§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would point out to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Today's Second Reading debate takes forward our contingency planning in the area of animal disease control. I shall try to cover what the Bill does, why the Government have concluded that we need to take these powers and, of course, why we are bringing the Bill forward now.
The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that we have the powers that we believe we need and that we tidy up some of the anomalies in existing powers, and to set up a consistent structure and regime for the handling of animal disease. Hon. Members will have seen that the Bill focuses on two high-profile diseases, foot and mouth and scrapie, but that the powers in it will be extendable to other animal diseases. So, specifically, the Bill should ensure that we have all the powers that we might need to deal swiftly and effectively with any new cases of foot and mouth disease, and will enable us to accelerate the eradication of scrapie from the national sheep flock.
Obviously, we all hope that we are near the end of the foot and mouth disease outbreak. The signs are encouraging; there have been no new cases for about six weeks, but we cannot rule out the possibility of further sparks of disease. That is why we continue to take every opportunity to stress the importance of vigilance and high standards of biosecurity, especially given the large number of animal movements currently taking place. If we do not need these powers in relation to the current outbreak, we shall of course be delighted. However, we need to plan ahead, whether on foot and mouth disease or on other diseases.
§ Margaret Beckett
If the hon. Lady will allow me to make a little more progress, I shall of course give way to her if she still wants to intervene.
We would normally have consulted the industry and all our other stakeholders before introducing legislation but it became clear during the summer that it was sometimes touch and go whether we stayed on top of the disease, not least because it was touch and go whether we could maintain the 24 or 48-hour slaughter deadline. It also became clear that in some instances we lacked the appropriate powers to deal with the disease as quickly as necessary. So the Government decided—albeit with considerable reluctance—that we needed to prepare to 575 take steps now, and swiftly, in order to prepare either for any resumption or for a fresh outbreak of that or another disease. In consequence, there has simply not been time to conduct the dialogue that we would normally seek. Of course, during the coming weeks and months, we will still be able to consult widely on key elements, as I shall explain. We were grateful that the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was able to take evidence on the Bill last week from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
§ Miss McIntosh
The right hon. Lady will be aware that the outbreak came very late in the day to the Vale of York, and that she received from me, on behalf of farmers, several serious representations that departmental officials, Army officials and, indeed, vets had come on to Mr. Bosomworth's farm and most likely introduced foot and mouth. Why is the Bill silent on the failure of the right hon. Lady's Department's officials to observe the Department's own biosecurity?
§ Margaret Beckett
The hon. Lady is straying into what happened during the handling of the disease and into the various allegations that have been made. I am not sure what she would have the law say in this regard, but the law makes it clear that it is important that biosecurity observed. Whether breaches were committed by people whom the Department used to implement its policies is no doubt something that the inquiries will examine.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
A point that my right hon. Friend has made concerns me. The Bill will have an enormous impact and may introduce urgent changes, so many people will wish to give evidence on it. Since the Bill is subject to a programme motion, it is clear that it will go through the House quite quickly. Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing more time for its consideration, rather than proceeding on the basis of what appears on the Order Paper today?
§ Margaret Beckett
My hon. Friend knows better than anyone that, on Second Reading, we deal with the principles of the issue. Much of what I suspect concerns those who have anxieties about the Bill is likely to be a matter of detail, and there will be an opportunity for much more measured consultation of that detail and of any orders that might be introduced. The question of the time scale has been examined and agreed, but I assure my hon. Friend that we hope and believe that it will be possible for it to be given adequate scrutiny. The Government will of course continue to address that issue as the Bill goes through its stages.
The Bill emphasises our precautionary approach to disease control per se. It will give us a wide range of options, ensuring that we have maximum flexibility to tailor our strategy to whatever might be the prevailing circumstances. I want to stress that the Bill is related not just to foot and mouth disease and that, in particular, it does not prejudge what policy on the disease in the longer term should be. The measures that it contains would also be needed if we were effectively to implement any kind of vaccination programme.
We remain of an open mind as to what our long-term policy for controlling foot and mouth and other animal diseases should be. It remains the case that we will be 576 guided by the independent inquiries when they report next year and we will consider carefully any alternative options for disease control, such as vaccination, that the inquiries may put forward.
I wish to explain in more detail what the Bill does and why.
§ Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)
The right hon. Lady mentioned the independent inquiries but, as she knows, the "lessons learned" inquiry will not begin until the epidemic is deemed to have finished. Will the ministerial papers, including the advice from scientists, on those episodes in which vaccination was considered be made available to the inquiry and will they be made public?
§ Margaret Beckett
When the inquiry begins is partly a matter for Dr. Anderson, although if it appears that the commencement of the inquiry will not interfere with the tail end of handling the disease, it is possible that the inquiry may begin a little earlier. That is a matter for Dr. Anderson. Whatever papers he seeks will obviously be provided and, equally, as I understand it, what is published will be a matter for him. There is certainly no wish to keep hidden matters that ought properly to be considered in the inquiry.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)
The House will be aware of my farming interests. Will the Secretary of State tell the House why it is so urgent for the Bill to be introduced before, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) made clear, any of the three inquiries has taken place?
Will the Secretary of State also comment on that aspect of the Bill that makes it a requirement only to pay 75 per cent. in compulsory compensation, with 25 per cent. being discretionary? That is a departure from most previous Bills. Will the right hon. Lady explain why that is?
§ Margaret Beckett
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's second point in due course. As he said, it relates to parts of the Bill.
I think I have already dealt with the hon. Gentleman's first point—perhaps too briefly, if he did not follow my point. It became apparent during the handling of the disease, and through our experience of handling it, that the Department lacked what seemed to be necessary powers, and I shall say a little more about that shortly. Consequently, I agreed to the drafting of a Bill, and that drafting was continued. I will say quite frankly to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that I was not enthusiastic about seeking to take these powers, but I have become convinced that they are necessary. Obviously, all that took some time. As members of any Government will know, time can never automatically be found in the legislative programme for measures, however much Departments might require it. So the answer to the hon. Gentleman is that we feel the need to take action, and I shall come to that in a little more detail later.
The foot and mouth disease provisions fall into two main categories. First, there are powers if need be to enter premises on a precautionary basis, whether for culling, vaccination or testing, to prevent the spread of disease—without having to prove, as under present legislation, that the animal has been exposed to disease. Secondly, as the 577 hon. Gentleman has just identified, there is a new approach to compensation on infected premises, which is related to enforcement of biosecurity measures.
The current powers have proved insufficient in a number of cases. In stamping out the disease, it has for many years been the accepted policy approach to kill infected animals. However, it has also long been regarded as necessary to cull animals on contiguous premises as well as on infected premises, in order to protect against the spread of disease. Although that has been established policy, there has always been an issue of when animals could be culled. As required by existing legislation, only animals which have been "exposed" to FMD can be culled. Inevitably, when that is the criterion, there are liable to be, and have indeed been, disputes about whether animals have been in contact with or exposed to the disease.
The effect of those disputes has in some cases led to delays, which have in turn led to further spread of the disease. The Bill will give us wider powers to address that problem. It applies—I stress this—only to animals susceptible to FMD. Any such animals could be slaughtered if Ministers concluded that that would prevent the spread of FMD. There is no question of provisions in the Bill covering, as some media comment has suggested, hamsters or goldfish. Even animals susceptible to FMD could be slaughtered only when the scientific and veterinary advice is that that is necessary.
Although the Bill alters the circumstances in which an animal can be culled from culling following exposure to disease to culling in order to prevent disease, that would by no means automatically lead to the culling of more animals. In fact, considerable scientific evidence supports the view that, by culling quickly where it is necessary, we might prevent the further spread of disease and actually end up killing fewer animals.
Sadly, experience from the recent appalling outbreak has suggested that if we are to be able to act with the speed that is required, wider powers of entry are also needed. The current position is that if a farmer whose property is suspected of harbouring FMD refuses to allow access, vital days can be lost while an injunction is sought from the courts. That delay may mean—and we believe has on occasion meant—not only that the farm in question goes down with FMD but that the disease spreads even further.
I stress at this point that I am not saying that those who perfectly legally challenged action under the existing law should in some way be blamed. They were only trying to do what they believed to be best. The fact is, however, that there have sadly been times when taking such legitimate action may have hindered attempts to tackle the disease.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)
The right hon. Lady says that she believes that the actions of farmers may have helped to spread the disease—that that may have been a factor. What evidence does she have that farmers' attempts to protect their animals actively helped to spread the disease, and will she publish that evidence?
§ Margaret Beckett
I used the word "may", because I am someone who tries to use words with great accuracy, 578 and of course such things are never susceptible to 100 per cent. proof. 1 shall give the hon. Gentleman and the House an example.
In Thirsk this summer, 55 local appeals were lodged against the contiguous cull. Of the 29 upheld by the divisional veterinary manager, nine cases of infection were subsequently revealed—and that, in turn, triggered additional contiguous culling. In the cases where the appeal had been rejected by the DVM, two also became infected premises. Again, that, in turn, triggered culling on additional farms.
It is believed that the same occurred in the Brecon Beacons, where there was evidence to suggest that the handling of the disease lagged behind the spread of the disease because culling followed testing, which is what the Welsh Assembly decided to try to do, as it did not wish to kill unnecessarily. Only when a decision was taken to proceed with the contiguous cull to try to get ahead of the disease was that outbreak brought under control, so although these things can never be subject to 100 per cent. proof, it appears that there is evidence to suggest that that occurred. Certainly, that is very much the belief of the vets and scientists who dealt with those issues.
I repeat that we are not blaming people, but, sadly, without attributing blame, we still have to consider the facts and what may have been the unintended effects of people's actions. In the Thirsk area, for example, vets and epidemiologists believed that those events seriously hampered efforts to bring the disease under control.
§ Margaret Beckett
Hon. Members repeatedly expressed in the House their considerable concern and anxiety—indeed, the hon. Lady who is seeking to intervene did so—because of the fear that the disease might spread to the pig-intensive areas of Yorkshire and around the Humber. Again, there was great concern at that time.
§ Miss McIntosh
The issue that the right hon. Lady raises is indeed very serious. Each of the farms in Thirsk to which she referred is, I think, situated along a road. The evidence raised at the time was that there was something uncanny about the roadside connection, and it should have been incumbent on the right hon. Lady's Department to investigate that before introducing the Bill.
§ Margaret Beckett
With respect to the hon. Lady, she is making the same point about waiting for the inquiry. I simply tell her, as I have done at each stage—and to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who raised the issue with Mr. Speaker earlier—that none of us knows what will happen. She will perhaps know that I told the Select Committee that I thought it would be a miracle if we got through the period of increased autumn movement without a resurgence of the disease. We have been extraordinarily fortunate that there has been no resurgence of the disease for some time, but no one can rule out the possibility that it will recur.
If we had waited, I suspect that, if the disease began to reappear tomorrow, next week or in three weeks' time and we had not produced any proposals to tackle some of the issues that have been raised, we would have been asked 579 why we had waited. As I shall say in a few moments, given that, unfortunately, contiguous culling may be needed to get ahead of the disease, the Government are trying to get ahead of the circumstances in which we may find ourselves.
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
If speed in introducing this measure is so much of the essence, why was it left until August this year to begin to draft the Bill?
§ Margaret Beckett
There was discussion on the matter and consideration of the issues raised a little earlier. It is only from memory that I say that it was about August when drafting began, but 1 remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was with some reluctance—certainly from my point of view—that the Government embarked on this course. We are mindful of the fact that these are strong powers and that they should be used, if they ever are used, only with great caution. However, it seemed right at least to have the preparatory work done so that if the Government became convinced that such powers were indeed needed, it would be possible to try to convince colleagues that it was necessary to continue with the Bill. I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that, as I shall say later, two diseases are specifically dealt with in the Bill—one is foot and mouth disease and the other is, of course, scrapie.
I want to repeat, because it is a matter of concern, that every time any of the issues concerning what actually happened and people's practical experience are raised, there is a tendency for people to respond by saying, "Oh, you are blaming X or Y," or, "You are blaming farmers." It is not a matter of blame; it is a matter of recording what seems to have happened so that we can try to ensure that we learn from some of that experience. It is also a matter of making a policy response that is related and proportionate to that experience.
§ Margaret Beckett
I will, but thereafter I shall try to avoid giving way. I am mindful of the time that I am taking.
§ Malcolm Bruce
If the right hon. Lady acknowledges that the powers are draconian, why are they so one-sided? Anyone who challenges them runs the risk of losing 25 per cent. in compensation. He or she will also have to make a payment to the Minister to have an appeal heard. If the Minister is unsuccessful in winning the case, should there not be compensation for having taken the action wrongly?
§ Margaret Beckett
The hon. Gentleman is in error. There is no question of someone even being considered to lose a part of their compensation because they seek to appeal. That aspect is related solely to issues of biosecurity, to which I shall come in a moment. It is not the case either, as some reports have said, that we are removing in any way the right of appeal against the decision to cull.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about making a charge. I think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State conveyed to the Select Committee that the only purpose of making a charge—it is not a matter of covering the 580 cost—is to discourage an appeal that is not well founded. If someone appeals and that appeal is allowed, there is no question but that the charge will be refunded. We will make provision for a charge not to be levied where there is a case of hardship. The position is not as simple as some media reports have suggested.
As I have said, there is no question of taking away the right of appeal against such a decision. A farmer will still be able, as now, to make representations to the local DVM, putting forward reasons why his animals should not be slaughtered. He or she will still be able to seek judicial review or appropriate interim relief from the court if necessary, if that is believed to be justified.
In cases of difficulty where access is needed, whether to test, to vaccinate or perhaps to kill animals, we propose a process that is based on a warrant from a magistrate. Such a warrant would be issued to inspectors only on sworn evidence. The magistrate will need to be satisfied that the conditions set out in the Bill have been complied with.
The House knows that the Government have kept the possibility of vaccination continuously under review during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. We retain an open mind on its possible role in future. As I have reported to the House before, we are co-sponsoring with the Dutch Government an international conference in Brussels in December to examine the issues. If we sought to use any type of vaccination programme in future, we would need to have the necessary full range of powers to carry it out, including what is not now in legislation, which is the possibility of the payment of compensation.
§ Margaret Beckett
No. I ask the hon. Gentleman to forgive me. I must make progress.
The Dutch Government, who had a small and quickly detected outbreak of foot and mouth disease earlier in the year, used vaccination to reduce pressure on disposal capacity by allowing slaughter to be carried out at a rate that kept pace with disposal. Although this meant that they killed more animals per outbreak than we did, it worked in their particular situation. We are seeking to increase the number of effective options available to us by ensuring that we have the power, should we wish or have the need to do so, to carry out a similar programme in future.
In the Bill, we take a different approach to arrangements for compensation on infected premises. Part of a livestock farmer's responsibility—a fact of which most are extremely conscious—is to take precautions, including good biosecurity, to minimise the risk of animal diseases. In the Bill, we propose to reflect that responsibility in compensation arrangements.
I do not dispute that the vast majority of farmers ensure that their animals have the proper high standard of care and that they, the farmers, practice good biosecurity. However, the sad fact remains that a small minority have, through irresponsible actions or an irresponsible approach, either potentially or actually contributed to the spread of disease. I stress that that is undoubtedly a small minority. However, it is to the benefit of good farmers as well as to the public at large to send, as the Bill does, a clear message to the irresponsible minority that if they do not raise their standards to those of the majority, they may not receive full compensation. 581 The Bill will only affect compensation paid in respect of infected premises. On contiguous premises and others where no infection is found, full compensation at market value will be paid, as before. But on infected premises, the automatic entitlement will only be to 75 per cent. of the market value of the animals slaughtered. An assessment will be carried out at slaughter of compliance with disease control measures and will look at whether the farmer has acted in a way which risked spreading the disease. Biosecurity will clearly be one of the key factors assessed.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)
My right hon. Friend is talking about the actions of the irresponsible minority. What further investigations have there been into allegations that have appeared in newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph? On 30 July, that newspaper alleged:A farmer in Wales said that an anonymous caller offered to sell her a foot and mouth infected sheep for £2,000.Have there been any investigations into those allegations and, if so, what conclusions have been reached?
§ Margaret Beckett
There have indeed been investigations, as my hon. Friend would expect. Investigations into the example that he cites were inconclusive. There are other cases of concern which may raise issues to be brought before the courts. However, my hon. Friend will appreciate that we cannot refer to that here.
§ Margaret Beckett
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have given way to him twice and I must get on
Farmers will be informed in writing whether they are to receive 75 per cent. of the maximum amount, 100 per cent. or something in between. They will then have the right of appeal to an independent person if they wish; that right is set out in the Bill. No responsible farmers should suffer under the new measures. In fact, they will gain if all standards are raised to the best. The detail of what will be in the assessment and how it will be carried out are not in the Bill. We intend to carry out a full consultation on that issue, giving stakeholders sufficient time to comment, because we want to get it right and to take the farming community with us as much as we can.
The Bill also provides powers to extend the new measures on slaughter, compensation and so on to other animal diseases. If, for example, we were unlucky enough to experience another outbreak of classical swine fever next year, we could, if need be, seek similar powers in relation to that disease. Any such extension would be by affirmative resolution, so both Houses would have the opportunity to debate the proposal. Again, that is about putting the right framework in place now so that it will be available should problems arise in future. The House will recall that a key lesson of the Phillips report was that Government should seek to make preparations in advance to deal with issues of that kind.
It has been a punishing year for rural communities, many of which were already suffering serious harm to their economic prospects, which have worsened as a result of the rampant and unprecedented foot and mouth outbreak. The sheep sector has suffered particularly badly 582 and, of course, we need to continue to act decisively against the disease. Again, as highlighted in the Phillips report, we must consider other contingencies with which we may have to deal in future. As I made clear in my statement to the House on 22 October, there remains an acknowledged theoretical risk that BSE could be found in sheep. We must be prepared to take timely and decisive action to limit that risk.
It is on that basis that we published in September, as required by the Phillips report, a draft contingency plan for tackling the risk of BSE in sheep. The plan describes options which would enable the Government to respond flexibly and quickly to the range of scenarios which might apply if BSE were to be found in our national flock. Those include, at one extreme, slaughter and disposal of the whole flock. At a less dramatic level, the Government could consider deploying the kind of abattoir controls with which we are already familiar in relation to BSE in cattle. I emphasise again that those are only options, the application of which would depend upon emerging knowledge and expert advice. That does not mean that we should avoid taking sensible and effective precautions now to deal with any eventuality.
§ Margaret Beckett
I shall give way to the hon. Lady because she has not sought to intervene before.
§ Mrs. Browning
The right hon. Lady is talking about the theoretical risk of BSE in sheep. Will she share with the House what is clearly new scientific advice to the Government? I noticed that, in a statement on 21 October, Sir John Krebs said that, if BSE in sheep were proven, the Food Standards Agency would advise banning the consumption of all dairy and milk products from sheep and goats. Clearly, there has been transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in bovines, but the idea is that, in a different species, TSE will mean a ban on the milk supply. On what scientific basis was that statement made?
§ Margaret Beckett
I am afraid that I cannot do so. The hon. Lady might raise the question with the Food Standards Agency. I am not totally familiar with the statement that she quotes, and I am not aware on what scientific advice it might be based.
It must be desirable to seek to eradicate from our sheep flock the risk not only of BSE but of the entire family of such diseases. That includes scrapie, which has been present in this country for centuries, although it is not always found in other countries where there are large sheep flocks.
We announced in July the establishment of the national scrapie plan, which is designed to enable us, through a rapid programme of genetic identification and breeding controls, to breed TSE resistance into the national flock. The plan has received much support from the sheep sector, but it is a voluntary scheme and it is becoming clear that take-up of the scheme at the present rate could take too long to have the desired effect. Moreover, the Food Standards Agency has specifically called on the Government to seek to speed up scrapie eradication in this country.
The Bill would enable us to accelerate the process by compulsory means. Ministers could specify those types of sheep which, by virtue of their genetic susceptibility, 583 stand the risk of developing scrapie or, theoretically, similar types of disease. The Bill would then allow not only for the identification of those animals but, where appropriate, for their exclusion and the exclusion of their semen, eggs and embryos from breeding programmes. Animals subject to those restrictions would have to be castrated or sterilised or, at a later date, slaughtered.
To ensure that we have the means to carry out this work effectively, the Bill contains limited new powers of entry and enforcement, consistent with similar provisions relating to the control of foot and mouth disease. I must emphasise that these powers are not intended to raise the prospect of mass slaughter. Rather, they are designed to facilitate the redevelopment of the flock in a managed way, without causing unnecessary disruption to farmers. Indeed. Ministers will be required to consider whether there are exceptional reasons that justify the continued use even of some susceptible sheep for breeding purposes, and farmers whose animals are subject to breeding restrictions will have the right of appeal to an independent adjudicator. We will be consulting in full on how the appeals process and other detailed arrangements are to be managed, so that producers' concerns can be fully addressed.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. The Bill enables the Secretary of State to make arrangements for compensation in the event that the powers are exercised. Is it the right hon. Lady's intention to lay a compensation scheme before the House and make it available to Parliament?
§ Margaret Beckett
Those issues will have to be considered in time. I will not say today that the Government intend to introduce such a compensation programme. We shall want to hear from the industry and all involved.
We shall also consider carefully when the powers to which I referred should be introduced, taking account of whether further progress is made under the voluntary arrangements. We shall consult the industry organisations and other stakeholders, as it is essential that we have their views. 1 remind the House that we have always made it clear that a compulsory scheme was likely to be necessary at some stage. We believe that if we seek the necessary powers now to make that possible, they will enable the Government better to safeguard human health and consumer confidence; the future of our sheep industry and its integral role in the rural economy; and sheep producers who, by moving towards the exclusive production of scrapie-resistant rams, will achieve disease-free animals and a basis for more competitive trading.
The Bill provides the options that we need at this time to tackle risks posed by foot and mouth disease, TSEs in sheep and other diseases. We undoubtedly have more lessons to learn, and the Bill is by no means the end of the story, but the Government regard it as a vital step towards a more secure and healthy future for our livestock industry, and I commend it to the House.
§ 4.9 pm
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)
I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Animal Health Bill because it is inappropriate to legislate on this matter before an independent inquiry into the causes and handling of the foot and 584 mouth epidemic has been established and before the Government's internal inquiries have reported; because the Bill confers undue powers on officials; and because it makes no provision for controls to prevent the importation of disease.If the House chooses to accept the reasoned amendment, it will send the Government back to the drawing board, allowing time for the introduction of new, better and properly considered legislation. The Opposition are prepared and willing to support and speed the introduction of sensible, practical and proportionate measures to help to deal with future outbreaks of foot and mouth and other diseases. In particular, we welcome in principle the measures contained in part II, which will help to eradicate scrapie from the national flock, although we believe that they will require close and detailed scrutiny to ensure fair treatment and the future of certain rare breeds. Ministers will have to do a great deal more to convince the farming community that those measures are proportionate.
I am acutely aware that, given the scientific uncertainty about whether BSE may be present in sheep—an uncertainty that is not helped by the recent mix-up between cows' brains and those of sheep—there is an urgent need to speed up the scientific inquiry into this field and to take precautionary measures.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
If my right hon. and learned Friend will be patient, I shall come to compensation in a moment. He has made an important and compelling point, and we will seek answers to the question that he asked the Secretary of State, who appeared unable to provide an answer.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
I should like to make a similar point. My hon. Friend will be aware that, with regard to possibility of the recent experiment concluding that BSE was present in the national sheep flock, serious consideration was being given to total cull of the national sheep herd. The Bill provides that only 75 per cent. mandatory compensation would be available in those circumstances. Will he press the Secretary of State very hard on whether she has anywhere in her Department any current evidence of BSE, because if she has, the Bill could become oppressive?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
My hon. Friend makes a compelling point. There are ways in which much of the Bill might become oppressive anyway.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I should be delighted to do so. I shall deal later with the discrepancies in the compensation arrangements that are set out in the Bill. It is not entirely clear why they exist.
§ Margaret Beckett
The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) is mistaken. If he looks again at the Bill, he will see that the possibility of not paying full compensation at once is linked only to bad biosecurity.
585 Obviously, whether there are genes resistant to TSEs—transmissible spongiform encephalopathies—in sheep is a completely different issue.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
We do not wish to give the Bill a Second Reading because it does not take a second glance to work out that it is poor legislation. It is badly drafted and targeted, and, in all likelihood, it is, as many suspect, badly motivated.
The foot and mouth outbreak was a catastrophe that cost millions of animal lives and billions of pounds. It brought heartbreak and financial ruin to thousands of businesses throughout the country—and not only those involved in farming. There are important lessons to be learned, but the Bill contains no evidence to show that the Government have learned from their mistakes. Indeed, it suggests strongly that they are in denial of their role in the whole sad affair. I fear that it represents another blow to the credibility of the Secretary of State and her new Department.
Although the Department has been in existence for only five months, it has already acquired a reputation for being by turns incompetent, feeble and vindictive. Today, it is in vindictive mode. I do not know how many times the Secretary of State repeated that she did not blame farmers for what had happened—I look forward to reading Hansard to ascertain that. However, the notion that farmers were to blame for the disaster of foot and mouth disease is at the heart of the Bill.
Whenever anything goes wrong, it is the Government's natural and cowardly instinct to look around for someone else to blame. However, I have rarely witnessed anything as low or contemptible as their attempt to blame foot and mouth on the farming community. After all that the farming community has been through in the past year, the Government produce a Bill that tries to punish it for a crime that it did not commit. It is a punishment inflicted on the innocent by the guilty.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Gentleman's comments are bizarre. It is hardly the Secretary of State's fault that foot and mouth disease spread throughout the country. Ministers did not go around spreading it. What about the pig fanner in Northumberland who fed his pigs infected swill and transported them all the way to Essex? Does the hon. Gentleman believe that that person is exonerated from any blame?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I greatly respect the hon. Gentleman, but he should study the matter more carefully. He is clearly unaware of Professor Woolhouse's evidence, which suggests that if Ministers and officials had got to grips with the disease sooner, only half as many animals might have had to be culled.
§ Margaret Beckett
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Professor Woolhouse made his calculation and assessment, and he clearly has a valid point of view, but at the time, many people, including Opposition Members, blamed the Government for acting too swiftly.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
If the Secretary of State agreed to a full independent public inquiry, we might get to the 586 bottom of some of those important issues. The Bill has sweeping powers, yet the Government have produced no conclusive evidence that resistance by farmers to culling helped to spread the disease.
Part I is based on a false premise, which the Government use to try to justify disproportionate measures.
§ Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman remembers the outbreak in 1967 and the inquiry that followed it. Despite the inquiry and report, we were ill prepared for what happened this year. Holding an inquiry does not mean that we will be prepared if such an outbreak regrettably happens again.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
The hon. Gentleman makes a strange point. We should like a public inquiry to consider why the Government did not consider the evidence of the Northumberland committee of 1967–68 and use it as a precedent for action of the latest outbreak. It is one of the greatest mysteries of the affair.
§ Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether the Opposition's policy is to hold a public inquiry into foot and mouth disease, and take legislative action only after the publication of its report, which could take two or three years? In the absence of an inquiry report, are they in a position to propose measures to tighten the regulations?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
We support a full independent public inquiry because that is the only means of getting to the bottom of what happened and when events occurred. Why did Ministers make decisions at particular times? What were the causes of the outbreak? How did the disease arrive in this country? We believe that legislation would be better informed and more useful to the farming community, consumers and everyone else if it were based on an understanding of the issues. Only a full public inquiry can get to the bottom of them. Presumably the Government refuse to hold a public inquiry, despite the massive public support and demand for one, because they know what they would find.
§ Margaret Beckett
That point is repeatedly made by Conservative Members. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department is mindful of what was in the Northumberland report. Opposition Members say that they want something like the Northumberland report, and that that means a full public inquiry. The Northumberland report was not the result of a full public inquiry, of the kind that Opposition Members want, under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1971, and it was serviced by Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials, not by anyone outside the Department. But Opposition Members consistently quote that report. I have no quarrel with that; it is a very useful report. I have read it, but I do not see the lessons that Opposition Members have alleged can be drawn from it. That inquiry was thought to have been good enough then, and this Government have put in place a more independent process that is being run not by the Department but by people outside it and an independent chairman.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
It is being run by other Government Departments. The Government have set up a smokescreen, not a full independent public inquiry. If the 587 right hon. Lady had nothing to hide, she would have nothing to fear from a public inquiry. In the absence of such an inquiry, people will inevitably be led to the conclusion that the Government have something to hide. That suspicion will haunt her for the rest of her political life.
It has been left to county councils to fill the gap left by the Government's cowardice. Northumberland has announced a public inquiry, and Devon has already reported its preliminary findings, which have a direct bearing on the Bill. The Devon inquiry gave those who had suffered most from the foot and mouth crisis the voice that the Government seem determined to deny them. It found:the outbreak and the handling of the ensuing crisis was lamentable.It also found evidence of
insensitive and even belligerent operatives and bungled culls"—which, it said, did
little to enhance the professional reputation of all those involved, from Ministers downwards.Those problems were not confined to Devon. Who could forget the television images of idiots with handguns chasing terrified animals round fields in Wales, for example?
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
First, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill is putting in what was left out of the Animal Health Act 1981? For example, a farmer who deliberately infects his sheep or cattle would, under the 1981 Act, get 100 per cent. compensation and not be prosecuted.
Secondly, with reference to the Devon inquiry, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why Conservative-controlled Cumbria county council has not asked for a public inquiry when Cumbria was the worst affected area?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
Public inquiries seem to be breaking out all over the country in the absence of a national one. Shropshire is now holding one, and I have no doubt that Cumbria is considering the matter carefully, although I am told that it is concerned about the cost to its council tax payers. The issue should be handled and sponsored by the Government in a proper and considered way. On what the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) said, a public inquiry does not have to take two or three years but can be conducted far more quickly if given the right instructions.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
It is one of the more bizarre aspects of the Bill that a farmer who infects his own animals will still get compensation. My right hon. Friend and others will no doubt wish to explore that issue in Committee.
A widely circulated letter from Alan Richardson, a retired veterinary surgeon who worked for the Home Office and for MAFF, and who was involved in the 1967 outbreak and offered his services in. Cumbria during the 588 latest outbreak, provides further compelling evidence of incompetence, bureaucracy and sheer stupidity on the part of officials acting on orders from Ministers.
Mr. Richardson reported for duty on 28 February at the Carlisle office, which he foundcompletely overwhelmed. And the bemused confusion among the staff of all ranks proclaimed there had been no contingency planning at all.He went on to reportexcessive bureaucracy … administrative chaos … dithering … wasted time … bizarre priorities … ludicrous procedures … Many young, foreign and inexperienced veterinarians were manipulated, even bullied, by HQ staff.Worse still, he reports:Before the General Election, HQ tried to resist positive diagnoses; even where there was little doubt".What instruction had those officials received from Ministers to resist positive diagnoses before the general election? Given that the Prime Minister had by then taken personal control of the crisis, was there perhaps a deliberate attempt to stifle bad news in the run-up to the general election? That is one of the issues that a full independent public inquiry could get to the bottom of.
As well as condemning the handling of the outbreak, the Devon inquiry offers a series of sensible recommendations for future action, dealing with the training of officials, animal movements, vaccination, the disposal of culled animals and compensation. None of those is to be found in the Bill.
Even more bizarre is the way in which the Bill pre-empts the outcome of the Government's own inquiries into the catastrophe. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), kindly circulated a letter to hon. Members in which he says:I also wish to make clear that in bringing forward these measures the Government is not pre-empting the findings of the independent inquiries that are considering aspects of the foot and mouth outbreak.Setting aside the fact that the inquiries are not independent in the true sense, that is turning the truth on its head. He seeks to justify pre-empting the inquiries on the grounds thatWe are now at a critical stage in dealing with the tail end of the epidemic and must be ready to take timely and effective action should it reappear.It would have helped had they taken timely and effective action in the first place. This is like locking the stable door after 4 million animals have bolted and been destroyed. There may well be a case for changes in legislation, but such a case could be made only after careful analysis of what went wrong and the lessons that have been learned.
As the National Farmers Union has pointed out,It is most important that the advice of the current inquiries is to hand before decisions about any changes in current policy are made.The NFU also mentions next month's international conference in Brussels, which is co-sponsored by the Government and to which the Secretary of State referred. It will debate the merits of different approaches to future outbreaks. She confirmed today that it may bring some fresh thinking on vaccination.
589 Yet, today, we have a Bill that pre-empts any fresh thinking. Not content with pre-empting their own inquiries, the Government have seen fit to pre-empt international discussions that could be vital to setting the course for future policy. Far from identifying and addressing the faults in the way in which the system was applied and seeking to right them, the Bill seeks to put even more power into the hands of the very people who were responsible in the first place for the bloody shambles, the heartache, the callous disregard for animal welfare and the massive costs to rural businesses and public funds.
The National Sheep Association said:We are extremely concerned that even more power should be given to a group of people who in far too many cases proved they did not understand farmers, livestock and livestock handling and frequently had extremely poor management and operational skills.It is worth remembering that, right now, 18 DEFRA staff at the Exeter office are suspended, pending inquiries into financial irregularities.
The Bill provides for the mass slaughter of almost any animal that Ministers decide should be killed. Clause 1(3) makes it clear that it is "immaterial", in Ministers' considerations, whether any such animals have beenaffected with foot-and-mouth … suspected of being so affected … in contact with animals so affected … exposed to the infection",or even "treated with vaccine".
§ Mr. Martlew
I expect the hon. Gentleman to attack the Government, which is the Opposition's job, but I do not expect him to attack the staff in the way that he has. Is it not a fact that, in Cumbria and throughout the country, DEFRA staff and MAFF staff before them have worked hard and tirelessly for long hours to try to get the disease under control? Can he give his statements some credibility by praising those staff?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I am delighted to do that, because many staff, officials, vets and members of the armed services worked extremely hard. However, that does not mean that the instructions to which they worked were adequate or well directed. Nor does it explain why so many people giving evidence to the various public inquiries that have now been established have gone out of their way to criticise officials and the clumsy and often belligerent way in which they operated.
I know that officials will need to get approval from a magistrate before exercising the new powers, but I do not know how a magistrate will know whether a request for mass slaughter is justified. I hope that the Minister will explain that.
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)
We in the Select Committee questioned the Minister on that point, and I asked whether magistrates were to be given special training. I am afraid that he replied that that was not a matter for him. Given that the magistrate concerned might have to remove the livelihood of a member of his community, I ask the Minister to produce an answer today or, at the very worst, in time for Committee. I am glad that my hon. Friend raised the point, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's answer.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has unrivalled expertise in these matters and plays a 590 distinguished role in the Select Committee. As she will have heard, I have asked that the Minister address the point in his concluding remarks, although the Secretary of State may wish to do so now.
§ Margaret Beckett
No, I have a question for the Opposition. What special training do those who deal with injunctions have?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
The right hon. Lady's attempts to run away from an important question are pathetic. She owes it to the people on whom the legislation will impact to provide an answer to my right hon. Friend's question.
§ Mrs. Shephard
I will happily answer the right hon. Lady, although perhaps she should remember that she is in government and responsible for finding answers to questions. Magistrates are, of course, provided with training to deal with injunctions and other matters. This is a matter of a different order, which is why I put the question to the Minister, and why I was so shocked that he could not find the answer. Clearly, the right hon. Lady does not know either. What a scandal.
§ Margaret Beckett
Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman what my hon. Friend the Minister sought to convey to the right hon. Lady, who should know that the training of magistrates is not a matter for our Department. It would be wrong of us to seek to intervene in that; it is a matter for the Lord Chancellor's Department.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. We are getting into an awkward three-way exchange.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The fact is that the legislation will pose serious problems for magistrates if they do not get appropriate training. It envisages a magistrate receiving a telephone call and being told that there is an urgent case. That magistrate will have to rely simply on the word of officials or of the Minister. Given that the Government's credibility, and especially the Department's, is at such a low ebb, the magistrate will be in an extremely difficult position. The Secretary of State clearly has no understanding of how discredited her Department has become. Many will ask why, after all the mess and chaos over which the Government have presided and which they have, in many ways, abetted, anyone should trust the word of the Secretary of State's officials on FMD.
Farmers or other people responsible for animals will not get the chance to put their case. The sentence will, in effect, be summary and based on the evidence of the Department alone. That is not only unreasonable but unjust. On the front page of the Bill, the Secretary of State baldly states:In my view the provisions of the Animal Health Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.That means the European convention on human rights. She may be aware of legal opinion that disagrees. If nothing else, it looks as if the Bill will be good news for lawyers.
Several of my right hon. and hon. Friends, notably my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), have already raised the 591 issue of compensation. Schedule 1 assumes that farmers must first prove that they have taken proper care to protect their animals before they are entitled to full compensation for any livestock, healthy or otherwise, that are to be destroyed on Government orders. The assumption is made against the farmer. For the law to be just, it should require the authorities to prove that the farmer or animal owner has been negligent. The Government appear to assume that farmers are more prone to negligence than Ministers or officials. That view is not widely shared in rural Britain.
Why does clause 4 distinguish between the compensation arrangements for animals slaughtered as part of a general carnage and those for animals slaughtered after vaccination? In the case of vaccinated animals, the Bill allows the Minister topay compensation of such an amount as may be prescribed by order of the Minister.Given that most people agree that vaccination would play a part in the event of another outbreak of FMD, that seems to give the Minister wide discretion to determine the level of future compensation payments.
The National Sheep Association goes so far as to suggest that the compensation arrangements in new section 35A in schedule 1 arean evil tool which is the product of a devious and nasty mind!Ministers have much explaining to do on compensation, and it is undoubtedly an issue that my right hon. and hon. Friends will wish to pursue with vigour in the Bill's subsequent stages, assuming that it gets a Second Reading.
§ Mrs. Browning
My hon. Friend will be aware that matters of compensation must also be considered by the European Commission. Was not it interesting that the Secretary of State made no reference to her discussions with the EU? After all, we are part of a single market.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
My hon. Friend makes a good point, because it appears that the Bill has been drafted without reference to the EU framework. As I said, forthcoming international discussions may have significant ramifications for the handling of diseases and the Government have pre-empted their outcome.
The Bill is as notable for its omissions as for the new powers that it confers on Ministers. The most serious omission is the absence of any new measure to tackle one of the root causes of the FMD outbreak and other forms of animal disease: inadequate import controls. It is widely agreed that as FMD did not originate spontaneously, it must have been imported. The farming community has long argued for more stringent surveillance measures and tougher sentences for illegal or substandard food imports. It is arguable that such measures would make the greatest single contribution to reducing the risk of further outbreaks. As things stand, I am sad to say, we could import FMD again tomorrow, and the Bill does nothing to reduce that risk.
The Bill is premature, has been introduced without consultation, is misdirected, and contains measures that are unfair and disproportionate. It will do nothing to restore the Government's reputation among the farming community, nor to encourage much needed confidence in the wider rural community.
592 It is indeed an extraordinary achievement for the Government to have earned the severe criticism of both Compassion in World Farming and the Countryside Alliance. That must be a first. Better legislation would follow mature consideration both of the reasons for the outbreak and of the failure of the Government's attempt to bring it under control. I urge the House to accept our amendment.
§ Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)
I will support the Bill's Second Reading—but I have considerable reservations, which I will talk about later.
The parts of the Bill that merit its being sent for further consideration in Committee are, in particular, those relating to the national scrapie plan. I think we would all accept that we have for far too long tolerated a fatal illness in sheep which may also mask other serious animal diseases that may have implications for human health. The national plan, which the Bill will assist, may help us to accelerate the elimination of scrapie from our national flock. That measure alone means that the Bill merits strong consideration. The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), commended it, although he said that it needed further detailed consideration. I agree with him; it certainly is a strong feature of the Bill.
The second element that deserves positive support is the recognition that carelessness and ignorance may lead to the spread of disease, and that it may be worth while to give farmers incentives to avoid those risks as far as possible.
Those are the key elements that I think are positive. However, I am afraid that there are other elements that I regard with some doubt, and Ministers will need to persuade me. They will also have to take a more flexible view of the need to improve the Bill in Committee. Bearing in mind the haste with which the Bill has been put together, it would be prudent for Ministers to listen carefully to reasoned amendments in Committee, and to reflect on whether they would improve it.
I am concerned by any step to widen Ministers' powers to destroy animals without having to act according to clear criteria. I recognise and accept the rationale that the disease might have been slowed down by a more vigorous cull process applied with more rigour across our country, so if I can be persuaded that the powers in the Bill will ensure that those measures are available, I shall accept it. However, from Ministers asking for such exceptional powers, I would normally seek absolutely clear criteria for deciding on the application of those powers—which, as has already been said, would end a farmer's livelihood, temporarily at least.
The second issue that concerns me is the denial of compensation on the basis of biosecurity lapses over a 21-day period—a period that may go back before the outbreak even started. Unless it is the contention that those biosecurity measures should be in place as a matter of course on all farms at all times, the time of the outbreak of the disease would probably be the point at which most farmers would consider the need to introduce additional security measures on their properties. Yet the legislation, baldly written as it is, implies that for 21 days before the outbreak was identified on a property, a farmer would have had to have taken those measures already, even if he were ignorant of the fact that an outbreak had occurred elsewhere in the country.
593 Ministers should further consider how the 21-day rule is to be interpreted. In the Select Committee, a number of Members questioned the Minister on how the principle operated, bearing in mind the fact that most farmers would receive a visit from a Department official at the time the outbreak occurred but would not normally expect to see such an official during the previous 21 days to identify whether the appropriate measures had been put in place. Of course, those measures are not defined. I recognise that they may be defined in regulations and note the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that there will be consultation on those issues, but at present we are slightly in the dark about them.
It would be prudent to ensure that the 21-day principle were tied much more clearly to matters for which there was a verifiable record, rather than a matter of opinion, such as whether a passer-by noticed a disinfectant trough next to a footpath. The outbreak gave rise to enough urban and rural myths without our encouraging yet more people to speculate, sometimes maliciously, or imagine how various things happened. This principle rather invites that process.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. His farming constituents, like mine, no doubt suffered during the foot and mouth crisis from MAFF's continual changes of instructions on biosecurity measures. In those circumstances, how is a farmer expected to know what the correct biosecurity measures are?
§ Mr. Todd
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I disagree with him. I think that steps were taken. It is fair to say that the recommended measures changed from time to time, as experience demonstrated what measures were most effective. At a very early stage, all farmers received clear guidance on how to identify foot and mouth disease—which is extremely difficult in the main carrying species—and on the measures that seemed appropriate at the time. Farmers with longish memories remembered the use of footbaths and other measures to improve biosecurity. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I think that some steps were taken and some learning done. I do not blame MAFF for that.
My third point was made by the hon. Member for East Surrey and, indeed, I have made it before repeatedly. For the Bill to be a balanced approach to controlling the risk of disease in our land, the most sensible accompanying measure would be steps to control illegal meat imports. The main route is not illegal imports presented as legal imports but illegal imports on the backs of trucks labelled as containing vegetables, or in people's luggage. Thus far, the measures that have been taken are clearly inadequate and have been widely criticised. There would be greater hope of engaging with the other stakeholders in the rural community if more positive action were proposed to accompany these steps.
My fourth concern is that consultation has been extremely limited, although I appreciate why. I am reassured by my right hon. Friend's statement about substantial consultation on the various schedules and regulations. I hope that they will be extremely detailed and that they will fill the obvious gaps in the Bill.
594 Fifthly, although the Bill places specific obligations on farmers, it does not balance them with obligations on Department officials to carry out tasks within a certain time. There is the 21-day rule for determining whether people have properly followed biosecurity measures, but there is no precise timetable within which an official will be obliged to decide, for example, whether a farmer is entitled to compensation of 100 per cent., 75 per cent. or something in between. There is certainly no obligation on the Department to pay compensation within a certain time. which has caused a certain amount of grief in my constituency.
§ Margaret Beckett
Obviously, these are issues that the House will want to discuss, but the Department has it in mind to set a target of three weeks.
§ Mr. Todd
I thank my right hon. Friend. I take that as meaning that the Department will have three weeks in which to pay compensation. When the Select Committee asked the Under-Secretary about decisions on compensation, we had difficulty in drawing an answer out of him, but I got the impression that those decisions would be made in days rather than weeks, and that, in many cases, it would be plain to the official visiting the farm that a decision could be made on that day. 1 shall return in a moment to the reasons for my concern about that lack of definition of the Department's obligations.
I am concerned also about the lack of definition of what biosecurity measures will be required. The Select Committee asked questions about that. We asked how these measures differ from the requirements that the law already imposes. The Under-Secretary made it clear that several prosecutions for biosecurity lapses were in hand, so the law does affect farmers, particularly on matters such as dirty vehicles. That might be covered in a schedule defining the circumstances in which different biosecurity measures would be appropriate. There is a great deal more work to be done on that.
There are different farming practices and different means of species management, which will have to be reflected in the steps that are taken. The Under-Secretary, speaking to the Select Committee, rightly drew attention to the extreme biosecurity measures taken in pig units. There is such a property in my constituency, and it would have been extremely difficult to visit it or even to get near it when those measures were in place, and rightly so. Clearly, we need to reflect on such experiences and draw up specific regulations.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud)
My hon. Friend's argument is cogent. Does he agree that there remains a significant problem with the division of responsibilities between central and local government in monitoring biosecurity?
§ Mr. Todd
I thank my hon. Friend for his typically astute remark. I was about to turn to the management of powers, which is another area of doubt. As those of us who have had foot and mouth in our constituencies are aware, the role of county councils and trading standards officers is vital. There was significant variation in the ways in which functions relating to movement restrictions were carried out. I commend the people involved in that task in my county, who worked extremely hard and were assiduous. When I asked queries, they answered promptly and pursued lengthy inquiries into the movement of 595 animals. One point that certainly came through was that often they did not receive sufficient information quickly enough to carry out their responsibilities as they felt they should. My hon. Friend is thus right to highlight that concern.
My final point has been touched on by the Opposition and it troubles me greatly: the Bill will pass considerable powers to a Department that, if we are honest, did not in all respects perform in a way of which we can be proud as public representatives. That does not mean that I criticise many of the junior officials who worked extremely hard. During the outbreak in my area, farmers were most complimentary about MAFF officials and spoke of the sensitivity, kindness and care with which they carried out their responsibilities. The problem lay further up the chain.
Although the problem was handled with great care and sensitivity, frustration arose when bills had to be paid and issues signed off at a more senior level in the Ministry and in relation to the overall strategic management of the outbreak. There is concern, which I have conveyed to the Under-Secretary, about passing more powers to a group of senior managers whose adequacy many people may criticise, even though those managers may have felt that they carried out their responsibilities in the best way, given the circumstances.
We require some assurance about the way in which such diseases will be managed in DEFRA in future, such as the accountability and roles of Ministers and the essential management tasks that will be allocated to the Department's personnel. Most of us will require greater reassurance on those key matters—not on the willingness of junior staff who, in many ways, performed well beyond the call of duty, and certainly not on the role of the armed forces and others who were drafted in to help in extreme circumstances. However, that critical strategic and operational management role was seen as being of poor quality in many areas—especially those that were under the most stress.
Before we pass such severe and draconian powers, even though they may be justified, we must be assured about the quality of the people who will make judgments.
§ Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) trod carefully on egg shells. He showed a degree of dexterity, and he highlighted many of the concerns felt not only in the House but by people outside.
It is good to know that Labour Members are prepared to express those concerns. Opposition Members can be a little less constrained in the force with which we express our views, but it is good that Government supporters recognise that the Bill does not seem to justify its introduction as an emergency measure. It seems neither timely nor to have been subject to proper preparation or consultation. The Secretary of State has not explained why there is such a desperate need to pass the Bill in haste.
Although many of us who called for a public inquiry still believe that the Government will live to regret not holding one—many questions will go unanswered and will fester beneath the current performance of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—I wholly accept that a public inquiry would not of itself 596 allow for the introduction of more urgent measures. If the Government believe that legislative changes are required—no one is suggesting that they are not—they have a duty to explain exactly what is informing their policy and to explain the reason for their haste. They have not even taken time to consult those directly affected—the farmers—and the other agencies concerned for animal health and welfare. Although the Secretary of State said that the Government would consult on the secondary legislation, that apparently could not be done for the primary legislation.
Ministers must be well aware of the feeling—I am sure that the Secretary of State has encountered it—that the Department and the Government are indifferent, if not hostile, to the interests of those engaged in agriculture and the rural economy. The absence of consultation does not help to reassure those people that there is a genuine desire to engage them in a partnership to deal with a problem that has destroyed many people's livelihoods, and continues to do so. That is why I and my colleagues do not believe that the Bill is justified.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
The hon. Gentleman is Scottish, so does he share my concern and amazement that there has been no consultation with the devolved Assemblies or Parliaments? In particular, does he share my concern that there will be a different system of compensation in England and Wales from the one that pertains in Scotland? As he suggests, many cross-border issues will prove to be a festering sore for the Government.
§ Malcolm Bruce
I have read the amendment to which the hon. Gentleman has attached his name and I know that he is concerned about the role of the National Assembly for Wales. I suspect that his concern is shared by my colleagues in Wales. Consultation has taken place between Departments north and south of the border, but I agree that it has not taken place with the Parliament. I shall return to that point.
Given the slaughter that has taken place over the past few months and the appalling spectacle of pyres and bulldozed bodies, the wider public will be concerned that the Government are planning an even bigger scale of slaughter next time. People will want to know whether that is the right way to respond to the crisis.
The hon. Member for South Derbyshire made the reasonable point that the Department needs to put its own house in order before it begins to legislate about the behaviour of the others with whom it has to work. There can be no doubt that the Department has been run down progressively over a number of years. That process began under the Conservatives, but it has continued under Labour. Regional offices have been reduced or closed and policy has been applied inconsistently. The hon. Gentleman may believe that changes were made according to the information available, but different advice or instructions appeared to given at the same time in different parts of the country. I am told that that actively encouraged farmers to take legal advice and action against the Government. That might not have happened if policies had been applied consistently.
The veterinary service has been run down substantially over many years and the relationship between state veterinary services and private vets, which used to be an 597 important part of the delivery of policy, has broken down. As has rightly been said, biosecurity or the lack of it at ports may have allowed the disease to come in.
§ Malcolm Bruce
Although we do not know that, my view is based on strong reports. Before 11 September—I am sure this is still true—those of us who travelled to the United States knew that at any international airport we would be surrounded by sniffer dogs. They were not looking for heroin or for cannabis, but for ham sandwiches or anything else that might infect American food. We have no such security in this country, and nothing in the Bill suggests that we will get it.
The hon. Members for South Derbyshire and for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) alluded to the definition of inadequate biosecurity, which is now to become an offence that could compromise someone's right to full compensation. There may be a legitimate argument for having such a rule, but the problem is that the Department will decide what biosecurity is and when a breach occurs. A magistrate will have to decide on the basis of departmental information whether a breach has taken place.
Reference has been made to the training of magistrates and to injunctions, which involve a point of law. However, determining questions of biosecurity involves a point of professional judgment with which a magistrate has more difficulty. A farmer might ultimately persuade a magistrate that the advice was wrong, but that might happen after the flock had been slaughtered.
§ Mr. Morley
The hon. Gentleman is again mixing up parts of the Bill. Appeal on the ground of biosecurity is not to a magistrate but to a separate tribunal, which will be experienced in dealing with such issues. The intention of consultation is to agree the assessment with the industry—which does not object to the proposal in principle—to make it as simple and understandable as possible, and to use it as part of the guidance that we give farmers about the practices that they should be applying. That could be done logically and straightforwardly, and such a provision would be to the advantage of the whole industry.
§ Malcolm Bruce
That is a helpful intervention, but the industry will want to know why that could not have occurred before the introduction of emergency legislation.
§ Mr. Martlew
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that only this weekend 400 sheep were killed in south Cumbria on suspicion of foot and mouth? We are not over the outbreak yet; there was a lull in the 1967 outbreak of the kind we face today. I disagree with the slaughter policy, but we need to pass the Bill so that we can get on top of the disease and reduce the number of animals that have to be slaughtered. We have learned the lessons of the outbreak since the end of February.
§ Malcolm Bruce
I suppose that the hon. Gentleman would say that, if the disease flared up again on the 598 previous scale, such legislation might be justified, but I still do not think that we would have enough answers to suggest that the policy had been thought through. Given what we hope is a diminishing problem, what has been learned over the past few weeks and months suggests that we can manage. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman's intervention implies that we are doing so.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
I was about to make that point; the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) argued against his own position. Is not one important factor that under clause 1(3) there no longer has to be even a suspicion of infection? Action can be taken simply because the Minister feels like it.
§ Malcolm Bruce
Exactly. The Minister is much respected in the House and in the farming community, but it is not good enough just to say, "I'm the Minister. I wouldn't misuse those powers." He may not be the Minister who uses them. The point of scrutiny in this House is to justify in an absolute sense the powers that are conferred, regardless of who the Minister may be. The power of the Secretary of State or the Minister to determine that any animal should be slaughtered without any justification seems extremely strong, and one for which the House would have to have an overwhelming reason to grant. The case for that has certainly not been put to us convincingly.
More to the point, the public want the outbreak to be eliminated. I and my party defended the slaughter policy at times when it was extremely difficult to do so—for example, we said that it should not be changed half way through and that there was no adequate alternative. The Minister may accept that or not.
Many of us also said that the scale of the slaughter and the images that it created should never be repeated. We need to find a better way. Indeed, my colleague, Ross Finnie, Minister for Environment and Rural Development in Scotland, is on record as saying that he does not believe that he could get away with such a policy if there were another outbreak on the same scale.
§ Mr. Morley
The hon. Gentleman is making a fair and reasonable case for his legitimate concerns about the Bill. The powers relate to such matters as a firebreak cull, which was implemented in Scotland following veterinary advice. Such action would not be one of my personal preferences. I should make it clear that I do not want culling on such a scale to occur ever again in this country. The Bill does not pre-empt any different approach, but whatever approach we take is bound to include some elements of vaccination, zoology and culling. The Bill strengthens all those aspects.
§ Malcolm Bruce
Let me be clear: some practical amendments to the legislation in the light of experience may be justified, but given the way in which the outbreak has been handled, we could have waited a little longer to introduce a Bill. There could have been more consultation, and more questions could have been answered. We fear that the Government are taking more powers than they hope will be necessary just in case they need them. Opposition parties have a responsibility to call Ministers to account and to question and challenge powers that we believe are too sweeping and unjustified.
599 The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) mentioned the different system in Scotland. The Bill will apply to Wales, although the National Farmers Union in Wales is worried about the confusion that might arise over who will take which decisions. Ross Finnie has told me that, after consultation, he will introduce legislation in Scotland and that there must be a parallel rule on the scrapie measures. As the NFU in England has said, we want to know what will happen in Scotland, because there is no point in having a regime in England and Wales if there is no parallel regime in Scotland. I endorse that view as someone who is strongly pro-devolution. Parallel measures are needed.
§ Mr. Russell Brown
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that much of Ross Finnie's argument for taking that decision centres on the fact that the last outbreak in Scotland occurred on 30 May, so he has had time to consider what has happened?
§ Malcolm Bruce
Yes, but I am not persuaded that the situation for Ministers south of the border is fundamentally different. I appreciate that there was a bigger, more expensive and extensive outbreak in England and that it is not yet over. I accept all that, but it beggars belief that we cannot manage our way through what may happen without taking draconian powers.
People assumed that lessons were being learned that might be appropriate for the next outbreak, not that measures were being taken this late in the day to finish off the current outbreak. Indeed, the Minister has implied that the Bill is intended for the next time, but he has used the fact that we are not quite in the safety zone to justify its introduction now.
As the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) implied in his intervention, the disease affected his constituency very badly, and it affected mine tangentially. Nevertheless, the outbreak in Scotland was more manageable and was dealt with quickly, but there was also much more co-operation, understanding and shorter lines of communication, all of which helped. The watering down of the regional offices in England lengthened the lines of communication there. which created some of the difficulties. Lessons may be learned from that, but perhaps Ministers could have considered the situation in Scotland and said, "This is relevant and this is not" and applied the best practice and discarded the rest, and explained why. It would have been reassuring if that had happened.
The scale of the powers to deal with scrapie and the lack of justification for them give me considerable cause for concern. For example, clause 6(4) states:The Inspector may take with him such other persons as he thinks necessary to give him such assistance as he thinks necessary.The inspector may require any person on the land or premises to give him such assistance as he reasonably needs for the purpose mentioned in subsection (2).If a farmer expresses resistance, the inspector will tell the farm workers that he is co-opting them to help him deal with their boss's concerns. What message does that send? Will the inspector turn up with the Army or half the constabulary? We have seen that happen, and people want to know the specifics of what will happen.
The Library brief makes it clear that the legal measures may fall within the European convention on human rights, but it suggests that the compensation rules may not. As I 600 said in an intervention on the Secretary of State, my concern is that the legal measures seem to be loaded in favour of the Department and are not even-handed in relation to the smaller beast—the farmer who challenges the Department's judgment.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I merely want to say that a farm worker who refuses to assist in those circumstances will commit an offence.
§ Malcolm Bruce
Indeed—the hon. Gentleman's intervention is helpful. I hope that the Minister will understand that our opposition to the Bill is not a knee-jerk or negative reaction, simply produced by the fact that we are in opposition. We believe that very substantial powers may be created in a hurry, and it behoves Minister to justify doing so. At present, we do not think that Ministers have justified them.
When the Secretary of State came to the House after the debacle of the sheep and cow brain research, she indicated that legislation to eliminate scrapie was at an advanced stage of preparation. No reference was made to other powers, and it is interesting that the reference to scrapie in the Bill, as opposed to the schedule, occupies one line. The rest of the Bill relates to foot and mouth disease and all its implications.
There is a general recognition that if we can breed scrapie out of the herd, there is merit in so doing. Obviously, questions arise about how effective that will be. Another question is how to decide which breeds are scrapie resistant. Where is the cut-off point? Where is the determination? Who decides?
As the Government and the Minister have said, measures will be taken to protect special breeds. We need to know what those measures will be. If we want diversity of breeding, we need to ensure that we do not, in the process of trying to eliminate scrapie, create such uniformity among the sheep flock that we make it less resistant to another unknown disease that would have so much of a common thread that it would run through our genetic stock.
We have an obligation to maintain diversity as well as having an attachment to some unusual breeds. That is true in some of the wilder and more remote parts of Scotland and elsewhere. We need to know that we are not going down a path that is incompatible with maintaining diversity. Perhaps the Minister will indicate how that can be achieved when he replies. He will find that many people want answers.
If this measure had merely been the scrapie Bill, I suspect that it would have received a Second Reading without a Division. Given the other provisions that it contains, there certainly will be a Division. We shall vote against the Bill.
§ Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)
Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I was rather surprised when the Bill was placed before the House, and I am surprised by some of the reasons that lead us to be debating it this evening. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spoke to the Environment Committee last week and mentioned that there was a slot in the legislative programme that enabled 601 the Government to deal with the scrapie problem. Perhaps it is not surprising that officials in the Department for Environment. Food and Rural Affairs had been busy examining ways in which foot and mouth disease had not been handled as well as it could have been and had found that there were measures that could be introduced and tagged on to the Bill.
By rushing through the proposed legislation without much consultation, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and his colleagues risk fanning the flames of opposition within the rural community. I represent a semi-rural constituency that has not been affected by foot and mouth. I recognise that within it farmers are not natural supporters of either the Labour party or a Labour Government. They are happy and prepared to use anything that is done by the Labour Government within the agricultural community as a reason to object to and vilify that Government. Therefore, my hon. Friend's Department must be careful about the handling of any legislation that relates to the agricultural community.
Over the past eight or nine months while foot and mouth disease has been rampaging across England, I have noticed that there has been no consensus on how the disease should be handled. There was criticism that the Government were being too draconian. At another stage, there was criticism that they were not moving fast enough and were not culling enough animals. There were arguments in favour of vaccination, but there was strong opposition when the issue appeared on the agenda of the NFU. It was said that vaccination would be a complete disaster.
As the disease has moved round the country and as it has been handled and seen to flare up again, I have learned from the debates and swings of opinion over the past eight months that there is no consensus among scientists or farmers on how best to deal with it. That makes it difficult for Ministers and DEFRA officials in any Administration to carry out policies that will take the farming community with them. In a way. that is part of the problem. There were strong arguments in the spring for a limited use of vaccination, but I well remember ministerial advisers telling the Select Committee that they would not advise Ministers to use vaccination, even if there were good scientific reasons for doing so, without the support of the farming community.
The same goes for the culling policy—contiguous culling and firebreaks. Measures on vaccination and culling in the Bill could be used only when there was a majority view in the farming community in favour of vaccination or contiguous culling. They could be used only against the odd individual in a particular locality who sought to resist the consensus on the right approach to deal with foot and mouth. The extravagant opposition of some newspaper articles and correspondence, which, I am sure, right hon. and hon. Members have received, comes partly from the assumption that Governments would use vaccination or a firebreak policy when there is overwhelming opposition from the farming community. Ministers need to be clear that those powers should be used only when there is a majority in favour of using them and a handful of farmers who do not go along with the consensus.
602 On the specifics of the Bill, I am concerned about the issue of appeals. I accept that farmers can go to the divisional veterinary manager and appeal against vaccination or a policy of culling. The second stage is an appeal before a magistrate. I understand that that appeal simply involves a DEFRA official going to see a magistrate and saying that the Department wants to carry out a cull or have access to the farm to vaccinate. At that stage, there is no opportunity for farmers to put the contrary case to the magistrate. They can only take action by going for judicial review, most likely after the action has been taken.
There may be good reasons for taking action quickly, but I am not convinced that we cannot devise a system whereby the magistrate is accessible to both farmers and DEFRA officials. We must be careful to carry the farming community with us as much as possible when such measures are used. We are setting up a situation in which a farmer's animals can be culled and then, at a later stage, judicial review can show that he was right all along, and compensation is paid because the Government got it wrong. In doing so, we risk making the Department even more unpopular with farmers and discrediting the policy that we seek and on which there is a general consensus. When the provision dealing with that is debated in Committee, I hope that Ministers will have much more information about how it will work. They need to work hard with the farming community, the National Farmers Union and other organisations to persuade them of the merits of their policies. It would be a disaster if, in two or three months, the Bill is enacted in the face of fierce opposition from the farming community. That is not in the interests of the Government or of defeating foot and mouth disease in the future.
§ Mr. Morley
Almost all the main farming organisations and some of the special organisations have welcomed the principles behind the measure. They have concerns about some of details, but there is not widespread opposition to the idea of the Bill. Many organisations, understandably, want clarification about how it will work and about some of the procedures.
§ Mr. Borrow
I accept that. The majority of organisations dealing with farmers can go along with much that is in the Bill. They are worried about how the provisions are to be carried out in practice. The fact that the Bill has been rushed into the Chamber without a long period of consultation has given rise to concerns and suspicion that might not have arisen, had there been a longer period for such consultation. It is important that in the weeks ahead, everything possible be done to ensure that the farming community is on board on the Bill.
The other aspects that are likely to be controversial can be seen as tidying-up measures. In the Animal Health Act 1981 there is no provision making it an offence deliberately to infect an animal with foot and mouth disease. One may consider that a daft thing to do, but as the Bill provides an opportunity to rectify that omission, it seems sensible to do so and make that act an offence. That is not the same as saying that there are thousands of farmers out there deliberately infecting their animals in order to claim compensation.
I shall deal briefly with biosecurity and the withholding of the final 25 per cent. of compensation for infected animals. That is a useful measure. I take on board the 603 point made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the way in which the appeals will be dealt with is still the subject of consultation. That is important, because we need the support of the farming community for the measures in the Bill—useful measures which we hope will not be needed, but we must carry the farming community with us.
Finally, I shall comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). As I understand it, the Opposition would hold a public inquiry and only after that would they decide whether any tidying-up measures were necessary to improve the legislation in respect of foot and mouth. I do not find that a sensible position for the Opposition to hold. It may be sensible to argue that there should be a public inquiry, except that that would take a long time.
In the light of their experience of fighting the outbreak, it is sensible for officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to advise Ministers and tell them that if particular powers had been available, or if certain measures had been introduced, the Department would have been more effective in dealing with foot and mouth. Those officials should press Ministers for legislation to be introduced if the opportunity arises. I think that there is a lot of work to be done on the Bill in Committee and I shall support its Second Reading. My final word is on the view that I have expressed throughout my speech: we must do all that we can to ensure that the farming community supports the legislation and that proper explanations are given, point by point, of the way in which it will operate in practice.
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
It is a privilege, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to catch your eye from the Back Benches for the first time in nine years or so—something that I hope to do on rural matters on many occasions in the years ahead. As you can imagine, the Bill is of pressing importance to my constituents in Richmond, Yorkshire, in the Yorkshire dales. Ours has been one of the hardest hit areas in the whole foot and mouth crisis, which is one of the worst events with which I have had to deal in almost 13 years as a Member of Parliament. We have had 39 cases of foot and mouth disease, deep human and animal hardship, and huge losses in the local tourism industry.
Other hon. Members who represent similarly affected constituencies will agree that it is hard to imagine from central London the effect on the feelings, way of life and economy of the parts of our country that have been hit so hard by this disease. The farmers who have suffered it on their farms are among the most robust and stoical people one could ever come across, anywhere in the world. However, their stoicism has been tested to the limit this year by desperate animal welfare problems arid severe economic consequences, as well as by the fact that those difficulties have been accompanied and exacerbated by some of the worst instances of bureaucratic bungling, mismanagement and, sometimes, indifference that I have ever come across.
We cannot consider the Bill in isolation from that record. Indeed, the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) made the same point from the Labour Benches. We cannot consider granting to a Department new and rather sweeping powers without looking at how it exercised its powers over 604 the past year. The matter cannot be considered in isolation. The Secretary of State used as one of the justifications for urgent legislation—indeed, this was the only justification that she gave—the argument that there had been protracted legal cases involving farmers who objected to culling. She gave the example of Thirsk, which is situated in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). However, one of the reasons why those legal cases and disputes arose was that farmers no longer had confidence in the exercise of the Ministry's powers, because of the way in which the outbreak had been handled until that time.
So I fear that the Government are introducing legislation to deal urgently with a symptom of the problem, rather than with its actual cause. We in this House are law makers. That is our principal job. In the end, we are judged collectively by the laws that we make and by whether they are good. It is our collective experience in all parties that, if measures are rushed in their conception, introduced without reasonable consultation, unlikely to command wide support—a point mentioned by the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow)—or presented via weak arguments from the Front Bench, they are unlikely to be good law. Sadly, all those factors are present in the Bill. There is no clear reason why these measures alone, rather than others, should be introduced today, except a degree of frustration in the Department with some people who have argued back, a desire to ensure that the Government can always get their way, and, from a financial point of view, a little bit of meanness thrown in.
The Government would be in a far stronger position to introduce these or any other measures if they had announced, at this stage or previously, the establishment of a true, public, open and detailed inquiry into the origins and development of foot and mouth disease, and if they had said that any emergency legislation that was necessary now, in the interim, would be subject to review after consideration of the results of such an inquiry. They would be in a far stronger position if they had a comprehensive plan about how they would tackle foot and mouth disease if it were to arise again in the next few months. However, they have presented nothing of that sort to the House. There is simply this measure on its own. No comprehensive plan has been put forward to the House, nor even a list of measures that must be urgently effected to tackle the disease more competently than before. We have not heard about a wider contingency plan. In fact, we have not heard much about the previous contingency plan. I know that the Government claim to have had a contingency plan when they were asked about the purchase of railway sleepers, but they seem reluctant to give it to anybody.
I have seen a written answer from the Under-Secretary, which said that the contingency plan had been placed in the Library and that it is published on the Department's website. However, as far as I can tell, it is not on the Department's website today and the Library has no knowledge of it. I hope that the Under-Secretary will undertake to publish—or republish if he has already published it—the contingency plan that was followed by Ministers when this year's foot and mouth outbreak began.
§ Mr. Hague
No argument, such as that the Government are having an inquiry and that that is part of a bigger plan 605 and urgent list of measures, is available to Ministers during the debate because they are not doing such things. They refused to hold a true, public and independent inquiry despite the comments made by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) when he announced the inquiry on BSE. He said that BSEhas also threatened the livelihood of thousands of people throughout the farming and food industries; it has cost the taxpayer huge sums: and it has caused considerable difficulties in our international relations. It has been … a disaster. We have a responsibility to … look at how circumstances developed in this disastrous manner."—[Official Report, 22 December 1997; Vol. 303, c. 678.]Do such factors not apply to this case? Has it threatened the livelihood of thousands of people throughout the farming and food industry? Yes, it has. Has it cost the taxpayer huge sums? Yes, it has. Has it caused difficulties in our international relations? Yes, it has been a disaster. Do we not have the same responsibility as we had for BSE to examine the development of such disastrous circumstances through an equivalent inquiry?
§ Mr. Martlew
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and I am glad to see him speaking from the Back Benches. I remind him that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) made the announcement, the Opposition said that an inquiry on BSE was not necessary and, when they were in government, they refused to hold such an inquiry. It was two years later when the Labour party, which was then in government, apologised for the fact that an inquiry on BSE had not been held.
§ Mr. Hague
I recall the Opposition's policy because I was Leader of the Opposition at the time. We did not oppose the establishment of the inquiry, and all of us who were even slightly connected with the matter when we were Ministers co-operated fully with it. There is no reason why Ministers today should not co-operate with a similar inquiry into the origins of the foot and mouth outbreak. What misdemeanour was so serious that it cannot be openly aired in such an inquiry? What evidence is so dangerous that it cannot be brought out in public? What gaps in the Government's handling were so wide that they cannot be publicly aired? By what standards can we have an inquiry into BSE and not foot and mouth, except by the standards of hypocrisy that the Government have set on other occasions?
An inquiry is not being held because the attitude of the central personnel in the Government—not necessarily the Ministers specifically involved with the matter—is that disaster in the countryside is an inconvenient news story, rather than a major policy matter that should be resolved. That is why they slapped down the Minister for the Environment when he said that there would unquestionably be a public inquiry, because we would want to know how the disease took such hold. We have not heard from the right hon. Gentleman on that subject—I am not sure whether we have heard from him about any subject since he was slapped down by Downing street for making the statement.
I have three major objections to the Bill. First, it is not based on a sound, independent, considered and comprehensive analysis of what happened and it is not 606 accompanied by such an undertaking with the Bill as an interim measure. Secondly, the Bill places an onus on farmers that the Government are not prepared to carry. The public inquiry in Devon, which is the most authoritative assessment so far, said that the Government's handling of the crisis was lamentable. Its first recommendation was:We therefore find that methods of import control must be tightened to the highest international standards and if necessary he the subject of new legislation.The authors of that report raised an important point, which is my third objection to the Bill.
It is now clear that we need urgently to take tougher action on bringing food into the United Kingdom—or the European Union, if that is the level at which such decisions should be made. It is incredible that passengers on an aeroplane can still bring meat into the country, provided that they claim that it is for personal use. Large quantities of meat are being brought in, in this way. and sold on to markets.
Recent examples—I know that these are the most lurid—have included: a cargo declared as vegetables that included 15 dead monkeys and an anteater; another that contained a whole freshly slaughtered deer; maggot-infested fish; and live crabs in a suitcase. In March, baggage handlers at Heathrow refused to handle a suitcase that was leaking blood and covered in maggots. The Government have to deal with those problems quickly, to prevent not only foot and mouth but many other diseases, such as brown rot in potatoes, or classical swine fever, which came to this country last year.
If the Government expect farmers to improve their biosecurity, it is time the Government improved the biosecurity of the entire nation. They are proposing to pay 75 per cent. compensation initially, then 100 per cent. if DEFRA officials—applying some as yet unspecified criteria—are satisfied that biosecurity has been maintained on a farm. In any fair system, it would be the other way round. There should be a presumption that 100 per cent. compensation should be paid, unless it could be shown that biosecurity had been insufficiently maintained, in which case 75 per cent. would be paid. Would Ministers apply their criteria to themselves? Would they agree to receive 75 per cent. of their salary initially, and get the balance only if the biosecurity policies of the nation were judged by a third party to be secure? I cannot see the Minister being gripped by enthusiasm for such a proposition.
§ Mr. Hague
This problem has existed for a long time. I stand on exactly the same ground as the hon. Gentleman on this subject. He tactfully explained in his speech that he supported the Bill, then went on to give seven or eight reasons why he had grave reservations about it. I am standing on exactly the same ground, except that I am freer, on this side of the House, to vote against it, which I suspect from the hon. Gentleman's speech is what he would dearly love to do.
Ministers would not be gripped by enthusiasm for applying those same compensation criteria to themselves. They would not be keen on the idea because they would 607 know that their salaries would be unlikely ever to be paid in full. The biosecurity of this country has not been secured, and is not being secured. No Bill is adequate unless it tackles this indefensible situation.
§ Mr. Morley
I do not dispute for a moment that biosecurity in relation to imports of animal products is a serious issue. In fact, I wrote to the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), about the measures that the Government are taking. In many aspects, we do not need primary legislation to tighten up those procedures. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if disease gets into this country illegally—we can never guarantee 100 per cent. that that will not happen—we must take measures to prevent it spreading? That is the problem that the Bill addresses.
§ Mr. Hague
Of course I agree with the Minister's argument that, if disease enters the country, we must be equipped to prevent it spreading. That brings me to my third objection to the Bill, which is that it seeks to extend ministerial power in ways that are both sweeping and vague—a terrible combination. It seeks to extend the centralisation of ministerial power. I put it to the Minister that, in this year's outbreak, centralised Government decision making was often part of the problem, and that many people will, therefore, be sceptical that the extension of that decision making could be part of the solution.
I know that the Government like to conjure up the idea that Ministers knew what to do all along, but that recalcitrant farmers sometimes stood in their way. The experience in my constituency was often the exact reverse. In many cases, farmers desperate to slaughter their own and surrounding stock were waiting for a decision from London, with local vets entirely on their side also trying to get a decision.
I remember one instance in April, when I telephoned the office of one of the Ministers in what was then the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on a Friday afternoon on behalf of a farmer, begging the Department to make a decision on farmers who were wanting to carry out a cull in an area of Wensleydale. No decision was made for days. We could not get a decision from London over the weekend. Foot and mouth disease did not take the weekend off; it continued its march, whatever day of the week it was.
I know that there are many hard-working people in what was MAFF and is now DEFRA. The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) asked about the staff and the civil servants earlier, and they are hard-working people. I am not someone who takes potshots at civil servants; indeed, I was so fond of them when I was a Minister that I married one. However, it must be said that the administration of the affairs of MAFF during the foot and mouth outbreak left a great deal to be desired. In the words of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire, it was not something of which we could be proud. It often took five days to get a decision; that has been recited in some of the evidence to the Royal Society inquiry, and may have contributed to the spread of the disease.
Now Ministers are saying that they need these new powers because time is of the essence. Actually, we needed more rapid decision making at the time of the 608 outbreaks; we needed more decentralised decision making, with local vets playing a bigger and more authoritative role, rather than more power given to the centre. The decision making of Departments during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in my constituency was often slow and often led to massive confusion. Putting that right would make a bigger contribution to preventing the spread of disease than the Government's proposals in the Bill. Such proposals could at the very least be accompanied by those changes and reforms.
In my constituency, lorry loads of dead animals were transported 40 miles through uninfected areas. Then, a reversal of policy from London meant that they had to be taken 40 miles back and, in one case, they were delivered right back to the farm on which they had been killed. If we had such instances, it is no surprise that the Government ended up in battles with farmers later on in the outbreak about whether their livestock should be culled.
Today, administration of the Leeds office of DEFRA is hardly an advertisement for smooth competence. Again, I have no doubt that it is full of hard-working people, but there is a big problem in terms of its recent work and the granting of movement licences. Licences have been delayed for weeks; they are often lost, or duplicated; they have been sent out after movements have taken place on the authorisation of a previous licence; frequently, they are full of errors; and sometimes the licences are sent to the wrong place.
If it were necessary today, with a fresh outbreak, for the Minister to trace animal movements in Yorkshire from the records of the Leeds office of DEFRA, he would find that any knowledge of what had gone where was surrounded by complete chaos. When we are told that the same Government Department is going to decide on the level of compensation by criteria that are not set out and on what animals will be slaughtered without any criteria being set out in the Bill, people are deeply sceptical and they are right to be so. Is it any wonder that the agricultural community is hostile to greater powers going to a Government Department that, in their daily experience, is so deeply disappointing?
For farmers in the dales, there is a further problem, which adds to their scepticism about the Bill. The 21-day standstill period on animal movements, proposed by the Government, may mean that farmers who buy animals cannot then sell livestock for 21 days. If so, the consequences for the hill livestock industry in the dales are serious, since a huge amount of trade must be carried out within a short few weeks in the autumn. I acknowledge that more work may be necessary on that and that we may require better tracing mechanisms to go alongside any relaxation of the rules that the Government allow. Such a mechanism should be introduced urgently for the benefit of the economy of livestock farming in our country, particularly in North Yorkshire. That is the type of thing the Government should be doing.
The Bill is not the correct response to the disaster in the countryside. Good legislation would be based on the results of, or accompanied by the setting up of, a clear, open and comprehensive public inquiry. It would be founded on widespread consultation, part of an overall strategy to improve the nation's defences against animal disease, and on an understanding of how Government 609 bureaucracy has performed in the 2001 crisis. The Bill is none of those things and this House should decline to give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford)
It is worth acknowledging that the Bill has been introduced in the context of the Government's growing recognition of the importance to national life of the countryside, farming and food. That is an important backdrop to today's debate. However, it is also a specific response to the current foot and mouth outbreak, although not exclusively so.
Given the devastation caused by the outbreak, the fact that there remains a real risk of further cases at the tail end of the epidemic, and its heavy financial and psychological costs, it is deeply disappointing that many commentators—including some Opposition Members—have put so much of their energy into deliberately stirring up exaggerations about the Bill's intentions. There are certainly serious matters to be addressed, but energy must be put into serious constructive scrutiny to serve the interests of farmers, which will not be assisted or advanced by some of the things that we have heard.
The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) missed an opportunity to set a constructive tone. That was quickly put right by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who might be looking for his job. One never knows—time is a great healer.
Matters have been raised here and outside that must be carefully addressed. Unfortunately, the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny has not yet allowed that to take place. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister—both today, and more particularly in Committee—will take on board all measured and constructive suggestions for amendment.
I am prepared to accept the Minister's explanation that the Bill is urgently required and that it would have been helpful had some of its measures been in place in the past, because of the experience of the 1967 outbreak. About three months after everyone believed that that outbreak was over, there were several further outbreaks and they lasted many more months. I am prepared to accept that these are urgent matters, although some of them are controversial and need careful scrutiny.
I am also prepared to give a fair wind to Ministers' contention that nothing in the Bill will override any conclusions and recommendations in the "lessons learned" report or yet to be made by future inquiries into legislative and scientific aspects of the foot and mouth outbreak. If any conclusions arising from those inquiries suggest a need for amendment of this or other legislation, or for other measures not requiring legislation, it is vital for the Government to be open to them. I am pleased that the Minister and the Secretary of State have given assurances that that is the case, but I would like it to be confirmed again today.
There are concerns that must be taken seriously about the contiguous cull, compensation, vaccination, appeals and the justification for the enhanced powers of enforcement in the Bill. They are indeed controversial matters. The Bill does not promote a particular method of disease control, but the answer to the question, often posed in the media, as to whether the Bill facilitates the contiguous cull policy, is yes. It removes barriers to the process and puts it on a statutory basis.
610 Much commentary on the Bill has focused on, and attacked, the proposed new powers. That is sometimes done on the basis that the majority of animals killed under the contiguous cull were not diseased. However, it is entirely consistent with such a method of disease control that that be so. It is logical that such a policy could not succeed if only infected animals were culled. By the time animals are infected and the infection is confirmed, there is a high chance that the disease will already have moved elsewhere and be incubating in other animals in the neighbourhood or even beyond, if biosecurity has not been effective and movement bans have not been introduced or respected.
A contiguous cull is undoubtedly rough justice, but the evidence of last spring and summer's experience shows that it has merit. I hope, however, that vaccination and other measures, such as more effective biosecurity or different management, might lead to changes, reducing the need to rely on it.
There is strong evidence that, if the disease is to be contained, action must be swift. Time is of the essence. If the contiguous cull policy is to be followed, it must prevail. That is the hard logic of the matter. Anything that obstructs or delays its implementation must be examined carefully.
§ Mrs. Browning
My constituency had some of the earlier foot and mouth outbreaks. There were delays to the contiguous cull there not because the farmers protested or appealed but because the Ministry delayed for 19 days before turning up to carry it out. That totally defeats the purpose of a contiguous cull.
§ Mr. Hall
I am happy to accept the hon. Lady's point, and I hope that the "lessons learned" and other inquiries will take it on board. We all want to learn from what has gone on, and ensure that lessons are learned and mistakes are not made should we need to apply the policies again.
The present system allows a farmer who has been informed of a decision to cull his or her livestock to appeal to the district veterinary manager—I believe by letter. The vet may accept the appeal. Although the majority of stock saved by that process remained healthy, a minority went on to become infected. That included a case that went to the High Court, in which the farmer's appeal was upheld. So there are clearly risks in the process, and we must make a judgment about what level of risk is acceptable, given that we cannot eliminate risks 100 per cent in human affairs. It is part of our job in the House to weigh up the balance of the arguments.
In the majority of cases, the appeal to the district veterinary manager was turned down. Many farmers—possibly most—accepted the outcome and reluctantly agreed to an immediate cull of their livestock, but others refused access to departmental vets and officials, who then had to apply to the High Court for an injunction to access those premises to carry out the cull. That was the principal cause of delay in implementing the cull once the system was working more effectively and the administrative problems of the policy had been solved. That delay led to more infection and, therefore, the need to cull more animals. It is that delay that the Bill seeks to eliminate.
The first appeal to the district veterinary manager will remain intact under the Bill. It has not been abolished. However, if such an appeal is not upheld, DEFRA 611 officials, instead of having to go to the High Court, with the delays inherent in that process, will be able to seek a warrant from a local justice of the peace. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) pointed out, in those circumstances, the JP will hear the case for the warrant from the DEFRA officials who apply for it. However, the farmer will not be permitted to be heard, and that does not seem fair. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider that point carefully. I do not expect him to be able to pronounce on it this evening, but I hope that he will consider it further in Committee.
Even if the contiguous cull is necessary and even if it is, at best, rough justice, the denial of the right to be heard reduces the element of justice being seen to be done. We must question that. There is nothing wrong with a farmer exercising the right of appeal and seeking to save his or her livestock and livelihood. Indeed, on occasion, such appeals succeed, depending on an assessment of the local veterinary situation, so the system has some flexibility. The enjoyment of a right to appeal should be set in a system that is seen to be fair. The whole process that is triggered by the appeal, including the seeking of the warrant, should be fair and open, and seen to be so.
Some of those who advise the Government as experts on such matters believe that the right of appeal represents too much of a risk, because it introduces delay and because decisions to allow appeals might turn out to be wrong. We know that some premises have become infected in just that situation. I put that point to Professor David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, and his colleague Professor Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh, and they confirmed that, from a purely scientific point of view, anything that delays the culling of potentially infected animals is a real risk. Given the awful consequences of living with a higher rather than a lower level of risk, we must ask whether we are justified in retaining the right of appeal. I think that we are, but we must be clear that we retain it on social, legal and political grounds—because it is the right thing to do in a free society—but we do not do it on the best available scientific advice. We must acknowledge that. The right of appeal is not threatened by the Bill, but I imagine that the logic of some of the advice that Ministers have received is that it could and should be abolished. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to be clear about why he has not accepted that advice or perhaps the strong inference of the advice.
Difficult, controversial and hard as these issues are, there is no easy option. Tough powers are needed to prevent the spread of disease, to get ahead of it and stop matters getting worse, and among all the many groups in society, farmers are those who best understand that. However, it is important that the procedures be effective, open and fair so that they are supported and understood and so that we can all accept that we are trying to make something work in the national interest.
§ 6.6 pm
§ Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)
Earlier this year, when I needed to get over to Bentham and Ingleton for my surgeries, the quickest route was to drive up Wensleydale in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). Normally, it is a wonderful drive against the sun and along the river, with the dales on each side. However, then FMD arrived in his constituency and the journey became rather sinister.
612 I could see the pyres alight, with their smoke, and smell them from a long way away. The fields were empty of animals. Above all, there was a terrible sense of claustrophobia.
I wondered how FMD could be in Cumbria and Wensleydale, north and south of my constituency, but not in mine. I spoke too soon, because two days after the Prime Minister announced the general election, we had our first case in Ribblesdale and, by the time that we had finished, we had had more than twice as many as there were in my right hon. Friend's constituency. Indeed, one of the few remaining totally restricted areas is in the Skipton area in my constituency.
I saw at first hand the coruscating effect on people of all sorts and businesses of all descriptions of the countryside being literally shut down. I reflected on what the lessons might be as we tried to learn them. The first lesson is still true today. Ministers frequently announced schemes—to get animals to slaughter, to get animals to market, to get animals into processing plants, or to provide welfare for animals—and a week later, I would inquire of the people who had to implement them, often trading standards officers, what had happened. They would say that they did not have the operating instructions yet, so they could not do anything. The gap between instruction and implementation throughout the epidemic has been far too long.
An enormous amount depends on the most recent autumn movement programme, because people in my constituency who are caught with too much livestock up on the hills that they cannot sell are sucking the pebbles dry. However, the DEFRA computer failed. It has continually failed, which has meant that wrong orders have been given, people were cleared who should not have been and farmers were caught in an immensely frustrating, Kafkaesque situation of knowing that they could achieve something if only the machine would provide the right answer. That is still a problem. I recognise that the public sector has a catastrophic record of trying to make information technology work and that enormous strains are placed on it, but a lot of problems still need ironing out.
The second lesson is the fact that there was no central personnel function; I do not think that MAFF ever applied one. A very limited number of the departments in the Ministry supplied almost all the people to handle the epidemic; some departments escaped with almost none of their people being taken. To what extent was somebody at the centre considering whom to send, where to send them and how to bring the teams together? It took a tremendously long time to put co-ordinated management teams in place.
Foot and mouth came to my constituency a long time after it came to Cumbria, Devon and Wensleydale. It was not at the beginning of the experience but towards its end, yet the vets seemed to be in an autonomous organisation, managing themselves—not very well, because that is not what they are there to do. It took a long time to bring the components together and introduce some sort of integrated management programme.
Because of all that, and because the election was taking people's attention away, the idea grew up in my constituency that the Government did not want people to know about our epidemic. It took place out of the 613 public eye, without attention—because after all, it had already been announced that the epidemic was under control. Indeed, that announcement was made before the outbreak in Skipton and Ripon even started.
Even before one professor mentioned the fact to the Select Committee, I thought that the biggest problem was that MAFF was terribly out of touch with the industry that it was in charge of. In my constituency, as well as in that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, and in Cumbria, it seemed to have an image of agriculture derived from watching "All Creatures Great and Small". Wonderful and entertaining though that programme was, it was only a partial mirror of agriculture in my constituency. The number of people who commute between different holdings seemed to catch the Ministry entirely by surprise. The industry had moved away from the Ministry's perception of it.
"Agentisation"—if that is the right word to describe the acquiring of agency status by the various MAFF organisations—certainly played a part in that. We must now ensure that we have the necessary information about what is happening and where, which is crucial for the future handling of outbreaks.
What I have said so far is just a preliminary, because now I shall turn directly to the Bill. It is not about the prescription of a certain method of fighting foot and mouth disease. It is, we hope, clearing the way to fight that disease more effectively, either by slaughter or by vaccination—although there are questions to be asked about the compensation that would be paid in the event of slaughter as part of a ring vaccination scheme. That subject was skated over cautiously, which makes me think that the Treasury did not want to be too precise about what might ultimately be paid. The Minister will, of course, have said from the beginning that getting farmer consent is crucial to combating the disease, and that is linked to a perception that the payments are reasonable.
In pursuit of the goal of rapid slaughter—if and where that becomes the policy—there is great curtailment of the right to resist. In practice, the right to resist, protest and appeal becomes all but extinct under the Bill.
The key emotional issue has been the contiguous cull. The Select Committee took evidence from Professor David King, Professor Mark Woolhouse and Professor Ray Anderson, and I thought that they made a convincing case that the contiguous cull was a crucial weapon in getting ahead of the epidemic, which had got ahead of the Government and roared out of control. One reason why it was out of control—and here I have some sympathy for the Government—is the fact that they did not take action immediately the first outbreak was detected, during those crucial three days between 20 and 23 February. We have been told that had action been taken immediately, the epidemic might have been cut to between a half and a third of its eventual size.
I can understand that if Ministers see one outbreak, there is some hesitation about the extent to which draconian action must be taken. That is why it would be good to see the papers that were submitted to Ministers at that time—and we would also like to see the papers that scientists wrote for Ministers, and for the Prime Minister, when vaccination was actively being considered. I hope that they will be made available to the inquiry, and that 614 the inquiry will publish them. I have heard reports that the "lessons learned" inquiry may take evidence in private; I hope that it will not, because that would be a serious error, not only from the Government's point of view—that does not concern me much—but from that of the farmers and the rest of the community, which concerns me greatly
There was a catastrophic failure to get to grips with the illness in Cumbria. It simply got out of control and the local people could not cope with it. That happened in Devon as well, and it meant that the contiguous cull became, perforce, the instrument by which we tried to catch up.
Of course some farmers were irresponsible—just as a percentage of any group of people, such as politicians, estate agents or anyone else, will be irresponsible. We have all heard of the famous farmer in Thirsk with seven holdings who commuted freely between them without any effort at biosecurity. However, I do not think that that was the predominant mood among farmers, by any means.
Most farmers were petrified of the disease, although that was against their own economic interests. In my constituency—and, I am sure, in that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks—for the many farmers who are still stuck up on the hills trying to keep on practising agriculture, the irony is that the disaster that overtook them was the fact that their animals did not get foot and mouth disease. Their economic interests would have been better served if their animals had contracted it. Now they are desperately struggling to maintain some form of normal agriculture, which is a testimony to the sheer guts and determination of farmers. What they can do is survive, as they have done for generations, but there is no logical or practical reason why they should carry on. They just hang on in there, because that has been bred into them through generations of farming stock.
If slaughter is the policy, the logic of the Bill is implacable, because 50 per cent. of outbreaks occurred within one and a half miles of the local source outbreak, and it is crucial to be able to kill animals before the incubation period—three to five days—is up, and the disease can be transmitted. However brutal it sounds, killing the animals quickly is at the heart of the argument once we embark on a slaughter policy.
It is therefore inevitable that many uninfected animals will be killed. There is no guarantee, however, that those animals would have remained uninfected, and the few that might have been infected would have set up other centres for the spread of the disease. We were told that there was a 17 per cent. chance of the disease moving from infected premises to surrounding premises; if slaughter is the policy that we are to embark on, then if it were done, it were well it were done quickly.
The Bill clears the way to do that, but at an enormous cost. It is draconian. If the farmer cannot come to an agreement with the Government's regional vets, in practice he has no further recourse. The Government appeal to the magistrate, and the magistrate issues a warrant. The farmer has no right to appear and state his case before the magistrate, and although there may not be a man waiting outside on a motor cycle, someone will be on the telephone as soon as the magistrate issues a warrant, and the slaughter will take place.
As the Minister told us, the farmer can go to judicial review, but that is about process and legal competence; it is not about the substance of the issue. The farmer may 615 get some retrospective intellectual satisfaction, but he ain't going to get his animals back. He will have to start from scratch again.
§ Mr. Patrick Hall
Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing for the retention of the current system, whereby DEFRA officials would have to apply to the High Court for an injunction, with all the inherent delays?
§ Mr. Curry
No, I am not, because one has to follow the logic. If a slaughter policy is to be implemented, it has to be effective. But I want reassurances. Because farmers had the right that the hon. Gentleman explained to the House in his speech, it was imperative for the Government to get them on side and ensure that the maximum number were willing to co-operate. One of the instruments for doing that was a compensation scheme for compulsory slaughter—a scheme that everybody agrees was relatively generous
If the Government do not need to do that because they can get the farmer on side through compulsion, does that mean that in any future outbreaks, they are likely to take a more stringent view of the appropriate level of compensation? I ask that as a speculation born of an eternity of suspicion of the Treasury, both when I was a Minister and under the present Administration. The Treasury is unchanging; perhaps that is good for society as a whole, but it just does not feel like it at the time.
The Bill also provides a penalty for poor biosecurity by docking up to 25 per cent. of compensation. That provision needs a great deal of examination in Committee. How do we arrive at 87.75 per cent. as opposed to 74.66 per cent.? Is there a scale of biosecurity? Will it be published so that the farmer has a checklist and can ensure that he does not fall foul of it? How will the Minister ensure that biosecurity measures are not installed at the last minute? It is perfectly possible to make things look impressive for an inspection, as the Government, having introduced such a gendarmerie of inspectors, must surely be aware.
§ Mr. Martlew
Does the right hon. Gentleman think it fair that farmers who did not give a damn during the outbreak, leaving gates open and going from one farm to another—although there were very few of them—should receive the same amount of compensation as those who took the proper precautions and still got foot and mouth? Or should there be some way in which the farmer who took precautions is compensated fully?
§ Mr. Curry
I am not arguing against the principle of a penalty. I want to ensure that the farmer knows what measures he will be assumed to have taken to comply fully with the regulations, and I want the process by which the figure is finally arrived at to be transparent. He should also have assurances about the means that the independent person he can appeal to uses to undertake the task. As in much legislation, the principle might be difficult to dispute, but how it works in practice is the key for people on the ground. Will it work in a way that is clear and evident to everyone?
Then we come to the Bill's curious nooks and crannies. We have all heard the rumours that have abounded during the course of the epidemic about farmers infecting their own flocks, with infected apples, and tongues, bits of tail 616 and other parts of the carcase being discovered on farms. Nobody, as far as I am aware, has had a charge pressed against him for that reason. However, if a farmer does infect his flock, he will be in a curious position. The Minister said that at present he cannot be prosecuted and gets full compensation. Under the Bill, he will spend two years as a guest of Her Majesty, he is banned from keeping animals for life and he takes, in some cases, up to £400,000–75 per cent. of the compensation—to prison with him.
§ Mr. Morley
The right hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. He made it before in the Select Committee, which is one of the advantages of pre-scrutiny. I have discussed this with officials and understand that the advice remains that we have to pay the 75 per cent. compensation because of human rights legislation. The animals are being compulsorily taken and killed. However, if someone deliberately infects their animals, there is the possibility of implementing action for fraud and getting the money back in that way.
§ Mr. Curry
I am glad that the Minister has discovered a way. When he discovered this curious fact in the Select Committee, he gave the impression that he had trodden in an unpalatable substance and wondered what it was doing in the Bill and why someone had not told him about it. No doubt he had an earnest conversation with his officials immediately afterwards. I am delighted that he has sorted the matter out, even by this curiously circuitous route.
If farmers are to be discouraged from infecting their own animals and if they are to maintain the rigorous attitude that they have maintained until now, it is important that those who are struggling to carry on farming in these most difficult circumstances have all the help that they can get. They want things to be rigorous; they do not want risks taken. They have the right to expect that schemes reflect their circumstances, work and can be accessed easily.
The other big question that inevitably haunts this debate is that of vaccination, because it would have avoided the need for a contiguous cull and the shutdown of the hundreds of thousands of businesses that were part of the epidemic's collateral damage. If there is an effective option for vaccination and effective equipment to test in the field—the two prior conditions—it is a persuasive argument.
We were told categorically that the equipment to test reliably in the field was not ready for use. There have been some arguments that it is, but we were told categorically by our witnesses that that was not the case. We were also told categorically that present tests do not distinguish between an animal that is infected with the disease and one that has been vaccinated and displays the antibodies.
We need vaccines that are available and efficacious. They must be able to deal with all strains of polyvalent viruses and should be long-lasting: what the Government's chief scientist called "smart vaccines", to use the jargon. Even he emphasised the danger of vaccinating an already infected animal in a ring around an infection.
I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said with regard to the public inquiry. I do not think that it needs to replace the more rapid inquiries. I do not see why it cannot crown the various, 617 more informal, inquiries that are taking place, so that we can learn some early lessons. This is not a zero sum game. We need to learn lessons and make sure that we have access to that crucial advice. There will be a central argument about vaccination and we need the advice of the scientific communities. Ministers are not scientists and neither are we. We are trying to understand and, ultimately, we have to decide who we are going to believe. We need the facts to make that decision.
I do not want the scrapie issue to be entirely lost. I draw the Minister's attention to an article on the back page of Farmers Guardian, a journal to which 1 have warmed considerably since it invited me to write a column. The article refers to Professor Malcolm Ferguson-Smith of Cambridge university, who argues:
The Government is drafting a Bill to completely remove those sheep that are susceptible to scrapie—that could mean culling three quarters of the national flock as that is the proportion susceptible to it … We need to know if those sheep resistant to scrapie are resistant to the development of the disease or resistant to infection, as if it is the latter they could pass the disease on".The professor also said that it had already been shownthat sheep resistant to scrapie are susceptible to BSE so the culling policy as a BSE measure did not make any scientific sense at all."Those are the professor's claims. As I said, I am not a scientist, and do not know whether he is right or wrong. If he is right, some serious questions need to be asked about the course along which the Government are about to embark. I hope that the Minister will deal with that point.
The issue of tests is important. Professor Donaldson has argued that the Government are not carrying out adequate tests for BSE on cattle. Similarly, tests on the continent are not adequate, even though they are dealing with greater cattle numbers, because they are capable of detecting only the last stage of the disease.
Finally, a number of colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks and the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) mentioned meat imports. A sense of equilibrium and balance needs to be achieved. If we are introducing increasingly draconian measures at home—which, for the most part, farmers agree to and think are necessary—and curtailing the right to appeal so that a policy can be dispatched rapidly, it is incumbent on the Government, out of simple fairness, to ensure that equal rigour should be exercised so that inadvertent or false imports cannot put the health of the country at risk. I know that that may have to go through the European channels. My concern is not that arrangements exist to permit trade—I am in favour of that—but whether the formal arrangements that exist operate in the conditions that are prevalent, and that we are as satisfied that the rule is enforced there as we are that it is enforced here.
Secondly, as the hon. Member for South Derbyshire said, we must deal with the level of illegal imports. We can ask people to make a particular effort only if they believe that other people are making the same effort and that the Government are, in that sense, on their side. A sense of solidarity has held the farming community together, and apart from the sheer problems of administering the regime, the one thing that farmers have constantly mentioned is that if they are to be exposed to meat from abroad, there is no point to their efforts because there is no equivalence of pain.
618 The Minister and the Government said that they are considering that matter, but what we have been told is very imprecise, and I invite the Minister to clarify the point. It is in his own interests to do so, and he owes it not only to farmers but to the whole rural community to ensure that we are taking every step to prevent another such outbreak, so that the draconian measures in the Bill need never be used.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)
May I say to the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who made his usual thoughtful speech, that the one time when I did not feel at all sorry for him was when he was describing his trip through Wensleydale to his advice surgery? He should try the trip to my advice surgery, which is a walk down the Romford road from Forest Gate to Stratford during which I am assailed by a number of sights arid smells that are nothing like those in his constituency. He is very lucky indeed.
§ Mr. Banks
Thanks to foot and mouth disease, we are probably seeing a few more than usual.
May I say to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that it is a pleasure to see him on the Back Benches? I do not mean that in a nasty way. He looks far more relaxed than he did as Leader of the Opposition, and we can see that in the excellent portrait of him by Johnny Yeo, our election artist, which is in Portcullis House. I hope that all hon. Members will have the opportunity to see it. We have got ourselves a pretty good deal because it will not take much amending to portray the new Leader of the Opposition—although of course we would not do that.
I admit that there are not many farmers in Newham, although all the cattle on the Wanstead flats, which were culled because of BSE, used to represent a pleasant connection with the rural aspects of the area, which is on the edge of Epping forest. I had many letters from constituents about the images of foot and mouth disease on the television and in newspapers, which were not good at all.
I have several serious reservations about the Bill, starting with its short title, Animal Health Bill. I resent and dislike the euphemisms used in this place, particularly those concerning animals and MAFF, or DEFRA, as it is now called. The Bill is about the more rapid slaughter of animals, so perhaps it should more appropriately be called the Slaughter of Animals Bill, although given the propensity of DEFRA officials to kill things it might plausibly be entitled the "We have come to slaughter your pet llama" Bill.
I have not plucked that example out of the air—although plucking a llama out of the air would have been a good trick—because it is one of the animals at risk from foot and mouth disease. The reference is in no way connected to the fact that our former colleague, Matthew Parris, has two pet llamas, which are suitably exotic pets for an exotic gentleman. Under the Bill, people should take steps to protect their pet llamas and, given the extensive powers that Ministers will have, a number of other animals that will be at risk in any foot and mouth outbreak.
619 The welfare aspect of the Bill concerns the livestock industry. I fully appreciate that foot and mouth had a profound impact on livestock farmers, but I understand that 68 farmers received compensation cheques for more than £1 million, and I do not hear many complaints from them. When everyone is jumping up to defend farmers and those who work in the rural economy, it is worth bearing it in mind that the total cost to taxpayers of foot and mouth was more than £2 billion. The Secretary of State and other hon. Members have referred to an irresponsible minority, and surely that irresponsible, and indeed criminal, minority must include the pig farmer in Northumberland who probably kicked off the whole wretched outbreak when he fed his pigs infected swill and transported them all the way to Essex to be slaughtered.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am curious about how one could start an epidemic by feeding one's pigs infected swill. Surely the person or persons who provided the farmer with that swill triggered the epidemic.
§ Mr. Banks
That goes back to the points that were made about biosecurity. The swill was probably infected by imported products, but the fact that the pigs were transported so far down the country shows that the farmer was acting irresponsibly.
There are other examples of irresponsible behaviour, including one from The Daily Telegraph in which it was suggested that a farmer was offered a sheep infected with foot and mouth. There is anecdotal evidence involving a number of infected animal parts on farms, but I heard that there was not enough evidence to proceed with a prosecution. I am only going by what I have read and heard, but unless someone is making all that up, there must be farmers who were responsible for the rapid spread of the disease throughout the country, and we ought to be investigating them.
Opposition Members, including the Front-Bench spokesman, seemed to be trying to point the finger at my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her ministerial colleagues, as though they were responsible for the spread of the disease, which is bizarre. Ministers might be criticised for their conduct during the outbreak, and that is a matter for debate, but they cannot possibly be accused of having kicked off the whole damn thing.
. I accept that there is no conclusive evidence of how foot and mouth entered the UK, although there seems to be general acceptance that the speed with which the disease spread was due to the fact that animals were transported in and out of markets and other premises several times in quick succession. It seems crazy to have allowed that. There is also the matter of animals being transported long distances to be slaughtered. I mentioned the pigs taken from Northumberland to Essex, and I understand that in September several consignments of sheep were transported by sea from Scottish islands to the west coast port of Oban and then by road to Birmingham 620 to be slaughtered. It cannot be sensible to transport animals such a long distance to slaughter, particularly at times of high risk.
§ Mr. Banks
I do accept that. I echo the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber when I say that perhaps we ought to pause and give more extensive consideration to the way in which the disease originated and spread and to how we can deal with it in future. I shall not assault my Front-Bench colleagues—although I am sure that they have the substance to withstand any puny blows from me—but I am singularly uneasy about a number of points in the Bill. Concerns have been expressed by Labour Members as well as Opposition Members.
Obviously, one of the most significant mechanisms by which the disease is spread must be contaminated animal products, and we need to look at how those are brought into the country. I find the stories of people importing infected meat amazing. Indeed, the idea that people are allowed to bring meat into the country is amazing. As a regular traveller to the United States, I know how vigorously one is questioned there about any products that one is taking into the country. We have no such procedures, and given the importance of agriculture in this country, we should have far greater controls and protective mechanisms at the point of entry. I hope that the Government will turn their attention to that.
I shall certainly not accept criticism from the Opposition about the supposed failure of the Government to act, given that for 18 years the Conservatives were in charge of agriculture policy. Apparently, they can see with clinical vision exactly what is wrong now that there is a Labour Government: somehow they could not see it at all when they were in government. The Opposition should be careful before they point the finger and mount opportunistic and unjust criticism of Ministers.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
One of the reasons why we are calling for a full, independent public inquiry is precisely because we want to know what went wrong.
§ Mr. Banks
As my hon. Friend says, the Conservatives were not so keen in government to call for an inquiry into, BSE. I remember the complacency with which various Conservative Ministers approached the problem of BSE and CJD. I can still remember the questions. One does not have to be an expert to know when something is likely to happen. One can rely on one's sensibilities and instincts. Anyone who was interested in the processes of nature could work out that BSE was going to get into the human food chain, yet Ministers constantly said that it was impossible. They were saying that not because they had scientifically deduced it: they were going on the advice of MAFF officials, and that advice was rubbish. That is what bothers me. That is why I keep telling my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and my hon. Friend 621 the Under-Secretary to beware of those experts who still inhabit the Department. The acronym has changed, but the cast has not changed much—nor has the culture
When I criticise the Bill, I want my hon. Friend the Minister—who is a good friend—to know that I do so to try to protect him, not to attack him. For years, I watched as MAFF officials sabotaged Conservative Ministers; now that they are called DEFRA officials, they will sabotage Labour Ministers.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)
Do I smell a whiff of double standards? In opposition, the hon. Gentleman was one of those who called for a full inquiry into the causes and handling of BSE. Incidentally, the Government of the day received advice not only from MAFF officials, but from top scientists, that the disease was a new phenomenon and that sufficient research had not been carried out. If the hon. Gentleman believed that there should have been a full inquiry into BSE, why do he and his party not believe that there should be a full inquiry into the latest foot and mouth outbreak? That seems to me to smack a little of hypocrisy.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Lady makes a nice point but it goes straight over my shoulder because she has not heard the rest of my speech. I actually support an independent inquiry, but I was responding to her Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for East Surrey. He was the one who was exhibiting a touch of hypocrisy; he was speaking for a party that would not hold a full inquiry into BSE, but now demands one into foot and mouth disease.
I supported calls for an inquiry into BSE and I support calls for an inquiry into foot and mouth disease. I want to know how it happened, what went wrong, the criticisms that might be made of officials and what we can do to ensure that it never happens again. The hon. Lady was rather too abrupt; it was too early to accuse me of hypocrisy, but if she stays around she may have ample evidence to make that criticism stick.
I apologise to the House. I cannot resist temptation and when I am dragged into such arguments they take me away from what I was intending to say. I realise that many Members want to speak.
The additional sweeping powers to be given to Ministers are the aspects of the Bill that really concern me. If that involved only my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, I should sleep easy in my bed, but it does not: it will involve all those DEFRA officials and all those so-called experts—the people who got us into all the difficulties in the past and who will undoubtedly get us into difficulties in future. That is why I am uneasy. The Bill goes much too far in giving Ministers additional powers, and I am not happy about that.
Indeed, the idea that Ministers can order slaughter whether or not animals have been exposed to foot and mouth disease is one that I find wholly unacceptable. I hope that my hon. Friend is getting the idea that I am not a happy bunny—[Laughter.] If I were, I should probably be slaughtered by some of his officials in the next outbreak.
During the current outbreak, the policy was to cull contiguously for up to 3 m—[HON. MEMBERS: "3 km".] Yes, three metres would have been a bit close. The 622 scientific evidence seems to show that that was unnecessary. I hope that my hon. Friend has read the interesting article that was published in The Veterinary Record on 12 May—"Relative risks of the uncontrollable (airborne) spread of FMD by different species".
§ Mr. Banks
The resigned way in which my hon. Friend acknowledged that he had read the article suggests that he may not have been wholly convinced by it, but I hope that he will at least answer the points raised in it. That would save me reading them out to the House. As he knows what is in the article, no doubt he will be able to address it.
The scale of the slaughter during the current outbreak was abhorrent. I say "current" because it has not yet officially finished. Although I can understand the logic that if everything is slaughtered we shall eradicate the disease, I cannot go along with the lack of humanity in that approach. As I have said on several occasions, it is just as well that DEFRA is not in charge of the national health service, given its attitude to disease control.
What about isolation, vaccination or surveillance? They are all worth consideration. I hope that an inquiry would examine in detail all those alternatives to mass slaughter so that we can avoid the scenes we witnessed. I cannot accept that contiguous culling was in the interests of animal welfare.
I am trying to find something nice to say to my hon. Friend, but it is a bit difficult at the moment—even though he knows that I am one of his strongest supporters in the House and I pay him due credit for everything that he has done in support of animal welfare. He is being badly advised on the Bill. If Ministers had introduced the Bill during the outbreak, there might have been much greater justification for it and they could have argued far more persuasively for its acceptance by the House. The obvious signs of the crisis were all around. However, it seems strange to bring in the measure at the very fag end of the damn thing. I agree that the outbreak is not officially over, but we appear to have gone way past its strongest point, so to introduce legislation at this stage is not only unnecessary but premature. In those circumstances, it is difficult to understand why we should be asked to support the measure.
We are being asked to support a Bill that gives far greater powers to Ministers before we fully understand the causes of the outbreak. The powers given to DEFRA officials are so extensive that they terrify me. I am terrified on behalf of all the animals that could be slaughtered. I have already mentioned llamas, but elephants, deer, rats and goats can all be affected by foot and mouth disease.
§ Mr. Banks
Indeed. God forbid—if I believed in him—that along should come the DEFRA officials saying, "Minister, it's getting very bad, we shall have to slaughter all those animals." They will go into the zoos, take out the llamas and the elephants and so on. That might sound a bit exaggerated but, given the evidence of the past, 623 that is the sort of advice that I would expect my hon. Friend's officials to give. It is to protect him against such advice that I tell him that it is a bad Bill.
§ Mr. Banks
No, I am about to finish. This is my peroration; surely the hon. Gentleman recognises that.
I do not intend to support the Bill in the Lobby, nor do I intend to join the Opposition's opportunistic attack. I shall abstain in person, as they say. However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister recognises that I will do so out of concern for him as well as for animals. I hope to serve on the Committee and perhaps to help him to improve this wretched Bill.
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
The speech of the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) almost reached biblical proportions in terms of its broad-brush description of the animals that might be vulnerable under the powers in the Bill. He joins a growing list of right hon. and hon. Members who have, in their own ways, asked telling and searching questions about it.
The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) took his usual careful and considered approach and he almost got to the stage of saying that he would not support the Government. He thought better of that, but asked some important questions. The hon. Members for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) and for Bedford (Mr. Hall) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) did exactly the same as the hon. Member for West Ham. They illustrated one of the major problems with the Bill: the speed with which it has been introduced and the lack of any consultation with the people who understand the problem and, more important, may understand something about how one deals with it.
It is interesting that there has been little mention of the Prime Minister so far in the debate,. I recall that he took charge of the foot and mouth outbreak and some improvements supposedly resulted. We can understand the good reasons why he has remained quiet at this time. but it would be interesting to learn whether he had anything to do with the Bill. I always think that one judges a Government by the way in which they handle a crisis. This Government have handled this crisis badly
The chief vet, Mr. Scudamore, gave evidence to the Select Committee and he is reported as saying:Government vets were forced to 'learn as we went along', as the number of cases increased rapidly. He added, 'We had a major problem with manpower on the ground and ran out of vets and we didn't have enough technical staff.'Such people form the basis of the scientific advice that lies behind the Bill
As a former Minister in MAFF, I recognise that science has an important and powerful role to play in the operation of DEFRA. However, with the Ministers' advisers learning as they went along, there is also a powerful case for listening to other arguments. As the Minister will understand from the evidence that the Select Committee has received, there is still no definitive science on exactly how the disease started, We know how it spread, but we do not know how it started.
624 We also learned recently that there is no definitive science that explains how the disease moves from farm to farm. We think that we understand some of the ways in which it can do that but, again, there is no definitive answer. One of the arguments that people have used to challenge the powers that will give DEFRA officials the ability to arrange for slaughter on the basis of suggestion came from farmers in Devon who offered powerful arguments about why their farms should be protected.
The Select Committee therefore held an interesting discussion on contiguous culling. If there is contiguous activity between an animal on a diseased farm and one on a farm without the disease, one can imagine how disease might be spread by contact or by its release into the air. However, when the animals involved are on farms two valleys away and round a bend in the river, we do not know exactly how the disease spreads between them. Yet farmers in such circumstances might be the ones to challenge the powers in the Bill. Therefore, despite the strong science base in DEFRA, it is right to ask questions about the nature of the powers in the Bill.
In a letter that the Minister sent to colleagues in the House, he said:The Government has had to act swiftly in bringing forward this legislation, in particular in relation to foot and mouth … We will nevertheless be working with our stakeholders"—people with an interest in an issue are now described as "stakeholders"—"in the months ahead".Hang on a minute, were we not supposed to be rushing to get the Bill on to the statute book? Yet the Minister said that they would be working with stakeholdersin the months ahead on how key elements of the proposed measures would work in practice and"—believe it or notthere will be full consultation on that.The man who wished to act swiftly appears to have slowed things down remarkably.
The hon. Member for West Ham made a telling point when he said that the Bill might have been justified if it had been introduced at the peak of the disease. I am also intrigued about the timing of its introduction, so that is why I asked the Secretary of State about that.
The Minister told the Select Committee that the Bill's drafting began in August, which is an interesting month because many people are on holiday then. I suspect, therefore, that officials were thinking about the Bill and making submissions to Ministers in May or June. The Minister would have replied, "Oh, those powers are a bit steep. How am I going to sell that? What am I going to do?" The Bill was probably thought up some time ago but, if it is central to fighting foot and mouth, he should have introduced it earlier and with a degree of proper consultation.
All the arguments made have questioned the Bill's practical implications. Despite Professor King's argument about there being a 17.5 per cent. chance that a contiguous farm would be infected, we have not been able to debate what that means in practical terms just as we have not been able to debate how a decision on the operation of the powers can be challenged. Although reference has been made to magistrates and to judicial review, I can imagine what might happen in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon.
625 Someone is up on the fells with the wind blowing; telephone lines are down; there has been a power cut and the mobile phone has not been charged, so how would he get in touch with his lawyer to mount a judicial review to challenge the operation of the powers? The provision is not practical in the real world.
Although farmers will have an opportunity to talk to the veterinary authorities about the operation of the powers, I would like some form of stay of execution, at least, to be built into the procedures so that a second opinion can be obtained and the farmer can be heard. Even if he does not necessarily have his day in court, an element of informed arbitration would help to decide whether it was right and proper to use the powers.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Is he aware that the Bill substantially reduces the flexibility that Ministers already have and have exercised during the foot and mouth outbreak? For example, culling was due to take place on 34 farms in the Forest of Dean, but it took place on only 18. A successful legal challenge by farmers resulted in the Minister using his discretion to arrange for blood tests to be carried out on the animals on the remaining 16 farms. Those animals were saved from the cull, and it eventually turned out that none of the farms had any infection at all. The discretion that existed will no longer exist and that will result in substantially greater costs to public funds because of the compensation that will have to be paid.
§ Mr. Jack
My hon. Friend's powerful point echoes the concerns of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ). She asked searching questions when the Select Committee twice took evidence on the issue. I recognise the scientific justification for culling and accept the power of the concept that a diseased animal is a disease factory unless action is taken early. However, the circumstances under which the powers are operated have been justifiably questioned in the debate.
§ Mr. Morley
The right hon. Gentleman raises a number of serious points which I am sure can be addressed when the Bill is further considered. It is certainly true that ministerial discretion was exercised in relation to blood testing on the farms in the Forest of Dean. I was the Minister who took that decision, and I was happy to do so. Nothing in the Bill rules out such discretion. The key is to make clear the criteria that one would want to apply in the appeals process. In the Forest of Dean, more blood testing was possible and some time had passed, so the situation just required some common sense.
§ Mr. Jack
I am grateful to the Minister for saying that, but the very fact that he had to give us such a lengthy response illustrates the point that I and so many others have made about lack of consultation on the Bill. If drafting began in August, at least some discussion with interested parties was possible. The Ministry quite often calls in people. Why did not DEFRA call in the interested parties, perhaps for a one-day conference? Perhaps it did; we have not been told.
§ Mr. Morley
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is no point in the Government consulting on a 626 Bill unless they intend to introduce it. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear, only in the later stages of our consideration was she convinced of the need for the Bill and that parliamentary time was available for it. That window was very narrow, which meant that there was not an opportunity for detailed consultation.
§ Mr. Jack
I would cast a little doubt on that. I suspect that there was a legislative slot and that somebody had suggested such a Bill. It is very much a tail-end Charlie measure. If it really is that important, it should have been introduced earlier.
In evidence sent to right hon. and hon. Members, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, while welcoming certain aspects of the Bill, seeks clarification. Vegetarians International Voice for Animals—the hon. Member for West Ham will be interested in this—says that it is concerned about the human rights implications of the Bill. The Countryside Alliance wants a public inquiry. The National Farmers Union expresses surprise at the Bill, and the National Beef Association questions the content of it. One could go on; the number of people who want to know more is legion.
Let us consider the operation of the culling powers. Mr. Anthony Gibson, who looks after matters for the NFU in the south-west, has said that the Minister's accusation that farmers spread the disease by resisting the cull issimply not true here in Devon. None of the herds or flocks which were saved from the contiguous cull, either by direct or by legal action, subsequently developed FMD.
§ Mr. Jack
I can only quote to the Minister what has been sent to us. It is up to him to deal with it.
The Secretary of State told the House what was in the Bill without spending a moment on justifying its powers. She did not go through the science about culling or mention the findings of Professor King and others, but strode straight in to say, "This is what we are going to do; this is how we are going to do it. Take it or leave it." She drifted on to talk about scrapie, but that was it. Yet we are supposed to say that that is justification for such measures.
Let us consider those who have had to go to court to defend their interests. Peter and Gillian Cave, who are farmers in the west country, were successful. They saved 100 pedigree Devon cattle which were earmarked for slaughter. They described the Government's approach as "jackboot tactics". They said of the measures:This smacks of Nazi law, malicious and spiteful—you bloody well behave or we'll get you.They are people under stress. The point about the need to win over the hearts and minds of the rural community on these measures is well made by such powerful statements from farmers who have been affected.
Other evidence that reached the Select Committee came from Lucy Gent, Mark Higham, Darrell Gibbs and Julia Harding. They said of the Bill:To make it compulsory is unscientific, immoral. cruel to animals and their owners, and highly counter-productive in terms of disease control by diverting resources away from the crucial task of culling infected animals as quickly as possible.The Minister knows—because his advisers said so—that the biggest failings in running the disease control system were the lack of planning, lack of a contingency plan,
627 lack of resources, and the falling behind in the slaughter programme. None the less, we find that the Minister is to rely on such measures in the future.
It is a pity that the Secretary of State did not comment on some of the people who, it is suggested, did cause a problem—so-called hobby farmers. Owing to the nature of their farming, they may have been less justified in making claims than those who are knowledgeable, run large-scale operations and are well advised and informed farmers. We have heard nothing about that from the Government in presenting the Bill. It is sad that there has been no in-depth justification for the measures. Right hon. and hon. Members have discussed the mechanism of the courts and compensation, but I want to touch on the biosecurity measures. It is interesting to note how biosecurity is a firm feature of the pig industry. It is breached occasionally, but not often. Why has not the Minister decided, for example, to introduce under the cover of this Bill a national code of practice on biosecurity?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. We cannot have sedentary interventions. If the Minister wants to respond, perhaps he might intervene.
§ Mr. Jack
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker—so anxious was I to engage the Minister in debate. I am delighted that he says that such a suggestion can be implemented. Why has the Secretary of State not said the Department has learned a lesson and will, from now on, advise farmers on some practical, permanent and implementable biosecurity measures—not just on foot and mouth but for the list of other animal diseases covered by the Bill? That would have been practical, but it has not been done.
The National Pig Association produced a powerful video on meat importation showing the failings of the current system. The former Secretary of State for the Department, the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), said that all kinds of new controls would be proposed. Where are they? I keep hearing that Ministers are rushing in with this Bill, yet we were told in July that they were working hard on new defence mechanisms to stop infected meat entering the country. Where are those mechanisms? We have had no detail; the Minister says that he will write to us. It is now November, so the Department's priority has been to draft the Bill and not to strengthen the import defences of the UK. As the NPA video showed, our defences were wide open even until recent weeks.
There is some doubt about the measures on scrapie. What struck me in the submission from the National Sheep Association was the sense of disappointment and 628 shock that the voluntary work could not have been allowed to continue. Interestingly, in the note that the NSA sent to Members, it says:It might be more profitable if greater effort was put in by Government to help breeders to develop resistant genes by using artificial insemination and embryo transfer in carefully controlled programmes. It is vital that breeds are given adequate time.
§ Mr. Jack
It is all very well for the Minister to nod, but the Secretary of State did not review progress on the voluntary scheme. She said virtually nothing about resources for it; she said nothing about the signs of vulnerability of some genotypes to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies; she gave us no comfort by suggesting that the matter had been considered properly; she gave us no details on discussions with the NSA; she answered none of the points raised by the association. For example, the NSA said:The Minister cannot at this stage cope with the voluntary work which is available—what therefore is the benefit of compulsion?That is central to the power in the Bill, but we heard nothing from the Secretary of State about it.
The Countryside Alliance says in its briefing:The Bill could be used as a vehicle to allow for the indiscriminate eradication of large sections of the national flock".Interestingly, Lord Haskins in his report on Cumbria advocated a reduction in the national flock, so some people might put two and two together. We have heard no answers to such questions. That accounts for the fact that many hon. Members on both sides of the House question the details of and the justification for the Bill. That is why Opposition Members will vote against it, and the Minister now has an awful lot of work to do.
§ Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
I normally like to welcome Government Bills: this time, I acknowledge the Government's need to introduce the Bill. I have heard reservations about the Bill expressed by hon. Members on both sides of House. Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), I found the title "Animal Health" slightly confusing. The Bill clearly deals with foot and mouth and other livestock diseases, and it could have been given a more accurate title.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and other hon. Members have said that they might have accepted the Bill if it had been introduced at the height of the crisis, but if such measures would have been right then, they are right now, and I recognise and acknowledge the need to introduce them.
There was a serious outbreak of foot and mouth disease in my constituency, especially around Cross Ash, Grosmont, Chepstow, Raglan and Usk. There were about 20 cases when the outbreak was at its worst. When we thought that it was all over, there were further outbreaks in Llanelen, which is very close to the Brecon Beacons national park, and it was felt that the outbreak was related to the serious outbreak in that area.
I will never forget the despair of the farmers who were most directly affected. I also have great sympathy with the farmers who were not directly affected but whose livelihoods have been directly affected as a consequence.
629 Many of them have suffered a greater financial loss because they have lost their markets and the price of their livestock has been depressed.
I will never forget seeing farmers who had heard that they had an outbreak of the disease on their farms. In one case, I had to leave the farm, which those who were with me and I did immediately. I will not forget the impact in the Cross Ash area in the northern part of my constituency, or the sight of bloated carcases awaiting disposal after delays. Many of my constituents have written to me because they were repelled by the level of slaughter that was occurring. That put me in a difficult position because I represent a strong agricultural area. Many of my constituents have written to me about the need for vaccination. We should consider what is said by those most directly affected, rather than by mere observers. The general view of those farmers was that the culling policy was correct to get ahead of the disease, even though it caused considerable distress.
I recognise that there are reservations about the Bill, especially in relation to its timing and the lack of consultation. I recognise that many organisations in the industry have expressed surprise that there has not been more time, but I accept that, if these are emergency measures, they need to be introduced as soon as possible. If there were anomalies in the law relating to foot and mouth disease and the way in which officials could intervene during the outbreak, it is right that they should be resolved. We all sincerely hope that there will not be another outbreak next spring, but if there were to be another outbreak, I should not want to hear hon. Members say that the Government should have introduced such measures immediately after the 2001 outbreak. I hope that the precautionary principle is right in this case.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says. Does he agree that if another outbreak occurred next spring, people might equally say that the Government had not been sufficiently assiduous in dealing with prevention by introducing measures that would avoid infection from imported meat or meat products, and that they had concentrated far too much on internal measures rather than on the external measures that would provide us with greater protection?
§ Mr. Edwards
I acknowledge the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and I would have made it a little later in my speech. I regret that the Bill contains no provisions dealing with illegal imports or substandard legal imports, and I sincerely hope that other legislation will be introduced as quickly as possible in that respect.
Farmers in my constituency said that other animals may have contributed to the spread of the disease. During the outbreak in the Cross Ash area, they said that deer and birds contributed to its spread. If there is evidence to show that, I will accept the need to have the powers to cull those species.
At meeting after meeting, I have heard frustration expressed at delays in confirming cases of foot and mouth disease, in slaughtering and in paying compensation. This is a slightly different issue, but I tried to get through to the Intervention Board by phone. What a curious body it 630 is—and with a curious name. I could never find out who the official relating to Monmouthshire or even Wales was, although there were serious welfare problems and serious delays. I understand that the Minister with responsibility for agriculture in Wales is to rename the Intervention Board as it affects Wales, and I am glad that he is introducing such measures.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have recognised that the provisions on scrapie are welcome, but we have heard reservations about the compensation system and the 25 per cent. penalty. I can understand that there might be difficulties in implementing that system and in maintaining consistency in making judgments about whether farmers had taken the right biosecurity measures.
I note from the representations that we have received that organisations such as the RSPCA and the Country Landowners Association have expressed support for the Bill's general principle, as well as some concerns about the details. They have asked us to consider the Bill in detail in Committee and to consult at the same time.
In all the meetings that I have had with farmers they have expressed concerns about illegal and substandard legal meat imports—the point that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made a moment ago. That is the one factor in the spread of foot and mouth disease that they repeatedly mention.
I hope that the Government will consider more search powers and more punishments for offenders. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham referred to the procedures on the carrying of foodstuffs into the United States and other countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon (Albert Owen) has told me personally that Ireland has much stronger laws on meat imports. Jim Scudamore, the chief veterinary officer, has recently stated that illegal meat imports are seriously threatening animal and public health.
According to the Farmers Union of Wales, it was recently discovered that travellers had brought in 5.76 tonnes of illegal meat on 14 flights at Heathrow. Farmers in my constituency are absolutely appalled by that, and they want measures to be introduced to stop it happening.
The problems of long-distance livestock movements has been mentioned. Hon. Members have referred to the role of certain unscrupulous dealers who have moved livestock around considerably more than was generally known. That also reveals a lack of infrastructure such as local abattoirs. There is no large-scale abattoir in my constituency. If we had resources to invest in abattoir capacity, the number of long-distance livestock movements could be greatly reduced.
It is a great pity that my constituency is outside the objective 1 area. If it was in the objective 1 area, we could get some of the investment that we need. In a strong farming community such as Monmouthshire, there is no doubt that we could have more infrastructure—for example, better livestock markets, meat processing facilities and abattoirs. Those facilities could serve not only Monmouthshire, but south-east Wales and the border areas of England.
Farmers have raised with me the issue of inconsistencies in the payment of the slaughter premium. I recently met a group of farmers who had had their livestock culled and who had been led to believe that they would be entitled to the slaughter premium. I have been 631 advised by auctioneers that whereas at one stage veterinary officers were handing out forms suggesting that the slaughter premium would be paid, they were later giving out forms that did not state that it would. Auctioneers believe that the premium should have been paid. I hope that as a result of the representations that I am making in the form of written questions to the Minister, the rules and regulations that relate to the premium will be examined. If it should have been paid, it should be paid as soon as possible.
I think that we recognise the need for emergency legislation that is based on the precautionary principle to deal with the anomalies that have been exposed in the foot and mouth outbreak. It is important that the Bill should he subject to serious scrutiny in Committee and that the relevant bodies with an interest in the industry should be widely consulted on its provisions.
§ 7.21 Pm
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)
The Bill has the feeling of a pre-emptive strike about it. From what we have heard from Ministers, the Bill is based on unproven assumptions about the the recent foot and mouth outbreak. Had these proposals come forward as emergency legislation during the outbreak, they would have been more acceptable. There would have been questions to ask about detail, but the broad principle of expanding Ministers' powers in terms of slaughter policy and its definition would perhaps have been accepted. It is not only the timing of the Bill's introduction that we have to consider: if we are looking to the future rather than simply considering a Bill that is too late for the past, it is to be hoped that the measure is part of a clear strategy.
§ Mrs. Browning
I shall say something nice about the Minister in a moment. That being so, I hope that he will ask me a nice question.
§ Mr. Morley
That is what I call a pre-emptive strike.
I am sure that the hon. Lady will understand that ideally it would have been better to have the Bill on the statute book at the early stages of the epidemic. Some of the justification that has been requested in relation to the contiguous cull and poor biosecurity has become much more evident as the outbreak has progressed. More information has been collected. In those respects the defence case is much stronger now than it was at the beginning of the outbreak.
§ Mrs. Browning
I am sure that that is true in broad principle. However, in terms of the contiguous cull—I am about to say something very nice about the Minister—I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the role that he played in allowing me to see him to refer to three farms in my constituency. He examined the issues and he intervened. I am pleased to tell him that the farms are still running, with the animals on them. They did not get foot and mouth disease and the hon. Gentleman's intervention was extremely helpful. It was also extremely sensible. It was not until 19 days after an outbreak that the farms, which were deemed to be contiguous, were approached on the basis that the animals were to be slaughtered. It is clear that such an approach 19 days after an outbreak defeats the object of a contiguous cull.
632 There are problems, and that is why I am concerned that the Bill is being introduced now. The Devon county council inquiry has recently published its preliminary findings under the chairmanship of Professor Mercer. It shows clearly that there are still many questions to be answered about the disease and its spread which should be influencing changes in policy and legislation. I am sure the Minister is fully familiar with these findings.
Paragraph 1.26 states:We find that more research is needed on the transport of the Foot and Mouth virus by boots, clothing, tyres, hooves and any other passive agent so that the degree of selection which might be applied to the closure of rights of way and the type of access may be determined.That is important if we are to start penalising people, which I do not agree with, for biosecurity breaches. Paragraph 1.20 states:Any future cull adopted to contain the spread of disease must be applied by experienced operators trained to assess the risk according to the physical conditions.The Minister will be familiar with the assessment of risk. He and I pored over a large map on his desk trying to identify where the farms that we were discussing were. Every farm has a holding number. The Department has masses of information relating to the integrated administration and control system, for example, but it is not possible to draw a line on the map and say, "Cull here." One may be talking about anything within a 3 km zone. A relevant factor is the topography of the area. That point was picked up in Professor Mercer's preliminary conclusions.
Surely these are the matters that we should be considering before we introduce new legislation that contains extended powers. Such legislation should be based on what is practical and on the experience of those who have had to manage the crisis. That is why I described the Bill as a pre-emptive strike.
I do not feel that the Bill is merely premature. I do not think that it fully takes into account information which I am sure is available and will come forward. Certainly it is not the result of the Devon county council's inquiry alone. I have in mind some of the Government's inquiries, when they are concluded. Like many other colleagues, I deplore the fact that we are not having a full independent public inquiry. However, the Minister is right to say that useful information has already come forward. I am sure that more information will become available as the inquiries continue.
It seems extraordinary—I say this as a former Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—that the details of farms and their topography are not available in map form or on a computerised mapping system. That information would allow for much more practicality in determining the way in which decisions about culling are made.
Most of us have supported the need to act quickly and to create a cordon sanitaire by means of contiguous culls. We all understand that if that action is taken promptly we can contain the spread of the disease. I am not opposed to the principle of the contiguous cull, unpleasant as it is. However, if we are to go down the same route again, either if the existing outbreak flares up or if there is another one in the foreseeable future, we should at least be able to take a different approach to managing the situation from that which has been adopted in the past few months.
633 I urge the Minister to try to be as flexible as possible. He said last week in the evidence that he gave to the Select Committee, and in answers to questions, that he wanted flexibility. If he is to maintain flexibility, which many of us have found useful, it is important that when the Bill becomes an Act the hon. Gentleman's hands should not be tied. Flexibility, pragmatism and practical on-the-ground knowledge should be available and ready to be interpreted if any future culling is needed
I had hoped by now to have seen more information and more specific advice from the Government about a potential vaccination policy. Built into the background to the Bill is the assumption that we may have a vaccination policy in place in future. In an Adjournment debate initiated by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) on 5 July, I asked whether it was the Government's intention through the summer months to collate all the up-to-date information about vaccination policy, not only from scientists in the UK but from valuable information that can be obtained from other countries that have foot and mouth disease and have operated such a policy. I asked that question in July because we all lived in fear of another outbreak flaring up as the weather changed and as we went into autumn, into October and November. Although I wrote to the Minister for Rural Affairs after the Adjournment debate, I have not had a reply to my letter, and it is now November. The subject of my proposal was put to me by local branches of the National Farmers Union in Devon. I had hoped that by now the Government would feel that they had sufficiently researched information on vaccination, especially as they are now giving it recognition in the Bill, and would be in a firmer position to say that they would propose using it if an outbreak flared up on any scale in the near future. I am sure that the decision has been complicated for Ministers. The NFU opposed vaccination, but the Under-Secretary will be aware that its south-west branch was not solidly against it.
§ Mrs. Browning
No, but it felt what a lot of us feel—that we do not have that information in the public domain. I raised that in the debate on 5 July because it is incumbent on the Government to collate information and put it in the public domain; people will then feel better informed. If the Government said, as they might well have done, that they had to vaccinate, people would have understood the basis for their proposal. I have not been an Agriculture Minister for many years and I am out of date on the latest thinking and science on vaccination; it is not for me to say yes or no on behalf of my farmers. All that I know is that the information is out there. and it is the Government's job to put it into the public domain.
§ Mr. Morley
I can certainly confirm that vaccination was considered several times throughout the outbreak and, as the hon. Lady knows, it has always been an option available to us. Of course, there are detailed questions about it to which people want answers. There are also people who need to be convinced, but it is difficult to do that in the middle of an epidemic. At moment, at the tail end of the epidemic, it is not likely that vaccination will play a role, although the door is still open. We have 634 sponsored a conference next month to examine issues surrounding vaccination, and there will be a detailed examination of it in the Royal Society inquiry. Issues arising from that may influence thinking for the future, as well as developments such as new tests which have not yet been validated.
§ Mrs. Browning
I welcome that. I hope that, when the Minister for Rural Affairs returns to the Chamber, the Under-Secretary will prod him to send me a reply, which is almost four months overdue.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have huge reservations about the additional powers and the fact that the Under-Secretary is introducing the Bill at this particular time. In an emergency, Ministers can call on emergency powers to deal with just about any situation. They may have to get legal advice and a second opinion on that advice, but when it comes to a genuine emergency. Ministers are not usually constrained by lack of powers and can do whatever has to be done, regardless of difficulty. Clearly, we are not in that situation; the Bill is not an emergency measure to deal with a current emergency. As the Under-Secretary acknowledged. it deals with the tail end of the disease—or what we hope is the tail end. I am not suggesting that new powers are not needed to deal with a future emergency, but the required package, of which the Bill may be a part, does not seem to have been thought through and has not been informed by the various inquiries that are being conducted.
I should like to put a hypothetical question to the Under-Secretary. If all the Department's decisions are based on science—this is why I questioned unproven assumptions at the beginning—and if it is still basing its recommendations and legislation on science and scientific advice, why. in the middle of what was a crisis, was there a clear breach of the rules on severe animal health risk, when Phoenix the calf was saved by an overnight change in the rules?
§ Mrs. Browning
That will not do. I will get really cross with the Under-Secretary if he takes that line. It was clear. however heart-rending that little face was on the front page of the tabloids and however many crocodile tears the Prime Minister felt he had to shed over Phoenix the calf, that it was a matter of animal health in the middle of a genuine crisis and the rules were changed overnight to deal with it.
§ Mr. Morley
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who has been very generous. In all seriousness, I followed the discussions about exemptions to the contiguous cull. I did not have responsibilities for animal health until this June, but I have always been interested in the issue and, of course, I followed it. Exemptions to the contiguous cull for cattle under certain conditions were changing just before Phoenix the calf was affected. I urge the hon. Lady not to think that it was a sudden decision because it looked good on the television and in the papers, although, indeed, it did.
§ Mrs. Browning
Ever the masters of spin! The matter is serious; I understood that Phoenix the calf was, by some 635 miraculous event, lying by its dead mother's body, she and the other cattle having been culled. As a result, Phoenix was saved. Other people may or may not judge that an animal health risk; I am sorry, but I think that Phoenix the calf was an animal health risk. However, in stark contrast, throughout the country, people were having to go to law, often in distress, to save animals whose cull under the contiguous cull rules could not be justified, given anomalies in the way in which officials expedited the contiguous cull.
A culling policy is serious, as the Minister knows, and is not easy to introduce or implement; we know that it causes a lot of hardship. However, one has to stick to proper, proven advice, ideally scientific, particularly in relation to animal disease. That is why there was cynicism and a lack of confidence in the policies associated with foot and mouth. In the midst of chaos and despair, there were examples of policy which, frankly, made people wonder about the motivation or organisation behind the Government's management of more serious issues. I hope that the Under-Secretary will assure us in his winding-up speech that the Department, despite its new title, is basing legislation and decision making on good, sound scientific advice, not on what happens to be on the front of tabloid newspapers. It would be wicked to take decisions on any ground other than good scientific advice, despite—and I am used to this—the cynicism of the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) about the advice of officials from DEFRA or the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He has been getting that off his chest for a long time.
I turn briefly to BSE in sheep, which is another important issue. I was extremely surprised that the Secretary of State suggested that I should turn to the Food Standards Agency to get an answer to a serious statement by Professor Krebs. In an FSA press release of 22 October, he said that if BSE was found in sheep, it waslikely that the Agency would have to advise against consumption of goat meats … and sheep and goat milk and dairy products.I asked the Secretary of State about that; I want an answer from Ministers, and do not want to be batted away to somebody who does not have to stand at the Dispatch Box. On what scientific basis does the FSA believe that milk and dairy products from any species with BSE are unfit for human consumption? If that is true, that has a huge read-cross to the dairy industry. I am sure that the Under-Secretary does not need me to spell out the implications of Professor Krebs's statement, which requires speedy clarification.
However difficult it is to deal with those matters, and despite the fact that the FSA is independent, when Members of Parliament raise such issues on the Floor of the House, we deserve a proper answer from the Minister at the Dispatch Box, whatever their seniority. We do not deserve a Secretary of State who shrugs her shoulders and says that she did not know; if she did not, I hope her officials are briefing her tonight. That was a very serious statement from Professor Krebs, and I hope that before the evening is out—
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
I do not like to act as an apologist for the Secretary of State, but one of the difficulties that she may have—this goes to the heart of 636 many of the Department's problems—is that the Food Standards Agency is responsible to an entirely different Secretary of State.
§ Mrs. Browning
That may be so, but we are discussing the contingency plan for the possibility of BSE in sheep, which is clearly part of the Bill, for which DEFRA has ministerial responsibility. We can legitimately expect such matters to be raised in Standing Committee. I know that the Under-Secretary has taken on board the serious point that I am making. Whether or not it is technically a matter for the Department of Health, we deserve an answer, and I should like an answer later tonight.
§ Mr. Erie Martlew (Carlisle)
I support the Bill. That is probably the only part of my speech that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will accept. Coming from Cumbria and representing Carlisle. I can tell the House that we were in the thick of foot and mouth, and I do not believe that we are out of the woods yet. As I said in an intervention, this weekend we killed a large number of sheep in the south of the county, just on suspicion.
People who oppose the Bill probably think that foot and mouth occurs every 30-odd years. We had it in 1967 and in 2001, so they think that it will not recur for some time and that there is therefore no need to rush legislation through Parliament. Anyone who examines the history of foot and mouth will realise that it occurred regularly before 1967—almost every year—so there is a good chance that it will come to us again fairly soon. We need legislation in place to deal with that.
The lessons have been learned. We found that the Animal Health Act 1981 was defective. The Minister who put it through is probably in the other place. We found out, for example, that a farmer could deliberately infect a flock and get 100 per cent. compensation. Obviously, that was never considered at the time.
In north Cumbria, one option was that we should have a fire break—that we should cull the sheep in the north of the county to stop the infection getting on to the fells. That policy would have been illegal, as the Government did not have the powers to implement it. It was ultimately carried out by other means, but if it had been challenged, we would have had serious problems.
The purpose of the Bill is to allow us to get on top of the disease before it gets out of control. We have learned the lessons. I am sad to say that MAFF was not prepared to deal with the disease in March when it struck us in Cumbria. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) presented a catalogue of mistakes made in his constituency. I could have multiplied them by 10 in the case of Cumbria.
The outbreak was dealt with very badly in the early stages. but I do not believe that at that time any Government would have dealt with it any better. I was coming down to the House of Commons and telling Ministers one thing, and they were telling me that their officials were telling them something else, and that no problem existed. It was only when my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin), the then Minister of State, came to Cumbria and talked to the farmers one Sunday, having previously spoken to MAFF officials, that she realised the problem that we had.
637 The disease was out of control. I live right in the centre of my constituency in an urban area. All round the city, one could smell the burning three or four miles away. On the edge of my constituency, a mass grave contains the remains of 400,000 culled sheep. They were taken through the narrow roads, past the local school, and slaughtered on site. It was a mess. The Government learned the lessons.
Reference has been made to the Prime Minister. Progress began to be made in Cumbria when the Prime Minister came up in March. He listened to the farmers, asked searching questions and gave instructions. The Army arrived, the famous brigadier was there and carried out those instructions, and that is when we started to get on top of the situation. The Prime Minister came on two occasions after that. Without his direct support and help, we would no doubt still have a problem.
We cannot pursue a policy of mass slaughter again. The hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) said that he did not believe that the policy could be carried out in Scotland again; it had got out of hand. It could not be done in Cumbria again. We were fed up with the wanton destruction and death. We felt sick about the total devastation.
That is why I support the Bill, which gives the Government the option of introducing compulsory vaccination and paying compensation. Without it, we would not have that option for the future. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) has left the Chamber. Voting for the Bill could mean saving the lives of millions of animals.
I was the first Member of Parliament to ask for a public inquiry. However, I am prepared to allow the Government to have separate inquiries, as long as they are open. I spoke to those undertaking the scientific inquiry when they came up to Cumbria, and others are coming too. if we get the right answers from those inquiries, a new precedent will have been set for dealing with such issues. There must be an advance on the procedure followed in the Phillips inquiry, whereby we take over a set of dusty rooms in south London, hear evidence for three years and produce a report that hardly anybody reads, all at a cost of £30 million. However, I warn the Government that if they try to hide the facts about the foot and mouth outbreak, I will be the first Member to ask for a full inquiry.
We have heard about the problem of contaminated meat coming into the country. Everyone seems to think that it is easy to stop it. If it were so easy, we would have no illegal immigrants and no drugs problem. It is extremely difficult to stop such things.
There is another factor that has been overlooked. We know about the chaos caused by the recent outbreak of foot and mouth. Whatever our views, no one thinks that it was caused deliberately, but an enemy of the country who wanted to create chaos could deliberately introduce the disease. The virus is not difficult to get in the third world. The only way to deal with that will be vaccination.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton
I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's comments. He seemed to think that it was impossible to do anything about illegal imports of meat, drugs or whatever. One cannot guarantee anything in life, 638 but if measures can be implemented in America and New Zealand—which I know that he has visited—to protect their populations from the importing of animal and plant disease, surely we can take a stab at it. At present, we have wide open doors.
§ Mr. Martlew
If the hon. Lady had been a Minister four years ago, she would have said that our policy obviously works, as we have not had an outbreak. Of course we must consider measures to tighten up on imports, but there is no panacea to stop illegal asylum seekers or drugs coming in, so we must always assume that imported meat will come in illegally.
I come now to a problem that was mentioned by several hon. Members, although I do not think that any of them offered a solution. At the beginning of the outbreak we were hampered in Cumbria and everywhere else by the small number of vets. We all know that the size of the veterinary investigation service was reduced by the previous Government. There may have been a good reason for that. The changes that had occurred may have meant that the vets did not have much work, and they would not have stayed if that was the case. Perhaps we should consider introducing the equivalent of the Territorial Army for veterinaries and the possibility of establishing a reserve on which we can call when a crisis occurs.
§ Mr. Wiggin
We had enough trouble persuading the Government to bring in the Army, let alone the Territorial Army. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is practical.
§ Mr. Martlew
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to make a serious point. If he wants to make party political points, that is fine, but when he has been in the House longer, he will learn when to intervene and when not to.
I have sought an Adjournment debate on Lord Haskins's report. It is a very good report and I have a lot more to say about it, but I point out now that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary must deal with pet animals. There is no doubt that much of the anguish that was caused to individuals in the crisis related to pets. In my constituency, someone rang me anonymously, in case I contacted MAFF, to say that he was concerned about two pet goats. He asked me what to do. I said, "Hide them." Of course, I also told him to have good biosecurity. He never got back in touch. I hope that he took my advice.
The situation was a real problem and a public relations disaster for the Government. That is where I disagree with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). We should not run our approach on scientific grounds alone. If we had culled Phoenix the calf—I am sure that it would have been done only for scientific reasons—public support for Government policy on culling would have disappeared. That would have had more effect on getting on top of the disease than saving one calf.
§ Mrs. Browning
Constituents of mine also owned two goats that were saved. Much as I sympathised with the fact that they were pets and lovely animals, I believed that it was right for them to be subjected to a blood test. If they had tested positive, they would have been just as 639 much a risk to the farming community as any other animals, pets or not. Difficulties arose only when blood tests were refused. I could not understand why that happened in some cases.
§ Mr. Martlew
I would not disagree with the hon. Lady on that point.
I shall support the Bill's Second Reading, as the alternative is not to give the Government powers to vaccinate compulsorily and to grant compensation. That will be the way forward in any future outbreak.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
I am pleased to speak to the reasoned amendment that I and my hon. Friends tabled, which invites the House to decline to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who made by far the best speech in favour of the Bill that we have heard tonight, although am sure that the Under-Secretary will make up for that. He was right to point out that the Bill gives powers for vaccination that the Minister does not currently have, and powers for a cull following vaccination that are not currently in place. The scenario might, therefore, be less optimistic than he and the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) hope.
My party and I oppose the Bill not on principle, because we have much sympathy with what the Government are trying to do, but on the practicalities of the way in which it was put together. It is poorly drafted and badly thought out. A lack of consultation with the farming industry and the devolved Assemblies and Parliament in the United Kingdom is obvious. The Secretary of State's attempts to spin the matter and say that there would be plenty of consultation on the secondary legislation have been undermined by the fact that the Government are seeking to impose a guillotine on consideration of the Bill. Not only is it being rushed through Second Reading, but we are also to have a programme motion on the rest of its passage. If the Government were serious about the process of consultation, we would not impose such a motion on the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading, but allow the Bill a natural progression through the House with plenty of time for the debate that the Government say they want.
Another matter is relevant in questioning why the Bill has been introduced so quickly. In the past, the House has been told many times about contingency plans for foot and mouth. We were told about the buying up of supplies, including wood, railway sleepers and so on. The Government said, "Of course these things happen, because they are contingency plans." We were told that regular contingency planning occurred. We accepted it, as it was the right way forward: such planning should occur. However, why has that planning, which has occurred under Labour and Conservative Governments since 1981, failed to identify any weakness in legislation? If the contingency planning was proper and thorough—some speakers have suggested that it may not have been—any weaknesses in legislation would have been revealed and we could have dealt with the matter at our leisure.
§ Mr. Morley
The answer is simple. There has never been an outbreak on this scale in this country. Indeed, 640 there has probably never been an outbreak on such a scale anywhere in the world. The contiguous cull policy, for example, was introduced as part of the lessons that were learned in handling the outbreak. I agree that it is necessary to think ahead and to try to envisage all contingencies, but I believe that it is hard to make contingency plans for a type of epidemic that has never been experienced or even considered in this country.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am grateful to the Minister for making that point. I partly accept it, but surely it reinforces the view that there was a need at least to consider the results of his own three inquiries before introducing the legislation. Perhaps a full public inquiry would take too much time, but his inquiry on the lessons to be learned should have been reported first and foremost, before such legislation was introduced.
In that context, it has been very disappointing not to have the opportunity fully to consult the National Assembly for Wales, which was partially responsible for dealing with the outbreak in Wales, or the other devolved institutions. The farming unions have not yet been consulted fully on the matter. The handling of foot and mouth in Wales revealed defects in the way in which animal health was dealt with there and a need to tighten up the regime. I regret to say, however, that the Bill does not remedy those defects. The handling of foot and mouth in Wales was characterised by confusion. The National Assembly for Wales is, of course, responsible for agriculture in Wales, but DEFRA has responsibility for animal health, as MAFF did previously. However, the matter is still not clear, as some sections of the Animal Health Act 1981—especially section 86—are devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, which looks after animal health in relation to brucellosis and tuberculosis.
We therefore have a mismatch and must deal with the confusion that arises from it. Some of the problems mentioned by the hon. Member for Carlisle and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) with regard to the lack of local decision making were exacerbated in Wales by the fact that there were two decision-making processes—one in the National Assembly for Wales and one in the Ministry. Very often, neither knew what the other was doing and there was disagreement about how the process should be conducted in Wales. Hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies will know that that is the case from having received phone calls about confusion in the farming community and a lack of clear planning on how to take the matter forward.
It is also wrong to introduce the Bill without the House having had the full benefit at least of the three separate strands that the Government have established, even if not of a public inquiry. I and my party remain convinced that we need an independent public inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak and into how we can learn from it. The Under-Secretary's statement in his intervention that the outbreak was probably the worst in the world underlined the need for such an inquiry; nevertheless, in the meantime, we certainly need to see what the Government themselves have to say.
Before we consider introducing any further legislation, we need to consider the real lessons of foot and mouth disease, such as those that are known to us already without the benefit of a public inquiry, and, indeed, without any other inquiry having reported.
641 First, it has been stated forcefully, especially by Professor Mark Woolhouse in his evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that if the Government had acted more quickly and there had been no three-day delay in banning animal movements, the scale of the epidemic would have been lessened by between a third and a half. He estimates that we could have saved £1 billion, and 3 million animals would not have been slaughtered. I accept that that is only one person's scientific view, but it is interesting to note that the need to ban animal movements immediately is the first or second recommendation of the Devon inquiry.
The Government are not necessarily to blame for the delay because there was confusion on all sides at the time of the outbreak. However, if they want more powers to enforce biosecurity, it is right for us and the farming community to ask them to take further administrative steps to ensure that they do not repeat their mistakes. The question of whether to pay farmers' compensation in the light of poor biosecurity can be turned on its head: what would the Government do if they dithered in the unfortunate case of any future outbreak of foot and mouth?
The buck cannot be passed to the farming community. There is blame on all sides. The Bill covers the few farmers whose biosecurity may have been poor and the few who may even have flouted the regulations. A series of draconian measures are based on that. I am unconvinced about whether we need them. We can make a similar link with imports, which many hon. Members have mentioned. I shall not reiterate their points.
Secondly, let us consider vaccination and the cull policy. We were told again tonight that the Government always had an open mind on vaccination—but they never acted. When the chief veterinary officer, Jim Scudamore, gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee earlier this week, he said that the policy on vaccination was "certainly not a success". He also pointed out that the Dutch had used vaccination.
Has culling worked? The Under-Secretary revealed that of the 103 farms that legally challenged the cull, foot and mouth had developed on only eight. I am sure that that is eight more than the Under-Secretary wants, but the figures show that many farmers had a genuine reason for challenging the cull on their farms. More than 90 farmers were right to do that, yet the Bill will remove the right to challenge.
In a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on 7 November at column 299 of Hansard, the number of infected premises in Wales was given as 107. We were told that 94 premises were tested, of which 54 tested positive. That suggests that approximately half did not carry foot and mouth disease. Yet, 304,847 sheep were slaughtered in Wales. We must therefore ask whether culling worked and whether enough consideration was given to vaccination.
A convincing case has been made that, economically, vaccination would have been more effective for farming: whether it would have been more effective against foot and mouth remains an open question, which I hope the Under-Secretary will answer, if not later tonight, then after the conference that he mentioned.
§ Mr. Thomas
I believe that my hon. Friend's point was reiterated by a Labour Member. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) may not have been in the Chamber to hear it. Putting animals into quarantine has been discussed. I have not considered that, but I have examined vaccination. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report that the Elm Farm research centre published. I acknowledge that it has, an axe to grind on specific issues, but the report is useful. Peter Midmore of the University of Wales in Aberystwyth wrote it, and it sets out the economic case for vaccination. We should discuss the scientific case for vaccination's ability to deal with foot and mouth if it ever reappears in this country.
The lack of vets has been discussed. The chief vet has admitted that we ran out of vets and reached the position of paying £250 a day to attract sufficient vets to deal with the outbreak.
Lack of rendering capacity caused increasing problems. That was the reason for so many pyres, which constitute a human as well as an animal health issue. There is not one rendering plant in Wales. If foot and mouth broke out again, we could not render animals there. The single rendering plant that existed in Wales was in Tan-y-groes in my constituency, and has been closed owing to a private legal action. It is important that the Government consider a rendering strategy as part of their plans for future action against foot and mouth.
§ Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands)
Does the hon. Gentleman support the idea that is currently being investigated by Blue Circle, whereby it could take animal carcases to use as an alternative fuel in the cement industry?
§ Mr. Thomas
I would take a lot of convincing that incineration for fuel was the way forward. I am deeply dissatisfied with the use of incineration to deal with our municipal waste. That also applies to animal waste.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments about the need for more rendering plants. Does he believe that it is right to bring infected carcases to a rendering plant in an area where there is no foot and mouth? It is believed that some outbreaks of foot and mouth in Cheshire could be directly connected to infected carcases being brought into the county. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that?
§ Mr. Thomas
I suspect that I would have similar anxieties if the rendering plant in my constituency, which remains free of foot and mouth, had been opened. However, if that was the best scientific method of disposing of carcases, we would have to go for it. The mass burial of carcases in Wales, especially on the Epynt mountain, was a travesty of animal and human welfare. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman supports on-farm burials, but we need the best scientific evidence.
§ Mr. Winterton
The hon. Gentleman is dealing with the matter seriously and positively, but if infected carcases 643 are being taken to rendering plants in areas where there is no infection, is not it important that the vehicles should be airtight and liquid tight and should be inspected?
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman makes the point well. I agree that the tightest biosecurity must apply to the transport of carcases or infected animals to rendering plants, slaughterhouses and so on.
I oppose the Bill because it gives DEFRA Ministers such wide powers, without proof that they would have made a blind bit of difference to the handling of the current outbreak.
Let us consider scrapie. I believe that it is included in the Bill to deal with possible BSE outbreaks in future. To date, there is not a scrap of evidence of BSE in the sheep flock. We may require further powers to eradicate scrapie, but the Bill does not fulfil that need. The Department that does not know the difference between sheep brains and cow brains should not have powers over the future of our sheep flock. A Department that cannot run a research project without elementary safeguards for checking and counter-checking its results demands more power. I am reluctant to grant it.
The Department's skin was saved by a National Assembly for Wales official, Mr. Mike Simmons, who represents the Assembly on the Whitehall working party on testing sheep brains. He insisted that the material should be sent for DNA testing in July. The Government came within 36 hours of destroying the sheep industry in Wales and the United Kingdom. Mr. Simmons' insistence savednot only the Welsh agricultural industry but the European agricultural industry.
§ Mr. Morley
Mr. Simmons has played an important role in the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, and we very much value his input. However, I am sure that he does not claim to be personally responsible for that, especially as he will be aware that the former MAFF chief scientist asked for the DNA testing to be carried out before he made the submission.
§ Mr. Thomas
I have to tell the Minister that the words that I just read out were not mine but those of Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister in Wales. He believes very strongly that Mr. Simmons saved his backside.
Let us imagine what would have happened to the sheep industry if the Bill had been in the Minister's hands and that report had gone to SEAC without being discovered. The Minister would have had the power immediately to authorise the mass slaughter of the sheep flock. We came very close to that, and the Minister's embarrassment was saved by a small but very important official in Wales. That is the truth. I believe the Labour party's propaganda, because it was Rhodri Morgan who sought to put that on the front page of the Western Mail to reflect well on himself.
This is why we have included in our amendment to the Bill the need to devolve powers to the National Assembly. The present Department, whether it be in the form of the Minister himself—I am sure that it is not—or the officials to whom the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) referred, is not prepared or able to take these issues properly or effectively into account. The issues need to be devolved to the National Assembly. Is it any wonder that 644 most farmers in my constituency think that there is some sort of agenda behind the Bill? I am trying to negotiate with them, but they think that the Government are trying to take powers to cut the sheep flock and the cattle herd in the United Kingdom.
There are also real concerns among the supporters of animal refuges in my constituency. The refuges are next to farmland and people are concerned that the Minister might apply these powers to other animals in a refuge that can carry foot and mouth.
The plans for compensation are crude, although I accept that we need them and that the Minister will do more work on them. If the Government really wanted to improve animal health, they should have examined issues such as the transportation of live animals over long distances. They could also have examined the difficulties that local abattoirs are experiencing in reopening, which was dealt with in the third recommendation of the Devon inquiry. An example is the case of my constituent, Oswyn Jones, who is trying to reopen Llanwnnen abattoir in the face of every bit of red tape, and who is facing huge veterinary bills.
The way in which foot and mouth has been dealt with in Wales, and the way in which the Government's skin was saved over BSE in sheep, have made it clear that the National Assembly for Wales would be a more able and effective promoter of animal health, a more able and effective defender of the public interest, and a more able and effective developer of sustainable fanning in Wales. No doubt the Minister for Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael), would agree with that if he were in the National Assembly.
The Bill gives Ministers the wrong powers for the wrong purposes and on false premises. I hope that the House will decline to give it a Second Reading.
§ Albert Owen (Ynys Môn)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and to contribute to this debate. I have some concerns, as have some of my hon. Friends, about the speed of introduction of the Bill, but I feel that those issues can be settled in Committee and I shall support the Bill tonight in the Lobby.
I want to concentrate on the slaughter policy pertaining to foot and mouth. The policy of establishing a firebreak prevented the disease from spreading in my constituency. My constituency of Ynys Môn—better known by its English name, Anglesey—was one of the first areas in the United Kingdom to suffer from foot and mouth, and had the first reported cases in Wales. The action that followed was decisive, if somewhat brutal, after an initial muddle at the start of the handling of the outbreak.
To date, just 13 cases of foot and mouth have been reported on Anglesey. I say "just", because they were reported very early on in the outbreak. Yet an estimated 50,000 animals were slaughtered in the compulsory cull in south Anglesey. The National Assembly for Wales, with the full co-operation of the fanning unions in Wales, authorised the cull and gave it its blessing. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Agriculture for adopting that policy and for taking those tough decisions at that time. I also support how the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food worked with 645 the National Assembly, although, like the hon. Member for Ceredigion, I have some reservations about that arrangement.
Establishing the firebreak had its problems, not least that of disposing of so many animals, but it worked and we must learn from that experience. It prevented the spread of the disease and allowed the vast majority of the isle of Anglesey to remain disease-free. It allowed open access to the countryside to be restored much earlier than in many other parts of the United Kingdom and Wales, thereby allowing the tourism industry on which my constituency relies so much, and which is vital to the economy of the island, to recoup some lost time and money. It was because that policy was adopted that the National Assembly and the appropriate authorities were able to announce that the disease was under control, and to send out positive messages sooner than in other areas of the United Kingdom.
Movement restrictions remained in place, however, and farmers in the local community had to conform to tight restrictions. I have no doubt that failure to institute those measures at that time would have compounded the problems still further. The initial confused situation marked by the localised burning of animals in huge pyres sent out a terrible signal, and those graphic images did untold damage to the tourism sector in my local community. The confusion over which animals were at greatest risk, which should be killed, and how many should be buried, where and when, created chaos. The Bill can help to alleviate that chaos, which is one of the reasons why I support it.
Although I support many of the measures in the Bill, I ask for some assurances from the Minister; for example, that the Bill will not preclude the use of vaccination without the need to slaughter later, for animals not destined for the food chain. I am particularly concerned by the allegation that so-called hobby farmers are a nuisance. I do not share that opinion; they are farmers who look after animals in the same way as others, even though those animals are not destined for the food chain. I believe that it would be possible to exempt such animals from a mass cull in a designated area, and that a vaccine could be used in such cases. I am not as colourful as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) when he talks passionately about preventing the killing of pets and other animals owned by hobby farmers. We should seriously consider that issue, and send out the right messages to those people.
I understand the logistical problems posed by mass vaccination. However, we must not abandon the research into and the application of vaccination in forming policy for future outbreaks. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made some movement on that in her opening speech. I further understand the cost implications of mass vaccination, but we must acknowledge that any policy to contain and eradicate diseases such as foot and mouth will be costly.
On costs, I draw the House's attention to the evidence given to the Select Committee by Professor Roy Anderson, who claimed that an estimated £1 billion of taxpayers' money could have been saved if time had not been wasted when implementing the ban on animal movements in the crucial first few days of the outbreak. Indeed, it is alleged that the first reported case in my 646 constituency can be traced back to an abattoir in Essex. More must be done to stop the movement of animals across such great distances.
I suggest that the House take note of the Devon inquiry, which called for an immediate ban on animal movements from day one of an outbreak. This is simply a question of prevention being better than cure. The same inquiry called for a study to support the re-establishment of small, local abattoirs to be supported by grants. That should be looked at, as it would help to stop the spread of the disease.
I do not support the calls for a public inquiry, although I did have leanings towards that at one time. We should not have such an inquiry until we have heard the results of the Government inquiry. However, there should be a firm commitment to a national contingency plan that clearly identifies the role of each of the constituent parts, including the local authorities and DEFRA. The pressures and burdens placed on local authorities, DEFRA, vets, administrators and farmers during the mass slaughter campaign were immense in my constituency. Emergency planning is required, in line with what has happened in terms of the maritime disasters that have occurred off the Welsh coastline.
It is right to widen the powers of slaughter to limit the spread of the disease. Enforcement during the first months of the crisis was patchy, as hon. Members have revealed. I believe that this Bill will clarify and eliminate unnecessary and complex legal injunctions without removing the right to appeal. The Bill needs greater scrutiny in Committee. However, I repeat that, only this year, the farming unions in Wales supported the slaughter policy in my area and upheld the right to appeal. It is fundamental, especially with the adjusted compensation proposed by the Bill, that a fair and concise appeals procedure be available. Again this needs to be looked at in Committee.
I wish to refer to the implications of the Bill and the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales and DEFRA. The Bill covers England and Wales, but I have concerns about the confusion that might occur between the devolved Administration and DEFRA. We need clarity, and I hope that the Minister will deal with that.
In conclusion, I wish to consider consumer confidence, which is mentioned in the Bill. Too often the consumer is overlooked in favour of powerful interest groups, such as landowners and farmers—consumers are important stakeholders and their opinions should be sought. During the recent general election campaign, I paid great attention to the ordinary consumers in my predominantly rural constituency. They told me of the need for the Government to take decisive action to recognise and prevent a future outbreak. Their views were echoed by the many small businesses in the tourism and agriculture-related sectors. I support the desire to enact policies that provide decisions and reduce the chances of prolonged crises of the sort that destroy our rural and urban communities.
My constituents want their Member of Parliament not only to voice their concerns, but to take decisive action to support legislation that is resolute and has the long-term prosperity of the countryside in mind. That is why I am pleased to support the Bill tonight. I hope that the Minister will take on board my concerns.
§ Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)
There have been some tremendously good, informed and experienced speeches in this debate because so many hon. Members have had direct experience in their constituencies of the problems during the foot and mouth crisis. There has been a large measure of agreement on the aims of the Bill, but—perhaps this is a problem for the Government—there has been considerable agreement across the House that these measures have not been well thought out and are not the best way of proceeding.
We have heard it suggested in the House and in the Select Committee that speed is of the essence, but one must wonder whether, this time, it is a matter of more haste, less speed. We have not had the benefit of the inquiries set up by the Government; in fact, these have only just started to take evidence. We are told that the foot and mouth disease outbreak is not actually over. Originally we were told that no inquiry was to start until the crisis was over; yet here we are proposing legislation before the crisis has finished, although I very much hope that we are at its tail end.
There has been no public inquiry, however much one has been demanded. Because of that, one might have expected a significant period of pre-legislative scrutiny. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) for securing one evidence session last week for the Select Committee—at rather short notice—but no one believes that that was the real consultation that would be necessary to give proper consideration to the proposals and to ensure that all stakeholders have had their opportunity to be consulted prior to the Bill coming to this House.
The Bill proposes extremely wide-ranging powers, and it surprises me and others that, in the Minister's view, the Bill does not breach the European convention on human rights. If the proposals were enacted and we had another foot and mouth crisis, one wonders how long it would be before the proposals were challenged and ultimately tested in the courts. The right to submit evidence in a court of law appears to have been taken away. Any system that looks at the evidence on one side only must be undemocratic and not in the best interests of justice in this country. All persons affected by the Bill's provisions, and not just the Minister, must have the right to contribute to the appeal process. The right of a post-slaughter judicial review is not sufficient to protect animal owners. I do not think that farmers, or other fair-minded people in this country, would consider that to be so either.
Mention has been made of pet owners. That reminds me of an incident involving a pet owner in my constituency, who was a long way from an outbreak and had a family pet—a pot-bellied Vietnamese pig. She had to move house and, quite properly, she telephoned to make certain what the arrangements were. She could not get any real indication and enlisted my support. The advice that I was given was perhaps not entirely helpful: it was suggested that my constituent have a farewell barbecue. In the end, a licence was granted. The initial response may have been given in the heat of battle, but that is not how we should treat what are very serious situations.
The Bill paves the way to enshrining contiguous culling as the principal weapon against any foot and mouth outbreak. The Minister is shaking his head. I understand 648 why, and I know that there will be other alternatives, but as things stand now, regardless of any future proposals, that is what the Bill does.
§ Mr. Morley
There is nothing in the Bill that pre-empts future responses to any epidemic of whatever kind. It does not enshrine culling as the principal weapon but says that if culling is to be done, it must be done quickly and effectively.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the contiguous cull. Did the Minister's response mean that there would be a contiguous cull where an outbreak of foot and mouth has been identified and proven, or where there is a suspected contact and the Department wants to slaughter the animals on all the adjacent farms? If the latter is the case, it is absolutely outrageous. I stopped one such cull in my constituency, when there was a suspected contact in Rainow. Unfortunately, I missed the immediately adjoining farm, where people slipped in and slaughtered, but I managed to stop them doing it on the next farm. I believe that a contiguous cull must happen only with a proven case.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has used his considerable experience to get in a question to the Minister. I suggest to the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) that he reclaim ownership of his speech.
§ Mr. Breed
I will, Mr. Deputy Speaker, despite my considerable sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's inquiry. I think that the powers in the Bill will mean that his latter alternative is the case. It will provide for indiscriminate culling on the flimsiest of justifications. There will be a "just in case, shoot first and answer questions later" policy, which I think is unacceptable.
The compensation provisions are being used as a weapon to beat the recalcitrant farmer into submission. The proposed sliding scale of penalties, based on the whim of a DEFRA inspector, is unsatisfactory. There should be a proper independent assessment of the risks that the farmer might have caused. Why do we need a system of penalties and compensation? Surely we should leave the compensation as it is and invoke fines for those who transgress. After all, we are to fine people who walk their dogs on footpaths and beaches, so why can we not fine the farmers who breach the biosecurity provisions, rather than tinkering with a compensation system?
I agree with most of what has been said about the control of imports. Last year I visited Felixstowe, a huge port through which there is significant trade. We inspected some of the ways in which imports were being handled. There were between 40 and 60 cases a week of illegal imports—of potatoes, meat, anything. We asked how many prosecutions there had been in, say, the past five years. We were told that that was very simple to answer, because there had been none.
649 When we asked why, we were told that the sheer time spent in prosecuting a case would impinge on the ability to conduct investigations; that the burden of proof needed and the hurdles that had to be jumped in order to get a case to court were extremely high; and that, even if all that had been done and the case won, the fine that can be imposed is so insignificant that the offender would probably hand over a cheque and run laughing from the court. The legislation is in place but we need to try to make it a little more effective.
The proposals for eliminating scrapie are quite sensible. Arguably, they could have been introduced some years ago, when other countries were clearly trying to eradicate scrapie from their flocks. Eliminating the disease will take time, so perhaps we need a timetable with annual targets so that we can be sure that we are bearing down on it over a reasonable period.
Consideration must also be given to the value of genetic diversity. We should not eradicate one disease from our national sheep flock only to reduce genetic diversity to such an extent that it causes other problems. We need vital sheep production in the future, giving us the necessary biodiversity, and we should remove scrapie if possible. Current scientific evidence suggests that we cannot achieve both, and we should weigh up the value of genetic diversity of our stock against the problems caused by scrapie.
The greatest omission from the Bill is also significant. The Government's advisers have said that if the animal movements ban had been introduced on day one instead of day three, the outbreak would have been significantly reduced. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we should remember that the first outbreak was in pigs in Essex, but I am sure that, next time, animal movements will be stopped on day one. The Bill should address the issue of animal movements, especially as they are such a significant part of the way in which FMD, and possibly other diseases, are spread.
Animal movement restrictions, or the standstill proposals, should have been part of the Bill, in advance of the draconian provisions that we are now considering. I know that there would be practical difficulties and that farmers have well founded concerns about how they can run their businesses if all animals are subject to a 21-day standstill. However, we need some proper solutions, because animal movement is as important a factor as import restrictions. Before we address how we manage the disease when it has become endemic, we need to consider proposals that could prevent that from happening. The NFU and most farmers recognise that the status quo is not acceptable.
Another important factor is traceability. We need a technically and economically feasible identification system. Several commercial operations are considering methods of traceability through electronic identification, and they should be given assistance with that. Traceability, in its widest sense, is an area in which this country could lead Europe. We are already way ahead of the others and if we have a system that requires full traceability, we will need a good identification system.
All those factors would achieve more than this sledgehammer of a Bill. In some respects, the Bill is a knee-jerk response. It fails to wait for the inquiry proposals, 650 and some aspects of it are against natural justice. If implemented, it will produce much confrontation at a time when we need co-operation. It will involve the unnecessary slaughter of many animals and cost millions of pounds. It must be resisted. The Minister should go back to the drawing board and produce a coherent, sensible contingency plan, perhaps with some legal backing if necessary, to deal more effectively with any future disease outbreak.
My colleagues and I will vote against Second Reading, and if the programme motion goes to a Division, we will also vote against that. That is not because we are against programme motions or, indeed, the aims of the Bill, but because of the speed with which the Bill has been introduced, the haste with which it is passing through the House and the implications it carries. If we take the measure of the debate we have had tonight, the clear implication for the Minister is that he may have the votes of his hon. Friends but he has not won their hearts and minds.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud)
It is obvious that the Bill is in need of some friends, and I shall try to be one. but I make no apology for criticising some aspects of it, as it is our duty as Members of Parliament to scrutinise and recommend. My hon. Friend the Minister also seems to be in need of some friends; he will be pleased to know that my regional newspaper has referred to him as "Stalin". I am sure that all hon. Members share my feeling that I cannot think of anyone less like Stalin than him—the only similarity is that he once had whiskers.
The exaggerated comment on the subject that we are discussing sometimes misses the point about what we need to do. The Bill could be referred to as the Benefit of Hindsight Bill; as the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) said, we could all do with 20:20 hindsight, but now we need to learn and to take things forward.
I support the need for legislation, but I hope that when the Bill reaches the Standing Committee, it will not be only the animals that are slaughtered, because some changes and improvements are needed. If I am selected for the Committee, I hope to make some suggestions.
It is not only the Government who have lived in denial; some of the stories about foot and mouth are, in essence, about the fact that all concerned have lived in denial. The outbreak has taught us about two key factors. First, we learned how many animals were kept on holdings with insufficient biosecurity, which meant that the outbreak would be far worse than that in 1967, and worse than other outbreaks of disease, notwithstanding the existence of BSE, which is a rather different type of disease.
Secondly, some 30 years on, we know that the significant difference between now and the previous outbreak is the unacceptable speed and frequency with which animals are moved round the country. Whatever we think about some of the details in the Bill, it is a matter of simple necessity that we introduce some movement controls now. That idea was first discussed at the height of the outbreak, and it was not well received by many farmers, but if one talks to them quietly now, they accept the need for controls.
I have raised this subject so often that people will be sick of hearing me talk about it, but I make no apology for repeating my opinion that the role of dealers in the 651 market place, and the way in which they can determine how animal movements take place, is unjustified. We have learned, to our cost, about the role that dealers play in our methods of buying and selling animals—and we must do something about it. I am not sure whether the Bill quite does that, and that is one of the improvements that I hope to see
. There are many myths about vaccination. At the outset, I was favourably disposed to vaccination, and to firebreak vaccination; I still am. The Government, through my hon. Friend the Minister, have said candidly several times that they can see its benefits. Again with the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that, with co-operation from some elements in the farming community, vaccination could have been used.
The problem is that vaccination is not a cure. It is useful in some respects, but there is no evidence that prophylactic vaccination works. The simple fact is that the economics do not stack up. I know that we are talking not about economics but animal welfare and consumer perceptions. However, we cannot continue to vaccinate animals if it effectively costs more than they are worth in the marketplace. There are many examples of vaccines not being available, not working or not being detectable in animals that have been vaccinated or that carry antibodies. I always bow to the superior knowledge of the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who made those points. All the evidence that we took in the Select Committee tended to clarify—to the disappointment of those who want simple solutions—the fact that vaccination is not the answer to all the problems, at least not for the moment. Perhaps it will be in years to come, when smart vaccines are available.
Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I support a public inquiry, but not a full judicial tribunal of evidence inquiry. As I tried to say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State some weeks ago at Question Time, the BSE inquiry, which was long in evidence, was fine for paying lawyers' wages but taught us next to nothing. We already knew most of what came out of the inquiry, which was sad, because I should have thought that there was something to be learned. There is always something to be learned from the minutiae, but we are still looking for scientific evidence on overall causation and transmission. As many Members have said, if we do not obtain sufficient evidence from the mini-inquiries, we can still call for a public inquiry. But we need the right sort of public inquiry: the evidence must be considered quickly and the results made known as soon as possible.
If we ask the right questions. we might get the right answers. It worries me that people are trying to fit up the Government; they say, "The Government are guilty and here is the evidence." Let us not beat around the bush—the Government made mistakes. But this was a huge outbreak, against which every other outbreak pales into insignificance. It was different from the one in 1967, affecting different types of animal. Contrary to what many Conservative Members said, the Army did not come to the rescue then in the same way as it did this time. We approached this outbreak differently, because we had to. Epidemiologists were much more prominent than vets.
652 There are arguments in the scientific community about who did what and why, but we must face up to the fact that things have been different in this outbreak.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
Why was the epidemic so quickly contained in the four counties of Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire in the 1967–68 outbreak? Are there not lessons to be learned?
§ Mr. Drew
I take that to be a rhetorical question because that is my point. The outbreak was different this time because of different features in various parts of the country. We were able to localise the problem in the 1967–68 outbreak which meant that we could pour resources into those areas. My county was not the worst affected this time. Even so, significant resources were poured into it to cope with the outbreak.
I hope that we can take several of those points on board, not necessarily in the Bill but through the change in mindset that must follow it. It is not just a question of what we do but of how we do it. We must look at the checks and balances provided by different organisations. I have made great play of the role of local government and central Government. In Gloucestershire, after some initial hiccups, both functioned amazingly well. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) said, we must give credit where it is due—in this case, to the officials, who worked very hard. We must learn from what they did well and apply that knowledge in the Bill. I fear that rather than spreading good practice and tightening legislation, we are focusing on the negative. However, despite the criticism that I have voiced and will continue to voice, I believe that there is a need for legislation. Although I do not believe that the Government acted illegally, they were hamstrung.
We have talked about the dilemma faced by farmers who did not want their animals killed. Those who earn their bread and butter from farming made it absolutely clear that they understood from the outset why their animals had to be culled, and quickly. Opposition to the cull came mostly from those who are not completely dependent on farming. That is a harsh judgment, and Conservative Members may look askance, but that was the case in my constituency, and it was probably replicated in many others. Those whose animals were slaughtered made that sacrifice because they wanted the disease to be eradicated. They felt that it was wrong for others to suffer and they knew that the sooner the disease was brought under control, the earlier they could begin to participate again, with dignity, in an industry that would sustain them.
§ Mr. Drew
There is some validity in the hon. Gentleman's argument. As he knows, notwithstanding the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister, the Stalin of the Front Bench, is muttering away, the evidence from the Select Committee and the pre-legislative scrutiny is that the success of the 24-hour and 48-hour contiguous culls relied on taking out animals quickly. We cannot have it both ways. The evidence shows that if we had waited, the disease would have gathered momentum. We have to 653 persuade people to comply, but we must have power to back us up. Sometimes individuals make sacrifices because they see that it is right to do so. I wish that people would not claim that science can prove things that are unprovable; we all know that science is imprecise, and in these matters we are pushing back the boundaries of knowledge.
I want to make a couple of observations to which I hope the Minister will respond. Like other hon. Members, I think that there is a lacuna in the Bill because it lacks a strategy for controlling imports. Such a strategy must be linked to the measures in the Food Labelling Bill. I make no apology for the fact that I am a supporter of that Bill, which is promoted by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles). I know that these matters are ones in which we must relate to Europe, and I shall say no more about that, but we need to tighten controls. Anything that can be done in Committee can only be of benefit.
I turn now to the carrot and stick approach represented by the 75–25 per cent. arrangement. I am not sure whether the figures are right, and I am not sure whether it is the most appropriate way to handle the issue. The Government must come up with a more rigorous defence of that scheme.
I have already mentioned dealers, and we need to tackle their part in the operation of the livestock markets; otherwise, the biggest losers will be the auction marts to which the dealers are seeking to return. We will be doomed unless we prevent the problems that occurred in the past.
My hon. Friend the Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that the problems of BSE, foot and mouth and classical swine fever notwithstanding, some of us who represent certain parts of the country experience the continual crisis of bovine TB. What will be the impact on that disease when slaughter policies come into play? I am sure that on one side of that battle people will say, "Jolly good. Now we can take out all the badgers, because the Government have finally cottoned on to the fact that they need to be dealt with." On the other side, people will oppose doing anything of the sort.
Earlier, the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) said that Labour Members were treading on egg shells, but my hon. Friend the Minister will be walking in a minefield on the issue of bovine TB. I leave him with those helpful remarks and look forward—hopefully—to serving on the Committee.
§ Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)
I am grateful to be able to follow the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), before he leaves for the gulag. I am also grateful for the opportunity to speak on this serious Bill, as the subject affects a great number of my constituents.
The Bill could have provided additional powers by order to tackle foot and mouth and other animal diseases. Secondly, it could have provided additional powers to deal with transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in sheep.
In principle, the opportunity to legislate on those matters is most welcome. Such legislation could try to improve the speed at which the Government control the 654 outbreak of those diseases. However, despite such obvious benefits, the wording of the Bill is such that in practice many of them have been lost.
The Bill comes at a time when the entire countryside is crying out for a full public and independent investigation into the handling of the foot and mouth crisis. The Government said repeatedly that that would be too expensive and too slow, so they opted for three separate sub-inquiries. However, now that we have seen the size of the death toll of farm animals, the size of the compensation bill and the damage done to people's livelihoods both in tourism and in farming, there is no justification for preventing a full independent and public inquiry, such as the one held by the Government into BSE—albeit covering only, conveniently, the period up to 1997. I reject the Government's excuse for further avoidance of an inquiry and urge the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to reconsider.
Part 1 of the Bill deals with the power to slaughter. To what extent does the Minister need extra power to slaughter any animal that he thinks should be slaughtered in order to prevent the spread of foot and mouth? Since the last confirmed outbreak was reported on 30 September, 2,030 cases have been notified. Since 3 February, 3.9 million animals have been slaughtered for disease eradication purposes; 1.9 million animals have been slaughtered under the livestock welfare disposal scheme; Farmers Weekly estimates that as many as 2 million dead animals may have been left out of the Government's statistics; hundreds of thousands of young livestock have been excluded from the official figures; and the direct cost of foot and mouth may have amounted to almost £2 billion. It is hardly surprising that my spellcheck rejected DEFRA and offered me "death row" instead.
§ Mr. Wiggin
No, it is entirely true.
On a slightly light hearted note, not only animals that carry foot and mouth—we saw the effects of the disease on the horse racing industry—are affected by the Bill. I have written to the Minister about my constituent who farms worms but is unable to sell them because he fears that the virus may be in the soil. I hope that the Minister will reply to my letter of about three months ago.
Will the Minister also clarify whether the measure will affect cats and dogs that stray across restricted ground? Will they be subject to the slaughter policy?
§ Mr. Morley
Scurrilous comments appeared in some of the Sunday papers to the effect that the Bill would give us powers to slaughter cats, dogs, horses, gerbils, goldfish. rabbits and just about anything. The Bill applies only to farm animals that are susceptible to the disease.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification.
The Bill will also enable the Minister to pursue the other group likely to commit infringements—ramblers and those who ignore "footpath closed" signs. It provides severe penalties for people who deliberately bring about the spread of the disease. Not only might they face six months in prison, but they could also find that their pets are confiscated and that they are no longer allowed to own animals.
655 Such provisions are draconian and the burden of proving deliberate infection may well lie with the Government, who, in the case of many farmers, may rely on hearsay or very thin evidence. Banning the ownership of livestock will destroy not only farmers' businesses, but their way of life. The Minister will be aware that it is simply not possible for a Welsh hill farmer to grow wheat on the side of a mountain.
On vaccination, I recognise that the Minister has every reason to cause to be slaughtered any animal that has been treated with a vaccine for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease. I originally thought that that was possibly one of the more necessary provisions in the Bill, but clause 4(4) deals with the compensation payable to farmers after their animals have been slaughtered. There seems to be no reason why vaccinated animals should be considered inferior in terms of value simply because they have been vaccinated to prevent the spread of the disease. If they are so considered, farmers will have no incentive to assist officials and it will immediately lead the farmer to oppose the Government instead of encouraging co-operation. Farmers who vaccinate voluntarily to save their stock because of its rarity or genetic value will also be put at a disadvantage. How else can farmers save their stock while contributing to the firebreak effort to end the epidemic?
Part 3 deals with enforcement powers. I wonder how necessary such powers are, because it appears that the Government are trying to close the door long after the horse has bolted. Newspapers take particular delight in reporting any case in which farmers or smallholders resist the Government's slaughter policy, but I am not aware of any case in which it was suggested that people had harboured an infected animal. I am happy to give way if my understanding is not correct.
§ Mr. Morley
In some cases tests showed animals to be positive, yet officials were refused access and court injunctions had to be sought. I want to be careful about giving particular examples, because they can be subjective. We must consider the Bill's overall objective, which is to speed up culling if it is used as an option. The Bill does not presuppose that culling will be the option chosen but, if it is, it must be carried out quickly and efficiently.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply.
In most of the cases that we have discussed, farmers exercised the highest standards of biosecurity. The only animal to escape the contiguous cull was Phoenix the calf, which was spared and given Government protection for emotional reasons. I suspect that the decision owed more to electoral opportunity than to a determined attempt by the Government to eradicate the disease. However, that example would not be possible under the Bill, so does the Minister deeply regret the sparing of that small calf?
Clause 6 amends the Animal Health Act 1981, new section 16(4) of which refers to a justice of the peace—not necessarily in court—issuing a warrant to an inspector. I have grave misgivings about this provision. Are the usual checks and balances in place, because the inspector need invent only a minor excuse for the farmer in question to lose 25 per cent. of the value of his stock? Under new subsection (9), the inspector also has the power to request or demandsuch assistance as he reasonably needs for the purposes mentioned".656 However, that will not leave the farmer with much opportunity to appeal if he deems the inspector's request to be unreasonable.
Many farmers may for legitimate reasons have problems providing "such assistance" as the inspector "reasonably needs". Perhaps it would have been better if the wording had referred to the farmer providing "any possible assistance" that he could provide. For example, it is no good asking him for something that he does not possess unless that is part of a Government strategy to cut payments for compensation.
Given the stories of horrendous abuse of my constituents by Department officials and given the fact that no qualifications are specified for inspectors, the provisions relating to refusal to be obedient to any whim of any inspector are wrong. Once again, the Bill is over-draconian.
Under proposed section 65, an inspector may examine any vehicle to ascertain whether the provisions of the Act are being complied with. There is no mention of time scale. Can we envisage people's vehicles being impounded for long periods? Conversely, vehicles such as those shown on television dripping with blood and other liquid could be impounded in an area that was not previously infected. I hope that the images that we saw will not be repeated when or if the disease recurs.
Under the Bill, the Minister may by order amend the Act to allow for the adjustment of compensation. That is worrying because it creates an area of political judgment and subjectivity instead of objective, fair and well-understood compensation. Under proposed schedule 3A, the Government have split compensation into three sections. Only 75 per cent. of the value of the animal prior to slaughter will be payable, and in all cases the Minister must decide, after considering an inspector's assessment, whether to pay all or part of the remaining 25 per cent.
Although I recognise that in some cases the Government might want to penalise farmers who do not practise biosecurity, surely we should start from full compensation rather than build up to it. The Bill approaches the matter from the wrong direction. Will farmers be fully aware of which biosecurity measures they are expected to implement before inspectors come to slaughter their flocks?
People are being put in a virtually impossible position. The inspector must decide whether the occupier of the premises created a significant risk of the spread of foot and mouth during the previous 21 days, but how on earth will the inspector know what has been going on during the previous three weeks? The answer is that inspectors will not know and will therefore generalise. Farmers will be forced to go to court to claim 25 per cent. of the value of their stock because they will not agree with the wording of the inspector's report.
Surely it would be useful to retain local vets, who are sensitive to local conditions, to advise all their clients on appropriate measures. That advice would then be the benchmark against which compliance could be judged. That would of course take into consideration all local difficulties and conditions.
A fee is due for appeals. Although I recognise that the intention is to prevent nit-picking, it shifts the burden from the Government to the farmer. The intention cannot be just to hold back the farmer's money and then to make him pay to try to reclaim it. That is compounded by the 657 Government's record on paying their bills. Surely a bad payer should not be able to legislate on paying interest on sums that they have held back. That is wrong. The National Pig Association described the Government's attitude to farmers during the crisis as inhumane. Desperate farmers complained that the Government have turned out to be the country's No. 1 bad payer. Jean Turnbull of the NPA said that that was maladministration of the most vicious kind.
The lateness of compensation payments is due to civil service bungling. When people telephoned asking when compensation would be paid, officials refused to give their names. I have had many complaints from my constituents that they could never get hold of the same person, so were forced every time they telephoned the DEFRA office to begin from scratch. It is very difficult for farmers at the best of times; such problems make things worse.
On scrapie, the Minister may by order specify sheep genotypes that are susceptible to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. That is a laudable approach to cutting the time frame for the eradication of scrapie and the introduction of genetically superior sheep in the British flock. I hope that full compensation will be payable because, as the Minister will be aware, the price of sheep is not high at the moment. Perhaps he has chosen a particularly bad time to introduce that positive step.
A person who receives a restriction notice may not appeal until the end of a 21-day period. The Ministry does not have a very good record of dealing with any problem in 21 days, and it therefore seems unfair that it should insist on farmers reacting quite so speedily. Given that the Government took more than four years to decide that the sheep brains that they had been looking at were in fact cow brains, the Ministry is painting itself into a very small and potentially expensive corner. Given the enormous power of enforcement, perhaps a slightly longer notice period would have been valuable.
There are elements of good news. Miles Blackwell left £10 million to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust" but he did so without the knowledge that the Government were planning to slaughter many rare breeds because of their lack of resistance to scrapie. That funding could not have come at a better time and is desperately needed.
The Bill is about shifting the blame for the gross mishandling of foot and mouth disease from the former Ministry to the farmer. It is designed to subordinate the farmer to the Minister and his inspectors. It will put the fanner in a position of dependency, yet Professor Mark Woolhouse told Members of Parliament that if the Government had simply imposed a ban on livestock movement 72 hours earlier than they did, the spread of the disease would have been halved.
The Countryside Alliance criticised the Government—[Interruption.] It did so for the very good reason that the system for identifying, slaughtering and disposing of infected animals is cumbersome and substantially increases the risk of spreading the disease. The gap between diagnosis and disposal should be hours, not days. The Government should prioritise the disposal of animals, not the slaughter of uninfected animals. Indeed, animals lay dead for nine days at Winforton in my constituency.
658 One question that an inquiry should answer is whether animals were killed in greater numbers and more quickly because the Prime Minister wanted to call an election. Newspapers have also reported that DEFRA employees could have helped to spread the disease. Indeed, in my constituency, I found that vets who lived in Worcestershire were travelling across Herefordshire to cull in Brecon. I wrote to the Minister asking about that very serious risk, but, again, I have not yet had a reply.
The importation of meat from abroad is the most important threat to British farming. It would cost the Government about £8 million to provide bio x-rays and staff to prevent the importation of bush meat at Heathrow airport. The cost to the Government would be passed on to the passengers. In the 14 checks carried out at Heathrow last year, 5 tonnes of meat were found. A single body would need to be responsible for the prevention of the importation of infected meat, and the cost would work out at less than 10p per passenger. That would also help animals in the wild by reducing the poachers' markets.
The early introduction of the Bill has greatly surprised the NFU, and we would all have welcomed a longer consultation period, involving the farming industry.
Parts 1 and 3 contain the slaughter and enforcement provisions. Although discussions have been held on the prevention of scrapie, genotype research is still in its infancy, and there does not seem to be a great deal of explanation of how the Government will enforce the cull or control.
The Food Standards Agency has always maintained that there is no danger in eating lamb, yet the Bill contains measures to tackle BSE in sheep, although we are no nearer knowing whether BSE can infect sheep.
The lot of farmers and their stock would be significantly improved if the Government were to take steps to stop the European Parliament amending the directive on veterinary medicinal products. Farmers are currently free to purchase non-prescription medicines—such as wormers, vaccines and sheep dip—from tightly regulated distributors who employ qualified staff, trained to industry standards and controlled by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and its inspectorate.
New proposals would force farmers to buy such products from vets or pharmacies—and then only by prescription. That proposal will introduce further impracticality and higher costs, and it will finish the jobs of 3,500 people. Without doubt, all that would have a direct, negative impact on animal welfare standards. There is no evidence to show that any improvement in food safety standards or animal welfare standards would result from implementing that change; instead a whole legion of qualified people would be removed from the food production process, damaging the businesses of my constituents David Pryce of Medicrop, John Hancock of Hanco National Pig Supplies, Mrs. Dickson of Westhope Livestock Supplies, as well as Mr. Davies and Margaret Edwards. What we need is legislation to protect us and to maintain the standards of animal welfare, while keeping the cost to farmers competitive.
At a time when farmers' incomes average £5,200, any step to help them would be welcome. It is a shame that the Government are not doing more to cut red tape at this difficult time. Indeed, they did not even manage to claim the full agrimonetary compensation.
659 The Bill will require detailed scrutiny if we are to capitalise on the lessons learned from the crisis. We must ask about the position of the National Assembly for Wales in the light of clause 14. Has the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had discussions with the Scottish Assembly about the Bill so that we might have co-ordinated legislation for cross-border outbreaks? I see the Minister nodding, and I am grateful.
We should question whether the power to slaughter is compatible with the European convention on human rights. Will the Government publish their legal advice on that as well?
It is clear that to introduce the Bill before any of the three inquiries have concluded their findings is premature. The timing of the Bill is curious and its drafting looks like a rush job. From the huge numbers of dead animals to the vast cost to the tourist industry and to farmers, it is clear that the Bill covers only the tip of the iceberg.
The Government cannot consider that the Bill represents a positive step until all the facts are known. Separate experiences of both farmers and people working for the Ministry throughout the country need to be heard. Introducing legislation is no substitute for equipping people with the facts. That is why we should not support the Bill until the need for it is brought out by a full and independent public inquiry. Nor should we support the Bill until the Government take real steps to prevent the importation of diseases.
§ Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands)
I believe that the increased powers that are sought by Ministers are justified, as long as they are balanced by responsibilities that are taken on by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirmed that DEFRA hopes to pay all compensation within three weeks. That is one of the responsibilities that the Department should be taking on if it is expecting to have increased powers.
I dealt with the case of a farmer who had to wait many weeks for his compensation merely because of a computer fault. In the event, I managed to get the problem sorted out in 24 hours. However, that sort of thing should not be happening.
In Staffordshire, the National Farmers Union, trading standards officers, vets and other officers worked well together during the outbreak. Inevitably, however, there were delays and huge frustrations for farmers. I believe that the proposed wider powers will help to speed up the process. The disease would have been slowed if the cull had been conducted with more rigour, so those powers are justified if they hasten the ending of future diseases.
Farmers were quick to criticise, but they cannot have it both ways. If they want things sorted out quickly for their benefit, they cannot hold out and introduce unnecessary delays either to maximise the money that they receive following negotiations about compensation or for other reasons.
Many Members have told the House about cases where the preventive culling of animals was not justified. In Dilhorne, in my constituency, apparently healthy sheep were moved on the authority of a private vet, and then found to be infected. That caused the unnecessary further loss of animals and of local livelihoods. I agree with my 660 hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) that we must examine animal movements, especially of sheep, and control the scale a them, for welfare reasons and because of concerns about the threat of disease being spread.
Farmers have a basis for complaint about illegal imports. I have raised the issue before on the Floor of the House. We must do more to control illegal imports, whether they come in on the back of a lorry or are brought in personally. There are anecdotes about Customs officers following a trail of blood from suitcases. I do not know whether they are true. However, it is ludicrous to allow people to import in that way. When a school party from my constituency went to France, its members could not even take a bag of beef-flavoured crisps into the country. We must make sure that our standards match those of other countries and stop those imports.
I do not see why farmers should not receive compensation as an incentive to comply with biosecurity measures.
§ Mr. Russell Brown
Schedule 1 refers to adjusted compensation. During the foot and mouth outbreak, did my hon. Friend, like me, receive phone calls from people who were doing their utmost to ensure that they did everything correctly and had full biosecurity, although neighbouring farms were doing very little—in fact, some people did nothing to prevent the spread of the disease to their farms?
§ Charlotte Atkins
I certainly did; that caused a good deal of anger in my constituency and along its borders.
We must ensure that biosecurity measures are clearly defined so that farmers can easily comply with them. The Government have a proud record on compensation. After all, they introduced 100 per cent. compensation for animals infected with bovine tuberculosis; the previous Government did not act in that way. Many farmers in my constituency, which has been seriously affected by bovine TB, have reason to be grateful to the Government for conceding that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) spoke movingly of the impact of foot and mouth and the scale of the devastation in Cumbria. Staffordshire was not the centre of the outbreak this time round, although it was in 1967. Even though it became officially free of foot and mouth at the beginning of October, there is still great concern about the impact of the disease on the county. For instance, we still have no open livestock markets, six months after the last case, which has had a huge impact on places like Leek in my constituency, as markets obviously set the market price for animals. It is ludicrous that farmers get one stock price for all their animals, whether the poorest or the best lambs are on offer. The area surrounding Leek is farmed by hill farmers, and the market also plays an important role in breaking down the isolation that many of them suffer. Many of those farmers earn less than £5,000 a year, so they are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, Staffordshire Moorlands district council has paid out nearly £100,000 to help agricultural workers who have lost their jobs in the Moorlands. However, those housing benefits could be the tip of the iceberg, because the knock-on effects on the rural economy could have a much a greater impact, which we have yet to experience.
A lot of participants in our debate have acknowledged that foot and mouth did not just affect farmers. That is why the Bill is important; we must not focus just on the 661 impact on farmers, who have a responsibility to recognise the knock-on effect of the disease on the rest of the economy. I was delighted that the Government recognised the impact on tourism and local businesses. I was particularly pleased that the Treasury and Advantage West Midlands finally agreed that Staffordshire should benefit from the rural recovery fund grant scheme. So far, £700,000 has been awarded in grant aid since June. One firm in my constituency that benefited was the Peak School of Hang Gliding in Wetton. It was decimated by the foot and mouth outbreak and although the grant will not help the firm to recover the money that it has lost, it will see it through to the future. It will ensure that the firm can invest in computer equipment, regenerate its business with a web page to attract further trade, produce its own publicity leaflets and buy new equipment.
Although Staffordshire has not been at the centre, the outbreak has had devastating effects. We must allow the Government to take on increased powers. Of course, the powers must be properly scrutinised in Committee—that is the role of a Committee during the passage of a Bill—and we should support Second Reading tonight.
§ Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)
I shall be brief. I apologise to the House for not being present all afternoon—I was in the Chamber for the opening speeches, but afterwards I had to attend the Public Accounts Committee hearing. I look forward to the National Audit Office inquiry into foot and mouth next year and the PAC hearing that will follow. I hope that we may see the Minister at that time next year.
The Bill shows all the signs of being hurried. I cannot support it on Second Reading because of the wide-ranging and sweeping powers that it confers on Ministers. The Bill states that it is immaterial whether animals are affected with foot and mouth; it is immaterial whether they have been in contact with animals so affected; it is immaterial whether they have been exposed to the infection of foot and mouth; and it is immaterial whether they have been treated with vaccine.
If we were giving the powers to a Department that had the confidence of farmers, I might consider supporting the Bill, but the farmers in my constituency, South Norfolk, have very little confidence in the Department. That is a result of the way in which classical swine fever was handled—I am pleased to say that we were able to avoid foot and mouth directly, although we suffered from the indirect effects—the way in which the re-establishment of pig movements was handled, a range of issues relating to pig farrowing, the new regulations being introduced for laying hens, and the mix-up over sheep's brains and cows' brains. My constituents do not have confidence in the Department, so I cannot support the wide-ranging powers
Furthermore, I cannot support the compensation regime. I know that the Bill is designed to provide additional powers to tackle foot and mouth, but from reading the clause headings, such as "Extension of power to slaughter", "Adjusted compensation"—downwards, of course—"Treatment: power of entry", "Slaughter: power of entry", "Slaughter: warrants", "Refusal and obstruction of inspector" and "Deliberate infection of animals", one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the 662 outbreak was entirely the fanners' fault. There may be some farmers who behaved improperly, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) that the assumption should be 100 per cent. compensation in the first instance. There should be a prima facie assumption that farmers are entitled to that.
The final reason why I cannot support the Bill is that it ignores the most important issue—it has been mentioned by so many other speakers that I hope the Minister has heard it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), the hon. Members for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who is no longer in his place, and many others spoke about illegal imports. The Minister should speak to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to Mr. Richard Broadbent, the chairman of Customs and Excise, and get that issue sorted out. We have rats, bats, gorillas, monkeys, porcupines and anteaters coming into Heathrow unchecked, and the Government are doing practically nothing about it. It is about time that they did.
The Bill gives far too much power to the Minister, more or less unchecked, the compensation regime is wrong-headed, and the Bill makes no mention of the central problem—illegal imports.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)
I cannot imagine many Second Reading debates in which the House has had the privilege of hearing speeches by the former Leader of the Opposition, who spoke after eight years away from the Back Benches, the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, himself a former Agriculture Minister, and two previous distinguished Agriculture Ministers. It has been a very wide-ranging and interesting debate.
I must mention first my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). The reference to Richmond, Yorks always amuses me somewhat. I am aware that there are two Richmonds in the United Kingdom, but there is no doubt that my right hon. Friend represents the Yorkshire one. Not only is he a Yorkshireman, but he is proud of Yorkshire, and I have no doubt that Yorkshire is 100 per cent. proud of him. He and his neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), spoke from personal experience of the foot and mouth epidemic in Yorkshire and about the fact that there had been so much bungling and incompetence in the exercise of powers by officials. They expressed support for a truly public and open inquiry. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said that the onus on farmers that is apparent in the Bill should be placed on the Government themselves. He also supported import control and gave a vivid description of some of the imports into this country that could have an adverse effect on plant and animal health.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) made a very interesting speech. She has much experience in these matters and I very much hope that she will serve on the Committee that considers the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who apologises for being unable to be present for the winding-up speech, also gave of his long experience of ministerial office.
On the Labour Benches, we were very fortunate once again in hearing from the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who was loquacious, as always, but put in a 663 splendid performance. None the less, he admitted that he, too, was uneasy about the sweeping additional powers given to the Minister by the Bill. In a very reflective and constructive speech, the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd), who serves on the Select Committee, expressed qualified support for the Bill and said that he wanted improvements to be made at the Committee stage.
The Celtic fringe was also represented. The Welsh case was put by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), although the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) also spoke and might object to my saying that. The Scottish influence came in the form of the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce). I must refer to one more hon. Member: my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), whom I mention only because, like me, he followed someone of the same name into the House of Commons.
I detected a certain lack of support for the Bill on both sides of the House. Those who said that they would vote in support of Second Reading expressed considerable and numerous reservations. As a result, much work will be ahead of us in the Committee stage.
Despite the fact that almost 6 million animals have been slaughtered at a cost to the public purse of almost £2 billion, and although rural businesses of every sort are reeling and United Kingdom farmers are still suffering from months of over-stocking with little or no income as a result of the epidemic, the Government have chosen to give themselves further draconian powers in the face of a future disease outbreak. They obviously consider the proposals in the Bill to be more important than acting positively to prevent another disease outbreak by improving border inspections to stop illegal meat imports, which threaten human as well as animal health. Moreover, they have taken no action to tackle the issue of cheap food imports that are not produced to our own high standards, which undermine our farmers' competitiveness and carry serious risks of infection with animal disease. For example, urgent action should have been taken as a precautionary measure at the outset of the epidemic to prevent the importation of meat from countries with endemic foot and mouth disease.
The proposals in the Bill do nothing to assist farmers. They are a knee-jerk and panicked reaction by the Government to the implications of their handling of the epidemic, with the dithering, delays and centralised control that resulted in hundreds and thousands of animals being unnecessarily culled.
Conservatives and every rural organisation have persistently called for a full, open and independent public inquiry into the causes and handling of the epidemic to establish the true facts. The Government are running scared and refuse to establish such an inquiry, giving the excuse that it would take too long. That is patently untrue. There is no reason for not producing a comprehensive report in a reasonable time to allow mature reflection before leaping prematurely to legislate.
The Bill makes a mockery of the inquiries that the Government have already set up. Any reform in response to the epidemic should react to the recommendations of the "lessons learned" inquiry. At a stroke, the measure detracts from the inquiry that Dr. lain Anderson is conducting.
If the Bill is enacted—we shall resist its provisions at every stage—it will empower DEFRA vets and officials to the extent that farmers would have to stand by and 664 watch the compulsory slaughter of their stock. They would be powerless to prevent it. Compensation would be determined by DEFRA officials, who would take into account whether the farmer had complied with departmental orders. There would be no meaningful right of appeal and no appeal before the slaughter took place.
In The Daily Telegraph today, Adam Nicolson sums up the position in an article entitled, "How foot and mouth is fuelled by computers and cluelessness". He writes that the new changesallowing the Government to kill any animal it wants to, whether the farmers wants it killed or not are yet another symptom of a political and official culture governed by a contempt for any authority but its own.Throughout the epidemic, the Government sought to sully the names of United Kingdom farmers by accusing them of increasing the spread of the disease through allegedly poor biosecurity measures.
If Ministers had deployed appropriate resources in the early stages of the outbreak, the disease would have been eradicated in a shorter time. Scientists such as Professor Mark Woolhouse and Dr. Neil Ferguson have corroborated that view. It is incontrovertible that failure to minimise delays between suspicion of infection, slaughter and disposal of carcases at the beginning of the epidemic, especially in those vital three days in February, meant that the Government quickly and irrevocably lost control.
Anyone who has visited rural communities knows that DEFRA officials were responsible for many biosecurity lapses. There are abundant reports of such errors, whether caused during farm-to-farm blood testing or by the inadvertent introduction of the disease to a clean farm by DEFRA officials or those contracted to the Department through moving infected livestock from one farm to another, unaware of farm boundaries. It will be interesting to know the extent of the biosecurity that the Government will require of farmers before permitting their full compensation cheque to be processed. Will they be given prior, clear advice about the Government's requirements and will it be farm specific?
In this country, we have always believed that people are innocent until proven guilty. At present, the proposals are loaded towards the Government and against natural justice.
§ Mrs. Winterton
As far as that is concerned, the Government have elevated many millionaires to the upper House. If they had the same work ethic as farmers, they would turn up in the other place a little more often. One millionaire who advises the Government has attended the other place only four times since he took his seat. What a record. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Hon. Members should not shout. We do not have a debate on the House of Lords at this moment. Perhaps some other time.
§ Mrs. Winterton
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I had to respond in kind.
Part 2 of the Bill seeks to reduce by about half the likely time horizon for the eradication of scrapie in the sheep flock. There are no objections in principle to that aim, although a voluntary system would have been preferred by the industry.
665 Many questions remain unanswered, to which we shall return in Committee. I trust that meaningful consultation with the industry will take place about details and timing, and that a willingness will be expressed to compensate fully for losses incurred as a result of the introduction of the compulsory scheme.
Since the announcement of the Animal Health Bill, it has been recognised for what it is: a dictatorial, hasty piece of legislation that seeks in a cold and calculating way to blame farmers and to absolve the Government of responsibility for the sheer scale of the foot and mouth epidemic. I invite right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to vote for the amendment this evening and to vote against the Bill.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley)
I welcome the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) to the Dispatch Box. This is the first time that she and I have debated across the House, and I am sure that we shall do so again.
I did not recognise the Bill that she was talking about. She complained about the Bill giving compulsory powers to kill farmers' animals whether they liked it or not. Those powers were introduced in the Animal Health Act 1981. This Bill is about issues such as access.
Many contributions to the debate were thoughtful and sensible, and I hope that I can respond to them in kind. My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) asked about the details of the biosecurity assessment, which is a sensible point, We shall hold detailed consultation on those assessment measures, and there is no reason why we should not use that as part of guidance to farmers in future.
The hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) asked about the time scale of the Bill, and I shall say more about that in a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) raised the issue of vaccination. Those are important issues that we shall address and that I am sure that the lessons learned through the inquiries will address. I repeat that there is nothing in the Bill that pre-empts the conclusions of any future inquiries, or that specifies one particular way of responding to animal disease outbreaks in future
On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble, only a minority of farmers caused difficulties; the majority co-operated. I must point out to the hon. Member for Congleton that the majority of farming organisations welcome the Bill in principle. Of course they have concerns about the detail, and I am sure that I shall be able to address them in Committee.
I was pleased to see the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) back on the Benches making a contribution. He criticised MAFF, although, in fairness, I think that he recognises that many of the people working in the regions and for the old MAFF and the new DEFRA worked round the clock and made an enormous commitment to dealing with the outbreak. Some unfortunate aspersions were cast on those people and on their commitment, and I want to place on record how hard they worked to defeat the disease and to bring the world's 666 worst outbreak of foot and mouth under control more quickly than the 1967 outbreak. That was no mean achievement.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of points. He said that no details of contingency plans had been placed in the House of Commons Library. I understand that the national contingency plan was revised and submitted to the EU Commission in June 2000. It has been made publicly available on request, and was deposited in the Library on 14 May. I understand that the contingency plan has not been made available on the DEFRA website, but I give an undertaking tonight to ensure that it is.
The right hon. Gentleman and others referred to illegal imports. As a Government, we take that issue seriously, but many measures to strengthen our procedures do not require primary legislation and there is no reason to include them in the Bill. However, that does not mean that they cannot be addressed. Since the outbreak, DEFRA has been leading interdepartmental discussions with Customs and Excise, the Home Office, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the Food Standards Agency, local authorities and health authorities to strengthen the arrangements at ports of entry.
The publicity available to travellers about import rules has been strengthened, as has the effectiveness with which evidence about illegal activities is shared among various enforcement agencies. Steps are being taken to improve the effectiveness of enforcement policy at ports by better targeting of available resources.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman—unlike one or two organisations and individuals, unfortunately—was not saying that illegal imports were the No. 1 issue in relation to the foot and mouth disease outbreak. It is an important issue, but the way in which the disease spread is also important.
§ Mr. Morley
I certainly look to co-ordinate wherever possible, and the consultation will be wide.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) put the issues in perspective. When one looks at the contiguous cull, which is a disease-control measure, there must be a balance in relation to the associated risks. We took special cases into account in the contiguous cull under the present arrangements, with appeals to the district veterihary managers. There is no reason why we cannot do that in future, and no reason why we cannot strengthen the procedures and make them clearer to understand. We can consult on that.
The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) referred to the gap between policy and application, and identified problems of local decision making that did not fit into the national context. The Government set up the joint co-ordinating committee to bring together all the different agencies and organisations, as well as having the COBRA committee which met weekly. However, we are not saying that mistakes were not made or that improvements cannot be made for the future. Those matters will be addressed.
667 My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) warned me about taking advice from officials; when it comes to advice, I always listen carefully to what he has to say. Understandably, he was concerned about the culling of pet farm animals and susceptible animals such as llamas. Pet farm animals such as goats, llamas or pigs can get the disease. In that respect, we must have measures that apply to all animals that can spread the diseases. I recognise that there are sensitivities about pets and sanctuaries. We will take those into account in the guidance that we give our district veterinary managers and in drawing up potential exemptions. However, that will have to be based on veterinary advice in relation to disease control. We cannot give automatic exemptions.
The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) referred to the speed of response, and to the interesting idea of taking a second opinion of available vets in relation to an appeal. I am happy to look at that proposal in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) supported the Bill, but was cautious. I understand the points that he made and I am sure that they can be addressed. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) mentioned the need for flexibility and a pragmatic approach. She also mentioned vaccination—a point that will be addressed—and emphasised the need to be guided by good science. I absolutely accept that. She asked what measures would be taken about sheep's milk should BSE be detected. BSE in sheep would spread via different pathways from BSE in cattle. That is why a sub-committee of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee expressed concern. I will write to her about that in further detail.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
The Minister rightly talks about good science. Will he confirm that Sir Brian Follett's inquiry at the Royal Society will examine the possible effects of vaccination on foot and mouth disease?
§ Mr. Morley
Yes, I can confirm that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) raised local problems as a Cumbrian Member. I want to put on record my thanks for the major role that he played in identifying problems in the area, He brought them to the Government's attention so that action could be taken to rectify them.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) asked about the "lessons learned" inquiry. I repeat that it does not pre-empt any future inquiry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon (Albert Owen) gave a clear example of how the contiguous cull can be effective, and was so in his constituency. Of course there were practical problems, as he said. He sought an assurance that we would not rule out a "vaccinate to live" policy. I am happy to give him that. We will almost certainly consider pursuing such a policy. He, too, asked about pet farm animals and sanctuaries. I repeat that we will be sensitive about that. He asked whether such animals could be vaccinated, and of course we can consider that.
The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) asked about not ruling out any particular option. Again, I am happy to give him an assurance on that. He also spoke about a scrapie timetable. That is an important point. We have had discussions with the sheep organisations 668 [HON. MEMBERS: "Baal."] Sheep farmers' organisations, I should have said. There are serious issues concerning time scale, genetic diversity and the need for traceability. Diversity can be dealt with in the Bill, but traceability will have to come later.
§ Malcolm Bruce
The Minister is being very reasonable and saying that he can deal with all the issues that have been raised, but the Bill is to go through the House in three weeks. Can he honestly say that all those issues can be dealt with in that time scale? Is that reasonable?
§ Mr. Morley
Our debate has gone rather wider than what is in the Bill, but I do indeed believe that the concerns that have been raised can and will be addressed in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) spoke about the many myths that have appeared during the outbreak and about the role of dealers. He also made the important point that, of course, many things went wrong—them have been highlighted in this debate—but many things went right as well. We should not forget that in relation to lessons learned. He also spoke about bovine TB, which I accept is an important issue.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) was concerned about some of the details regarding bush meat. To my knowledge, we are the first Government who have arrested and jailed people for importing bush meat. We take these issues seriously.
My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) talked about the speed of payments to farmers. That is an important matter and we will certainly take it seriously.
The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) raised several issues, but I did not think that he quite understood all the measures in the Bill.
Much of the debate has been about the principle of culling. Let me make it clear that the Bill is about more than that. Ideally, nobody wants animals ever again to be culled here on the scale that has been necessary in this outbreak. That is all the more reason why, if we are to have culling, it must be done speedily and effectively.
In response to points made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and others, of course we are all concerned about culling animals. The Government want to minimise the number of animals culled. The measures in the Bill mean that, by taking quicker and more effective action, fewer animals will be affected.
We have consulted on the scrapie proposals in some detail. I discussed the matter with a stakeholder group last Friday and we had a good response to our attempts to deal with what is a serious issue. We will consult on the biosecurity assessments and there is no reason why we cannot do so in parallel with the Bill. Many hon. Members have raised the issue of the contiguous culling procedures, and we can consult on those. We can also consult in parallel with the Bill on the details of the local appeals, how they can be made and what exemptions will exist. We also have a timetable for the scrapie plan, which we have already started to discuss with the National Sheep Association and the NFU.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas
Will the Minister confirm that the consultations that he has just mentioned will concern 669 secondary legislation and that in Wales those matters will be dealt with by the National Assembly and not by his Department?
§ Mr. Morley
We will look at how the National Assembly for Wales deals with these measures. We have worked closely and effectively with the National Assembly and it has had much autonomy in its handling of the outbreak. We will look to learn the lessons from that for all the devolution arrangements for disease control handling, and I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks.
We need to seek consensus whenever possible, and I accept that in relation to the points that hon. Members have made. However, many people who oppose the measures in the Bill actually oppose the whole principle of contiguous culling, despite the fact that two independent scientific reports demonstrate how important it is, and despite the experience of the Brecon Beacons. Until contiguous culling was started, we were just chasing the disease. The programme of taking blood samples, waiting for the results and then moving on did not work until the contiguous cull was introduced. I do not want widespread culling and we can and will look for alternatives, but I am convinced that contiguous culling worked and all the evidence supports that.
§ Mr. Morley
I am sorry, but I only have three minutes left.
There will always be a minority who refuse to co-operate because they do not accept the need for culling. There have been organised campaigns to try to resist the cull, but our vets are convinced that the disease has spread further because of the delay caused by appeals. Culling is not the only issue. On serology, we have had farmers refusing to allow staff on to farms to take blood samples so that restrictions on certain areas can be lifted. For example, there was a 14-day delay in Devon, and delays in other parts of the country happened because people refused to co-operate. The measures would mean speedier arrangements for blood testing and, should we introduce it, vaccination.
A minority of farmers were involved in poor biosecurity and subsequent spread of disease, but after all the publicity about the need for good biosecurity, I was disappointed that 400 people in the Thirsk blue box were cautioned. Speed of decision making is important in culling programmes and I accept that DEFRA has issues to address on that point as well. The problem is not only the people who resist the cull.
Hon. Members mentioned local vets who worked for DEFRA as veterinary inspectors, and we much appreciated their input and comments. However, speed of culling is essential. Some 45 per cent. of all outbreaks in the disease were within 1 to 2 km of the initial outbreak and 60 per cent. of all outbreaks were within 1 to 3 km. We want not a penalty for farmers who do not have good biosecurity but an incentive for all farmers to ensure that they concentrate on their actions in the future. I accept the need for the measures to be proportionate, reasonable, fair and transparent. I also accept the need to 670 consider exemptions and variations according to region. Above all, however, this is an important measure that will help us to fight disease, and I commend it to the House.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ The House having divided: Ayes 180, Noes 308.673
|Division No. 53]||[9.59 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Gray, James|
|Allan, Richard||Grayling, Chris|
|Amess, David||Green, Damian (Ashford)|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Green, Matthew (Ludlow)|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Greenway, John|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Grieve, Dominic|
|Bacon, Richard||Hague, Rt Hon William|
|Baker, Norman||Hammond, Philip|
|Baldry, Tony||Hancock, Mike|
|Barker, Gregory||Harvey, Nick|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Hawkins, Nick|
|Bellingham, Henry||Hayes, John|
|Bercow, John||Heald, Oliver|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Heath, David|
|Boswell, Tim||Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Hendry, Charles|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Hermon, Lady|
|Brady, Graham||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Brake, Tom||Holmes, Paul|
|Brazier, Julian||Horam, John|
|Breed, Colin||Howarth, Gerald (Adershot)|
|Brooke, Annette||Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Hunter, Andrew|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Burns, Simon||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Burstow, Paul||Johnson, Boris (Henley)|
|Burt, Alistair||Keetch, Paul|
|Carmichael, Alistair||Key, Robert|
|Cash, William||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Chope, Christopher||Knight, Rt Hon Greg (E Yorkshire)|
|Clappison, James||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Lamb, Norman|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Laws, David|
|Collins, Tim||Leigh, Edward|
|Cran, Jarnes||Letwin, Oliver|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Lewis. Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Liddell-Grainger, Ian|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Lidington, David|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Loughton, Tim|
|Djanogly, Jonathan||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew|
|Duncan, Alan (Rutland & Melton)||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Duncan Smith, Rt Hon Iain||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Evans, Nigel||Malins, Humfrey|
|Ewing, Annabelle||Maples, John|
|Fabricant, Michael||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Fallon, Michael||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Flight, Howard||Mercer, Patrick|
|Flook, Adrian||Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Moore, Michael|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Murrison, Dr Andrew|
|Francois, Mark||Norman, Archie|
|Gale, Roger||Oaten, Mark|
|Garnier, Edward||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||Öpik, Lembit|
|Gibb, Nick||Ottaway, Richard|
|Gidley, Sandra||Page, Richard|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Paice, James|
|Goodman, Paul||Paterson, Owen|
|Pickles, Eric||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Portillo, Rt Hon Michael||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Price, Adam||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Prisk, Mark||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Pugh, Dr John||Thurso, John|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Rendel, David||Tredinnick, David|
|Robathan, Andrew||Trend, Michael|
|Robertson, Hugh (Faversham)||Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Tyler, Paul|
|Rosindell, Andrew||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Salmond, Alex||Viggers, Peter|
|Sanders, Adrian||Waterson, Nigel|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Webb, Steve|
|Selous, Andrew||Whittingdale, John|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian||Wiggin, Bill|
|Shepherd, Richard||Wilkinson, John|
|Simmonds, Mark||Willetts, David|
|Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)||Williams, Hywel (Caemarfon)|
|Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)||Williams, Roger (Brecon)|
|Soames, Nicholas||Willis, Phil|
|Spelman, Mrs Caroline||Wilshire, David|
|Spicer, Sir Michael||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Spink, Bob||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Spring, Richard||Yeo, Tim|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Streeter, Gary||Younger-Ross, Richard|
|Swayne, Desmond||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Swire, Hugo||Mr. Laurence Robertson|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Mr. John Randall.|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Ainger, Nick||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)||Caplin, Ivor|
|Alexander, Douglas||Casale, Roger|
|Allen, Graham||Caton, Martin|
|Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E)||Cawsey, Ian|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Chaytor, David|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Clapham, Michael|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)|
|Austin, John||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Bailey, Adrian||Clarke, Rt Hon Charles (Norwich S)|
|Banks, Tony||Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)|
|Barnes, Harry||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Barron, Kevin||Clelland, David|
|Battle, John||Clwyd, Ann|
|Bayley, Hugh||Coaker, Vernon|
|Beard, Nigel||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Coleman, Iain|
|Benn, Hilary||Connarty, Michael|
|Bennett, Andrew||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Benton, Joe||Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)|
|Berry, Roger||Corston, Jean|
|Betts, Clive||Cousins, Jim|
|Blackman, Liz||Cox, Tom|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Crausby, David|
|Blizzard, Bob||Cruddas, Jon|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Borrow, David||Cummings, John|
|Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington)||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Cunningham, Tony (Workington)|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Brennan, Kevin||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Bryant, Chris||Davidson, Ian|
|Burden, Richard||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Burgon, Colin||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Burnham, Andy||Denham, Rt Hon John|
|Caborn, Rt Hon Richard||Dhanda, Parmjit|
|Cairns, David||Dismore, Andrew|
|Dobbin, Jim||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)|
|Doran, Frank||Khabra, Piara S|
|Dowd, Jim||Kidney, David|
|Drew, David||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)|
|Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)||Knight, Jim (S Dorset)|
|Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Edwards, Huw||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Efford, Clive||Lammy, David|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Ennis, Jeff||Laxton, Bob|
|Etherington, Bill||Lazarowicz, Mark|
|Farrelly, Paul||Lepper, David|
|Field, Rt Hon Frank (Birkenhead)||Leslie, Christopher|
|Fisher, Mark||Levitt, Tom|
|Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna||Linton, Martin|
|Flint, Caroline||Lloyd, Tony|
|Flynn, Paul||Love, Andrew|
|Follett, Barbara||Lucas, Ian|
|Foster, Michael (Worcester)||Luke, Iain|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||Lyons, John|
|Foulkes, George||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Gapes, Mike||McCabe, Stephen|
|Gardiner, Barry||McCafferty, Chris|
|George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)||McCartney, Rt Hon Ian|
|Gerrard, Neil||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||McDonnell, John|
|Gilroy, Linda||McFall, John|
|Godsiff, Roger||McIsaac, Shona|
|Goggins, Paul||McKechin, Ann|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||McKenna, Rosemary|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Grogan, John||McNamara, Kevin|
|Hain, Rt Hon Peter||McNulty, Tony|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||MacShane, Denis|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Hamilton, David (Midlothian)||McWalter, Tony|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||McWilliam, John|
|Hanson, David||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet||Mallaber, Judy|
|Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)||Mann, John|
|Havard, Dai||Marris, Rob|
|Healey, John||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Hendrick, Mark||Martlew, Eric|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Merron, Gillian|
|Heppell, John||Michael, Rt Hon Alun|
|Hesford, Stephen||Milburn, Rt Hon Alan|
|Heyes, David||Miliband, David|
|Hill, Keith||Miller, Andrew|
|Hinchliffe, David||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Hoey, Kate||Moffatt, Laura|
|Hope, Phil||Morley, Elliot|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Morris, Rt Hon Estelle|
|Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)||Mountford, Kali|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Mudie, George|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Munn, Ms Meg|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Hughes, Beverley (Stretford)||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Hurst, Alan||O'Hara, Edward|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Olner, Bill|
|Illsley, Eric||O'Neill, Martin|
|Ingram, Rt Hon Adam||Owen, Albert|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Pearson, Ian|
|Jamieson, David||Perham, Linda|
|Jenkins, Brian||Picking, Anne|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Jones, Kevan (N Durham)||Plaskitt, James|
|Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)||Pond, Chris|
|Jowell, Rt Hon Tessa||Pope, Greg|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Pound, Stephen|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Stevenson, George|
|Purchase, Ken||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Purnell, James||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Quin, Rt Hon Joyce||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Rapson, Syd||Stringer, Graham|
|Reed, Andy (Loughborough)||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)||Tami, Mark|
|Taylor, Rt Hon Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Ross, Ernie||Timms, Stephen|
|Roy, Frank||Tipping, Paddy|
|Ruane, Chris||Todd, Mark|
|Ruddock, Joan||Touhig, Don|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Trickett, Jon|
|Ryan, Joan||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Salter, Martin||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Sarwar, Mohammad||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Sawford, Phil||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Tynan, Bill|
|Sheerman, Barry||Wareing, Robert N|
|Shaw, Jonathan||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Sheridan, Jim||Watts, David|
|Shipley, Ms Debra||White, Brian|
|Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Skinner, Dennis||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Smith, Angela (Basildon)||Woolas, Phil|
|Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)||Worthington, Tony|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)||Wray, James|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)||Wright, David (Telford)|
|Soley, Clive||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Southworth, Helen||Wyatt, Derek|
|Spellar, Rt Hon John|
|Squire, Rachel||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Starkey, Dr Phyllis||Mr. Fraser Kemp and Jim Fitzpatrick|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 303, Noes 181.676
|Division No. 54]||[10.17 pm|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Blears, Ms Hazel|
|Ainger, Nick||Blizzard, Bob|
|Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)||Boateng, Rt Hon Paul|
|Alexander, Douglas||Borrow, David|
|Allen, Graham||Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington)|
|Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E)||Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Brennan, Kevin|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Brown, Russell (Dumfries)|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Bryant, Chris|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Burden, Richard|
|Austin, John||Burgon, Colin|
|Bailey, Adrian||Burnham, Andy|
|Baird, Vera||Caborn, Rt Hon Richard|
|Barnes, Harry||Cairns, David|
|Barron, Kevin||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Battle, John||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Caplin, Ivor|
|Beard, Nigel||Casale, Roger|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Caton, Martin|
|Benn, Hilary||Cawsey, Ian|
|Bennett, Andrew||Challen, Colin|
|Benton, Joe||Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)|
|Berry, Roger||Chaytor, David|
|Betts, Clive||Clapham, Michael|
|Blackman, Liz||Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Hesford, Stephen|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Heyes, David|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Hill, Keith|
|Clelland, David||Hinchliffe, David|
|Clwyd, Ann||Hoey, Kate|
|Coaker, Vernon||Hope, Phil|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Coleman, Iain||Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)|
|Connarty, Michael||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Howells, Dr Kim|
|Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)||Hoyle, Lindsay|
|Corston, Jean||Hughes, Beverley (Stretford)|
|Cousins, Jim||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Cox, Tom||Humble, Mrs Joan|
|Crausby, David||Hurst, Alan|
|Cruddas, Jon||Iddon, Dr Brian|
|Cryer, John (Hornchurch)||Illsley, Eric|
|Cummings, John||Ingram, Rt Hon Adam|
|Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)||Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)|
|Cunningham, Tony (Workington)||Jamieson, David|
|Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire||Jenkins, Brian|
|Darling, Rt Hon Alistair||Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||Jones, Kevan (N Durham)|
|Davidson, Ian||Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Jowell, Rt Hon Tessa|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Denham, Rt Hon John||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Dhanda, Parmjit||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Dismore, Andrew||Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)|
|Dobbin, Jim||Khabra, Piara S|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Kidney, David|
|Doran, Frank||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Dowd, Jim||King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)|
|Drew, David||Knight, Jim (S Dorset)|
|Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Edwards, Huw||Lammy, David|
|Efford, Clive||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Laxton, Bob|
|Ennis, Jeff||Lazarowicz, Mark|
|Etherington, Bill||Lepper, David|
|Farrelly, Paul||Leslie, Christopher|
|Field, Rt Hon Frank (Birkenhead)||Levitt, Tom|
|Fisher, Mark||Linton, Martin|
|Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna||Lloyd, Tony|
|Flint, Caroline||Love, Andrew|
|Flynn, Paul||Lucas, Ian|
|Follett, Barbara||Luke, Iain|
|Foster, Michael (Worcester)||Lyons, John|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Foulkes, George||McCabe, Stephen|
|Gapes, Mike||McCafferty, Chris|
|Gardiner, Barry||McCartney, Rt Hon Ian|
|George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Gerrard, Neil||McDonnell, John|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||McFall, John|
|Gilroy, Linda||McIsaac, Shona|
|Godsiff, Roger||McKechin, Ann|
|Goggins, Paul||McKenna, Rosemary|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Grogan, John||McNulty, Tony|
|Hain, Rt Hon Peter||MacShane, Denis|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Hamilton, David (Midlothian)||McWalter, Tony|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||McWilliam, John|
|Hanson, David||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet||Mallaber, Judy|
|Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)||Mann, John|
|Havard, Dai||Marris, Rob|
|Healey, John||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Hendrick, Mark||Martlew, Eric|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Merron, Gillian|
|Heppell, John||Michael, Rt Hon Alun|
|Milburn, Rt Hon Alan||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Miliband, David||Skinner, Dennis|
|Miller, Andrew||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)|
|Moffatt, Laura||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Morley, Elliot||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Morris, Rt Hon Estelle||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Mountford, Kali||Soley, Clive|
|Mudie, George||Southworth, Helen|
|Munn, Ms Meg||Spellar, Rt Hon John|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Squire, Rachel|
|Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Steinberg, Gerry|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Stevenson, George|
|O'Hara, Edward||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Olner, Bill||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|O'Neill, Martin||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Owen, Albert||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Pearson, Ian||Stringer, Graham|
|Perham, Linda||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Picking, Anne||Tami, Mark|
|Pickthall, Colin||Taylor, Rt Hon Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Plaskitt, James||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Pond, Chris||Timms, Stephen|
|Pope, Greg||Tipping, Paddy|
|Pound, Stephen||Todd Mark|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Touhig, Don|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Purchase, Ken||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Purnell, James||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Quin, Rt Hon Joyce||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Rapson, Syd||Tynan, Bill|
|Reed, Andy (Loughborough)||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||White, Brian|
|Ross, Ernie||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Roy, Frank||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Ruane, Chris||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Ruddock, Joan||Wood, Mike|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Woolas, Phil|
|Ryan, Joan||Worthington, Tony|
|Salter, Martin||Wray, James|
|Sarwar, Mohammad||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Wright, David (Telford)|
|Sawford, Phil||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Wyatt, Derek|
|Sheerman, Barry||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Sheridan, Jim||Jim Fitzpatrick and Mr.Fraser Kemp|
|Shipley, Ms Debra|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Browning, Mrs Angela|
|Allan, Richard||Bruce, Malcolm|
|Amess, David||Burns, Simon|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Burstow, Paul|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Burt, Alistair|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Carmichael, Alistair|
|Bacon, Richard||Cash, William|
|Baker, Norman||Chope, Christopher|
|Baldry, Tony||Clappison, James|
|Barker, Gregory||Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J|
|Bellingham, Henry||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Bercow, John||Collins, Tim|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Cotter, Brian|
|Boswell, Tim||Cran, James|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Curry, Rt Hon David|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Brady, Graham||Davies, Quentin (Grantham)|
|Brake, Tom||Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)|
|Breed, Colin||Djanogly, Jonathan|
|Brooke, Annette||Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Duncan, Alan (Rutland & Melton)||Norman, Archie|
|Duncan Smith, Rt Hon Iain||Oaten, Mark|
|Evans, Nigel||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Ewing, Annabelle||Öpik, Lembit|
|Fabricant, Michael||Ottaway, Richard|
|Fallon, Michael||Page, Richard|
|Flight, Howard||Paice, James|
|Flook, Adrian||Paterson, Owen|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Pickles, Eric|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Price, Adam|
|Francois, Mark||Prisk, Mark|
|Gale, Roger||Pugh, Dr John|
|Garnier, Edward||Randall, John|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Gibb, Nick||Rendel, David|
|Gidley, Sandra||Robathan, Andrew|
|Goodman, Paul||Robertson, Hugh (Faversham)|
|Gray, James||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Grayling, Chris||Rosindell, Andrew|
|Green, Damian (Ashford)||Salmond, Alex|
|Green, Matthew (Ludlow)||Sanders, Adrian|
|Greenway, John||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Grieve, Dominic||Selous, Andrew|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Hammond, Philip||Shepherd, Richard|
|Hancock, Mike||Simmonds, Mark|
|Harvey, Nick||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Hawkins, Nick||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Hayes, John||Soames, Nicholas|
|Heald, Oliver||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Heath, David||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Spink, Bob|
|Hendry, Charles||Spring, Richard|
|Hermon, Lady||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas||Streeter, Gary|
|Holmes, Paul||Stunell, Andrew|
|Horam, John||Swayne, Desmond|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Swire, Hugo|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Syms, Robert|
|Hunter, Andrew||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Johnson, Boris (Henley)||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Keetch, Paul||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Key, Robert||Thurso, John|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Knight, Rt Hon Greg (E Yorkshire)||Tredinnick, David|
|Laing, Mrs Eleanor||Trend, Michael|
|Lamb, Norman||Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)|
|Lansley, Andrew||Tyler, Paul|
|Laws, David||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Leigh, Edward||Viggers, Peter|
|Letwin, Oliver||Waterson, Nigel|
|Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)||Webb, Steve|
|Liddell-Grainger, Ian||Whittingdale, John|
|Lidington, David||Wiggin, Bill|
|Loughton, Tim||Wilkinson, John|
|McIntosh, Miss Anne||Willetts, David|
|MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew||Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)|
|Maclean, Rt Hon David||Williams, Roger (Brecon)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Willis, Phil|
|Malins, Humfrey||Wilshire, David|
|Maples, John||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Mates, Michael||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Yeo, Tim|
|May, Mrs Theresa||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Mercer, Patrick||Younger-Ross, Richard|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)|
|Moore, Michael||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Moss, Malcolm||Mrs. Cheryl Gillan and Mr. Julian Brazier.|
|Murrison, Dr Andrew|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.