Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 16:06 GMT

Peers back down on farm jabs

Peers have backed down on insisting that vaccinating animals must be the
priority in a future foot-and-mouth outbreak.
The climbdown came as ministers tried to get the Animal Health Bill passed
by the end of the parliamentary session on Thursday.

Tory peers pressing for vaccination have now agreed to back the government's
policy of using vaccines where possible, but keeping open the option of
culling animals.

But the bill has returned to the Commons again after peers defeated the
government by saying farmers should be able to appeal to a magistrate if
inspectors planned to enter their premises during a disease outbreak.

'Long-term goal'

In another climbdown, however, peers dropped an amendment to the bill which
would have ended the 20-day restriction on movement of animals eight weeks
after a future foot-and-mouth outbreak.

On Wednesday, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told MPs that routine
vaccination of animals was a long term goal but might take some time to

Whitty: Warned peers not to undermine disease control

In the Lords on Thursday, junior Environment Minister Lord Whitty said
animals would need to be slaughtered where they had come into contact with
infected livestock.

Culling might also be necessary if there was a shortage of vaccines, or
other logistical problems, he said.

Lord Whitty said there might be other slaughter scenarios, adding: "That's
why we sought wider powers in terms of pre-emptive cull in this bill."

Inspections defeat

Tory spokeswoman Baroness Byford said she was still worried vaccination was
not the bill's priority, but her party had decided to support the

Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves hailed the government concessions in the bill
as a "substantial victory" for the Lords.

Vaccination would now have to be considered before slaughter in any future
foot-and-mouth outbreak, argued Lord Greaves.

Lord Whitty had asked peers to reject calls for magistrates to be able to
review the entry of inspectors to farms.

"We have made a significant number of concessions and the administrative
procedure safeguards the rights of livestock owners," he said.

"The whole point of the Bill is to enable us to administer more effectively
control measures including vaccination or slaughter," he said.

When the bill returns to the Commons, ministers are likely to ask MPs to
overturn the latest Lords defeat in the drive to get the legislation passed
before the end of Thursday.