Animal Health Bill
Baroness Byford (Conservative)
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate beat me to it. I thought that perhaps we had been listening to a different debate. I was only cross that I had not brought my copy of the report in with me, so I was very glad that the noble Lord referred to it.
We strongly support Amendment No. 20. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 20A. Noble Lords from all sides of the House have raised genuine concerns about this part of the Bill. It is one of the most important aspects that we shall consider. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spelt the issue out simply. Why is the entry required? Where? When? Is there a chance to be heard? The point cannot be made more briefly or directly. That sums up everything that we said in Committee and are saying again tonight.
We are all anxious to avoid the unnecessary killing of healthy animals if at all possible. We need to give those whose animals may be killed in this way the chance to be heard and to be told what is going on. My noble friend Lord Peel referred to basic and natural justice, which seems to be missing in this bit of the Bill. He felt that the Government had an opportunity to reach out and restore some of the confidence that has been shaken in the farming industry. As I go around, the same frustrations are often raised with me: do the Government understand or care or do they not really mind whether we produce our own food and have our own livestock? Would it not be easier to get rid of the whole lot? There is great concern. It would be immensely helpful if we could allay some of those fears.
In Committee the Minister told us that his legal advisers are not in favour of placing more than is strictly necessary on the face of the Bill. Our contention is that paragraph (b), which would be deleted by Amendment No. 20A, is not only unnecessary, but likely to encourage the sort of behaviour by officials that leads to even greater suspicions and recalcitrance on the part of those whom they are trying to investigate. Many will remember one or two incidents that happened during our last outbreak. A farmer has a flock of sheep. The inspector wants to check them for foot and mouth. The inspector phones up and there is nobody at home. His task is urgent, so he goes to a JP and seeks a warrant using the first condition and the second part of the third condition as an excuse. If he is successful, he will have been spared the palaver of giving the farmer notice of entry and the reasons for it. Clearly, as other noble Lords have observed tonight, reasons must be given and there must be some recourse available.
If feelings are running high locally, does the Minister recognise that this is what I call a "Catch-all-22" with regard to my Amendment No. 20A? I thank the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for her support. I believe that the Minister has enough powers under the Bill without paragraph (b). Therefore, when he responds, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will accept our argument.