The Animal Health is being brought back

Lord Moran, a Cross-Bench peer and author of the amendment that suspended the Committee stage in the House of Lords of the Animal Health Bill on March 26 has expressed great surprise that the Government has now decided to proceed with the Committee stage in the last few days before recess, scheduled at the moment for July 25 and 30.

"The amendment I introduced was passed by 130 votes to 124. By this vote the House declined to consider the Bill any further until the various reports on the Foot and Mouth Disease had been received, considered and published by Her Majesty's Government. The National Audit Office's Report was published on June 21 but the Government has not yet responded to it. The Royal Society's report was published on July 16. Neither the Government nor the House will have time to consider it and respond adequately before July 25. We are still awaiting the conclusions of the Lessons Learned enquiry, not due till next week, a couple of days before the scheduled Committee stage."

Lord Moran was also astonished that the Government had not considered it necessary to communicate with him prior to putting the Bill back on the Order Paper. "The House authorities told me," - he explained, - "that they expected the Government to speak or write to me. They have not done so."

"I have heard suggestions," - Lord Moran added, - "that the Government may have it in mind to propose that only Part II of the Bill, on scrapie, may be dealt with on the two days on the grounds that it is 'non-controversial'. If they think so, they are wrong. The proposals on scrapie are highly controversial. As I pointed out in January at Second Reading, the President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons that in this part of the Bill 'many unsupported scientific judgements are made.

In any case, it is hard to see how the Government intends to proceed with a Bill that legalizes further mass slaughter when the Royal Society's report recommends that only 'diseased animals, and all those that are known, or very likely, to have been infected by them' be slaughtered. It does not recommend contiguous culling. On the contrary, its view is that 'emergency vaccination should be seen as a major tool of first resort, along with culling of infected premises and known dangerous contacts, for controlling FMD outbreaks'. It seems likely from early reports that the Lessons Learned enquiry will come to a similar conclusion. The Government will be faced with the alternative of ignoring the conclusions of the most eminent scientific body in the country or of abandoning or entirely rewriting the existing Animal Health Bill. Why then press ahead with a Committee stage now?

The Government has so far ignored all the criticisms made of the Bill in both Houses and by many organizations in the country. Their attitude is not unlike that of Edward Lear's Jumblies, who sang:

Clearly, it would be much more sensible for the government to hold over further consideration of these problems until after the summer recess, when they and we will have been able to study and reflect on all three of the relevant enquiry reports (all commissioned by the Government itself) and decide on the best way forward.