HC Deb 27 May 1970 vol 801 cc1939-42

Lords Amendment: No. 16, in page 92, line 33, at end insert: () Any person who offers for sale, otherwise than for slaughter, any animal known to be a reactor to brucella abortus shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £400, or, if the offence is committed with respect to more than ten animals, to a fine not exceeding £50 for each animal.

Mr. Mackie

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This further amendment to the brucellosis Clause brings in a subject which was touched upon on Report when hon. Members expressed anxiety about the sale of reactors, and the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) referred to the question of forbidding their sale except for slaughter. The Amendment would have this general effect and it stems from widespread concern in another place to see an end to the deliberate sale of animals capable of spreading this insidious disease.

That is an objective to which the House would surely subscribe. Nevertheless, in accepting the proposal, the Government have been concerned that its implications and problems should not be overlooked. For example, no offence is committed unless the owner knows that his animal is a reactor, so that it could apply only to those relatively few animals which at present have had a reliable test. This carries with it a risk of deterring owners not so much from selling reactors as from recourse to recognised tests, and that would not be conducive to effective disease control.

There is also the problem, with which the House will be familiar, of distinguishing between diseased animals and vaccinal reactors, and the latter will still be with us in significant numbers for at least two years. Another point is that, if a reactor is sold for slaughter in good faith, it is the buyer rather than the seller who determines whether and when it goes to the abattoir. It is for reasons of this kind that mere creation of this offence will not immediately end the problem. We should need to study its effects upon farming policies and practices over a fair period before forming any firm judgments. I believe it could help to check abuse and to prevent our livestock markets from being brought into disrepute.

At present, three courses of action are open to the owner of a reactor. He can cull it for slaughter—and many already do this. He can keep it and take precautions until a veterinary specialist can deal with his whole herd systematically—and here the owner can count on Government help and encouragement, either with early voluntary accreditation or, in due course, compulsory eradication. The third alternative is to off-load the reactor into someone else's herd. The Government are in agreement with the objective of the Amendment. In spite of the difficulties which I have thought it right to bring to the notice of the House, we are prepared to give it a run.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

I welcome the Lords Amendment. In Committee on the Bill, we put down a new Clause to deal with the brucellosis situation as we saw it. To a very considerable degree it has now been coped with by the addition of the brucel-losis scheme to the Bill by the Government. There was, however, a glaring deficiency remaining in that it was still possible for a farmer to dispose of a reactor on the market and thus spread the disease ever further around the countryside. Indeed, many members of the veterinary profession were deeply concerned that there being no penalty for selling reactors in the market would lead to a widening of the disease rather than the opposite. The National Farmers' Union particularly emphasised that the Clause was desirable and necessary.

There is a point which I have raised previously concerning the Epizootic Abortion Order, 1922, which met the same difficulty. It lays down that any animal which has aborted should not be sold on a public market within two months of abortion. I hope that when applying this provision the Ministry will remember that Order, too.

Question put and agreed to

Lords Amendment: No. 17, in page 92, line 36, at end insert: () Section 13(5) of the Agriculture Act 1967 (under which a levy scheme relating to the expenses of the Meat and Livestock Commission may not impose charges in respect of livestock slaughtered under the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 or any order or arrangements made thereunder) shall be amended by inserting at the end ' or in accordance with any scheme under section 103 of the Agriculture Act 1970 '. () Any person who knowingly or recklessly makes any false statement for the purpose of obtaining for himself or any other person any payment under a scheme under subsection (1) or (2) of this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or both. () Any of the following officers—

  1. (a) in England and Wales, any officer of the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food authorised in writing by that Minister to exercise the powers conferred by this subsection;
  2. (b) in Scotland, any officer of the Secretary of State or of the said Minister having the like authority of that Secretary of State, and
  3. (c) in Northern Ireland, any officer within paragraph (a) above, and any officer of the Ministry of Agriculture for Northern Ireland having the like authority of that Ministry; 1942 may, for the purpose of obtaining any information which he may consider necessary in connection with a scheme under subsection (1) or (2) of this section, enter upon any land or premises and there inspect any animal, apply any test or take any sample, and examine and take copies of or extracts from any document.
The right of entry under this subsection may be exercised at any reasonable time, but only after production of the officer's authority if so required; and any person who obstructs or impedes an officer acting in the exercise of his powers under this subsection shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20 in the case of a first offence, and, in the case of a second or subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding £50 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or both.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Mackie

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The Amendment is to provide, in relation to schemes made under Clause 103, for normal inspection facilities and for standard penalties to apply for obstruction or the making of false statements. It is also to exempt those participating in such schemes from payment of the Meat and Livestock Levy on animals slaughtered under the scheme.

Question put and agreed to

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to