amendment would be to revert to that Act which states that the officer may take with him any such other persons, if any, which he considers requisite. Apart from the arcane language, I believe that the matter is better expressed by what we have in this Bill, that the inspector may take with him or her such other persons as he thinks necessary to give him assistance as he thinks necessary. In other words, what is requisite or not is related to giving the inspector assistance and not necessarily to anybody for any other purpose which the inspector may feel inclined to bring along with him.

In effect it restricts what was previously the situation, but it does so in a very specific way. The noble Lord may say that it is a relatively minor change and why bother, but it is consistent with what we have said elsewhere in the Bill and I would rather leave it that way.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I thank the Minister for his response. As amended, the provision is slightly abrupt. I certainly welcome the clarification of what is meant. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 210:


    Page 3, line 21, leave out "justice of the peace" and insert "petty sessional court with at least three justices of the peace sitting"

The noble Lord said: This amendment is very simple, as Members of the Committee will see. It seeks to amend page 3, line 21 of the Bill. I shall read the clause which I seek to amend. Subsection (3) states:


    "If a justice of the peace is satisfied on sworn information in writing"—

that is one justice of the peace. The evidence is given on oath, but not verbally—


    "that the first condition is satisfied and that the second or third condition is satisfied he may issue a warrant authorising an inspector to enter any land or premises".

8 Oct 2002 : Column 167

I wonder whether the matter should go before a petty sessional court with at least three justices of the peace sitting. That may be too elaborate. I ask the Government to consider not cutting down legal proceedings to the bare minimum contemplated here. I am not entirely without hope that the Minister will respond positively. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I cannot oblige the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. The whole point of the new provision in the Bill is that we get swift decisions. The stipulation that there should be three justices of the peace rather than one will inevitably lead to delay in convening such a court in certain circumstances. It would go well beyond the normal case where one justice of the peace is sufficient in an application for a warrant in other circumstances. It would be unprecedented to apply that to these circumstances.

Having said that and having recognised the noble Lord's anxieties, we have tabled amendments which clarify the range of conditions on which a warrant may be granted. They should ensure that the powers are subject to a clear, transparent and rigorous test of reasonableness and that the overall balance, such as the public interest, is taken into account with the private interests and those of the farmer or stockholder. We are clarifying the issues which the justice of the peace will have to take into account. Adding two further JPs to a situation where one is trying to overcome the disease would slow down the process. It would therefore be contrary to what is intended by these changes in the procedure.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I believed that I was very reasonable in that I admitted that I was asking for a full choir. I realise that was being a little optimistic. I sensibly and modestly said that I would not insist on that. I hoped very much that the noble Lord would be moved by my accommodating attitude and do likewise. I am a little disappointed. Other people are likely to be affected by this procedure and they are not going to be represented. They will have no chance to object. I wonder whether it would not be wise for the noble Lord, for the sake of appearances, to look at this matter again. As I said, I am not asking for the full choir, but for somebody to be there to see that things are done as they should be. One justice of the peace is minimal.

Lord Whitty: Presumably, the degree of the noble Lord's "reasonableness", which I am always willing to acknowledge, is to move from requesting three justices of the peace to requiring just two JPs. Admittedly, that would make it slightly more likely that they could convene such proceedings, but it would still slow down the process. In all other warrant proceedings, one justice of the peace is sufficient. Therefore, because speed is of the essence in this particular case—and provided that the JP is required to observe "reasonableness" in the way that our amendment will provide for—I believe that one JP is sufficient in these

8 Oct 2002 : Column 168

circumstances. I regret that I cannot be as reasonable as the noble Lord suggests; indeed, even compromising at one-and-a-half would be beyond me.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: In these very sad circumstances I beg leave at this stage to withdraw the amendment. I cannot make the usual observation that I shall, of course, read most carefully everything that the Minister said. The noble Lord said so little that it would not be worth reading.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Campbell of Alloway moved Amendment No. 211:


    Page 3, line 25, at end insert—


"( ) The warrant shall be issued together with a certified copy of the sworn information."

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 238, both of which relate to Clause 6. The latter are reflected in identical amendments; namely, Amendments Nos. 244 and 267, which relate to Clause 7. I understand that there is an instruction in the brief of the Deputy Chairman of Committees to point out an error in Amendments Nos. 238 and 267. Both amendments refer to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, whereas reference should be made to Article 8 of the convention. I have been informed that there was to be an instruction in the brief of the Deputy Chairman of Committees to draw attention to that error. However, perhaps I may do so myself at this point.

Each set of amendments is complementary and relates to the exercise of the power to enter land or premises to slaughter. It engages the right to respect the family life under Article 8(1) of the convention. We are in a curious situation at present. The scheme of this Bill was devised in a national emergency for slaughter, but it amends the 1981 Act which was introduced when there was no national emergency. Slaughter is extended from that Act by amendment to deal with the national emergency to protect the spread of disease.

We have now moved to the stage when there is no national emergency and, apparently, vaccination is to be preferred to slaughter. The importance of that is as follows. What is reasonable and proportionate in a time of national emergency may not be reasonable and proportionate at some other time. It depends upon the circumstances. There must be a procedure which affords that flexibility. Without reverting to the first amendment of my noble friend Lord Peyton, the lack of flexibility in that clause was the root of the trouble.

In that context, the Minister said yesterday that the same powers of entry are required for both vaccination and slaughter. I understand that. I also understand that in a time of national emergency such powers must be of a certain quality, but that, at a time which is not a national emergency, they have to be of another quality; in other words, there has to be a flexibility reflected in the procedure which is acceptable under Article 8(2) of the convention on human rights.

It is no use the Minister pointing out to the Committee that he has already certified the Bill as being "compatible with the Convention rights". I shall

8 Oct 2002 : Column 169

shortly refer noble Lords to two passages in the Tenth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which takes another view. The position here is that one has to show under Article 8(2) that the Bill's provisions, or the implementing machinery under a code of practice, are necessary in the interests of the economic well-being of the country and are proportionate to that end.

So, what happens? A justice of the peace issues a warrant on the sworn information that the three conditions are satisfied. He authorises an inspector to enter using reasonable force, and to require any person on the land or premises (under pain of fine and imprisonment for refusal) to give such assistance as he thinks necessary under the slaughter warrant.

Amendments Nos. 211 and 244 say that when the warrant is served it must be accompanied by the information on which is was sought. If that is not complied with, there will be massive scope for the abuse of power, which it would be totally unacceptable to leave in a statute. Indeed, it simply could not exist. Apart from the wretched convention on human rights, it is contrary to our whole concept of justice that anything like that should be tolerated. It means that when the man receives the information—that is, the sworn information on which the warrant is issued by the justice of the peace—he can say, "But it's not true: I am going straight off to the High Court to ask for an emergency hearing". I can assure the Committee that you always get it; indeed, you can get it at the drop of a hat. An emergency hearing would be convened and it would be held up by order of the High Court, or given a stay under judicial review—a mandatory order against the executive. It is done very often.

However, if you do not have the knowledge and if you do not have in your hand the sworn information, what on earth can you do? That is the force of the argument behind Amendments Nos. 211 and 244. The latter are related to Amendment No. 238, which is double-barrelled. It refers to the penal section: if you refuse to comply with the request of the inspector, you may receive six months' imprisonment and/or a fine. Those are the provisions in Clause 6(12). As corrected, Amendment No. 238 states:


    "The provisions of subsection (12) shall not create an offence if in the circumstances failure to give such required assistance was a reasonable and proportionate response having regard to the provisions of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights".

The following new paragraph states:


    "The Secretary of State may issue a code of practice as to the nature and extent of the requirement for assistance under subsections (8) and (9) which shall be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament".

That resolution could accommodate various circumstances, such as a national emergency and the change to when there is not a national emergency. It could operate through the equivalent of an Order in Council. It would import the very flexibility that is missing in the Bill but which has to be included if it is to work in a just and reasonable fashion.

That is what these amendments are all about. I do not want to take up much more time but there are two passages from the 10th report of the Joint Committee

8 Oct 2002 : Column 170

on Human Rights which are straight in point on both amendments. I have to declare an interest—or lack of interest—as a member of that committee.

The first reference is from paragraph 27. It states:


    "However, we consider that it would be desirable for a copy of the information sworn by an inspector in support of the application for a warrant to be served on the occupier, together with a copy of the warrant, when the warrant is executed, in order to reduce the risk of arbitrariness and to make judicial review of the warrant an effective remedy for any violation of Convention rights. With the same ends in view, we consider that the term of the Protocol, proposed in the Government's consultation paper on the implementation of powers under the Bill ... should be capable of being received as evidence in relation to any issue to which they may be relevant in any proceedings, like the Codes of Practice which deal with many other areas of public administration, including entry to premises in the course of criminal investigations. Such proceedings would include applications for warrants and judicial review of warrants ... If these safeguards are provided, we conclude that the provisions of the Bill would be unlikely to give rise to an unavoidable incompatibility with rights under ... Article 8".

The other passage, which, fortunately, is shorter, is from paragraph 21. It states:


    "we do not consider that there is a serious risk of these provisions of the Bill being incompatible with Convention rights in theory or in practice. However, we believe that legislation which confers apparently wide powers or imposes apparently wide liabilities should make clear the limitations which are imposed by Convention rights. This is desirable in the interests of legal certainty and the notion of the rule of law, ideas which are central to effective guarantees of human rights. Express clarification on this point could be provided by an amendment to the Bill without ... affecting the policy which the Bill seeks to advance or the balance of interests which it embodies. Accordingly, we draw the matter to the attention of each House".

Something has got to be done about this. It is no use the Government saying, "We have certified that this is fully compatible with the ECHR". The matter goes well beyond that; it goes to the root of justice. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Earl Peel: I was going to say a few words in support of Amendment No. 212, which appears in the name of my noble friend Lady Byford, but, having listened to my noble friend Lord Campbell—I have every sympathy with the very persuasive argument that he put forward—I have to point out that if we supported Amendment No. 212, by which an occupier would be entitled to present sworn information in person or in writing to a justice of the peace, he or she would not be able to do so unless he or she had had access to that information beforehand. That is covered by the amendment of my noble friend. The two amendments, as I see them, are symbiotic.

I return to the letter of 25th September, which the Minister kindly sent to those of us who are interested in the Bill. He gave, or implied, certain assurances, some of which have clearly not materialised in the government amendments. For example—I have already referred to these two instances—there is no obligation, under the government amendments, on inspectors to serve copies of written evidence that is put before the magistrates to the occupiers. Secondly,

8 Oct 2002 : Column 171

occupiers have no right to put their case to the magistrate; that matter is covered by my noble friend's amendment.

Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, there is no doubting the fact that a great deal of friction has built up during the course of the foot and mouth crisis between the inspectors and the Government and the rural community and farmers. Suspicion prevails; some of it is justified and some of it is clearly not justified. However, that is the case.

I realise—the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was absolutely right to make this point—that the Bill's primary aim is to give the Government the necessary powers to carry out their responsibilities when dealing with a crisis such as the foot and mouth outbreak. Of course its contents should be based on lessons learnt and the recommendations that flow from the expert inquiries. However—I stress this point—it should also be seen as a chance to build bridges and to restore confidence between the farming community and the new department. MAFF has gone and we now have DEFRA. I see the Bill as a real opportunity to give rural communities confidence in DEFRA.

It is totally unreasonable to deny an occupier the opportunity of having access to the evidence that has been submitted to the magistrate. Such evidence will, in many cases, completely change the lifestyle of an individual; we have seen so many cases in which farmers have become totally distraught as a result of foot and mouth. A consequence that flows from that is that natural justice demands that the same occupier should have the chance to respond—that is suggested in the amendment of my noble friend Lady Byford—and therefore the opportunity to put his or her case to that magistrate.

I really do not believe that that is an unreasonable request. This is a perfect opportunity for the Government to demonstrate that they wish to work closely with rural communities. Both amendments are essential and would send the right message. I sincerely hope that the Minister will consider them very seriously.

Lord Greaves: The amendment and the following two groups of amendments are very important parts of the Committee's discussion. The amendments are about what happens when a decision is made, or when a potential decision is made, by magistrates to issue a warrant to a person acting on behalf of DEFRA to go on to a farm or land and slaughter or do other things to the livestock there. Slaughter is the most important issue—people are most concerned about it.

Although an improvement on what exists in the Bill and despite going some of the way to meet what is required, I do not believe that any of these amendments, including the government amendments which we shall discuss later, are adequate. I hope that we can return to the matter on Report.

As I understand it, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, suggests that people should be given the information or sworn

8 Oct 2002 : Column 172

statement on which the magistrate makes the decision at the point when the warrant is exercised and people enter the land. That, it seems to me, is too late. The crucial issue is that addressed by the next group of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford; that is, people should be entitled to make representations to the magistrate before the decision is made. I believe that that can occur without causing a huge delay in the whole process—a matter which clearly concerns the Minister.

However, in order for that to happen, surely the details of any other information provided to the magistrate should be made available to the owner of the livestock before, or when, he makes his own submissions. I believe that under the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, the information would be provided too late so far as concerns that process. I still believe that the information should—

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I did it on purpose. I envisaged the emergency situation. Things have to move quickly in a national emergency. I may have been wrong but that is how I saw it. I believed that the minimum safeguard was that, if the information was made available then, one could say, "No, it's wrong. I'm going to seek emergence". But I quite agree—if one wants to play it the other way round, that is a matter for the Committee. But if one does that, one detracts from the emergency aspect.

Lord Greaves: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was going on to say that, if it were impossible for the information to be provided at an earlier stage, then, as the noble Lord said, as the minimum requirement it should be absolutely necessary for it to be provided at the time the warrant was served. If people want to take further action, they must know on what basis a decision has been made. Without such a provision, I do not believe that the rules of natural justice are being applied.

Baroness Mallalieu: I support what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said. Of all the areas of the Bill which trouble me, this one troubles me most. I am perhaps trespassing into subsequent groups of amendments with which we are about to deal. However, whatever the method and at whatever stage it is done, it seems to me that some way must be found to provide that the farmer or owner of the animals who is on the receiving end of such an order at some stage has all the evidence that is placed before those who make the decision and that at some stage he is given an opportunity to be heard. Perhaps the stage at which that happens is not so important, although ideally it should happen at the earliest possible opportunity. I hope that, in considering this and later groups of amendments, there will come a point at which the Government can say that there are ways in which that can be achieved.

The Countess of Mar: I believe that on the whole in this country we are governed by consent. That consent involves acceptance of the law. One of the big problems experienced during the recent outbreak of

8 Oct 2002 : Column 173

foot and mouth disease was that people were "jackbooting" their way on to people's premises and killing the animals without the consent of the owners.

Contrary to the belief of some noble Lords whom I have heard speaking in this House, most farmers do not regard their animals as goods to be exchanged for money. They build up affection for them. When one has had a herd of Friesian cattle, for example, for 30, 40 or 50 years, one knows every single animal in the herd, one knows all their personalities and one talks to them. To be told overnight that one's animals will all be killed is an extremely shocking experience. We know that that shock still runs through the farming communities where foot and mouth disease spread.

The Bill as currently drafted and, indeed, the new amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, do not necessarily invoke consent in the farming community. I ask the noble Lord to think very carefully about the amendments both in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and in that of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, before he rejects them outright.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: I disagree with the fundamental proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that there is a distinction between emergency and other situations. In my view, if foot and mouth disease breaks out in this country, we have an emergency situation. It does not matter whether it involves 60 premises or one. We need to act quickly and we need to stamp it out quickly by whatever method—slaughter or vaccination—is considered appropriate. Therefore, I do not believe that that distinction applies.

The purpose of the procedure that we have adopted here is to speed up the process whereby, where there is conflict between the stockholder or farmer and the authorities, the authorities can apply to a justice of the peace. Clearly this is a conflict situation and, clearly, in such a situation there is not consent. That is why we must deal with it. In the vast majority of cases, reluctantly and with great trauma in many cases, farmers recognised that we needed to act quickly and therefore entry was granted. However, in a few cases, some of which threatened to hold up effective disease control, entry was not granted. That is a conflict situation.

However, speed is still of the essence. The provisions that I am tabling, first, require the authorities to inform the occupier what is required of him and the reasons for it and, secondly, if he refuses entry, then the justice of the peace must be convinced of the inspector's or the authority's claim.

I do not believe that representations are provided for in any other warrant procedure. Many warrant procedures are subject to far less time pressure than exists when one is trying to stamp out a grotesque disease. Therefore, I believe that building in sworn statements, representation—I know that that comes under a separate group of amendments—or other potential delays is not a sensible way in which to approach the matter.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 174

In our own amendments we have indicated what needs to be conveyed to the occupier and what the justice must take into account when making a decision as to whether or not to grant a warrant. However, I do not consider it necessary to build in a process which would slow down that procedure. As I said, no other warrant procedure requires copies of the information to be provided and, in essence, there is no difference in principle. The justice of the peace must consider all the relevant factors.

It is also the case that the powers provided here have precedence in other enforcement regimes, in particular, in the Food Safety Act 1990, which may be regarded as equivalent to this situation but possibly less fraught in terms of how rapidly one would need to act and the consequences of not acting. Therefore, I believe that precedence, logic and the need for speed rule out the type of provisions which the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, indicate he would like to see.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded that, provided those safeguards were built it, it did not believe there was a serious risk that the provisions of the Bill would be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, either in theory or in practice. The committee suggested one particular way of ameliorating the situation; we have suggested others in terms of what the justice must take into account. The central conclusion of the committee was that, given all the circumstance, those powers are compatible.

In terms of Amendment No. 267 and requiring assistance, we have tabled an amendment to restrict a person from whom assistance is required in those circumstances to those who are keeper of the stock or their employees. The requirement would have to be reasonable.

We have built in many safeguards, but to have another legal turn of the loop, as is required by these amendments, would not be appropriate. It is not required for the procedure to comply with the European convention and could be detrimental to the process of controlling the disease.

Lord Greaves: Before the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, replies perhaps I may ask the Minister about the warrants. Thank goodness I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that generally warrants are for purposes such as search or investigation or for seizing property or for arrest or for such purposes that are not as terminal or as permanent as going on to land and slaughtering livestock. The nature of the action to be taken leads some noble Lords to question whether a normal warrant procedure needs further safeguards built around it in this case. If I am wrong, perhaps the Minister can take advice and tell me of circumstances where warrants are issued that are analogous to entering a farmer's land and slaughtering all the sheep or cattle.

The Countess of Mar: I notice that Section 16 of the Act relates only to vaccination. Therefore I do not feel as strongly about these amendments because the

8 Oct 2002 : Column 175

animals will not be killed instantly. In relation to later amendments, where there are slaughter powers, I shall be more concerned. It seems that there can be slightly different requirements for vaccination-only purposes as opposed to slaughter requirements.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I take that point. It was within my concept of the flexibility of the code of practice, the code of procedure or form of amendment. I quite agree that there has to be flexibility as to how the matter is operated. I am grateful for the contribution on warrants which is absolutely right. There is a fundamental distinction between a warrant for the slaughter of a herd of animals and an ordinary warrant. I must not take the time of the Committee because it is totally apparent from the speech of the Minister that he will not budge an inch. He is going to stand by his attitude, which has been typical in relation to this Bill, and tough it out. I shall not take the time of the Committee today, but I shall test the opinion of the House on another occasion if I am given leave, for which I ask, to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 212:


    Page 3, line 25, at end insert—


"( ) Any person given notice under subsection (5)(b) shall be entitled to present sworn information in person or in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant."

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 212 could have been linked with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, but I felt strongly that he had an additional point to make and if he wished to divide the Committee I did not want my amendment to fall with his. To a certain extent we debated this matter on the previous group of amendments. This amendment comes with backing from the farming community who strongly feel that there should be a chance to have,


    "present sworn information in person or in writing",

put before the justice of the peace. Some noble Lords may remember that in the foot and mouth outbreak some farmers were threatened and hassled to allow their animals to be killed and in a couple of instances I believe that some animals were culled by mistake because the department made a map reading error.

These amendments are not tabled lightly, nor without sincerity. I shall take no more time at this stage as I want to hear whether the Minister has anything additional to say. I note the good contributions made by noble Lords. My feeling is that these issues are so important that I do not wish to put them to a vote at this stage, but I want to hear what the Minister has to add. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: As I indicated, this amendment, along with the provisions proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, would slow down the process. I do not believe that a sufficiently strong case has been made in this situation, as distinct from all other warrant-granting situations, for providing for representations

8 Oct 2002 : Column 176

to be made. Reverting to the previous debate, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that no other warrant proceedings are quite the same as this. I suspect that that is true in the sense that animals are not slaughtered, although I would need to make a thorough assessment of all previous law, much of which goes back many centuries. However, in the economic sense there are equally draconian measures that can be carried out in terms of warrants. Businesses can be closed down as a result of the grant of a warrant under the legislation to which I referred—the Food Safety Act 1990. One can take measures that would close down a business just as much as one would close down a livestock farmer by slaughtering his flock or herd. So I do not believe that the precedent is made.

Reverting again to the previous debate, my noble friend Lady Mallalieu asked for representations to be allowable at some point. Representations are allowable; they are allowed not to a judicial body but to the district veterinary manager and that would be at the point where the initial decision was being queried. The stockholder is not entirely without the ability to make representations under our procedures. The whole situation will be governed, when the Committee adopts, as I hope that it will, the amendments that we have tabled on the issues to be taken into account by the justice, on the procedure for issuing the initial notice and, when I lay the amendments, on the protocol governing slaughter. There are all those restraints on the way in which we carry out the measures. To override those and to build in another legal diversion that would slow down the process when all those safeguards will be built in could not only be detrimental to disease control but would also undermine the real interests of the farming sector.

Baroness Mallalieu: We are not dealing with animals that are infected or that are dangerous contacts, but animals in the firebreak situation. What delay does the Minister envisage being caused by providing a copy of the evidence that will be presented to the magistrate and telling the farmer at what time the application is to be made? How much time will be lost by putting that safeguard into the process?

Lord Whitty: In this context we are not dealing with the sworn evidence, but with representation. Representation and the legal right to representation brings with it the right to have time to take legal advice on the representations and to have a reasonable time to draw up the facts. That in itself is a potentially delaying process and it could be argued that failure to provide adequate time for those representations would be a delaying process. It is wrong to say that that does not lead to delay. One cannot instantaneously provide for an effective means of representation without envisaging the possibility of delay. Therefore, any legal rights to representation would potentially bring that danger.

5.30 p.m.

The Countess of Mar: I am sorry that the noble Lord seems unable to grasp the thread that has run through

8 Oct 2002 : Column 177

every single objection to the Bill; that is, that the animals whom human beings love and have bred for years are not the same as, for example, a cheese store. The noble Lord prays in aid the Food Safety Act. I have been directly concerned—not personally—with two cheese businesses which have been closed down under the Food Safety Act by these very provisions.

A farmer losing his stock is very different from a cheesemonger losing his cheese stock, which can be replaced quite easily and to which there is no sentiment attached. It is the emotional connection between the farmer and his animals which requires the Bill to be much softer than the harsh terms of, for example, the Food Safety Act. Will the Minister take on board that the problems with the foot and mouth outbreak arose because people were jackbooting into farms, upsetting the farmers and not understanding their concern for their animals? That is why we have objected so strongly to the Bill.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I shall of course read Hansard carefully. I am shocked. I think that the Minister is saying that the situation is such that there is no time to have any regard to the rules of natural justice under the law. I have never heard such a proposition in any sense. But I shall read Hansard carefully. If that is the attitude of the Government on this issue, it will be a very serious matter. I have never heard it suggested, even in these circumstances, that there just is not time to give anyone the information or the chance of an emergency hearing. I cannot accept that a Bill in that form could pass through this House.

Earl Peel: Perhaps I may refer the Minister back to the letter he wrote on 25th September. He has been dogmatic in his response. As my noble friend said, he has clearly given the impression to the Committee that he has no intention of giving at all on these amendments. Yet, within the annex of that letter, there was an indication from the Minister that the two specific problems that we are discussing would be considered by the Government. At that time he was being a little more pragmatic. Clearly, something has happened between the writing of the letter and his addressing the House; I wonder what it is.

Lord Whitty: The letter indicates a number of safeguards we propose to build in plus—referred to in the annex—the proposition that we should have a protocol on the procedure for slaughter. That is different from giving a right to representation in every case where proceedings are adopted. To return to the point made by the noble Countess, clearly no one who was involved with this disease could walk away from it without recognising the extreme trauma that many farmers and others went through in the eradication of it. It is also regrettably true that the failure to control the disease at various points during the epidemic, both in this and in other countries, led to far more problems and animal owners suffering by the consequent slaughter of their animals than would have been the case had disease control measures been effectively

8 Oct 2002 : Column 178

carried out. That is why we seek to speed up the process. It is to protect the large number of farmers who potentially might be affected.

The provision requiring sworn statements was dealt with in the previous group of amendments. That would be a delaying factor. The provision that we should have a legal right to representation, which we are dealing with in this group, could be an additional delaying factor. One can see the consequences of that, in terms of the slowness in controlling the disease, would be much more trauma, distress, animal disease and economic damage. That is why we propose these changes. We are not suspending natural justice; we are trying to build in reasonable requirements on how both the officer and the magistrate carry out their roles. But we are trying to avoid the possibility of building in delay and thereby undermining the whole disease control effort.

The Countess of Mar: In order to get matters into perspective, can the noble Lord remind the Committee in how many cases where court proceedings were either threatened or invoked during the recent foot and mouth disease did the animal owners concerned have animals which were eventually infected by foot and mouth disease?

Lord Whitty: I have given that figure several times and the noble Countess has queried it several times. It was not the number of cases that ended up in court, but the number that were delayed by people thinking that they had the ability eventually to go to court. In most cases people either eventually complied or the local vets looked at the situation again as is provided by the representations to the DBM and changed their minds. In some cases changing their mind was the wrong thing to do because some of their farms also ended up being infected.

I am perfectly prepared to write to the noble Countess and give her those figures again. But the issue is not how many ended up in court but how much of a delay was built in because people thought they could eventually go to court and avoid the culling of these animals.

Baroness Byford: I have to say that I think that is a thoroughly unsatisfactory answer to a very genuine debate on these two amendments. Members of the Committee will understand why I was very concerned that at this stage we would not be looking to put them to a vote. The Minister in his response said that he did not think there was—I cannot remember his exact expression—enough emotional weight to it. For goodness sake, we can all raise our voices and speak a little louder. I ask the Minister not to be under any illusion that we in this Chamber—and I suspect many outside—feel bitterly disappointed with the debate that has just taken place. At this stage I do not intend to push the matter to a vote. However, I strongly urge the Government to reconsider their responses in the light of what has been said in the Chamber today. I cannot give the noble Lord a stronger warning than that. I am very serious. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 179

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo): Before calling Amendment No. 212A I have to inform the Committee that if this amendment be agreed, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 213 to 222 under the pre-emption rules.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 212A:


    Page 3, leave out lines 28 to 37 and insert—


"(5) The second condition is that each of the following applies to the occupier of the premises—
(a) he has been informed of the decision to seek entry to the premises and of the reasons for that decision;
(b) he has failed to allow entry to the premises on being requested to do so by an inspector;
(c) he has been informed of the decision to apply for the warrant.
(6) The third condition is that—
(a) the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent and (in either case) notice of intention to apply for the warrant has been left in a conspicuous place on the premises, or
(b) an application for admission to the premises or the giving of notice of intention to apply for the warrant would defeat the object of entering the premises."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 212A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 233A, 235A, 245A, 254A, 262A, 279A, 283A and 292A. The amendments deal with some of the qualifications to which I referred in the earlier debate. Their purpose is to ensure that in future disease outbreaks we are able to take swift and rapid action but, at the same time, introduce safeguards substantially to reinforce the conditions under which a warrant can be awarded.

Taken as a whole, the changes satisfy the need to ensure that the powers are subject to a rigorous and transparent test of reasonableness and that the overall balance—this is a balance of public interest—takes proper account of the rights of the farmer.

The provisions in Amendment No. 212A spell out clearly how the officer in the first place carries out the giving of notice. The subsequent amendments add to that in terms of the issues that a JP has to take into account. I shall not say any more at this point since these are the safeguards that I have been referring to over the past half an hour.

Baroness Byford: I am sorry again to be unhappy with the proposed words; I accept the Minister's genuineness in trying to table an amendment that we all find satisfactory. I have three comments to make about the amendment. I object to the third condition in new subsection (6). It refers to,


    "notice of intention to apply for the warrant has been left in a conspicuous place on the premises".

I find that totally unsatisfactory. Who defines what is a conspicuous place? Someone may enter the premises and unwittingly move the notice. The Government must table a much better worded provision. Other amendments suggest that the notice should be given to

8 Oct 2002 : Column 180

the person whose property it is or the person who looks after the animals. The wording of the amendment is most unsatisfactory.

Will the Minister explain further the choice of words in proposed new paragraph (b):


    "object of entering the premises"?

Premises can be anything. As the Minister will be aware, many farmers have had to diversify to keep their heads above water. So in properties, other businesses will operate freely and independently that are nothing to do with the farmer concerned, but there is no definition of what premises the Government seek to include.

Before I move on, Amendment No. 235A states:


    "A warrant issued under subsection (3) must be executed only at a reasonable hour".

We have discussed hours and tabled many different amendments about them, but here again we have an amendment that states, "a reasonable hour". It would help the Committee enormously if the Minister would respond to those three queries. I am most unhappy about the first.

Lord Greaves: I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. Clause 6(6)(a) and (b) are of most concern. Paragraph (a) states:


    "the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent".

What does that mean? Does it mean that the person does not live on the premises concerned? Perhaps he owns two farms at either end of the village but everyone knows where he is—he has not absconded and is not an absentee in a real sense but is simply not present on the premises concerned. It requires much tighter wording to allow for the case in which people reasonably know where the person is although he is not actually present. Otherwise, in circumstances of panic, chaos and, in many cases, a desire to get on with the job—as happened during the recent foot and mouth outbreak—it is easy for people to go by the words written on paper, not the spirit behind them. So the provision must be written more tightly so that people cannot abuse it simply because someone who is present in the village or area of the land is not on the premises. That is one concern.

Our second concern relates to new paragraph (b), which states:


    "an application for admission to the premises or the giving of notice of intention to apply ... would defeat the object of entering the premises".

Obviously, if a raid is conducted on premises where it is suspected that drugs are being kept, people do not give notice or go to a magistrate to return later because the suspects will have gone and will have taken the stuff away. Everyone knows that under most circumstances in which warrants are issued, people go to hammer on the door—or, more likely, they take one of those fancy new machines that hammer the door down.

We are not discussing such circumstances. It may be that it is suspected that people may remove their stock—that appears to be what the provision covers. They may have a dozen sheep, put them in a van and

8 Oct 2002 : Column 181

drive them away, so that they are lost. I cannot imagine that that will happen often, but it may in some circumstances. In that case, the paragraph should spell out rather more clearly what is covered. Otherwise, what does the provision mean and in what circumstances does the Minister think that it may be invoked?

Having said that, and sharing the concern of the noble Baroness about those two paragraphs, which need to be reconsidered, we welcome the movement that has been made in the wording of the earlier new subsection in the amendment and the subsequent amendments linked to it in the group, in which the wording than that proposed before. It is improved, clearer and fairer. A little progress has been made and it would be churlish not to thank the Minister for achieving that. But paragraphs (a) and (b) still give rise to great concern. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, we ask the Minister to reconsider them to try to achieve an improved wording between now and Report.

5.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: I am also worried by new subsection (6)(b), in which we look into a black hole of ministerial subjectivity. I share the understanding articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the provision is presumably to be written into the Bill in case the occupier absconds with the stock, barricades the place or takes some other action that would impede the visit of the inspector. But if that is possible in any case, it may be possible in every case. The clause could perfectly well be invoked to say, "We shall never give notice because it is always a possibility that the chap will have made off with the stock or will barricade the place so that we cannot get in."

The chances of exploiting new subsection (6)(b) are enormous and potentially dangerous. Of course, a few rogues may behave like that, but the provision should not be written into the Bill. It is extremely dangerous to allow it to be invoked by anyone at any time. Perhaps I am being pessimistic; but I have learnt from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that I must not be optimistic.

 

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Perhaps I may return the compliment to the right reverend Prelate. I was just wondering what was happening to me when he suddenly came out with that wonderful phrase, "a black hole of ministerial subjectivity." Then I understood: I had a sense of falling, falling and never coming to a stop. I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate.

The Countess of Mar: Like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I appreciate the Minister's attempt to soften the provision; I have been critical of the Minister on other provisions. But I, too, am concerned about new paragraphs (a) and (b). For example, what happens if the person is out shopping or working? We discussed in relation to the part of the Bill covering scrapie the question of premises being unoccupied.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 182

Perhaps the Minister can help us by telling us what sort of situations he envisages falling under new paragraph (b). The police already have powers to prosecute anyone who moves animals during an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. If it is already known that animals are on the premises—which presumably it will be if a warrant is applied for—and inspectors turn up at the premises and no animals are present, the owner or keeper can be prosecuted for moving them. So what other situations does the Minister envisage? I should be grateful if he would tell the Committee.

Lord Carter: Could my noble friend the Minister deal with the interesting point made by the right reverend Prelate in his response? I heard the phrase "black hole of ministerial subjectivity". I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil—and others, too, perhaps—thinks that every Minister spends all his time in a black hole of ministerial subjectivity. I can assure him that that is not the case—in this Government, at least.

It would be helpful if my noble friend could confirm that all Ministers are subject at all times to a public law requirement to behave with reasonableness and proportion. That is an important point. If they do not behave in that way, they are subject to judicial review. So, it is not feasible that Ministers would exploit the proposed subsection (6)(b) in the way suggested by the right reverend Prelate. If they did, they would be in breach of their obligations under public law.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: That tempts me to intervene. I had the impression that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, had been earning point after point of merit from the Government during the passage of the Bill for the marvellous and gallant way in which he has saved them from almost impossibly bad argument. Now, he has said something that runs contrary to the spirit—if that is the right word—of the Bill. The words, which will be inscribed in Hansard, will also be inscribed in my memory; I shall be tempted to use them again and again.

Lord Carter: If I have behaved in that way, it was certainly not in the hope of promotion.

Lord Whitty: My noble friend Lord Carter makes a point that is an essential qualification to all the concerns that have been expressed about paragraphs (a) and (b). In general, the rest of the amendments have been welcomed.

Not only is the Minister obliged to behave reasonably and not descend into the black hole into which the right reverend Prelate tempted us, but his officers are also required to do so in the circumstances. They must reasonably ensure that, if there is nobody there, they have made every effort to find the most conspicuous place to leave the notice and ensure that they arrive at a time at which it could reasonably be expected that the occupier would be there. That goes back to the other point, in the later amendment, about reasonableness. At an earlier stage of the Bill's

8 Oct 2002 : Column 183

passage, we discussed whether it was correct to identify certain hours as reasonable for office workers and for farmers. We take that point about reasonableness, and that is why it must apply to farming practice and to the hours thought likely to be kept by the occupier. Throughout, we must behave reasonably.

That also applies to the definition of premises. There is no point in having access to premises that have nothing to do with the carrying out of the vaccination, culling or blood testing covered by the powers included at various points in the Bill. Reasonableness runs through it all. Despite the deep suspicion that several noble Lords expressed about the motives and behaviour of departmental staff, we are all subject to the reasonableness criterion.

Most concern expressed related to the proposed new subsection (6)(b). Regrettably, there will, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, be a few rogues about. Some will try, if they get too much notice of the matter, to use the notice of application for warrant to avoid the implications. That might mean moving the animals around, or it might mean some other means of preventing the application of disease control measures. We must provide for that in the Bill, but, again, reasonableness applies. We could not, as the right reverend Prelate suggested, treat every farmer as being likely to use the notice of application for warrant as a reason for trying not to comply with the law. That is not the normal behaviour of the farming community. However, for a particular case, for which there was prior intelligence or previous behaviour that indicated that it might happen, it would be reasonable for an officer to vary the procedure to avoid that result.

I am happy to say to the Committee that we will consider the precise wording of the amendment to see whether there are ways in which we could avoid raising anxieties of the type mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. However, we need a power to vary procedure for cases in which intelligence suggests that a farmer or stockholder might take evasive action, were he to receive early notice of an application for warrant. That is why proposed subsection (6)(b) is there. However, as with all the other provisions, it is, as my noble friend Lord Carter said, subject to the requirement to behave reasonably.

Baroness Byford: I ask the Minister to pay particular regard to proposed subsection (6)(a) and to how officials will notify people. I am unhappy with the phrase "conspicuous place on the premises". As I said, there are, sometimes, 10 or 15 businesses in one highly developed area. What if somebody left a message for somebody else in the wrong building or left a message for the wrong person? Of all things, that provision should be tightened up. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: The Minister said that an officer or inspector—I cannot remember which—could vary the power. Those were his words. That goes almost to the heart of the problem, as it relates to the

8 Oct 2002 : Column 184

exercise of the power. I do not object to the creation of the power; we need it for a national emergency. It is the exercise of that power that worries me. Can the Minister consider how that relates to flexibility and the way in which it is administered? It is not a difficult concept, but it is difficult to draft.

Lord Jopling: It seems to me that, if the Minister's amendment is accepted, several amendments later on the list will fall. One of those is Amendment No. 216, which stands in my name. In it, I have suggested that it might be sensible for details of the time and place at which a magistrate will deal with an application to be given to the occupier so that he might have the opportunity to make representations at that time. The law should not run its course behind closed doors.

Will the Minister consider amending his amendment on Report, so that it incorporates something on the lines of Amendment No. 216 that will give the occupier of premises the opportunity to know where and when the application is to be made? Surely, it is only fair that someone whose premises are to be taken over should have the opportunity to hear the case before the magistrate and to make representations if he feels that it is unfair. This is my only opportunity at this stage to raise that matter. I realise that my amendment—or something like it—cannot be made, if the amendment that we are debating now is agreed to. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us whether on Report he would give a fair wind to a similar amendment to his amendment.

6 p.m.

Lord Whitty: Although I had thought that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, was ever present at this debate, he was probably not in the Committee when we previously discussed representation. I would not be prepared to accede to an amendment such as his Amendment No. 216—which, as he rightly said and the Deputy Chairman of Committees indicated, would fall were this group of amendments to pass—for the reasons I have spelt out before.

Any right of representation runs a risk of slowing down the process and is unprecedented in other forms of warrant application. There is no good reason—indeed, there are good reasons in the opposite direction in terms of the need for speed and the effective carrying out of disease control measures—why normal warrant procedures should be varied in this case. I would therefore not be inclined to accept the noble Lord's amendment were we not to pass Amendment No. 212A and go on to debate it. I regret to say that neither am I prepared to table a further

8 Oct 2002 : Column 185

amendment in that respect. The other safeguards I have built in, plus the protocol we propose, in my view provide adequate safeguard.

Lord Jopling: I am grateful to the Minister. I am sorry that I was not in my place when the issue was discussed earlier. I had to attend a Select Committee upstairs.

Baroness Byford: Will the Minister indicate how many amendments will not be taken if we accept the amendment currently under discussion?

Lord Whitty: It is not entirely a matter for me. The Deputy Chairman of Committees read out the amendments that could not be taken were this one to be passed. They are Amendments Nos. 213 to 222. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 213 to 222 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 223:


    Page 3, line 37, at end insert—


"( ) If animals are mistakenly slaughtered, the farmer shall receive compensation at a level of 100 per cent of the full market value immediately prior to slaughter plus interest from that day at base rate plus 5 per cent."

The Countess of Mar: Before the noble Baroness speaks to her amendment, surely we have worked out everything up to the end of line 37 in the Bill? Amendment No. 223 refers to line 37. Should we not be on Amendment No. 225, which refers to page 4, line 4? I am sorry to correct the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

Baroness Byford: I hope that I am technically correct in continuing because I am trying to make an insertion. With the increasing sophistication of testing methods and the fact that a great deal of livestock will probably be dealt with by on-farm testing, the chances for error other than human error will be greatly reduced.

It is a widely accepted rule that anyone who suffers due to negligence or mistake of another must receive adequate compensation. Even this formula would hardly cover in this case the value of the animals and the loss of production. The Government obviously believe that farmers have to be goaded into behaving in the way the state wishes. I am sure that the Minister does not really believe that, but that is the feel outside the Committee.

It appears that the Government wish to believe that their servants are always perfect and behave impeccably. I am sure that most of them try to do so, but the truth is that few farmers have to be goaded and a few state servants have to be restrained. That is why the amendment has been tabled. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: We wish to support the amendment. If animals are mistakenly slaughtered, which has occurred in the past, farmers should receive compensation to the level of 100 per cent of the full market value under the amendment's conditions.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 186

There is nothing worse to learn from farmers and their families that their stock has been mistakenly slaughtered: it is a feeling of absolute despair. The amendment can never mitigate that feeling but it at least provides some redress. It is essential to this legislation.

Lord Whitty: While I appreciate that we have strayed into slaughter vaccinations in previous debates, this amendment relates specifically to slaughter. Clause 6 is about vaccination. Whatever the merits of the argument, the amendment is in the wrong place. I hope I need say no more to the noble Baroness for her to withdraw it and perhaps resubmit it in the right place.

Baroness Byford: I apologise to the Committee if it is in the wrong place, and particularly to the noble Countess; she was right and I am wrong. I will come back at another stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 224 and 225 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 226:


    Page 4, line 5, at end insert—


"(b) such equipment as he thinks necessary."

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 226 and the related amendments seek to make clear what an inspector is entitled to take on to the premises. They are needed in order to permit expressly an inspector to take any equipment he requires on to the premises. Although it may be presumed that an inspector may carry relevant equipment, there is in theory potential for dispute over whether an inspector can carry equipment into premises unless we specify in the Bill that he is entitled to do so. The amendments are for the avoidance of doubt. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before calling Amendment No. 227 I have to inform the Committee that if it is agreed to, I will not under the pre-emption rules be able to call Amendments Nos. 228 to 232.

[Amendments Nos. 227 and 228 not moved.]

Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 229:


    Page 4, line 6, leave out from "land" to "for" in line 7 and insert "to give such assistance as he is capable of giving"

The noble Lord said: I must have stumbled into one of the "black holes of ministerial subjectivity" referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. We have suddenly made a dash: we moved from Amendment No. 212A and the amendments grouped with Amendments Nos. 214 and 219 were missed out. I do not know quite how that happened, but when one is a black hole of ministerial subjectivity, all sorts of terrible things can happen. I am not sure whether it is my fault, the Minister's or even that of my noble friend on the Front Bench.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 187

However, I now have the pleasure of moving Amendment No. 229. Some of my amendments have erred on the side of optimism having regard to the Government's prejudice against reasonableness—I admit that—but this amendment is absolutely reasonable beyond any possible ministerial doubt. I can hope only that the Minister will not dream of allowing to continue on the statute book a clause such as the one we are now discussing whereby a representative of the Minister is entitled to ask for such help as he requires in entering premises. It stands to reason that he ought not be able to expect relief from someone who is quite incompetent to give it. I hope that the noble Lord will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before proceeding further with the amendment, I should inform the Committee that if it is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 230 to 232.

Lord Whitty: The only reason I am not prepared to accept the noble Lord's amendment—which is clearly based on the rather open-ended implications of the clause as it stands—is that the amendments to which the Deputy Chairman referred are my amendments and will do the job better. They restrict the kind of person from whom an inspector can require assistance to an owner or occupier, the person in charge of the stock or a person employed by the stockholder or the person in charge of the stock. That limits considerably the clause as it stands and builds in the fact that, because of the way they are employed, such people would be capable of rendering some assistance to an inspector. We believe that that is a better way of dealing with the matter than the method proposed in the noble Lord's amendment.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I am so sorry. I had not been sufficiently optimistic as to read the noble Lord's amendments. Now that he has told me what they contain, I have the utmost pleasure in asking leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Before the noble Lord sits down, the Committee should consider one point. Of course one accepts what the Minister has said in relation to an owner and employees, but I know of a case which occurred during the previous outbreak of foot and mouth disease where the medical condition of a farmer meant that he was unable to assist in such a situation. As someone who has spent long hours toiling in the fields, I have back trouble, as do other people in the farming industry. Sometimes farmers are physically unable to assist, whether or not they would like to. This is perhaps without, in that sense, the description given by the Minister.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: With the noble Lord's permission, I now beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 188

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 230:


    Page 4, line 6, after "premises" insert "who falls within subsection (9A)"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.15 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before calling Amendment No. 231, I should inform the Committee that if the amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 232.

Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 231:


    Page 4, line 7, leave out "assistance as he reasonably needs" and insert "personal assistance as is reasonably necessary"

The noble Lord said: All the amendments that I had before me to deal with today have fallen. It is a relief to stand up for a moment and to at least participate in the discussion. I would have loved to have participated in some of the discussions which took place earlier, but we have now reached a stage of some repetition. I hope that all the points that have been made have been recognised and will be used. Certainly we shall come back to many of them when we get to Report stage.

This may seem a small amendment because it is a question of word adjustment—that is, to leave out "assistance as he reasonably needs" and to insert "personal assistance as is reasonably necessary". As the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said, there are times during an outbreak of foot and mouth disease when tensions are running high, when there are difficulties in the farming family itself, when there are difficulties between the farmer and the inspector or those who are coming in to take over and be responsible for the removal of stock and so on. We must remember the considerable stress and tension that exists among the farming families, the workers and so on, the minimum amount of labour and therefore the isolation that many suffer.

At such a time, most will not hesitate to co-operate with veterinary inspectors in handling the stock and the equipment that is so essential and necessary at times when speed is of the essence. As the Minister reminded us in the course of previous discussions, assistance and the speed of operation is important—but only as is reasonably necessary. It may seem trivial, but to the people concerned it is a matter of importance. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: While not dissenting from much of what the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, said, again I believe that my Amendment No. 232 is better. Whereas the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, seeks to insert the wording "personal assistance as is reasonably necessary", my Amendment No. 232 seeks to insert the words "may reasonably require". There may be some doubt about the meaning of "personal" in such circumstances and I believe that my wording is better. Taken together with my subsequent

8 Oct 2002 : Column 189

amendments, it deals with the issue more effectively. So while I accept the argument, I do not accept the amendment.

Lord Plumb: It is at least something that the Minister accepts the argument on an occasion such as this. I have a sense of relief that the first time I stand up my argument is accepted. The Minister claims that he would like fewer words than the ones I have suggested. I disagree with him—I have that privilege—in the same way as he disagreed with me over my wording. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 232:


    Page 4, line 7, leave out "reasonably needs" and insert "may reasonably require"

The noble Lord said: As I have spoken to this amendment during the discussions on the previous two amendments, I beg to move it reasonably formally.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 233 and 233A:


    Page 4, line 8, at end insert—


"(9A) The following persons fall within this subsection—
(a) the occupier of the premises;
(b) a person appearing to the inspector to have charge of animals on the premises;
(c) a person appearing to the inspector to be under the direction or control of a person mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b)."
Page 4, line 10, at end insert—


"( ) If the inspector enters any premises by virtue of a warrant issued under subsection (3) he must at the time of entry—
(a) serve a copy of the warrant on the occupier of the premises, or (if the occupier is not on the premises)
(b) leave a copy of the warrant in a conspicuous place on the premises."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 234:


    Page 4, line 11, leave out "month" and insert "week"

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 234 is a precise amendment which seeks to ensure that warrants will remain in force for a week rather than for a month as it presently stands in the legislation. Given that the diseases with which we are dealing are all infectious diseases, clearly if we cannot deal with a situation within hours, or at least one day, there is something radically wrong if it has to lie for one month. We believe that the amendment will help to speed up the process, which is what the Minister desires. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: Although it may be desirable to carry out most of the actions the ministry is being empowered to carry out within a week, at the height of

8 Oct 2002 : Column 190

an epidemic it may well not be able to do so. The amendment would mean an additional delay in terms of reapplying for a warrant after seven days.

The one-month validity of the warrant procedure is standard in all other warrant arrangements. For the reasons I have stated, I do not see an overwhelming reason to vary that—although I agree that the objective must be to carry out the action in significantly less than a week if we possibly can.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I thank the Minister for that reply. It would depend on how effectively the authorities carried out what was desired in the warrant during that time period. The legislation should be tightened up to ensure that effective speed is of the essence. I note what the Minister says. I know the protocol in relation to normal warrants lying there for one month. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 235:


    Page 4, line 12, at end insert "and the warrant shall be dated by the justice of the peace"

The noble Baroness said: My noble friend has just won the argument with the Minister. I hope to do more than win the argument. I hope to win my amendment.

In seriousness, we discussed this matter yesterday and I do not understand why the Government do not accept the amendment. It is surely basic that a warrant should be dated by the justice of the peace who signs it. We do not want warrants lying around without a date on them. In my opinion all warrants should be dated, and I am sure that most are.

My only doubt concerns the point at which they are dated. Without being a member of the police force or working in the courts, it is difficult to prove that the dating of warrants is ever open to conjecture. There are, however, persistent tales of warrants being applied for, obtained and held undated until required.

Our concern is simply to ensure that in matters relating to the Bill any warrant issued is dated at the point of signature. It is, we believe, immaterial whether the date is added to the form as part of its production process or whether it is added by the magistrate during the signing process. All that matters is that it should be he or she who signs the relevant form. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I totally agree with the amendment. It is entirely logical—indeed essential. If a warrant is not dated, it will make it extremely difficult to administer.

The Countess of Mar: Can the Minister confirm the legal situation in regard to magistrates signing warrants? In a different context, I have seen a warrant signed by a magistrate where the details were left for whomsoever was concerned to fill in. I was frankly appalled. So, even if the normal practice is for a

8 Oct 2002 : Column 191

magistrate to sign and date a warrant—which I imagine it is—there should be a reference on the face of the Bill.

Lord Jopling: The amendment proposed by my noble friend has broad support on all sides of the Committee. The noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench has supported it, and we have heard support from the Cross Benches.

I hate to say this to my noble friend, but I do not think that the wording of her amendment follows her argument. She said that a magistrate should date a warrant when he signs it. The amendment does not state that. As I read it, it leaves it open for a magistrate to sign the warrant and date it at a different time.

I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. It seems eminently sensible. Perhaps we can return to it on Report. If the amendment could be changed to the effect that the warrant should be dated by the justice of the peace at the time of signing, that would seem to fulfil the words that my noble friend used. I hate to argue with her because my admiration for her is unbounded; however, I believe that that would be an improvement. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, agrees.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I strongly agree that this type of rider should apply in this case. After all, in relation to a previous amendment the Minister spelt out the desirability of a warrant lying for a one-month period. It would make the situation far more precise if the magistrate not only signed the warrant but dated it as well.

Lord Whitty: My advice is that this amendment or any similar provision is unnecessary. It is already general practice. It is not specified on the face of other Acts containing references to warrants that the magistrate shall date the warrant, or that anyone shall date it, at the point at which it is granted. That is the practice.

I hear what Members of the Committee say about the matter. I shall re-examine it. I do not think that the wording of the amendment would cover all circumstances in any case. I need to double-check the legal advice—which is normally: if a provision is unnecessary, do not include it. If that is indeed the case, I shall need to report back. I take some of the arguments that clarity as regards the length of time and the date from which a warrant should run could be quite important. I shall examine the matter again.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister. I am grateful also to my noble friend Lord Jopling. He rightly points out something that we missed. I indicated our intention and I apologise that we have not defined the amendment tightly enough. I thank the Minister for his response and look forward to his proposal.

He referred to current practice, but the feeling on all sides of the Committee is that we are dealing with something slightly different from a commodity or

8 Oct 2002 : Column 192

whatever else a warrant may concern. Any help that the Minister can give to reassure those who are likely to have their animals killed would be of great benefit. It would be a great addition to the Bill. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 235A:


    Page 4, line 12, at end insert—


"( ) A warrant issued under subsection (3) must be executed only at a reasonable hour unless the inspector thinks that the case is one of urgency.
( ) In relation to any premises to which entry is obtained by virtue of a warrant under this section the Secretary of State must retain for a period of not less than 12 months beginning with the day after entry—
(a) a copy of the warrant;
(b) a copy of any record of the steps taken to effect entry to the premises and the actions taken on the premises by the inspector and any other person entering the premises with him."

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

 

The Countess of Mar: We must remember that the amendment refers to vaccination. I therefore question the first subsection:


    "A warrant issued under subsection (3) must be executed only at a reasonable hour unless the inspector thinks that the case is one of urgency".

In relation to vaccination, surely issuing the warrant "at a reasonable hour" is enough. I cannot foresee any situation in which such a warrant should be issued in the middle of the night. I ask the Minister to reconsider this provision in the light of the whole Bill. I cannot see that a state of urgency would arise requiring a warrant relating to vaccination to be issued at some unearthly hour.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: If we are to adopt pre-emptive vaccination as a key disease control measure, I envisage circumstances in which failure to gain access could jeopardise the whole vaccination strategy in a firebreak situation. For example, during the last outbreak, we contemplated vaccination when the disease appeared to be moving in the direction of the pig population of the East Riding. Had we engaged in a firebreak vaccination, the plan could have been undermined if we had missed significant premises because a person was not available at a particular hour. Admittedly, in most circumstances, vaccination would not be quite as urgent as culling. However, in some circumstances it might be, which is why the emergency override is included.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 236:


    Page 4, line 15, at end insert "unless there are mitigating circumstances"

The noble Baroness said: I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 266 and 294, because they, too, deal with adding the insert, "unless there are mitigating circumstances". Upon examination, the

8 Oct 2002 : Column 193

paragraph is an extremely bold and bleak statement. For example, if I, the inspector, demand that you, the Minister, the occupier of the land and the keeper of pigs, help me to round them up and you refuse, you are committing an offence. However, when asked to help, you could be trying to keep a sick horse or dog alive until the vet arrives, helping an elderly relative who has fallen, or be fresh from the accident and emergency department after having fallen yourself. Regardless of the circumstances, I, the inspector, have demanded assistance and you have refused and so an offence has been committed.

I do not think that the Government intend that to happen as a result of the Bill. We talked about reasonableness, and the noble Lord may refer me back to that. However, I hope that the Minister can take on board the five additional words that are proposed.

Amendment No. 264 is an alternative response, for which the general argument is the same. However, at this stage I wish to move Amendment No. 236, and the same argument applies to Amendments Nos. 266 and 294. I beg to move.

The Countess of Mar: I support the noble Baroness's amendment. It goes to the heart of what the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, was talking about earlier.

I think immediately of my neighbour, who is now well into her 90s, but, when she was well into her 80s she and her sister, who is year younger, kept a flock of sheep. Both were crippled with arthritis and unable to go out and about. People in the village helped them with their sheep whenever they needed it. My neighbour and her sister were able to keep an eye on the animals, but, when they needed help with them, they had to ring someone else. Although they were the keepers of the animals, they would have been unable to help with them. Those and other circumstances that the noble Baroness mentioned need to be taken into account, and it is not reasonable to expect elderly people to tend a flock of sheep. I urge the Minister to take that into account.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Even a few hours ago, I would have hoped that the Minister would accept this reasonable and modest amendment, which was so charmingly moved. The Minister said earlier that reasonableness runs through all of this. I hope that his dictum is of general application. Am I misquoting him? I thought that I heard him say that just now—I woke up, so great was the shock. I hope that his wonderful statement was not so narrow in its focus as to be almost meaningless. I cherish the hope that it has a broad application. I cannot believe that the Minister would be so obstinate—I almost said pig-headed—as to refuse the amendment.

Lord Carter: I am afraid that the noble Lord has overlooked the fact that a few moments ago we accepted an amendment to include in the Bill

8 Oct 2002 : Column 194

"assistance as he may reasonably require". It is already included in the Bill, so the noble Lord should be very happy indeed.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: I support the amendment. Six miles from where I live in North Yorkshire, during the last foot and mouth disease outbreak, a farmer's son-in-law, in his 40s, died from a heart attack while rounding up a flock of sheep. He should not have been rounding up the sheep. That example shows that in some cases people should not carry out certain activities. I hope that the Minister accepts this reasonable amendment.

Lord Jopling: I strongly support this amendment. Subsection (12)(a) states that a person commits an offence if he is required to give assistance under subsection (9). We have included in subsection (9), through Amendment No. 233, which we have already agreed, the occupiers of the premises.

Modern agriculture involves far fewer people working on the land, so many farmhouses are occupied by people who have nothing to do with farming. If an inspector asks for assistance from someone who is the occupier of a farm but who has nothing to do with the farm, he falls under this provision. If an inspector asks a farm house occupier who is disconnected from agriculture for help with cattle or sheep, under the Bill as it now stands, that person would be committing an offence if he refused. It would be a perfectly fair mitigating circumstance if that person said, "I am only the tenant of the farmhouse; I have nothing to do with the farm; I have never had anything to do with cattle, sheep or pigs, and I am sorry, but go and find someone else to help, because this has nothing to do with me".

The same might apply to premises formerly used as farm workers' houses on a farm holding, of which there are many. It is important to include a provision to let a person off committing an offence if there are mitigating circumstances. I hope that the Minister will accept that.

Lord Carter: Perhaps the noble Lord has not looked over the page at the rest of Amendment No. 233. Paragraphs (b) and (c) meet his point. There is reference to,


    "a person appearing to the inspector to have charge of animals on the premises".

There are alternatives to the occupier. Paragraph (a) is not the only provision in the amendment. Paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) need to be considered together.

Lord Jopling: I am very sorry to say to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that the amendment says:


    "The following persons fall within this subsection—


    (a) the occupier of the premises".

That is what I have been talking about. I was not referring to paragraphs (b) or (c). I was applying my argument entirely to paragraph (a) under Amendment

8 Oct 2002 : Column 195

No. 233. I am trying to exempt those who may have no connection to the animals on the premises. I therefore support my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Carter: Amendment No. 233 refers to "the following persons", so each of them is caught: the occupier, the person in charge of the animals or a person under the direction or control of the occupier or the person in charge.

The Countess of Mar: That is where the noble Lord has made a mistake. He used that little word "or", which does not appear in the Bill.

The Earl of Onslow: I support the amendment. I shall speak from a small amount of private experience. I have a few sheep at home. Because we live in Surrey, I also have some stables, which are rented. Those stables are part of my premises. Is the inspector entitled to ask a 14 or 15 year-old girl to round up sheep for slaughter? If she says no, will she be committing a criminal offence? That is what the Bill appears to say. I think that such a young lady—or her parent or guardian or somebody left in local charge—would have mitigating circumstances for saying no. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, there are many occupiers of agricultural premises who are only indirectly associated with agriculture, or even not associated at all. What about somebody who is staying in a farmhouse on a B&B basis? There are a lot of those, particularly in the Yorkshire Dales, where the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, lives. The Government plead reasonableness to avoid their own affairs being put into the Bill. I do not understand why they will not allow others to use reasonable excuse. That is double standards. It is a great pity and does not do credit to Her Majesty's present advisers, but I suppose there is nothing I can do about that.

Lord Monro of Langholm: I should have thought that the Government would jump at the opportunity of an escape clause. We do not want to make people commit offences when there is a perfectly good reason why they should not be involved. The amendment sensibly suggests that there could be mitigating circumstances. The prosecuting authority would not prosecute if there were mitigating circumstances. They would say that it would be a waste of court time, police time and everybody else's time. The amendment would be a valuable addition to the Bill on the issue of alleged offences.

The comments of my noble friends Lord Jopling and Lord Onslow about people on the land who may have nothing to do with the farm should be followed up. People should not be walking about farms during a foot and mouth epidemic, but nowadays, when there is so much encouragement for people to walk on farms or wherever they want to go, they could be walking across a farm and then be eligible to assist in rounding up cattle under the Bill. It would be ridiculous for them to be involved.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 196

This simple amendment would surely be a valuable escape route for those who are not involved in the farm and should not be prosecuted under the Bill.

The Countess of Mar: It might also be helpful if we had a definition of "premises". I have looked in the Animal Health Act 1981, but it contains no such definition. The Government could help to clear the issue up in relation to the change of agricultural usage of land and buildings by tabling an amendment on Report with a definition of "premises".

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Surely the issue of holding number, which has not been addressed, is related to the points that have been made.

Lord Whitty: The circumstances that the noble Lord, Lord Monro, and some others have described clearly could not apply now that we have passed Amendment No. 233. As my noble friend Lord Carter pointed out, all this is subject to Amendment No. 232, which we have just passed, which says that officers and inspectors "may reasonably require". It would not be reasonable for them to require a stable girl to round up cattle or to require a stockbroker who had bought a farmhouse to go out and round up sheep. It would also not be reasonable to enter premises that had nothing to do with animals.

I shall probably regret waking up the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, but this strain of reasonableness is not only my general assertion; we wrote it into this part of the Bill about half an hour ago. The courts and those contemplating bringing prosecutions are used to assessing whether people have behaved reasonably. If we put in mitigating circumstances, there will be all sorts of suggestions as to what such circumstances might be. Relying on reasonableness, as we have agreed to do, is the most appropriate way of dealing with the issue and will meet virtually all the anecdotal concerns raised in the past 20 minutes.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I must make it clear that the noble Lord did not wake me up. He jolted me for a moment into a happier and better world.

The Earl of Onslow: Amendment No. 232 says that the inspector "may reasonably require". The person whom he reasonably requires to do it may equally have reasonable reasons and mitigating circumstances why it would be totally wrong for him to do it. We are talking about those who have reasonable reasons for not carrying out a reasonable requirement because there is somebody else to do it. That is a logical progression.

Baroness Byford: I do not think that the Minister wants to come back again on the amendment. I thank all those who have contributed to this important section of the Bill. I always take the Minister to be a reasonable man, but on this occasion I am not happy with his response and I beg leave to test the opinion of the Committee.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 197

6.48 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 236) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 85; Not-Contents, 110.

Division No. 1

CONTENTS

Addington, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Arran, E.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Avebury, L.
Barker, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Blatch, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Byford, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Craigavon, V.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Dundee, E.
Elton, L.
Ferrers, E.
Fookes, B.
Fowler, L.
Geddes, L.
Gray of Contin, L.
Greaves, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Hereford, Bp.
Hooper, B.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Inglewood, L.
Jacobs, L.
Jopling, L.
Kilclooney, L.
Kimball, L.
King of Bridgwater, L.
Kingsland, L.
Lindsay, E.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Lyell, L.
MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Mallalieu, B.
Mar, C.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Monson, L.
Newby, L.
Northesk, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
Onslow, E.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Plumb, L.
Portsmouth, Bp.
Razzall, L.
Rennard, L.
Renton, L.
Roper, L.
Russell, E.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Selsdon, L.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taverne, L.
Tope, L.
Trumpington, B.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Walpole, L.

NOT-CONTENTS

Acton, L.
Ahmed, L.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Bhatia, L.
Billingham, B.
Blease, L.
Borrie, L.
Bragg, L.
Brennan, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter, L.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Crawley, B.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Filkin, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Gavron, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Golding, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Grenfell, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Islwyn, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jeger, B.
Jones, L.
Judd, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lipsey, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mitchell, L.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Nicol, B.
Orme, L.
Parekh, L.
Patel, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Puttnam, L.
Radice, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rea, L.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sawyer, L.
Sheldon, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Temple-Morris, L.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Turnberg, L.
Varley, L.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Williamson of Horton, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 198

7 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 237:


    Page 4, line 15, at end insert "without good reason"

The noble Lord said: This amendment addresses an issue that arises in new subsection (12) on page 4 of the Bill. First, however, I should like to express some uncertainty about the Bill's political correctness. The subsection states that,


    "A person commits an offence if ... he is required to give assistance and ... he fails to give it".

The "person" seemingly can only be male. I know from the 2001 outbreak, however, that some of the most feisty contestants were female farmers who made their point very clearly indeed. Perhaps the Minister will consider changing the wording to "the person ... is required" and "the person ... fails to give it".

In this amendment we seek to change the wording of paragraph (b) so that the new subsection states:


    "A person commits an offence if ... he is required to give assistance and ... fails to give it without good reason".

There may be many good reasons why assistance cannot be given, and it would be extremely harsh if good reasons were not taken into account. We believe

8 Oct 2002 : Column 199

that the amendment would be a perfectly good addition to the paragraph. It is a small but necessary adjustment. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: Many of the arguments that I deployed in relation to Amendment No. 236 apply to this amendment. Given that the authorities are required to act reasonably, they can only require reasonable action on behalf of farmers and others. If the farmer has "good reason", it will not be reasonable for the officer to take action against that reasonable farmer. In this amendment, as with "mitigating circumstances", we are in danger of repeating something that is already both implicit and explicit in the Bill—the requirement on the officer to act reasonably. I am therefore not prepared to accept the amendment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: The amendment would make a very precise addition to the provision, requiring good reasons for acting. Although we could discuss the definition of "reasonableness" and "reasons" I shall not detain the Committee with such discussion. I have heard the Minister's comments, and I realise that they will be on the record. I shall therefore expect the Government to interpret the provision as the Minister has explained it. Nevertheless, I regret that he has not accepted this amendment which is a small but necessary addition. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 238 not moved.]

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 [Slaughter: power of entry]:

 

Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 239:


    Page 4, line 17, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: The noble Lord on the Front Bench just now inspired us all with new hope when he said that reasonableness ran through the whole matter. Those words are so welcome coming from that source that I feel that one ought never to lose an opportunity to repeat them just in case they were only a dream.

I hope that the noble Lord's reasonableness will come to my aid in what I now seek to do. Subsection (1) of new Section 62A states:


    "An inspector may at any time enter any premises for the purpose of—


    (a) ascertaining whether a power conferred by or under this Act to cause an animal to be slaughtered should be exercised".

I know that the statute book is absolutely packed full of the most inelegant, ugly and awful language. I hope that the noble Lord will stir himself and his officials to see whether it would be possible to put this point a little more simply. That is all that I ask in this amendment.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 200

I refer also to Amendment No. 240. There is no need for me to detain members of the Committee for any length of time as I know how anxious they are to get on to the next business. Subsection (1) of new Section 62A further states:


    "An inspector may at any time enter any premises for the purpose of— ... (b) doing anything in pursuance of the exercise of that power".

What on earth do the words "doing anything" mean? What does the Minister contemplate that the inspector might do that makes it necessary to entitle him to do anything? That is a reasonable question. I do not think that I need to repeat it. It seems to me that the Minister is obviously shaking his head in bewilderment as he does not know the answer. However, I hope that he may be able to explain why that particular subsection is necessary. I repeat the words,


    "doing anything in pursuance of the exercise of that power".

What on earth is the Minister contemplating? I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes): I should inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, Amendments Nos. 240 to 262A inclusive cannot be called by reason of pre-emption.

Lord Plumb: I speak in complete support of my noble friend Lord Peyton on this issue which, as he said, constitutes a small alteration but a very meaningful one for the people concerned. My noble friend set the tone well and we shall remember this debate. As has been said, reasonableness has run through it. I have tabled an amendment which deals with the same kind of issue. Therefore, I shall not move it when we reach it as the matter is already covered. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will take note of some of the points that we have raised. We shall certainly take note of them. If he disagrees with them, we shall bring them back at a later stage. The matter we are discussing is of particular importance. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will accept the small amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Peyton which is nevertheless of considerable importance to many people who look forward to reading a report that states, "We understand the problems that you face".

Lord Carter: I am not sure that I have understood the matter but I believe that the noble Lord inadvertently seeks to remove virtually the whole of Clause 7. Amendment No. 239 states,


    "Page 4, line 17, leave out subsection (1)".

We have been told of all the amendments that would be pre-empted were that amendment to be accepted. I believe that the noble Lord meant to refer to line 19 of subsection (1). However, the amendment is tabled in such a way that, were it accepted, it would remove the whole of subsection (1) and would also nullify subsection (2). I am not sure what the noble Lord has

8 Oct 2002 : Column 201

in mind as such a process would wreck the whole of the clause. However, he may have a case to argue as regards the wording of line 19.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Wrecking the whole clause would be a matter of comparative indifference to me. I would lose no sleep over that. Indeed, it would give the Minister every opportunity to bring back something more elegant at the next stage. However the noble Lord reads the amendment, perhaps I may make it clear what I am objecting to. I would like to delete subsection (1)(a). I also ask the Minister to explain what subsection (1)(b) is about.

Lord Carter: In the amendment that the noble Lord has moved he is following the wrong line. We can have the discussion, if my noble friend agrees, on the point which the noble Lord is making.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: The noble Lord need not bother about this at all. I am exceedingly broad minded. All the noble Lord has to do is to say that if he believes my amendment is badly drafted he will return without hesitation at Report stage and move something which he knows will be satisfactory to me and to Members of the Committee.

Lord Whitty: I was well aware that the noble Lord is broad minded, but I thought for one moment that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, were being excessively modest by saying that it was a small amendment. As it stands it deletes the totality of the slaughter powers in the Bill, which is a pretty immodest amendment. In this context one would be forgiven for using the term "wrecking amendment" because the provision is a major pillar of the Bill.

It may well be that the noble Lord can sleep easy in doing that. However, it is not what he intended, as I understand it. I would have to resist that proposal entirely. One cannot do that and at the same time accept the broad conclusions of the Anderson and Follett reports, and the Government's response to those reports, as indicated in the Bill. There is no way in which the Committee could accept this amendment without recognising what it is doing.

I address the points which the noble Lord was making in terms of the reduced form of his amendment and not what is described in the Marshalled List of amendments. I believe that he is specifically objecting to Clause 7(1)(b), which states,


    "doing anything in pursuance of the exercise of that power".

I could say that it means what it says. It does not mean that an inspector can do anything. He can do anything which enables him to carry out the powers of slaughter in this context. It is the same form of words as regards the powers for vaccination or blood-testing. It does not mean that the inspector has carte blanche to do absolutely anything, but to carry out the powers conferred on him by the Bill and by the Animal Health Act. I suspect that that is not a satisfactory explanation for the noble Lord, but that is all the words mean. They are no more sinister than that. In

8 Oct 2002 : Column 202

any case, the amendment as it stands would leave such a colossal hole in the Bill that I would have to advise the Committee strenuously to reject it.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I am very tempted to take the opportunity of being destructive. The Bill deserves to be destroyed. Nevertheless, I am sufficiently broad minded and I do not want to put the Minister to endless trouble to revive this horrible creature should I do it mortal harm. However, I would be very content if he accepted my regret that by a slip of the pen I went slightly further than I had intended. I am quite prepared to say that. Other people have done much worse things in your Lordships' House and from the Minister's Bench, too! I am prepared to be reasonable. I withdraw the amendment in the constant hope that the noble Lord will look at the clause to see whether it should be tidied up and made a little clearer. I do not like the provision of "anything he wants to do" in a Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 240 and 241 not moved.]

7.15 p.m.

Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 242:


    Page 4, leave out lines 23 and 24 and insert—


"( ) In this section and sections 62B, 62C and 62D premises excludes dwelling houses and buildings being used for non-agricultural purposes."

The noble Lord said: In a sense I believe that this amendment has already been dealt with, but I make no apology in following it through again. In the debate the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and many others made the point as regards dwellings and the effect on them in the event of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. We are well aware of the fact that farmers are encouraged, and many forced, to diversify and therefore many farm buildings have been converted into medium-sized businesses or offices, storage and so forth. That could create an embarrassing situation in the event of a temporary take-over by inspectors or the police.

It is therefore difficult to be precise in law in establishing the fact. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, made reference to the fact that it is those in charge of the animals who are in control. When there is tension on the farm and one is surrounded by people who are carrying out their respective roles in different buildings, it becomes difficult for entry and for people to know what their position is. Others are isolated. It is difficult to be precise in law on this issue. We have to register the important problem, which is the growing concern as this development spreads to the farmer and the occupier of the building. I beg to move.

The Countess of Mar: I support the noble Lord's amendment. I have already suggested to the Minister in an earlier debate that there is a definition of "premises" which goes some way to sort out the

8 Oct 2002 : Column 203

problem. It might be better if we had a definition section in the Bill which included this word. I support the noble Lord.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I also support this amendment. One of the sadder impacts of the economic situation in the countryside is that many farmhouses have now been sold off and do not have anything to do with the farm itself. Their occupiers are non-agricultural and very often they have some of the farm buildings as well. I believe that this amendment defines those kinds of situations. I fully support it.

Lord Whitty: I understand what is said in this amendment. I have a piece of paper which tells me that this matter has already been covered, but I have temporarily lost it. It indicates that there is a definition of "premises" in the Bill. The premises in this context are those which are relevant to the purposes of the warrant. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to use powers to enter premises which do not house animals or which it was not necessary to enter in order to carry out the purposes of the warrant, be it for vaccination or slaughter.

Obviously, there may be some complications to that in that private houses may house animals, but access to them would have to be reasonable and proportionate. Any houses which were not concerned with animals and therefore with the purposes of the warrant, would not come within the definition in Clause 7 of the Bill, which is the closest we come to a definition of "premises" for the purposes of this Bill.

This additional provision would cut across that although it is attempting to achieve the same purpose. The matter is already covered by the Bill as it stands.

The Countess of Mar: We have one or two definitions of "premises" in the Bill. There is a reference in the scrapie section of the Bill which states,


    "premises includes any land, building or other place".

As regards infected premises, there is reference to premises constituting an infected place at a given time as that which is in force in the notice. I believe that that was the reference to which the Minister was speaking. We need a tighter definition. I shall be grateful if the Minister will take this matter back and look at it.

Lord Plumb: Perhaps I may express my support for the remarks just made by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and add the following suggestion for the Minister's consideration. In an effort to be helpful, I should point out to the noble Lord that Amendment No. 242 states:


    "In this section and sections 62B, 62C and 62D premises excludes dwelling houses and buildings being used for non-agricultural purposes".

I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will reconsider the matter and ensure that such buildings are included. Otherwise, as the years go by, this will develop into an ever-growing issue. Although we shall return to this

8 Oct 2002 : Column 204

matter on Report, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in the hope that the Minister will look again at the matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 243:


    Page 4, line 28, after "satisfied" insert "and having heard representations from the owner and keeper of the livestock should they choose to make them within the given timescale,"

The noble Lord said: After the word "satisfied" in Section 62B(1) of the 1981 Act, this amendment seeks to insert the words,


    "and having heard representations from the owner and keeper of the livestock should they choose to make them within the given timescale".

It is most important that such representations should be allowed and that a timescale should be established within which they could be made.

As I am on my feet, I hope that it is in order for me to speak also to the other amendments under this grouping which are tabled in my name and that of my noble friend. Perhaps I may begin with Amendment No. 250, which seeks to insert in new Section 62B(4)(c) of the 1981 Act the words,


    "after due effort has been made by the inspector to establish contact with the owner if he is away from the premises".

Without such wording, it seems to us that forced entry into premises would be the order of the day and could cause an animal to be slaughtered. It is obviously common sense that every effort must be made to contact the owner of the premises.

Amendment No. 253 seeks to substitute the word "week" for the word "month" in relation to the length of time that a warrant can remain in force. We have already debated this issue in a different context and stated that that is the period we wish to see in the legislation. I stand aside as regards Amendment No. 256, because it has been jointly tabled with the Conservative Opposition. I am sure that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will wish to be involved in the moving of that amendment.

Amendment No. 277 contains the same wording as Amendment No. 243. It addresses the power of a warrant to authorise a veterinary inspector to enter premises, if necessary with reasonable force, in order to take tests and samples. The amendment seeks to ensure that the owners of the premises must be given a chance to make representations. We believe that they have a fundamental right to do so.

Amendment No. 288 refers to new Section 62F(4) of the 1981 Act, which requires,


    "any person on the premises",

to help in the process of taking tests and samples. Our amendment would ensure that only the owner and employees could do so, not "any person". Finally, Amendment No. 295 relates also to the taking of tests and samples. At present, the Bill states:


    "A person commits an offence if",

he or she fails to give assistance in the process of taking tests and samples. This amendment returns us to what has been playing on the gramophone, so to speak,

8 Oct 2002 : Column 205

most of the evening; namely, the words "without good reason". It seeks to ensure that someone commits such an offence only if he fails to give assistance "without good reason".

I apologise to the Committee if I seem to have jumped the gun as regards the amendments to which I have just referred. However, they all fall within the group headed by Amendment No. 243, which is the main amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I have no objection to the noble Lord speaking to all these amendments at this time. They were grouped with Amendment No. 243, and many of them follow a progressive theme. However, most of them have already been mentioned in earlier debates. In relation to Amendment No. 243, we are dealing with representation to magistrates. I do not wish to rehearse that ground at great length, but I believe that the provision of rights to representation could undermine the whole disease control approach and that the other built-in safeguards are preferable.

Amendment No. 250 returns us to the question of whether inserting words like "due effort", "mitigating circumstances", or whatever, would improve the general requirement of the inspector and the officers to act reasonably. Before they determine that the owner is uncontactable, they must have acted reasonably in order to ascertain whether or not the owner could be contacted or when he or she would return. If the matter ever reached the courts, that would be taken into account. All that seems to me to be subsumed under the general duty to act reasonably.

I believe that we have debated the issue of whether the duration of the warrant should be one week or one month. Although I understand the argument, I do not see an overriding need to alter the general warrant procedure that calls for a period of one month. Indeed, one can conceive of circumstances in a really bad epidemic where we would not be able to carry out all the necessary action within the period of one week.

Amendment No. 277 also deals with representation, although it relates to slightly different circumstances. Again, I have outlined why I do not believe the right of representation is appropriate in the context of controlling an epidemic. As regards Amendment No. 288, we made clear in an earlier amendment that the requirement for assistance should be reasonable and limited to the keeper of stock. Therefore, the possibility of asking someone extraneous to co-operate with officials will not arise. Indeed, if we limited it solely to the owner of the livestock, we would be confining the provision even more tightly than is the case with the subsection that we adopted earlier. I do not believe that the proposed wording would improve the words that we adopted under Amendment No. 233.

On the phrase, "without good reason", since officers are required to act reasonably and to take account of other people's reasonable behaviour, the phrase is superfluous. If it were inserted in the proposed place, one would have to put it in all sorts of other legislation and other parts of the Bill. The lawyers and those

8 Oct 2002 : Column 206

concerned with parliamentary draftsmanship would resist that strenuously. I understand what lies behind the amendments but they would not add to the Bill.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I listened to what the Minister said on Amendment No. 243. I still believe that,


    "representations from the owner and keeper",

could be spelt out in relation to a given timescale and that the amendment contains the correct procedure. I note what the Minister said about that and some of the other amendments to which I referred. On his latter remarks and those on Amendment No. 250, the river or stream of sweet reason that seems to be flowing through this debate has again been prayed in aid. In certain circumstances, the matter should be spelt out. In relation to Amendment No. 250, that might involve forced entry into premises to slaughter an animal without contact with the owner of the premises; that is a pretty serious situation with which to be confronted. However, I do not doubt that these matters will arise on Report. In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 244 and 245 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 245A:


    Page 4, line 33, leave out from beginning to end of line 1 on page 5 and insert—


"(3) The second condition is that each of the following applies to the occupier of the premises—
(a) he has been informed of the decision to seek entry to the premises and of the reasons for that decision;
(b) he has failed to allow entry to the premises on being requested to do so by an inspector;
(c) he has been informed of the decision to apply for the warrant.
(4) The third condition is that—
(a) the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent and (in either case) notice of intention to apply for the warrant has been left in a conspicuous place on the premises, or
(b) an application for admission to the premises or the giving of notice of intention to apply for the warrant would defeat the object of entering the premises."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: As that amendment has been agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 246 to 251 by reason of pre-emption.

[Amendments Nos. 252 to 254 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments No. 254A and 255:


    Page 5, line 3, at end insert—


"(6) A warrant issued under this section must be executed only at a reasonable hour unless the inspector thinks that the case is one of urgency.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 207


(7) In relation to any premises to which entry is obtained by virtue of a warrant under this section the Secretary of State must retain for a period of not less than 12 months beginning with the day after entry—
(a) a copy of the warrant;
(b) a copy of any record of the steps taken to effect entry to the premises and the actions taken on the premises by the inspector and any other person entering the premises with him."
Page 5, line 8, at end insert—


"(b) such equipment as he thinks necessary."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving that Motion, I suggest that the Committee begins again not before 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

-------------------------------------------------------

 

Animal Health Bill

House again in Committee on Clause 7.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): I have to advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 256 is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 257 to 262 due to pre-emption.

Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 256:


    Page 5, leave out lines 9 to 11.

The noble Lord said: We have already discussed this issue at length. We have covered the amendment, but I would like to hear the Minister's response. I speak also to Amendments Nos. 259 and 261 with which it is grouped, although we spoke to Amendment No. 259 in the group with Amendment No. 231. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I wholly concur with the noble Lord, Lord Plumb. We have already covered a

8 Oct 2002 : Column 224

great deal of this territory. The amendment relates to assistance, which we have covered from all angles. I too am anxious to hear the Minister's response.

Lord Whitty: I regret that even now I have little new to say. We have already dealt with the issue at some length. The amendment we agreed to earlier meets some of the anxieties behind it and is a reasonable basis for proceeding.

Lord Plumb: I thank the Minister for his brief reply. My question was also brief, but we were so involved in this issue earlier. We also discussed it at considerable length when debating the scrapie Bill. Since we still have to consider a number of amendments this evening, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 257 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 258:


    Page 5, line 9, after "premises" insert "who falls within subsection (3A)"

Then noble Lord said: I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 259 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 260:


    Page 5, line 10, leave out "reasonably needs" and insert "may reasonably require"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 261 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 262 and 262A:


    Page 5, line 11, at end insert—


"(3A) The following persons fall within this subsection—
(a) the occupier of the premises;
(b) a person appearing to the inspector to have charge of animals on the premises;
(c) a person appearing to the inspector to be under the direction or control of a person mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b)."
Page 5, line 11, at end insert—


"(3B) If the inspector enters any premises by virtue of a warrant issued under section 62B he must at the time of entry—
(a) serve a copy of the warrant on the occupier of the premises, or (if the occupier is not on the premises),
(b) leave a copy of the warrant in a conspicuous place on the premises."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 263:


    Page 5, line 17, leave out "(proof of which shall lie on him)"

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 263, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 299.

This is very much a probing amendment. It is not clear whether the phrase in parenthesis in each paragraph governs the word "excuse" alone or whether it relates to "lawful authority or excuse". We take "lawful authority" as being something along the lines of a policeman directing traffic around a road

8 Oct 2002 : Column 225

accident and waving a driver to cross double white lines. On the other hand, "lawful excuse" should surely be defined in the legislation in order for anyone to go to court and to use it as a defence.

I would welcome the Minister clarifying the relationship of the words in the paragraphs and perhaps giving examples of the circumstances under which an occupier of premises may refuse admission by "excuse". Perhaps he will also give examples of how "lawful authority" can be the justification for an occupier to take action which results in the spread of infection, even though he may know that it would do so. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: The intention of the Bill generally is that the inspectors should avoid delay in the entry to premises. Therefore, any reason for preventing them from doing so must have lawful authority. The effect of the amendment would be to shift the burden of proof.

In terms of the importance of the ability to control the disease, it is practical and reasonable to require that the farmer or the occupier should demonstrate the existence of any lawful authority or lawful excuse that he has not to comply with the inspector's requirement, rather than the inspector having to prove that he has been impeded. The effect of the change in the burden of proof would be to hold up the powers that the Bill confers.

As to what are "lawful authority" and "lawful excuse", I believe it is the other way round to the definition given by the noble Lord, Lord Plumb. "Lawful authority" is normally powers given by statute; a "lawful excuse" is one which could be legally proven in court as a reason for not complying with an order. If we go back to "reasonableness", "mitigating circumstances" and so on, that is what "excuse" means. But "authority" would be something that is statutorily based and would be a right accruing to the owner of the property in those circumstances.

Lord Plumb: I thank the Minister for that response. My note states that "lawful excuse" should surely be defined in the legislation in order for anyone to go to court and use it as a defence. There is not much difference between us in regard to the definitions of "excuse" and "authority". I am not satisfied with the Minister's answer. It is a matter of general concern as we discuss the whole question of legislation. I give notice that we shall raise this issue again on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: In calling Amendment No. 264, I should advise the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to I shall be unable to call Amendments Nos. 265 and 267.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 264:


    Page 5, leave out lines 22 to 24.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 226

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 264 addresses the issue of where, under the Bill as it stands, a person commits an offence if he is required to give assistance under Section 62C(3) and he fails to give it. The amendment seeks to delete that part of the Bill.

Under Section 62C(3), which deals with supplementary slaughter,


    "the inspector may require any person on the premises to give him such assistance as he reasonably needs for the purpose mentioned in section 62A".

As the Bill stands, a person will commit an offence if, when required to give assistance under Section 62C(3), he fails to give it. The amendment, in effect, seeks to delete such an offence.

The Minister has taken a draconian power in this respect. It would be better if he accepted our amendment to ensure that a greater degree of fair play occurs when any person is asked to give assistance in these circumstances. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Byford: Our names are attached to this amendment alongside those of noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches. We very much support the amendment. We seem to be coming full circle, as the noble Lord indicated. The amendment is very important. If the Minister is not able to give a satisfactory answer today, I hope that he will take the matter away and give some thought to the strength of feeling there is in regard to this amendment.

The Countess of Mar: Unlike the amendments related to vaccination, I wholeheartedly support the amendment. It is tantamount to torture to expect a man or a woman who has raised cattle, sheep or pigs, or even goats—we have not mentioned goats; as a goat-keeper I am very concerned about goats—over a number of years to be there while their animals are being slaughtered. It is awful. I ask the Minister to withdraw this particular part of the Bill. I should be grateful if he would think carefully about that.

Lord Whitty: It would be impracticable to remove this power. In nearly all cases where slaughter is involved there will need to be a rounding up of animals. It is difficult to envisage how personnel coming onto a farm would be able to do so without the assistance of the farmer or someone who works on the farm. While recognising the very difficult circumstances in which people found themselves, in the vast majority of cases the farmers or those working on farms co-operated and provided that vital assistance. It was only in a minority of cases that that did not take place. Were the inspector to have no power to enforce that assistance—which is all that is provided for in the clause—we could find ourselves in a situation whereby far more premises were not dealt with effectively.

The demands on the farmer must, of course, be reasonable. Officials will have to act within reason. There are limits to their requests regarding what is necessary to carry out their task. I know there have

8 Oct 2002 : Column 227

been reports that there have been requests to make cups of tea and all kinds of extraneous activities, but that is not the case. The requests would have to be reasonable and in support of the task to be carried out. The offence created in the clauses is intended as a deterrent in order that resistant and uncooperative owners should recognise that, at the end of the day, the inspectors do have the power. We would require them to operate it reasonably and expect them to operate it tactfully. One is aware that during the last outbreak there were situations where neither of those requirements operated, but, legally speaking, we are making sure that inspectors do act reasonably and confine requests to what is needed to carry out their duties. To remove the ability to enforce that and thereby deter unreasonable resistance would again be to undermine the disease control measures.

 

The Countess of Mar: Speaking personally, I should be much happier making cups of tea for the inspectors than having to round up my animals and watch them being slaughtered. I speak from personal experience. You build a bond with your animals. That applies particularly to people with small herds. That is where the Minister's department found difficulties during the recent foot and mouth outbreak. Much of the conflict occurred with owners of small herds or flocks. That is where particular tact is needed. With a small herd, for heaven's sake, it is quite easy for someone else to come in and round up the animals and leave the owner to make cups of tea for the officials. That would be much better.

Baroness Byford: Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may raise a couple of points in addition to those raised by the noble Countess, Lady Mar. She touched on the fact that she is a keeper of goats and would find it very difficult were she asked to help with their slaughter. She referred to small herds. There is also the question of those who have rare breeds.

Rare breeds are very specific. In our earlier discussions the Government recognised their importance. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who is presently not in her place, spoke about those who keep stock for breeding purposes. It is traumatic enough to lose your own animals, but there is a slight difference between an animal for commercial purposes which you have for only a short amount of time and one with which you work in establishing a high-quality breeding herd. It is important for the Government to bear that point in mind.

On this point, what does the Minister think will be covered by subsection (2) of the proposed new Section 66A that will not be covered in subsection (1)?

Lord Whitty: The proposed new subsection (1) deals with impeding entry to the premises. Subsection (2) deals with the issue that we are discussing; namely, rendering assistance.

Baroness Byford: My reading of the subsection may not be right. As I understand it, in subsection (1):

8 Oct 2002 : Column 228


    "A person commits an offence if without lawful authority",

he does any of the three things listed in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). Secondly, he commits an offence if,


    "he is required to give assistance under section 62C(3), and ... he fails to give it".

I should have thought that his actions would already have fallen within the provisions of paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) in subsection (1). The noble Lord shakes his head.

Lord Whitty: He may accede to admission, but then refuse to give assistance. The first provision deals with an attempt to prevent an inspector entering the premises in the first instance; the second provision deals with a refusal of reasonable assistance to an inspector who has entered the premises.

The Countess of Mar: In response to the noble Baroness, I should be prepared to let someone into my premises, but I should not be prepared personally to take part in rounding the animals up and seeing them shot.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Examining the responses to this series of amendments, one sees that the situation is extremely difficult. For example, Amendment No. 264 is three-dimensional. The amendment seeks to leave out lines 22 to 24. Those lines contain a reference to new Section 62C(3), which contains a reference to new Section 62A. When you get to new Section 62A, you see that,


    "An inspector may at any time enter any premises for the purpose of ... ascertaining whether a power conferred by or under this Act to cause an animal to be slaughtered should be exercised, or ... doing anything in pursuance of the exercise of that power".

The noble Countess and the noble Baroness rightly mentioned specific circumstances where this is effectively a humanitarian issue—it relates to whether you can stomach rounding up your animals to be slaughtered. We all know of cases where members of the family—young children, for example—have pet lambs which have to be rounded up and slaughtered. That is a terrible thing. Children understandably become devoted to an animal that they have reared. Indeed, the Young Farmers Movement began by rearing calves. I recollect that it started in 1938 to 1940 with "calf clubs", with youngsters rearing young animals.

There are very sensitive issues under discussion here. To allow this provision to remain in the Bill is abhorrent—I use the word advisedly. Unless you have seen the circumstances and have had to do this, it is difficult to understand what you are asking people to do. It is a humanitarian issue and I ask the Minister to consider that point. Clearly we cannot press the amendment to a vote now, but I hope that when the Bill returns for its Report stage the feelings that have been expressed will have been taken into account. I hope that in some way these powers can be less malign than they are at present. I have no alternative in the circumstances but to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 229

[Amendments Nos. 265 to 267 not moved.]

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 268 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Tests and samples: power of entry]:

[Amendments Nos. 269 to 271 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 272 to 275:


    Page 5, line 36, leave out "during that period"


    Page 5, line 37, at end insert—


"(c) whether any causative agent of disease is present on the premises."
Page 5, line 39, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"


    Page 6, line 3, at end insert—


"(3A) Causative agent includes any virus, bacterium and any other organism or infectious substance which may cause or transmit disease."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 276 to 279 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 279A:


    Page 6, leave out lines 14 to 23 and insert—


"(3) The second condition is that each of the following applies to the occupier of the premises—
(a) he has been informed of the decision to seek entry to the premises and of the reasons for that decision;
(b) he has failed to allow entry to the premises on being requested to do so by an inspector;
(c) he has been informed of the decision to apply for the warrant.
(4) The third condition is that—
(a) the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent and (in either case) notice of intention to apply for the warrant has been left in a conspicuous place on the premises, or
(b) an application for admission to the premises or the giving of notice of intention to apply for the warrant would defeat the object of entering the premises."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 280 to 283 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 283A:


    Page 6, line 25, at end insert—


"(6) A warrant issued under this section must be executed only at a reasonable hour unless the inspector thinks that the case is one of urgency.
(7) In relation to any premises to which entry is obtained by virtue of a warrant under this section the Secretary of State must retain for a period of not less than 12 months beginning with the day after entry—
(a) a copy of the warrant;
(b) a copy of any record of the steps taken to effect entry to the premises and the actions taken on the premises by the inspector and any other person entering the premises with him."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 284 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 285:


    Page 6, line 30, at end insert—


"(b) such equipment as he thinks necessary."

8 Oct 2002 : Column 230

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 286:


    Page 6, line 32, leave out "on the premises" and insert "biologically susceptible to the disease"

The noble Baroness said: Yesterday, we debated Amendment No. 211, a very similar amendment in which we asked the Government to consider the position of those animals that were not susceptible to infection with foot and mouth disease. We are anxious that nobody should decide to use slaughter backed up by draconian powers of the Bill to eliminate animals or birds that may or may not have been in contact with infected animals. Scientific theories seem to multiply faster than rabbits, and the speed at which they are taken up and often dropped is both bewildering and frightening. The thought of what might happen, particularly if some of the more exotic diseases made it over here, should ensure that everyone in this Chamber supports the amendment. I hope that the Government will consider the matter and assure me that it applies only to animals that are susceptible to the disease. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

The Countess of Mar: Once again, we have this business of how the Bill appears. This is another clause that has earned the legislation the name the Animal Death Bill as opposed to the Animal Health Bill. I ask the Committee to look seriously at the noble Baroness's amendments. It is the appearance that matters.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I concur with the noble Countess. This is a matter of great concern, and various points have been made during the debate. However, biological susceptibility to disease is a material fact that cannot be ignored.

Lord Whitty: The amendment would prevent the taking of samples from animals that were not susceptible to the disease. As matters stand, the Animal Health Act defines animals in terms of cattle, sheep, goats, swine, other ruminants, and, for a reason that escapes me, elephants. The same applies to this Bill. The Bill does not propose to extend that list, and any extension would be by order. Nothing in the clause extends that list. Nevertheless, it provides a framework for disease control, and non-susceptible animals could be found to carry either foot and mouth disease or another disease to which the legislation is extended. That does not appear to be the case as regards foot and mouth disease at the moment, but it is possible. We do not therefore wish to exclude the ability to test those animals—we are talking about testing rather than slaughter. I therefore think that the provision should remain.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for his response. I have to say that I am no happier than I was with his response to Amendment No. 111 yesterday, about which I am sure he is not surprised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 231

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 287 and 288 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 289 and 290:


    Page 6, line 34, after "premises" insert "who falls within subsection (4A)"


    Page 6, line 35, leave out "reasonably needs" and insert "may reasonably require"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 291 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 292:


    Page 6, line 36, at end insert—


"(4A) The following persons fall within this subsection—
(a) the occupier of the premises;
(b) a person appearing to the inspector to have charge of animals on the premises;
(c) a person appearing to the inspector to be under the direction or control of a person mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 292A:


    Page 6, line 38, at end insert—


"( ) If the inspector enters any premises by virtue of a warrant issued under section 62E he must at the time of entry—
(a) serve a copy of the warrant on the occupier of the premises, or (if the occupier is not on the premises),
(b) leave a copy of the warrant in a conspicuous place on the premises."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 293 to 295 not moved.]

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 296:


    After Clause 8, insert the following new clause—


"CODE OF CONDUCT
The Minister shall lay before Parliament, within six months of this Act coming into force, an order setting out a code of conduct for those entering premises for the purpose of this Act."

The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the Committee, I beg leave to move Amendment No. 296, in the name of my noble friend Lord Jopling, who, regrettably, cannot be with us. I thought that it was particularly relevant to move the amendment at this stage so that the Government could consider it more fully before we meet back again on Report.

My noble friend, in his amendment, asks the Government to insert a new clause requesting that the Minister lay before Parliament within six months of the Act coming into force an order setting out a code of conduct for those entering premises for the purpose of this Act.

We have had several debates about entry. We have reflected on the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001. The noble Lord will appreciate that in some circumstances people felt coerced—perhaps arms were twisted and action may not have been taken in the

8 Oct 2002 : Column 232

most sympathetic fashion. Obviously, we understand that it was an extremely difficult time for those who were trying to deal with the foot and mouth outbreak.

The purpose of the proposed new clause is to ensure that in future we have a code of conduct. I ask the Minister to accept the contents of the new clause.

Lord Whitty: I have already indicated my intention to table an amendment on Report to introduce a requirement to consult on and publish a disease-control protocol, which will cover the issues referred to by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, in his amendment. The protocol will indicate the relevant factors that must be taken into account after taking specific decisions at farm level and will cover many of the matters we discussed. We have just published a draft of that protocol.

In addition, I intend to table an amendment requiring the Secretary of State to publish the reasons for the use of powers more broadly, which will probably deal with the other part of what the noble Baroness was saying.

Rather than accept this amendment, I should prefer to deal with the issue when I table an amendment on Report.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for his response. We are very appreciative that the Government have listened to some of the arguments that were put forward in writing before we were able to move the amendment formally in this Chamber. The Government have given an important undertaking. The Minister mentioned that the Government have produced a draft protocol. Maybe it has not come my way, or perhaps I have seen it and mislaid it.

Lord Whitty: It has only just been published.

Baroness Byford: Then, no doubt, I will see it. The only issue the noble Lord did not address was the request of my noble friend Lord Jopling that the code of conduct should be laid within six months of the Act coming into force. Can the Minister guarantee that?

Lord Whitty: I think I can.

Baroness Byford: In that case, I know that my noble friend will thank the Minister and will be glad to hear his response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 [Inspection of vehicles]:

[Amendment No. 297 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 298:


    Page 7, line 15, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 10 agreed to.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 233

Clause 11 [Deliberate infection of animals]:

[Amendment No. 299 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 300:


    Page 8, line 3, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 301:


    Page 8, leave out lines 4 to 6 and insert—


"( ) No statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (3) shall be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House."

The noble Baroness said: We have already tabled an amendment to add rabies to the list. In light of the report of a bat with low contagion infection at an animal sanctuary, this may be timely. By the nature of this legislation, anything else that may be added to the list will be very serious. It may well have implications for human health. As with foot and mouth, the way in which it is handled may be crucial to its speedy eradication.

It is to be hoped that no government would leave establishing a method of dealing with such a disease until it had been identified in the United Kingdom. It will rather be a case of watching a new bug emerge and deciding that it could present a threat at some time in the future. At that moment, the government in power should open the subject for debate and proceed as a result of an informed consensus by laying it before Parliament for debate. I beg to move.

Lord Carter: In my previous incarnation as Chief Whip I worked extremely hard on departments to make them realise that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in this House is very powerful and that its recommendations should always be followed if possible—and if not, that departments should have extremely good reasons for not following them. The obverse is that when the Committee has no objection to the powers taken in a Bill, be they affirmative or negative, it would be as well for this House to listen to the advice of that committee. I understand that the Delegated Powers Committee has no objection to the procedure that the Government have taken in the Bill.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter. Has the Delegated Powers Committee looked at the Bill recently, since all the new amendments were tabled? Circumstances have moved on. That might have a bearing. Is the noble Lord referring to the committee's original review of the Bill when it was first presented back in November?

Lord Carter: The committee will have considered the provision in the Bill that we now have. It would also have to comment on any order-making powers contained in amendments. This provision was in the

8 Oct 2002 : Column 234

Bill already, so I am pretty sure that the report will be on the Bill as presented to that committee, which is the Bill in front of us.
 
Baroness Byford: I thank the noble Lord. I need to look at the issue again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: In calling Amendment No. 302, I inform the Committee that if it is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 303 because of pre-emption.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 302:


    Page 8, leave out line 11.

The noble Lord said: The next two or three amendments are related. Under new Section 28A, inserted by Clause 11,


    "A person commits an offence if ... he knowingly does anything which causes ... an animal to be infected with a disease".

That is the gist of my concern on this amendment. It is a delicate situation. This sort of thing is rare, but it can happen. The Bill does not say, "if he knowingly causes infection", but if he knowingly does something that in turn results in infection—and not just any infection, but one from the list in Schedule 2A.

I believe it would be possible to obtain a conviction under this heading were a farmer to hear on local radio that foot and mouth disease was suspected three miles away and then move his flock to new pastures almost immediately. I am not suggesting that he would do that; I am just putting forward a hypothetical case.

The farmer may have moved his flock so that it would not be confined to tired grass by a movement restriction, and his peers or the local magistrate may feel that that action went against the spirit of the law. I do not believe that it would be fair or reasonable to punish that man and his family by removing animals about which there is no concern, such as cats, dogs, horses and ponies. I do not think that the law should be so phrased as to allow that to happen. Should a court feel that his crime was so serious that he cannot be trusted to look after any animals, such a ban can still be imposed under the phrase,


    "any animals of a specified kind".

That is our concern about paragraph (b) of new Section 28B(1).

I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 303 to 309. Unenforceable legislation seems to be increasingly common, but banning a farmer from keeping "any animals" has to be one of the best examples yet. The ban will apply to the farmer who has offended against the law. However, farmers live with friends or family, and many of them have children at home. One often expects to see animals even on arable farms. Many farms, particularly those with livestock, have places for keeping animals. However, if a farmer is banned from keeping any animals, what will happen to those that he already has? What will happen to animals on

8 Oct 2002 : Column 235

the farm which are treated more as pets than products? How will anyone prove that a pony ridden by the youngest child but purchased by the farmer belongs to him—if it ever did—in any meaningful sense?

Will those charged with enforcing the ban simply remove all the animals bought by the offender? What about the offspring of animals bought by the offender? Will calves born to a pedigree cow be regarded as the farmer's property? What about the pups or full-grown dogs born to a bitch paid for by the farmer? What if he bought his wife a Siamese cat for their wedding anniversary? He paid for it, but who can prove who owns it in these circumstances?

Paragraph (a) of new Section 28B(1) would be difficult to enforce on a single person living on the 14th floor of a high-rise block. How can we contemplate enforcing it on a farm? It seems ludicrous. Our Amendment No. 303 is an attempt to reintroduce a little common sense.

Amendment No. 304 proposes amending line 33 on page 8, replacing "one year" with "three months". The grounds for finding someone guilty of knowingly doing something that led, or could have led, to a spread of infection range from a misdemeanour to full-blown fraud. Will the Minister explain where the dividing line between the letter and the spirit of the law will be placed? Would a farmer moving newly purchased pigs from the market in Hereford to his farm in Yorkshire be breaking the law if he ignored a radio announcement that foot and mouth disease had been found in Staffordshire, for example, and a movement ban was expected at any moment?

Such an action may be deemed to be covered by the law, but it is very different from, for example, seeking out a source of infection, using it to infect a herd or flock and claiming compensation. However, the punishment for both actions is exactly the same. A year's ban for a farmer would be very difficult. It is rather worse than losing one's licence for 18 months for drunk driving in that, in the latter case, one could employ someone else to drive so that one can work. By reducing the interval before the first application for removal or variation of the order can be made, the serious offender can still be subject to a heavy penalty and the lesser offence can be treated appropriately.

Amendment No. 304 would make a similar amendment to line 36, replacing "one year" with "six months". Subsection (7) of new Section 28B also sets an extremely harsh punishment for a misdemeanour. I have already pointed out the ambiguity of the phrase "lawful authority or excuse". It is unthinkable that someone whose excuse is not believed by the court should be fined, banned from keeping certain animals and then stopped by statute from applying for the ban to be lifted for a further year.

Amendment No. 307 proposes leaving out lines 40 and 42 on page 8. I do not know whether there is a special word for those who abuse and maltreat animals; all I know is that such people are around. I am sure that no one would want to allow them to have anything to do with the control or care of animals. A

8 Oct 2002 : Column 236

complete ban, including being kicked off the management board of the local cats' home, would be thoroughly justified upon conviction in some of the cases brought, for example, by the RSPCA. I have recently had much discussion with that organisation on this very subject.

The range of offences covered by this legislation is wide and the penalty that we are discussing is considered to be draconian. It is unnecessary and it may do the body concerned a great deal of harm. One has to consider the case of the fundraising director of a charity concerned with the care of small animals who lives in a city. He is relatively successful at his job. He goes out to try to persuade some people to donate some money to the charity. He drives over an infection barrier, up a track and into a farmyard. There is no one about so he gets out of the car and walks across to a barn but there is no one there either. Therefore, he gets back into his car and drives away. I do not need to spell that out as it is the kind of situation that can arise. However, under the terms of the Bill, if foot and mouth disease is found on the farm and estate in question, it could be traced to that person's movements. He could be prosecuted and found guilty of the deliberate infection of livestock. He could be banned from keeping any animals of his own and expelled from the board of the charity on which he serves.

Members of the Committee may consider that that example is rather far-fetched. However, one has to consider those kinds of examples to prove the point that if milk tanker drivers and possibly DEFRA officials can enter a farm in such a way, why should not a well-intentioned fellow from a city act in the same way? As regards any Bill, our job is to try to ensure that such scenarios are never punished by the full weight of the law. There has to be a balanced approach to punishment. I hope to hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, assure us that such a nai ve offence would not incur anything like the maximum penalty. I believe that I have covered the matter. I beg to move.

The Countess of Mar: This is one group of amendments with which I have little sympathy. Subsection (1) of new Section 28A states:


    "A person commits an offence if without lawful authority or excuse ... he knowingly does anything".

"Knowingly" is the operational word. It is up to the prosecution to prove that the person knowingly did something. In my opinion anyone who knowingly infects animals commits an unforgivable sin. Therefore, I have no sympathy whatsoever with the amendments.

Lord Carter: I shall say a few words along the same lines. A thread has run right through our discussions on the Bill in Committee. For understandable reasons Members of this House have always been extremely concerned about issues of freedom and civil liberty. I have considered all those matters from the point of view of the farmer who might be caught by the rules. If the rules err a little on the side of severity—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, with his previous incarnation as president of the NFU will understand

8 Oct 2002 : Column 237

what I am saying—we should remember the tens of thousands of farmers not on the farm in question whose livelihoods could be affected if the disease spreads. We can strain too hard at extreme examples where a farmer might be inadvertently caught by the rules. Understandably we are concerned about such cases but we should never forget that the rules are intended to safeguard the livelihoods of tens of thousands of farmers rather than that of an individual farmer who may be inadvertently caught by the terms of the Bill.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I have some sympathy with the points which the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, has put forward. However, I also understand the points which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has just made. I also noted the point made by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, with regard to the word "knowingly". I suspect that some of the examples mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, indicate that sometimes infection is spread not knowingly. If a prosecution is brought in those circumstances, the definition of the word "knowingly" needs to be examined very carefully indeed to ascertain whether the action was committed knowingly. I thank the noble Countess for bringing that point forward; it is extremely important.

Lord Whitty: I, too, am glad to concur with the noble Countess on this point. The word "knowingly" does not cover "inadvertent". It means knowingly doing something which could infect animals and is pretty close to deliberate infection. That is a very serious misdemeanour and, as my noble friend Lord Carter said, potentially it endangers the livelihood of thousands of farmers. It is a very serious offence.

The other concerns as regards Amendment No. 302 are also not valid. There is the reference to "any animals", for example, which the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, was extending to include dogs and cats. The provision relates to animals as defined in the 1981 Act, which are cattle, sheep, goats, swine and other ruminants. It probably includes elephants. Therefore, it does not include dogs, cats and goldfish. It could include farm animals which are kept as pets, but that is a different issue which is dealt with by some of the other amendments with the exception of household pets. Since normal household pets are largely excluded, we are really talking about sheep and calves which are kept as pets. They are susceptible to the disease and they are largely handled by people who also handle other animals. I believe that the exclusion of pets could be a dangerous loophole in the disease control mechanisms. Therefore, I am not prepared to accept the restrictions which are required by a number of the amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, referred to the sentence. Clause 11 refers in the first instance to a sentence not exceeding six months, which is the maximum, and disqualification as regards very serious offences which spread the disease. I believe that disqualification is appropriate and it is also appropriate not to review it within one year. If I understood the noble Lord correctly, he was referring

8 Oct 2002 : Column 238

to driving licences. Normally, they are suspended for one year and the suspension is not reviewed in that period. In some ways it is an even more disastrous offence to spread disease. Disqualification for one year is appropriate and I do not see any reason to reduce it.

I believe that the noble Lord went as far as Amendment No. 308. My remarks relate to those amendments.

Lord Plumb: I thank the Minister for that response. In particular, I thank the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for her remarks. If she or anyone thought for one second that I was defending the indefensible—namely, people who may misbehave by disobeying the law and introduce this horrible disease into their own premises—perhaps I may disabuse them because there is nothing further from my mind.

The reason for tabling these amendments is to try to determine the dividing line between the odd characters who may commit these crimes and the reality for those who unknowingly get into this situation. That is the intention of the amendments rather than trying to protect those who deserve to be brought before the courts. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for his comments in that direction which relate very much to that issue. In the light of the comments which have been made and the Minister's response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 303 to 309 not moved.]

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 310:


    Page 9, line 17, at end insert—


"( ) The Minister shall make orders for the eradication and prevention of the above diseases—
(a) subject to a named institution; and
(b) subject to no order being made unless laid in draft before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament."

The noble Lord said: I have a specific reason for moving this amendment. It refers to Schedule 2A, which contains a long list of specified diseases ranging from foot and mouth disease and swine vesicular disease through to diseases like Newcastle disease and highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the Minister concerned should,


    "make orders for the eradication and prevention of the ... diseases",

set out in the schedule,


    "(a) subject to a named institution; and


    (b) subject to no order being made unless laid in draft before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament".

A similar amendment was discussed last night when mention was made of a named institution. I have a few important points to make in this regard.

Members of the Committee may remember that we had quite a long and rather esoteric debate last night regarding foot and mouth disease, different strains of the disease, how it might be spread, and the types of

8 Oct 2002 : Column 239

buildings involved. I am extremely concerned about the position of a centre of great excellence in this respect in Pirbright; indeed, I believe it still to be an excellent outfit. However, it has been underfunded over many years and has declined in its status as a world reference centre for the study of diseases.

Many unanswered questions remain, for example, about the strains of foot and mouth disease and about the way that they behave. In my view, insufficient research has been carried out; and, indeed, during the 1980s, we had a culture of near-market research. Therefore, if we are talking about eradication and prevention of the disease, it is important for sufficient funding to be made available to enable us to establish another centre of excellence, like Pirbright, which could deal on a world-wide basis with these diseases to ensure that they do not enter this country. Indeed, if some of those diseases listed in Schedule 2A were to arise in this country, it would be the end for our livestock industry in many cases.

We know that some of the strains of foot and mouth exist in certain countries. It would be the function of that named institution, which already carries out such work, to study those strains. If we know that the current strain within certain regions of the world is likely to enter the United Kingdom, its characteristics would be known. Indeed, measures could be taken to ensure that, if it came into this country, the research institution could have in place specified ways to tackle such diseases. That would assist the Government in ensuring that the right measures are put in place. Before the particular strain of foot and mouth disease arose in this country, we did not know that it affected sheep more than any other livestock. Many questions were raised last night as to why pigs were not infected. Some noble Lords pontificated as to why that was the case.

In countries where these strains are rampant there is much knowledge that could be utilised to ensure that, should such strains arrive in this country, we would be ready to deal with them. I am really making a plea for such a named institution, especially the one in Pirbright, to be given the necessary assistance and the additional staffing to enable it to carry out a very important function.

The overall cost of the recent foot and mouth outbreak was, I believe, in the order of just over #5 billion. It would be a good investment to have a real centre of excellence that could anticipate what may happen in this country. That would save everyone—farmers and taxpayers—not only much heartache but also much money, which could be far better used. This is a question of a relatively small investment for a

8 Oct 2002 : Column 240

named institution of excellence, which would assist us greatly in relation to animal health in the United Kingdom.

Baroness Byford: I suspect—

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: I do apologise to the Committee. Such was my keenness to support the noble Lord's amendment!

I suspect that the Minister may not agree to the noble Lord's amendment but I hope that he shares our concern that enough money should be given to research and development and that there should be places of excellence. Members of the Committee will remember that yesterday I discussed the position regarding the facility at Edinburgh University, which has been under threat. We had a meeting about that in the House earlier this summer.

I should have thought that the Government would want to take on board anything that could help to prevent infectious diseases and produce better ways in which to control them or help us to come up with better vaccinations.

Another concern—this involves the future, not simply today's problems—is that if global warming is going to happen, more exotic diseases may come into this country. That reinforces the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. If that happens, I suspect that it would mean that we should see on these shores diseases that had not previously been here. I make this short contribution to underline the sensible approach of the noble Lord, although I suspect that unfortunately the Minister may not respond as favourably as I have done. I wish the noble Lord well.

The Countess of Mar: I, too, wish to support the spirit of the amendment although, like the noble Baroness, I fear that the wording will not be acceptable. There has been a terrible cutback in veterinary training. The Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine has been threatened with closure. That would be a disastrous loss to the United Kingdom.

I shall never forget, during the aftermath of the Gulf War, that when I asked questions about dead animals in the desert, that school came to my rescue by showing that some of the animals had been licking batteries but not those that were in the desert and that those dead animals were not infected with anything.

A senior member of Pirbright, Professor Kitching, has gone to Canada because the facilities at Pirbright no longer provided him with the outlet that he needed. He was an expert on foot and mouth disease. That is another disaster and a great loss to the British veterinary services. If the Minister did another cost-benefit analysis, it would show the huge costs not only in monetary terms but also in souls that the foot and

8 Oct 2002 : Column 241

mouth outbreak has caused. It would pay Her Majesty's Government to resurrect our wonderful veterinary history.

Lord Whitty: I have some sympathy with the comments of the noble Countess, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and the noble Baroness. They said that we need centres of excellence for veterinary medicines, research, diagnostics and testing facilities. That certainly is the case. I am not entirely sure how the amendment would achieve that. The need for centres of excellence and research is spelt out clearly in the Royal Society report, which the Government will have to consider.

Some of the centres of excellence which deal with particular diseases—not only those discussed here but others as well—will probably have to be tackled on a European level rather than by setting up institutes for each one in this country. The unique designation of one disease to one institute may not be the appropriate pattern.

However, the amendment is linked to the list of diseases which relate primarily to deliberate infection. It is not necessarily the appropriate list of diseases for priority research work. I presume that the noble Lord is not suggesting that we devolve other functions from government as a whole to those institutions but simply the research and testing facilities. Therefore, while I have sympathy with what has been said, I do not believe that the amendment will achieve that. In our response to the Royal Society report, we shall clearly have to indicate what we are doing in relation to veterinary research.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I thank the Minister very much for his reply. Obviously the amendment provided an opportunity to make the point about the importance of fundamental research in our quest for the eradication and prevention of diseases.

I simply say to the Minister that, certainly in the past, Pirbright has held a pre-eminent position in tackling animal diseases on a world-wide basis. I believe that there is also a recognition of its reputation in Europe. I do not believe that recent governments have contributed to the decline at Pirbright. However, it still does excellent work, as it did during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease when testing was carried out under very great strain. I know that the staff work their hearts out there. However, had they had more resources, they could perhaps have anticipated matters a little more for the Government and perhaps could have tackled even more effectively the crisis of the recent outbreak.

I accept what the Minister says, but I am sure that he will not forget, particularly in relation to the Royal Society report, the importance of our small debate on this issue. In that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 242

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 311:


    After Clause 11, insert the following new clause—


"OFFICIALS: BIOSECURITY
In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 16—
"16A OFFICIALS: BIOSECURITY
(1) The Minister, or any persons acting on his behalf, shall take all reasonable precautions to ensure that he does nothing likely to cause an animal to be infected with a disease specified in Schedule 2A.
(2) Any person who fails to take such reasonable precautions is guilty of an offence, and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.""

The noble Baroness said: This amendment concerns the officials, the system and the whole question of biosecurity. The Minister will know that, as the foot and mouth crisis ranged at its worst in 2001, we understood and appreciated the tremendous amount of work carried out by members of his department and by colleagues locally who had to face the problem at the sharp end.

Nevertheless, the Bill is aimed only at pointing the finger at the farmers. Nowhere in the Bill—the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—is there any check or balance on officials or on their responsibilities for biosecurity measures. The amendment seeks to attempt to raise the issue at this point in the Bill.

As I have already pointed out, the Bill assumes that farmers, occupiers, landowners and those who deal with animals are necessarily in the wrong and that they deserve severe punishment. However, in practice during the last foot and mouth outbreak, in some areas government officials—never mind many others who entered farms—stood charged of disobeying rules and, on some occasions, of lacking some of the niceties of social behaviour. As Members of the Committee will know, I referred earlier to cases where one or two farmers felt coerced and a little badgered into allowing access to be given or into allowing their animals to be culled.

I am glad that neither the Royal Society nor the Anderson reports blamed people directly for that behaviour or otherwise proved any or all of the allegations made at the time. But I believe the Minister will recognise that a strong feeling existed among farmers, even though, as the noble Lord may say, that may be unjustified. However, in some cases I believe that it was justified. I am quite convinced that there were faults and not just among the farming fraternity.

As the Bill stands there is no means of enforcing behaviour standards on government officials at either national or local levels. Indeed, there is no suggestion that there should be set behaviour standards. Doubtless that is because the Government do not consider that their staff need to be monitored. I hope that is not so. I am delighted to see the noble Lord shake his head. It is strange that in this important Bill, which will protect the health and welfare of animals, there is no guidance or direction to officials and those dealing with an outbreak. I beg to move.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 243

9.45 p.m.

Lord Greaves: I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on raising this important issue. It is right that it should be discussed at Committee stage. I also congratulate her on the rational and restrained manner in which she spoke to the amendment. In many parts of the countryside there is still a great deal of anger at the way in which officials of MAFF and then DEFRA and people working on their behalf were seen to behave during the foot and mouth outbreak. I shall not go through that again as it has been well rehearsed in your Lordships' House and elsewhere. However, the bitterness and the anger—the legacy of the outbreak—remain. That is allied to what is widely seen as a lack of balance in the Bill which the Government still need to address.

Many people and farmers in the countryside do not object at all to the Government seeking ways of tackling any future outbreak of foot and mouth or any other similar disease in a more effective way than before. No one with any brains could dispute that the outbreak should be tackled in a better way than before, particularly in the early stages and in the extremely difficult circumstances at the height of the outbreak in places like Cumbria, where foot and mouth appeared to rage rampant and no one appeared to understand how to tackle it.

One reason why no one understood how to tackle the outbreak—different approaches were tried as time went on—is that no one knew how it was being spread. Even now that remains the case. There is a table in the Anderson report setting out how the virus was spread and 79 per cent of cases are still put down to unspecified local contacts. Rather optimistically in some cases it says that more than one agent was suspected. Another 9 per cent of cases are still under investigation. So for 88 per cent of cases people still do not know how the infection was spread. That is extraordinary and as a result everyone still has their own theories. However, it is quite clear that in the early stages of the disease, but also in later stages when it took hold in the Craven district in the Pennines and at one stage was advancing down the Ribble valley at a horrifying rate and came to within five miles of where I live, people did not know how it was being spread.

Not all the stories that one heard from farms about officials from the department and people working for them galumphing around the countryside in a way that did not accord with any sensible description of biosecurity can be wrong. Some of those stories of people going from one farm to the next and then on to further farms have to be believed. It is quite clear that a great many of those unspecified local contacts—79 per cent or perhaps more of the total—must have been a result of people and vehicles going from one farm to another.

It is quite likely that at least some of those were people working for the Government. Some of the things that I witnessed and stories from quite reliable witnesses about the way in which people went about their work—whether it was testing, killing or removing the carcasses—indicate that biosecurity is not the top

8 Oct 2002 : Column 244

word that one would use to describe what happened in some cases. So there is anger and belief that the Government are now blaming the farmers when at least some of the problems resulted from the way in which their own agents undertook the work.

Therefore, I congratulate the noble Baroness on raising this issue. I am not sure how it ought to be dealt with. I am not sure that this amendment is the right way to deal with it, but certainly Clause 2 seems to refer to any person. We have talked recently in this Committee about the need to penalise people who are reckless in terms of activity that can spread the disease. However, the amendment extends it too far to accidental spread, whether from the men from the Ministry or other people going about their business or doing whatever, so I am not sure that this amendment is the right way. But it highlights the problem the Government still have with many people. There is a fundamental belief that they are not being balanced; that farmers, some of whom no doubt were to blame for what happened, generally were not to blame but are being blamed. It is believed that the Government are not prepared to apply the same standards to their own operations and staff that they apply to everyone else.

I hope that in dealing with future outbreaks that will not be the case. When we see the promised contingency plans and the plans for dealing with further outbreaks, I am sure that we shall have an opportunity to question the Government on this issue. They will tell us that it will not be the same next time, or that best practice from this latest outbreak—there was some very good practice in some places—will be applied everywhere. That is fine. But one still must convince the people out there on the farms that that is the case.

 

The Countess of Mar: I too have much sympathy with the amendment of the noble Baroness. I wonder whether the matter is not covered in Clause 11, where it states that,


    "A person commits an offence if without lawful authority or excuse ... he knowingly does anything".

If people are trained in biosecurity by the department, are told they must apply it, then go on to a farm with foot and mouth disease and do not take precautions when they go on to the next farm, I should have thought that they are knowingly spreading the disease. Therefore, I wonder whether they are not caught in that clause.

Lord Whitty: I do not quite know how to respond to this matter. On the one hand, it is clearly part of the folklore of this disease that staff of MAFF/DEFRA and its contractors were responsible for some spreading of the disease. There is actually no proven case where that happened. The idea that a large proportion of 79 per cent of local spread was down to officials or contractors is nonsense.

Lord Greaves: I am sorry. I was not saying that a large proportion of it was. I am saying that there is

8 Oct 2002 : Column 245

enough anecdotal evidence and evidence from people I trust to indicate that perhaps a small part of it was. That is all I am saying.

Lord Whitty: I thank the noble Lord for clarifying that matter. It is important to recognise that mistakes were made, some corners were undoubtedly cut and some inappropriate people were deployed who probably would not have been had we had a full contingency plan in operation of the kind that we now have. It is also important to recognise that all the staff and contractors of MAFF/DEFRA were under the code of conduct of biosecurity precautions. No doubt there were lapses, but it is not the case that the Government took no responsibility for their staff or other people employed by the organisation.

Nor is it the case that the Bill points the finger to say that it was entirely the farmers' fault. As the noble Countess, Lady Mar, pointed out, where an offence is created under the Act, it affects not a farmer but a person. That may be a person employed directly or indirectly by the department. As she also says, "knowingly" is an important factor, because one might suppose that officials of the department and its agencies would be more knowing than another private person. They could be held under that offence, just as all other animal health offences are not primarily directed at the farmer alone. They may relate to people moving on and off farms, to drivers, dealers and traders, to the markets and so forth. So it is wrong to characterise the Bill or the drafting of animal health legislation generally as blaming farmers.

Government officials and those who work for them are subject to a tight code of conduct and the criminal law, in the same way as anyone else. So singling them out as would the amendment would balance the scales in the opposite direction in an unhelpful way. On behalf of the departmental staff and others employed by us, I accept our responsibility, as much as that of farmers and others, to observe biosecurity provisions and to act within the law as laid down in the Bill and elsewhere. But we do not need a separate provision in the Bill to that effect.

Baroness Byford: I thank all Members of the Committee, including the Minister, for the short debate that we have had on my amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right: there is still great bitterness; the Minister would acknowledge that all is not fully healed from last year.

I had not read into the Bill what the noble Countess, Lady Mar, reads: that it will apply equally to anyone. That was perhaps my oversight, but on the whole the Bill gives the Government—and therefore people within the department—powers to bring someone up for an offence. It had not struck me that they might be bringing one of their own personnel up for an offence, although I know that certain people who worked for the department have been found guilty of committing crime during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. But that is another matter.

I should like to reconsider the matter. I still think that it would be helpful to have some sort of code of conduct, as it were. The wording of my amendment

8 Oct 2002 : Column 246

may not be quite right. Perhaps it should be headed "Code of conduct" rather than "Officials: biosecurity"; perhaps that would be less abrasive. However, it was intended to be helpful by suggesting that in future we could tighten up and improve performance by both those engaged in farming and those who come to their aid in times of need.

The other distinction that I would make is that, on the whole, once an outbreak occurred, farmers did not move onto other people's farms, whereas officials had to. That is their job; they had to go there. Although the Minister did not agree with the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—I did not take it that the noble Lord was suggesting that the 70 per cent spread was caused by officials—by the nature of the work with which those officials are involved, they must go into such places; they have no option. That was my reasoning.

The Countess of Mar: Perhaps the noble Baroness would like to know that in my locality, where veterinary surgeons were working for the ministry, if they entered an infected farm they were grounded for seven days. They did not go anywhere else.

Baroness Byford: I indeed understand what the noble Countess says and appreciate that there were clean vets and dirty vets and that they were not allowed to mix. One of the crucial things to come out of our short debate and out of some of our earlier discussions is the need to reach a conclusion on how the spread occurred in so many cases about which there is still uncertainty. I suppose that science will not help us with that. In some cases, we will never know how the spread occurred.

10 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: There is one point that has not been raised about the amendment. It says:


    "The Minister, or any persons acting on his behalf".

Some of the contractors who were operating were fairly dodgy. It was not necessarily officials working directly for the Minister but people contracted by the Minister who caused the problems. There are instances of contractors throwing gloves into the hedge, where they were found by other people. The controls on contractors leave a lot to be desired.

The Countess of Mar: At a later stage, we could impose a duty on the Minister to ensure that all his contractors understand the need for biosecurity. That would ensure that everybody knew what they were supposed to do. If they deliberately infringed those requirements, they could be punished.

Baroness Byford: I thank everybody who has contributed. I may return with an improved amendment. The Minister and all who help and support him might consider producing an even better amendment. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 247

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Prosecutions: time limit]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 312:


    Page 9, line 31, leave out "an" and insert "any"

The noble Baroness said: This amendment deals with just a typo error. I think that line 31 should say "any", but I may be wrong. I shall allow the Minister to respond. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Legal proceedings are started in court by laying an information—a document. Changing the phrase would mean that we would lose the specific legal meaning. There has been a misunderstanding behind the laying of the amendment.

Baroness Byford: In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 313 and 314 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 315:


    Page 10, line 7, leave out "conclusive" and insert "reasonable"

The noble Baroness said: The Government have been delighted with the amount of reasonableness in the Chamber in the past two days. I understand that the word "conclusive" in this clause means "cannot be challenged".

It is conceivable that a reasonable challenge could be made, especially if the prosecutor is a corporate entity—for example, the Crown Prosecution Service. It is unreasonable that someone accused of an offence should have to cope with delays that are not of his or her making. That could apply to the gathering of sufficient evidence for a prosecution if the prosecutor has given an outline of the case but it takes several weeks or months for the file to be assembled.

How do the Government envisage that prosecutions will be handled? Will the local or regional inspector produce a summary of events, as he or his staff recall them, and hand the matter over to the local police? Will they call in the CPS? Will the department initiate events, call for local evidence and use its own legal staff in local courts? Will it use the CPS? If the CPS is to be involved, has the Minister received adequate evidence that CPS record-keeping is of a sufficient standard to comply with the clause on all occasions and with total accuracy? Is he prepared to share that evidence with the Committee? I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Certification by a magistrate of the date on which evidence was brought to his attention is a well-precedented procedure. If the court were uneasy with the certification of the prosecutor and believed it had been made in bad faith, it would be able to consider the evidence behind it even though it had the status of conclusive proof. Therefore

8 Oct 2002 : Column 248

we need to resist the amendment. In moving the amendment the noble Baroness asked many technical legal questions on which I should prefer to write to her.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I am content that she writes to me when she has had a look at the detailed questions I asked. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Commencement]:

[Amendments Nos. 316 to 318 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 319:


    Page 10, line 29, at end insert—


"( ) This Act shall not come into force until parallel powers have been taken to cover all parts of the United Kingdom."

The noble Baroness said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Jopling who could not be with us, I move Amendment No. 319. It is extremely important. When speaking of disease outbreaks we have spoken of what happens on borders; between Scotland and England and England and Wales. I should like to hear the Government's response. I beg to move.

The Countess of Mar: I support the noble Baroness. Foot and mouth disease does not respect boundaries drawn by humans. Nor, for that matter, do animals. It is a particularly valid point with regard to the boundary between England and Scotland. I am not so sure about Northern Ireland; there is a slight difference because of the sea boundary. But where animals can roam across moors, as they do between England and Scotland, we have a problem.

Lord Greaves: I agree with the noble Countess that there are problems with boundaries where devolved administrations have powers that may lead them to different solutions from those that this Parliament decides should apply in England. But—and it is a big "but"—if we have a devolved administration in Scotland which has power over farming matters that in England are the responsibility of DEFRA, we have to accept the consequences. There will be different policies in Scotland from those that apply in England; that is a fact of life in respect of devolution.

Some Members of the Committee may still be unhappy with devolution and feel it should be abolished. Some of us are happy with it and envious of some of the things happening in Scotland as a result, but that is a different matter. The contrast between the way foot and mouth disease was dealt with in south-west Scotland and north Cumbria, which on the face of it began in a similar way, is fairly stark. It can be argued that the devolved administration in Scotland did a better job than the non-devolved administration in London with regard to Cumbria. Some of us would be happy to make that case.

However, whatever we think about the Bill—whether or not it is the right approach to controlling future outbreaks; whether many of the powers in it are too draconian; whether the criticisms many of us are

8 Oct 2002 : Column 249

making of it are right or wrong—no one can argue that we do not need preparations and contingency plans for dealing with future outbreaks. To suggest that the contingency plans in England should be put on hold because Scotland will not be having identical or parallel plans—I am not sure what "parallel" means here but I take it to mean "very similar"—seems illogical. There may be problems at the Border, but if there is a problem in Scotland because it does not have plans, that is not a reason for not introducing plans in England. We may disagree about the nature of those plans, but that is a different argument altogether. This is one issue in the Bill on which I disagree with the noble Baroness, with whom I have been agreeing so much during the past two days.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Perhaps I may underline what my noble friend said. As one who has been involved with Wales for a very long time—I am a native of Wales—I should like to give notice that at Report stage I shall certainly urge that the National Assembly for Wales should have more powers to deal with outbreaks. The powers it receives may be parallel to those powers in England but I should like to draw a contrast. As the noble Countess said, the fact that the disease knows no boundaries is important, but nevertheless strategies ought to be available in devolved administrations for tackling the particular circumstances which may arise in their jurisdictions. Wales, for example, has far more sheep than there are in the whole of Scotland.

Those powers should be devolved within an overall umbrella and a strategy should be worked out to overcome some of the problems. Certainly the way the hefting of sheep on the hills in Wales was tackled during the recent foot and mouth outbreak gives a lot of food for thought. I know that there were some disagreements between the administration in Cardiff and DEFRA—or MAFF, as it was at the time. These difficulties can be overcome. We can live with devolved administrations having appropriate powers, particularly in relation to strategies on how they will tackle these problems within their own boundaries.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It will not surprise the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that at this time, in this position, at this stage in the Bill—and given that we are all aware that discussions take place on the potential transfer of functions, not least in the field of agriculture—I am not being drawn into doing anything other than noting his views on the issue of future powers which may or may not be devolved to the National Assembly.

I agree with most of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Animal health is a devolved subject in Scotland and Northern Ireland and it is only proper that they should be able to bring forward further legislation that they consider appropriate under the timetables and procedures of the relative legislatures. Scottish Ministers have stated that they support the principle of new legislation on disease control.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 250

However, were there to be a new outbreak of foot and mouth disease or another serious animal disease, I would expect—and I am sure noble Lords, including the noble Countess, Lady Mar, would expect—Scottish Ministers to review the situation urgently and consider bringing forward any appropriate emergency legislation they felt was in order.

For the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I resist the amendment. I hope that the Committee will accept that, under the devolution settlement, this is a matter for the devolved administrations.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for her response. I do not know whether she was aware of it, but towards the end of her reply she quoted from a Written Answer which was sent to my noble friend Lord Peel on 28th January 2002. She quoted almost exactly the last paragraph of the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.

My noble friend Lord Peel wrote to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they were taking to persuade the Scottish Executive to introduce, in the near future, legislation with regard to controlling foot and mouth disease in order to safeguard the position in England. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, replied—I am sure that he remembers this off the top of his head, but let me help him at this time of night—that animal health is a devolved matter in Scotland. We do not argue with that. The letter continued:


    "Scottish Ministers have stated that they support the principle of new legislation on disease control, and propose to take this forward under the timetable and procedures of the Scottish Parliament".

The part of the letter that the noble Baroness did not refer to is,


    "I understand that Scottish Ministers hope to issue a consultation on proposed legislative changes shortly".

My noble friend's concern is that that letter was dated 28th January. Here we are, nearly eight months later, and my understanding is that no consultation has been put in hand at all. That is a matter for concern.

I realise and appreciate the Government's position—it is a devolved matter—but I hope that before we meet again on the Bill the Government south of the Border will draw the time lag to the attention of their colleagues north of the Border. Animal disease knows no boundary and it seems slightly irresponsible to make no moves on the issue.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Speaking as I do for the Government on matters affecting Wales, I should hesitate to be drawn down the road referred to by the noble Baroness. I am sure that responsible Ministers and Members of devolved administrations are quite capable of taking on board and working out the points that she raises.

It would be singularly inappropriate for me, speaking on behalf of the Government with regard to a devolved matter, to seek to imply that I knew better than Ministers within a devolved administration. I see

8 Oct 2002 : Column 251

that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, who watches me like a hawk or a peregrine falcon on these issues, approves of my remarks so I shall not say anything else.

Baroness Byford: I do not think that I encouraged the noble Baroness to do exactly what she said she would not do. That was not my intention. However, I am concerned. This is a serious point. We have to consider animal disease control; yet some parts of the United Kingdom may be considering it in a different way, or not at all. The matter is worth raising. Sending a copy of Hansard to the relevant Members of the Scottish Parliament might go some way in nudging this important issue along. But at this stage, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Jopling, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8 Oct 2002 : Column 252

Clause 15 agreed to.

Baroness Byford had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 320:


    After Clause 15, insert the following new clause—


"INDEPENDENT PUBLIC INQUIRY
(1) No provisions of this Act shall come into force prior to the publication of the findings of an independent public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
(2) Nothing in this section shall prevent the Minister from taking emergency powers necessary in the event of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, or any other specified disease, before the coming into force of this Act."

The noble Baroness said: Perhaps at this stage I may recall our consistent concern that no independent inquiry has been held. However, as events have now overtaken the Bill, I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 320 not moved.]

Clauses 16 to 18 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

        House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past ten o'clock.