§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
With the leave of the House, I shall now make a Statement on the Government's position on the Bill. On 25th July, we considered the scrapie provisions of the Bill, and I gave an undertaking that I would let noble Lords know how the Government intended to deal with the parts of the foot and mouth disease inquiry reports that relate to the Bill. I recently wrote to noble Lords who had participated in earlier debates, indicating how the Government had taken account of the reports of the FMD inquiries, with regard to the disease control parts of the Bill, and setting out my proposals for government amendments. I also indicated how I had taken account of the points made at Second Reading and during discussion of the two procedural Motions on the Bill in March and July. I shall expand on that in a moment.
First, however, I must apologise to noble Lords who received that letter. Not all the amendments to which I referred will be before the Committee today. Specifically, the amendments on the contingency plan and on import controls are not yet finalised. Due to unfortunate delays, I have been unable to table in time the amendments relating to the publication of reasons for using the new preventive slaughter power and the requirement to consult on and publish a disease control protocol and the amendment requiring that compensation for compulsorily slaughtered FMD vaccinates be set at 100 per cent of the market value of the animal at the time of slaughter. I can assure the Committee that all those amendments will be tabled for the Report stage and that they will follow the outline I gave in the letter to which I shall refer soon.
The Government, as a matter of priority and before finalising our full response to the Anderson and Royal Society reports, have been assessing the recommendations of those reports and of the National Audit Office in relation to the contents of the Bill. We have decided that we should amend the Bill in a number of ways to reflect the terms and recommendations of the inquiries and some of the points raised in this House and elsewhere. I believe that we have been able to address some of the concerns of the stakeholders, such as the NFU, with some of our proposed amendments.
22 I should make clear that our comprehensive response to the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries were intended to be published in late October or early November and I cannot pre-empt the publication of that response on other matters. However, we have given priority consideration to those aspects of the inquiries that could impact on the Bill.
The Lessons to be Learned inquiry, under Dr Anderson, mentions the issue of legislation and makes two recommendations. The first is that,The animal health legislative framework should be robust, unambiguous and fit for purpose. This was not the case during the 2001 epidemic. The powers available in the Animal Health Act 1981 should be re-examined, possibly in the context of a wider review of animal health legislation, to remove any ambiguity over the legal basis for future disease control strategies".Secondly, it said that,Provision should be made for the possible application of pre-emptive culling policies, if justified by well-informed veterinary and scientific advice, and judged to be appropriate to the circumstances".Those recommendations support the central part of this Bill, which deals with the new power to cull animals,to prevent the spread of the disease",and, implicitly, to clarify the powers of entry.
I should also make it clear that although the Government do not agree that the Animal Health Act 1981 powers are "ambiguous", as suggested in the report, we nevertheless recognise that greater clarity would be desirable and that current powers do not go far enough to underpin some aspects of disease control—notably pre-emptive culling and emergency vaccination—which the inquiries advocate.
The Government's view is that we need to obtain the additional culling powers and powers of entry for vaccination or culling as soon as possible through the present Bill and that that should not wait for a wider review of animal health legislation. However, I believe that the recommendations in the Lessons to be Learned inquiry report clearly support the need to obtain the additional powers provided in the Bill as a matter of urgency.
I also need to deal with the issue of vaccination in the light of the reports which have appeared in the media from the EU and the concern about how we might use vaccination in a future outbreak. It is important to recognise that the powers in the Bill relate not only to slaughter but also to alternative and complementary strategies for combating the virus, specifically vaccination. For vaccination to be effective, it requires just the powers of entry and the speed of execution that the Bill will provide. Vaccination, even more than culling, will fail if there are loopholes in the system.
The option of emergency vaccination now forms part of the Government's interim contingency plan for the control of foot and mouth disease. The Government's view is that the powers in the Bill, particularly those allowing clearer powers of entry to vaccinate, are critical in ensuring that any future emergency vaccination programme could be completed comprehensively.
23 The Government's preference, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear in July, is that a vaccinate-to-live policy should be used wherever possible, in line with the Royal Society report. However, there will be scenarios where vaccinate-to-slaughter may be appropriate. The Bill will complete the powers we need effectively to implement whichever strategy is appropriate in the prevailing circumstances. Powers are also needed for serological surveillance through the administration of blood testing.
The Bill strengthens the powers in two main respects; first, the need for clear powers of preventive slaughter together with the power to slaughter vaccinated animals, and, secondly, the need for powers providing for swifter entry to farms for the purposes of vaccination, slaughter or testing. Together with existing legislation, these powers will provide for a wide range of disease control options.
The Government have tabled some amendments and, as I indicated, intend to table further amendments directly addressing concerns which noble Lords have raised about the nature of the Bill's powers. Those will introduce some significant changes to the Bill.
I shall table an amendment that requires the Secretary of State to publish the reasons for using the new preventive slaughter power. Before using the power, the Secretary of State will have to publish a justification of the need to use it in the prevailing circumstances. I shall also table an amendment introducing a requirement to consult on, and publish, a "disease control (slaughter) protocol".
I am aware that some have criticised the Bill for removing the so-called "right of appeal" against entry for vaccination, slaughter or other purposes, but that is not the case. The Bill replaces the current procedure for securing entry to premises on the authority of a High Court injunction with a far swifter procedure based on a magistrate's warrant. However, the existing procedure whereby a farmer may seek review by a senior vet of a decision to cull and make representations to him will continue to be available. However, in response to concerns regarding the warrant procedures, I have tabled amendments to strengthen the conditions in the Bill that a magistrate must be satisfied have been met before granting a warrant to obtain entry.
Concerns have also been expressed that the Government might not fully compensate farmers if vaccinated animals were compulsorily slaughtered for disease control purposes. I believe that there are strong grounds for clarifying the position. I shall therefore table an amendment requiring compensation for compulsorily slaughtered vaccinates to be set at 100 per cent of market value of the animal at the time of slaughter; that is, as if it had not been vaccinated.
I also had intended tabling an amendment providing for the Government to report annually on actions taken to prevent illegal imports of animal products, in addition to the existing requirement in the 1981 Act to report on diseased live animals imported into Great 24 Britain. In view of the fact that we have not tabled an amendment in time for the Committee stage, I am prepared, with qualifications, to accept Amendment No. 96 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Livsey and Lord Greaves, to the same effect. It may be necessary to tidy it up subsequently, but the principle is accepted and I am prepared to accept the amendment.
One of the overriding themes of the inquiry reports is the need for contingency planning. We have done much work on that during the past year. Nevertheless, given the weight placed on that issue by the inquiries, it is appropriate that we require on the face of the Bill that the Government prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a national contingency plan. I had hoped that I could have tabled the amendment for the Committee stage, but I can assure noble Lords that I will table it in good time for Report.
Finally, the Bill provides for an adjusted compensation scheme designed to encourage high standards of biosecurity on farms by adjusting compensation where biosecurity provisions have not been observed. I am aware that in farming circles there has been considerable opposition to that part of the Bill. The inquiries do not help us here. The Government regret that the industry and the opposition parties have not felt able to go down that line, which could improve biosecurity. However, it is also true that the National Audit Office report points out some serious concerns about the whole operation of the valuation system and the system for compensation and raises the degree to which taxpayers should meet full compensation in all circumstances. In the light of that, we now intend a full-scale review of the basis of compensation and valuation in the case of foot and mouth and other diseases. As regards those other diseases, the arrangements differ somewhat. This will need to take into account issues of risk sharing and proposals for levy or insurance-based schemes and will therefore go considerably wider than the provisions of the Bill.
We have therefore decided not to proceed with this provision of the Bill and will be accepting the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, which deletes that part of the Bill and the associated schedule.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for repeating a quotation, but the point of the Bill is summarised in the Phillips inquiry into BSE. It stated that,legislation should clearly empower Ministers to take precautionary measures in a situation where the existence of a hazard is uncertain".That is precisely why we brought forward the Bill.
It is true that the Bill adds to the sets of circumstances in which an animal could be culled the criterion "to prevent the spread of disease". But that should not lead to the culling of more animals. The opposite will be our aim, as considerable scientific evidence supports the view that by culling or, indeed, vaccinating quickly in the early stages we could prevent further spread of the disease.
25 The proposed amendments together provide a package which will result in a Bill that provides the Government with the powers they need but at the same time meets some of the concerns expressed in the House. They will ensure that the Bill is reasonable and proportionate and that decisions will be explained in an open and transparent manner. I apologise for the length of the Statement. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whitty.)
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, do the Government have any intention of allowing noble Lords other than those on the Front Benches to have a copy of the very extensive and complicated Statement he has made? Going at the speed he did, the Minister was asking much too much of most of us if he expected us to digest this very detailed Statement. It would be quite unfair to the House—and especially to the Back-Benchers who had no notice of what he was going to say—to continue any discussion on the Bill until a copy of the Statement has been made available to all noble Lords.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, although not all of the amendments set out in the letters I sent to noble Lords who participated in the debate previously are tabled today, we intend to do so. The only additional information is that we propose accepting the amendment on import controls and the amendment to delete the adjusted compensation.
I shall ensure that a copy of the Statement is made available in the Printed Paper Office as rapidly as possible. This will ensure that noble Lords who are interested are informed of the Statement and will enable us to proceed appropriately when we reach those parts of the Bill.
I reiterate that the purpose of the Statement is to underline that the intentions in the letter, which most noble Lords who have previously participated have already received, will be fulfilled.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I should like to add my concerns to those which I suspect will be expressed by other noble Lords. My noble friend asked when we received the Statement. I was surprised that my copy, which was brought up especially for me, arrived on my desk at 2.40 p.m. today. Had I been in the Chamber during Questions, I would not have received it. The Statement took some 12 minutes to read. I have had a chance to look at it, but obviously not in great detail. As my noble friend said, clearly we need to do so.
Perhaps I may make one or two comments on where we are. Today we have had a second Statement on a second Bill on which the Government, through their own fault, have got themselves into a mess yet again. That is nothing new with this Bill; it was running into a mess back in March. The Government have had six months to get their act together. Indeed, since we last debated the Bill, nine weeks have elapsed before the Government have decided to get their act together.
26 I am sure that most other noble Lords who tried to work on the Bill during the Recess—which most of us did—found it most difficult having to wait for government amendments which did not arrive. That is why I make no apology for Amendment No. 103A, to which we shall come later, being so huge and difficult. It seeks to force the Government at least to debate the broader issues to which the noble Lord referred. We have been very patient with the Government but on this occasion, on this Bill, they have dealt with us somewhat shabbily.
The Government said that they would wait for the reports of the National Audit Office, the Royal Society and Professor Anderson, look at the costs and the science surrounding the issue and come up with conclusions. If I were to refer to many of the issues which came out of the reports I would be accused of making a Second Reading speech—which, heaven forbid, I do not wish to do at this stage—but there are three matters arising which are relevant to the way in which we should now proceed.
One matter concerns the whole question of contingency plans. As it stands, the Bill deals only with slaughter; it does not deal with any other options. That is something we should look at. The reports deal also with the way in which the State Veterinary Service operated and with alternative measures. They were reinforced by the European Parliament's recently produced Working Group 5a report, of which other noble Lords have had copies. Paragraphs 50, 54 and 57 of that report—I could refer to many more—highlight the question of vaccination and how it should fit into some kind of animal health protection or animal health legislation.
Paragraph 50 refers to the fact that the decision on vaccination is in any case not a purely scientific matter but a political one, and yet we are being asked today to give approval to issues about which we need to talk more broadly than we are able to with the Bill as it stands. Paragraph 54 states that vaccinations are available which make it possible, at least on a herd by herd basis, to distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals. When we debated the Bill in March it was not said that it was possible to do that. It now is—and yet we still have the same Bill, with promised government amendments for which we are waiting. Paragraph 57 very tellingly states that vaccination must be considered as a first-choice option from the outset when an outbreak occurs. That is a major change from what we have been considering. Those three issues perhaps highlight the very difficult position in which the Government have placed us today.
Obviously there are many other points I should like to raise but I shall leave them and allow other noble Lords to make them in their contributions. I am grateful that the Minister has indicated the Government's acceptance of two of our points, but if it had not been for the push from our Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches and other noble Lords who have tabled amendments, I suspect that the Government would not have moved the Bill forward. We are going one step forward with at least two hands 27 tied behind our backs because we do not have the amendments to which the Minister referred. It is a ridiculous position to be in.
Amendments were laid by the Opposition and other noble Lords in September—well before October—but we still await some government amendments. We acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has moved to rid the Bill of some of the worst conditions surrounding the issue of warrants and to clarify the kind of people who will be required to assist inspectors and to ensure that inspectors are reasonable in their demands for help. But the Government have had time to serve us better. They surely cannot accuse the previous government of putting them in this position. I wish to record my extreme unhappiness of continuing with a Bill—we shall be debating it again tomorrow—on which we have some information but still do not know when government amendments will be available or what they will include.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, as usual I declare a marginal interest—our very small herd of Welsh Black cattle in mid-wales.
Speaking as one of the usual suspects on the Bill, I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for the letters he has sent me, as promised, informing me of what the Government intended to do and giving me some of the amendments he planned to move. These letters were helpful and I have listened carefully to his Statement, although, like others, I shall wish to study it carefully.
The government amendments change some of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the Bill as it stood—for example, limiting the requirement to provide assistance to the keeper of the stock and those in charge of the animals. They also meet one or two of the other points made in earlier debates in the House. Finally they seek to meet some of the points made in the reports of the inquiries, to which the Government are only to respond at the end of this month or in early November.
But a number of the key recommendations seem to have been ignored. For example, the Royal Society's report, which struck me as particularly valuable, called for contingency plans to be brought before Parliament for debate and approval; the Government to bring before Parliament a framework for the contingency plans covering the principles involved in handling outbreaks of infectious exotic diseases; the tightening of import controls over meat, together with a much more co-ordinated approach at every level by all bodies concerned with import controls; a commitment to consider emergency vaccination as part of the control strategy from the start of any outbreak instead of as a last resort—the Royal Society says that emergency vaccination could be far more appropriate than the alternative of extensive culling—the preparation of a regulating framework and practical arrangements, including the supply of vaccines; consideration of ways to minimise animal movements; and a national strategy for animal disease research.
28 None of that was mentioned in the noble Lord's letters or covered by the government amendments but some of those matters were included in his statement. The noble Lord stated in his letter to me of 25th September thatthe central features of this part of the Bill remain unchanged".I read that with despair. I said on Second Reading on 14th January that the Bill might more appropriately be entitled the "Animal Slaughter Facilitation Bill". On 26th March and 25th July, I said that Part 1 was,based entirely on legalising and extending the mass slaughter of animals".I am astonished that under the huge weight of criticism in your Lordships' House and outside, the Government should still be keen on a policy of mass slaughter. Little wonder that Dr. Anderson called in the lessons to be learned report for areappraisal of prevailing attitudes and behaviourswithin DEFRA. The Government and the department seem determined not to listen to their critics. Help is at hand. I am not an enthusiast of the European Union—I would be much happier if we came out of it—but we belong for the present. Agriculture is one of the areas for which we have handed over responsibility to Brussels—which has, it seems, decided to take over the running of foot and mouth policy from the UK and other member states. Reports in the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times on 12th and 13th September said that the Commission was planning to take over responsibility for the handling of foot and mouth disease and to that end had prepared a draft directive that is to be published this month. Meantime, an interim report has been published by the rapporteur of the EU temporary committee on foot and mouth.
I have not seen the whole text but reports quote that committee as saying that,The mass slaughter policy employed to control foot-and-mouth disease last year was based on flawed scientific models and probably did not help curb the epidemic".The policy was said to have,dubious legal grounds and may have led to animal welfare abuses".The committee makes a number of recommendations, includingvaccination as a 'first choice' control option in future".It added thatsome farmers were intimidated and pressurised into having animals culled".I would normally be reluctant to see responsibility moved from London—where we can at least put our views to the Government, however little attention they pay—to Brussels, where we have no influence. In this instance, I admit that in contrast to an invincibly obstinate British Government bent on making mass slaughter easier, the European Parliament's committee seems to be taking a much more enlightened view—almost identical with that of the Royal Society, laying the main emphasis on emergency vaccination-to-live.
29 My noble friend Lord May, president of the Royal Society, kindly sent me the text of a speech by Commissioner David Byrne to the EU temporary committee on 12th September, in which he said:It is no longer acceptable to the public that large numbers of animals can be slaughtered and destroyed now that new diagnostic tests have been developed and are available which differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals…the Commission is of the view that emergency vaccination should be moved to the forefront of the response mechanism in the event of future outbreaks…vaccination had been viewed as a weapon of last resort. It is now time to break with this approach".Commissioner Byrne added that there would shortly be a Commission proposal for a European Council directive on foot and mouth disease on those lines, which he described as a "blockbuster" proposal running to more than 130 pages.
Like many of your Lordships, the Commissioner spoke also of,serious concerns that poor controls over imports from third countries were at the origin of last year's outbreak".We have now heard from the boss. The draft directive is to be published this month. In the circumstances, surely it would be sensible to defer consideration of the Bill until we know exactly what the directive says, whether the Bill is compatible with it and whether we need a Bill at all now that the Commission is taking over the problem.
If we are to proceed, it would seem sensible for the Bill to have at least specific guidelines and powers for dealing with reactive vaccination, explicit requirements for contingency planning and regular consultations with experts on disease control. Those provisions need to be as clearly prescriptive as those for preventive slaughter and to provide for keeping fully up to date with scientific advances. We do not want the Bill to be out of date by the time it receives Royal Assent.
I hope that we shall hear from the Minister soon about his plans, now that he has heard his master's voice and had ample time to study the inquiry reports. I hope that the noble Lord will decide to wait until the draft directive is published.
A vote at this stage would not be appropriate, especially as the Official Opposition is holding its policy conference this week. However, if the Government remain obdurate, the House may wish to divide on the issue on Report.
§ Lord Livsey of Talgarth
My Lords, I have great sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who spoke with a great deal of wisdom and raised a number of important points. I thank the Minister for accepting our amendment on imports, for which we are most grateful.
It has been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to discuss the issues so I welcome the opportunity provided by the Statement to make a few comments. I cannot see how we can address a contingency plan adequately with no amendment before us. Nor is there any amendment on a new preventive slaughter policy, when the policy adopted in 2001 was so controversial.
30 Indeed, we await a disease slaughter control. Vaccination is a crucial aspect and one that caused frenetic debate at all levels during the 2001 outbreak. I echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that the EU will tackle many of the issues within one month. There is also a report from the European Parliament on the British Government's conduct in 2001.
All those factors could contribute greatly to a far better Bill. I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that the department requires additional legislation in case of another outbreak before a new Act is in place. I view the Bill as interim legislation to cope with that situation but down the line much more comprehensive legislation will be required to ensure that our law is contiguous with that of the European Union. The points made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord could be taken into account to produce eventually a good Bill and Act. If the Minister's intention is that the Bill should serve as an interim measure, he should make that clearer than he has done.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, we should remember that the Marshalled List contains 320 amendments. Every subject that noble Lords, quite correctly, want to discuss in Committee is there. We can debate the contingency plan in dealing with Amendment No. 99. We can debate strategy in relation to Amendment No. 103A, vaccination in relation to Amendment No. 268, and the European Union report in relation to Amendment No. 316. The House is not being denied the chance to debate these matters in full and hear the Government's response.
The Government—unusually—have already said what they intend to do. The discussion in Committee will inform the drafting which the Government now say they will bring forward on Report. The situation has been extremely unusual. As a result of the way in which the Bill has been handled in this House the Government have already had the chance, before the House goes into Committee, to indicate their thinking on the various issues. We have seen the letter that has been sent out and some amendments have been proposed. So the Government have indicated their thinking. We can debate all the various issues in Committee, hear the Government's response and possibly improve the Government's thinking. Then, in the normal way, the Government will bring forward amendments at a later stage. That is entirely normal.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is right. That is the normal way to proceed. But the Minister has in effect just delivered a Second Reading speech at Committee stage, so we do not find ourselves, as it were, in the normal mode of procedure. The Minister wrote to many of us who are involved with the Bill, and I was grateful to receive his letter. But the noble Lord has raised important issues. Some clarity is required. Before we can proceed, we need to know what is happening.
On the question of vaccination, has new information come to light during the course of the summer which will have a bearing on the way in which 31 this House will determine the outcome of the Bill? With the leave of the House, I should like to raise two specific questions on vaccination.
First, is it the Government's intention that compensation will be payable for animals which are vaccinated and not slaughtered? As matters stand, such animals may not necessarily be allowed to enter the food chain. It seems a gross injustice if an animal can be vaccinated, not be allowed into the food chain and not be compensated for. I should be grateful if the Minister would give the House a clear indication of what would happen in that case.
Secondly, in the letter that the Minister kindly circulated to us, he refers to the most appropriate strategy in any future outbreak. It is perfectly clear to me that the most appropriate strategy will be to try to find a system of accurately testing suspected livestock within as short a period as possible, thus ensuring that hundreds of thousands of animals are not slaughtered unnecessarily and that farmers' livelihoods are protected. Before the Summer Recess, it was my knowledge that such a system was not in place. But do I gather from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that matters have changed? If that is the case, the situation is very different and there should be incorporated within legislation a clause that makes effective testing mandatory before any culling can take place. If that is done, the farmer concerned can be satisfied that his stock have in fact contracted a particular disease, matters will be above board and everyone will be clear as to what is going on. Will the Minister be kind enough to tell the House whether that is now the situation? If so, it is very different from what it was when we discussed the Bill previously.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Moran. His wisdom, as always, should be listened to. The situation is fluid, as he and other speakers have made clear. I am concerned that we shall be discussing legislation that will be out of date in six months' time.
I recognise the Minister's need to be able to deal quickly with an outbreak of disease. He can probably have the assurance of most people in the farming industry who have been involved with the recent foot and mouth outbreak that they will have the support of the farmers whose animals are involved. I do not think that there is any doubt about that. However, the Minister needs to reassure us that the measures to be taken are not over the top.
The Minister may have heard a programme on Radio 4 on Friday or Saturday on which a Mrs Morris from my locality, Worcester, spoke about the numbers of animals that were killed unnecessarily because they were regarded as contiguous to animals that were not infected at all. We need to bring into legislation the new rapid diagnostic tests and all the differences in terms of vaccination—whether the vaccinated animals will be killed or whether they will live and possibly enter the food chain. There needs to be an exercise in 32 public education. People need to understand that most of the animals that they eat now have already been vaccinated against a number of diseases and that we suffer no problems as a result.
So I have all kinds of concerns about the Bill. My own preference is to wait and see what the EU comes up with, then to introduce a Bill dealing with all those matters in one go, properly, at our leisure. The noble Lord should trust the farmers. Incidentally, he made a blanket reference to farmers. Most of the severe problems arose in relation to dealers. There is a need to distinguish in legislation between what I call proper farmers, and dealers. I should be grateful if the Minister would give that some thought.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
My Lords, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, we are in an unusual position in debating these matters at Committee stage. I agree with the remarks of the noble Countess and the noble Earl, Lord Peel.
It is appropriate that we should consider in general terms why we are where we are in relation to the Bill at this stage. Most of us hoped that we should not be at this stage. At Second Reading in January, most of us criticised the Bill sharply. A great deal of time has elapsed since then and there has been a great deal of change, not least in the science of vaccination. Major reports have been published and others are pending. The European Union report is to be published shortly, and there is the Government's definitive response to their own inquiry reports. It seems extraordinary that we should be pursuing detailed Committee points on parts of the Bill when we still do not know what amendments the Government propose to bring forward on some critical and important matters.
We have just had an extended debate on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill and on the extraordinary procedural difficulties that we are in as a result of having substantive amendments moved on Report when the issues involved ought to have been discussed at Second Reading or at the very least in Committee. It places the House in an extraordinary position in trying to tackle important issues.
Because so many criticisms were levelled at this Bill at Second Reading, I believe that most noble Lords expected far more radical changes to be made by the Government. I echo what has been said in gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his kindness in writing to me and in sending in advance a copy of the essence of his Statement. I want to express gratitude for some of the government amendments which have met some of the criticisms that were made in the course of the Second Reading debate and the debate in March. However, I still feel that this is a deeply defective Bill.
Were I a theologian—I hesitate to claim that title—I would say that this is a sinful Bill, giving the word "sin" its proper root meaning. Every student of elementary New Testament Greek is told that the word "sin" comes from a word in classical Greek which does not mean "doing a bad thing"—that is the wide misunderstanding of sin—but which means "missing 33 the mark". Thucydides refers to people throwing a spear or shooting an arrow and missing the target. There is reference to someone who takes the wrong turning on a journey. That is "sin". It is making a mistake of that kind, falling short of what you should be aiming at. In Plato and Aristotle the word has come to mean "an error of judgment". By any standard, this Bill misses the mark, falls short of where it should have gone, takes many wrong turns and fails to address a great many of the issues which were extremely pressing at the end of the foot and mouth outbreak this time last year.
One can imagine what was going on in DEFRA this time last year: an attitude of despair, total bewilderment and perplexity. The outbreak had been a disaster and its handling had been a catastrophe. There were various targets which could have been addressed by new legislation, in particular illegal meat imports. We still await action on that. If we simply debate the amendments we shall not have a serious debate about how we control illegal meat imports.
I returned twice to an airport in this country during the summer Recess. I had absolutely no indication that anyone minded what I brought with me. There was no notice, no questions, no sniffer dogs—nothing. The NFU survey of 10,000 people returning to this country produced exactly the same result. Ninety-nine percent of those people did not know about it. I looked for it. It is not in this Bill. It may be that we shall have the promise of further amendments at Report stage, but is that good enough?
Are proper information systems in place? There was such confusion over this matter during the outbreak. Have we the opportunity to debate that during the course of this Committee stage? The State Veterinary Service was dismantled by the previous Conservative government in the 1980s. That service needs to be rebuilt. There should be adequate contingency plans which are rehearsed and practised regularly.
We may have the chance to touch on some of these matters as we debate the amendments. But the fact of the matter is that, as several noble Lords have said, we need comprehensive, new legislation which goes to the root of all these issues and not simply to look at one aspect of one part of the solution to the problem, which is how we deal with an outbreak through culling or vaccination. I welcome the references to vaccination which have crept into these amendments, but I hope that there will be vaccination to live and only in exceptional cases would there be vaccination to slaughter.
We really do need new legislation. We need to go back to the drawing board and to produce a comprehensive Bill which will win the enthusiastic support of the farming and livestock industry. I am very worried that if we pursue this debate at this stage of the Committee proceedings on a limited number of amendments, we do so knowing that the farming community is deeply hostile to what is going on and still does not believe that the Government understand the position and the problems which farmers face and the despair which affects so many of them. The 407,000 34 people who took part in the march cannot have been wrong. Many agendas were running on that particular day. I fervently wish that we could be addressing more of those questions than simply the small number which will arise during this Committee stage.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, perhaps I may detain your Lordships' attention for a very short time. I totally accept what the right reverend Prelate has said about the need for a new and comprehensive Bill. I have tabled a series of amendments which are based on the assumption of slaughter. There is no other assumption. For that purpose certain new rights are claimed such as entry into premises and co-operation: if people co-operate this will happen; if they do not, then that will happen, with penal conditions and so forth.
Nobody has written to me about it and there is no reason why they should. I have been sitting here and listening to what is going on. It now appears that the whole scenario has changed. What am I supposed to do with my amendments? They are designed wholly for slaughter, but we are now going to talk about vaccination. I suppose that the best thing to do is to pack it in and, so to speak, shove off. But is that the way to deal with the Bill? How is it to be dealt with? Am I going to be given time to talk to a few of my friends in the farming community and redraft my amendments? Lord, no! There is not an earthly chance of that. It is the kind of imposition against which I personally protest and I do not believe that the House should indulge it.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I say to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, the right reverend Prelate and others, that we are following a slightly unusual procedure today because, under pressure from noble Lords during the first day of Committee, I was asked to make clear at the beginning of the second day how the Government intended to proceed with the remainder of the Bill. That was broadly welcomed by the House and that is why I made the Statement today, which is now available in the Printed Paper Office.
We need to recognise the history of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, asked if it was an interim measure. We first proposed this Bill several months ago in the shadow of the foot and mouth disease. The House voted not to proceed with it at that point until we had the outcomes of the committees of inquiry. We now have them. Since July we have considered in detail the implications for this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that he is unhappy that the central features of the Bill still remain. The reason is that there was very strong support for it in the two inquiry reports. They indicated very clearly, first, that we needed to widen the scope for slaughter and vaccination to ensure that we can carry out a disease-control strategy which had some pre-emptive culling or vaccination. Secondly, the powers of entry needed to ensure that we rapidly carried out those powers. Both those measures are now firmly based in the recommendations of the reports and that is why the central features of the Bill have not been significantly altered.
35 What has altered is the reassurances that people sought about the warrant procedure, the protocol and clarification of the reasons for such a policy. I am committed to all of them. They are either on the agenda today in my name or I am committed to producing them for Report stage. The same applies for contingency planning and import controls where I have indicated that I will accept the gist of the Liberal Democrat amendment.
We have also responded to the strong view from the industry that the provisions on adjusted compensation would not be appropriate and that as they stand they would alienate rather than help to carry out disease control. With that section being removed, I believe that the bulk of the farming industry would actually support the remaining provisions of this Bill. Therefore, I do not believe that it is going against the view among farmers in general, although some will have different opinions.
The issue of vaccination has obviously concerned a number of noble Lords who have spoken. I made clear from the early stages of this Bill that the powers we were seeking were those needed for a wholesale vaccination process as much as for a wholesale culling process. One needs powers for rapid entry in order to carry out vaccination as much as one needs them for culling. Indeed, it could be argued that for a vaccination process to be effective one needs even fewer loopholes than one can afford under the culling process.
It is true that the Royal Society and, it would appear, the European committee to which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred, and others, say that vaccination should be higher in the priority of weapons used in disease control. We made a Statement on 25th July which I repeated in this House. We indicated that we accepted the proposition that vaccination should be a weapon of first resort, where appropriate, rather than last. Not all circumstances will be appropriate: the vaccination available may not be appropriate. Moreover, we accept the recommendation that the procedure should be normally to vaccinate to live rather than was the case as regards the options we considered during the previous disease and the options followed in the Netherlands, namely, vaccinate to kill.
What is needed and what this Bill provides, are powers to cover all of those options so that we have flexibility, clarity of law and speed of operation to carry out vaccination to live or as a prelude to slaughter or to the culling process. The powers are the same. If the EU raises the priority given to vaccination, we shall still need these powers to carry out the vaccination programme.
Therefore, the issue of whether we carry out vaccination more substantially than we carry out culling and whether the balance changes represents an important signal to the farming community and to society at large as regards how we would deal with a future disease. However, in terms of the powers in this Bill, those same powers will be required. That is why 36 the central part of the Bill has not changed. I am conscious of the anxieties about proportionality, about transparency, and about explanations given to farmers and other livestock owners. All such issues are now covered either by the amendments that I have tabled for today, by amendments tabled in the names of other noble Lords, or, indeed, by amendments that will be available on Report.
I believe that we shall end up with a better Bill than the one with which we began. It will certainly be a slightly narrower Bill than was the case originally. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said, that does not preclude our returning to some of these issues in pursuit of a more substantial piece of legislation at a later stage. When first proposed, this Bill was meant to cover us for the immediate period. It will still need to cover us for some considerable time until we have fully developed the animal health strategy that emerged from the reports, including the European report that will shortly be before the House.
However, in the immediate period, we have already lost several months by not having the powers that the Government were convinced we needed earlier in the year. The committees of inquiry support the fact that we need those powers and, by and large, with the compensation requirements removed, the farming community accept that we will need them. Without further ado, I suggest that we move forward to deal with the substantive amendments. Therefore, I beg to move, once again, that the House resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I have one suggestion for the Minister to consider. We have about four weeks until the State Opening of Parliament. Would it not be miles better to take away this Bill, reintroduce it in the dog days of the early part of the Session to your Lordships' House and do so in a way whereby we could have time to consider it properly and get it through this Chamber in, say, six weeks? We would have it ready to go to the Commons before Christmas, and it could be out of the other place fairly quickly. In those circumstances, the Bill would have been well scrutinised in this place and we would not have this gobbledegook of how not to approach legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is clever enough to realise the advantage of my suggestion. As for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, he is much cleverer than the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He can certainly see the advantage of such an approach. I am not being beastly to the Government; I am trying to suggest to them a way out of what is a ghastly legislative muddle. We must get this right. If we do it in the way now proposed, it is likely to become a sort of Mark 1, gold-plated "Dangerous Dogs Bill". I am sure that neither the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, nor the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would like to see that happen.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, without going into the merits of who is the cleverer, perhaps I may return to the 37 simple question of vaccination. I believe that I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, told us that the powers of entry are the same whether or not vaccination is the means of controlling the disease or part of the culling process. I am sure we all acknowledge that fact; indeed, we all acknowledge the need for the Government to have such powers. However, I have one fundamental point to make and should be most grateful for the Minister's response.
I refer to the question of vaccinated animals that are not slaughtered but are prevented from entering the food chain. In such circumstances, is it the Government's intention that farmers with such animals will be fully compensated? The answer to that question is absolutely essential to the way that this Bill proceeds.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, the Minister said that he needs these measures. However, in a state of emergency, has he considered issuing orders to cover such matters? This has been done frequently to cover all sorts of situations in emergencies on previous occasions. Further, as other noble Lords, especially the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, have suggested, will the noble Lord consider taking away the Bill and rehashing it to take into account not only what the European Union is saying but also what the other reports have found? In that way, we would have something that is a composite, not a hotchpotch.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I have three quick questions for the Minister. First, he said that the Government have reconsidered the position on vaccination. However, there is nothing mentioned in the Bill, which raises the question as to how he will proceed in that respect. Secondly, on the question of the amendments that the Government have not as yet tabled, we are told that we should wait for the Report stage. Can the Minister say whether or not we shall be able to debate those proposed amendments in Committee, rather than having but one chance to consider them on Report? Obviously, the Committee stage of a Bill gives us the chance to have a debate around the amendments that are laid. Clearly, if they are not brought forward before Report, we shall have a one-go-only situation.
Thirdly, I turn to compensation. I should like to put on record our thanks to the Minister for the fact that he has acknowledged the position with regard to compensation. When commenting, the Minister touched on insurance and levy systems that I know are under consideration. I believe that the latter would have implications but, again, there is nothing in the Bill in that respect.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, if I accepted the noble Baroness's amendments it would have the effect of removing compensation issues from the Bill, except for those in the specific clause regarding compensation for vaccinates to which I shall return shortly. It would mean that the whole system of compensation would be delayed until further policy decisions have been taken and further legislation introduced, and would include 38 the wider issues of risk sharing and of possible insurance or levy-based schemes upon which the Government propose to consult at some length with the industry. Therefore, such issues are not appropriate for this Bill. All those matters now fall outside the scope of this legislation.
I turn to vaccination, which is referred to in the Bill and in some of the amendments. In particular, the powers of entry relate to entry for vaccination and for blood testing, as well as for culling. We will have some culling in any situation; for example, even if we maximise the use of vaccination elsewhere, we will kill the clearly diseased animals. Therefore, even if we fully adopt the recommendations for a vaccinate-to-live process, there will be a mixture of measures. A vaccinate-to-live process is very complicated to introduce as the mainstream choice of weapon to deal with the disease: it requires not only EU backing but there are also implications in the OIE review as regards how vaccinated meat is dealt within the trade.
Further, we must consider how the domestic meat industry and the retail industry deal with meat from vaccinated animals. Until the position is clear, it is difficult to answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Peel. The Bill provides for 100 per cent compensation for vaccinated animals where they are slaughtered. If a vaccinate-to-live programme were introduced, it would be largely dependent on the trade being prepared to take vaccinated meat on the same terms as non-vaccinated meat. If the situation were different we would have to consider the noble Earl's question, but we have not yet reached that point. Therefore, it is not covered in the Bill.
In relation to the issues raised by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, both of whom sought to delay the Bill, I should point out to the noble Countess that the use of orders would not fulfil the aims of this legislation. Orders can be put forward only within the confines of existing primary legislation. The Animal Health Act does not provide sufficient powers in terms of the scope of vaccination or slaughter and in terms of the scope of the powers of entry to enable us to deal with it through secondly legislation—
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but how does he compare this with the TSE 2002 regulations, which constitute an order and give huge scope; indeed, they cover everything, from taking one's computer out of one's home and killing every animal on the farm?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, as the noble Countess knows, that is a ludicrous interpretation of the TSE regulations. Those regulations stem primarily from European legislation, not primary legislation. Dealing with foot and mouth stems from the Animal Health Act 1981 and, therefore, in terms of orders and secondary legislation, we are confined by the terms of that legislation.
We have been considering the measures for a long time. We have the wisdom of three important reports, which broadly support the central thesis of the Bill. We 39 have had plenty of comment from the farming industry, scientists, vets and Members of this House on the appropriateness or otherwise of the measures. Some 300 amendments have been tabled, so obviously a number of noble Lords can see ways of improving the Bill, which I hope that we can now go on to debate. I see no further need for delay.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, the noble Lord did not answer my question about whether we could debate fully on Report—as if we were in Committee—the amendments that the Government have not yet put down.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that it is in neither my power nor hers to alter the procedural rules of the House. Report stage will be as normal.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I must correct the noble Lord. It is quite possible for the House to move that we can do that. It was done on the peerage Bill. It is called recommitment. Perhaps it might be a good idea to consider that procedure. I would much rather the Government started all over again, because I think that would be quicker and more sensible, but that is another argument.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, the noble Earl is clearly right that a resolution of the House would be required to alter the proceedings. That is a matter to be considered by the usual channels. As of today, Report stage will be as it normally is.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Cox) in the Chair.]
§ 4.45 p.m.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 96:
Before Clause 14, insert the following new clause—
"ANNUAL REVIEW OF IMPORT CONTROLS
In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 10—
§ "10A ANNUAL REVIEW OF IMPORT CONTROLS
- (1) The Ministers shall prepare a report during each financial year which will—
- (a) review all activities of government departments, the Food Standards Agency, local authorities, customs, police authorities and other relevant public agencies directed to the prevention of the introduction of disease into or within England and Wales through the importation of animal products and matter, whether animate or inanimate, and other things;
- (b) identify the nature, origin and quantity of such animal products and matter and stating whether the product or matter was destined for personal or commercial consumption;
- (c) assess the making of any orders under section 10 of this Act;
- (d) assess the effectiveness of any action taken under an order made under section 10 of this Act; and
- (e) propose such further action as may, on the basis of advice given to the Ministers by suitably qualified individuals appointed as scientific advisers to the Ministers, be required to further reduce the risk of disease being imported.
- (2) The Ministers shall lay their report before Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales at the end of each financial year.""
§ The noble Lord said: It is a privilege to move this amendment, because of the great concerns that have been expressed by informed people in the agriculture industry, the food industry and the veterinary profession, who regard the provisions on the import of animal meat into this country as wholly unsatisfactory. I acknowledge that the Minister has said that he will accept the amendment.
§ We require an annual review of import controls, with Ministers preparing a report during each financial year to review all activities of government departments that are connected with import controls, including the Food Standards Agency, local authorities, Customs and Excise, police authorities and other relevant public agencies directed to the prevention of the introduction of disease into or within England and Wales through the importation of animal products and matter, whether animate or inanimate, and other things. The amendment would bring together all those departments and any annual report produced would be a composite of their findings.
§ The report would also identify the nature, origin and quantity of such animal products and matter and state whether the product or matter was destined for personal or commercial consumption. It would assess the making of any order under Section 10 of this Act and the effectiveness of any action taken under such an order. On the basis of advice given to the Ministers by suitably qualified individuals appointed as their scientific advisers, it would also propose such further action as may be required to reduce further the risk of disease being imported. Ministers would lay the report before Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales at the end of each financial year.
§ The amendment is a comprehensive way of tackling the problem of illegal imports. I have heard various estimates of the problem, the highest being that 6 million containers come in through the ports of this country. Another estimate is 1.7 million. There is no doubt that many containers carry illegal imports. We do not have adequate controls. I welcome the fact that sniffer dogs are now being used at Heathrow, but I was rather dismayed to learn that there were only two and that they were the only ones operating in the country. When I entered Australia from New Zealand last winter, my size 12 shoes were removed immediately and I had quite a job getting them back because I had been on farms in New Zealand. New Zealand farms are pretty clear of disease and there is a fairly pristine environment over there. We have nothing like that sort of control.
We can report on these matters, but the big questions are how effective the measures are going to be and what action will be taken to make import controls of animal products much more effective. On 1st May in the other place, my successor in the Brecons
and Radnorshire constituency, Roger Williams MP, introduced a Port Protection Authority Bill, which would establish an authority,
to exercise those powers and responsibilities now exercised by port health authorities, trading standards authorities and HM Customs and Excise; to monitor the legality, quality and integrity of imported goods and to collect any duties upon them; and to report annually to Parliament on its effectiveness in carrying out its duties".
§ The purpose of that Bill is to strengthen import controls at sea ports and airports by simplifying the structures and making the lines of accountability much more transparent. As I have said, there is a great deal of public concern about the control of imports. Large quantities of drugs, tobacco, alcohol and meat are smuggled into Britain each year. The current system of import control is very complex and involves a number of agencies, including Customs and Excise, which is responsible to the Treasury, trading standards departments, which are local authority functions, and port health authorities, which are local authorities in their own right.
§ Trying to monitor imports of animal products into this country is a complex process. The annual report suggested in the amendment would be a considerable move forward. Are the Government actively pursuing the streamlining of those bodies to ensure that we have an effective control system, which could be a super-authority covering all departments addressing illegal imports of food, drugs and other things?
§ The amendment is a milestone on the way to that kind of legislation, but we need immediate legislation to ensure that an annual report is produced. It should be the result of careful gathering of information by all the authorities concerned and should result in effective action by the Government against illegal imports of food, which may bring with them foot and mouth disease and other infectious diseases that cause the kind of mayhem that occurred during 2001 with foot and mouth. We never want to see that again. The amendment is an important part of a control to ensure that we do not. I beg to move.
§ Lord Whitty
It may be for the benefit of the Committee if I make it clear that, as has already been said, I am prepared to accept the amendment. Some marginal tidying up may be needed, but I accept the principle of what the noble Lord says.
The Government are already engaged on the other matters of enforcement of import controls, including looking at the jurisdiction of the various authorities involved. However, that is not a matter for legislation, most of which is European. The requirement here is to report to this House, to another place and to the National Assembly for Wales. We fully accept that.
§ Lord Monro of Langholm
The Minister should not expect to escape quite as easily as that. However, I am glad that he has agreed to accept the amendment in principle. I declare an interest—as I have many times in foot and mouth debates—as one who was deeply involved and who lost his stock. I feel very personally about some of the issues in the Bill.
42 It is quite right that we should have this type of detailed report from the Government each year. Had we had one over the past few years, I am sure that the country would have picked up the fact that the Government's contingency plans were totally inadequate. That, as it turned out, was indeed the fact. The three reports we have had have been a devastating criticism of the Government's handling of the foot and mouth epidemic. It would therefore be useful if the Government annually had an opportunity to show that none of the defects will recur and that they will be much nearer the ball in dealing with any future case of foot and mouth.
In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, rightly pointed out the agriculture industry's grave concern about imports. I have raised the issue on various occasions in the past 18 months, but I have received pretty unsatisfactory replies. Today, the Minister has a chance to give more detail about what the Government have achieved in import control. We keep hearing that there will be more inspectors here and there, but what has happened on the ground? How many cases of illegal import have inspectors discovered? How many prosecutions have we had?
What is being done to deal with countries such as Argentina and South Africa where foot and mouth is endemic? Are those countries still sending unlimited quantities of beef to this country? As we know, there is currently complete turmoil in Argentina. Are we confident that the government services are operating effectively in the various designated areas which are supposed to be free of foot and mouth? Or is beef being shipped willy-nilly from that country, where foot and mouth is endemic, and are we picking it up in this country?
I am very concerned that we have not taken adequate steps since the foot and mouth outbreak to prevent the import of all sorts of meat into this country. I think that the majority of the farming community believes that the outbreak began in the Newcastle area from imported meat. Had we had strict controls, with luck, the whole issue of foot and mouth over the past two years would not have arisen. I ask the Minister to tell us now, in detail, the action that he has taken. That is the point of this amendment. It proposes an annual report to set out in detail the action being taken on import controls.
I should like to raise with the Minister one other important point—liaison between England, Wales and Scotland. Foot and mouth knows no boundaries; it crossed the border thousands of time during the epidemic. The Scottish Executive says it has taken action and introduced legislation and that all is well, and the Government are implying that this Bill will ensure that sufficient resources are available to deal with another outbreak, but I should like to think that there is genuine liaison between England, Scotland and Wales in relation to foot and mouth. I feel that the countries are currently going in slightly different directions and wonder whether, whatever action the Government take to prevent outbreaks, because of devolution and Scotland's legislative independence the 43 link-up between countries is adequate to deal with cross-border problems such as foot and mouth, brucellosis and even scrapie.
I therefore believe that this amendment, which the Government have accepted in principle, will give them a chance to set out in detail each year the steps that they are taking to raise the standard of foot and mouth prevention in this country. I believe that the Government would have been defeated in the Lobby had they not accepted the amendment. It proposes an important way of ensuring that prevention and contingency planning remain a high priority within the Government. I certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, in his amendment.
§ Lord Moran
I very strongly support the amendment; it is absolutely right that we should have an annual review of import controls. I also agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Monro, said. However, I am also struck by the fact that we have raised this issue every time the subject has been discussed, ever since January, and practically nothing has been done. The right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Hereford, pointed out that he has twice recently come into this country but that no one asked or showed him anything in relation to meat imports.
Some noble Lords may have watched last night's "Panorama" programme about corruption in racing. Time and again during the programme, the representative of the Jockey Club was asked why it had done nothing. He said that the issue was all very difficult and that there was not enough evidence and so on. The comments seemed utterly futile and reminded me very much of the line that the Government have taken about the import of animal meat, which everyone agrees is probably the cause of last year's outbreak. Apart from reporting to the House annually, the Government should deal with this matter firmly and now.
§ Earl Peel
Like the Minister, who I am absolutely sure has visited many farms and spoken to farmers and representatives of the industry over the summer, I have met my fair share of farmers. If one issue comes out more strongly than any other, it is the import of illegal meat products. I cannot stress powerfully enough how strongly the farming fraternity feels about the need for the Government to take urgent action to curtail this illegal trade.
The difficulties arise in two channels. The first is the conventional channel where the level of testing is simply not sufficiently rigorous. The second is the import by ordinary passengers in their suitcases of illegal meat products such as bushmeat which commands a very high price on the black market. I am very well aware that the Minister himself is deeply concerned about this issue; I have heard him speak about it on Radio 4 and have read his remarks in the newspapers. Concern and action, however, are two very different things.
Like my noble friend Lord Monro, I look forward to hearing in some detail the Government's plan to deal with the problem. One of the difficulties is that 44 various agencies have responsibility for dealing with it. Perhaps the Government intend to introduce legislation to establish one agency to deal with it; the Minister may be able to expand on that possibility. I have no doubt, however, that Amendment No. 96 will go some way in helping us to learn what the Government are doing about the issue.
I suspect that the only way in which the difficulty can really be dealt with is to increase considerably both the level of commitment and the level of investment in personnel and surveillance equipment. Such equipment is already available and being used in Australia and America. Indeed, anyone who has visited America will know only too well how vigilant it is in these matters. Why we cannot emulate such countries, particularly in view of the fact that we are an island, I simply do not know.
I hope that the Minister will take this matter much more seriously than has so far appeared to be the case. Frankly, we would save ourselves a huge amount of money in future if we got the whole question of illegal importation sorted. The chances of reducing a future outbreak of foot and mouth or any other such disease would be greatly enhanced. I looked forward to the Minister's response.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
I say to the Minister how pleased I am that the Government are to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey.
I have a question about the use of dogs. During the Recess, I heard that two trained dogs would be used in relation to illegal meat. Some time ago, with the Drugs Misuse Group, I visited the hangars at Heathrow to watch dogs working in relation to drugs. The hangars are absolutely vast. Two dogs are just a drop in a tiny ocean. The problem is a huge ocean and at least 200 dogs are needed. In the report, will we be told how the whole thing works and what is being done? As the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, the import of illegal bushmeat is very worrying. Monkeys, gorillas and all sorts of tropical animals are coming in and being eaten.
I heard during the previous Session that the veterinary school for tropical diseases in Edinburgh will close. That is absolutely mad. We need it. It could help to provide aid to developing countries. Many of their veterinary officers have died of AIDS and other trained people are needed to replace them. If we really take this matter seriously, we have to consider many ways of preventing disease coming in.
§ Lord Marlesford
I back up the comments of the noble Baroness.
The Minister may be aware that I have asked a number of Questions on this subject in recent months. He should be aware of that because he signed a good many of the Answers. In one Answer, he said that enforcement was not a matter for legislation; but—my gosh—it is a matter of concern: deep, deep concern. At the moment, the concern does not begin to be allayed.
45 The noble Baroness referred to the issue of two dogs. Let the Minister at least tell us the current and projected strength of the canine defence force of this country.
One of my Questions was about whether it was possible to discriminate, in terms of investigation and surveillance, at an airport between passengers arriving from different destinations. There are obviously limited resources; we should focus them where they are needed. The Answer that I got was that it was not appropriate to discriminate between passengers coming from different places. Is that really true? None of this gives one any confidence that anything is going to be done or is being done. I totally support the amendment of the noble Lord on the Liberal Front Bench; of course we support it. However, it is action that is needed, not just words. Frankly, to say that this is not a matter for legislation is not good enough.
§ Lord Jopling
I begin by declaring an interest as a farmer, although at the moment I have no livestock.
I was very struck by the speech of the right reverend Prelate. I had a similar experience the day before yesterday. I found myself on Saturday in the airport at Atlanta, Georgia. As my wife and I were mooching through the duty free shop, she picked up a sealed package of smoked ham and said to me, "Look, this is that very good smoked ham we had two or three days ago". I was about to say to her, "I hope you're not thinking of taking it back home", but, before I could do so, she said to me, "Oh my God! We should find ourselves on the front page of the newspapers if we took this home". With that in both our minds, when we came back into Gatwick yesterday, I, like the right reverend Prelate, looked very carefully to see what steps were being taken to warn passengers arriving by air that the importation of meat is illegal. At least I believe that it is illegal. I saw absolutely no signs of any sort.
I very much welcome the Government's announcement. In his Statement, the noble Lord said that he intends to table an amendment providing for the Government to report annually on actions to prevent the illegal import of animal products. We are all grateful for a copy of the Statement, which we have now received.
I strongly support the new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the Government might have to tidy up the new clause. We all understand that because careful drafting is needed. When the Government consider doing so, I hope that they will be prepared to add a new provision strengthening paragraph (a). I want a sub-paragraph to be added—I speak in broad terms—that will explain what steps have been taken at airports and seaports, as well as in relation to the Channel Tunnel, to warn people entering this country that it is illegal to import meat, that those doing so will be subject to very heavy fines and that anyone who did not know and who finds himself importing meat illegally should give it up before leaving the airport. That helpful step should be highlighted in the new clause.
46 Like other noble Lords, I am most concerned about the fact that the Government have just come round at this late stage—18 months after the outbreak last year—to the fact that something needs to be done about imported meat. We have all been saying for months and months that this is a major hole in our arrangements and that it causes great dangers of a new outbreak. The Government's incompetence in handling the outbreak is not in the past; it is still going on. They are still not addressing that problem sufficiently urgently.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us whether he will amend the new clause to ensure that each year the report will explain exactly what has been done to warn people entering this country of the illegality and folly of their actions if they have illegal meat with them.
§ Lord Plumb
Before the Minister responds to the many questions and comments, I add my voice to those who have spoken of their concern about this issue. You, Minister, are well aware of the many farmers around this country who have expressed their concern: this matter is their priority. We are concerned that there should not be another outbreak. We are also concerned that regulations should be in place so that, in the event of something happening, we are able to cope with it and the Government are very much in control.
But are we doing enough on the import front? It is appropriate that this matter should be raised before anything else in the debate, although it is taking a little time. However, it is appropriate that it is raised and that it is raised in this way. It is hoped that imports will appear as the first item in the Bill in terms of what the Government will do by way of control. Therefore, I support the proposal tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for an annual review of the activities of all departments to identify the nature and origin of imported products.
The Minister said clearly that he accepts the amendment, and we welcome that. Therefore, why are we spending time on it? We are doing so because—this very simple point has just been raised by my noble friend Lord Jopling—we need an answer. I am well aware that some time ago the Minister launched a publicity campaign aimed at raising public awareness of import rules and the reasons for them. What has that achieved? As was said by the right reverend Prelate—other noble Lords have supported his comment and I can, too—it has done absolutely nothing. Among the 10,000 people consulted on what was called "Holiday Watch", only 4 per cent said that they had noticed anything and 96 per cent said that they knew nothing.
As I came though an airport only last week, I asked what precautions were being taken or what advice was being given to people passing through the airport. The girl looked at me and said, "My dear, it's all over. You don't have to worry any more. Foot and mouth disease has finished". Something far stronger than that type of answer needs to be given to passengers. Surely consumers, producers and taxpayers would feel far 47 better if positive action were taken and if the country were able to see that action was being taken in order effectively to bring about import controls.
I was not able to take part in the earlier debate but I have seen the report from Europe, as, I am sure, has the Minister. In it he will see that the question of regionalisation is raised, together with the difficulties relating to imports. Undoubtedly he will speak about that now. At the same time, that report contains the toughest measures on import controls that I have yet seen. Therefore, having seen the measures proposed, I hope that the Minister will incorporate them in the final report.
§ The Countess of Mar
I, too, support all those who have expressed concerns about imports and the lack of controls that exist at present. Over and over again at Question Time, the Minister has been asked what is being done about import controls. He says that we are having meetings with this and that person and with this and that group and that everyone is being consulted. But at the end of the summer, 18 months after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, all we have is two sniffer dogs.
When introducing the Bill at Second Reading, the Minister said how urgent and important the Bill was and how badly needed it was. He has—Ministers generally have—the power to stop imports coming into the country. I see the Minister shaking his head, but they do. Section 10 of the Animal Health Act 1981 states:The Ministers may by orders make such provision as they think fit for the purpose of preventing the introduction or spreading of disease into or within Great Britain through the importation of…animals and carcases…carcases of poultry and eggs; and…other things, whether animate or inanimate, by or by means of which it appears to them that any disease might be carried or transmitted".The Minister has the powers to make orders to stop people bringing in such items. But what do we have? Two sniffer dogs. And all this talk, talk, talk achieves nothing.
I wonder whether Ministers have carried out a cost-benefit exercise on providing sniffer dogs and environmental health officers to inspect loads and baggage entering the country and the cost of the last foot and mouth outbreak. The benefits of import preventions and even posters on the walls at airports and ports would be enormous compared with doing nothing except having meetings. Frankly, I am appalled by the lack of action in these circumstances when something could have been done very much sooner.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
If the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will forgive me—this is his amendment—I believe that I should respond to one or two of the points raised, although I am not sure that many of them are apposite to the content of the Bill.
48 The regulation of imports from third countries into this country is governed by European legislation. The Government have recently been very successful in getting the EU—Commissioner Byrne—to agree that the one-kilogram exemption, which currently might have allowed Lady Jopling to bring in her smoked ham, assuming that it was not too large, should effectively be reduced to zero, with a number of exemptions. Nevertheless, the EU has moved very much in the way that we have advocated it should. That is the legislative structure.
With regard to the enforcement structure, noble Lords are right that more could be done. More has been, and will be, done. There will be additional personnel, and we have initiated a number of pilot schemes. The scheme involving sniffer dogs is a pilot; it is not intended that there should be only two dogs. If it works, clearly the scheme will be extended substantially. A number of spot checks are, and will be, based on far better sharing of intelligence. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that, although we cannot discriminate, we base our spot checks on intelligence.
There is more that can be done on that front, including in relation to information. Despite the fact that no noble Lord seems to have seen them, a significant number of posters have now been mounted in airports for those entering the country on long-haul flights. Unlike America, the bulk of our passengers arrive from the European Community, and that is a single market. We are now taking steps to ensure that more people are informed both at the point of departure and on the airline. However, in order to be effective in that regard, we require the co-operation of the airlines and airports abroad. We have made a breakthrough on that front.
As regards the longer-term deployment of resources, we shall shortly receive the outcome of a risk assessment as to how disease might enter this country. That assessment will cover not only the legal and illegal paths of entry into this country but also the question of how disease might enter the food chain thereafter. It is important that Members of the Committee recognise that, however draconian the measures, one cannot be absolutely certain of keeping out diseased or illegal meat. In practice, tonnes and tonnes of illegal meat enter the United States and even Australia. Therefore, we need to combine internal controls with minimising the threat from outside.
As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and others who made this point, there is an overlap of jurisdictions of agencies. We are currently in the process of examining that overlap to see whether some rationalisation and enhancement would be helpful.
I believe that that deals with the points of regulation enforcement, information and jurisdiction. No doubt Members of the Committee would like to have more details and, once we have received the review of the operation of the various authorities, I shall let noble Lords who have taken part in this debate know the outcome of that review.
49 However, today we are debating the issue of an annual report covering all those actions. I believe that paragraph (a) of the new clause proposed in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, covers most of the areas. If it is necessary for it to be more explicit, no doubt we can consider that. But I support the noble Lord's amendment and ask the Committee to do so.
§ Lord Livsey of Talgarth
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his comments. I know that he takes this matter extremely seriously and has stated so on numerous occasions. We have been calling for far stronger action, and I am grateful for the support shown for the amendment from all quarters of the Committee. There are currently many inadequacies. Some noble Lords have referred to those inadequacies; for example, the lack of dogs for ferreting out illegal imports. More dogs are required. We also need notices at airports and ports and warnings of the consequences for people who illegally import meat foodstuffs into this country, including confiscation at appropriate points. I thank the Government for accepting the amendment. It gives me pleasure to move Amendment No. 96 on the annual review of import controls as part of a new clause before Clause 14.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 14 [The Minister]:
§ Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 97:
§ Page 10, line 14, leave out "Agriculture, Fisheries and Food" and insert "Environment. Food and Rural Affairs"
§ The noble Baroness said: This is a tidying up amendment. The former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was disbanded in June 2001 and its responsibilities passed to the new department, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As we are revising the 1981 Animal Health Act, I believe that we should also update the title of the new department which is responsible for the implications of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
A dissolution order has been approved in draft by both Houses and was presented to Her Majesty in Privy Council on 26th March. Consequently the order received Her Majesty in Council's approval, so the functions of the Minister under the Animal Health Act 1981 were transferred to the Secretary of State on 27th March. An amendment to the Bill has been tabled and follows in the government amendment to delete Clause 14. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ The Earl of Onslow
That Her Majesty's present advisers do not know which department is responsible shows how sloppy the Bill is. We all want animal health to be carried out properly, but the whole Bill has not been thought through and it is sloppy and inconsequential. This is not how to conduct legislation. This is a perfect example of why the Bill is wrong. We want animal health to be protected properly and I include the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in that because I give him credit for wanting to do the 50 right thing. Surely the Bill must be worded correctly rather than in this sloppy manner. There is a general indication of sloppy thinking—grade four minus, go to the back of the class and wear a dunce's hat!
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is fully entitled to his opinion which he expresses with great force. I defend those who constructed the legislation. I have reported to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, the factual position. In view of his long service in the House I am sure that the noble Earl knows that we have followed the appropriate procedure with Her Majesty in Privy Council.
§ Baroness Byford
I thank my noble friend for his intervention. While I could not possibly comment on it, it reinforces some of our concerns about the Bill. We are struggling to cope with the Bill in its present form. A serious point to take from my noble friend's contribution is that we are asked to give extra powers to this department without any checks or balances, although noble Lords have tabled amendments to ensure that there are some. However, I accept what the Minister has said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
I have already spoken to the Question whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 14 negatived.
Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 98:
After Clause 14, insert the following new clause—
§ "ANNUAL REPORT ON ANIMAL DISEASES
§ In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 10—
§ "10B ANNUAL REPORT ON ANIMAL DISEASES
§ The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament in each calendar year a report on measures taken by government departments and agencies and other public bodies to prevent the importation into the United Kingdom of the diseases mentioned in Schedule 2A.""
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 98 is similar to Amendment No. 96. I believe that the matter has been fully debated and so it is not my intention to raise additional matters to those already raised and which I hope will be related to this amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Whitty
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, that to a large extent this amendment is subsumed by the wording of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that has just been adopted. In so far as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, feels that it is not, perhaps he will contact me before any tidying up is engaged in at a later stage. I believe that the point has already been covered.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 99:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—