§ Second Reading debate resumed.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, we have heard three excellent speeches in this debate so far, following the Minister's introductory speech. I should like particularly to highlight the outstanding speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, which I felt was enormously full of good sense, with a scholarly smattering of Greek in the middle. My reaction to that speech—I hope that this does not embarrass him too much—is "Hereford for Canterbury". I do not know whether that will happen.
I find this a most unfortunate Bill, but before I deal with it I must declare my interest as a livestock farmer in the region of Thirsk in North Yorkshire, which has been referred to. If it were not for the convention in your Lordships' House on voting against Commons Bills, I would have wished firmly to have helped to vote down the Bill.
I criticise the Bill for seven principal reasons, all of which I shall try to explain. They graphically reflect the Government's incompetence in the wider sense. First, this is a knee-jerk reaction to a serious problem. Secondly, it tackles only part of the problem. Thirdly, it is unco-ordinated. Fourthly, it is mean. Fifthly, it lacks scientific justification. Sixthly, it is arrogant and unfair. Seventhly, over the past year, the whole problem has been presided over by first a Minister and now a Secretary of State who do not command and have not commanded the respect of the farming community and they do not appear to have a grip of the facts.
My first point is that the Bill is a knee-jerk reaction. The NFU has told us—I find this hard to believe— that there was no consultation before its publication. What is called the "lessons learnt" inquiry is only just starting and we have been told at the weekend of a new, separate consultation arrangement. I cannot understand how the Government can bring in such legislation at this stage.
Last March, I was one of the first to demand in your Lordships' House a public inquiry into the whole foot and mouth problem while the outbreak was going on. I suggested at the time that my noble friend Lord Plumb, with all his prestige as a former President of the European Parliament and a former member of the Northumberland committee, would be the ideal person to head that inquiry.
The Government were all very ready to set up a great inquiry into BSE, but they have been strangely quiet and unprepared to set up a similar public inquiry into foot and mouth disease. This has been a massive cover-up of the gross incompetence and mismanagement, which all farmers recognise, of the handling of the tragic outbreak. In spite of all that, to bring forward such draconian powers long before the lessons have been learnt seems clearly to demonstrate a knee-jerk reaction to the problem.
872 Secondly, I said that the Bill tackles only part of the problem. While some measures may well be needed to amend the 1981 Act—I am in favour of that—some measures are not addressed at all in the Bill. It would allow government officials to enter farms and slaughter animals of any sort whenever they feel like it. However, it does not address the behaviour of government officials when they carry out such work on farms. I shall quote one example, which came to my attention some time ago. It is the case of Mrs Anderson from East Harlsey, near Northallerton in North Yorkshire. This is what she said about the slaughter of cattle on her farm:they started the process of trying to slaughter them at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, there followed 5 hours of chasing them round the field trying to get them into a pen that was way too small in a corner of the field where there are lorries, JCBs and up to ten cars, people and disinfection trucks waiting, with us failing to convince them that if it was done quietly and calmly without all these people around the cows may come near".She goes on:Finally, 3 cows pushed through the fence onto the road followed in hot pursuit by a slaughterman with a rifle, pointing the gun across the road whilst oncoming traffic are coming down the road as there are not enough army personnel around to stop the traffic".That shows that the Bill tackles only part of the problem. There have been many similar cases throughout the country over the past year. I heard of another case very close to the one that I have quoted in which some cattle escaped and got into a field of dairy cows. They, too, then had to be slaughtered because of the way in which the cattle were handled.
Surely the Bill should have a provision for a code of practice approved by Parliament by order, to avoid such rodeo-like tragedies when officials go on to farms to slaughter cattle.
My third reason for opposing the Bill is that it is unco-ordinated. The Bill applies only to England and Wales. What happens with regard to Scotland? Will there be parallel legislation? What would happen if we were to get another outbreak that straddled the area between Northumberland and Berwickshire? We saw what happened with the tragic outbreak in Cumbria and Dumfriesshire. There seems to he no co- between England and Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Fourthly, I said that the Bill was mean. Only 75 per cent of the compensation is to be paid to farmers at the outset. The remaining 25 per cent will he payable only if the farmer complies with certain appropriate biosecurity measures. In my view, that is totally the wrong way round. The Bill's drafting does not appreciate that, for a farmer, losing a herd or flock is the most traumatic thing that can happen to him apart from the death of a family member. At a later stage of our consideration, we must re-examine and reverse the proposed arrangement. It is both unsympathetic and, as I said, mean to bully and browbeat farmers in that way.
Fifthly, I said that I feel that the Bill has no scientific basis. However, I shall not dwell on that point as it has been dealt with already in the two admirable speeches by the Front-Benchers.
873 Sixthly, I said that I believe that the Bill is arrogant and unfair. I say that because the clauses on enforcement allow government officials to apply to a magistrate for a warrant to obtain powers of entry for treatment, slaughter and other functions. Although the Bill provides for the Government to give notice of their intention to apply for a warrant to the occupier of the land or premises, I can find nothing in the Bill that allows a farmer or anyone else affected to be given the name of the magistrate or the time and place at which the sworn evidence will be presented. There is a major need to change the Bill in that respect also, and to include provisions—as I hope that we shall attempt to do—to provide those added details so that a proper appeal can he made.
I thought I heard the Minister say at the beginning of the debate that he felt the Bill strengthens farmers' right to appeal. All I can say to him is that he could have fooled me. I believe that the provisions are both arrogant and unfair.
The seventh and final reason why I oppose the Bill is the way in which Ministers have handled the situation. I opened the previous debate, I believe, in which your Lordships discussed this subject, and I shall not repeat the reasons why I believe that the Ministry has been totally incompetent in the relevant period. Nevertheless, I think that the Ministry was quite unprepared for this outbreak and ignored or forgot the recommendations of the Northumberland committee.
I am concerned about Ministers' behaviour and leadership in this outbreak. Mercifully, most of the Ministers who dealt with the early part of the outbreak seem to have slid out of sight for one reason or another. I exclude the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, from what I am about to say, as I have no evidence to doubt his competence.
The behaviour of Mrs. Beckett seems to demonstrate her total misunderstanding of the situation. In the other place, on Second Reading, when dealing with the situation in the Thirsk area—to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, also referred, by which I understood him to be referring to what is described as the "Thirsk blue box"—Mrs. Beckett said:I am someone who tries to use words with great accuracy, and of course such things are never susceptible to 100 per cent. proof. 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".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/11/01; col. 577.]I am a farmer in the Thirsk area—although, mercifully, I was able to avoid infection on my farm—and I know that those remarks caused huge irritation and anger to local farmers. On 14th November, two days after the remarks were made, they were challenged by the local NFU secretary, who wrote to Mrs. Beckett as follows: 874The result was and continues to be a total loss in confidence in your department and its ability to control Foot and Mouth disease. It should never have even reached Thirsk".The NFU secretary is still awaiting a reply to that letter.
Worse, on 4th December, I tabled a Question asking for details on the allegations of farmers' obstruction in the Thirsk area. I did not receive a reply to the Question until very recently. The Minister, on behalf of the Secretary of State, said:The 55 appeals that she"—that is, Mrs. Beckett—quoted were in the whole of North Yorkshire, rather than in the Thirsk area. The number of appeals upheld by the divisional veterinary manager is 26 and not 29".—[Official Report, 20/12/01; col. WA85.]That is why I say that I believe that the Secretary of State has not been in touch with the facts. So much, too, for the beginning of Mrs. Beckett's accusations, which I have quoted above, when she said that she is someone who tries to use words with great accuracy. The truth is that, of the appeals that she quoted, in the whole of North Yorkshire, only nine of the 37 parishes in which there were appeals were in the "Thirsk blue box".
I cannot express to your Lordships how infuriated farmers in the Thirsk area have been by this affair, which reflects the Government's sloppy, unco-ordinated, mean, arrogant and unfair approach to the whole business. It has been presided over by a Secretary of State who clearly finds her job far beyond her. I believe that she should resign or, at the very least, apologise for her and her predecessor's incompetence in these matters.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Viscount Bledisloe
My Lords, I agree very much with that stirring speech by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, both in its substance and in its ringing endorsement of the rousing speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. I, too, must declare an interest, as someone who with his family farms livestock, and does so in an area where we had many cases of foot and mouth very close to us. I approach the Bill from the combined points of view of a lawyer and a farmer.
I wholeheartedly agree with previous speakers in finding the Bill's timing extraordinary. The Government are apparently putting in place what they think is needed to do better next time, but doing so without consultation with the farming bodies or awaiting the benefit of the inquiry that they have appointed. One of those inquiries is called "Learning the Lessons". In my day, one learned one's lessons before attempting to write the answers; the Government seemingly prefer the opposite approach.
The Minister's excuse for the rush is that we might have another emergency. In other words, this is yet another dose of knee-jerk legislation where the Government misuse the excuse of an emergency to give themselves a batch of new draconian powers unjustified by the real risk.
875 The appearance of the Bill at this stage has to be postulated on the risk of a new outbreak of foot and mouth to be fought with these new powers. But do the Government really believe that if tomorrow there was a new outbreak of foot and mouth, the public, the media, the farmers or, indeed, anyone would actually allow them to embark upon another policy of mass slaughter, more funeral pyres, more piles of carcasses, more ruined lives and heartbreak homes? If the Government really believe that, they are living in Cloud-cuckoo-land.
What is needed are not more powers but proper steps to prevent the import of the disease, as has already been said, and an efficient and effective organisation to deal with a crisis. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has said, MAFF, and its clone, DEFRA, are regarded throughout the farming community as a bunch of disorganised incompetents whose incapacity to cope with a crisis generates a mixture of laughter, contempt and despair. If the Minister thinks that that is extravagant language, I suggest that he visits those at the grassroots to discover whether that is the case.
It is not the fault of DEFRA's staff. They are by training bureaucrats, not fire-fighters. Jeremy Bentham told us many years ago that civil servants are not the right people to deal with emergencies. They will always be more concerned with formalities and paper than with action. What is needed is a small national body solely devoted to crisis management which can step in and take charge of a crisis of any kind without being overcome by the necessity of ensuring that the paperwork is in order. Surely that was demonstrated by the transformation which occurred in Cumbria once a brigadier took over from a civil servant.
The Bill gives amazing powers which it is frightening to entrust to anyone but are wholly unacceptable to entrust to an organisation which has entirely lost the confidence of the rural community. Under subsection (2) of Clause 1 the Minister can order the slaughter of "any animals" if he thinks that that is the way to prevent the spread of foot and mouth. However, the easiest way to prevent the spread of foot and mouth is to slaughter all the animals in the country, then the disease cannot spread. The Government are taking powers which have not been exercised since the days of King Herod. The animals concerned can be wholly unaffected by and not in any way in contact with or exposed to disease. Has it ever occurred to the Government that the veterinary profession may have an ethical objection to slaughter of wholly healthy animals on that kind of scale?
Clause 7 enables an inspector, who, it appears, can be anyone, to require,
any person on the premises",not just a farmer. but also a visiting vet or contractor, to give him such assistance as he may reasonably require. A person who does not give that assistance commits an offence and can go to prison for six months. It is no excuse to say that it was a wholly distasteful thing for him to do. The inspector can say,
876 "I know that is your daughter's tame pet, but just hold it while I kill it, will you?" The provision applies no matter how busy a person is or how much else he has to do. He does not receive payment for giving that assistance, or even reimbursement of the cost of doing it. It seems to me that that is a novel requirement to import into the criminal law—to oblige a man to work actively on the instructions of an official and to make it an offence not to comply. Basically, the criminal law does not require one to act, merely to refrain from wrongful conduct—"one shall not kill but need not strive officiously to keep alive".
Therefore, I wrote to the Minister and asked his departmental staff to let me know what precedents there were for that kind of provision. This morning I received an impressive letter with a list of no fewer than nine examples which appeared to be convincing and to destroy my point. However, being of a somewhat non-trusting nature, I checked virtually all of the references. None of them is in any way similar to the provisions I am discussing. All they do is require one to give information or access to an inspector whose job it is to see that things are safe or that records are kept. None of them requires one to take action to do the job itself by rounding up animals, holding them or indeed doing the slaughtering oneself. The real answer is that these powers are unprecedented and, unfortunately for the Minister, his department has not got away with pretending that they are not.
Schedule 1 reduces the compensation for every farmer whose animals are slaughtered on premises which were subject to a foot and mouth notice unless and until that farmer proves that nothing had been done or omitted on his farm which might create a significant risk of the spread of foot and mouth. There is no question of whether there was good reason or excuse for his conduct and no question of whether the relevant conduct had anything to do with the actual outbreak. He loses 25 per cent of his compensation if he has not fully obeyed any one of the rules laid down. Is that in accordance with human rights legislation? It is one thing to reduce compensation if the Government can show that your conduct has contributed to your own loss but quite another to say that the Government can seize and kill your property and then refuse to give you proper compensation as you did not do everything they think you should have done, or were not as helpful as the inspector would have liked. The Minister had the gall to describe these provisions as "creating an incentive". Tell that to the farmers.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen
My Lords, I support the Bill and the principles behind it. I do not know why but I get the feeling that I may be one of the few to do so. But as a woman who came to your Lordships' House from the male dominated trade union movement, I am used to being in a minority. Overall, I believe the Bill worthy of support. I particularly welcome the section on deliberate infection of animals. I do, however, have a few reservations on the Bill and questions about it to which I shall come later.
877 I am sad that the Bill is necessary but I have no doubt that it is. Perhaps I should begin by putting it into context. The foot and mouth outbreak last year was the worst there has ever been in the UK and possibly in the world. The history of foot and mouth shows that it occurred regularly in the years up to the 1967 outbreak.
We have been lucky in that we have had 30 years of freedom from the disease, but that does not mean that it will not return quickly. If we do not act and foot and mouth disease returns, the country will be right to place the blame firmly and squarely on Parliament. That is why action is necessary now, not in six or 12 months' time, or even longer. We cannot have it both ways. In the previous outbreak precious time was lost while it was decided whether or not animals had been exposed to foot and mouth disease. Looking back, we can see that even short delays encouraged its spread, and we cannot afford that. People who I met over the Christmas holidays in Lincolnshire in particular but also in rural Essex were frank and forthright in their views about what the Government should do. I could not repeat in your Lordships' House some of the language that their comments were couched in. Their proposals were varied but they all agreed on one thing: that action was needed now, not in six or 12 months' time.
The Bill introduces measures for swifter culling where appropriate. The Government made it very clear that they do not propose to slaughter willy-nilly, as has been suggested by some noble Lords. When introducing the measures in the other place, the Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett, said:I will say quite frankly to … the House that I was not enthusiastic about seeking to take these powers. but I have become convinced that they are necessary … We are mindful of the fact that these are strong powers and should be used, if they are used, only with great caution".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/11/01; col. 576–9.]The Bill will introduce measures that were, we now see with hindsight, previously lacking and whose absence hampered the response to the earlier outbreak. The measures are needed. The Bill does not commit the Government to just one way of tackling any resurgence of foot and mouth; it broadens the options that are available to them. It states that if culling is to take place, it should be quick and effective. By taking more effective and speedier action, fewer animals will be affected by foot and mouth and therefore fewer will be culled. It will not stop further legislation being taken, if necessary, once the independent inquiry and the consultation process have come to fruition.
The legislation will not be written in tablets of stone. Further, by acting swiftly and decisively, the Government hope to allay the public's natural concerns about foot and mouth—those concerns have not gone away—and bring back confidence to the British meat and dairy industry. That is a responsible attitude that any government should take and which has been called for time and again in this Chamber in our debates on foot and mouth.
878 It is a good job that herrings are not able to catch foot and mouth disease because there have already been plenty of red herrings swimming around the Bill. Some newspapers went so far as to suggest that following the Bill's implementation even pet goldfish would be under threat. Sometimes one wonders about the mental state of some journalists. Others have made wild claims about the culling of animals. They have talked about indiscriminate culling, including the culling of dogs, horses and pets. Anyone who has studied the disease knows that animals such as dogs and horses are not susceptible to foot and mouth, and the suggestion, obviously, is idiocy.
I remind noble Lords that in Section 87 of the Animal Health Act 1981, the animals that are covered are defined as,(a) cattle, sheep and goats, and(b) all other ruminating animals and swine".The Bill will alter neither that section nor the Government's policy on rare breeds, pets or sanctuary animals. The Government have stated that each future case would be treated on its merits and that pets, sanctuary animals and rare breeds are exempt from culling unless a vet stresses that a cull is necessary to prevent the spread of disease. As those animals are more likely to have been kept in biosecure conditions, they are more likely to be given an exemption. I am assured that everything possible will be done to avoid such a cull, as has previously been the case. As a member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, I certainly welcome that.
Further red herrings concern farmers who took legal action to save stock from slaughter during the outbreak. Some have inferred that the Government may attach some blame to those farmers for spreading foot and mouth. I have not heard the Government claim that the Bill will combat farmers who took legal action but I have heard them say, and repeat, that they recognise that the vast majority of farmers ensure high standards of animal care but that a small minority, through irresponsible actions or an irresponsible approach—either potentially or actually—contributed to the disease's spread. The Bill sends a clear message that irresponsibility must be countered. That is for the sake of the vast majority of caring and responsible farmers and of the country and the countryside. The Bill is not, as has been claimed, only about bad farming; it will protect and assist the good farmer.
It is not just farmers who are affected. The tourist industry, market towns, shopkeepers and many others suffered during the foot and mouth outbreak last year. As so often, the behaviour of a small minority had a detrimental effect on many.
I turn to safeguards and appeals. As always in legislation, there must be safeguards in relation to implementation. I carefully examined the safeguards and appeals procedure. The Bill contains safeguards relating to culling for diseases other than those that have already been identified. It does so, for example, before action can be taken, and affirmative resolution procedures have to be laid before both Houses, which 879 I welcome. There is also a comprehensive appeal procedure relating to culling, which will be explained to stock owners. If the owner seeks a review of the decision to cull, an assessment will be made by the divisional veterinary manager, who will know the specific local practice and take it into account when determining animals' exposure to disease. That part of the appeal procedure will come into the process. If there is a further dispute, the local JP will be asked to issue a warrant. So far, so good. However, this is where my first reservation occurs. As the Bill is currently drafted, the divisional veterinary manager will be able to give the JP an account of the difficulties that have arisen, but the farmer or owner will not. That disturbs me. As always, justice must be seen to be done, and that approach does not appear to provide a level playing field. I ask my noble friend the Minister to look again at that part of the appeal procedure.
I turn to compensation. I have no problem with the logic that lies behind the proposed 75 per cent figure. If a farmer or his or her staff have created a significant risk of spreading foot and mouth, they should be penalised. Again, that is for the sake of all of those who have been scrupulous about their responsibilities. My query concerns those who will advise the Minister about whether or not the 25 per cent additional payment should be paid when the disease risk is being assessed. In Schedule 1, on page 12, the Bill refers to,a person appointed to be an inspector",and, "inspectors and other persons". Will the Minister clarify to whom that actually refers?
As has already been mentioned, the appeals procedure currently appears to be unwieldy. Farmers may need to lodge three separate appeals relating to disease risk assessment, compensation and valuation. That would have to be done when they were facing the traumas of culling, which is an emotional and difficult time for the whole family. Again, that seems to need some form of rationalisation. In turn, enough time must be allowed for the appeals to be lodged.
Finally, like the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, I wish that the Bill referred to animal movement and—this is an interrelated issue—the need to reintroduce local abattoirs. In my view, the Conservative government's closing of abattoirs undoubtedly added to the spread of foot and mouth.
As I said, the Bill is worthy of support. I have no problems with its presentation—indeed, I welcome it—or with the overall thrust of its contents. I look forward to the Minister's response.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I start by apologising to your Lordships and, indeed, to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for having failed to be present for the first part of the Minister's speech. I regret that I was unexpectedly and inadvertently delayed and unable to be here earlier. Secondly, I declare an interest in that I am engaged in agriculture and have a herd of rare-breed animals.
880 I was glad to listen to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, must have been even more glad to hear her because so far he has not had many supporters around the Chamber. However, one light did flicker in the background and he must have been grateful for that.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford expressed the matter well in a scintillating speech when he said that he would love to have given even a qualified welcome to the Bill but could not do so. Everyone understands that the Government wish to take steps against foot and mouth disease. I agree with the remarks of the right reverend Prelate; we all want to see foot and mouth disease curtailed. One can understand that the Government want to curtail it, but I am bound to say that I find the Bill most unacceptable. I view it with concern and horror.
I start with a slightly pedantic point. Why is the Bill called an "animal health" Bill? It is not that at all; it is an animal health (amendment) Bill. It starts by stating in Clause 1(2):In sub-paragraph (1) omit 'and' at the end of paragraph (a), and after paragraph (b) insertsomething else. Therefore, one must keep referring to the original Act in order to find out to what the Bill relates. Does my noble friend wish to make an observation?
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, it was the word "messy" that upset me. I believed that my noble friend was referring to me. I am glad that he was referring to the Bill. I am grateful that he put words into my mouth which I should not have dared put in myself. It is a very messy Bill, and I believe that it is wrong to call it an "animal health" Bill.
The Bill gives inspectors—civil servants—more power than almost anyone else has ever had. The powers to act against farmers are almost Hitlerite. The inspectors can enter a farm's premises and, if necessary, use force. They have simply to go not to a magistrates' court but to a justice of the peace and obtain a signed piece of paper. In other words, an inspector could go to a justice of the peace who was washing up after her breakfast and ask, "Would you mind signing this paper because we want to go on to someone's farm and slaughter all the animals?" The chances are that the justice of the peace would agree to do so. That is fairly awful.
I believe that sometimes the Government have no conception—indeed, nor have I—of what it is like to have one's animals killed. One looks after those animals all one's life and then finds them with their feet, in a state of rigor mortis, up in the air on one's own land. All one's life work has been destroyed and it is a most terrible thing. It is devastating financially, emotionally and as a reflection of one's life's work. It is not surprising that farmers do not take too kindly to Elliot Morley when he says, 881I sometimes think that farmers are a pretty ungrateful lot".My word, that is an extraordinary remark to make. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, said:What I know is that in this foot and mouth crisis, the people who have economically come out of it best of all are the farmers who have had foot and mouth".I find it extraordinary that such remarks should come if not from a Minister then from a person who has been appointed by the Government. The fact is that farmers have suffered indescribable damage both financially and emotionally.
To that festering sore of sorrow, the Government add this Bill. It is a sad fact that the Government have consistently refused a public inquiry. One asks why they have done so. My noble friend Lord Jopling said that he was the first to request such an inquiry, and I believe that he was right to do so. He gave an example of some of the things that went wrong. We all know of examples such as the occasion when the Army, the vets and all the killers, for want of a better word, were gathered ready with their bulldozers and diggers. Suddenly a health and safety inspector arrived and said, "Stop, stop". Why? "Because you do not have enough portaloos". As a result, the whole operation had to stop and the animals were left in a distressed state. That was no way to carry on.
We heard other stories of young men riding around on bicycles taking pot-shots at animals which had escaped. That was no way to carry out a government policy on slaughtering. That is why we wanted a public inquiry to be held. It was not only in order to blame the Government but to find out what went wrong. The Government—I say this with the greatest respect—were wrong not to have held such an inquiry. They say that they have set up three other inquiries, but we all know that issues can fall between the stools.
There should have been one inquiry. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, said that the last outbreak of foot and mouth disease was the worst ever. She was right. It was far worse than the one in 1968. Following that outbreak an inquiry was held and produced very good guidelines for people to follow. I believe that it is a great pity that the Government have not set up a public inquiry following the latest outbreak, and I ask them to reconsider that decision.
I find it a grossly irresponsible attitude that some £5,000 million of government money was spent dealing with the foot and mouth outbreak and yet the Government are not prepared to say, "We shall now look at it to see what went wrong and whether we can improve matters in the future". The inquiry by Dr Iain Anderson on the lessons to be learnt from last year's outbreak has only just started to gather evidence. It has not deliberated, let alone provided any recommendations. Why did the Government not wait for those recommendations before starting to produce their solutions? We have a hugely dictatorial Bill in which a number of points are raised to which many noble Lords have drawn attention. Indeed, I do so, too.
I start by asking why the Bill refers only to England and Wales. If we are an island, it is nonsensical that the Bill does not include Scotland. I am sure that all sorts 882 of political problems are involved, but that is what happens when one has devolution. We now have the absurdity of certain rules applying on this side of the Border and others on the other side. That is no way in which to counteract the disease.
The House of Commons was never able to consider the matter because of a programming Motion which applied to the Committee and Report stages of the Bill. Although Elliot Morley said that he would he prepared to consider amendments, as one noble Lord has already said, none was accepted. I want to ask the Government what their policy is on slaughter and compensation or vaccination. There always was a slaughter and compensation policy. Then in the middle of the outbreak there was a wobble: perhaps one should change to vaccination.
But what will happen next time an outbreak occurs? Shall we have slaughter and compensation or shall we have vaccination? Has anyone said what will happen? The vaccination arrangements have been greatly improved over the past 20 years. Has anyone said that we should change to vaccination, and have the Government indicated that they will do so?
Why are the Government giving huge powers to Ministers based on unproven science? Such action should be based on proven science. Faced with no evidence because they could not wait for it, why are the Government allowing inspectors to enter premises and enabling them to contact JPs to ask for a piece of paper to be signed so that they may enter a farm? The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said that a person could he told to hold a cat while another person killed it. That is a fairly awful thing to happen but it is perfectly possible. Under the Bill the Government can virtually commandeer help. They can go on to a farm and say to a person, who may be a contractor, "Look, you have to come and help" and he will be liable to a fine if he does not do so. Whatever the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, says, the Bill enables the Government to kill any animal, be it pet, dog or horse. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, might say that the Government have no intention of doing that. However, that is what the Bill allows. That is a terrible power to give to people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, said that that will not happen to pets. Your Lordships may remember the person who had a goat which used to sit on the hearth in her sitting room. The goat was killed because it was supposed to be liable to infection. The calf called Phoenix emerged from a whole lot of dead animals and was allowed to continue its life simply because everyone felt sympathy for it. That was a terrible decision. If the animals which were killed should have been killed, the calf should have been killed. If the calf was permitted to stay alive, all the animals should have been permitted to stay alive. Under the Bill, if the inspector comes in having had a terrible day, and says to the farmer, "I feel exhausted. Will you give me a cup of tea?", and the farmer says, "No, I won't", he can be accused of non-co-operation. That is a pretty rough tactic.
One point has been referred to by one or two other noble Lords. Why are the Government giving only 75 per cent of the value of the animal until the 883 inspector—no one else—has considered the matter and states, "That is all right. You have not done anything wrong. You can have your extra 25 per cent now"?
What is the job of the Government in all of this? It is to control foot and mouth disease. One of the ways in which they do that is by saying that they have permission to cull various animals, to take them off people and kill them. To do that they should not compensate the person; they should buy the animals from them. However, they now say, "Oh no, this is compensation. We will give you only 75 per cent unless you, the farmer, can prove that you have been correct, in which case we can give you the extra 25 per cent". That is not compensation. It is a demonstration of the fact that one is being proved guilty until one can prove oneself innocent. That is a terrible thing to do. If a person has behaved improperly and has spread the disease, a court of law should be the place where that is dealt with.
There is a complicated appeal system. A farmer could find himself involved in three separate appeals, one of which is on biosecurity. I do not know who thought of that word, but it is a terrible word. I always dread hearing any word which begins with "bio". One thinks, "What on earth does that mean?" "Biosecurity" is a new word. I am sure that all farmers know exactly what it means. It really refers to whether one has properly disinfected one's premises or properly looked after one's transport. A farmer may be involved with an appeal on biosecurity, on evaluation of the animals and on what is a fair proportion for compensation. There are three separate appeals which all have to be made within a fortnight. If a farmer makes an appeal, he is capped on it; he is made to pay for it. That is monstrous. The whole idea of British justice is that one can appeal against a matter. An illegal immigrant can appeal against being told to go away, but if a farmer appeals because he thinks that the Government are not giving him his just desserts, he has to pay, which is monstrous.
The Bill shows that the Government are the boss, the state rules and the state decides. Let us look back to the 1950s and the 1960s and to what happened in Russia with totalitarianism and communism. We used to say how terrible it was because there, the Government, the state, ordered the people to do everything. The state told them what to do and the state ran their lives. That is happening here and now, not just over this Bill but over a number of other matters. The only difference is that we do not call it communism. We say that it is a new modern way of life. The state is running things. The Bill is an example of how the state is controlling what happens to farmers and on farmers' land.
I greatly respect the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I do not like being nasty to him over the Bill or anything else. However, this is a rotten Bill. It is a dictatorial Bill. The Government should have waited until they had proper answers. Elliot Morley states that the 884 farmers are an ungrateful lot. Perhaps he should look again at the Bill and he will see why the farmers feel as they do.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, one of the worst things about being a Member of this House is the possibility that one day one might have to follow the noble Earl in a serious debate. Last week, after his magnificent vintage Ferrers contribution, the Chamber literally emptied. I hope that that will not happen today, although I shall be brief. He always makes enormous sense. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will take on board the points he made.
Oh dear—here we go again—yet another hurried, panic-measure Bill, which all sectors of the agricultural industry have unanimously condemned, most especially because there has been no formal consultation. Once again, it will be up to this House in its present form—pre-"completing the reform", as Her Majesty's Government call it—to try to persuade Her Majesty's Government to think again. It is interesting to note that nearly half the speakers today come from the doomed band of hereditary Peers, all of whom have first-hand knowledge of the countryside and, indeed, of agriculture. "Knock the industry when it is on its knees" seems to be the new DEFRA motto.
I must declare an interest as someone who tries to farm in the Scottish Borders. Our farm was sandwiched between two outbreaks of foot and mouth disease last year, which meant that every single farm animal at home was slaughtered on the contiguous basis. Needless to say, tests taken from those animals proved negative. But all that is past history. However, the sight of the executioners waiting at the bottom of the road will be one that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
I live exactly 10 miles from the English border. It is upon cross-border issues that I wish to focus my few remarks. I echo most strongly the words of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. The issues of animal health and the control of any future outbreak of foot and mouth disease or, indeed, any other disease, as well as the eradication of scrapie from the national flock, are UK-wide concerns. They should not and cannot be dealt with separately by the different parts of the United Kingdom so that a situation could arise where different regimes are in place in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales.
Whatever one may think of the Bill—with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, it does not seem to have much support—or any other subsequent Bill the Government may bring forward, it is essential in my view that legislation that deals with these issues for England and Wales be matched by parallel legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland and that such provisions come into force—this is the important fact—simultaneously across the United Kingdom.
It is extraordinary that a similar measure to the Bill is not currently before the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly, especially if it really is as 885 important and urgent as the Government would like us to believe. What would the cross-border arrangements be for a farmer who has land on both sides of the border? Indeed, I have friends who are in exactly that situation. They have a farm in England which runs into Scotland. There is no reference in the Bill to cross-border animal trade. That is a major flaw.
It is also worth pointing out that were the Government in England and Wales to undertake an eradication of scrapie from the sheep population without those measures being matched in Scotland and Northern Ireland, that would have obvious consequences for the livestock trade within the United Kingdom as a whole. Indeed, it would act as a barrier to internal free trade. Lastly, it should be said that such provisions have serious implications for international trade as well.
The Government need to provide some indication of where they stand on these issues. It once again highlights that this Bill is fundamentally flawed, ill-timed and does not represent a fully thought out and considered approach to these vital issues.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Selborne
My Lords, like many other speakers today, I declare an interest as a livestock farmer, thankfully not in a foot and mouth area and thankfully not near the Scottish border.
I followed with admiration the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. He was right in everything he said. He was particularly right in his prediction that today there would be much repetition. I shall add force to his forecast.
There is a simple issue that has to be determined at the Second Reading of the Bill. It is tempting to range over the failures of government or others to exercise their responsibilities last year. There are two issues: first, does the Animal Health Act 1981 need to be amended; and, secondly, if it needs to be amended, is this the right kind of Bill and is the timing right?
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will be relieved to hear that I support him on one or two measures. I agree, as every other speaker so far has agreed, that the Animal Health Act 1981 is defective, has been proved to be defective and needs to be amended. That is the purpose of this Bill. So we are agreed that at some stage something must be done about it. But the issue—this is where repetition becomes inevitable—is whether this is the right Bill and is the timing right? My answer to that—this point was made by other noble Lords—is that this cannot possibly be the right Bill. Until one knows what problems one is trying to address—one will not know that until one has had some feedback from the three different inquiries—one cannot have the right Bill. So the timing cannot be right.
Let us continue to find the areas that we can agree on. In a Bill of this importance it is important to establish at least some common ground. I agree with the Minister that it would be irresponsible not to act on all the lessons which came out of the tragic affairs of last year. I agree that we must take all reasonable 886 precautionary measures to be better prepared next time. I further agree that many mistakes were made last year.
The fundamental change in the first part of the Bill is that the requirement to justify slaughter of cattle moves from exposure—the cattle have been in the same field or have been close to an infected animal—to one where the Minister deems it necessary in order to prevent the disease. Hence the concept of contiguous cull. That is a measure which in certain circumstances needs to be put into a future Bill. The previous Act was found to be defective because in certain cases it was necessary to carry out a cull because it could be predicted that these animals were likely to be in the line of infection and therefore cause the disease to spread.
That raises the question: who is to determine what and how animals should be culled in these circumstances? The Minister justified the provisions of the Bill by his experience of what happened in north Yorkshire, and specifically in Thirsk. That is precisely why the Bill is inappropriate. Perhaps I can explain further. The reason the Yorkshire farmers, and indeed many others, exercised the right to appeal, which will exist until the Bill is passed, is that they fundamentally lacked confidence in the procedures put in place by MAFF and then by DEFRA.
By then they had had enough experience of the contiguous cull, as implemented from late March, to recognise that even if this was better scientific advice than that given in February and early March, by no stretch of the imagination could it be described as "best scientific advice". I remind noble Lords why it came in. It came in because the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was deemed by the chief scientific adviser to be making a poor job of dealing with the outbreak. There was a feeling that it was not implementing its own best practice, which had been propounded as a result of the BSE inquiry, and that things could be done better. That is clearly indisputable. The reason things were not being done well is that MAFF was not hitting its targets on slaughter, on disposal and on many other aspects about which we have already heard today.
Therefore, the mathematical modeller and epidemiologists and virologists were brought in. All can make a helpful contribution. It is most important to use models. But they must have the confidence of the man on the ground. They must always take into account the realities of animal health and of the situation that farmers recognise as being common sense on the ground. That is why in July farmers, having seen how the contiguous cull was working, had absolutely no reason to have any further confidence in it and why, not unnaturally, they resorted to law in order to stop what appeared to be an extraordinary poor practice from being perpetrated any further.
The reason was not because the mathematical model was introduced, but because the veterinary surgeon—the person who the farmer instinctively looks to for matters of animal health and for advice on local knowledge, on topography, on infection sources, on 887 species and all those other issues which must be taken into account—was sidelined. The model being promulgated was by no means sophisticated enough. For example, it could not distinguish between different strains of foot and mouth. The farmers recognised that these issues were not being addressed. Therefore, because the veterinary profession had been sidelined, not just on the ground but in the ministry itself, there was a total and utter suspension of belief that DEFRA would do any better than MAFF.
That is why the Bill is the wrong Bill at the wrong time. One cannot simply say as part of a social contract that, "Yes, the Government got it wrong" and "Yes, there are a lot of lessons to learn" but there is only one lesson that we are going to learn at this moment; that is, that you cannot resort to law even if we are doing a bad job. That, on the face of it, appears to everyone to be a totally unreasonable bargain. That is why this is a bad Bill. The Secretary of State has not understood her obligation to demonstrate to farmers and, indeed, her responsibility to the veterinary profession. Its members have been badly let down by no longer being required to do what they were able to do in 1967, which is to put an uncertain case through a laboratory test—meanwhile ensuring that animals were properly isolated—and return with a professionally justified diagnosis.
The diagnoses which were required after the middle of March really amounted in large measure to guessing. One either had to deem that the animal was free of disease or that there was reason for suspicion. That was a retrograde step compared with what happened in previous outbreaks. It puts a veterinary practitioner in an ethically impossible position—to be told that he cannot go for the option of isolation and a test.
The culls can and should be justified but they must be recognised as appropriate for the circumstances. It may be that the protocols that we are now seeing will try to address these issues. But we will not have any confidence in these protocols either unless at the end of the day the advice that will ultimately rule is not just the advice of epidemiologists—that is very important—or of virologists, and certainly not the advice of officials in the ministry, but ultimately advice which the veterinary surgeon on the ground can also support.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ The Earl of Shrewsbury
My Lords, I declare an interest as a farmer and as a flock master of pedigree sheep. I agree entirely with everything said today by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford in a most eloquent and first-class speech.
The area in which I live was right at the centre of the local foot and mouth epidemic. Some 58 farms were taken out. Many of my neighbours had their stock taken. I was extremely fortunate to escape with my flock intact. I say fortunate because the flock survived and I have been able to keep my bloodlines going, bloodlines which have taken a number of years to 888 develop and improve. But I was not so fortunate in another way, as I find it almost impossible to sell my stock. Because of the necessary restrictions on stock movements, and the fact that there have been no agricultural shows where farm stock can be shown and no livestock auction marts, I have in the past 12 months sold four ram lambs and two shearling rams. In a normal year, I would sell at least 30 ram lambs, 10 shearling rams, 20 shearling ewes and a few culls.
Agricultural shows are the pedigree breeders' shop window. Without them, we are all severely restricted in reaching our potential customers. Can the Minister provide any information as to whether sheep will be allowed to be put forward at agricultural shows this year, and if so from when? A further problem with showing pedigree sheep post-FMD is the introduction of a 20-day standstill period. As it stands, I understand that if showing is allowed and I take stock to the Shropshire and West Midland Show and bring them home, I have to isolate those animals on my farm on return and cannot move them for 21 days. I may wish to show the same animals at the Stafford County Show two weeks later, but I cannot, as that contravenes the 21-day period.
Will the Minister please reconsider both the standstill period and the licensing regime for movements where it affects stock used for the purpose of showing? That is a major market place, and it would greatly help the sheep industry in their marketing of stock.
I wholeheartedly support the second part of the Bill in its purpose to try to eradicate scrapie over time. That is both welcome and necessary if we are to rebuild confidence in British farm produce both here and abroad. I applaud the Government on their initiative to introduce a national scrapie plan for Great Britain. Like the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, I am concerned about cross-border problems. It would be only sensible also to introduce the national scrapie plan in Scotland, which is a great country for the breeding of sheep.
Like many others in the pedigree breeding world, I have registered my flock and my willingness to have it tested and to take action voluntarily. In the main, my sheep are tested ARR and ARQ, as I have been testing for a few years and have eradicated genetically suspect sheep whenever they have appeared. It is absolutely vital that British agriculture improves its stock, practices and marketing, with full traceability and both genetic and veterinary advances being implemented. Never again must we allow the industry to fall to the depths which we have been experiencing during the past few years. It will take a long while to rebuild British agriculture's reputation as the world leader. Thousands of people are leaving the land thoroughly disillusioned with working in an unprofitable industry unloved by the Government.
While I fully understand and agree that action must be taken to prevent another catastrophic epidemic like FM D, the Government want to go far too far, far too soon, pre-judging the results of the inquiries and the consultation process. The Government should not act 889 until that advice has been received and thoroughly digested, and further advice taken. Unless some hyperactive spin doctoring takes place, any inquiry can only be sufficiently fair to lay a considerable amount of blame firmly at the door of the former MAFF, DEFRA and the Government.
There has been a chapter of disasters and massive errors. However, the Government owe a serious debt of gratitude to the local employees of MAFF and DEFRA, the Army and the local veterinarians, slaughtermen and many others who have been involved at the frontline of the battle. Theirs has been an horrific task, and they have done their best. Ministers have not been helpful, and nor has the hierarchy at MAFF—now DEFRA. The story at higher levels is not encouraging, and the Government should accept blame where necessary and learn the lessons, rather than continue to blame the farming community in a scattergun approach to polish political halos.
Finally, I understand from the farming press that the Government may intend to introduce a licensing system for farmers, whereby a farmer has to submit his farming plan to DEFRA for approval before being allowed to farm his land under licence. If DEFRA should disapprove, the farmer would be denied a licence. Who is more qualified to judge how a farmer should farm the land—a civil servant behind a desk in London or the farmer whose family have farmed that land and the stock on it for generations and who has hands-on knowledge of good husbandry practices? Quite frankly, that proposal is absurd. Such a system would be intolerable and I sincerely hope that what I have read is pure rumour. Perhaps the Minister will be able to assure your Lordships that that will not be the case.
British agriculture is in urgent need of strong encouragement, support, good sound advice and action, not knee-jerk legislation. Those of us who were involved in the two knee-jerk Acts regarding hand guns—I must say from two different Governments—know that knee-jerk reaction legislation achieves absolutely nothing. The Bill will achieve little except to drive a further wedge between the agricultural community and the Government.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I also declare an interest, as I own three breeds of sheep, one being classified as a rare breed. I also breed ponies and own dogs and cats. The Bill covers a variety of animals and diseases. I shall speak to the concerns of some people who own rare breeds, but, first, I must say that I wholeheartedly agree with the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I hope that the Government realise how strong feeling is about the Bill.
The Government are putting the cart before the horse. I wonder whether the Minister will be able to give the House a satisfactory answer about why the Bill is being rushed through Parliament before Dr Iain 890 Anderson's "lessons learned" inquiry and the Royal Society inquiry into infectious diseases of livestock chaired by Sir Brian Follett are to report.
This Animal Health Bill is more like an animal extermination Bill. It contains draconian powers. Would it not have been scientifically wise to hear t he independent inquiries' findings? The membership of the committee includes veterinary scientists, virologists and epidemiologists, together with representatives of farming and consumer groups. The inquiry will identify lessons to be learnt from recent outbreaks of infectious diseases such as foot and mouth disease and swine fever, and will hopefully help the UK to be better prepared for future occurrences. The committee will also consider issues relating to the provision and use of scientific advice.
Many of the interested stakeholders have lost confidence. To get the brains of sheep muddled up with those of cattle was a most unscientific blunder. Not to mark specimens clearly, whatever they are. is totally incompetent. Should not the Government be trying to build bridges, instead of forging ahead without the scientific evidence that we so badly need? Sir Brian Follett said:These infectious diseases can cause epidemics that result in tremendous distress and suffering for both animals and people".How I agree with him. To give an example, a herd of Dexter cattle were shot not far from Northallerton in North Yorkshire. They escaped and ran onto the main road in total panic. The cattle were distressed, but so were the people who witnessed that horrible example of culling.
I should like to ask the Minister how much research is being done to find quick and efficient tests so that animals do not have to be wasted in contiguous culling. What progress has been made on a vaccine for foot and mouth disease, so that diseased animals can be identified from those with vaccine antibodies?
There is great concern that meat imported legally or illegally to this country may bring in disease yet again. It seems only fair to all those people who suffered so much heartbreak as well as financial disaster to know the true source of the infection that caused so much damage. Is there a cover-up? I hope that, in the end, the true scientific source will be made public.
Rare breeds are part of our heritage. On Wednesday 21st November, I asked a supplementary question to a Question on the Animal Health Bill and scrapie in some genetically susceptible rare breeds. I was grateful to the Minister, who wrote to me on 4th December 2001. He said that the Bill required the Minister to consider whether there were exceptional circumstances that justify an exemption from restrictions on breeding from genetically susceptible sheep. That was in Section 36C(2), as proposed in Schedule 2 of the Bill.
There is a great need for breeders, researchers and Government to work together to find a way to increase resistance to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. There is much to learn, and I was pleased that the Minister said that the Government would work with breed societies to agree realistic timetables for breeding in resistance to TSEs and that 891 there might be exceptional circumstances. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust recognises that breeding TSE-resistance in the national flock is an effective long-term means of ensuring that BSE does not occur. The science behind any such programme should be sound.
It is not known how many varieties of scrapie there are. It has been said that there might be as many as 20. It is a technical matter and needs urgent research and sound conclusions. If we eliminate one strain of scrapie, sheep might be more susceptible to another. Eradicating TSEs in sheep is not compatible with the commitments made to the Rio convention. The science on which the policy is based is yet to be substantiated, so I hope that the Minister can give a commitment today that research will be stepped up and that all interested parties will be kept informed.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust seeks to secure the strength of all appeal procedures for rare breeds in the future event of a government exercising the right to slaughter or remove animals from breeding in a disease crisis. The trust would like to see that written into Section 36D of the Act. It would be feasible under the proposed Section 36D(7) and should be administered by an independent body.
In the recent foot and mouth epidemic, many people became frustrated and lost confidence when they were passed between different branches of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and told different things. It was difficult for vets, farmers and DEFRA staff, and I hope that such situations will not arise again. However, for many people, the future is still shrouded in uncertainty.
I hope that we will be able to improve the Bill, as it passes through its stages in your Lordships' House. At the moment, the Bill denies the right to natural justice, giving the Minister the power to order slaughter solely on the basis of what he thinks, without any explanation, justification or recourse to appeal for the owner of the animals.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Mallalieu
My Lords, I must declare an interest as a small sheep farmer. My flock is more akin to that of Marie-Antoinette than to that of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, but, like other farmers throughout the country, I have spent the past year in considerable trepidation. Fortunately, I escaped what happened to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and others.
As the Minister sits in some isolation on the Front Bench during the debate—feeling rather lonely, no doubt—can he begin to imagine how increasingly lonely some of us on the Back Benches have felt in the past year when we had to look the farming community in the eye and try to tell farmers that the Government were not anti-farming? The provisions in the Bill will make that task even more difficult.
I am grateful to the Minister for his impassioned and eloquent explanation of the reasoning behind the provisions, and I understand why his department wants the Bill. It seems that the Animal Health Act 1981 provides no legal basis on which a government 892 can order the slaughter of animals that are neither infected nor dangerous contacts. The contiguous cull, which was a major part of the Government's strategy in the recent outbreak, and the proposed firebreak culling had no legal basis. My memory may play me false, but I can remember no stage in the many debates that we had in the House during the crisis at which any Minister mentioned that lacuna in the powers that they sought to exercise. If there is a good, sound reason, based on the best scientific and veterinary advice that such a step is necessary, the authorities may, I accept, need to have available to them the power to implement it, if a political decision is taken to combat animal disease with a slaughter policy. I shall return to the question of whether such a political decision can ever be made again.
The Bill has been introduced in a way that goes far beyond what the Minister suggested were the necessary reasons. It gives virtually unlimited powers. providing DEFRA officials with, in effect, carte blanche to order slaughter without any requirement that they publicly justify, explain, give reasons, provide a fair hearing or, in some circumstances, compensate properly those whose animals are destroyed.
Some of us have said for some time that we hoped that there could be a department for rural affairs. We welcomed the formation of DEFRA and hoped that the criticisms that were validly made about the way in which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food operated would not be appropriate to the new department. Above all, we hoped that DEFRA would, in time, rebuild and command the confidence of the farming community. Many of us in this Chamber had close contact with that community during the recent crisis.
It is difficult to overstate the traumatic effects on stockmen, their wives and their children and on the communities in the areas that were affected. One message came back repeatedly, however. There was a common sense of powerlessness and frustration in the face of the authorities, not the people who came to the farm, but faceless people taking decisions far away in offices and in MAFF itself. The decisions taken seemed to show no understanding of the consequences for those who faced the slaughter of treasured stock and the spectacle of piles of carcasses in the back yard for days, or even longer. Others had to face restrictions on even the limited movement that would have allowed them to alleviate the suffering of animals in dreadful welfare conditions.
The first Bill introduced by the new department not only gives the authorities blanket powers of further slaughter but imposes criminal and financial sanctions on farmers who do not assist in that slaughter. That is a bad way in which to rebuild the confidence that British agriculture must have in its government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, made a point about the timing of the Bill. It is extraordinary that the Government should introduce such a wide-ranging Bill without any formal consultation with the farming industry on Parts 1 or 3. The decision to
893 introduce the Bill before the results, at least, of the Government's scientific inquiry—whose report and recommendations should be available in the summer—smacks of a return to the bad old days of arrogance and lack of consideration for the industry.
If the Bill is to be based on good science, surely we must hear from the scientists first. If it really is so urgent to provide additional powers for contiguous culling in the event—heaven forfend—of a further foot and mouth outbreak in the near future, let the Bill be narrowed to foot and mouth susceptible animals. Let it be restricted to circumstances in which such a cull is judged to be clearly necessary by the best possible veterinary and scientific advice, when those who are on the receiving end are given proper notice of what is to be done, are enabled to have a proper hearing and to challenge, albeit speedily, the reason for what is proposed.
The progress of the Bill up until today is also something which should give all of us in Parliament, particularly those of us in this House, cause for concern. Last week there was much debate about the future of the House both here and in another place. The general public are under the impression that each piece of legislation proposed by the Government is scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament. But they are wrong and this Bill is a clear illustration. Not only were no amendments of any kind made to the Bill during the whole of its passage through the Commons—which presumably indicates either that the Government majority prevented any such amendment being made or that the Bill is considered to be perfect—but, because of timetabling in the Commons, important parts of the Bill to which amendments had been tabled were not debated at all.
I would he the last person to suggest that there should not be timetabling or to suggest to the other place how it should conduct its business. If people want to arrange their business so that they can return to their husbands and wives and the cat on the hearth, that is fine, but it should not be at the expense of proper scrutiny of legislation. If Bills are sent to this House in that way, surely there must come a time when we in this House start to say, "We will not consider that Bill or that part of it".
I urge the Minister in this House, because this is the one place where such legislation can expect proper scrutiny, to take the initiative to take the Bill away, if necessary to delay the Committee stage, and to return with his own amendments which reflect concerns which have in this debate been voiced by Members on all sides. Concerns come from organisations as diverse as the veterinary profession, which has strong objections to what is proposed yet is key to its effective working. Il has been expressed by people ranging from members of the Kennel Club to the British Horse Society, not just those involved with the rare breeds which the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned.
In the other place, amendments were foreshadowed even by the Minister's colleague, Mr Morley. In this House, the Minister told us that there will be consultation on a protocol on the use of the slaughter 894 powers. Surely we must see the protocol before we give the Government the powers. How can we possibly do it the other way round? Indeed, it seems to me that the protocol—the way in which the powers are to be exercised—should ideally appear on the face of the Bill. How else can we know what we are authorising the authorities to do?
As other noble Lords have said, there must also be a proper independent right of appeal. One cannot have, as the Bill proposes, an appeal to the very person who sent the inspector out in the first place. That is not sufficient. Why should there be a reversed burden of proof on compensation? If, as we are told by the Minister, a small number of farmers fail the biodiversity test, it must be right to penalise them. I would have no objection to that, but to penalise everyone seems to me to be the wrong way round.
I echo the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson: who is to make such assessments? As the president of the Royal Veterinary College said to a number of us who attended a meeting in this House last week, if it is to be the veterinary surgeon who has just told the farmer that his stock is to be slaughtered and is then required to go on to tell him, in effect, "It's all your fault", that is not a role which many young vets are equipped for or could possibly be expected to undertake.
Applications to magistrates on powers of entry must include notice and a right to either appear or be represented. Ex parte applications simply will not do, for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. The need for urgency for such culling—and we are dealing with stock which is neither infected nor dangerous contact—cannot justify overriding the right to a fair hearing. Very short notice hearings can be arranged at which notice is given to both sides. Above all, a farmer must be entitled to have reasons for the actions given in writing and in advance of the slaughter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, spoke about scrapie. Surely it must he a matter of concern to the Government that the president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons says that the science is not sufficiently developed for us to be able to say that it is right to slaughter certain genotypes. He told those of us who attended the meeting that there was a real danger that if we went down the path of compulsory slaughter we might inadvertently be destroying the very genotypes which have greater resistance to this and to other diseases.
The Minister said that those powers were to be taken further down the line, so I ask simply: why are we taking them now? The voluntary scrapie eradication scheme has bearly started and most farmers are nowhere near as advanced as the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. However, most pedigree breeders are willing, and many of them are anxious, to sign up to the scheme. Surely the Bill ought to contain provisions which encourage joining in that voluntary scheme. If at a later stage when the science proves it is necessary that the power of compulsory slaughter is required.
895 those matters can be brought back before Parliament and the authorities can be given the necessary authority.
Underlying the tone and the approaches in the Bill is a matter which I find most disquieting. It is in a sense unstated. It is a feeling that the responsibility for foot and mouth disease lies with the farmers of England and Wales—I exclude Scotland for the reasons, rather artificial, which have been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. Let us face the fact that it is not poor biosecurity on Britain's farms or resistance to culling which caused the national disaster which we are just getting over. So far as we can tell, and according to all the material that is in the public domain, the primary causes of foot and mouth arise outside this country.
Foot and mouth disease did not originate here. It started—let us face it squarely—because the Government's own biosecurity was inadequate. The disease entered this country because the restrictions had failed. Yet the Bill contains no provisions whatever to tighten import controls, to increase sanctions, or to bring us more into line with countries such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand, to which the right reverend Prelate referred in a remarkable speech. Why not? The Minister said that the Bill was intended to provide a full armoury of weapons. It seems to me a great pity that all the weapons which he seeks to take are aimed at the farmers and not at the disease itself.
I conclude with an issue that was foreshadowed by what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. It is for me the most disappointing aspect of the proposed legislation. It underlies my concern that out of all that has happened in the past year the most important lesson of all has not been learnt. The Government are proposing the legislation in anticipation of a possible future occasion when a mass slaughter policy may be considered to deal with animal disease. The last outbreak brought the rural community in this country to its knees. It brought many families to a state of despair and many farming families to a position in which they were on the verge of open defiance of the law. I do not believe that they or the wider public will stand for a similar policy in the future.
It was done from the best possible motive: to rid the country of foot and mouth disease. But the reality, shown night after night on television, was an obscenity. If our scientists, vets and skilled politicians cannot provide better solutions to animal disease than our medieval forefathers had available to them, and if this Bill is passed and ever used, it and they will have failed all of us.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, it is, as always, an enormous pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. She gave a thorough scrutiny of the Bill. The Minister would do well to pay close attention to what the noble Baroness and one of his own Back-Benchers has said.
896 I declare an interest in that I own land in the north of England—land which, I am glad to say, was not affected by foot and mouth disease.
In opening, the Minister said how much the Bill reflects his personal experience. I understand that. I have no doubt that over this past, ghastly year the noble Lord and many of his colleagues have undergone unpleasant experiences and witnessed some fairly distraught circumstances. We all have. But a Bill of this nature is not the sole prerogative of a Government Minister or his department. Many others—the vets, hauliers and slaughtermen—have shared with him and his department the experiences of the past year or so. Rural businesses have suffered greatly, as have the farmers. For that reason I regret deeply that they have not had the opportunity to participate in and consult on the Bill. If they had, I am certain that we would have a very different Bill before us today.
Like most people in the countryside, I am astonished that the Government did not decide on a public inquiry; and, furthermore, that they have not waited for the results of their inquiries which undoubtedly will bring forward suggestions for future legislation. Does that mean that the Government will again make time for more legislation? Furthermore, I am informed that the European Union is proposing legislation. Shall we then have a third Bill to deal with these matters? I hope that the Government can give some answers to these practical matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, rightly referred to Scotland. I read in another news release issued recently by the department in connection with the Bill that in its wisdom the Scottish Executive has decided not to legislate until it has consulted fully. If the Scottish Executive can decide that, why cannot the Government of Westminster do the same? I put to the Minister the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. Is it practical to have two different types of legislation, one north and the other south of the Border? I do not believe so.
No one will disagree that the Government need the relevant powers to reduce and bring under control outbreaks of any disease. The two words "urgency" and "purpose" are paramount. If those two principles had been adhered to at the outset and if, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, rightly said, the Government had brought in the Army a little earlier with a brigadier rather than a civil servant in charge, I am certain that much of the tragedy that we have witnessed over the past year would not have occurred.
The Bill has what I describe as an aura of arrogance about it which has dumbfounded the agricultural world. The blame is being put firmly at the door of the farmer. That seems sad. If properly constructed, the Bill could have crossed through party political divide. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu said, this is DEFRA'S first Bill. What a shame that it is dividing rather than uniting everyone in the countryside.
897 I am sorry to be repetitive but it is inevitable. I wish to comment on the impacts of Clauses 1 and 7. It is unreasonable that the officials can be provided with the enormous powers which the Bill gives them, yet the farmer, in his or her defence, has no access to a justice of the peace or magistrate. The point has been well made by other noble Lords; I do not wish to go on about it. However, it is a fundamental flaw in the Bill.
In another place, Mr Morley states in his paper on the implementation of new slaughter powers that judicial review will continue to be available. So what? It is not much use after one's stock has been killed. I do not regard that as being a sufficient recourse to law for farmers.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to this issue. I find it objectionable that, having entered a property with the intention of killing the livestock, the inspector can then require any person to give assistance. Calling upon a distraught farmer, his wife, daughter or son is not on. I am sure the Minister will tell us that that will not happen; but it is in the legislation. We have to amend that provision at a later stage.
The question of compensation has been well covered. When there have been so few cases in which biosecurity measures have been transgressed, to reverse the onus of proof against the farmer thus ensuring that he receives only 75 per cent instead of 100 per cent must be wrong. Having said that, I have every sympathy with the Government if they have come down very hard, as I hope that they have done, on those farmers who have acted irresponsibly with regard to biosecurity measures or have been deliberately obstructive. I know that there have been a few such cases. They need to be dealt with severely so that the farming fraternity is in no doubt that in the future such actions will be treated very harshly. But there are very few cases. I believe that the Government have the compensation formula completely wrong.
Everyone will agree that effective biosecurity measures remain the key to preventing the spread of disease. In its brief, the National Farmers Union rightly points out that the Government need to provide clear advice to farmers in order to establish a benchmark against which an inspector can assess accurately the extent to which a farmer is in breach of the biosecurity rules and his compensation payment compromised. Of course, many biosecurity conditions will be common throughout but local conditions will result in different instructions, and I hope that those will be taken into account when the government inspector is assessing whether a farmer is due his full compensation.
In his paper on the implementation of new slaughter powers, to which I referred earlier in my remarks, the Minister, Mr Morley, states that:The instructions will be widely published, giving as much information as possible to farmers. The risk of any surprise occurring on an individual farm will be significantly minimised and that in turn should reduce the need for unnecessary or ill-informed challenges".I suggest to the Minister—I hope that I am being helpful and constructive here—that precisely the same protocol should be implemented in the case of 898 biosecurity, thus ensuring that farmers will be given the opportunity to receive the maximum compensation available. Equally, if not more important, it will also ensure that biosecurity measures are not compromised. I hope that the Minister will consider that suggestion.
One of the greatest bones of contention throughout the whole of the ghastly foot and mouth affair has been the question of how many animals that had not in fact contracted the disease were slaughtered. Figures of up to 85 per cent have been mentioned. We all know about the cost in human suffering, while the cost to the Treasury has been enormous. Surely the top priority from now on must be to ensure that a system of fast and accurate diagnosis is put in place in order to prevent this from happening again.
I gather that successful scientific research into a fast and accurate means of diagnosis for foot and mouth disease is not far away. Can the Minister tell the House whether that is the case and whether he feels that sufficient funding has been made available to ensure that no unnecessary delays are taking place, so that progress can be made as quickly as possible? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that the Bill should take into account the fact that when such a system of diagnosis is in place, it should be the right of anyone owning animals which have been threatened with a cull to be given access to such information beforehand? I hope that the Minister will agree that such an amendment to the Bill would be desirable.
I have many other objections to the Bill which have been mentioned by other speakers, but the point that both the agricultural industry and consumer groups should be given a clear explanation of what the Government intend to do to tighten up on imports is, in my view, absolutely essential. Generally speaking, however, a crisis such as the one that rural Britain has had to face over the past year brings people together. It forms a union. Having undergone such hardship, those with differing views are more willing to co-operate and seek a compromise for the common good. However, despite almost a year of enduring one of the worst crises to hit rural Britain, from which communities are still reeling and are likely to do so for a long time to come, with this Bill—which has been brought forward at a most sensitive time—the Government have managed to alienate virtually every farming and rural representative body, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. At the very least that is disappointing and I would suggest that some serious rethinking is necessary.
Ultimately, the Government can legislate as much as they want, but unless a well-thought through and properly co-ordinated set of procedures, adequately funded and supported by sufficient numbers of personnel and expertise, which are thoroughly understood and respected by all parties, is brought forward, then quite frankly the Bill will fail. That will require co-operation and input from all sides. The problem will not be solved by implementing rushed legislation that will alienate the very people who are in a position to bring that about.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, first, I should declare an interest in that my wife has a small herd of pedigree Welsh black cattle. We live in Wales where in the early part of last year foot and mouth disease swirled around us, but miraculously they survived untouched.
We have before us another rushed piece of legislation which, despite the many critical voices raised against it in the Commons, has been sent to this House without any amendment. It has been subjected to quite inadequate scrutiny, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, in her contribution. As so many other noble Lords have observed in some notable speeches, the legislation appears deeply flawed. In particular I thought that the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, pointed out those flaws in the clearest terms. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, questioned the Title of the Bill. I thought it should be called the "Animal Slaughter Facilitation Bill" because that seemed far more accurate.
Until now, no formal consultation has been carried out, at any rate on Part 1, while at least a dozen veterinary, livestock and farming organisations have expressed their serious concerns. Only the NFU rather inexplicably welcomed the Bill. A notable expression of concern was contained in a letter from Roger Green, the president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, published on 11th December in the Daily Telegraph. Commenting on the excuse of urgency put forward by Ministers, Dr Green said that no positive blood tests had been taken since 30th September. He went on to say that,Slaughter being extended to all animals on premises designated by a computer because they are deemed 'contiguous' gives considerable problems to veterinary surgeons. They have been and could be instructed to kill animals without any good scientific or clinical reasons".He went on to say that there was,no scientific definition of 'contiguous' in the Bill",and that slaughter was,a course of action likely to antagonise the main people [the Government] need to assist in any disease control: the farmers".Inevitably, vets play a key role in this matter. Such remarks from a leader of their profession should, I believe, be taken very seriously. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, spoke with great authority about the role of the veterinary profession and the way in which it has been treated.
Even more serious is the question why the Bill has been brought forward before the three inquiries set up by the Government have had an opportunity to report. That is really quite extraordinary. What is the point of setting up inquiries if legislation is then brought forward without waiting to see what are the results of those conclusions? What do the Government propose to do when the three inquiries report? Will they simply ignore their conclusions?
900 The legal basis for the slaughter last year of all those thousands of animals was the Animal Health Act 1981. Schedule 3 to the Act states:The Minister may, if he thinks fit, in any case cause to be slaughtered—The Act clearly does not permit the compulsory slaughter of animals which have not come into contact with the disease. Thus, much of the contiguous cull carried out last year may have been sensible but was nevertheless illegal, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who is learned in the law, has told us. We have not heard a word of apology from Ministers about this.
- (a) any animals affected with foot-and-mouth disease, or suspected of being so affected; and
- (b) any animals which are or have been in the same field, shed, or any other place, or in the same herd or flock, or otherwise in contact with animals infected with foot-and-mouth disease, or which appear to the Minister to have been in any way exposed to the infection of foot-and-mouth disease".
No doubt the 1981 Act now needs to be amended and brought up to date, but the way that the Government propose to do it is extraordinary. They have begun by saying that slaughter may be authorised whenever it is necessary for disease control reasons. In saying that, they imply acceptance that a good deal of what they were doing last year was not within the law.
The mechanism proposed in the law for authorising slaughter is draconian to a degree. I understand that it applies to all animals, not only cows, pigs and sheep, but also to horses, dogs, cats, zoo animals and hamsters. All that is needed is an application by an official, who need not attend in person, to a single JP without the farmer having any right to be present. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, criticised that. Citizens are to be deprived of their legal right to challenge the killing of their animals; it makes demonstrating against an inspector's actions an offence; and for the first time in this country, makes it a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months in prison, for anyone to refuse to assist an inspector in killing an animal. Your Lordships and I could be having a cup of tea with a farmer and, when the slaughter team arrives and we are asked to, say, hold a sheep while it is killed, and we say that we will not do this, we are guilty of a criminal offence.
Instead of receiving full compensation when their animals are killed, farmers are to be given 75 per cent with a further 25 per cent some time later if they are judged to have operated proper biosecurity arrangements. In other words, all farmers are to be judged guilty of not operating proper biosecurity arrangements until it is proved otherwise. All these provisions do seem more appropriate to a Stalinist regime than to our country.
Part 2 of the Bill deals with scrapie. This fatal disease has been with us for many years and is not transmitted to humans. It is not unreasonable for the Government to seek to eradicate it, as they are trying to do in the national scrapie plan. But the president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has pointed out that in this part of the Bill,many unsupported scientific judgements are made".901 It has been argued by the director of Rare Breeds International that this part of the Bill is based on bad science and, as it stands, might result in the elimination of many old established sheep breeds, such as Beatrix Potter's Herdwicks, hill Radnors, British milk sheep, Shetlands and others. But those entitled to know point out that some genotypes which DEFRA is seeking to remove have beneficial characteristics, while the genotype they seek to preserve because it is thought to be resistant to scrapie may not in fact be so but only masking a long incubation scrapie. I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said in that respect.
There is, as yet, no general agreement on the science, and it would surely be wrong at this stage to give DEFRA powers to put an end to many old established and historic breeds in direct contravention of the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is, in my view, far too early to try to deal through legislation with the problem of scrapie. We simply do not yet know enough about it.
I am astonished that a Bill of this kind should have been put forward at this time. I was myself a public servant for 40 years. In my day, in each department, a Permanent Secretary, experienced and sagacious, ensured that his or her department was properly run, that any rash proposals from below were shot down and that any unwise proposals by Ministers were tactfully resisted. I cannot understand how the Permanent Secretary in DEFRA could have agreed, if he did agree, to this Bill going forward when it did.
The Government's tendency to try to put all the blame on farmers seems to me extremely unfortunate. I very much agree with Mr Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on environment, food and rural affairs, when he said:There are times when this government seems hell bent on alienating every farmer in the land, when instead they should be working out common solutions to common problems".Perhaps these matters will be taken more seriously—at any rate in No. 10—only when my noble friend Lord Birt is asked to report on agriculture in addition to crime and transport.
In the meantime, perhaps, after all these months, the Government will at last take steps to tighten up controls on the import of meat. After all we have endured in these past 12 months, why on earth do we not have the strict controls that the United States and Australia have always had? Why do we allow anyone to bring in meat on an aeroplane "for personal use"? Why do the Government seek to duck responsibility by saying that these are matters for the EU? It seems to me scandalous that the Government do nothing about this, so that we run the risk of again importing this terrible disease. Instead of seeking retribution on the farmers who had the temerity to go to court to protect their property, the Government should remedy their own failure to protect the country from infection from abroad, and they should do it now. The statement by DEFRA, reported in today's Daily Telegraph, that it remained almost powerless to prevent people from bringing contaminated food into this country, seems pathetically feeble.
902 I welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The only thing that worries me about it is that it uses the word "regret", which seems very mild. I feel much more that it is not simply a matter of "regretting" that the Government have not waited for the Royal Society's report; I believe that they should definitely do so. I had it in mind to table an amendment to give the Bill a Second Reading but to say that the House resolved that further consideration of the Bill should take place only after the recommendations of the Royal Society and the other inquiries commissioned by the Government were available and had been considered and published. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to come to this conclusion and I was advised that it was too late to table such an amendment. I intend to pursue this objective—I understand that there are other ways in which I can do so later on—and I hope that that course will be generally supported.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, I declare an interest as an honorary associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, as chairman of the Cambridge University Veterinary Trust, as deputy president of the Countryside Alliance and as a small sheep farmer.
The Countryside Alliance is concerned that the Government have introduced the Bill before receiving any benefit from the three independent inquiries into foot and mouth. I echo the concern expressed by the president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, who said in a letter to the Daily Telegraph that it is a hasty and ill-conceived measure. I also agree with my noble friend Lord Selborne about it being necessary to take into account the local conditions, locations, topography, local climate and the siting of farm buildings in relation to roads.
It is important that we should make much more use of the people employed within the government veterinary service who have local knowledge. In that way, at least the farmers will give a high level of compliance because they know that these are the bind of people they can trust.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Palmer about the problem of Scotland. We should think what would again happen if there were to be another cross-border situation, as happened with Cumberland and Dumfries.
However, surely the most important thing for all of us is to be absolutely certain that the disease cannot come back into this country ever again. I do not see why we should allow ourselves to have less stringent regulations than other countries. It is absolutely essential that these matters should be improved. The NFU has, quite rightly, suggested that there should be a statutory duty on the Government to provide an annual report to Parliament on what steps should be taken to stop foot and mouth or swine fever again coming back into this country. After what was said in another place, I hope that the Minister will look very carefully at the undertakings that were given there about greater restrictions on people coming into this country.
903 There is no question that the Bill will allow for the slaughter of horses, dogs and pets. The awful thing is that there would be no right of appeal if it is implemented. Some noble Lords will remember the sadness and worry when the "remount officers" came round the stables in 1939 and took away our hunters and hill ponies. I have, as a matter of historical record, a letter to my mother from the veterinary practice in Oak ham confirming that all the big dogs—the setters and Labradors—had been put down at the start of the war to save food. That was a real emergency; this is not such an emergency.
We do not seem to know very much about the actual position regarding scrapie in sheep. There have been serious misgivings about the need to cull them. I hope that we shall bear in mind that scrapie affects some sheep in entirely different ways than is the case with other sheep. Different breeds and different individuals have different susceptibilities to scrapie. But what is the cut-off point? There is no evidence to suggest that scrapie is linked to BSE in cattle. It is important to maintain the diversity of our sheep flock in this country.
This Bill is premature; it lacks justification; it is unnecessary; and it is based on unproven assumptions. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that this Bill should not go forward.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, when one is dealing with a pernicious little Bill at this stage of its proceedings, there is very little new to say. We have heard some extraordinarily good speeches. The contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was especially good, and that from my noble friend Lord Jopling was excellent. It contradicted much of what the Secretary of State in another place claimed to be fact. But perhaps the greatest speech was that made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. I do not believe that I have heard such an acute, surgical dissection of government policy—and, indeed, condemnation of it—from the Bishops' Benches. I remember being criticised often by those Benches when serving as a Minister, but today's effort was rather better than anything that was directed at me.
I am very sad that DEFRA has followed the worst habits of MAFF. We are faced with a knee-jerk reaction and the need to over-legislate. We can compound that with the blaming of farmers for foot and mouth disease, and the bringing forward of a piece of legislation that is neither scientifically proven nor scientifically properly based. I find it most surprising that DEFRA now enjoys worse relations with the farming and rural community than MAFF managed to achieve. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, I had hoped that DEFRA would start off and mend many of the fences. However, the department has managed only to exacerbate the situation. It is making no great effort to try to mend the fences. This Bill is, perhaps, a very good example: there has been no 904 consultation with the rural industry. DEFRA appears to be frightened to hold a public inquiry into foot and mouth. As many speakers have said, that is perhaps because such an inquiry would reveal the true incompetence that existed within the department at that time.
As many noble Lords have said, the Bill was rushed through another place—not only on a limited time-scale, but also with many of the amendments not called. The Government must find this House a particular irritant in that they are not able to steam roller us in the same way as applies in the other place.
I turn to the consultation paper that was issued last Friday. It was quite discourteous of the Government not to have informed the speakers in today's debate that the consultation paper would be issued on that day. To find out by chance at lunch-time today that the Government had issued such a paper that was very relevant to the Bill, but not to have been told about it, seems to me to be the height of bad manners. I hope that the Minister will ensure that his department never falls into the same trap again. I see that the Government Chief Whip is sitting on the Front Bench. I trust, therefore, that he will take note of my point.
The consultation paper is a help in that it reveals some of the Government's thinking, but I have difficulty in correlating it with the contents of the Bill. Let us take, for example, paragraph 20 of the consultation paper, which says:Among other things, the notices will certify that the decision to slaughter has been taken in accordance with the published criteria for slaughter".However, there is no reference to that in the Bill; and surely there ought to be. Considerable improvement is needed in the Bill to ensure that the Government's ideas are reflected in the legislation. There are no criteria for slaughter in the Bill, and no mention of anything being published in that respect.
I turn, briefly, to "compensation", which is a dreadful word. The 1981 Act was totally wrong in its use of the word. It is a payment for the farmer's stock. There is no compensation for loss of livelihood, for loss of future earnings, or, indeed, for all the harassment that takes place when a slaughter policy is introduced on a farm. It is merely payment by taxpayers for the value of the stock. That is why the payment should be 100 per cent, not 75 per cent with a further 25 per cent to follow. I agree with my noble friend Lord Peel that a severe penalty should he imposed on irresponsible farmers, but that should be dealt with afterwards: one should get 100 per cent value for one's stock, as of right.
The Bill talks about inspectors and veterinary inspectors. There needs to be a clear definition of the involvement and role of both of them. It is vital for farmers who have come to know their local vet that such vets should be involved in any decision making. They should also be able to accompany the farmer to the Justice of the Peace if a warrant is needed. I believe that the local vet ought to have priority. These computer models are all very well. They can be extremely helpful; but so, too, can input from other 905 people. The local vet is fully aware of the conditions in the area. He probably knows the stock better than anyone else, except the farmer. His input is absolutely crucial and I hope that it will receive higher priority than all the words of advice from the other interests involved. Similarly, it is also the local vet who will know more about the biosecurity of' the farm, which will vary from area to area. I trust that that, too, will be taken into account.
The point about Scotland has been well aired, as has that regarding the representations of farmers to Justices of the Peace. However, one matter that I find particularly distressing is what I call, "Lord Whitty's press gang"; namely, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Jopling, the people who go to farms and coerce farmers, employees, visitors, and anyone else they see fit, into chasing cattle round and round a field and pushing them out on the road. Indeed, President Mugabe would be proud of bringing forward such legislation in Zimbabwe. The criminalisation of farmers in that way is, I believe, totally unacceptable.
The Bill before us reminds me very much of the homes Bill that was debated during the last Session, and for which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, had to answer. He did not have a single supporter on that occasion. I believe that it was to his credit—I have yet to be proved wrong—that the Bill never went further than a Second Reading. It was subsequently delayed and then the general election was announced. I hope that the noble Lord will show the same good sense with regard to this Bill and that he will tell his colleagues in another place, and in the department, that the Bill is not acceptable to this House unless it is reformed in a major way—preferably after the reports on the inquiries have been received.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Baroness Thornton
My Lords, I rise to contribute to this Second Reading debate with some trepidation—growing up in inner-city Bradford and living in inner-city Islington as I do. Although a lifelong walker and sometime camper, I confess to being essentially an urban animal. It is because of this that I should like to make some comments.
Too often in the media and across the chattering classes the so-called "division" of urban versus the rural is played out. Frankly, I do not buy this artificial division. Taking a leaf from the book of my honourable friend in another place, Tony Banks, who also admitted to there being a paucity of farms down the Romford Road, I admit that, similarly, there are none in Archway. However, I shall make some observations.
Foot and mouth disease, BSE, scrapie and the other horrors that face the farming community are matters of concern to all of us. They are of interest to the town and country alike. This Bill is of concern to all of us as consumers and citizens, as well as to those in the fanning business—an industry which everyone admits is under enormous pressure at present.
As a consumer, I want to be sure that the public health implications of the public policy that we are considering today are to the fore. Historically, BSE 906 and its aftermath does not fill consumers with confidence. The old MAFF in the years gone by was guilty of gross inaction—I hope that we have seen the end of that.
It was horrifying to watch the suffering brought about by foot and mouth. It was ghastly to see the slaughter on our TV screens night after night. How much worse it was for those who lived near to those farms or whose animals were involved. There was enormous sympathy across the country for the suffering of our farmers.
The economic effect on the countryside has been devastating, and the knock-on effect has also been very bad for those who live in towns and cities which depend on visitors and tourists. London, Bath and Brighton have felt the knock-on effect of foot and mouth disease. As a result, first, of foot and mouth and then of the events of 11th September, London's hotels, taxi drivers and theatres are having a very tough time indeed—and they have no compensation.
Following on from BSE, foot and mouth disease has had a terrible effect on the UK's international reputation. This country does not have the reputation of being a clean and wholesome place to visit. Everyone has heard the stories of tourists wanting to know if food in the UK is safe to eat—in much the same way as you or I might ask whether the water is safe to drink elsewhere in the world. This is not the reputation that we want for the UK. It is a problem that affects all of us.
My support for the Bill is based on the need for the Government to be able to respond adequately to any future outbreak of foot and mouth or, indeed, any of the potentially devastating diseases. As has been indicated by the Minister in another place, safeguards clearly need to be put in place. My noble friend the Minister indicated that in his opening remarks.
It seems to me that the Bill is one part of a jigsaw that is being put in place to do several things. First, it will allow the Government to act swiftly if there is a need to do so. God willing, we all hope that such a case will not arise. During the awful days of foot and mouth, many Members on all sides of this House urged the Government to act rapidly.
There are also the inquiries that are taking place and which will report later. They will add to our knowledge and will propose the long-term strategies and changes that will be required. The Bill is a beginning, not an end.
I have not heard a word in this debate which adequately answers the points made by the Minister in his introduction about Thirsk, in North Yorkshire, and the difficulties that were faced there in bringing foot and mouth under control.
I fear that ordinary people will not understand why so many Members of this House are so opposed to taking decisions which might allow a disease such as foot and mouth to be brought more rapidly under control, and thereby prevent more animals being slaughtered.
907 I have enormous respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and bow to her great knowledge and experience in these issues. She made some excellent points about broad organisational and other matters which clearly need to be taken further. However, I am afraid that urging delay begs the question: are those who are urging delay prepared to risk a repeat of the events of last year? Are they prepared to take the chance, unlikely as it might be, of a repeat so soon?
As my noble friend the Minister said in his opening remarks, it was a matter of luck that foot and mouth did not spread further. I for one do not think that I am prepared to leave it to luck again. We have a duty to citizens and consumers to err on the side of caution. It takes only one farmer to be careless, obstructive or dishonest and not to obey the rules of biosecurity for a disaster to occur—and at present there are no proper powers to deal with breaches of biosecurity. Surely that cannot be right.
The Bill seeks to take us forward. It is part of the long-term changes that are necessary. I am sure that improvements will be made in its passage through this House—that is our job—but the Bill is necessary, and it is necessary now.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke
My Lords, the Bill is so wrong, both in principle and in detail, that it astonishes me that the Government have persisted in bringing it forward. It seems to be completely friendless. It is not supported by any farmer I have spoken to or read about, the veterinary profession opposes it, as we have heard from many speakers, and none of the organisations whose submissions or comments I have read seems to support it either.
In a speech the other day on the future of this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, quoted the phrase of Lord Hailsham, "an elective dictatorship". She said:I fear that for many of us that frightening phrase echoes with growing validity as we perceive what has happened to our Parliament".—[Official Report, 9/1/02; col. 572.]The powers that the Government seek for themselves in the Bill are the dream of those in all dictatorships: the power to slaughter any animal, at any time, whether or not it is infected with foot and mouth or any other disease; whether or not it has been in contact with infected animals; and whether or not it has even been exposed to foot and mouth disease. The slaughter may include not only cattle, sheep and pigs, but cats, dogs, horses, hamsters and parrots.
Furthermore, the Minister does not have to give any reason or provide any scientific or veterinary explanation or justification for his decision. The Bill provides the ministry with so-called "inspectors". My noble friend Lord Ferrers queried who they may be, where they will come from and how they will be empowered. It gives the inspectors unfettered power of entry to premises. Who are they to be? So far as I can make out, they can be hauled off the streets, given ministry authority and a small amount of training, 908 fitted with a regulation pair of jackboots and can proceed to use the enormous power given to them under Part 3; namely, forcible entry into private property, with as many other jack boots as necessary, with the power to require the hapless farmer or agent to co-operate or be criminalised. There is no appeal against this "jackbootery", except post facto—after healthy animals have been slaughtered—and any opposition will constitute a criminal offence.
It goes without saying that the warrant authorising such gross abuses of governmental powers will be issued without the victim being able to put his case to a magistrate. I thought that we had gone beyond the old Communist powers of "first, the verdict, then the trial"; but it seems not. Under these provisions, instead of being able to present his case to a judge at a fair and public hearing, when an inspector calls, a farmer's premises will be entered forcibly and his animals will be destroyed utterly needlessly. Unless he offers his full help and co-operation, he will become a criminal. Into the bargain, he will lose 25 per cent of the purchase price of his stock.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, said on the question of animals other than cattle, sheep and pigs that the Bill will not affect dogs, cats, hamsters, parrots or any other animals, but as the Bill stands it could do so. Am I alone in thinking that if some farmer is deemed to be obstreperous—an "awkward customer"—one of the inspectors, with a little brief authority, may say, "I'm sorry you've been so difficult about this cull. Your horse, dog or cat may be a carrier of the disease and I am afraid that we are going to have to slaughter that too"? That power is still in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister may bring forward government amendments to remove that uncertainty, but at present it is a distinct possibility.
We should not even contemplate giving the Government these kinds of powers. They already have a number of powers under the Animal Health Act 1981 which allow the ministry to slaughter, first, any animal affected by foot and mouth disease and, secondly, any animals which appear to it to have been exposed in any way to foot and mouth infection. It seems to me, with respect to my noble friend Lord Selborne, that that Act already provides the Minister with adequate powers to deal with any outbreak. If he has those powers, why is he asking for any more?
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, asked a question to which I, too, should like an answer. Is the reason, or part of the reason, for the Bill that the contiguous cull as practised was not lawful? I can think of no other reason at the moment for bringing the Bill forward. Either DEFRA had the power to carry out the contiguous cull—in which case it does not need this Bill—or, if it did not have the power to carry out the cull, it was illegal, with all the consequences that flow from that. I hope that we shall get an answer to that question when the Minister winds up.
In any event, there is no scientific reason for the so-called contiguous or firebreak culls. There is no evidence that those culls made any difference to the outbreak. As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, pointed 909 out, the contiguous cull policy meant that perfectly healthy animals were slaughtered for no good reason. The contiguous or firebreak cull was a novel concept that seemed to be invented by computer modellers with no veterinary training and no specialist knowledge of foot and mouth disease.
I remind your Lordships of the scale of the contiguous cull, in which so many healthy animals were slaughtered. Of the 6 million animals slaughtered during the outbreak, 5 million were not infected or incubating the disease at the time of slaughter. Approximately 85 per cent of the animals slaughtered were perfectly healthy.
Further, the contiguous cull policy led to cruelty and abuse of power by DEFRA and the police. Can it be right for the police to break down the door of a remote farmhouse so that soldiers can move in and shoot pet animals in a bedroom? Can it be right for a young girl's pet goat to be slaughtered and left lying in the family drive? Can it be right for a land agent acting on behalf of elderly and sick clients, one of whom has since died, to be assaulted and arrested by the police? The gentleman has since been told that there is no case against him and his arrest was unlawful. He is considering suing the relevant police authority.
Those are but a few examples. There are many more, some of which we have heard this evening. What are those people doing, cloaked in a little brief authority, visiting fear, stress and humiliation on law-abiding citizens of this country? Is this the country that we are told is a beacon to the world—the country that the Prime Minister so recently boasted of as a power for good in the world?
What is the purpose of that senseless slaughter and abuse of power? Is it to protect the meat and export market sector of the agricultural economy? I cannot believe that that is so. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out, it is no longer tenable to consider the control of foot and mouth disease in the light of a cost benefit to agriculture, particularly in the crude and primitive way in which that was carried out last year. Who can forget the pictures of medieval pyres and of animals, tongues lolling, being lowered by chains into the flames or pushed by bulldozers into pits? Who can forget the massive cost to the national economy, as tourists cancelled in their millions, appalled that a country that they had hitherto regarded as civilised should sink to such depths?
The financial and social cost of the epidemic was horrendous and its effects are still with us. Theatres, youth hostels, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and hotels were all devastated because their supply of visitors was wrecked. The Cheltenham festival was cancelled, Rugby Union internationals were cancelled, the Royal Show was cancelled, Badminton was cancelled and point-to-pointing, racing and hunting were all cancelled.
The financial cost to the nation has been estimated at the low end at £2 billion and at the high end, by the Institute of Directors, at £20 billion. Yet the Government are asking us to authorise more of the same. There is no thought of another way as far as I 910 can see. There is no thought of vaccination—merely a bullet-headed demand to give more powers to the same people who made such a mess of things previously, The Government want us to give more powers to the same department that was on the point of ordering the wholesale cull of sheep in Britain, based on an experiment that used the wrong sort of brains.
Why are we being asked to approve a Bill to allow such people to go blundering on, slaughtering and criminalising at will? Is that the sort of thing that we want to do in this country? I have seen a legal opinion from a learned counsel who says that the Bill would breach the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, in spite of the Minister's assertion on the face of the Bill that it is compatible with the Act. Do we really need the Human Rights Act to tell us how to behave in this country? Do we have to rely on it? Whatever happened to our own standards of decency, common sense and what is right and of how to legislate for our own citizens?
The Minister would do himself, the country and the Government a great favour if he would withdraw this deeply offensive Bill this evening and agree to come back with something reasonable and proportionate after the Government's committee of inquiry has reported. If he will not do so, the country will be looking to this House to stop the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pointed out last week:the House of Commons is no longer able to discharge its duty of scrutiny".—[Official Report, 9/1/02: col. 572.]The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, made the same point. If the Minister will not withdraw the Bill, I am afraid that this House has a duty to be difficult.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I declare an interest in that, with my husband, I share the keeping of sheep, goats and cattle. I hope that I can disabuse the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and her noble friend Lady Gibson about the attitudes of those in the House whose interest is in farming and the countryside and who have a direct interest. We are not out to serve our own purposes. We are concerned about what consumers think about our products. We want foot and mouth to be eradicated quickly, but we are not happy about the way in which it is being done.
§ Baroness Thornton
My Lords, I do not think that anything that I said suggested that anybody took a different view about our duty to consumers. I hope that the noble Countess will accept that.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I am pleased to hear that.
To put it mildly, the Bill is widely disliked. It follows in the wake of what will probably go down in history as an appalling and unnecessary massacre of our farm stock. History shows that the foot and mouth disease research station at Pirbright was set up in 1924 as a result of criticism of the Ministry of Agriculture's "primitive slaughter policy". Nothing much seems to have changed in the intervening period. Despite the 911 development of vaccines on the Continent in the 1930s and 1940s, the ministry refused to allow their use, preferring instead to slaughter thousands of animals in the major outbreaks that occurred in 1952 and 1967.
From the beginning of the recent outbreak it was clear that no one had learnt any lessons from the past when they embarked on the mass slaughter of so many animals, the majority of which, it seems, were healthy. It was not the largest outbreak in the world, but it was the one in which the most animals were killed.
The Explanatory Notes tell us that the Bill supplements existing powers,wherever this is necessary for disease control reasons".Schedule 3 to the 1981 Act already gives Ministers powers to slaughter animals,which appear to the Minister to have been in any way exposedto foot and mouth disease.
It sounds as though the Bill might prove a very convenient means by which to exercise population control. Some of us have been aware for several years that officials have been concerned that our hill and mountain sheep do not conform to EU standards and that they are surplus to requirement. There have been a lot of discussions with the National Sheep Association about how we can get rid of the hill sheep. Officials have shown a singular ignorance of the way in which the British sheep raising system works.
Many of the more recent problems that have arisen in the market place are the result of the operation of the common agricultural policy. Now is not the appropriate time to digress into those realms—no doubt the Minister will be pleased to hear that—but one cannot help but observe the wonderful opportunity that foot and mouth disease has given to those so eager to reduce the hill sheep population. Similarly, the Minister's right honourable friend, Mr Jack Cunningham, told us in 1997, when he was Minister of Agriculture, that there was a surplus of beef supply in Europe.
The wording of the Explanatory Notes, when read in conjunction with the Bill and the responses to frequently asked questions published on the DEFRA website, makes one wonder whether those who drafted it really know what they are doing. For example, Clause 1 gives the Minister powers to kill any animal whether or not it is sick, not only during an outbreak of foot and mouth disease but, by order, during any disease. The Explanatory Notes make perfectly clear the intentions that a straightforward reading of the Bill convey. The spin on the DEFRA website skates hurriedly over that fact—it merely states that the farming and wider community will benefit from quick, effective action against foot and mouth disease.
We have also had various statements put out as facts to the effect that farmers refusing to have their stock killed caused foot and mouth disease to spread. Was not the Minister just as disingenuous tonight? The facts speak for themselves. Of nearly 350 cases handled by two solicitors, only three eventually proved positive. Figures from the animal virus research institute at 912 Pirbright for June 2001, at the height of the outbreak, show that fewer than 10 per cent of their samples proved positive. That is only one example, but other noble Lords have furnished the Minister with more.
We are governed by consent. In order for a law to be obeyed it must appear reasonable to most of those who will be expected to obey it. The implementation of the poll tax by the Tory government is an example of what happens when there is a breakdown of consent. I would venture to say that there is ample evidence that this Bill, in its entirety, is unreasonable. Others have spoken about human rights and ethical aspects, but I would strongly recommend to the Minister that he read the paper entitled "Legal and ethical issues arising from the recent foot and mouth disease outbreak", by Mr A. Richardson and published in the Veterinary Times, volume 32, number 1, of today's date.
Noble Lords who have known me for a long time will be aware of my struggle to obtain recognition for the many individuals whose health has been damaged by organophosphate chemicals. I have repeatedly been told that there is no scientific evidence that those chemicals, which are extremely toxic to all kinds of living organisms, can be toxic to humans. I was told that, in order to prove my case, I would have to provide incontrovertible scientific evidence. In this case, however, we have the Minister expecting to be given very wide-ranging powers to kill animals of any species for reasons that have no scientific basis.
I cannot begin to express my dismay at the quality of the scientific advice currently in vogue. Here I speak particularly about the advice taken by the departments responsible for human and animal health. In June 1997, shortly after this Government first came into power, I quoted the words of Sybil Marshall. She said:I fell to thinking why the experts so often get it wrong. Because they are experts, they no longer ask questions. They simply take the nearest ready made answer from the shelf and use it".I have no hesitation in repeating that lady's wise observation today.
It has always been my understanding that scientists should have inquiring minds. My experience with the organophosphate saga and subsequently with a number of other subjects has worried me profoundly. The "experts"—those who shoulder the enormous responsibility for giving their considered advice to Ministers—have shown an almost callous lack of concern for human and animal suffering and an extraordinary lack of curiosity. It is almost as though they have no need to do any more for they have reached the top of their tree.
Significantly, it has nearly always been the scientists who have direct contact with their subjects who have produced the most important results. The current vogue for computer modelling is leading to weekly food and health scares of an unprecedented scale. Whenever I see the word "epidemiology" my heart sinks. Epidemiology has its uses, but it must be used in conjunction with clinical studies; otherwise it is virtually useless. Why is there no virologist at Page Street?
913 There has been a huge waste of physical and financial resources brought about by academics, rather than veterinary surgeons or scientists, making assumptions devoid of any scientific principles in order to enable Ministers to determine the action to be taken to defeat the disease. They ignored the state of the art science for diagnosis in foot and mouth disease. Ministers failed to grasp the perfect opportunity for data gathering and yet, with no more information, they are asking for more powers to control the disease. There persists a lack of understanding of the disease process, evidenced by the destruction of flocks continuing when antibodies are found in few, if any, individuals.
The opportunity has been lost to use the state of the art methodology to study and extend our knowledge of the natural history of foot and mouth disease and, dare I say it, of the prevalence of scrapie with any other TSE that the academics would care to dream up in the vast numbers of uninfected sheep that were destroyed during the outbreak. Nevertheless, the Government are prepared to legislate without that information. Are Ministers willingly caught up in a time warp? Can they not see the torpor, arrogance and reluctance to accept that others may be able to do things better than they can that has restricted the vision of the State Veterinary Service for decades? This draconian legislation is no substitute for reliable information and credible scientific data.
Conversely, the authors of the Bill choose to assume a known science about scrapie and the genetics of spongiform encephalopathies in sheep. In fact, the science is far from clear, and the significance of any genetics in terms of transmissibility is quite unknown and purely speculative. Currently, we are being fed a weekly dose of food and health scares. Last week, there was an interesting coincidence. Professor Anderson's team's paper on the theoretical risk of BSE in sheep was published in Nature. Headlines proclaimed that:Scientists estimate that up to 150,000 people could die from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease if BSE is discovered in sheep".On the same day, the Chief Medical Officer announced that 30 tropical diseases, for which there is no treatment, are being introduced to the UK by British holidaymakers and foreign tourists. Surely, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Why are the Government not proposing to prevent all those potential carriers from entering the UK, or, if they do manage to come in, to euthanise them on the basis that they may or may not be dangerous contacts? Some of the diseases mentioned by the CMO are just as nasty as CJD.
Dr Neil Ferguson was approached by Mr Jon Dobson, research director for the FMD Forum, in order to draw his attention to the effects that papers such as his have on both producers and consumers. Dr Ferguson gave the usual "the press does not understand me" response. In addition, he told Mr Dobson that he was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency,to look into the risks that might be posed if BSE had entered the sheep flock, not to make judgements about the likelihood that BSE has infected sheep".914 Dr Ferguson went on to say that,there remains much uncertainty in performing this type of analysis, but that one definite conclusion we could draw was that even if BSE had infected risk"—I think that he probably meant sheep—the overall scale of the risk posed by this up to the current time would have been a fraction (1%) of that posed by BSE in cattle".So there we have it. To date, there has been no sound scientific evidence that either sheep scrapie or meat and bone meal in the rations of cattle was the cause of BSE. We have no sound scientific evidence that prions are the infectious agents. We have no sound scientific evidence that variant CJD is caused by eating beef.
We have plenty of scientific evidence that scrapie has been endemic in our sheep for at least 250 years. We have plenty of evidence that scrapie is not transmitted to humans. I ate dozens of sheep brains in my youth—they are delicious fried in black butter and served on toast. While friends and colleagues might doubt my sanity, I do not think that the brains were the cause.
There is not a shred of evidence that sheep get BSE. Dr Ferguson pleaded that,it is no longer acceptable to portray the absence of evidence as evidence of absence, particularly when it may be probable that the reason we haven't found something is because we haven't really looked for it".My goodness me, how many times have I expressed that thought in relation to organophosphates? However, in the face of the total failure by government and science to examine causation for numerous other life threatening and high-morbidity diseases in humans, that remark in these circumstances takes the biscuit.
On the basis of a mad double hypothesis, the Anderson team produced a paper which is endorsed by Professor Sir John Krebs, Fellow of the Royal Society and head of the Food Standards Agency, and Professor Robert May, Fellow of the Royal Society and Mr Blair's former chief scientist. It was May who recommended as his successor Professor David King, Fellow of the Royal Society, who in turn, on Krebs's recommendation, appointed Professor Anderson, Fellow of the Royal Society, as chief policy adviser on foot and mouth. Krebs, May and Anderson all worked together at the Oxford University zoology department, which also employs Professor Sir Brian Follett, Fellow of the Royal Society, who also just happens to have been picked by the Royal Society to chair Mr Blair's inquiry into the scientific handling of foot and mouth. Put all those connections together and it may be seen why we are never going to get an independent public inquiry into last year's foot and mouth disease.
In recent months, I have been reminded frequently of the story of the emperor's new clothes. I now recognise why it was written; and if noble Lords think about it, perhaps they will recognise why it was written.
915 My husband is a member of the sheep scrapie scheme. We also have goats, which do not seem to be mentioned in the Bill. However, I would be interested to know what the position is on goats, as I understand that they can contract scrapie.
I question the haste that lies behind Part 2 of the Bill, and believe that we shall be taking a huge risk if we agree to it. We do not yet know about all the interactions between genes. If, as the Bill proposes, we wipe out a whole section of the sheep population, we may well lay the sheep and ourselves open to all kinds of problems. We need to work with nature rather than against her. She has a nasty little way of getting her own back, as we have seen, but may not have recognised, in recent years.
§ 8 p.m.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, such has been the exceptional ferocity of criticism against the Bill that I hope very much that your Lordships will forgive me if I repeat, albeit briefly, a few of the arguments so as to send a message to the farming community of just how strongly many of us in your Lordships' House share their severe misgivings. Indeed, they probably regard your Lordships' House as their last hope for sense and reason.
In my part of Devon, in the north, where my wife farms, people refer to this Bill as "DEFRA's revenge"—the Government's way of spitefully getting their own back for the repeated humiliations inflicted upon them during their brutal and incompetent efforts to deal with the foot and mouth outbreak. That was certainly the impression created by the shameful spin which the Minister responsible in another place, Elliot Morley, applied to the legislation when he said that farmers who had resisted the contiguous cull had allowed disease to spread and so prolonged the epidemic. There is not a shred of evidence to support such an allegation. In Devon, of the 150 or so farmers who successfully resisted the contiguous cull, only one subsequently had the disease in his animals and he took no other herds or flocks down with him as all of his neighbours' farms had already been slaughtered out.
As speaker after speaker has said, this is a vindictive, badly drafted and, above all, premature Bill. Why, oh why, do not the Government wait until the outcome of their inquiries, particularly the "lessons learnt" and scientific inquiries, before legislating? They have the existing powers at their disposal. Why this extraordinary rush to judgment? It is nothing but pure panic.
Compare and contrast the unseemly haste with which this Bill is being introduced with the Government's abject failure to do anything in almost a year now to close off the route by which the disease almost certainly arrived in this country last February and by which it could return at any time; namely, illegal meat imports. Why do we not take the same stringent precautions against imported disease as, for example, the Australians, the Americans and New 916 Zealanders? Why are such precautions not provided in the Bill—a point so strongly brought out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and many other noble Lords?
If we look at what is in the Bill, we see that the Minister is granted—I use the phrase that I believe my noble friend Lord Ferrers used—Hitlerian powers to order the slaughter of any animal anywhere which he or she "thinks" might need to be killed in the cause of controlling disease. There is no appeal. Just consider the utter wretchedness of a farmer in those circumstances. Indeed, the Bill will allow DEFRA officials to knock up a magistrate at dead of night to sign a slaughter warrant without the farmer or his representative being present, or his view being taken into account, as if they were dealing with some highly dangerous criminal in a police state. That is virtually rural dictatorship.
Government Ministers have talked about developing a "protocol" to govern how those powers would be used. But what guarantee is there that such a protocol would be heeded when it came to the crunch? We know from the experience of last spring the lengths to which government Ministers and their tame scientists will go in order to stamp out politically inconvenient disease. If they have done it once, they can do it again. If the protocol is to be the guiding light, let it be given the force of law by inclusion in the Bill. Failing that, farmers must be allowed a right of appeal before, rather than after, their animals are killed. As it stands, the clause is an affront to basic human rights.
Then there is the issue of compensation. The Government want to reduce a farmer's entitlement to 75 per cent of the value of an animal unless the farmer can prove that his biosecurity was satisfactory. Again, we know from the experience of last year that whenever DEFRA officials were unable to account for a particular outbreak, or felt that its occurrence might reflect unfavourably on them, they instantly blamed poor biosecurity on the part of the farmer, usually without the slightest justification for so doing. The clause simply provides them with an even more powerful financial incentive to blame someone else. If the provision is to survive at all, it must be turned on its head. Just as under English law a person is innocent until proven guilty, so the presumption should be that a farmer's biosecurity is adequate unless DEFRA can prove otherwise.
Of course, we need to learn the lessons of last year's tragic foot and mouth epidemic and provide a legal basis for whatever policies may need to be adopted to deal with any future outbreaks. But the time to do that will be after the various inquiries have reported and it should be done behind the most secure defences we can possibly construct against the importation of disease.
The Bill does nothing to strengthen our defences. But it will provide the Government with unfettered powers to inflict on farmers and their animals the consequences of their own Ministers' failings. As it stands, this is a disastrous piece of legislation created 917 by the ignorant against the innocent. We must set to it; we must oppose the Bill in its present form with all the force we can muster.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Lord Plumb
My Lords, as the 22nd speaker in the debate I could just say that I support many of the comments that have been made, many of the strong opinions that have been expressed in reference to the so-called "reform" of the Animal Health Act 1981 and those who have expressed their concern that the Government seem to be pushing ahead in indecent haste. Although the Minister is not present, I know that he is getting the extremely clear message that is being expressed.
The Minister opened the debate. On our side, the debate was led by my noble friend Lady Byford, supported by the fine speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Nearly every speaker has mentioned the great and forceful speech of the right reverend Prelate. I could not help remembering that when I spoke at a large memorial service the other day I apologised for making a political statement from the pulpit. The right reverend Prelate made a good speech today with the freedom of the bishops to speak as would a farmer or citizen of this country.
I could simply wish my noble friend Lady Byford a happy birthday and sit down. As it is her birthday I think that it is fair to say just that. However, I must start from the beginning. The Minister spoke of the lessons that had been learnt from the epidemic. Of course, it is necessary to be prepared at all times to take action that is needed. The Minister spoke of the inadequacy of the existing powers. As the Minister returns to the Chamber I suggest to him in all modesty that the powers proposed in 1969 would have stood the test of time had they been implemented immediately this outbreak started. That might indeed have prevented its spread and, therefore, the slaughter of animals that have inevitably been slaughtered during the drastic outbreak. That, however, is, of course, always a matter of speculation.
I declare an interest as a livestock farmer and President of the National Sheep Association. I also have a few other agricultural interests. I speak from experience—I spent hours on Friday morning filling out forms to qualify for the movement of 300 lambs for slaughter and export. I suggest to the Minister that when he starts the consultation process to which he referred, he should simplify some of the movement regulations without weakening the risk of traceability. That can be done without more red tape and bureaucracy. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury made a fine point when he referred to the 21-day period and concerns about the movement of sheep.
The public consultation paper has been launched and I understand that it will go to all concerned stakeholders. It will be about how the new disease control powers in the Bill will work in practice.
I tell the Minister that I read both documents—the Bill and the consultation paper—very carefully last night. That prevented me from watching "Who wants 918 to be a Millionaire?". I found that there was little relationship between the two documents, but perhaps that is me being too simple. I could not determine the relationship between them. For example, the consultation paper states that the Bill will not advocate any one approach to disease control and that it will strengthen the four elements of culling, vaccination, blood testing and biosecurity. Fine; but I do not find that in the Bill, which is more specific and more direct. It states, "This is what you are going to do".
The Government appear to accept that farmers and livestock owners must have confidence in the way in which the powers will be exercised and, where necessary, an opportunity for a reasonable hearing. We all say, "Hear, hear" to that. That, is welcome news and I hope that it will remove some of the fears of the many who read into the Bill the draconian measures that were proposed in the original draft—they involve the powers to slaughter stock on affected farms and, presumably, on farms that are contiguous to an outbreak.
I find it extremely difficult to understand why the Government propose measures for action in the event of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease before the committees of inquiry have hardly started, especially in relation to science and the lessons learnt. Is there not a possibility of conflict? If I were a member of one of those committees, I should find it pretty awful that the Minister was coming up with proposals that could well undermine the determinations that we on the committees might come to. Does the Minister accept that there is logic in waiting for the reports before introducing further legislation? Does he also accept that if the urgency procedure is to he adopted, the important point about preventing animal disease is to stop it coming into the country? Should not that be the priority? However, there is no mention of that—or very little—in the Bill.
Will the Minister tell the House what quantity of meat is being imported into this country from countries in which foot and mouth exists or where it is endemic? Over the past two years, I know that that: has continued and that it is continuing. We are sitting on a time bomb waiting for the next outbreak, but we are discussing how we should handle it rather than how we should prevent it.
What action is being taken at airports? We all know when we travel through airports that the answer is absolutely none. There is plenty of checking as we go out but no checking when people come in. In terms of taking preventive action, there should be far more vigour and commitment than is currently evident. As has already been said, Australia, New Zealand and the United States are fine examples, and their animal health record speaks for itself.
Another matter of concern, which could be a recipe for huge confusion and divisiveness, involves the geographic extent of the Bill, which will apply to England and Wales unless corresponding legislation is introduced at the same time in Scotland. That is a matter of great concern to those who live, farm and 919 work in the Border country. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that point. He is aware of the difficulties in those areas.
All changes have to be assessed against the tests of reasonableness and practicality. I cannot accept—many noble Lords have already said this—that it is reasonable to pay compensation at less than 100 per cent of the actual value of an animal. Paying less than that is extremely unfair, particularly against the background that the onus of proof for the last 25 per cent of the value is put at the door of the producer. Many noble Lords have already said that that affects a minority, who are already under pressure and stress and in difficulty as a result of what they went through last year. That could create a lawyer's paradise, but it could also exacerbate a further breakdown in relations between farmers and DEFRA at a time when they should be improving.
It is suggested that compensation for slaughter and vaccinated stock should be put in the hands of Ministers. I ask you! It is surely not realistic to expect Ministers to know the value of stock; that is the responsibility of professional valuers.
I can but applaud other parts of the Bill, which are not related to foot and mouth disease. I refer in particular to the provisions about the creation of a sheep flock that will, in breeding terms, become resistant to all spongiform encephalopathies. That word is pronounced with a soft "c" in my part of the world, but I take note of the comments of the right reverend Prelate.
On the other proposals, persuasion, not coercion, needs to be the byword. The Bill needs many changes. I know that the Minister is well aware of the importance of consultation. If he was not previously aware of it, he certainly is now, after listening to this debate for the past five hours.
I welcome the wind of change—at least a consultative document has been produced; it will allow people to consider the proposals. However, the Bill's whole approach is misdirected and tends to apportion blame on the farming fraternity. Following the difficult year that they have faced, that is totally unfair.
The trend to reduce the scale, influence and authority of the State Veterinary Service needs to be reversed. The numbers need to return to levels that will allow them to do their job not as policemen but as part of the livestock business. Many private vets have left the large-animal practice recently but they and the state vets need to be on a par with practices in the rest of the world. I inform the Minister that the Bill should reflect all of those facts.
§ 8.19 p.m.
My Lords, I am in a minority because although I want to speak in this debate I am not a farmer. However, I am a consumer of meat and I have an interest in continuity of supply, quality, price health and diversity.
920 I have watched farming and the foot and mouth disease from the outside. I saw farmers protest 18 or so months ago against the low prices and the consequences of BSE, and I see that the campaign against the supermarkets is continuing. I also see the supermarkets abusing their monopoly buying power with some 80 per cent of the market, leading to lower and lower prices for farmers. Therefore, I am not surprised that the farmers are upset.
As we have heard today, for many, foot and mouth disease was the last straw. I do not believe that DEFRA—with a new name and new responsibility—has yet grasped the nettle of the conflict between the role of farmers as guardians of the countryside and their role as producers of cheap food. It has not incentivised farmers separately for those two functions.
In the context of FMD, to which I shall confine my remarks, I see the farming industry as part of the meat-producing industry. As I said, it is led by the supermarkets, which require certainty of supply from wherever they choose, be it here, the EU or the rest of the world. Like many foods, meat is subject to scares and fads, which can bring great profits and great losses. I believe that that was illustrated in a comment made by my noble friend Lord Whitty about the West Yorkshire pig producers. As I understand it, if those pigs had caught FMD, the losses would have been huge. Pig farming is a big factory operation. Therefore, we have industrialised farming with big businesses at one end and small farmers, about whom we have heard today, at the other.
As noted by many speakers, the other great change to have come about is the much longer distance over which meat is transported, whether it is dead or alive. There appears to be clear evidence that that contributed to the spread of the disease, and, of course, it includes imports. But I have also heard many farmers talk about the importance of exports. I believe that, for the export market to work, the quality of the meat and the legislation, and so on, must be preserved, even though many governments—perhaps including this one; perhaps not—use the fear of infection as an excuse to prevent the import of competing products.
Therefore, whatever the benefits, or lack of benefits, of vaccination, it is clear to me that at present the Government believe there to be little alternative to the culls until and unless scientific evidence, export demands and all supermarkets accept an alternative. I have not heard alternatives to culling suggested in the debate. I have heard only how badly the culling was done and I believe that arguments can be made in that respect. Therefore, in relation to outbreaks, it appears that, if we are to cull, time must be of the essence in order to preserve what people believe to be necessary—that is, a disease-free market. If we cull, it must be done quickly and comprehensively and must create what I call "firebreaks". Again, my noble friend the Minister illustrated that. One must have a 100 per cent firebreak in order to be effective.
We have heard about the severe problems that arose during the last crisis. Many lessons are to be learnt: the culling did not take place in time; it was not done 921 quickly enough; the incineration was bad; and there were severe animal welfare problems. There is also evidence that a few people put at risk a much greater number of animals—sometimes, in their view, successfully; sometimes not.
I believe that it is unrealistic to expect to be able to control the movement of animals around the country in trucks. One cannot stop every truck on the motorway. Therefore, the ability to cull and to dispose quickly and humanely of animals is obviously a necessity. Although I am concerned about the lack of the possibility of a challenge to such a decision in the Bill as it stands at present, I believe that the need to do so quickly requires legislation. Today we have heard again about the human rights aspects and whether or not a criminal activity is involved.
I recall that a similar debate took place about importing illegal immigrants in trucks. We have debated that issue in your Lordships' House more than once. Many noble Lords said that the fining—or "charging", as the Government called it—of the truck drivers by £2,000 per illegal immigrant was against human rights legislation because there was no appeal as the Government had decided that it was to be a charge and not a criminal activity. The first truck driver to appeal won his case. The judge in the High Court said that such charging contravened human rights legislation. Therefore, I believe that we have work to do in your Lordships' House when considering this matter in respect of the culling of animals. We need to see exactly what lessons can be learnt and whether the Government's advice on human rights legislation is still correct.
I turn now to the subject of compensation. Personally I do not understand why obtaining 75 per cent compensation when the cull takes place and 25 per cent subject to compliance with legal disease control requirements is all that wrong. My noble friend Lord Whitty said that similar compensation in relation to pigs gave 50 per cent on cull and 50 per cent later if compliance had been demonstrated. My noble friend Lady Thornton reminded your Lordships that many of the others affected by the disease—the businesses, the countryside hotels, tourism and so on—received nothing. Those who it is demonstrated have not complied might be encouraged to adopt a more compliant disease control requirement. Again, the vast majority have no fear of not receiving the full payment.
Farmers have suffered. As I said, much of the FMD process was inept, and I hope that lessons have been learnt. But farmers have also suffered from the action of supermarkets, from the lack of exports and from cheap imports. It is clear that improved import controls and checks are necessary. However, as was said by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, as with so-called "illegal immigrants" or the new type of flu or worse diseases affecting humans, and with international transport and trade developed as it is now, I do not believe that anyone can say that, whatever the checks, foot and mouth or any other disease will not enter the country. There is always a 922 chance of that happening. Therefore, I believe that we must he prepared. No security can keep everything out.
I believe that the provisions as described in the Bill are a proper precaution with which to start the process of learning from the last outbreak. I believe that we have more to learn, but I am persuaded that such provisions would help in that regard. New infections could enter the country at any time. If they did, culling appears to remain the only solution. Then responsible farmers would surely welcome more certainty that their neighbours were not intentionally or unintentionally spreading the disease and putting their own flocks at risk.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, the muddle between myself and the Government Whips' Office, which led to my not being included in the List of Speakers but having to speak in the gap, has robbed noble Lords of a trenchant, brilliant and very important speech. But it has not robbed noble Lords of it for long because, on behalf of myself and the Green Party, I shall be tabling amendments in Committee and supporting amendments tabled by others, and I shall be able to produce all the gems then.
In my 35 years' experience in this House, emergency Bills are almost always disastrous, and this one is no exception. But the subjects of such Bills are rarely great emergencies, as is the case in relation to this one, as the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, said. They do harm, but not that much harm, and they are more acceptable when a major emergency arises. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, talked about the conscription of horses in 1939. I remember the conscription of horses at that time, as will one or two other noble Lords. The Bill that implemented such a measure was badly drafted and was not of much use. The noble Lord said that at least it related to a real emergency. But which noble Lord remembers the great cavalry charges of the last war in which the horses took part and which led to the defeat of the Germans and the Japanese?
These Bills, of which we have had a number over a period of time, almost invariably in their haste trample civil rights into the ground. As has been proved in speech after speech in this debate, this one is no exception. When the Minister says that in his view the provisions of the Animal Health Bill are compatible with convention rights, one can say only that either his view is wrong or that convention rights are useless and should not ever have been embarked upon.
This is a nasty Bill in which, at one stage or another, a great many things need to be put right. It would be best for the whole Bill to go out of the window. However, if that cannot be done, and if we cannot achieve a delay for reports so that we can legislate firmly and competently, we must summon all our forces and amend the Bill drastically, root and branch.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Greaves
My Lords, this has been a long and stimulating debate. One of the problems of winding up 923 is that one has nothing left to say about sheep that has not been said at least 10 times previously, often by people who are much more knowledgeable that oneself. Perhaps I should declare an interest. I am somewhat "freaky" in your Lordships' House. I do not own any sheep and have never done so. The closest encounters I have had with them were on a couple of occasions when involved in rescuing them from a rock ledge when they were crag-fast. One learns a lot about sheep when doing that.
It may be that the Government are tempted to say that they have had a bit of a battering in this Second Reading—I do not think they had one in the Commons—but that the House of Lords is not representative of the country and that Members of this House with interests in and connections with farming are not representative of farmers in this country. I would say to the Government, "Come with me and talk to Pennine sheep farmers or Lake District shepherds". One will find that they are just as eloquent in their thoughts on the Bill, the only difference being that they would be a great deal ruder than it has been possible for Members of your Lordships' House to have been today. The sentiments expressed from all sides of the House and from most speakers reflect the thoughts of the livestock farmers in this country, particularly in the uplands and in places which were badly hit by foot and mouth.
At the beginning of the debate my noble friend set out comprehensively the views on the Bill from these Benches. She set out what should happen to the Bill and the attitude we shall take to many of its provisions should it reach Committee stage. In many ways, her views were paralleled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, from the Opposition Front Bench. The range and quality of speeches that we have heard today has been exceptional. On the occasions when the right reverend Prelate was out of the Chamber, his ears must have been burning. The tributes to his contribution have been fulsome. There were many such contributions. I refer to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and many others. In particular, I remember the speech at the beginning of the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. He set out the case against the Bill with a clarity unmatched by many of the other speakers.
If the Government are not prepared to listen, and the Minister is not prepared to go away and say, "What can be done to find a consensus even at this stage on these important matters?" that will not just make life difficult for the Government—it will do so, and make much work in this House—it will be bad for the countryside and the livestock farming community. That is important; what it does to us is less important.
I should like to put the Bill into context. I refer not to the state of livestock farming in this country, which has been battered in many places in the past year, but to the state of mind of sheep farmers, cattle farmers and livestock farmers generally, particularly where foot and mouth disease has hit, or where it has come 924 close to hitting. It came within five miles of the village where I live. As many noble Lords have said, the trauma experienced in the places in which it hit had to be witnessed to be believed.
The traumatic effect on families, farmers and communities has been desperate. I refer not just to the mass slaughter and its effects; in many cases the farms which were not hit by foot and mouth or were not taken out by it were in a worse situation than those that were because of the acute animal welfare problems and acute financial problems suffered by many such small businesses. In our part of the world many farms are, indeed, small businesses. Someone referred to bureaucratic bungling and mismanagement by DEFRA and MAFF. The Minister referred to "poor organisation". That is an interesting admission by him that all has not gone well in the foot and mouth outbreak and that that was not all down to bad, careless or malicious farmers. "Poor organisation" is the biggest euphemism I have heard in this House for a long time. In many cases, it was a shambles.
Those farmers are now faced with a wholly uncertain future. In many cases that uncertainty is not over whether to restock or rebuild their businesses and their economic futures. Every time they open a farming newspaper or listen to a farming programme they are being told by a Government Minister that farming must change; that nothing can be the same again; that subsidies will be abolished and in future things will have to be different. That may be true. In many cases that may be inevitable. But the way in which it is done is seen as the farmers being lectured to from on high by politicians, when the people on the ground are struggling with their problems.
The future of farming in this country is not clear. The Government may set up this study, that commission or that working party. Sooner or later decisions must be made. Nowadays, everyone talks of partnerships. However, such decisions must be made in a genuine partnership with farmers and the farming community. If they are not, and there continues to be a series of lectures by the Secretary of State and other politicians, we shall not get anywhere. Unfortunately, whatever the rights and wrongs of the Bill—my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, both said that we believe this to be a bad Bill—it is seen by livestock farmers as part of a process. It is seen as, "The Government know best. You will do what the Government tell you. If you do not like it, and try to struggle against it, we will pass new laws to make it impossible for you to do so". That is the context in which the Bill is seen. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, called the Bill the "Animal Death Bill". The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, called it the "Animal Extermination Bill". Those are strong words. However, they are mild compared to what one would be told if one spoke to my neighbours who keep sheep on the Pennines.
For many noble Lords an interesting aspect of the debate is that it is not just about farming or how to cope with a particular disease; nor, indeed, is it about every possible disease in farming. Other vital issues are involved, which are issues of human rights and civil 925 liberties. Some of us are told by leading members of the Government that we are airy-fairy civil libertarians. That is often said in the context of the rights of prisoners, of those accused of offences, asylum seekers and so forth. However, just because people are farmers and keep sheep does not mean that they do not have the same civil liberties and the same human rights as those in the more obviously disadvantaged sections of the community. Essentially, human rights are indivisible. If we want human rights for one group of people, we have to have them for other groups of people. Whether or not DEFRA and the Minister like it, that includes farmers.
Some of the Bill's proposals are outrageous. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, talked about the requirement regarding anyone who happens to be on the farm at the time a visit is made. Goodness knows how far this provision extends. It may extend to a rambler walking across a footpath or someone just visiting for Sunday tea. There is the possibility of his being dragooned into assisting with whatever the man from the ministry wants him to do.
The right reverend Prelate talked eloquently about the need to reverse the burden of proof in relation to biosecurity issues. Therefore, people do not start off under the assumption that they are guilty and have to prove their innocence. A whole series of other issues have arisen.
The question of Scotland has been raised. We, on these Benches are quite clear about the position in Scotland because the Minister for Environment and Rural Development in Scotland is a Liberal Democrat—Ross Finnie. When the Scottish Parliament discussed the matter in November, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, Ross Finnie stood up and said, yes, he thought that there would have to he new legislation, but, yes, they were going to wait until the three English inquiries and the one Scottish inquiry reported before they decided what legislation was needed. That is a sensible way to go about the matter. This is an occasion when matching what happens in England with what happens in Scotland can sensibly be done by the Minister deferring the Bill until that information is known.
There has been some technical discussion, much of which most of us will never understand, about the scrapie provisions and Part 2 of the Bill which refers to TSE in sheep. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, spoke eloquently about that matter.
There is a real concern about the effect that the provisions will have on rare and traditional breeds and on the diversity of the gene stock within this country. In Committee the Government and the Minister will have to tackle that matter head on and provide satisfactory answers. The concept of trying to get rid of scrapie is obviously desirable but the question is how it is clone and what knock-on effects there may be and its effects on the rare and traditional breeds. Answers must be produced.
The crunch of this whole argument is that this Bill is being brought forward totally out of context with how a future outbreak of FMD will be dealt with. Many 926 people, including Ministers, go around saying, "It must never happen like this again. We must never close the countryside down like this again. The knock-on effects on the countryside service industries and particularly the tourist industry must never be allowed to happen again". Certainly, if they happen again in the near future it would be absolutely disastrous.
The noble Viscount asked whether the public would allow the funeral pyres and the mass slaughter and all the rest to happen again. I agree with him; I do not think that they would. But the Government do not have a strategy. They do not have one because the whole process of inquiries and information finding is not far enough along the line. Yet, we are told that we must legislate now on one narrow section of it. It is premature; there was no proper consultation; the inquiries have not had time to come up with their proposals; and we have no clear idea whatever of what the strategy for a future outbreak will be. It is not proportionate. It narrowly focuses on livestock farmers as though their sins and crimes are at the heart of the problem. I ask: if this new legislation had been in place last year, what real difference would it have made to the course of the outbreak? The answer is: not very much at all. It is one-sided, as the right reverend Prelate said; it is draconian; and if it comes to Committee, it will get a considerable degree of sceptical scrutiny.
If the Government are sensible, they will look and say, "Do we really want compromise or confrontation in the countryside and in the farming community?" If they want compromise and consensus, they will defer the Committee stage until the inquiries have reported. They will start to build bridges with the people who the Government will call their stakeholders in the countryside—although I would never use such a Blairite word—and they will say, "Let's draw back a bit. Let's talk to people. Let's try and build bridges. Let's get away from the present situation in which farming and the farming community generally believe that the present government do not have any interest in their future and do not care about them".
There is a widespread view that the Bill is just part and parcel, as some noble Lords have said, of getting rid of the sheep from the uplands in this country. I do not say that that is the case. There is time for the Government to draw back and to start building bridges and partnerships. But if they rush ahead with the Bill now, they will not just ferment a confrontation in this House but they will cause a great deal of damage in the countryside.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ The Duke of Montrose
My Lords, like what some may regard as too many of your Lordships, I declare an interest in managing a herd of cattle and a flock of sheep. In the last months I have been through all the permutations and combinations of forms, permits, licences and papers that farmers are getting used to.
After all that has been said, there is no need for me to go back over what, with all the wisdom of hindsight. appears to have been lacking in the operation to clear 927 up foot and mouth. We wait anxiously to see the reports that should emanate from the many inquiries that are being carried on at the moment. But considering all the evidence of how out of touch with the situation those with responsibilities, at even the most basic levels, appear to have been when the outbreak started, one can see why the Farmers' Weekly and its members will not be satisfied with anything less than a full public inquiry.
On Friday, the Minister kindly sent me an advance copy of the consultation document which lays out the proposal on the operation of powers contained in the Bill. I had the weekend to look at it. This, he hopes, will allay a great many of the fears and horrors which most noble Lords who have spoken today have expressed after reading the Bill.
I ask the Minister: if this document is so vital for the understanding of the Government's intention, what does this tell us about their attitude to another place? As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, stated, the Bill has been through all its stages there—being both timetabled and subject to no revision—without a chance for those at the other end to examine the method by which the Bill would be implemented. One wonders whether that is a further example of the Government's wish to downsize the other place.
My noble friend Lady Byford wanted to call this the "Animal Death" Bill. I know that my noble friend Lord Plumb had some problems in bringing the two documents together. In putting these two documents together one can see that once again we are in the Government's rather favoured territory of the skeleton Bill.
The major concern of anyone who is liable to be covered by this legislation lies in the way that it will be carried out. There in the consultation document is the Government's plan, without any guarantee that it is the last word on the matter. Only a statement from the Government that they are,committed to implementing the provisions openly and transparently, in the light of an effective dialogue with stakeholders".Coming from the mouth of the Minister, we know what he means. But given another Minister in another Government how much will that be worth? If we must have the Bill, we must take the advice of my noble friend Lord Jopling and have the code of conduct included in the Bill.
I am glad to see that the first reason given for the consultation is that tackling FMD must be what the Government express as a "partnership exercise"; and the Ministry expectsto work with those affected to increase understanding of their purpose and application".I hope that that constitutes a new understanding, as that does not appear to have been the approach taken at the start of the present crisis. The cries of farmers and farmers' unions asking for more urgent action were at first met with denial and treated with disbelief. The Government then began to abandon persuasion as their approach by accusing farmers of illegal 928 practices. I am not talking of the issue of taking the Ministry to court but, apparently, just because a number of markets had taken place while the Government were trying to decide what to do and because farmers had been carrying out trading individually between buyer and seller in the time-honoured fashion in which I expect that most business is done today.
To my way of thinking, that accusation could stick only if it were found that farmers' personal movement records, when inspected, were not up to date. The fact that the authorities could not trace what was going on is an entirely separate issue. Perhaps that should be brought to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, who graced our debate at least during the speeches of six speakers, but who is no longer in his place.
On the art of persuasion, I was more than intrigued in December to be invited to one of the series of "witness seminars" being held by the Wellcome Institute on the history of medicine in the 20th century. The witnesses were those who took part in the eradication of the last foot and mouth outbreak in 1967. They ranged from senior government officials of the time down to those who were then just starting on their veterinary career. They had a lot to say about how the whole episode had been handled on a much more local basis.
Towards the end, as questions were being asked, I asked if they had received a lot of objections to the cull at that time, to which the answer was yes. So I then asked how many cases had gone to court, and the answer was practically none. They explained that that was because in a difficult case they would enlist the local policeman, who was well known to the farmer but was also at that time the official livestock inspector. He was perfectly pleased to have a reason to visit the farm in his official capacity, and was also well placed to explain the situation to the farmer and get his co-operation.
My noble friend Lord Plumb talked about the need for persuasion and something to be drawn from the different approach of the Scottish Ministers and the situation in which the Government find themselves down here. Scottish Ministers do not appear to be in such a rush to legislate, because throughout the outbreak the community showed greater solidarity and persuasion seemed to have a greater effect.
We are certainly now a different generation of farmers. Farming is now all about training and qualifications as well as practical experience. We now have the Government pressing all farmers to become computer literate. The Government may not have liked the relationship that at one time existed between MAFF and the farmers, but an attitude of confrontation is likely to prove very damaging to both parties. Surely, the situation calls for an individual if not just a higher level of communication from the Government if they want to persuade farmers to follow their proposed lead. My noble friend Lord Ferrers spoke of the similarity with Communist or Hitlerite regimes. Simply to resort to the old jackboot approach belongs to the last century.
929 I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, that it is an exaggeration to say that the Bill will affect goldfish. However, perhaps the Minister will clarify whether the mention of "animals" in the Bill is purely that defined in the 1981 Act. Two diseases listed in the Bill—African horse sickness and vesicular stomatitis—affect horses and as such will affect pets.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, spoke out strongly—as have many other noble Lords—on the powers of entry that the Government seek both for slaughter and vaccination. On a slightly smaller issue, I should like to ask the Minister about the biosecurity inspections included in the Bill. The question arises from Schedule 3A. 1 understand that paragraph 2 applies only to premises that have been designated an infected place. The Minister is required to carry out a disease risk assessment only if paragraph 2 applies. But under paragraph 3(7), the inspector is expected to carry out inspections up to 21 days before that event is likely to happen. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that any inspections that take place before the designation of an infected place will only be on the periphery of the holding or with the full assent of the owner?
I want to deal with the question of biosecurity. A farmer's priority must be to protect the health of his animals. The compensation that the Government offer is, at most, only for the value of the animal on the day of slaughter. There is no compensation for loss of production or income, let alone the continuity of a breeding programme in the case of those with pedigree or dairy herds. From the farmer's point of view, the danger of infection conies at three levels. The first level is those who have already been involved in the eradication of the disease. That includes most veterinarians. The second level is other farmers and farm workers from other holdings, because it is not possible to tell where the disease will next break out. The final level is people and livestock straying across his land, for a similar reason.
Given the powers that the Government seek for entry to premises, there must be an undertaking that there will be no attempt to enter premises unless that is genuinely required as the next immediate part of the eradication process. The broad powers in the Bill seem to go well beyond that. Even a penalty of 25 per cent will not persuade farmers that people who appear unnecessary to them should enter their premises. Some sort of altercation is likely to ensue, even before anyone has attempted to involve a magistrate. One even wonders what chance there is for farmers or others with livestock to supervise the disinfection process of those about to enter their grounds.
The implications of the Bill will have to be readily understood by everyone involved with animals. It used to be said that instructions had to be clear enough for a man running for a bus. In this case, it might be more appropriate to say "A man who has to calve a cow in 10 minutes". That is where the approach of the Government in offering 75 per cent compensation in the first instance is at fault—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford raised that point. One must ask whether they have learned nothing since the BSE crisis. 930 At that time, the offer was for only 50 per cent compensation, but that meant that a great deal of infection was hidden at the start of the outbreak and never recorded. The object, especially with this disease, is to get farmers to report when they have the least suspicion that their animals are infected, not for them to wait to see whether true symptoms develop because they know that they will then be in a kind of lottery as to whether they will receive the remaining 25 per cent. Penalties for lack of compliance can be thought about and included afterwards.
Around the House, we have seen something of the passion that the Bill arouses. I should like to echo the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. The Bill contains powers too frightening to entrust to an organisation that has to such a large extent lost the confidence of the people.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, it is not every day that I am accused of being Hitler, Stalin and Mugabe in rapid succession. My shoulders are broad, but after some of the things that have been said today I hope that during the Bill's subsequent stages your Lordships revert to your normal sense of proportion and balance. In particular, I resent the implication that the staff of MAFF, DEFRA and veterinarians have engaged in jack-bootery. There have clearly been insensitivities, mistakes and organisational failures; I accept all that. But it is unfair to describe the staff of the department and the veterinary service in those terms, when they have struggled for months to get on top of the disease and worked incredible hours in fraught situations. Whatever your Lordships think of Ministers, I hoped that Members would not talk of the staff in that way.
§ The Duke of Montrose
My Lords, my remarks were not in any way directed at what the staff at MAFF have done. I was merely referring to what they might be asked to do if the powers included in the Bill become law.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I shall come to that. There are deep concerns about this matter. I am prepared to be reasonable, to consider amendments and to consider the relationship between what is proposed in the draft protocol and representations from the farming organisations and others. However, as the Minister responsible, among others, for the exclusion of the disease from these shores, I need the Bill, I need the principles in it and I need them as rapidly as possible.
I am prepared to accept that much of the comment that has been made this afternoon reflects the results of a great trauma in our countryside and the degree of distrust or suspicion towards the authorities that has developed in many parts of the farming community. That distrust has, in some circles, developed into a degree of paranoia and denial that does not allow us to approach the matter sensibly and logically. 931 Certainly, the Government made mistakes, but it is foolish to deny that some of the responsibility for the spread of the disease rests with farming practices, with the farmers themselves and with their trading patterns. It may he a minority—as regards biosecurity lapses, it is a distinct minority—but if we do not address that problem, we will not prevent any further incursion of the disease from spreading in the disastrous and catastrophic way in which it spread in this instance.
It is also important to recognise that some of the comments made this afternoon do not reflect the position of the farming organisations. Certainly, those organisations have problems with parts of the Bill, but the vast majority of farming organisations support the scrapie provisions in the Bill, subject to one or two queries. It was clear from the briefings that were provided that it was not the principles in the first part of the Bill that were being queried, but some of the safeguards and other aspects. In many ways, there has been distortion of the considered views of the farming community and of what it would think, were we to have to use the powers in the Bill.
There are one or two other contextual things that I should say. As noble Lords have rightly pointed out, the Bill is more or less in the form of an amendment to the 1981 Act. Aspects of the Bill about which queries were raised today will not, when set in the context of the 1981 Act, have the draconian implications that have been suggested. It is also important that the Bill be considered in parallel with the protocol, to which the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, referred at some length, and that the provisions and implications of the Bill should not be at odds with the tone and implications of the protocol. We intend to bring them together. It is quite rare, at this stage of a Bill's passage, for a draft consultation paper on the implementation of a Bill to have been produced. The House must know the Government's intentions in that regard, and if there are changes to the Bill that are needed, we must put them forward.
The key issue, to which the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, relates, is timing. In that regard, I have little sympathy with the sentiments expressed in most contributions this afternoon. I must clear up one point. We have been accused of rushing the Bill through Parliament and rushing consideration of it in the House of Commons. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, made that point just now. I must say that the Opposition in the House of Commons were offered eight sessions and took only six. When there was a discussion on programming, there were no representations from the Opposition parties and, indeed, it lasted only one minute. It is not the Government's fault if the House of Commons rejected the offer of greater consideration. In any case, it is for your Lordships to consider the Bill now, and I shall abide by the normal provisions.
On the bigger issue of why the Bill has been introduced now, I have a clear answer that, I thought, I had spelt out in the introduction. The reason is the danger that the disease will recur—or it might still be 932 present—and it or another disease could come into the country before Parliament has had time to consider legislation or other measures arising from the inquiry. Nobody wants it to happen again, but if we do not adopt the lessons that we have already learnt, or if the House forces the Government not to adopt the necessary measures, we leave ourselves open to the recurrence of the disease. It need not be a big spread. It could be one case in one part of the country, but the issue of whether we should engage in a contiguous cull would still arise. Failure to act will lead to further spread.
Some of the comments made have been inconsistent. Noble Lords press me to act instantaneously on some of the other lessons. They ask us to accept that we should stop movement instantaneously, once a disease is spotted. I have sympathy with that view, and I believe that that will be part of a future regime. They ask us to act on imports immediately, before we know the outcome of the inquiries. Noble Lords are right to do so. If we learn the lessons, we should act on them. That is precisely what we are doing now.
If the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, presses her amendment, or if, at a later stage, we delay the Bill—as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and others threatened to do—until after the inquiries have reported, what do we do in the coming months when it is clear that another outbreak of the disease could lead us down the same road? A great responsibility rests on the House, in considering that question. I have not heard an answer in any of today's contributions.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I take his point, as I am sure do other noble Lords. If such emergencies recur, is there no recourse for the Government to have emergency legislation to cover the situation, rather than rush the Bill through leaving us in the same position? I do not understand why that would not be possible. Why must we pass the whole Bill about which difficulty has been expressed today?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, we went through some of the issues in connection with the terrorism legislation. The fact of the matter is that if the disease recurred we would have to take instant action on the ground. We are talking about taking action within 24 and 48 hours. With great respect to the parliamentary procedure, we would not have certainty of the availability of those measures and the disease could slip through and engage in the same degree of spread that happened last year.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, can the Minister explain why he did not take these powers on an emergency basis at the height of the outbreak?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, if the noble Earl had been present at the beginning of today's debate—admittedly it was a long time ago—he would have heard me say that for much of the time Ministers were convinced that their objectives could be achieved and 933 the spread of the disease contained under the powers of the existing legislation and the emergency provisions relating to it. It was only after the experience of the Thirsk outbreak, to which I may return if time permits, that we concluded that there were gaps within those powers. That led to us to bring forward the Bill today.
Some consider the Bill a knee-jerk reaction. That was the first of the seven criticisms of the Government clearly enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. It is not a knee-jerk reaction. We originally decided not to go down this road. Only the process of events persuaded us that we needed to do so and that we needed to do so in anticipation of another problem. We have considered most carefully whether we need these powers and with great reluctance, as my right honourable colleague Margaret Beckett indicated in the other place, we have come to the conclusion that we do.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, in his seven points mentioned one with which I agree; that this is only a partial solution. Of course it is; it is the lessons we know already. However, it is to be hoped that the rest of the solution will emerge from the inquiries and the new considerations. At that point we can give effect both operationally and legislatively if necessary to the rest of the lessons learnt.
However, the time-scale is not immediate. At the earliest the inquiries will be completed in the late summer. We would not have a Bill ready at the beginning of the next Session and it would therefore have to be introduced during it, at the earliest in the middle or end of next year. I repeat the question: what shall we do in the next 18 months if another instance of the disease arises?
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has understandably admitted that the initial reaction to the events was not right and that therefore the Government want to be able to take different action in future. Why, therefore, did the Government decide not to have a full inquiry to ascertain what was wrong before deciding how best to put it right?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I was hoping that I would not have to go into the ding-dong about a public inquiry yet again in this House because we have been over the ground many times. I reiterate my belief that the form of inquiry we have set up will give us an answer earlier. A full public inquiry would not give the answer by the end of the summer; we would be looking at a much longer time-scale. Whatever are the other arguments for or against a public inquiry, in this context it would be downright counterproductive.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, went on to say that the response was unco-ordinated but his only example seemed to be that we were not co-ordinated with Scotland. I know that most noble Lords who spoke did not agree with devolution, but it is in the nature of devolution that we take different decisions and in different time-scales in the devolved administrations. We have, however, kept in close touch with the 934 Scottish authorities in this period. If an emergency arises, perhaps they have more flexibility over their legislative timetable than we do. That partly affects the situation. Furthermore, the outbreak and devastation in Scotland was much less than in England and there was therefore less pressure in avoiding a similar outcome. It is a consequence of devolution, whether your Lordships like it or not.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, the inquiries will no doubt indicate whether that is true. It is certainly true that the less widespread outbreak was dealt with more rapidly. There may be lessons to he learnt from that.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, went on to say that the response was mean of the Government. The taxpayers, who include many people who are not farmers, unlike many speakers in today's debate, have spent £2 billion on eradicating the disease. Frankly, we do not want to spend any more. To regard that as mean seems to me absurd and I do not believe that average taxpayers, rural or urban, would regard payment of full compensation to an infected premise where the farmer himself had partly contributed to the disease entering his stock as reasonable. We are justified, therefore, in considering methods of adjusting compensation in the light of biosecurity performance.
A number of noble Lords said that it—whichever part of the Bill was being referred to—was not scientifically based. We have had the best scientific advice—admittedly not at the beginning of the campaign. Vets, epidemiologists, virologists and other scientists at a high-powered level have been brought together to consider how to control the disease. One of their first conclusions was that we had to meet our targets, and better, for the contiguous cull. We could not have had better scientific advice. We are engaging with the veterinary side as well as others. There is no question of conflict between one group of scientists and practitioners and another. They all point in the same direction.
The noble Lord then said that we were unfair and arrogant. Unfair to whom, my Lords? Are we unfair in coming down on the farmer who has allowed this disease to develop when his neighbour next door has observed fully biosecurity precautions? Are we unfair to those farmers who did not receive compensation during the epidemic but, nevertheless, suffered grievously in terms of their own economic and social perspective? Are we unfair to the rest of the rural community who received no compensation and will not do so in the future; and to society as a whole? In many of the contributions today the question of fairness was seen through a very narrow prism.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, the Minister's comments are a smidgen over the top. I do not mean that rudely; the Minister is a good friend. My noble 935 friend said rightly that there has been meanness and unfairness. The issue has been debated fully. The unfairness is that nothing stops the imports coming in in the first place. It is not a UK disease; it comes into the country. If the Minister persists on this issue, I shall continue to interrupt him. I recognise—the noble Lord and I agree—that there are some bad farmers. They must be sat on immediately. However, in referring back to meanness and unfairness, the Minister might bear in mind that it is unfair that the disease ever comes into the country in the first place.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords. I do not think that it is I who went "over the top" today. However, I turn to what is a perfectly logical exposition of the debate, the issue of imports.
It is true that the most likely origin of the disease—it is by no means proven; although the committee of inquiry may throw some light on it I doubt whether it will ever be able to reveal the whole truth, as was the case in 1967—is from abroad. Illegal imports through commercial transactions and passengers is an important issue. I have some sympathy with noble Lords who have advocated that we should have greater powers in relation to imports. However, to take greater powers on imports does not require new primary legislation. First, it requires alterations at the EU level. As far back as April my predecessor, Joyce Quin, started the ball rolling from the EU, looking at tightening up the substantive controls. Secondly, it requires secondary legislation to alter the powers and resources of the enforcement authorities. With other departments involved, we are engaged in consideration of secondary legislation. But it is not necessary to alter the Animal Health Bill. Indeed, in the Animal Health Act 1981 there is no peg on which to hang import activity. Therefore, we are saying that we will take action on imports but it does not require action within the cogntext of this Bill. Nevertheless, as Elliot Morley indicated, monitoring imports might be relevant because there is a cross-reference with regard to the Animal Health Bill. I may consider amendments in that context at later stages of the Bill.
Apart from the issue of imports—it was a powerful argument—there was concern about the powers to slaughter, appeals and the designation of animals. I deal with those three immediately. On the powers of slaughter, as was rightly identified, the change is to move from proof of exposure to prevention of spread. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, and others suggested that that meant that everything we did previously regarding contiguous culls was illegal. That is not the case. It was identified on veterinary advice that contiguous premises within a three-kilometre circle were exposed. That is a somewhat arbitrary definition of exposure. What is needed is a general rule to prevent the spread of the disease by the use of culling, or by vaccination should we go down that road, by use of the powers provided in this Bill. That may in fact exclude some animals that previously would have been culled because they would no longer be relevant to the spread of the disease, but it might include others where 936 prevention of the spread would require such animals to be culled. This is a useful change—it is no more than that—and one that will be better informed than the blanket rule of a three-kilometre circle. Furthermore, it will require the direct input of local vets on the local situation.
I turn to the question of appeals and the Human Rights Act. The first point to recognise is that, whatever it was called, there was no right of appeal under the 1981 Act. We are not removing any right of appeal. All we seek to do is to remove the process whereby the authority to act is dealt with in the High Court and replace it with an order made by a justice of the peace. That does not affect any representations a farmer may make to the vet to reconsider the judgment to cull or not to cull.
Remaining with the right of appeal, in abstract terms, under the Bill we are not taking away any right of appeal.
§ Lord Neill of Bladen
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for taking an interruption. I have not spoken so I must declare an interest. My wife and I have a small farming unit in which we keep cattle and sheep.
I wish to ask the Minister a further question on his comments on the Human Rights Act and the convention. The Bill bears on its face a statement from the Minister, no doubt written on advice, that none of the provisions conflicts with the rights granted by the European Convention on Human Rights. Can the Minister reflect on that and, before the Bill returns for further consideration, share with the House any further details with regard to that advice?
In particular, does that advice concentrate on the scenario which has been discussed several times in the course of the debate; that is, of an order being obtained by DEFRA behind the back of a farmer, who does not need to be told that an application has been made to a magistrate? That order confers a right of entry, pursuant to which is an intention to destroy the flock or herd. The official carrying out the order may then require the farmer to assist in that destruction. Under pain of criminal penalty, the farmer is obliged to lend his assistance, whatever the circumstances and possibly at personal risk. We have been told of cases of herds being driven in terror across roads.
Has the Minister's advice focused on the combination of those features: an order is obtained in secret behind a farmer's back, and he is then required to be a party to the cull of his own herd. Is all that said in no way to constitute a violation of any of the provisions of the convention?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I have to be careful because, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, I act on advice. However, noble Lords will know that it is the convention that the nature of advice from law officers is not disclosed for obvious reasons. No doubt we shall return to this subject at later stages in our deliberations, when perhaps we shall exchange views on the various points raised by noble Lords relating to 937 human rights and other equity provisions. However, I am not able to give the noble Lord the undertaking he seeks.
The noble Lord has raised the same point put by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, in relation to a precedent for requiring assistance in certain circumstances. The noble Viscount commented that he had not been able to find a case congruent with the provisions of the Bill before us. I have to say that the only Act I have to hand is the Food Safety Act 1990, which noble Lords will observe was passed by the previous regime. It refers specifically to anyone who,without reasonable cause, fails to give to any person acting in the execution of this Act any assistance or information which that person may reasonably require of him for the performance of his functions under this Act, shall be guilty of an offence".The provisions in this Bill are almost exactly the same.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, before the Minister ducked the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Neill, he said that, under the Bill, the Government had made no change to the appeal position of farmers. Does he agree that if a farmer appeals now it can cost him a fee of up to 25 per cent of the payment that he receives for his animals as of right?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, the noble Earl is probably confusing the different rights of appeal. My noble friend Lady Gibson said that there were three different rights of appeal—which is true—but they are at different stages of the process. It is right that a fee is required in valuation appeals in order to discourage frivolous appeals.
However, there is no appeal in regard to a decision to contiguously cull. I am sorry for the split infinitive. The farmer has a right to make representations to the divisional veterinary manager. That right was there in the 1981 Act, it was there during the disease in the regulations in relation to the disease, and remains now. So there is no change in the right of appeal.
As to compensation, I have dealt with the need to provide a regime of compensation which, on the one hand, protects taxpayers' money, and, on the other, provides an incentive to farmers to observe biosecurity precautions. However, I should say to the noble Duke that it does not require a hindsight inspection over the previous 21 days. It is only if an infected premise is identified, and an inspector or a vet feels that there was a biosecurity lapse some time previously or at that time, that the issue of not paying the additional 25 per cent would arise. I repeat that this applies only to affected premises; it does not apply in relation to contiguous cull or direct contacts.
I have been speaking for some time. I have touched, at least, on the main points. Other points were raised which I shall look at to see whether they require a written reply. I have no doubt that we shall return in Committee to all the points that have been raised. I intend to proceed to Committee stage as soon as the usual channels allow because the Government, the 938 country and, above all, the farming community need the powers in the Bill to face the contingency of the disease recurring.
One item with which I should deal relates to the definition of "animals". The existing legislation designates animals which are susceptible to foot and mouth. As long as the power applies only to foot and mouth, it relates only to those animals. Therefore, goldfish, cats and horses cannot be dealt with under this legislation as long as it is restricted to foot and mouth. There is an affirmative procedure by which both Houses can agree that there should be an extension to other diseases. In that case, clearly other species of animals—specifically horses—could, in certain circumstances, be involved. I have dealt with the matter slightly out of sequence, but I thought it was important to clarify the position.
§ The Earl of Shrewsbury
My Lords, I asked the Minister a question about the 21 day stand still on sheep for showing purposes. Will he revisit that subject, have a good look at it, and come back to me, perhaps, in a written reply?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, that is not part of the Bill. It relates to the interim movements regime we are introducing, on which we made an announcement a week or so ago. The new interim regime will operate from February. It will include a disapplication of the 20-day rule in certain respects but, in relation to shows, that decision will come further down the line, particularly in relation to sheep. Although the showing of cattle and pigs will be allowed from the beginning of the new regime, the showing of sheep will be delayed by a month or two beyond that, assuming that everything goes well.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he say whether there is any chance of developing a quick test? That would give many people hope. Surely that is the whole point of culling, and so on. If we had a test and a safe vaccine, it would give us hope.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, considerable work is taking place on the development of a test, though there is not, as yet, a completely validated test. There is unlikely to be a an acceptable test on an international basis in the time-scale about which I am talking here—that is to say, the next 18 months or so. Nevertheless, efforts are being put into that area. The noble Baroness asked earlier about research. I can tell the House that such research is certainly being prioritised on that front, both at UK and at EU level.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, the Minister will recall that he kindly made several references to the remarks that I made earlier in the afternoon. However, he has made no comment on what was perhaps the severest criticism that I made with regard to the huge offence that the comments of the Secretary of State in another place caused to farmers in the Thirsk area. The noble Lord was kind enough to apologise to me for the 939 incorrect information that the Minister gave in another place. I cannot over-emphasise the huge offence that that caused. Before the Minister finally sits down, could he express both his and the Government's apologies to farmers in the Thirsk area for that totally inaccurate information for which he has already apologised to me? I believe that farmers in the Thirsk area are also entitled to an apology.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I apologised to the noble Lord for the fact that the figures to which my right honourable friend referred relate to the whole of north Yorkshire, not simply to Thirsk. The information was given in the context of an outbreak that centred on Thirsk, but the 55 cases figure relates to the whole of North Yorkshire. I may need to write to the noble Lord on the matter, but a significant number of those cases eventually proved to have the disease. Seven out of the 26 cases where we actually allowed the appeal or representations to be made went on to develop the disease. That indicates that, first, we were quite lenient and reasonable; and, secondly, that we should have been tougher.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, can the Minister please tell me about the position of goats with regard to Part 2 of the Bill?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, as I understand it, there are no current proposals under the scrapie provisions of the Bill to deal with the goat side of the issue because the most useful genome that needs to be identified as maximising resistance to scrapie does not occur in most breeds of goats. Therefore, more work will have to be carried out in that respect before we can apply a similar scheme to goats.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke on my amendment. I am most grateful for the widespread support that it has received in your Lordships' House. In weighing up and trying to decide whether or not to withdraw the amendment, I have taken note of the fact that many noble Lords would have been willing to accept something that was truly an amendment to the Animal Health Act 1981 rather than a very limited and narrow Bill that did not lay new ground of precedence in the areas of civil liberties. I have in mind a Bill that included in it specific guidance that was published and referred to on the face of the Bill; and one that took account of natural justice, representations and appeals. Such an amendment Bill could enable work to begin on a national scrapie plan, perhaps on a voluntary basis, which certainly does not criminalise sheep owners.
There is quite a strong feeling that the Government should have considered the timescale for the Bill, and the fact that it would be possible for a simple amendment Bill to have been brought forward; that they should have considered the recommendations of the inquiries that they have commissioned, and that 940 that would have been the time to bring forward comprehensive legislation—when the Government had firm scientific advice upon which to base real guidance on disease control and risk assessment. That would be the time to legislate more widely—when science has something more to offer on the eradication of scrapie than simply eradicating many of the breeds of sheep native to this country. That would be the time for a definitive Bill.
The Minister has a huge job between now and Committee stage, during which time the Government will consider these issues. On the basis that he is genuinely willing to consider the issues raised in the debate and that we shall have the opportunity to see proper amendments brought forward—preferably by the Government—and agreed to, I am willing for now to withdraw the amendment and beg leave to do so.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.