HL Deb 23 June 1972 vol 332 cc558-61

2.15 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM rose to move, That the Draft Exported Animals (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, laid before the House on June 5 be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the first of the two Orders standing in my name on the Order Paper. The Exported Animals (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1952 provides for compensation in respect of losses sustained in exporting animals from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and which, as a result of an outbreak or suspected outbreak of foot and mouth disease, are slaughtered or detained by reason of the requirements of the authorities in Great Britain.

The purpose of the Order is to extend the right to compensation to cases arising from losses at sea and also to limit the compensation payable in respect of any one animal to £200. The existing legislation had no limit as to the amount of compensation payable. The compensation fund is self-supporting and is financed through levies paid by livestock shippers. A Bill to give effect to the provisions now contained in the Order had passed through all its stages in the House of Commons at Stormont when the Northern Ireland Parliament was prorogued.

Apart from the proposal to limit the compensation per animal to a maximum of £200 per head, the other major reason for new provisions on compensation is derived from loss of cattle at sea. In the case of the motor vessel "Hereford Express" which sank on October 29, 1970, 250 cattle were lost. The owners of the cattle, having paid into the compensation fund the levy required by law, and which many no doubt supposed would cover them against exporters' risks, found claims for compensation to be outside the scope of that fund as the powers of the existing Act did not cover such a contingency. The trustees of the compensation fund, having considered this case and having consulted with all the interested parties, favoured the extension of the fund to cover maritime risks, including the retrospective compensation involved in indemnifying the owners of the cattle lost on the "Hereford Express".

The previous Northern Ireland Government thought it right to act upon the judgment of the trustees, particularly as public money was not involved, and we have not dissented from continuing with this measure. It is not, I should point out, unusual for trustees to be asked, and to agree, to recommend the variation of the terms of a trust to meet changing or special conditions. I would emphasise that this Order changes the law governing the operations of a trust, and does not involve any expenditure from public funds. Furthermore, it helps exporters and thereby the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland. This is something which I am sure we would all wish to encourage. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Exported Animals (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, laid before the House on June 5, be approved.—(Lord Windlesham.)

2.21 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of the Order. He has already answered one of the questions which I wanted to put to him about the retrospective part of this legislation. I take it that this is the only case which this retrospection will cover. But may I ask a question about the change in paragraph 3 on page 1, where the proposal is to insert after subsection (2)(d) of Section 10 of the Act a new paragraph (e) stating: the value of my animal slaughtered after 1st August 1972 shall be taken not to exceed £200". That seems perfectly explicit, until one turns the page and sees that, (3) The Ministry may by order made after consultation with the Trustees substitute for the sum referred to in subsection (2)(e) such sum as may be specified in the order in relation to any animal slaughtered after such date as may be specified in the order. With due respect to the Minister, I do not think that gives a picture of clarity, to put it no higher, and I should like to know what it means. Does it mean that £200 is being laid down in paragraph (e), with the proviso that it can be altered at a later date with the approval of the Trustees? I realise that no Government expenditure is involved and that this scheme will be paid for by levies on those who participate, but may I have an answer to this point about the value of the animals?


My Lords, I think the noble Lord has in fact asked me two questions. The first was whether the "Hereford Express" loss is the only one known. So far as I know, this is the only loss due to what is described in the Order as a maritime peril, and it is that particular loss which has caused this change to be brought forward. As regards the figure of £200, I understand that the figure has been set at that level so as to exclude particularly valuable animals. An animal of considerable value which is being exported for breeding purposes, for example, may be worth very much more than £200, and it is the view of the Ministry of Agriculture for Northern Ireland that it is the responsibility of the exporter to insure such animals separately. He should cover this risk by special insurance and not out of this common fund. The figure has been set at £200 pragmatically, and I imagine that the reason why it could be altered in the future is to take account, alas! of any possible further inflation, and to allow the figure to be raised to what would be regarded as an acceptable one.


My Lords, may I take this a little further? I understand that if the value of an animal is in excess of £200, then the owner should take the precaution of insuring it. But that does not cover the words: The Ministry may by order made after consultation with the Trustees substitute for the sum referred to in subsection (2)(e) such sum as may be specified in the order in relation to any animal slaughtered after such date as may be specified in the order. That might mean that they can either increase or decrease the figure. Having laid down the sum of £200, why is this further paragraph (3) required, stating that it can be varied?


My Lords, I am not sure whether I am entitled to speak a third time, but perhaps I may have the leave of the House, should I need it, just in order to deal with this final point. So that we remain on solid procedural ground, I am the mover of the Motion and I think I am entitled to speak at the beginning and then to reply to any points raised. I doubt whether I am really entitled to engage in a Committee-style discussion, but perhaps I may make one final comment on what the noble Lord has said. I think that his reading is correct, and the words "substitute for the sum" mean that a higher or lower figure could be substituted; but one would imagine that this would need to be higher if the scheme continued for some time. It was set up in 1952 and this is the first time it has been altered for 20 years. If at some later date most of the normally exported cattle are by then worth in excess of £200, it will be within the powers of this Order for that figure to be raised to £300, or whatever figure is necessary, while still excluding the particularly valuable animal.

On Question, Motion agreed to.