'In the 1981 Act, the following section is inserted after section 36—
"36A National Contingency Plan
The Government shall prepare and regularly maintain in consultation with interested public and private bodies a national contingency plan for foot–and–mouth disease, which shall be laid before Parliament.".'.—[Mr. Peter Ainsworth.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The purpose of the new clause is to require the Government to draw up, maintain and publish a national contingency plan for dealing with future outbreaks of foot and mouth disease. There is widespread evidence that the Government and their agencies were wholly unprepared for the emergency that broke earlier this year. I have looked at the Government's published contingency plan, which is available on the internet. To say that it is rudimentary would be an understatement. It turns out to be very much what the Minister himself described as an outline strategy. It is our contention that an outline strategy is insufficient to deal with an outbreak of foot and mouth, as we found in the course of this year. That might explain why the strategy was so hopelessly inadequate and had no identifiable bearing on the way the Government carried out their duties in the event of this year's outbreak. An outline strategy was a recipe for chaos and confusion, and I am afraid that that is precisely what we got.
The evidence of the public inquiry in Devon, which was chaired by Professor Mercer and was mentioned earlier, is especially revealing about the state of preparations in the Department. It reported:
"It was not obvious to us from the evidence received that MAFF was working to any form of coherent contingency plan. This, in spite of actual evidence that the Government had submitted such a plan to the European Union in 1993 and that some low level MAFF planning was proceeding in 1999. Lessons, which should have been learned from the outbreak in 1967, did not appear to have been implemented, and recommendations of the official report into that outbreak were ignored."
That point was supported by Mr. Alan Richardson, a retired vet who was involved with the 1967 outbreak and offered his services in Cumbria on the outbreak of the disease this year. He said that the lessons learned from the 1967 epidemic were set out in the report of the Northumberland committee, and that
"the public had every reason to suppose that its conclusions formed the basis of the contingency plan in place in January 2001."
It is curious that Ministers are at pains to point out that the circumstances have changed greatly since 1967. The Minister did so in an earlier debate. The Government have published a document called "Comparisons with 1967: How the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth differs from the 1967 outbreak". The aim of the paper is not only to let them off the hook but to boast about how well they did in controlling the latest outbreak. That is incredible. It is one of the most unjustified pieces of self-congratulatory humbug that I have come across for a long time.
The Government have gone to enormous lengths to point out the differences between 1967 and today. One would therefore expect them to disagree with Mr. Alan Richardson's comments that the public had every reason to suppose that the conclusion of the Northumberland report formed the basis of the 2001 contingency plan. However, in a written answer to my hon. Friend Mr. Steen on
"The recommendations in 'The Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Foot-and-Mouth Disease', parts 1 and 2, published
On the one hand, we are told that there are enormous differences between 1967 and now, and on the other, that the 1967 experience formed the basis for the contingency plan that was in place in 2001. We have a mess that is riddled with contradictions. That may help explain the subsequent problems. Alan Richardson reported for duty at the Carlisle office on
"At the Carlisle Office . . . there was inadequate office space and very few supplies of any kind . . . There was not a spare thermometer in the office . . . The organisation was completely overwhelmed and the bemused confusion among the staff of all ranks proclaimed that there had been no contingency planning at all. This situation persisted for some weeks"?
The evidence from Devon and Cumbria, from one end of the country to the other, clearly established that there was no effective contingency plan in place. We therefore entirely endorse the recommendation in the preliminary findings of the Mercer inquiry. It states that
"a National Contingency Plan . . . needs to be developed. It should identify the organisations that will be involved in response to Foot and Mouth in a County or Unitary authority area, and explain their responsibilities and the ways they will work together. It should be part of an emergency planning process that involves all the main players in its construction, testing and regular rehearsal."
For geographical equilibrium, I should say that we also support the first recommendation of the Shropshire county council inquiry. The Minister said that he had not seen it. That recommendation states:
"It is essential that a high level Foot and Mouth Contingency Plan is prepared by DEFRA to link in with Local Authority emergency plans in general and animal health and welfare contingency plans in particular."
Like the Mercer inquiry in Devon, the Shropshire inquiry found evidence of serious and avoidable flaws in the way the outbreak was handled. The inquiry heard about the
"lack of a consistent policy from MAFF on the culling of animals . . . a lack of communication" from the local office,
"problems in having to deal with different veterinary regions", and the
"frustration caused by the lack of communication from DEFRA on issues relating to the licensing and movement of animals".
I could go on, but time is pressing. The Minister really should have looked at the Shropshire county council report, and I recommend that he does so as soon as possible. He might learn some useful information from it.
From Devon to Cumbria to Shropshire we find that the problems on the ground were the same. They were avoidable problems that affected every area of the country in which foot and mouth broke out. If there had been a proper contingency plan, action would have been swifter, the damage could have been dramatically limited and the cost—in every sense—could have been dramatically reduced. If there had been a proper contingency plan, all animal movements would have stopped as soon as the outbreak was officially reported, the Army would have been brought into play sooner, and we would not have had the dithering and confusion over the benefits or otherwise of vaccination which characterised much of the debate earlier in the year.
In the light of the terrible experience suffered by rural communities, businesses and families, the massive cost to our economy which will be counted for months if not years to come, and the tragedy for animal welfare, I have to ask the House whether an outline strategy is really enough. The Minister has asserted that, despite all the differences between 1967 and now, the Northumberland report forms the basis of the Government's policy for foot and mouth disease.
Recommendation 5 of the report states:
"A comprehensive plan should be in readiness for the mobilisation of resources within and outside the Ministry . . . in the event of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease."
In other words, it recommends a contingency plan. That is what the new clause would achieve, and I commend it to the House.
I do not want to hold the House up, but may I ask one small question of the Minister? I hope that, with all this review of national contingency plans, some thought will be given to whether there was merit in having a slaughter at all. The Minister will be aware that foot and mouth is rather like flu, in that it lasts a short period of time, and does no long-term damage to animals or to those who consume them.
The real problem is one of export and of massive over-production in the European Union. Instead of thinking of new slaughter policies, it would be infinitely better if the Government and their colleagues in the European Union could find a way of dealing with the massive problem of over-production, which is getting worse and will become infinitely worse with the extension of the European Union. As an Opposition Back Bencher, it seems to me that neither the Government nor anyone else are willing to look at the issue of over-production. It is a nightmare, not a matter to be laughed at or scorned. It is eating up massive amounts of money, and we should at least consider it in the long term.
I shall deal with the points raised by
The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that we need to consider all alternative methods in relation to disease control, which means looking into alternatives to large-scale culling of the kind that we witnessed. I expect that the inquiries that will take place will find that the strategy that was applied was probably the only strategy that would have brought the disease under control in this outbreak. But that does not mean that we should not think of alternatives, which would also be part of a contingency approach.
I do not dispute that we should have contingency plans, but I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman on the suggestion that foot and mouth disease is like flu to the animals affected. That is just not true. It has severe welfare consequences, particularly for pigs and cattle, and it is a horrible disease that may cause genuine suffering for those animals. Even in sheep, which do not show the symptoms as much as cattle and pigs, it can lead to severe mortality rates in young animals, and to spontaneous abortion. It can also leave the animals sickly and weakened. Foot and mouth is a farm animal welfare issue; it is a disease. We must take its control seriously for farm animal welfare reasons, let alone all the others.
On the new clause, of course it is important that we have contingency plans, but it is no surprise that the existing one is based on the Northumberland plan. That involved the most thorough review, although issues have changed and time has moved on.
It is wrong to suggest that the contingency plan was not exercised, because regular exercises did take place. Indeed, a regional office that was involved in an exercise rang round to check the availability of supplies needed to deal with a foot and mouth outbreak, which was a cause of the myth that the disease arrived in the country before it did. The exercise was part of keeping the contingency plan up to date and ensuring that people were familiar with it.
It is fair to say that the scale of the outbreak went beyond that for which the contingency plan was set up. There was no experience of such an outbreak in our country or, for that matter, in any other country, so there are serious issues to address. That forms part of the inquiries and there are lessons to be learned: we must introduce an amended and updated contingency plan, which brings me back to the point that the Bill gives us more flexibility and a wider range of options to include in a contingency proposal.
I accept that, these days, it is important for contingency plans to be put in the public domain and people should have the chance to comment on them. The existing contingency plan, which has been made public, as Mr. Ainsworth said, was designed to deal with operational issues. It did not deal with disease control policies, which are a different issue. That is a difference in respect of the contingency plan to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
I have no objection to pulling together the lessons that will emerge from the inquiries, making them public, having a public consultation, producing an updated and revised contingency plan and ensuring that there is public involvement, but we do not need to include all that in the Bill. The Phillips report charged the Government with ensuring that contingency plans are in place to meet a range of issues, and that is what we have done.
For example, a later contingency plan dealing with the risk of BSE in sheep has been published. I put it in the public domain and ensured that it was available for public comment, although it is unfortunate that the press jumped on the bits that they found most interesting and appeared not to have read the rest. Contingency plans need to be updated and reviewed regularly and it is reasonable that they are put in the public domain for comment, but I give the assurance that there is no need for the new clause.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you are aware, there is a well established convention of the House called the Sewel procedure, which has been exercised some 28 times in the two and a half years since the passage of the Scotland Act 1998. If the House intends to legislate on areas that were devolved under that Act, the Scottish Parliament has to have a debate on a so-called Sewel motion to transfer those areas to this place. Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 would have the effect of amending the Scotland Act 1998 and taking back to this place subjects that were devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Sewel procedure was introduced as a protection against anti-Scottish elements in this place reversing devolution.
The Tory party may say one thing in Scotland and something entirely different here. Can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, say whether the Scottish Parliament has exercised the Sewel motion? Has there been any communication or consultation with the Scottish Parliament, or are amendments Nos. 21 and 22 a back-stairs attempt to take away powers devolved under the Scotland Act?
We are not going to reach the amendments to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but will now move on to Third Reading.
Order for Third Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have had a detailed debate in Committee and on Report. I sometimes felt that it was not altogether focused and earlier thought that we had spent two hours on some other Bill, but all the principal issues have been covered nevertheless. Hon. Members have made some sensible, reasonable and constructive suggestions and comments.
Concerns have been raised about the timing of the Bill, but I repeat that the epidemic is not over yet. The Government are not complacent: we still think that the risks are comparatively high and, although they will diminish proportionately as time passes, we will not drop our guard. It is important that the Bill contain measures to increase the range of options available to fight disease, and to ensure that any option that is used is applied efficiently and without the undue delay that can allow disease to spread and jeopardise a great many people.
I recognise that there is a need for consultation on all aspects of the Bill, but it is not true that the consultation has been insufficient and rushed. For example, there has been extensive consultation about the part of the Bill dealing with scrapie. It was made clear in that consultation that the Government would bring forward compulsory measures at some stage, and that is what we are doing.
Also, we are engaging with the industry to sort out details of the time scale of the national scrapie plan. We very much welcome those negotiations, in which industry representatives have been very helpful and constructive, as they have all along.
In addition, I discussed the Bill with the foot and mouth disease stakeholders group set up by the Department, which used to meet every week at one stage of the outbreak. It includes representatives from every species organisation in this country, and everyone involved in the livestock sector is represented in the group. I was able to have a long discussion with the group about the Bill and its details, and I also had further discussions with industry organisations. Therefore, there has been a lot of consultation and discussion about the Bill.
The House might be interested to know that the stakeholder group has been so successful that the Government propose to retain it and to form it into an animal health group. That will mean that the livestock industry will be permanently involved in consultation with the Department on all issues of animal disease. The proposal has been very much welcomed by members of that group.
The Government also propose to be open and transparent in our implementation of the measures. In Committee, I gave a detailed commitment to bring forward wide-ranging consultation on key provisions in the Bill in the new year. My officials are working on that at present. That consultation will include the criteria governing the use of new slaughter powers and the implementation of the scrapie provisions that I mentioned earlier.
It has been suggested that we should wait for the results of the independent inquiries before introducing disease- control measures. However, I think that the matter is too important. I repeat that the Bill contains nothing that precludes the findings of the independent inquiries, or to suggest that the Government prefer one disease control measure over another.
I am anxious that we have as wide a range of options as possible. No one wants there to be culling on the scale evident in this epidemic, given all the associated problems that went with it. I repeat that I suspect that the inquiries will probably conclude that there was no other option but to deal with outbreak as we did—that is, by implementing the culling programme. However, new technology is on the horizon, and changes in the role of vaccination will give us a wider range of options.
I remind the House that the international conference will have to consider matters such as trade rules, as they place a restraint on vaccination. Again, the aim is to achieve as wide a range of options as possible.
I welcome the scrutiny that the Bill has had. It also received detailed pre-scrutiny by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which was a useful experience.
I agreed in Committee to consider a number of useful suggestions arising from amendments such as the time scale of the appeal period in which farmers can make representations about the disease risk assessment and the level of the adjusted compensation award. I intend to take those issues forward, along with points raised by my hon. Friends today. We might include those as part of our consultation on the implementation of the powers in the Bill. If appropriate, I am prepared to ensure that amendments are brought forward when the Bill reaches another place.
The Minister mentioned the Select Committee's scrutiny of the Bill. However, I think that he will accept that the Bill was put together and has gone through at a fair lick. The one legislative body that has not had the chance to scrutinise the Bill so far is the National Assembly for Wales. If it brings forward any amendments or suggestions between the Bill leaving this House and being debated in another place, will the Minister confirm that he will consider them and that he will involve the assembly in the consultation?
I will ensure that the National Assembly is involved in the consultation because it will be as wide as possible. We have been in close touch with our colleagues in the National Assembly in relation to putting the Bill together. However, I refute the point that the Bill has been rushed. We are still in a serious situation—the epidemic is not yet over. We need to consider that, and the sooner these measures are in place, I believe, the better it will be. We will arrange consultation on the aspects that I have mentioned as quickly as possible.
Much of the focus has been on slaughter, which is understandable. People are concerned about their animals being slaughtered. There are also the issues of pet farm animals and sanctuaries, which we want to address. If we are to use slaughter, whether as part of a wider strategy or on its own—the options are open—it must be done quickly and effectively. The quicker we do it, the fewer animals will be culled. Part of the reasoning is that if we are to use a culling policy, we should minimise it to minimise the number of animals affected.
I emphasise that the Bill is not just about powers to slaughter animals. We should get away from that idea. It also provides powers to enter premises for the purposes of testing, sampling or conducting a vaccination programme, should those options be appropriate. Some Members who have spoken are in favour of vaccination as an option; measures in the Bill strengthen the position on vaccination, so I hope that we will have their support.
We want to ensure that in the appeal process, sensitive issues such as pet farm animals are taken into account. However, the Bill does not take away the right of appeal on slaughter. People will still have the right to appeal to the divisional veterinary manager. It is my intention to publish the criteria on which that will be based. I intend to clarify the process with farming representatives and other interested groups during the consultation process in the new year.
I am surprised to see some reports suggesting that the Bill will give us powers to kill horses, dogs, cats, goldfish and hamsters. It will not. I made it very clear in Committee that the criteria in the Bill apply to susceptible animals. [Interruption.] We cannot kill anything we like. The position is defined in the Animal Health Act 1981 and it can only be changed by order. I cannot imagine circumstances in which it would be changed.
We are also taking a new approach to compensation on affected premises. I make no apologies for that. We have had a very good debate on it. I accept that only a minority of people are concerned, but I do not see why the rights of the majority should be put at risk because of the actions of a minority. The proposed measures are proportionate and balanced. We intend to take them forward.
The scrapie proposals have been generally welcomed. The vast majority of people in the sheep industry believe that scrapie eradication is a sensible and desirable objective. We want to bring that forward. We are obtaining good co-operation, and I have made it clear to the industry that the powers are enabling and that it is unlikely that the compulsory element in the national scrapie programme would be needed until some years down the line, as part of the agreed discussion on that plan.
I welcome the debate: in general, it was sensible and constructive—although perhaps rather long at times. We might have moved faster, although I certainly do not criticise the involvement of Opposition Members. However, I have a serious point to make. If they are still thinking of opposing the Bill, they should consider what they are opposing: the opportunity to bring in a range of options—including strengthening the vaccination option, and taking blood tests and samples. They will be undermining the rights of the majority who are put at risk by the actions of a minority. They will be undermining the Government's speed of action in response to such outbreaks. That response would reduce the number of culled animals—surely that is everyone's objective.
In a moment.
Hon. Members who oppose the Bill would also be opposing measures to impose sanctions against people who bring about deliberate infection. Opposition to the measure would mean opposing the introduction of the national scrapie plan. That eradication programme is good for consumers and for the sheep industry, and has been generally welcomed.
I cannot believe that the Opposition want to oppose all those objectives; nor can I believe that they have failed to realise that, during the Bill's proceedings, I have given a series of undertakings to address the reasonable concerns expressed by organisations outside the House. That will form part of a public consultation in the new year.
When the Bill is finalised, the current provisions of the Animal Health Act 1981 will be better, more transparent and flexible, and will take into account a wider range of circumstances.
I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to today's debates and to the Standing Committee: they deserve particular congratulations. I mention my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning and our esteemed colleague, the Whip, my hon. Friend Mrs. Gillan. For my hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) and for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), it was their first experience as members of a Standing Committee—[Hon. Members: "It did not show."] Indeed. They acquitted themselves with great distinction. Sadly, they have also learned that it is one thing to win the arguments, but another to win the vote.
Particular praise is due to my hon. Friend Mrs. Winterton on whom much of the responsibility for opposing the Bill has fallen. She led her team with her customary vigour and thoughtfulness.
When the Bill began, it was bad. We can welcome some of it, but all in all it was a bad Bill and it remains a bad Bill. It is greatly to be regretted that, despite all our debates, nothing substantial has happened to alter that.
Anxieties about the Bill have brought together some strange bedfellows. Throughout, although the Minister sounded conciliatory, he was in fact unyielding. For the most part, he brushed aside the objections of animal welfare groups, environmental bodies, veterinary surgeons, farmers' representatives and other outside bodies. In doing so he has reinforced the growing feeling that this is an arrogant Government who are intolerant of criticism, closed to other people's views and careless of civil liberties.
Throughout these proceedings we have tried to stand up for the rights of individuals and for fair treatment. We have sought to persuade the Government that many of the new powers that they seek in the Bill are unreasonable, unfair and illiberal. On every occasion, the Government have rejected our arguments. It is wrong in principle for the state to assume new powers without seeking to balance them with adequate rights of representation for ordinary citizens. That is the way of totalitarianism.
I have said before that written into the heart of the Bill is an assumption that farmers were to blame for the foot and mouth outbreak. That is the basic premise on which the Bill rests, and it is untrue. From that starting point, Ministers have proceeded to seek to justify overturning the normal burden of proof in the compensation arrangements, assuming powers to enter property and slaughter livestock as they see fit, denying adequate rights of appeal, and suborning to their will, under threat of imprisonment, anyone who happens to be around at the time, regardless of any moral, ethical, religious or physical objection. They have refused to acknowledge the inadequacy of their own scientific advice, the risk that their actions may have caused to biosecurity or the bungling incompetence of their own procedures.
Something is clearly very wrong when a Government decide to push through legislation under the heading, "animal health" and then ride roughshod over the concerns of vets. Any legislation demands for its effectiveness the compliance of the people on whom it has an impact; the Bill certainly demands the compliance of the veterinary profession. It might be thought that the Government would pause when a senior vet can publicly say:
"If this Bill is passed I will do everything in my power to stop the veterinary profession taking any part in its implementation."
When the president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons writes to a national newspaper to express the
"increasing level of serious concern" among its members on the grounds of ethics and the use of "unsupported scientific judgments", it might be thought that the Government would stop.
If the Government had carried out a proper consultation exercise, they would have had plenty of contact with the college and the Minister would be better informed, so the Government carry on. Laws only work by consent. Laws that do not command consent rely on coercion, and coercion, as well as being objectionable, does not work.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, in Committee, when I raised the moral dilemma of vets being asked to do something against their better judgment, the Minister replied:
"If they do not want to work for the Ministry, they do not have to. We are not dragooning vets against their principles."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E,
In other words, the veterinary principles did not matter.
My hon. Friend makes a very disturbing point, but it merely confirms what I have said—Ministers are riding roughshod over the opinions of professional people whose good will is needed if the Bill is to be in any way a success.
If the Government had taken the trouble to consult before rushing to legislate, many of the problems might have been avoided, but they are seeking to push through the Bill having consulted no one but their own advisers on large parts of it. If the Government had waited to hear the outcome of their own inquiries into the foot and mouth outbreak, they might have been able to produce more proportionate legislation. If the Government had decided to hold a full, independent public inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak and waited to legislate on the basis of its findings, they would have done the right thing.
The Prime Minister is shortly due to receive a petition signed by well over 100,000 people, demanding a public inquiry.
My hon. Friend says that there are 200,000 signatures. Organisations as diverse as the Countryside Alliance and Friends of the Earth have demanded such an inquiry. Conservatives have called for a full public inquiry into the origins and handling of the disease since March this year, but it is important to recognise that not only Conservatives have done so.
No, I do not have the time.
The public, national and regional newspapers and magazines, animal rights and environmental groups and farmers are all demanding a public inquiry. Even the Liberal Democrats are demanding a public inquiry and yet the Government have consistently set their face against such an inquiry. Why?
We are told that this is a listening Government. Why are the listening Government deaf to the demands for an independent public inquiry into the terrible impact of foot and mouth disease, which has cost the country billions of pounds, caused misery to families and businesses across the country, caused millions of healthy animals to be slaughtered and left a legacy of economic hardship that will take years to overcome?
What have the Government got to hide? Is the truth so very shameful? Just who is calling the shots? We know that, when asked about an independent inquiry on
"Unquestionably there will be one this time, to ascertain the cause and how it happened, and the way we can prevent it happening again. We will want to know how the disease got such a hold."
That perfectly decent and reasonable commitment was immediately repudiated by Downing street. Not for the first time, the Minister for the Environment was left hanging out to dry. What has the Prime Minister got to hide from a full public inquiry?
I am sorry, but I am not giving way.
The Government's refusal to hold an independent inquiry kicks away the last strut of respectability from the Bill. It is not only foolish, hasty, badly drafted, misdirected, excessive and offensive, but it lacks moral justification. If it becomes law, I have every reason to expect that it will quickly become the subject of at least one legal challenge.
We in this House can only hope that the Bill will be substantially amended in the upper House.
It has been a pleasure and an honour to serve on the Standing Committee and to listen to the arguments. I have no doubt that all the Committee's members have experience of representing constituencies where foot and mouth was a serious problem. It certainly was in my constituency of Monmouth, which can be said to be contiguous with the constituencies of my hon. Friend Diana Organ and Mr. Williams, who were also on the Committee. In fact, some farmers in my constituency believe that foot and mouth came from the hon. Gentleman's constituency and that of Mr. Keetch.
The Bill is an important emergency measure. There are times of crisis, such as BSE and foot and mouth, when the Government have to introduce emergency measures. It would have been wrong to wait for one or two years for inquiries to report and to make recommendations before the Government acted. We all hope and pray that there will not be another outbreak of foot and mouth in next few months but, if there were to be one, can one imagine the criticism that would be levelled if the Government had introduced no measures whatever following the outbreak of 2001 and if they did not have the opportunity to vaccinate and to pay compensation for vaccination?
There has been a strong debate in my constituency, but the local farmers who were most directly affected by foot and mouth believe that the culling policy, though distressing, was necessary. It was necessary to get ahead of the disease. They were frustrated at the delays that took place in other parts of the country. For example, farmers in my area criticised the delays that occurred nearby such as in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean.
Does my hon. Friend accept that, given the greater good of defeating the disease, the one or two objectors behaved in rather selfish manner in that they probably exacerbated the situation by allowing the disease to spread? We ended up with more animals being culled as a result of their selfishness.
My hon. Friend has represented her constituency very well on this matter. Concern was expressed in my constituency that the culling process was halted for one reason or another, including the delays caused by ministerial officials. Nobody can deny that. It was a catastrophic event that overwhelmed the whole country.
It is absolutely necessary to fill the legal loopholes in the Animal Health Act 1981. It is important that we will now have greater incentives to ensure that biosecurity measures are taken. It is to the great credit of the farming community that there has been no further outbreak for some time now. We were absolutely delighted when Wales was declared free of the disease last week. The meat export trade is resuming, and I hope that it will resume in my part of Wales as soon as possible.
We do not want to be overwhelmed by such an event again, but many lessons have to be learned. We must ensure that livestock travels shorter distances. I listened with interest to the contribution of my hon. Friend David Taylor about the long distances over which much livestock is transported. In south-east Wales we have no major abattoir facility, and much of the livestock in the area is transported unnecessarily long distances. I wish that the farming infrastructure in my area had received greater investment. We need to reopen and modernise our livestock markets and invest in abattoir capacity.
Does my hon. Friend recall that the running down of this country's abattoirs mostly occurred in the 10 years before the 1997 election? Closures have continued, but at a much slower rate.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. There has, however, been a further rundown in recent years, and we need to arrest that trend. We need to use bodies such as the Welsh Development Agency to invest in those areas. I wish that we could have objective 1 funding in Monmouthshire to ensure the provision of more abattoir capacity, but we are outside the objective 1 area, so we are unable to invest in the economic development of an industry that has suffered most in recent years. I would be the first to admit that my constituency is relatively affluent, but its farming community has suffered badly in recent years.
We need greater investment in meat processing facilities, and we need new livestock markets. There is great controversy in my constituency because Monmouth livestock market is fairly run down and does not have as much trade as it should have. Abergavenny market is in need of investment and there is a debate about the creation of a new, modern livestock market that will serve not only Monmouthshire but south-east Wales and beyond, over the border into England.
The Minister has conducted proceedings on the Bill in his usual expert way. Not every farmer in Monmouthshire will agree with his policies, any more than they agree with my approach on every aspect of agriculture, but there is no doubt that he is dedicated to farming. His tremendous expertise is acknowledged on both sides of the House.
May I put one point to my hon. Friend? Recently, I attended a meeting of farmers in my constituency in the Cross Ash area, which was very badly affected by foot and mouth. I thought that they might be a little hostile because of the events of the past few months, but they were quite welcoming and hoped that I would take up a particular cause about which they are concerned—the payment of slaughter premiums. Many were not paid the premium although they believe that they are entitled to it. I shall write to my hon. Friend on behalf of Mr. Probert, Mr. Williams, Mr. Sevenoaks and a number of other farmers in my constituency. I sincerely hope that he will be able to consider their case, which I believe to be very strong. I assure him that I will be very happy to talk about the matter in the Lobby tonight.
We are 26 minutes from the end of the proceedings on the Bill in this House. It is interesting that the Minister has consistently said that plenty of time and thoughtful discussion have been devoted to it, but the Committee debated only six of its clauses in six sittings and returned the Bill to the House completely unamended. It does not look like a Bill that has gone through effective consultation. That is particularly disappointing when one considers that, according to the reports that I have read and the accounts of my hon. Friend Mr. Breed, the atmosphere in the Committee was constructive and engaging. The Under-Secretary is a constructive and engaging Minister, but the fact remains that he has not accepted a single amendment or undertaken fully to introduce any amendments before the Bill completes its final stages.
The hon. Gentleman may have missed what I said about that. A number of issues came up in Committee, and I gave undertakings that I would consider the best way forward which, of course, involves taking advice and looking at legal aspects. I said that, if appropriate, certain provisions that we discussed in Committee which, I conceded, I was willing to look at, could be added to the Bill in another place. There is work to be done on that. We have consulted widely with a range of bodies. To be fair to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, although it has not approached me directly, it went to the Department to discuss the issues with the chief veterinary officer. It has not raised objections to the Bill.
I appreciate the Minister's intervention, which was characteristic of his style and, I am sure, is backed by many good intentions. However, at the end of the day, one can only judge the Bill on what it says when it completes its passage through the House. In January, we may be back here with a Bill that has been altered; the Minister will then be able to say, "I have been vindicated." However, until he has said that, he can hardly be surprised if we consistently take the view that the Bill is not acceptable in its present form and should be opposed. If our roles were reversed, I do not think that he would expect any opposition party to behave any differently at this stage and in these circumstances.
The Minister made specific mention of the scrapie provisions and we should be clear that, in fact, the Bill was supposed to deal with scrapie. There was agreement that the voluntary scrapie plan was not working fast enough and that legislation was needed. All parties in the House and all those trying to eliminate scrapie support that. Obviously, there are concerns about rare breeds and questions need to be asked, but that could have been dealt with amicably and constructively in Committee. In reality, reference to scrapie in the Bill consists of one line in the main body of the Bill and one schedule. The rest of the contents have been plucked from the air and that has given rise to contention. The fundamental problem is not the scrapie provisions, but all the other provisions.
The Minister said that he would consult. Here we are on Third Reading, and he is going to consult. We hoped that the consultation would have taken place first and helped to inform the shape and structure of the Bill. That is what consultation ought to do; it should not take place after the event. Although there has been constitutional adjustment in recent years so that Ministers' words in Hansard can be used in the legal interpretation of an Act, as the Minister well knows, the first thing that any court will look at is what the Act itself says; it is difficult to add the qualifications of Ministers unless the court interprets them as effectively part of the legislation. The Minister is reasonable and is behaving in a reasonable way, but his reasons for not accepting amendments may not be persuasive in the courts at the end of the day.
The Minister has not succeeded in persuading me or my colleagues of the emergency nature of the Bill. He kept saying—and it is obviously true—that we are not yet at the end of the foot and mouth outbreak. I would like to think that we are close to that. In Scotland and in Wales, technically, we are; in England we soon will be, we hope. Most of us believe that the possibility of a flare-up at this late stage is the Minister's only justification for forcing through the Bill in the time scale. However, there is not an overwhelmingly convincing argument for doing so. After all, southern Scotland was affected by foot and mouth, yet the Scottish Executive did not take DEFRA's view that emergency legislation was needed. I understand that the Scottish Executive will introduce legislation but, unlike DEFRA, will do so after they have consulted the farmers, not before. They will endeavour to take account of their experience and the views of farmers' organisations in Scotland before they introduce legislation in the Scottish Parliament. That approach is commendable and would have been much more acceptable to the House if it had been adopted by DEFRA.
With the end of the outbreak, we are looking for the re-establishment of export markets. I asked the Minister about that at Question Time today. Farmers in my part of Scotland and sheep farmers in other parts of the United Kingdom would like to think that getting those export markets back in the face of obstructive behaviour by France, which is a vital export market, was more important to Ministers than steamrollering the Bill through Parliament. Ministers should devote all their time and energy to a constructive commitment to farmers.
The Government have not amended the Bill at all, in spite of strong arguments well supported from various quarters. Those arguments were not party politically motivated, but motivated by a genuine concern to end confrontation between Government and farmers and to secure co-operation, so that together we can stop diseases occurring and spreading. To do that, the Government need everybody on side, not the threat of powerful criminal legislation and powers which, if executed, most people would find offensive and contrary to civil liberties. I am not convinced by the Government's claim that the Bill does not contravene the European convention on human rights.
On that basis, my colleagues and I will support other hon. Members who find the Bill unacceptable. We will vote against it, and we will not support it until it has been properly amended in another place.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We can all say how things should have been, but we would all be severely criticised by the farming community and the general public if, as a result of the horrendous outbreak during the spring and summer, we had taken no action to deal more effectively and speedily with another potential outbreak in the future. We still face a risk. If the disease flared up again into a major outbreak, heaven forfend, and we had taken no action, we would look extremely stupid—
Indeed. We recognised in the summer that speed and efficiency were essential in dealing with the outbreak. It is important that we have the ability to fight the disease. We had the worst-ever outbreak of foot and mouth and we need effective weapons to fight it. The Bill strengthens our options. Many felt that vaccination was an option that could have been deployed last time, but for various reasons it was not.
Widespread concern has been expressed about the Bill and its timing. As Mr. Ainsworth mentioned, many people have called for a public inquiry. I, too, have expressed my view that there should have been one. However, other public inquiries have taken years to report, in which case we might not have been able to enact the Bill for another five or six years, until the results of the inquiry had been published, whereas the Anderson inquiry will report within six months.
At the time of the last Conservative Government, when an even greater disaster on a grander scale in every sense occurred, does my hon. Friend recall whether there were calls from the Conservative party for a public inquiry?
The silence was a little deafening, and it was a case of double standards, as Mrs. Winterton said.
Concern has also been expressed about the scope of the Bill. Much of that concern is based on misinformation. My hon. Friend the Minister rightly said that the Bill does not apply to all animals, such as goldfish, guinea pigs, pot-bellied pigs, which I called pot-bellied sheep in Committee, cats, dogs or horses. It is clear that the Bill relates only to animals that are susceptible to foot and mouth and other animal diseases. There has been much misinformation about the scope of the Bill. In the same way, misinformation has been propagated about the appeals procedure and the right to judicial review.
I am afraid not. Mr. Ainsworth had little time to speak, and neither have I.
There has been a lot of misinformation about the Bill, which has caused concern that might not have been engendered if hon. Members on both sides of the House had been a little more honest.
The Government have taken the opportunity to listen during the scrutiny process. Many issues have been raised and my hon. Friend the Minister has responded very positively. I emphasise the key provisions on consultation, new protocols and new guidelines for vets, as well as new criteria on rights of appeal and on the slaughter power. I have two questions in that context. First, my hon. Friend said that the consultation would occur in the new year. Will he give us a tighter time scale on how long the consultation will last? Secondly, how do people other than stakeholders feed into that consultation? For instance, how do farmers in the Forest of Dean and others there who wanted to object fit in?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is worth saying for the record that it was she and other hon. Members who convinced me to introduce the protocol on which we will be consulting. Of course, we will put the information on the DEFRA website, contact hon. Members who have expressed an interest and make the consultation public to the local press.
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments.
My hon. Friend and the Government have been listening to the issues raised by my hon. Friend David Taylor about the transportation of animals and the maximum time of eight hours. We recognise that the issue of resubmission to market within 20 days, which also arose earlier, is not only an animal welfare matter, but one of the measures that we can put in place to fight disease. I think that we have made progress. The Government have been listening to concerns and looking at the way forward on making the Bill better, perhaps with the insertion of provisions in another place to strengthen it.
Admittedly, the Bill was considered for a short time in Committee, although I understand that no objection was made about having three days of sittings and that nobody called for further days. We gained from the pre-legislative scrutiny that was undertaken. This is a useful model that helps hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider the effects of legislation before it goes into Second Reading and Committee. I commend the process as a model that we can use in respect of other measures.
Obviously, all of us are looking forward to the reports of the three inquiries—especially that of Professor Anderson. The lessons to be learned from the devastating outbreak that occurred will be most important for all of us. I hope that the measures in the Bill, which may be amended in another place, are a means of answering the lessons that will identified and will help us to fight this terrible disease in future, so that we do not have to suffer again the misery, destruction and distress that we went through this summer.
I shall be brief, as I realise that other hon. Members want to contribute.
The Bill is disproportionate and will almost certainly be challenged under the European convention on human rights. I look forward to seeing it challenged in such a way. The Minister has taken unto himself in the Bill powers that he already has under the 1981 Act regarding the slaughter of diseased animals. He is putting on to the statute book additional powers for slaughter and powers that allow Department officials to come on to people's premises in respect of contiguous culls. I am not talking about animals that are clearly showing clinical signs of disease. I have no opposition at all to such animals being slaughtered out immediately and disposed of as quickly as possible, but the question of how a contiguous cull is identified and expedited is one of the big problems in terms of our experience during the past few months. It was in relation to the contiguous cull that the Government fouled up—and they did so in a big way.
People's rights—they had them until the Minister produced the Bill—should be respected. The measure is not about controlling animal disease. The Department uses computer modelling to identify the farms, but cannot even find them on an Ordnance Survey map. The Government need to sort out the mess before introducing measures that give the Minister additional powers.
Hon. Members from all parties have pointed out that the Minister is prepared to take the Bill through without accepting any amendments, even Labour amendments. In Committee, Labour Members tabled reasonable amendments and voted against them under duress. That is astonishing and nonsensical. The measure is not about animal health, but Government power. I hope that it will be challenged in the courts as soon as possible.
I shall be brief. We all agree that we cannot deal with a future outbreak of foot and mouth in the same way as we have tackled the current outbreak, especially in my constituency, which is in Cumbria and has suffered enormously. I feel tremendous sadness for farmers whose animals have been slaughtered and for those whose animals have not been culled but who have suffered all the associated pressures and stress, such as not being to able to move from their farms.
I agree with my hon. Friend Diana Organ, but I want to enlarge on her points. Prevention is a key element in the fight against foot and mouth. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we need continued vigilance and the tightest biosecurity. However, as I said earlier, we also need to ensure that security at our ports and airports is as tight as possible.
I support the Bill because it allows us to deal with the epidemic through a different approach, which may include vaccination. Several farmers in my constituency would view that favourably.
As Mr. Breed said, scrapie formed the basis of the Bill. That was discussed and debated at length in Committee, but not on Report. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider traceability and identification for sheep? Will he propose a scheme for that? If so, will he consider the superb model in my constituency? The successful British Cattle Movement Service deals with the traceability of cattle. I hope that my hon. Friend will examine it and use it as a model for the future.
I shall be brief. Farmers' incomes have fallen by 72 per cent. since 1975 and 40 per cent. of farmers are on family credit and working families tax credit. We have experienced the worst period in the history of agriculture and 5 million animals have been slaughtered. Yet the Government introduce a Bill that will force people not only to lose 25 per cent. of their compensation but to pay to appeal. The Bill will penalise farmers who practise proper biosecurity but will not punish those who deliberately infect. They will be allowed to keep 75 per cent. of their compensation.
This is a Bill of shame. The part relating to scrapie is based on extremely difficult science. Codon 136—which is involved in the testing for the valene codon—is extremely difficult to identify, and in 80 per cent. of the tests carried out on sheep in my constituency, the tests were incorrect. We have evidence for that. I hope that, when the Minister considers the time frame for the scrapie plan, he will consider the testing methods to be used. It is difficult to find anything good to say about such a punishing Bill. If there is one word that sums up my feelings, it is rage.
Diana Organ spoke of the dangers of hindsight. This is a remarkable Bill in that it is the first example of perfect foresight. It is perfect because not one amendment was deemed necessary during the passage of the Bill—because of the inadequate time that it has had in Committee and now on the Floor of the House. It demonstrates foresight because it comes before the Government's inquiries have produced what they think is necessary to control foot and mouth disease.
This is a first: 19 pages of legislative perfection. But it is just not true. The Bill is not needed; it contains nothing on the important issues about improving liaison with the Environment Agency and the Department of Health concerning disposal techniques. All that the Bill will do is make the contiguous cull easier. The contiguous cull is still a matter of deep controversy in the farming community in my constituency. I am thinking of Nicola and Andrew Morris, who have produced compelling evidence that 85 per cent. of the animals slaughtered in this epidemic had no symptoms of foot and mouth disease. We are making a controversial policy easier.
The Minister is introducing a Bill that is premature, draconian and unwanted. Yet again, this House is going to have to look to another place to do the real business of a democracy and improve a piece of legislation.
This was a poor Bill when it was first introduced. It remains a poor Bill as it is unamended, and it does not deserve support. The Minister has been emollient tonight on many issues, but it is not good enough to suggest that amendments may be tabled, or that undertakings may be given, in another place. This House is the representative body for England—and Wales, still. I may not agree with that, but it is. It is important that those amendments should come before this body so that we can discuss them here and with our constituents, whom we are here to represent.
The Government have taken a soft option with this Bill. They had difficulties with the contiguous cull, and with dealing with other aspects of foot and mouth. They have sought to legislate their way out of the situation—as is always their first instinct when they have difficulties—rather than discussing the way forward with the farming communities. The Department that could not get the difference between sheep's and cows' brains right, and could not map out Wales correctly in relation to the contiguous cull, does not deserve to hold these draconian powers.
Finally, it is a travesty that the Bill was introduced without discussion with the National Assembly for Wales. That flies in the face of the undertakings and the protocol that exist between the Government and the National Assembly. It is not right that the National Assembly did not know about the Bill until First Reading. I am talking about the Assembly rather than the Minister's friends in the Administration. It is important to underline the difference between the two. The Bill does not deserve the support of the House, and I hope that it will be voted down.
The powers in the Bill have been discussed a great deal. Every time the Minister hears something reasonable from the Opposition, he shakes his head. All we have to do is look at what section 32 of the Animal Health Act 1981 says about the animals that can be killed, and what section 87 says about the ways in which those animals can be defined and those powers can be extended. The Minister talks about the fact that that would require an order—big deal! That requires a rubber stamp and takes 90 minutes. The combination of sections 32 and 87 of the 1981 Act and this Bill will mean that the Minister can kill whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without giving any reason for doing so.
The second problem with the Bill, as my hon. Friend Mr. Wiggin says, is the question of compensation. The people in the farming community in this country are burning, and they are bleeding. Total income from farming has gone down from £5 billion five years ago to less than £2 billion. The income of the average farmer is £5,000 or less, and it is a disgrace that the Government are making farmers pay penalties, in many cases for the mistakes of the Department.
The third problem is human rights. The front page of the Bill says that the
"provisions of the Animal Health Bill are compatible with the Convention" on human rights. What a ludicrous statement! The Bill is plainly incompatible with article 6, which provides for the right to a fair trial, and with article 8, which provides for the right to respect for private and family life.
The fourth problem is illegal imports. The Minister said that he was minded to listen to us, but he would not accept our reasonable new clause, which required no more of him than simply to return to the House once a year to report what has been going on. He took absolutely no notice.
The problem is that the Bill's real agenda is to make legal what was done that was illegal, namely killing 5 million animals of which 4 million were healthy—