Lords amendment: No. 22, in Page 4, line 33, leave out from beginning to end of line 1 on page 5 and insert—
X(3) The second condition is that each of the following applies to the occupier of the premises —
(a) he has been informed of the decision to seek entry to the premises and of the reasons for that decision;
(b) he has failed to allow entry to the premises on being requested to do so by an inspector;
(c) he has been informed of the decision to apply for the warrant and of the reasons for that decision including a copy of the sworn information;
(d) he has been provided with an opportunity to make representations to the justice of the peace about whether the warrant should be issued;
(e) he has been provided with the opportunity to present sworn information in person or in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant."
(4) The third condition is that—
(a) the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent and (in either case) notice of intention to apply for the warrant has been left in a conspicuous place on the premises, or
(b) an application for admission to the premises or the giving of notice of intention to apply for the warrant would defeat the object of entering the premises."
Amendment proposed to the Lords amendment: (a)—[Mr. Morley], Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House divided: Ayes 297, Noes 172.
I beg to move, That this House
agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.
The Government agree that we must take action to minimise the risk of importing animal diseases that have the potential to do serious damage. That is why we are taking action to tackle the problem of illegal imports of meat and meat products, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelt out in some detail the kind of measures that we are taking. The illegal imports action plan covers a wide range of measures. It is expected that future action to combat illegal imports will be informed by the outcome of the assessment of disease risk and a review of how import controls can be better arranged.
In the course of the debate, we have recognised that in relation to reducing disease risk we need to take action on a number of fronts, which we have been discussing in detail, and we recognise that points of entry is one of them. That is why we take the matter seriously and are introducing these measures. In that respect, we agree with the Lords amendment.
I shall speak briefly on this matter, as we wish to move on to others.
The Government have generously and wisely conceded to the demands of the House of Lords in this respect. That is important, as illegal meat imports are a massive problem in this country, which is widely acknowledged in the House and was mentioned earlier when we debated the response to the Anderson inquiry. Indeed, according to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee report published in March 2002, the trade in unfit and illegal meat is the third most lucrative illegal enterprise in this country, netting more than #1 billion worth of trade per year. The primary reason for that is lack of implementation and the wrangling that takes place between a variety of agencies. We were pleased to hear earlier that that will be dealt with by drawing all of these matters under the auspices of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise.
In conclusion, import controls must be an integral part of any disease control strategy. At the moment, it appears to many farmers that the 20-day rule adversely affects their ability to do their business properly and fruitfully. While they are being strangled, however, airports and other points of entry do not have effective checks in place. It is therefore vitally important that we turn our attention to meat imports in a meaningful, properly resourced way.
My hon. Friend, with his usual perspicacity, makes the point effectively. It is important to realise that it is not simply a case of illegality; there is also the great danger of a public health risk. The Minister and the Secretary of State have acknowledged that. The relevant authorities are going to be brought together to address the problem. We hope that that will be properly resourced and proper information will be provided. We also hope that the conversion engenders public confidence and the confidence of the industry because such matters need to be taken more seriously, as the Lords made clear.
I, too, congratulate the Government on accepting the amendment tabled by my noble Friend Lord Livsey. They have been receptive to strong arguments. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned: had the Government pushed the Bill through at the speed they intended, such an important amendment might not have been made. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Williams on his ten-minute Bill of a few months ago which would have established the same measure. I congratulate the Government on listening to the arguments and considering the seriousness of the problem. For the reasons set out by hon. Members and in the expansive debate in another place, it is essential that more stringent controlled surveillance and monitoring is put in place.
I have just one point to add. Although I welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State that the measures will come under the overall control of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, the fact is that the most recent surveys by independent bodies, such as the National Farmers Union survey this summer, show that there is tremendous leakage through airports and ports. It is an extremely serious matter. I hope that the Minister's Department will not wash its hands of the problem and leave it to the Treasury and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise to sort out. The Department needs to be directly engaged to ensure that proper controls are followed through and that every effort is made to stop the illegal trade, which represents a significant bio-security risk.
Lest there be no misunderstanding, my hon. Friend Diana Organ and I tabled the original amendment on imports. I am glad that my hon. Friend has seen the wisdom of agreeing to the measure, albeit a year later. The subject is important. Since the amendment appeared in its original incarnation, the Select Committee report has been published highlighting the need for action.
I have a simple point to make. On bearing down on illegal meat imports and other imports that could damage our food chain, we must remember that it is not the person who brings in such products on a casual basis that causes most concern. Those people who are into the serious trade should worry us most. They might not even use the main points of entry. We need to ensure that policies are in place to deal with them.
I am pleased that the provision has been accepted. I know that discussions took place behind the scenes. I am glad that my hon. Friend has seen fit to do the decent thing and make it clear that the Government are going to deal with such issues. We need to tackle the hard edge of the problem. Those people on the soft edge act more in error than anything else. We can do more at the ports, but we need to get hold of the people who are importing such products as part of a serious and growing trade because they threaten our food trade now and in the future.
The hon. Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ) will recall that my colleagues and I voted for the hon. Gentleman's amendment in Committee, by which time he had withdrawn it, or voted against it. Indeed, the Minister dismissed all attempts in Committee at amendments to improve and strengthen import controls. In fact, I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman accepted any amendments to the Bill in this place.
I remind Ministers that my hon. Friend Mr. Lidington pointed out to them in recent weeks some of the plans and preparations that have been put in place by some of our European partners since the outbreak of foot and mouth in the United Kingdom last year. I am a little disappointed, therefore, despite the welcome announcement by the Secretary of State today of the ban on personal meat imports and the hon. Gentleman's promise to review annually the way in which controls are being put into place. This is not rocket science—I suspect that much of it has to do with the political will to get the resources from the Treasury to put in place effective import controls.
If the Minister travels to Dublin, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury and I did during the summer recess, he will find that Dublin airport has put in place amnesty bins since the outbreak, and the Irish had only one case of foot and mouth at the same time as us. I tabled a written question to the Minister on amnesty bins only last week. Today, I received the reply that he and his hon. Friends are Xconsulting". An amnesty bin is not rocket science and it does not need masses of consultation. If the Irish Government have managed to put them in place, why have we not managed to do it?
I will finish my questions, as the Minister may wish to deal with them together.
When one gets off the plane in Dublin, one is immediately struck by the bold notices—not some little thing around the carousel—that invite people who have recently been on a farm to go to a centre where they can decontaminate their shoes and so forth. The Irish Government have set up their own office in Dublin airport since foot and mouth last year, so that they have veterinary officials on site to deal with any problems.
The tardiness of our Government, when other countries have clearly had the will to put measures in place, does not commend the measures that the Minister has announced, on which he says that he will report annually. He should get those measures in place. That is the priority. We will look forward to the annual reports, but this Government have a track record of producing reports on just about everything, full of spin, and it is the substance that we want—it is the beef. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman now, if he still wishes to intervene.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is going to pass on that offer.
The Government have an important part to play. They have chided the farming community and legislated to ensure that it plays its part. We now want to see some substance, not just reports.
The Government have shown some complacency and laxity on the subject of illegal meat imports, which contrasts with their initiatives on controls on domestic farmers. We welcome the action plan, but a few posters and two trained sniffer dogs at Heathrow airport will not be enough to get to grips with this vitally important problem. Let us contrast that with the actions of the Irish Government and with other Governments throughout the world, for example, Canada, Australia and the United States, where the issue has been on the agenda for many decades.
We know to our cost the consequences of complacency on this issue.
In evidence presented to the European Parliament inquiry on foot and mouth, Clive Lawrence, the chief executive of the Heathrow-based freight company Ciel Logistics, said that he notified the Government in a letter to the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the dangers posed by illegal meat imports to animal and human health, including the risk of foot and mouth. The letter was dated
As has been said, meat smuggling is an extremely lucrative trade, with almost zero risk, compared with other forms of smuggling, and with a very high return. Some of the measures suggested, such as on-the-spot fines, will not get to grips with highly organised criminal gangs. Of course, couriers often have no money. We need the report, which it will allow us to probe the effectiveness of the Government's plans. The UK remains heavily exposed to imports from regions where animal diseases, including foot and mouth, are endemic. I hope that the Government's acceptance of the amendment is a signal that, for the first time, they intend to take the matter of illegal meat imports seriously, so that we can have some confidence about food security and the future of farming in this country.
I welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the amendment, but I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that, as my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning said, the preparation of an annual report is not the whole story, and that just as we were right last year about the need for a report, we are also correct about the need for tougher action.
I spent several hours yesterday with Customs and Excise at Dover. I wish that the Minister would go there and see for himself, spend a little time at the nation's airports, and understand that we are not making these arguments trivially or lightly. We all welcome the steps that have been taken and the publicity campaign, but more needs to be done.
I shall make one other point, concerning the nature of open government. The Government's decision to accept the amendment and allow a report to Parliament once a year is indicative of a wider spread of information, which we must welcome. The Drummond report was not published, but was available to the Ministry in January 1999, and set out in brutal detail the Government's unpreparedness. A presentation to the state veterinary service national management meeting on
XNever look on the bright side in a notifiable disease emergency! Always assume that the worst will happen and then you are pleasantly surprised if it doesn't."
If those warnings had been available not just to departmental civil servants, but publicly, it is difficult to believe that the Government would not have been better prepared when foot and mouth hit in February last year. More information is essential.
I welcome the fact that most hon. Members who have spoken recognise that the Government have accepted the amendment, which follows on from a commitment that I gave in Committee, after representations from my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ), that the matter was certainly worth further consideration , and that we would return to it. That commitment has been honoured.
I understand the points made by the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), and for St. Ives (Andrew George), my hon. Friend Adam Price and for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon). I can tell the hon. Member for South Norfolk that I spend a great deal of time hanging around airports, sometimes longer than I would like, and of course I look at what we are doing in this country and what is being done in other countries.
Hon. Members should understand that there are issues of risk assessment involved. We could spend a large amount of resources and study what other countries are doing, but sometimes it is more a matter of image and perception—I do not underestimate the importance of the message that we give people—than of being effective. Resources can sometimes be allocated in ways that do not achieve maximum effectiveness, which is why we have commissioned an independent study by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency to identify the biggest risks. It may well be that the biggest risks are in large-scale illegal meat smuggling. We have seized shipments and imprisoned people involved in meat smuggling. I think that that is the first time that people have been imprisoned for such an offence. We take firm action in enforcing the law.
Furthermore, a lot of the work that we are doing and which the Secretary of State mentioned is not properly seen by people in our country. We assess where risk is located. For example, when people in high-risk countries apply for visas to visit our country, they receive a leaflet explaining the risks and the UK measures and regulations by which they must abide. That has been backed up by videos provided by air companies with our co-operation, as well as information leaflets and posters and a range of work, and not least the increased powers for enforcement and inspection and the streamlining of the inspection through Customs and Excise so as to involve one point of contact. I appreciate the broad welcome that those announcements have received in the House.
We take these issues seriously and I welcome the annual assessment, as it is important that we consider the progress that is made. Hon. Members should understand, however, that we also have to put risks in perspective. Border entry posts are important, but they are but one of a range of issues relating to minimising disease risks. However, we take all the issues seriously and we will take action where it is needed.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendment: No. 47.
I beg to move Government amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, leave out lines 12 to 29.
We are not disagreeing with the argument that there is a need for effective contingency planning. We have no argument with that. Indeed, the 2001 epidemic demonstrated very early on that the contingency plans that we had in place were clearly inadequate for dealing with an epidemic of that scale and type. We freely acknowledge that. Our experience in that epidemic has resulted in the rewriting of contingency plans by every country, as it is recognised that a complete rethink is required in organisational terms and in the way in which the matter is addressed.
The main purpose of the provision as it was originally drafted was to provide an assurance that the Government are serious about being prepared for any possible future outbreak of FMD. We recognise that various inquiry reports have highlighted that good contingency planning and better preparedness are crucial at the outset of any future disease outbreak. That is why we have taken immediate action to update our interim contingency arrangements for FMD and why we have updated them again in the light of the Government's response to the two independent reports. We want to develop the arrangements further in consultation with the industry, stakeholders and interested parties to address the wide range of issues thrown up in 2001.
As policies develop, the plans will be reviewed and amended accordingly. We do not want the documents merely to assume that once we have put in place a contingency plan, it will be permanent and will cover all the points raised. Even if people have signed up to such a plan, we do not accept that that is enough, and we recognise that any contingency plan will have to be periodically reviewed to ensure that it is up to date. We must accept and develop proposals concerning, for example, the administration of vaccination, which we discussed earlier. That would ensure that issues such as vaccination could be integrated into an overall plan that relates to all aspects of disease control policy. That provision has also been built into the contingency plan, again reflecting the recommendations made in the independent reports.
Contingency planning needs to cover the control of diseases using a range of measures, including culling and/or emergency vaccination as appropriate, and to take account of the context of relevant EU legislation. I anticipate that, when we have had extensive consultation, the completed contingency plan will be laid before Parliament for the first time in the spring.
The incidence of diseases worldwide and their possible occurrence in the UK will also contribute to establishing the priority to be given to extending the provisions of the contingency plan from foot and mouth disease to cover other exotic diseases. A number of hon. Members have spoken of the risk posed by a range of diseases. We take that risk extremely seriously. We are therefore putting in place a risk-based approach, and our aim is to target our resources based on what we know about the risk posed by different exotic diseases. The most effective way to make the best use of the available resources is to identify exactly where the risks are, and to determine where to apply the resources so as to deal with those risks.
The requirements that have been added to the original Bill by proposed new sections 14A(2) and 14A(3) do not relate to the purpose of the clause, which is to define a requirement for a contingency plan to deal with occurrences of disease. On that, we have no disagreement. The proposed new sections would not allow us to target our resources appropriately. Proposed new section 14A(2) would require us to expend a great deal of resources in relation to all the diseases in schedule 2A, which is included in the Bill to deal, more than anything else, with issues of deliberate infection, rather than to distinguish between the diseases in terms of an assessment of the risk occurrences in the UK.
We need to carry out significant worldwide surveillance for exotic disease, and this already takes place. The relevant information is available from international sources such as the OIE. The risk to the UK comes not from countries that report honestly to the OIE, but from those that do not report their disease situation or that have no effective mechanism for diagnosing or reporting disease, and in which, by definition, a three-yearly review would be completely valueless because there is no available information. That is not to say, however, that the concerns expressed in the other place are not being addressed. We take them very seriously. However, the additional provisions—proposed new sections 14A(2) and 14A(3)—are more relevant to other activities of government, such as the prevention of disease.
The Government announced earlier this afternoon their response to the FMD inquiry reports, and it is in that response that we have set out how we will take forward work on the recommendations that have been made. That is where the broader issues of strategy have properly been addressed. I do not, therefore, consider the proposed new sections 14A(2) and 14A(3) appropriate in the context of the contingency plan provisions. That is why I am seeking to remove them from the Bill. I am doing so not because we have any objection to a public commitment to proper contingency planning—or to ensuring that those contingency plans are properly consulted on and that people have every opportunity to participate in that consultation—but because the provisions are unnecessary. They do not sit well in the Bill. There is no major disagreement on this, but, if we are to have proper legislation, it should be just that. In that regard, the proposals are unnecessary and I invite the House to reject them.
The Minister says that he is committed to a national contingency plan, but, without being ungenerous, I must point out that there would not have been a provision for a national contingency plan, or an import clause or a biosecurity clause, in the Bill, were it not for the amendments tabled by Conservative—in particular—and Liberal Democrat peers during the course of the Bill through the other place and in Committee. If the Minister looks sceptical about that, I shall remind him that it was my noble Friend Baroness Byford who tabled a strategy amendment in Committee, thus facilitating those elements.
It is also important to point out, when considering the contingency plan, the nature of the plan that was in place when we endured the catastrophe of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. That plan had gaps, and it had not been shared or rehearsed outside the state veterinary service. Neither had it been tested. It was described by the Government's own report on the issue as follows:
XThe first responses to the early cases were not fast enough or effectively coordinated".
Yet the Government's memo to the inquiry stated that
Xcomprehensive contingency plans were in place".
The inquiry, however,
Xdid not find this to be so".
It found the plans to be limited in scope, out of date and not integrated into a national programme of rehearsal and testing. It also stated:
XBetter preparation . . . would have done much to limit the scale of the crisis."
Brigadier Alex Birtwistle, who led the Army's handling of last year's outbreak, said that
Xthere was a startling level of incompetence at every level...we're one of the 10 richest nations, we're a legitimate nuclear power and we can't get a few trucks into Cumbria."
That is what the soldier who led the exercise said, so it is right and proper that the Government have concluded, albeit belatedly, that we need a properly co-ordinated, cohesive national plan to deal with such outbreaks.
The contingency plan for last year's outbreak was inadequate, but such planning is surely essential to limit the scale of animal disease outbreaks. The Lords are merely emphasising that and aiming for an extension in scope. That scope needs to be broad because, as the Minister has acknowledged, disease can be introduced to this country from other places.
Many diseases are rife. For example, we know that blue tongue disease is well established in the United States and other diseases are well established in parts of Europe. We need to be aware of them, as they could be introduced to this country. We certainly need a European and worldwide perspective on the incidence of those diseases; the likelihood of this country being affected by them; and how we would respond. The Lords simply ask for a three-yearly review of the worldwide incidence of each disease referred to in the measure, which I think the whole House would acknowledge is appropriate, and that that review be debated.
Members might argue that the review should be undertaken more frequently than every three years; I would certainly not want it to occur less frequently. Neither would I want, as the Minister suggested, to rely on existing practice rather than support what the Lords are trying to achieve, which is a more holistic perspective than that which the Government seem willing to adopt.
That is particularly important given what we have said about the volume and nature of illegal meat imports, which, in themselves, are potential sources of disease, and because more people are travelling. There is enormous growth in the number of visitors to this country and there are all sorts of increased risks of disease being introduced. The Anderson report says that we should be producing
Xnot just a written document."
Rather, we should put
Xin place the systems, processes and a culture to respond effectively to crises."
That comment, which was referred to by Andrew George, lies at the heart of the need to draw up, implement and test an effective contingency plan.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, especially as I am sure he agrees that one problem when the foot and mouth outbreak hit was that so many people did not know what to do. One advantage to the Lords amendment is that the plan would have to be circulated to all the parties that could possibly help. That means that many more people would know exactly what to do, which would make the Government's job a lot easier.
Part of such a national plan must be the dissemination of information in an easily accessible and comprehensible form. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that such information needs to be spread not just to those directly affected—people in the industry—but to all those who may have contact with livestock during their work or leisure activities. The more knowledge we can spread on risk and its avoidance, the more likely we are to avoid a catastrophe of the proportions that we unfortunately suffered in 2001.
It seems to me, however, that we need to go further even than my hon. Friend suggests. We need to expand training, education and public awareness. We certainly need to support research and animal disease diagnostics. We need to reinforce the links between the Government, local government, other agencies and the industry to deliver a co-ordinated response. We need to strengthen that network to deliver a co-ordinated approach and we need to develop and, perhaps most importantly, test emergency preparation and disaster recovery plans.
Part of the problem from which we suffered while enduring that disease and that epidemic was the inadequate testing of the plans that were in place. A disaster recovery plan needs to be not only tested, but dynamic and flexible enough to be changed and applied in ways appropriate to the local conditions, the particular nature of the disease and its progress.
The Government seem to have belatedly concluded that we need a contingency plan. They seem to have taken on board a number of suggestions made in Committee and in the other place. But they have yet to grasp fully the need for a wide-ranging contingency plan that will take full account of all the diseases that may affect our farmers and their livestock.
I believe that, in respect of both the international dimension and the dissemination of information, the Lords amendments are useful and helpful additions to the plan. I hope that my colleagues will join me in supporting them and rejecting the Minister's objections to them.
The part of Lords amendment No. 47 that we want to delete has been dealt with by our commitment in the Bill—approved by the House—in relation to vaccination.
We accept, and I have conceded, that our existing contingency plan was not adequate in the circumstances, but it is not true that it was not tested. One of the many myths that were circulated was that the Government were aware of the disease before it was reported. It started because one of our divisional officers was ringing around checking the prices of such things as timber, as part of a contingency exercise. Moreover, the plan was reviewed as recently as 2000 in connection with the European Union review. We accept, however, that all those reviews and tests were not adequate. We are therefore approaching the matter in a much more sophisticated way.
We also accept that all contingency planning must be made public. Some Conservative Members were very critical of the Government when we made public our contingency plan for BSE in sheep. One or two of them said that it was a disgrace that we had put our plans into the public domain, because it might affect sheepmeat sales and upset the industry and consumers. [Interruption.] I have a long memory, and I assure Conservative Members that there was a great deal of criticism when we made the plan public. That is, however, the right thing to do. We also recently made public our contingency plan for blue tongue virus, so that people could comment, and we are committed to doing the same in regard to such issues in future.
Obviously, a national contingency plan is only as good as what can be done within the nation. I know that the point of such plans is the need to consider what is happening abroad, and I know about the OIE process of recognising diseases that are prevalent elsewhere, but this is all to do with intelligence, and I wonder about the extent to which we would share that openly. We must have some certainty that we can act before people do things that we would not want them to do.
I entirely agree. That is another aspect of the Lords' amendments to which I object. To be fair, Mr. Hayes recognised that a three-yearly review might not be appropriate—that the period might be too long. In fact, I have made it clear that in many cases it would be irrelevant. Legislation should not contain elements that, although well-meaning, are irrelevant and already covered by our responses—our response in the Bill, our commitment to making contingency plans public for consultation and our detailed response to independent inquiries, which we have also made public and made available to the House. In that respect, we accept the thrust of the arguments. We do not disagree with the comments that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings made in relation to contingency planning and contingency arrangements, but they contradict his earlier point that contingency plans must be dynamic documents. We need to be able to respond and update them. In that sense, it is not appropriate to write contingency arrangements into the Bill as that makes it difficult to update and modernise them. When making primary legislation, it is important to be clear about its objectives, functions and role. Proper detailed contingency plans and arrangements can be made without writing them into the Bill because of the need for updating and flexibility, for involving people and for ensuring that there is proper contribution and comment.
For those reasons, I do not think that there is a great deal of disagreement among hon. Members. We all agree on the need for proper, detailed contingency planning. That commitment will be clear in the Bill, which has been amended during its passage through the House. I ask the House not to include in the Bill irrelevant, unworkable measures that cannot react to changing circumstances. That is not good legislation, nor was it the intention of the movers of the amendment, who I am sure were well-motivated. I therefore urge the House to reject it and to support the Government amendment.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment, as amended, agreed to [Special Entry].
Lords Amendment No.65 and Government amendment (a) thereto agreed to.
It being more than six hours after the commencement of business, Mr. Speaker put the remaining Questions required to be put at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day].
Remaining Lords amendments agreed to.
Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment No. 13: Mr. Nick Ainger, Andrew George, Mr. John Hayes, Mr. Elliot Morley and Mr. Andy Reed; Mr. Elliot Morley to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Woolas.]
To withdraw immediately.
Reasons for disagreeing to Lords amendment No. 13 reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.