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New Clause

Orders of the Day — Animal Health Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 6th November 2002.

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Lords amendment: No. 13, after clause 4, to insert the following new clause—20-day livestock movement restriction rule—

XIn the 1981 Act the following subsection is inserted after section 8(1) (movement generally)—

X(1A)In making an order under subsection (1) restricting the movement of animals in connection with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, any restriction of 20 days or more shall lapse at the end of a period of 8 weeks following the last confirmed case.""

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 45 and Government amendments (a) and (b) thereto.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Bill is important. It deals with crucial animal health issues. In light of that, I am sorry that the Lords made the amendment. No one disputes the fact that there are serious problems of movement control and stock movement. However, I emphasise that the 20-day standstill rules are supported by firm scientific and veterinary advice and represent the Government's current best view of an appropriate precautionary peacetime control. The main purpose of the Lords amendment is to protect against future outbreaks, rather than deal with the aftermath of past ones. That is one of a number of reasons why we strongly disagree with the amendment, which seems to imply that movement controls should be applied only in the course of an epidemic. That is not the way that the Government see it and it is not the way that the independent reports see it. Furthermore, it is not the way that the majority of those in the livestock industry see it—they recognise that there is a sound argument for movement controls.

There is a legitimate debate about the extent of the controls and how they should be applied. In my experience, however, the vast majority of people in the livestock industry accept that there is a case for such controls as a routine measure to reduce the risk of disease.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

I agree that the Lords amendment is flawed in that respect, but there is a principle behind it. The Minister mentioned the need for movement controls and, in principle, I agree. Does he accept, however, that the present 20-day rule is a restriction, not just a control? It is an overhang from the previous foot and mouth outbreak. Will he take this opportunity to give advance notice to the farming industry of how he sees that control system working? We cannot have a restriction that is so deadly, in particular to stock rearing and to the sheep industry?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I sat down with industry representatives during the summer to talk about the implications of the 20-day rule. The hon. Gentleman is right to the extent that that rule was strictly applied during the epidemic as a disease-control measure. However, the way in which it is being applied at present reflects changes that I agreed with the industry—a range of relaxations have been put in place and we have tried to strike a balance between my recognition of the industry's concerns and the detrimental impact that the rule can have on them, which I and the Department try to take into account, and the need to reduce the risk of disease spreading.

A large percentage of the livestock industry can work within the rules that we have amended. Some sections of the industry may find it difficult to do so. We take those issues seriously. We want to examine them and we will do so in the light of the independent risk assessments, which will be published towards the end of the month. That will allow us to consider movement controls in time for the spring movement regime and to put whatever recommendations are made in place.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems with the controls and the way in which farmers see them is that, in practice, they seem leaky and contradictory? For example, I can buy sheep and put them in a field next to my neighbour's sheep, separated by a bit of wire fence, and I am stuck with them for 20 days, but he can sell his sheep on. Farmer Morley and Farmer Curry can take sheep to market and they can be in adjacent pens talking to each other. I can take Farmer Morley's sheep home but, because I have put them in quarantine, they are not caught by the 20-day rule. I cannot take my own sheep home without being caught by the rule. Those are the contradictions that bring the measure into disrepute. Those are the problems that the Minister has to solve if he is to get farmers to consent willingly to accept a measure that we all agree is necessary.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As always, the right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, although there is supposed to be a separation distance between the fields as part of the isolation conditions. I accept that there are anomalies that need to be addressed. It is a case of balancing the risk and of taking measures to reduce risk. Whatever the regime that is put in place, there are likely to be a few anomalies. We have to try to square those anomalies while achieving an adequate balance. The independent risk assessment from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency will help us to deal with that issue.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

The report makes it clear that if a 20-day movement rule had been in place when foot and mouth came to this country, the disease would have been confined to a tiny area. There were only a few cases of airborne infection; the rest resulted from animal movements. There are about half a dozen deadly diseases that could come into the country at any moment. It would be too late to impose a movement ban once they had done so; we must have the ban in place now.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is right. If we had had the 20-day rule in place when the incident took place in Heddon-on-the-Wall—the outbreak in the pigs there and the fact that it was not reported—the disease still would have spread, because of the two-week delay, but the consequences would not have been anywhere near as bad as they were as a result of the huge movement of sheep that took place. It is a question of trying to reduce the chances of that happening.

There has to be some sort of movement control. The principle is not hugely controversial. A minority will always want to return to the situation before FMD. I have made clear that that is not an option. We are not going back to the situation before FMD. Many of the measures in the Bill—vaccination, compensation and a range of other issues—are a recognition that, after FMD, the situation has changed for ever and that we must try to minimise the impact of dreadful epidemics. I am not talking only about foot and mouth: we must be on our guard against other exotic diseases. The control of animal movements is one of the tools in our armoury. We must accept that.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

The Minister is elaborating on the thoughts behind the present movement restrictions. Does he accept, nevertheless, that the millions of animal movements that took place prior to the outbreak were perfectly legal and reflected the market livestock at the time. There may be flaws in that market. Many of us want a market that is much closer to home—that will minimise the transport of meat, whether live or on the hoof. Nevertheless, that market was legal. If it is his view and that of the Curry report that we have to open up markets for farmers—if farmers are going to have to be more commercial, to sell their produce more directly—that must be squared with the right of farmers to move their livestock and get the best value out of it.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman—the vast majority of those movements were legal and no criticism should be made of the people who were moving livestock because it was their legal right and they were not breaking any laws. On the periphery, there were concerns about traceability and out-of-ring sales—wider issues that need to be tackled. I am glad to say that we were successful in obtaining funding, in our bid in the 2002 spending review, to develop more sophisticated traceability and sheep-tagging systems. We want to move to electronic tagging and to develop that in conjunction with the industry. There is much support in the industry for that as well as for improving traceability. Those are all issues to which we must apply ourselves. That does not get us away from the fact, however, that the lessons learned inquiry recommended that the 20-day standstill should be retained while a wide-ranging cost-benefit analysis and a risk assessment was carried out, and that is what we are doing.

I find it puzzling that although the other place suspended progress on this Bill to allow consideration of the independent reports, it ignored one of the key recommendations in the reports—the stop on movement. I emphasise that we are applying the 20-day standstill with variations and exceptions to recognise the needs of the industry, as an interim measure until we have the risk assessment and the cost-benefit analysis. When we have those, we will reconsider the issue and decide what is most appropriate in terms of risk of disease, taking into account the impact on the industry. We must presuppose, however, that there will still be a standstill period.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Will the Minister spell out the timetables for the assessment and the possible responses? As he said, people understand that it is important to make sure there is no recurrence of the disease, and that it is important to deal with the conditions that may have contributed to the spread of the disease. However, the hon. Gentleman will equally appreciate that the movement of livestock is an integral part, especially of upland farming and breeding. If people feel that there is a programme of evaluation followed by policy responses, I am sure that they will accept circumstances more willingly than if they think they are just knocking their head against a back wall, while the sheep are sucking the pebbles dry.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I understand that point. I can give an assurance that we expect the risk assessment and the evaluations towards the end of this month. We will then hold public consultation on that, and consultation on any potential changes or recommendations that flow from that. I can also give an assurance that, whatever regime is put in place, the intention is to have it agreed in time for the spring movements in early spring next year. That is a clear timetable, which takes account of the needs of the livestock industry.

As I said, I am surprised that Members in the other place have pre-empted the studies that are still going on and have gone against veterinary advice about the minimum proportionate movement restrictions. They have passed primary legislation which requires that a 20-day standstill would have to lapse eight weeks after the last confirmed case of an outbreak. Even if I thought that the measure was serious and proportionate—I appreciate that it gives an opportunity for a debate on the 20-day rule, and I understand why people may want to discuss that—the eight-week period does not make much sense to me. Eight weeks is not very long after the last known outbreak of a major epidemic. There could well be further risks, which could last beyond eight weeks. It is an arbitrary cut-off point, which we cannot accept.

I accept on behalf of the Government that there need to be strict controls on movements during the outbreak, and that those will be different afterwards. I accept the reasoning behind that, and it is what we have done through the range of exceptions from the 20-day rule that have been progressively introduced during the year, which have relaxed the controls. Some veterinary advisers feel strongly that we have gone too far. Again, it is a question of balance, recognising and responding to the legitimate concerns and needs of the livestock industry, while following the best veterinary advice and minimising risk. We are reviewing the rules.

I agree with Mr. Thomas that the amendment is not serious and does not belong to the Bill. It is certainly a vehicle for discussing the 20-day rule and we have no objection to debating the issues, because they are serious. However, the amendment is flawed and I ask the House to reject it.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I start by acknowledging that the Minister has made it clear that sensible people believe that in the case of a crisis such as the one that we endured during the foot and mouth epidemic, movement must be restricted. He is right to say that, with the exception of a very few people, the entire House and the whole industry would acknowledge that. The issue is for how long movement should be restricted.

The 20-day rule was imposed to deal with what the Secretary of State described during her statement as the horror and tragedy of foot and mouth and with the problems that movement would have caused by exacerbating that crisis. The logic was that by preventing livestock from leaving a holding for 20 days after new animals had arrived on it, the disease would be confined to an individual farm, so the rule became part of the interim foot and mouth arrangements.

Some 10 months after the last confirmed case, the industry recognises that the need for the rule must be debated again. We should not underestimate the effect that it is having on the livestock industry. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will have heard from farmers in their constituencies who are suffering because of the continuing imposition of the 20-day rule. The Minister said—revealingly, I thought—that had the 20-day rule been in place before the outbreak, its spread would not have been so great. That is a self-evident truth, but from that we surely cannot make the judgment that we should have as an on-going precaution for all time a 20-day rule, just in case there is an outbreak of foot and mouth or any of the other diseases to which it might apply.

A restriction on movement cannot be a permanent precaution; it can only be a reaction to a problem that may arise when we hear about a confirmed case or outbreak of a significant disease. I would be very worried if the Minister were considering the imposition of such a rule as a permanent precaution against possible outbreaks. Perhaps he will intervene to reassure me.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:45 pm, 6th November 2002

I make it very clear that we are indeed considering permanent movement restrictions. Such restrictions are designed to deal not just with an epidemic, but with future animal disease risk. I do not think that the majority of the agriculture industry is against the idea of movement restrictions. People want to discuss measures that they consider to be proportionate and effective, and which take account of the other points that have been raised. I must make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the Bill is about reducing risk for the future and protecting our livestock industry, following advice from our chief veterinary officer, our chief scientist and two independent inquiries. Is the hon. Gentleman saying, on behalf of the Conservative party, that he would ignore the advice from those bodies?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

What I am saying on behalf of the Conservative party is that if the 20-day rule in its current form was allowed to continue in perpetuity—

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am glad that the Minister is not saying that. If the rule were allowed to continue in that form, the British livestock industry would be decimated. That is the simple fact of the matter. If the Minister does not believe me, perhaps he will listen to the National Farmers Union.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I shall quote from the NFU. I am sure that that will inform and inspire the hon. Gentleman's intervention and make it even more incisive and cogent than his interventions usually are.

The NFU states—I am sure that this reflects the views of farmers with whom I have dealt around the country, and I am sure that it reflects the opinions expressed in the Minister's communications with farmers:

XThe 20-day rule, which in nearly all cases restricts the movements of any of the animals on a farm once some animals have been brought on to the farm, is causing considerable practical difficulties for many farmers. Particular problems in the production of sheep are being experienced, given their natural breeding cycle. The unnecessary complexities of the restrictions and the adverse effects they are having on the running of farm businesses are profound."

As I said at the outset, I do not pretend that we do not have to consider movement restrictions. We need a sensible balance. The Secretary of State said earlier that there must be a proportionate level of control and a balance between costs on industry and necessary precautions. Most of us would accept that.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

The NFU is, not unexpectedly, as conservative as ever and refuses to accept change where change is essential. If the 20-day rule becomes permanent, why does not the hon. Gentleman encourage non-contact ways of marketing animals, which worked successfully during the foot and mouth epidemic? I refer to marketing through direct sales, video links and the internet, which not only reduces the risk of infection but reduces the suffering of animals by reducing the number of journeys.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is a good point, but it would require massive change in the livestock industry. The hon. Gentleman is right that some change is taking place. There are new and more innovative ways of trading, but the idea that that could be switched on like a tap, and that suddenly the livestock industry can change the habits not just of a lifetime but of generations, many of which are embedded in local culture and local business practice, is fanciful. He is right to suggest that we should aim at such additional means of selling products. However, it will not happen tomorrow, and unless we do something quickly to ease the burden that the 20-day rule is placing on the industry, there will be much less of an industry to regulate. He would not want that to happen any more than I would; I know that he is a generous and intelligent man who shares many of my perspectives on these issues. He is right that we need to consider more innovative ways of dealing with these matters, but they cannot be used immediately, although we are faced now with a significant problem in the livestock industry, as is reflected in the comments of the NFU.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Perhaps he can defend the NFU from the brickbats that have been travelling in its direction from Newport. I remind him of what the NFU said about the movement scheme:

XWe have urged the development and introduction of a new permanent control regime to be introduced as early as possible."

That is the NFU's view.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I said, there is widespread consensus about the need to be moderate and practical in these matters, but that consensus must strike the very balance that the Secretary of State identified in her statement between sensible precaution and the costs and burdens imposed on the industry. My suggestion to the House, which is reflected in the Lords amendments, is that that burden is currently falling too heavily on the industry.

We have heard once again from the Minister that a detailed cost-benefit and risk-assessment analysis will be considered. We are aware of that, although it is not likely to be implemented until February. I understand from him and the Secretary of State that we are likely to know more about that later this month. That is good and healthy, but it will not please the industry or impress those who are currently struggling to maintain businesses, many of which are on the very edge commercially. We should not view this matter outside the context of the overall problems that farmers face. I do not need to remind the Minister or the House of how profound those difficulties are, especially in the less-favoured areas and among sheep farmers and some of the people represented by the hon. Members who are present in the Chamber. Those people will not receive well a conclusion to the deliberations that does not recognise that the existing regime is too punitive, costly, regulatory and burdensome for them.

I should like to refer to a matter that has not been aired in detail so far this evening, although it may be as we continue. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Curry said, in many cases the rigidity of the 20-day rule is encouraging abuse. Farmers face an unpalatable choice between breaking the 20-day rule and going out of business. That is not an acceptable choice for us as responsible Members of this House to impose on the industry.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I concur with the hon. Gentleman. In answer to a written question, I was told that trading standards authorities have identified almost 2,000 cases of abuse. Of course, those involved in trading standards are themselves under pressure, so I suspect that there are more such cases. The crux of the matter is the need to separate the work of farmers from that of dealers. I have asked for that to happen throughout; if only it could be done. I know that some farmers are dealers, but not all dealers are farmers. Let us deal with the real problem. That is where the industry is at fault: it has failed to realise that the fault lay with those dealers who drove animals around the system spreading the disease and would do the same again, unless we do something about it. What does he have to say about that problem?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am reminded of the comments made by Countess Mar in the other place, where she made a similar suggestion to that of the hon. Gentleman. I think that she used the phrase Xwheeler dealers" in referring to people with small pockets of land all over the place, whose regard for biosecurity is at best limited. He is right that we must recognise that, as well as the vast majority of dealers and farmers who are responsible, straightforward and honourable business men, there are always people who will try to get around the law and breach it to their advantage. We need to be mindful of that, as any responsible Government would be.

When I speak of breaking the 20-day rule, however, I am speaking not especially about that minority, but about the perfectly reasonable and sensible farmers who are now obliged against their instincts and judgment to face up to either going out of business or breaking that rule. That is a matter of profound concern. Countess Mar—I remind the House that she is a Cross Bencher and not a Conservative peer—also said:

XThere is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the 20-day standstill rule is being flouted, simply because it is unreasonable, unworkable and unenforceable."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 22 October 2002; Vol. 639, c. 1223.]

I say to the Minister that, when that proper, independent study on cost benefit and risk assessment has been published, the resulting Government action must be based on those three factors; it must be reasonable, workable and enforceable. It must be bought by the industry.

It is perhaps worth saying at this juncture that this whole debate has to be founded on the basis of a partnership between the industry and the Government. If we do not have such partnership when something as catastrophic as foot and mouth disease occurs, our job in controlling, containing and dealing with it will be all the more difficult. The Americans formed a national strategy—we will debate this matter later, so I will not test your patience too much, Mr. Deputy Speaker—to deal with such problems that is very much rooted in the sort of partnership-based and collaborative approach to which I referred. In a sense, the 20-day rule is relevant to those matters, as it is emblematic of the tensions that they involve.

The Minister always speaks with authority, knowledge and conviction about these matters, but I disagree with him that we are examining an aspect of the Lords' consideration that is somehow exceptional. The 20-day rule is intrinsically linked to biosecurity, which we will debate in due course. However, I think that the separation of the 20-day rule and movement from biosecurity is rather artificial. I shall put it no more strongly than that. The issue needs to be seen as part of an integrated strategy to deal with the problems. If we had had a more cohesive and integrated strategy, it may well be that we could have handled foot and mouth more effectively. While Anderson certainly makes the point to which the Minister drew attention in respect of the 20-day rule, he also rightly expresses significant concern about the cohesiveness, coherence and integration of the strategy. Ministers should now acknowledge those concerns and I hope that they will bear them in mind in developing their national strategy.

For me, that issue is at the very heart of the tension that I believe underlies the matters before us. The Lords have got it right in wanting to be more flexible in respect of the 20-day rule. In that respect, I draw the attention of the House to the situation in Scotland. Hon. Members will know that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon pointed out about a week ago when we debated agricultural matters, the 20-day rule is applied much more flexibly in Scotland.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The process by which one can obtain an exception in Scotland is more flexible. Incidentally, the Minister will be aware of the worry that, when we draw up a national contingency plan, there may be some need to make the Scottish experience rather less flexible in order to deliver a degree of consistency. Clearly, cross-border trade has to be taken into account in that regard. The border does not necessarily prevent animals from being moved across from England to Scotland, so there are issues of consistency involved in the traffic of livestock.

The important thing is that the Scottish experience shows that exceptions can be implemented without significant risk. There is not much evidence that those risks have caused problems. The question must therefore be asked: if that can be done in Scotland, why can it not be done in England? Lord Plumb made that point when these matters were debated in the other place.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater 7:00 pm, 6th November 2002

My family farms in the borders of Scotland, and all our cattle go over the border to Berwick-upon-Tweed. We now find that much more difficult to arrange because of the difference between the two countries. We are only four miles over an open border. In fact, our land runs up to the border, so if the cattle get through the fence, they go into England. The whole position is, therefore, ambiguous, because if we want to get them back, we have to go through another system. Does that help my hon. Friend?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend speaks with the perspicacity and incisiveness for which he has become well known in the time that he has been here. He makes precisely the point that I was making about the need for a consistent policy across the two countries, given that normal business practice means that livestock will be transported between the two.

It is worth saying a bit about the Scottish experience, because it is relevant to the amendments. Subject to the agreement of the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Department, farmers can get a separation authorisation for any animal. Their premises are not checked when the licence is issued, but there are spot checks, which represent a significant deterrent to those who might not be following the rules as carefully as they should be. The separation authorisation means that when brought-on animals are held separately from other animals on the farm, the 20-day standstill will apply only to those animals and not to any others. Additionally, when a farmer identifies animals to be moved off his farm and holds them separately from animals that have been brought on and mixed with other animals, those animals to be moved off will not be subject to the 20-day standstill.

Those are important differences between Scotland and England, because they afford the flexibility that allows trading and dealing. Although I acknowledge the point made by Mr. Drew that not all dealers are farmers, many farmers are dealers. I was in conversation with one such person in Nottinghamshire last week, who did precisely what my hon. Friend Mr. Liddell-Grainger does, in moving animals between Scotland and England. He emphasised the difficulties that the inconsistency and the inflexibility of the 20-day rule caused for his business.

It is important for us to learn from that experience. The Minister will know that, in England, it is possible to get such an exception only for individually identified breeding rams and bulls bought at market, or sale bulls and rams returning unsold from a market or sale, which are isolated. There is room for manoeuvre here by the Government. The House of Lords has identified that fact, in looking studiously and carefully at the matter. Some flexibility in the application of the quite proper restrictions on movement that the Minister has identified—the need for which responsible Members will acknowledge in the light of the crisis—needs to be taken into consideration. For that reason, I am sympathetic with the Lords, and—I know that this will come as a great blow to him—less sympathetic with the Minister.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I do not want to speak for long on this matter, but this is the crux of how we proceed with the Bill. As someone who suffered, along with others, on the Bill when it was going through the Commons, I wonder whether I am experiencing déjà-vu, given that we started a year ago. Never let it be said that legislation is rapid in this place. Sometimes it is helpful to have the benefit of hindsight, and we now have the benefit of the hindsight of the Follett and Anderson reports. It needs to be put on record that those reports were, to a large extent, supportive of much of what the Government were trying to do.

I think that there is room for compromise here, although my hon. Friend the Minister has said that, until we get the results of the cost-benefit analysis, the 20-day rule will remain in place. Inevitably, that will need to be reconsidered regularly. We can look at the causes of the foot and mouth outbreak and at who was to blame, but what made it such a major outbreak was that the animal movements had an effect similar to pouring petrol on a fire. They completely took away any ability to control the disease.

My worry is that, unless we acknowledge two fundamental features of what went wrong and do something about them, that could happen again. As my hon. Friend Paul Flynn said, it might not be foot and mouth next time; it could be blue tongue. Questions have also been asked about bovine tuberculosis. We face an epidemic of that in my part of the world, and I want to make a connection between those diseases, because the issues are not completely separate.

There are two matters to which I want to draw the attention of the House. First, there were people who were either acting illegally or, at best, recklessly—as they had been doing day in, day out—because of the way in which the process encouraged them to perform their duties. I referred to dealers earlier. I used that as a fairly pejorative term, but I would not insult everyone by using it. What went wrong in relation to animal movements was that the dealers were driving the process rather than responding to it. I am not talking about a person who deals with 20 or 30 animals; I am talking about people who deal with thousands of animals.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the dealers driving the process. I know what he is trying to say, but it is surely the supermarkets that are driving it. On the whole, the dealers are responding to a supermarket-set agenda when it comes to beef and sheep meat.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, in that we have to acknowledge that the operation of the food chain is too centralised. I have long argued that we need to re-localise it, but people say that that option has now gone away from us and that we have to be realistic and realise that the chain is now fundamentally different.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

Does my hon. Friend think it false of the Opposition to blame the Government and the supermarkets for all the problems of the farming industry? Is it not true, as my hon. Friend Mrs. Lawrence said, that one group of animals bought by a farmer just before the foot and mouth epidemic was discovered, to his horror, to have been on 11 different holdings in the previous three months? That was all about fraud, and about maximising the number of payments made for those animals. That practice for sheep—bed and breakfasting, as it is called—was rife in the industry, and the 20-day rule is the answer to the problem.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I cannot speak with the same knowledge as my hon. Friend, although I have made allegations about my own area. Farmers there have been very clear with me about where some of the blame—we are talking about a minority of people—needs to be laid in relation to the dreadful legacy of foot and mouth.

My second point relates to that matter. We have created a monster that has now come back to haunt us, in that the subsidy regime encourages the movement of animals in a foolhardy way. At the moment, we have not dealt with that. We have to deal with the fact that people make money by operating this process—whether at the behest of the supermarkets or because of what the industry has become—and that they are being encouraged to do so by the subsidy regime, through bed and breakfasting or through the way in which the common agricultural policy encourages animal movements.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument. He has described farmers as reckless for moving sheep—those are his words—but now he suggests that the blame lies not with the farmers, but with the subsidy-driven system and the rules under which farming is governed, which contain loopholes that encourage people to benefit from sheep movements. Unfortunately, he cannot have it both ways. Not for one second do I believe that people who are moving sheep around the country are reckless; they are living with market forces. Does he really think that the Government cannot control how subsidies are paid, except through this Bill?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I am not saying that at all, and the hon. Gentleman is doing my argument a disservice. In the main, I would call the people involved dealers, although some farmers are dealers, and the recklessness relates to the number of times that the animals are moved. I am also arguing that people are encouraged to do this by the subsidy regime that has been put in place. I would remove that subsidy regime tomorrow, but, unfortunately, that would have to go through European negotiations. Clearly, other parts of Europe undertake such movements more successfully in that they have not encountered the same number of breakdowns as us. However, they should learn from our mistakes, which is why, in essence, we need restrictions until we have dealt with that problem.

What is wrong with the amendment from the other place? I could understand the point of it if it provided some discretion, but it would allow a time scale of only eight weeks, come what may. To me, that would be the most unrestrictive restriction possible.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

I am puzzling over the allegation that, somehow, the subsidy system prompts movements; I am having difficulty following it. I realise that hill farmers and sheep farmers receive an area payment and that there is a sheep annual premium payment, but I do not understand how that encourages them to move animals about.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

It depends on how the animals are counted and who counts them. We know that in certain parts of Europe—between the Republic and Northern Ireland, for example—sheep are moved to derive the benefits of subsidy. The figures may be exaggerated, but anyone who knows anything about that part of the world knows that it is notorious for such exploitation. The figures for the mainland may also be exaggerated, but the people I talk to lead me to believe that they are not. Some people make a living in this way, although I would much prefer that not to be the case. That is why I say that, until we can deal with the problem, we must be able to put restrictions in place.

I speak rather a lot about bovine TB, because it is an ever-present worry in my constituency. The linkage occurs, I am led to believe, inasmuch as some work that the expert group is undertaking is considering cattle-to-cattle transfer, which also depends entirely on how regularly cattle are moved, who buys them and which parts of the country they go to. Unless we acknowledge that we must have some restrictions in place, the worry will be not just foot and mouth, but other diseases that we must also face up to. There is room for compromise here. We need a more realistic figure, as eight weeks is unrealistic.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr 7:15 pm, 6th November 2002

The hon. Gentleman is very generous in giving way. I tend to agree about the eight weeks and the drafting of the Lords amendment is unfortunate, but should not the Government introduce a compromise solution? I am sure he agrees that continuing a 20-day rule long into the future will render livestock farming in upland areas virtually unviable.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I agree. If I read what the Minister said correctly and given that the Government are trying to base their response on science, they are taking particular account of the Follett report, although they have also taken account of the Anderson report, which considered the practicalities. The Minister will no doubt come back on the point, but clearly he will consider the cost-benefit analysis, which will be principally a scientific evaluation. If and when it is possible to change the 20-day rule, let us change it, because it is causing my farmers some grief, although not to the extent of that faced by farmers in upland areas, even though such grief is part and parcel of how they earn their living.

I reiterate that we must keep learning from what went wrong until we can deal with the adverse consequences and we must have those protections in place. It may not be foot and mouth next time, but it could be something else. We must protect the people whom we want to keep in farming. They understand all that, even though they are finding it very hard in the short run.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

First, I draw the House's attention to my entries in the Register of Members' Interests involving livestock farming. It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Drew, who was a fellow sufferer on the Standing Committee a long, long time ago, as well as a thoughtful and open-minded person about agriculture.

The Minister said that it is a great pity that the amendment was passed by the other place, but he will accept that it represents recognition of the despair and despondency in the livestock industry resulting from the continuing imposition of the 20-day rule. It is more than a year since the last confirmed case of foot and mouth and nearly a year since Britain was declared free of the disease, so farmers are concerned that we still have one of the most rigorous forms of control that they have ever experienced. They are concerned not just because such control causes them difficulty in running their businesses, but because the evidence on which the rule was imposed has never been made clear to them.

The Minister referred to evidence from the chief veterinary officer and other scientific advisers, but farmers always complain to me that there is no logic or rationale behind the 20-day rule, except, of course—we all understand this—that reducing the number of animal movements reduces the chance of disease being spread. Everybody accepts that and the fact that we cannot return to pre-foot and mouth times. There will be regulations and some form of control. As has been said, the NFU also accepts that.

Such is the absolute despair of farmers, particularly in the area that I represent, that 200 of them met one night last week in Brecon market and decided to travel down to the National Assembly the next day for a symbolic burning of licence forms and applications. Quite honestly, those farmers have plenty to do, so that is an example of the exasperation that they feel over the controls. They believe that there is a disproportionate burden on the livestock industry, because the risk lies not in the industry—this is foot and mouth-clear country—but at the point of entry at ports and airports.–[Interruption.] The Minister disagrees, although I am grateful for today's announcement by the Secretary of State that the Government will reconsider how responsibility is exercised by Customs and Excise. One authority would certainly achieve greater co-operation over intelligence to be used at such points of entry. Farmers still believe that the controls are disproportionate. That, for them, is the crux of the issue.

The hon. Member for Stroud talked about dealers. It seems to me that the main burden of such regulation is falling on farmers. Dealers often run large and sophisticated businesses. They operate from a number of locations and sites, and they also have a number of holding areas, so they can circumvent the 20-day rule without breaking it. The rule has little effect on their operation, although it has great effect on the family farmer. I shall give examples of how family farmers have found it difficult to operate.

Last weekend, I was approached by two constituents. J.W. Hammond and Sons is a farming business in my constituency, run by a man with his two sons and their families. They operate from a number of farms, but they have a well-integrated and sustainable method of production: they produce hardy ewes on one farm, and the lambs and breeding ewes are passed to other farms. DEFRA has told them that they must have only one holding, which means that when they buy stock for a farm that is 15 miles away from another they cannot move that stock. Because they have accepted DEFRA's advice, it is impossible for them to continue a well-thought-out and efficient operation that produces good stock. Unless the 20-day rule is changed, they will be unable to continue.

I was approached by another young farmer who had just taken on a tenancy. We want to encourage people like him to join an industry in which I think the average age is well into the fifties. He told me that because he had been unable to move 20 cattle, he would lose an extensification premium that was a key part of his cash flow and the profitability of his farm.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

I, too, could give examples from my constituency illustrating the problem of the 20-day rule, but there is a further confusion in Wales. It has been announced today that there will be a review in February, but the hon. Gentleman's colleague, Mike German, announced that it would take place in Wales in January. Does that suggest that Mr. German does not have a grip on the situation, or that he needs more time to fill in his credit card slips?

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

I do not accept either suggestion, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for leading me to my next point.

Farmers are fed up because it is going to take so long to complete the risk assessment and the cost-benefit analysis. We are told that the preliminary results will be produced in November, and that there may be some relaxation and modification of the restriction in February. It appears that the full results will not be known until June. Many vets have suggested to me that the process could be accelerated. Does the Minister think there is any way of putting the results in the public domain more quickly, allowing us to conduct a thorough study?

I took a number of farmers on a delegation to meet Lord Whitty, but I also took the head of animal movements from Powys county council's trading standards department. He told Lord Whitty that any restriction of movements must be one with which farmers could comply, otherwise the whole arrangement would be brought into disrepute. We have been told that a number of people have directly abused the system. Many farmers have told me, almost in confessional mode, that they believe they have broken the regulations, but because those regulations are so complex they do not understand what is required of them. I ask the Minister to speed up the process and produce clear guidelines allowing farmers to continue their business.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

What unites us is a desire to avoid the dreadful human and animal suffering that took place during the foot and mouth epidemic, but the Government must stand firm. The recommendation of the best scientists, of the Royal Society and the Anderson report, was not for a 20-day but for a 28-day standstill, because that represents the incubation period of the disease. The Government have already been conciliatory. They have made a compromise in that instance, and in a number of others.

Let us look at the risks. No one dreamt up the threat of blue tongue virus; it is spread by vectors, but it is a deadly disease that could destroy a third of our livestock, as it has elsewhere.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

I know that the hon. Gentleman is an expert on blue tongue disease, but has it not been absent from Wales since 1997, when Wales last had a Conservative Member of Parliament?

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

The disease is certainly alien to our shores. Conservative Members are similarly alien to Wales, and long may that last. But we are now being warned that because of climatic and other changes, blue tongue virus is a serious threat. There are other diseases too, such as vesicular stomatitis, which is similar to foot and mouth, and there is the possibility of vesicular swine fever. The threat is real, and is not being exaggerated.

Nevertheless, the farming industry should know that we are looking at the reality of the spread of foot and mouth. I know that the Opposition parties are wedded to the idea that it was all the Government's fault, but they should look at the map showing movements all over the country before the disease was detected. We can see the spread from the far north to Devon, and from the east to Wales. That is why we had a problem that was not experienced in Uruguay, in the Netherlands, in Ireland or in France. In fact, the outbreak in Ireland was caused by the illegal import of an animal to Northern Ireland.

It cannot be ignored that all sorts of people—people in the farming industry, for instance, and civil servants—turned a blind eye to illegal movements by those wishing to increase the number of claims for subsidies.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

What the hon. Gentleman is describing constitutes fraud. If it was fraud, it should be investigated by the police. The 20-day rule does not help when people are behaving illegally.

Will the hon. Gentleman at least accept that the disease was able to spread so quickly because it had been introduced into the country in the first place? Will he accept that our primary responsibility must be to prevent it from coming in, and to adopt bio-preventive measures to ensure that the spread is contained if it does ever come in?

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

It was fraud, but both Governments turned a blind eye on the pretext that it had happened elsewhere in Europe and they could see no reason why there should not be a multiplication of subsidies here. As for stopping the disease at source, I am afraid that that is another myth. It came here because one farmer did not pre-heat the swill he was using; if he had followed proper advice, he would not have used the swill anyway.

It is also absurd to think that we can build a wall around the country and keep out any contraband. Despite the heroic efforts of Customs and Excise, billions of cigarettes and thousands of gallons of alcohol are smuggled in, as well as a huge amount of illegal drugs. There is no way of ensuring that the country can remain free of illegal or bad meat.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

I spent several hours with Customs and Excise in Dover yesterday. In fact, it has reduced illegal tobacco imports from #1.7 billion to #400 million worth in the last few months. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman has identified a contrast that no one else is seriously identifying. The Minister tried to do the same. I do not think that any Member on either side of the House has suggested an open-door policy enabling anyone to bring in anything at any time, or a hermetically sealed country. We are certainly not suggesting either. We are saying that a higher profile can change the mindset of most of the people who are engaging in such action, many of whom are doing so innocently. That can be seen in Australia and the United States.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 7:30 pm, 6th November 2002

That was an extremely helpful intervention as it makes the point that whatever we do we cannot stop imports coming in and bringing diseases into the country. So what should we do? The farming industry is reluctant to do anything as it is set in its ways. Farmers want to do their job in the same way as their parents and grandparents, but they must understand that this rule must stay. There is an easy, simple, cheaper alternative that has already been used. That is to use the methods that were used during the foot-and-mouth epidemic whereby animals were sold directly or through simple technology such as video links and the internet. That method avoids the expense of taking animals to market and the journeys and the animals can pass from farm to farm or to the slaughterhouse or where ever else they are going without contact with other animals. That is what we should all be encouraging.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that even with the 20-day rule, disease can be transmitted through illegal acts, so that although the more rules the Government make, the more likely it is in theory that disease will be prevented, what really happens is that law-abiding farmers go out of business, and farmers who break the law continue to spread disease. The weakness in the 20-day rule, which has value directly after an outbreak, is that it will put law-abiding farmers and livestock markets out of business and affect the infrastructure on which all farmers depend to earn a living. Does the hon. Gentleman not see that even if the Government insist on it, the bad guys will continue to break the law?

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

I am following the best advice of the two bodies that I mentioned. No one made any suggestion that they were wrong in suggesting this essential deterrent.

I represent farmers and there were three outbreaks of foot and mouth in my constituency, but my constituents are overwhelmingly industrial workers who work mainly in the steel and aluminium industry. They have suffered terribly in the past two years and more than half their jobs have disappeared. All those families contributed #5 per week last year to pay for foot and mouth, in addition to the #10 per week they pay the farming industry in subsidies. If another disease comes along, is it reasonable that taxpayers—including the steel and aluminium workers in my constituency—should pick up the bill? If the farming industry is not prepared to take these sensible, modest precautions, why on earth should taxpayers pick up the bill for the next epidemic?

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

I am not sure whether or not it is a pleasure to follow Mr. Flynn, who has clearly missed his vocation. He should have been a 19th-century non-conformist Welsh preacher predicting Armageddon—[Hon. Members: XHe is."] Perhaps he is. He reminds me of a character from a Dylan Thomas poem. I think it was Organ Morgan, but hon. Members will correct me if I am wrong. I should stress to the hon. Gentleman that Opposition Members are not against having some form of movement restriction—we are simply opposed to the particular restriction.

Let me begin by doing a Conservative thing and defending the dealers. We have had a lot of mud slung at the dealers in the course of the debate so far. Dealers are perfectly respectable people; they are simply using the market. The way that the livestock market has developed in the United Kingdom has encouraged the intervention of dealers. The reason is that we have a very large number of centralised meatpacking firms or abattoirs that require large numbers of animals on a regular basis. They get them from dealers who collect them from different parts of the country. Dealers make a turn on the price while fulfilling the needs of the abattoirs for a regular supply of animals. For better or worse, that is where we are with the market.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he will agree with me that it is one of the structural problems of the industry that we have a concentration of livestock and a concentration of kill within abattoirs purely at the behest of the large supermarkets and their demands on the industry. We have to address that at some stage.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it has to do with the structure of the industry, but I am not sure whether we can change it. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is the equivalent of suggesting that we ought to scrap large car plants and that all motor cars should be built in small back-street garages as they were in past centuries. The meat processing business is hugely capital intensive, requiring people working 365 days a year in two shifts. That is the way it is. A meat-packing plant in the hon. Gentleman's part of the country will eventually have to source lamb from my constituency in the north of England. That is a feature of the industry. Whether or not it is desirable, it is not easy to change. The dealers are providing for modern economics.

The Minister was critical of the amendment and I do not believe it is a particularly good one, but it provides us with an opportunity to debate a serious matter that is affecting farmers in my constituency very badly. It gives us the opportunity of expressing our concerns, hopefully in a vote. The Minister said that a large proportion of the livestock industry can cope with these regulations, but many farmers cannot. We have heard tonight that upland farmers in particular will find it extremely difficult. Certainly in the north of England, in the Pennines, the livestock buying and selling year is contracted into September and October. It has a very tight span. Farmers who breed sheep and suckler cows need to move breeding replacements on to the farm and to sell lambs and ewes at the autumn sales. If animal movements are restricted, those farmers have to hold stock on their farms which means extra expense and if the weather is particularly bad—fortunately it was not too bad this autumn—it would cause welfare problems. These are enormous costs to farmers who are already struggling. At the risk of being slightly out of order, farmers are facing not only the economic problems caused by the 20-day rule but the economic problems caused by the slowness of the Rural Payments Agency to pay up and the muddle caused by so many mistakes at the British Cattle Movement Service in Workington which means that cattle which are going into the over-30-months scheme are now being disqualified because of administrative errors that are not their fault. Perhaps the Minister will look at that in due course.

As I said, we accept the need for a traceability scheme and that would be the final answer. We also accept the need for some form of movement restriction, but it has to be very much more relaxed than it is currently. Farmers have suffered this autumn; they do not want to suffer next autumn. It is absolutely imperative that whatever scheme the Minister introduces, it must be properly in place early in the year so that the spring movement of livestock from winter quarters to summer quarters can begin. In particular it must be up and working at the end of the next back-end season.

Other suggestions have been made which the Minister did not consider for long enough. The simple scheme produced by auctioneers whereby farmers have three dyes and dye sheep with one colour one week, the next colour the following week and another for the third week means that no animal can be sold or brought to market until it has reached the three-week period. That is an incredibly simple system which would have carried us over until a proper system was put in place.

Let me reiterate that the real cost of this 20-day movement restriction falls on a particularly vulnerable group of farmers. While they all appreciate that some form of movement is needed, they need a more liberal regime, which will allow them at least to hang on to their lives and their work for a few more years.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Perhaps we can first get one or two historical facts in place. The movement of livestock is not some sort of modern aberration; it is at the absolute heart of the agricultural economy throughout Europe. Transhumance is one of the oldest practices of the human race. I refer the House to one of the great books—Ferdinand Braudel's XThe Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II". Although not particularly imaginative, Phillip II was an assiduous and meticulous monarch who ruled a very large empire. The culture of the Mediterranean world is based on the principle of transhumance, so let us get away from the idea that a bunch of wicked dealers have intruded on a pastoral scene characterised by William Cobbett, and brought it kicking and screaming into a bizarre modern world.

Let us also be clear that the consequences of the foot and mouth epidemic highlighted the importance of such movements, which are traditional, rather than bizarre movements designed to rig the system. When foot and mouth struck in my constituency, animals that had been sent to the lowlands to over-winter should have been coming back up to the hill. In fact, they could not be moved—they were caught in fields full of mud. In Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, where some farmers specialise in looking after animals over the winter, the resulting welfare conditions were serious. Of course, the sale of breeding stock off the hills forms part of the backbone of the uplands economy, and it is also one of the major sources of livestock for the lowlands. Those are traditional movements that are intrinsic to agriculture, and we have to find a way in which to accommodate them.

I should point out to Paul Flynn that I realise that, in many ways, auction marts must appear to be some sort of Dickensian throwback—part of the world of XOne Man and His Dog", or a television series about vets. However, in the light of his concerns and comments, he should not underestimate the role of the auction mart in combating the social exclusion experienced by those who live remote lives. They do not often meet their fellow human beings, and they derive benefit from meeting in the fug of the fish and chip shop or the pie shop.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

During the recess, I visited Llanrwst market, which is outside my constituency, and spoke to the farmers assembled there. The strongest argument that they made in favour of the continuation of the mart was that it was the day on which families came to Llanrwst for social reasons. One understands that entirely, but there must be some way to improve their social life and reduce their isolation other than by getting animals together in a traditional but very dangerous way.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

The hon. Gentleman and I may not be very far apart. In practice, we will see a more integrated food chain, farmers contracting to retailers, and the pre-selection of animals, which go straight to the abattoirs. In fact, some auction marts are acting as intermediaries in order to organise that trade. So the role of the auction mart is changing.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Is it not true that, when we get to that stage, many of the Members who complained about dealers will be complaining that we do not have dealers any longer, and saying how much better things were in those days? One cannot ever get it right.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

That is certainly true, and they will also complain that they have received planning application for the building of 93 desirable houses on the site of the auction mart, including a complement of social housing, which will doubtless occasion concern for other parts of the village. I speak from some experience, but I shall not go further down that route.

We should also admit that there were dreadful examples of negligence during the foot and mouth outbreak. In North Yorkshire, many farmers have several scattered holdings. Indeed, the Department found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that many farmers owned plots of land that were quite close together, but not contiguous. Some of those farmers moved stock from one farm to the other without any semblance of precaution. That was clearly criminal in spirit, if not in practice. The miracle of the foot and mouth outbreak was that the disease never reached the pig herds in Humberside. Had it done so, we would have got into vaccination to slaughter. The sheer volume of slaughter could have been coped with and brought under order only by the introduction of vaccination.

I make those preliminary points because I want to ensure that the Minister, for whom I have a lot of respect, understands the issue. I know his brief, and I also know how difficult it is under the 20-day rule to operate normal farming practice on a mixed beef and sheep farm in the uplands. People have to move animals around—to market, to pasture—and the high hills will not sustain them throughout the year. There are also practical problems. The Minister has said that there has to be a form of cordon sanitaire around a holding, but one cannot establish an isolation unit with a 50 m boundary for 300 sheep on a hill farm. In practice, it is very difficult to deliver that and then service the sheep with the tup.

As I pointed out to the Minister, under the problematic anomalies of the 20-day rule, I could buy 300 sheep and put them in a field next to sheep owned by my neighbour. If we are lucky, there are dry-stone walls and the sheep will not mingle. However, it is just as likely that the sheep will be separated by a few strands of wire, so they will mingle and converse, as it were. My neighbour, who is not caught by any restriction, could immediately sell off sheep that had been in contact with restricted sheep. Equally, in some cases the rule has the perverse impact of promoting the use of dealers. Let us consider the example of a farmer in Cumbria or North Yorkshire, who used to be able to buy young calves in the autumn from various local farms in a 40 mile radius. All those farms are now caught by the same restrictions as he is, so the way to get round that is to buy the animals from a dealer who is shipping them from 250 miles away. In other words, the farmer is actually forced into an alternative pattern of procurement. According to Mr. Drew, that increases exposure to the transmission of illness.

In making my final point, I shall use the example, if I may, of my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. Farmer Gummer and I can both send our sheep to market, and the sheep can sit in adjacent pens in the auction mart. As we know, they are mere tubular structures, and communication can take place between pens. Let us say that I decide to buy Farmer Gummer's sheep, and I take them home. As long as I put them in an isolation unit, I will not be caught by the restriction. However, if I do not sell my sheep and I want to take them home, they will be caught by the 20-day rule—even though they have been in contact only with Farmer Gummer's sheep—and I will be unable to sell them on.

I appreciate that there are bound to be such anomalies; it is very difficult to establish schemes without them. However, in talking about trying to get the farming community to accept the necessity of restrictions, it is important to ensure that farmers cannot say, XHang on, has anybody who has devised the restrictions thought about how we practise in reality—how we live and get through the working day?" As my hon. Friend Mr. Gray pointed out, the scheme in Scotland operates somewhat differently. I accept that those differences are in the detail, but the regime is slightly more liberal in respect of, for example, applications for licences. There is spot-checking, as opposed to the prior approvals that have to be obtained in England. In Scotland, any animal can be put into segregation without triggering the provision; in England, however, only breeding animals can qualify under that criterion.

As a result of devolution, practices are diverging. Premium payments are now different on the two sides of the border, because the British Government—on behalf of England and Wales—decided to retain an element of the payment for a general kitty. That decision was not taken in Scotland, however. I imagine that that rule could be modified for Scotland under the powers of devolution, so that it becomes more different from that which applies in England. The argument would then arise of level playing fields within these shores, rather than simply between these shores and elsewhere.

I agree that the Lords amendment is not particularly well thought out, but it has served its purpose by enabling us to bring to the Minister's attention the practical problems experienced by farmers who want to make the system work, who are not out to dodge the system, and who have been through a tremendously rough time.

In my constituency, the second worst category of farmer was those whose animals got foot and mouth disease; the worst category was those whose animals did not because they could not move their cattle or earn a living, and the sheep were sucking the stones dry on the hills. Those farmers are now entering a further period of severe restrictions.

The Minister should spell out the programme and the scenarios that he hopes to be able to apply and acknowledge that he may want to retain some form of permanent restrictions, but ones that go with the grain of farming practices. He should show that he is seeking, as is inevitable across the field of such activities, to find the balance between the necessary precaution and enabling the industry that he is seeking to preserve to be able to continue to earn a living so that it can help to preserve itself.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion 7:45 pm, 6th November 2002

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Curry, who has just given some very good examples that are particularly pertinent to upland Wales, which experiences the anomalies and some of the perverse incentives in the present system that work against what many Labour Members have talked about tonight.

On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I want to make it clear at the outset that we find the amendment to be particularly awful in its drafting. Nevertheless, it has given us a useful opportunity to debate this vital issue and the way in which it is affecting farmers, particularly those in Wales and England, but not so much those in Scotland. It gives us an opportunity to raise a very basic principle about how we will cope in the future not only with the spread of foot and mouth, but its introduction into the United Kingdom.

Plaid Cymru strongly supports the principle of movement control. We must know what is happening to the movement of agricultural animals in this country. We must know where the animal is, where it has been and its intervening journey. However, there has been much talk in the debate about movement restrictions, and I should like to draw a distinction.

The term Xrestrictions" suggests a predetermination of the cost-benefit analysis that will be done on the 20-day rule. It suggests that people already accept that farming must be restricted in that way. An alternative should be considered and certainly thoroughly analysed whereby animal movements are controlled using the detailed information that we have on those animals. The case has been made powerfully that, certainly after the foot and mouth outbreak in the north of England, it was not just the movement of animals that created difficulties, but the fact that people did not know where those animals had been, how they had been kept and the way that biosecurity measures had been applied to them.

I accept that things must be very different in future, but we have to go with the grain of farming practice, as the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon said. There has been a lot of talk this evening and outside the House about movements and restrictions that simply do not go with the grain of farming practice and therefore will not work because people will not want to follow them, or because they will go out of business if they do follow them.

We must remember that the two inquiry reports that have been much mentioned in the debate said that the 20-day rule should apply until the cost-benefit analysis has been carried out. In response to a question that I asked during today's statement, the Secretary of State made it clear that that cost-benefit analysis would include alternatives to the 20-day rule. I welcome that, and I hope that that will be clear.

What are the principles in applying any sort of movement control? First, we must prevent disease in the first place. Secondly, we must deal with the spread of disease if it were ever to occur. The main priority for preventing disease is, of course, stopping it coming into the country in the first place. We have heard some messages of doom and gloom and been told that we cannot stop disease or illegal imports, but the fact is that the Government have not been doing enough on illegal meat imports. Only now is there a realisation of the need to take co-ordinated action. That must be the main priority.

Of course if disease comes into the country, we must consider how to stop or at least limit its spread. Plainly, we must therefore consider not only the 20-day rule, but the whole question of biosecurity. That is the key. Good biosecurity being practised on all farms at all times will limit the spread of any disease, whatever it is. Some diseases are more virulent than others. The problem in the west Wales dairy industry at the moment is TB, not blue tongue or foot and mouth.

Any restriction, control or measure that we place on farming has to be proportionate to its ability to meet it practically and financially. The income of each upland farmer in Wales was about #4,200 last year, so they do not have much scope to invest in any system or to bear its costs.

Paul Flynn is very keen to remind everyone of the massive subsidy—#10 a week—that every family pays to each farmer, but that money does not go into farmers' pockets. Their pockets were not stuffed full of those tenners in Llanrwst, and he knows it. The money goes into the wasteful, awful common agricultural policy. Farmers do not want to be part of that any more than we do, but that is the price that we pay for cheap food—the second or third cheapest food in the developed world.

The fact is that the consumer does not really pay the price of their food; they pay in a round about way. Not only do they pay when they go into the supermarket or shop and pay 40p, 37p, or whatever, for a pint of milk; they pay subsidy as well. So we in this country pay for our food twice if not three times over. If we want a better relationship between farmers and consumers and to make this aspect of the Bill work better, the price of biosecurity on food has to be included at the consumer end. It is not just the farmers who bear the weight; the consumer has to face the real cost of food production as well.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the report by the Consumers Association stating that a basket of food was bought in the United Kingdom and in New Zealand and that it was discovered that the price in New Zealand was half the price here? Farmers in New Zealand have not had any subsidy for the past 16 years.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

If there is so much waste in the CAP, food prices will decline, but I was making the point—the hon. Gentleman has to accept this—that the consumer does not just pay for food when he or she goes into a supermarket; they pay through their taxes for the CAP as well, and reforming the CAP is the key.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

Paul Flynn mentions New Zealand, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that in New Zealand the grass grows 12 months a year, so cattle can stay out all year and do not need to be fed inside. Of course that makes New Zealand products much cheaper.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that aspect of farming, which the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon also mentioned.

If we are to encourage farmers to go more directly to market, which is part of the answer to dealing with foot and mouth, by cutting away all the wasteful journey times, we have to ensure that farmers are able to market more directly by moving livestock. We cannot take livestock movements out of the market. Some of the dealers may be slightly less than above board, but they generally meet the requirements of the market.

The largest abattoir just outside my constituency—it is in that of my hon. Friend Adam PriceOriel Jones in Llanybydder, meets the demands of the supermarkets. The input into that abattoir is more than the local market can bear, so dealers must feed that abattoir. That is part of a wider question, but it is wrong to place on farmers the whole pressure of biosecurity under the 20-day rule. My concern is that farmers may bear all that pressure, but we should consider the wider context of how to ensure that the whole of the farming industry is safe, clean and free from disease.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that not only are farmers expected to bear the costs, but, given the implications of some of the comments made by Labour Members, they are to blame for the entire foot and mouth outbreak? It simply cannot be the case that the disease was imported by the farming community in the first place.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

I certainly reject any suggestion that farming was to blame for the disease entering the country in the first place, but legitimate farming practices, approved by the Government and previous Governments for many years, may have exacerbated the disease. There is a lesson to be learned, but nevertheless they were legitimate practices.

I well remember the astonishment when the Government announced that X million journeys were made by animals during two or three weeks and everyone took a breath as they thought that that practice was illegal and that a scandal had been found. Did they not know that that happened all the time and that it was a natural part of farming practice? As the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon said, farmers in Wales have moved livestock around not just for years, decades or centuries, but for millennia. In Wales, the drovers' roads, some of which we still travel on to get to the House, follow the path taken from my constituency to London. Cattle, geese, pigs and sheep were moved around the country. That is nothing new, and it is a vital part of farming. As Mr. Atkinson said, the environment and climate in Wales are not suitable for year-round farming.

I hope that the Minister will accept that some movement of animals is part of sustainable farming practice. If we want to ensure that artificial fertilisers, pesticides and feed are not used—and we must remember the feedstocks that are used in America, the other place where food is cheapest—we must support sustainable farming. An element of animal movement is part of that.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 8:00 pm, 6th November 2002

Animal movements take place in Uruguay, the Netherlands, France and Ireland, but the disease did not spread in those countries as it did here. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that excessive and unnecessary animal movements take place in this country, and that only the 20-day rule will eliminate them?

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in asking for the reopening of local slaughterhouses. They have been going down like nine pins in my constituency. I agree with the central point, but in his comments this evening the hon. Gentleman has put the responsibility for the outbreak directly on farmers. The problem is much more complex. There is a whole industry, driven by the retail side, which affects what happens.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

We are discussing a Bill about animal health, and there is an animal welfare aspect to the problems caused by the delay. Of necessity, upland farmers need to trade stored animals. Any delay could cause animal welfare problems because of the lack of food and shelter. That has a knock-on effect in terms of the availability of food for breeding stock.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

I agree. My constituency was not directly affected by foot and mouth, but some areas were restricted. I had an awful case involving a farmer who could not move stock because of restrictions, even though the RSPCA was investigating what was going on.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he was far too kind to Paul Flynn? Although the movements of animals in this country may be rather longer than they would be in an ideal world, there could be no fewer movements if we returned to the system that the hon. Member for Newport describes. Movement is part of the normal way of dealing with animals. It is only the ignorance of people locked up in towns that causes them not to understand that.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

I shall not reiterate the points that the right hon. Gentleman has made. There is a saying in Wales that we knock the gatepost for the gate to hear: I hope that the hon. Member for Newport West, heard what the right hon. Gentleman said.

I shall conclude by enumerating the basics that should underpin the debate. First, we need to prevent disease coming to the country in the first place. That is primarily a matter of dealing with illegal meat imports and production. There have been of cases of meat being produced illegally for the smokies trade in west Wales and London. That is a real concern of mine.

Secondly, if disease breaks out again, we must ensure that it does not spread. That is a matter of biosecurity in the farming industry, which must be constant, rather than a one-off response to disease. We must identify the animals that have been moved around, and where they have been moved to, which means that we must have a proper animal movement identification system. If disease is present, we must deal with the animals involved, and contiguous animals. We debated earlier whether the best way to do that was by culling or vaccination. I support movement control, but it can be achieved only in co-operation with the industry and farmers, and only if it does not destroy or undermine the livestock industry. After all, we do not want the countryside to be free of disease if that means that we have to import all our meat, do we?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to the debate.

Lords amendment No. 45 is important. It is inevitable that the House will want to concentrate on it, given the interest in the 20-day animal movement limit. The Government accept the main thrust of the amendment. We want to make some small technical changes, which I shall explain in a moment.

The hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and Mr. Curry, and my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) all made fair points about the impact of animal movements on the industry. They accepted the need for movements, which the Government recognise, but all speakers conceded that some movements have to be stopped as one of a range of a disease control measures.

The question is where that stop should fall, which is why an independent assessment is being conducted. The House of Lords asked for time to consider the independent reports, so I am surprised that their lordships have ignored their recommendations. That is why I am asking the House to reject this amendment. It has been useful as a platform for debate, but it does not really add to the Bill. It is inappropriate, and we should wait for the proper assessment as we continue the debate with industry.

The Government do not disagree with the arguments advanced in the other place that biosecurity must apply to everyone in the livestock industry. It must include the Department's staff, contractors, hauliers and everyone who goes on to farms. However, we have two small differences of opinion when it comes to the amendment.

First, it is unnecessary to make specific provision that the Secretary of State must send final guidance on biosecurity to those persons and organisations listed in the amendment's compliance provisions, which are very specific. It is a standard requirement for the Department that written consultations are sent out to such persons or organisations as the Secretary of State considers to be representative. The provision is worded in broad terms in the Government's proposal, so that the Secretary of State is not unnecessarily restricted. For example, the Secretary of State might want to seek the views of vets or scientists. They do not fall within the very strictly defined categories in proposed new subsection 6B(5).

Secondly, proposed new subsection 6B(1) deals with the distribution of guidance to all those listed in proposed new section 6A(3). It is significant, because it would mean that the exercise by the Government of functions under this legislation would be unlawful if the Government, for whatever reason, did not distribute guidance to all those listed, regardless of whether the guidance was relevant or applicable to them.

Clearly, it would not be acceptable for the Government to have their power to act removed in that way for failing to distribute guidance to everyone on the list. There is always someone who might claim that they did not receive the guidance. The list is so specific and narrowly defined that it would leave the Government open to all sorts of difficulties.

That is not to say that the Government are against distributing information and guidance. We are committed to openness and transparency, and to communicating relevant information about all policies and about the proportionate action that we would take to prevent the spread of animal disease.

That is why we have ensured that the requirement already in the Bill to publish the biosecurity guidance will ensure that it is available to all the people, organisations, and stakeholder representatives who need to know about it. We want to make sure that people get the information, but the amendment is unduly restrictive.

I hope that the House will accept the minor amendment that the Government propose.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

With the leave of the House, I shall say a word about biosecurity. As the Minister said, we did not debate it at the start of the discussion of this group of amendments. However, it seems to be linked intrinsically with the 20-day rule, as I said earlier. In many ways, preventing animals from spreading foot and mouth has to go hand in hand with the dispersal of information among everyone who might have contact with livestock during a disease crisis.

That was the subject of consideration in the other place. The Lords was determined to ensure that the information was comprehensible, coherent, and distributed as widely as possible. If people are going to make lots of movements in and out of infected areas that requires them to be informed about risk as fully and well as possible. That is part of risk management, as the Minister acknowledged in his brief remarks. However, the Lords would like a specific list of organisations that the Secretary of State is obliged to contact on biosecurity measures. The Minister said that that is standard practice, that it is done all the time, and that he was sure that the Secretary of State would use her judgment. That is fine and good, but I think that the Lords are right in saying that distributing and publishing such information and sending out draft material needs to be specified clearly in the Bill. To that end, we support the Lords amendment.

Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 283, Noes 178.

Division number 356 Orders of the Day — Animal Health Bill — New Clause

Aye: 283 MPs

No: 178 MPs

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Question accordingly agreed to.

It being three and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr Deputy Speaker put the remaining Question required to be put at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day].

Amendments proposed to the Lords amendment No. 45: (a) and (b).

Question put, That the amendments be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 292, Noes 174.

Division number 357 Orders of the Day — Animal Health Bill — New Clause

Aye: 291 MPs

No: 174 MPs

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Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 45, as amended, agreed to [Special Entry].