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An Open letter from Gillian Swanson to Alan Campbell MP for Tynemouth, following her receipt of the following:

16 November, 2001

Dear Mrs Swanson,

Thank you for your letter setting out your concerns about the Animal Health (Amendment) Bill.

The Bill provides powers to enable any new cases of Foot and Mouth Disease to be dealt with swiftly and effectively and accelerate the eradication of scrapie from the national sheep flock. The Bill will increase the range of options available for disease control, giving maximum flexibility dependent on the circumstances. It will also widen powers of entry to allow actions to be taken more quickly where veterinary judgement is that animals must be slaughtered. Reducing the time taken from diagnosis to disposal is a key element of disease control. The express aim will be the killing of fewer not more animals - culling quickly where necessary will prevent the further spread of disease. Farmers will be able to make representations to the local Divisional Veterinary Manager and be able to seek judicial review if the representation failed.

Any action would be based upon veterinary and scientific advice. Whilst there are understandable concerns I am not convinced that "consulting the people's representatives in Parliament" as you put it is a realistic option given the time scale and, frankly, the balance of opinions between professional vets and MPs. Although you are critical of the handling of the Foot and Mouth epidemic surely the criticism has been about a lack of speedy and effective action precisely what this proposes. I am not sure how it is in the interests of animals, infected or vulnerable to infection, not to have the option of quick actions and so minimise the numbers slaughtered in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Campbell MP Tynemouth


20 November, 2001

Dear Mr Campbell,

Open Letter Re Animal Health (Amendment) Bill

Thank you for your letter of 16 November, in reply to mine, regarding the above Bill.

Of course "any new cases of Foot and Mouth Disease" should "be dealt with swiftly and effectively". The problem is that MAFF/DEFRA have so far specialised in the widespread misdiagnosis and slaughter of healthy animals, illegally and pointlessly; and that this Bill would allow them to do so faster, without opposition, and legally.

You say that "action would be based upon veterinary and scientific advice". As the present epidemic has shown, this does not exclude the possibility of overkill on a gigantic scale. We have no guarantee that future governments will show any more judgement than the present one in their choice of scientific advisers; nor that future computer modelling of epidemics will avoid the trap, which this one has fallen into, of "rubbish in, rubbish out".

We are being told that those who resisted the cull were responsible for prolonging the crisis. However, out of hundreds of farms which appealed and escaped the slaughter only a handful went on to develop the disease. What is more, a large proportion of animals on less fortunate farms tested negative to FMD after they had been slaughtered. The natural conclusion to be drawn is that the need for a contiguous cull was based on incorrect assumptions. Following the wrong policy faster, along the lines of the current enabling Bill, would hardly have improved matters.

It is curious that it you consider it necessary to "accelerate the eradication of scrapie from the national sheep flock". Scrapie has been endemic in our sheep for hundreds of years, without causing any harm to the human population. For some reason, it is now being linked with BSE. However, deliberate attempts to infect sheep with BSE under laboratory conditions have so far been unsuccessful - nor , indeed, has any proven link between BSE and CJD been established. Why, then, are we preparing for a concerted campaign against scrapie which is more likely to eradicate what remains of the national flock than the disease it presumes to target?

You say that "Farmers will be able to make representations to the local Divisional Veterinary Manager and be able to seek judicial review if the representation failed". At what point in the procedure will they be able to do this? During the present epidemic, when invasion of premises was in fact illegal, slaughter teams were known to break into private homes in the early morning, to prevent cases going to appeal. How will it be possible for farmers to "make representations" to people who arrive armed with a warrant which actually makes it legal for them to trespass where and when they will and kill any animal they please?

As Stephen Smith QC says (see letter enclosed, Point No 20) "the chances of a lawyer being instructed to make an application for an interim injunction are practically nil. I note that there is no proposal in the Bill that the Minister should give to the farmer, say, 24 hours' notice of an intention to effect forcible entry to slaughter animals, so as to enable the farmer to take advice and, if necessary, apply for permission to move for judicial review and seek an interim injunction." Mr Smith's considered legal opinion appears, then, to disagree with your interpretation of the Bill.

As a responsible MP, you will certainly want to study all the evidence carefully, before giving your final approval to a Bill which could make infringement of our civil liberties endemic, while wiping out the British livestock industry (and possibly large numbers of family pets as well). Documentation regarding the faulty data used to justify government policy, and a record of the whole FMD epidemic, is freely available on http://www.warmwell.com, updated daily. To save you time, however, relevant information from Alan Beat, a farmer who successfully resisted the cull of his healthy sheep, is enclosed.

You appear to be naively confident that wider and faster powers of entry into private homes to combat unspecified diseases will not lead to abuse of authority. Where does "maximum flexibility dependent on the circumstances" end, and arbitrary power begin? You once taught history. Isn't it possible that Hitler considered the enabling act to be rather a good thing precisely because it offered him "maximum flexibility dependent on the circumstances"? The comparison may appear insulting to you, but history suggests that it is wise always to expect the worst of those who are given free access to power over other people.

It is sad, considering your responsibility to your constituents as an elected MP, that you think consultation of Parliament at times of national crisis an unrealistic option. However, perhaps this defeatism springs not just from subservience to the "time scale" but from the awareness that nothing a back-bench MP has to say can influence the course of our over-powerful Executive.

All the same, it would have been heartening to see Mr Blair held to account by "the people's representatives" (as I so quaintly put it). It would have been good to hear MPs demanding tests at the farm gate before slaughter (yes, more or less instant testing is possible: see warmwell.com once more, under "Smart Cycler"). It would have been exhilarating to see you coming out in large numbers to back the call for vaccination (please read the latest evidence - warmwell again - before claiming that this is impracticable).

You would have all those who care about our livestock industry and the survival of our small farmers cheering you on if, even at this late date, you came out and insisted on a public enquiry.

At the very least, please reconsider your support for this deeply illiberal Bill.

Yours sincerely,

Gillian Swanson, Tynemouth Constituency

PS Since your position as MP makes your opinions of interest to others besides myself, I have made this an open letter, and, in fairness, will also circulate your reply when I receive it.

warmwell note:

There will be a combined lobby of Parliament by Farmers for Action, FMD Forum, National Foot and Mouth Group, Vets and other concerned members of the public on 29th November.

Please arrange to have that date free if you feel strongly about this bill. Further details on warmwell.com, Farmers for Action, Farmtalking.com and others, very soon.

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