My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whitty.)
rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill, to leave out from ( "House" ) to the end and insert "declines to consider the Bill in Committee until
(i) the responses to the consultation on implementation of powers in the Bill have been considered and Her Majesty's Government have published their response; and
(ii) Her Majesty's Government have received, considered and published the results of the inquiries they have commissioned into foot and mouth disease from the National Audit Office and the Royal Society."
My Lords, it seems a long time since we were discussing this Bill on Second Reading. In fact, it is a long time—no less than 10 weeks. The amendment which I am moving is of a somewhat unusual type, but there are good precedents. The ever helpful Public Bill Office showed me one, of 1887, which argued that,
"it is inexpedient for the House to proceed further with a Bill of so crude and delusive a character in such a hasty manner . . . without the opportunity of first ascertaining the genuine opinion of all classes of agriculturalists in Scotland".
My view of this Bill is similar. However, I thought that it might perhaps be less confrontational to take as a model a more recent amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in 1992. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, I know, had it in mind to table a similar amendment.
Once again, I declare a marginal interest: my wife's small herd of Welsh Blacks on the Welsh hillside.
The debate on Second Reading can have left the Government in no doubt that most Members of your Lordships' House thought the timing and nature of the Bill profoundly unsatisfactory. Some 22 speakers were critical of it, many strongly so, and only three gave it their support. No fewer than 14 speakers, a number of them greatly respected authorities, made the point that it was wrong for the Bill to go forward without knowledge of the conclusions of the inquiries set up by the Government.
Having taken part in that debate and listened to so many powerful speeches, I thought that the Government might at the end of it have taken the advice of a song in one of the early Astaire/Rogers films, the theme of which was,
"Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again".
I expected that, at any rate, the Government would table amendments making major changes in their proposals. I waited week after week for a government reaction, but none came until last week, when we had from the Minister three useful amendments on detail but nothing fundamental. My wife suggested to me that the Government would probably have the Committee stage just before Easter when some of their critics might have departed on holiday. She was right.
I am sure that, in the light of what was said at Second Reading from all sides of the House, we need to make a fresh start. I do not believe that the present Bill, however extensively amended, will do. We must remember that the other place, which passed the Bill without amendment, would have to agree to any changes that we make. Nor are the Government likely to compromise on changes urged by this House, however reasonable, to judge from the announcement that they made about hunting last week.
Part 1 of the present Bill is based entirely on legalising and extending the mass slaughter of animals. Your Lordships may remember the conclusion of the notable speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who said of the mass slaughter policy that she did not believe that farming families or the wider public would stand for a similar policy in the future. Once again, vets would be asked to take action against their professional judgment. Surely, that is not a road down which we should now go.
Part 2 of the Bill, on scrapie, which also appears to be based on disputed science, may result in the extinction of many rare breeds of our sheep and is, at best, premature. Therefore, I do not believe that it is sensible for us to devote time and effort to debating amendments to such a Bill. We can tinker with it and perhaps remove the worst aspects, but we cannot hope to change its fundamental thrust. I see no prospect in Committee of turning it into a sensible and an acceptable piece of legislation.
However, it would be sensible to wait for the results of the Government's latest consultation exercise and, above all, for the relevant inquiries that they themselves set up. Will distinguished people be willing to take part in such official inquiries if the Government take no notice of them and go ahead with legislation on the very matters that they have been asked to consider without waiting for their recommendations? Can the Minister say whether it is correct, as reported in the press on 16th March, that the Attorney-General, during a hearing last month, argued that the inquiries would establish quickly the best ways of dealing with any future outbreak? If so, perhaps any Bill should wait until we know what are the "best ways".
Once the conclusions of such inquiries, including the lessons learned inquiry chaired by Dr Anderson, have been received and studied, the Government can, if necessary, rewrite the present Bill or, preferably, replace it with a much better one, that would be acceptable to the veterinary profession, the farming community and countryside bodies and interests and which can go forward with general support.
The Government's case for the present Bill has been based throughout on what they perceive as an urgent need. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in introducing it, the first part,
"gives government as rapidly as possible powers which they currently lack".
Yet, what kind of rapidity can there be if two-and-a-half months elapse between Second Reading on 14th January and the opening of the Committee stage today and if in a whole year nothing effective is done about the import of meat from countries where foot and mouth is prevalent, and nothing effective is done to put an end to illegal imports either in commercial consignments or in personal baggage?
In any event, if, god forbid, foot and mouth breaks out again, as it may, given the Government's failure to act firmly on imports, the Government already have powers to deal with it. They have set out in their recently published contingency plan their preliminary thoughts on how it may be tackled. They foresee a countrywide ban on all animal movements on confirmation of an outbreak and, I am sorry to say, the continuation of the contiguous cull, which last year resulted in the slaughter of so many thousands of perfectly healthy animals. But at least the plan says that that is,
"an interim plan until the results of the official Inquiries into the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak are published".
It also says that the plan,
"does not aim to pre-judge the outcome of the Inquiries".
That is rightly so. Surely, exactly the same should apply to legislation.
I put forward this amendment as a Cross-Bencher, as an independent. In no way is it a political initiative, but an effort to facilitate a sensible and lasting solution to a very serious agricultural problem, which affects the lives and livelihoods of a great many people in our country. In considering what I now suggest that the House should do, I have tried to put myself in the place of the supporters of different groups in the House. We Cross-Benchers, of course, do not act as a group, but if I were a Conservative, I would have paid close attention to the notable speeches of those on my Benches who spoke with long experience, detailed knowledge and expertise. Criticisms, on which all those distinguished Peers agreed, would have strongly influenced me and would have led me to support an amendment such as the one that I have tabled.
If I were a Liberal Democrat, I would recall the amendment suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, at Second Reading. She said that there was quite a strong feeling that the Government should have considered the recommendations of the inquiries that they had commissioned and that that would have been the time to bring forward comprehensive legislation. I have noted that she raised the point again at Question Time on 31st January when she received a dusty answer from the Minister. It appears to me that my amendment is fully in line with that for which the Liberal Democrats argued.
If I were a Bishop—a position far above my humble aspirations—I would have been strongly influenced by the speech made at Second Reading by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, which drew more praise from around the House than any speech that I can remember. Once more, I would regard what he said as leading to an amendment such as mine.
If I were a Labour Peer I would reflect on the current perception of the Government as being unconcerned about the countryside and the people who live in it. I would be anxious to dispel that perception and to see the Government I support bring in a Bill that tackled the grave problems of animal diseases in a way that was accepted by vets and farmers and that was based on the best available scientific and practical advice. I would want to wait until the inquiries had reported and to see the Government respond to them.
Therefore, I conclude that this amendment is in the best interests of the Government. For reasons that appear good to them but that I do not myself find persuasive, I understand that the Liberal Democrat Party and the Conservative Party would, if the Government remained obdurate, prefer to put off any challenge until a later stage. It is not clear to me why, on a matter of such great importance to so many in the country, they are willing to allow the Committee stage to proceed, with the implication that the Bill may ultimately be acceptable. That may prove to be a waste of time and effort. I am surprised that they are willing to leave it to a Dad's Army of myself and like-minded colleagues to make a case for delay based on obvious common sense. Nevertheless, I hope that my amendment will commend itself to the House. In any event, I shall be glad to hear the views of other Members. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill, to leave out from ("House") to the end and insert "declines to consider the Bill in Committee until
(i) the responses to the consultation on implementation of powers in the Bill have been considered and Her Majesty's Government have published their response; and
(ii) Her Majesty's Government have received, considered and published the results of the inquiries they have commissioned into foot and mouth disease from the National Audit Office and the Royal Society."—(Lord Moran.)
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who moved the amendment so ably. As he was kind enough to say, I had had thoughts of tabling a similar Motion. On reflection, I thought that it would come very much better from a noble Lord on the Cross Benches rather than from a somewhat more committed opponent of the Government.
The thought behind the Motion is that, before embarking on detailed consideration of the Bill, it would be helpful to have available as clear a picture as possible of what went on during the recent epidemic. The reports from the inquiries that are now in progress—Anderson, the Royal Society and the National Audit Office—would have shed some light on those events. Even more valuable would have been the report of a public inquiry, had the Government not run away from one. Had they not done so, they would now have the advantage of being able to say, as few governments can say with honesty, "We listened and we learned". The criticism that they face today would at least have lost some of its edge.
As matters stand, the Bill has few friends, and almost none in your Lordships' House. It is widely seen as an attempt to attribute what went wrong to the lack of sufficient powers and a yearning for new ones so drastic that they should not be granted without reasons far more cogent than any that have so far been advanced. Assurances that the powers now asked for would never be used are foolish. They leave quite unanswered the question, "Why take them?"
In the event, it was not a lack of powers but a lack of any coherent strategy on the part of what was then known as MAFF that was the cause of the mess and muddle which were the main features of the epidemic. The impression given was that no one knew what to do or how to do it. Lessons of 1967 had been forgotten; defences against just such an event had been neglected, if not dismantled. The protection of their own image seemed to have an almost indecent priority in the Government's mind. Fairness to those who had been hurt and a chance to have their say, the need to learn from what had gone wrong, and measures to be taken to prevent a recurrence were subordinated to that one consideration.
Even now, one has to ask what has been done in the way of protection against imports of infected meat. If the Government have no idea what to do, perhaps they should consult their French colleagues, who know a great deal about how to deal with unwanted imports. It might be helpful to the Government to take a leaf out of their book.
The subject of vaccination, too, appears to have been lost. It has become bogged down in endless discussion in Europe. It would be interesting, even at this stage, to know what view Ministers now take of vaccination. I hope that they will not keep it a close secret for too much longer.
I do not want to extend my remarks too much. I finish on this note. MAFF now has a new name and address. Although I dislike these acronyms, the fact that it has moved to what is now known as DEFRA, which recognises the intimate connection between agriculture and the environment, is welcomed. However, it would appear from the Bill that the move has done little to change the creature's habit of mind—stubborn and unreceptive, as it showed itself to be in the matter of organophosphates, which was so consistently pressed by the noble Countess, Lady Mar. Its successor, thinly disguised, is now asking Parliament to furnish it with almost unfettered powers to order the slaughter of any animal and to authorise its inspectors to enter on land and there do more or less as they see fit. Surely, such powers should not be given to those who do not enjoy a degree of trust which, at least in this context, the department manifestly lacks.
It would seem appropriate to postpone further consideration of a Bill which is objectionable in its content, which has the support of few outside the Government, which most of us believe is wholly unjustified and one which, if the Government press ahead with it, will be greatly regretted.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has done us a great service and made a valid and valuable point in tabling this amendment. I shall resist the temptation to follow my noble friend Lord Peyton in his castigation of the Bill, which is justified.
I should like to ask the Government two questions. They are both aligned to each other. First, what is the point of setting up committees if one does not wait to hear their findings before taking action? Secondly—this is almost the same question in reverse—what is the point of introducing a Bill when one does not know what those committees may say? It makes a total mockery of the exercise of setting up professional bodies. The urgency to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred earlier is not so great. If it were, it would surely not have been worth while to set up the committees in the first place, but the Government did set them up. Why did not the Government wait to hear the recommendations of the committees before introducing a highly controversial Bill?
My Lords, I should like briefly to support the wise amendment of my noble friend Lord Moran. It seeks to prevent hurried and ill-thought out legislation and to help the Government to dig themselves out of a black hole of their own choosing, so that the Bill may eventually be based on proper and sound knowledge and information. We shall have that knowledge when the reports of the National Audit Office and the Royal Society into the foot and mouth disease epidemic are published. As it currently stands, the Bill appears not to be about animal health. It appears to be about animal death, slaughter, killing, destruction—a licence for mindless murderers to enter our houses and kill the pet goats in our kitchens. That, surely, cannot be what legislation is about. Law should be based on reason, logic and sense, so that people want to keep it. Anyone who supports that concept must also support my noble friend Lord Moran.
My Lords, I was not present at the Second Reading of the Bill, for which I apologise. I was on part of a study tour to New Zealand. On entering New Zealand, we were confronted with very specific notices about foodstuffs that were not allowed in the country. People's cases were emptied and some of the contents confiscated. On entering Australia, where I stayed for only two days, my shoes were removed and disinfected. All those measures related to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease that had occurred in the United Kingdom in 2001. It struck me that there was far more consciousness about the insecurity of imported foodstuffs in those countries than there was in the United Kingdom.
In principle, I should like to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. He was formerly a constituent of mine, albeit as a Member of this House he was unable to vote. But I know of the sincerity of his concern that we do not have all the information that we require in order to legislate in an intelligent way about this huge tragedy of foot and mouth which struck the United Kingdom during the year 2001.
I believe personally that to debate the Bill as it stands is a test of whether the Government have good will towards the farming community and the rural areas. One of the reasons why later on we wish to test this matter in Committee is that we want to find out whether they will accept any of the tabled amendments which would much improve the Bill. Indeed if the Minister accepts those amendments then the Bill will be transformed.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that the Bill as it stands is totally unacceptable. The fact that we have not had the reports from the National Audit Office and from the Royal Society mean that there is a huge chasm of missing information and knowledge. That information surely will be contained in the reports of the Government's own committees which have been set up to investigate these matters. It is essential that we have this information before we can legislate properly. Let us test the Government on these matters.
As the Bill stands, the powers are draconian so far as concerns the disposal of animals, particularly those from contiguous culls. In my home area of Powys many farmers and their families suffered grievously during the recent outbreak of foot and mouth. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, at Second Reading described the situation as swirling around. It certainly was in Powys during the middle of 2001. It was almost like a medieval situation where the fear of a disease was enormous. One could understand—looking back over the centuries—what it must have been like with something like the Black Death. It was that bad.
I see no effort in the Bill to consider a properly constituted task force should an emergency of this kind occur in the future. Obviously, with regard to my previous remarks, we need to have equally good legislation to prevent the disease from coming into the country again, as do the New Zealanders, the Australians and others in the world. We urgently need legislation for that because that is a vital missing part of the equation.
The disease did not start in this country but we need a task force to be set up in readiness, rather like civil defence, that is properly directed and trained. The training should go down to civil servants, the farmers themselves and their farm workers. This should be tested from time to time as is civil defence. Therefore, if there is an emergency we are ready for it and know precisely what to do. That was not the case in early 2001. People's memories were not long. I was around in 1967 but many people had not even seen the disease.
So there are many matters of that kind that are not in the Bill but which should be there. The test of whether the Government have good will left towards farming and the rural areas will be in the way that they approach and accept amendments on the Bill. Therefore, it is sensible to wait and see whether this transformation comes about. We can on Report, if necessary, put the Government to the sword and to the test as to whether the Bill, as amended at that point, is in an acceptable state.
The Minister has had a very tough time, as have his colleagues, because foot and mouth is a terrible disease. I believe that he has, as indeed do the Government, the will to come to a sensible and humane conclusion that the co-operation of the farming community is needed to protect their animals from foot and mouth. One should never legislate on a worst-case scenario. We all know what happened when the poll tax legislation came along. It was totally unsuitable. It alienated the population. I make a plea to the Government not to alienate the rural dwellers and the farming community. We should all co-operate together. We can do that only by bringing forward a constructive Bill which will be substantially amended from its present form.
My Lords, I was present for the last debate, so noble Lords who also took part will not be surprised that I am saddened that the amendment is on the agenda today. I shall oppose it because I genuinely believe that this legislation is needed.
Yesterday at Question Time I took the opportunity to ask the Minister whether or not at the present time we have powers in this country to deal with a further foot and mouth outbreak. He said, "No". He explained that the Bill would cover part of what is needed. I believe that whether or not we like it, as legislators, we should support the Bill. There are many Bills that pass through this House that we may like or dislike, but we debate them and we debate the amendments. When we agree with the amendments we try to amend the Bill. I am quite sure that noble Lords in this House will do exactly that with this legislation.
I believe that it would be wrong for us to hold up this legislation. Indeed, I feel more strongly than that: it would be totally irresponsible for us to do so, having been told by the Minister that we do not have the legislation at the present time to cope with foot and mouth.
It is rather strange that we hear this afternoon that there is no urgency for this matter. All the way through the debates on foot and mouth disease—and I was here for almost all of them—we were told how urgent action was needed; how the Government had dragged their feet; and how things had to be done as quickly as possible. Now we hear the opposite. As I previously said, it would be irresponsible for us to wait for the reports. That could put us back months. It would be irresponsible because as legislators we have a duty to act in the best interests of the people. In this instance I am sure that we need legislation.
If we do not take any action and—God forbid—foot and mouth comes back, we know who the people will blame. We need to firm up laws when they do not suffice. The laws on foot and mouth do not suffice. The livelihoods of many people were affected. There was tragedy throughout the countryside. We cannot afford for that to happen again. We need this legislation.
My Lords, I also wish to express my very strong support for the noble Lord, Lord Moran. He has most eloquently and persuasively moved the amendment. When I spoke at Second Reading I described the Bill as harsh, unjust and untimely. I have had no reason to alter my opinion.
Many of us had hoped that the long interval between the Second Reading and the re-emergence of the Bill may have suggested that the Government were really having second thoughts, significantly revising the Bill and working hard to improve it. Rumours had been circulating of welcome changes within the ranks of DEFRA. I suppose that in our most wildly hopeful moments some of us had visions of the Bill being scrapped altogether, sunk without trace after the barrage inflicted on it in January; although the response of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to that debate was, as I remember it, fairly robust.
At the very least, we had visions of officials at DEFRA toiling late into the night, burning the candle at both ends to produce a fat volume of really significant amendments to the Bill, which, as it stands is indeed a very horrid thing, crude and delusive, in the language of that wonderful 1887 Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, quoted. Alas! The Government amendments are derisory and pitifully inadequate. They are welcome as far as they go, but that is certainly not far enough. The Marshalled List owes its substance to the many noble Lords who have tabled their own, mostly excellent amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, was right to say that there is no prospect of turning the Bill into sensible and acceptable legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, pointed to the omission of any serious attempt to portray the manner in which another outbreak would be dealt; who would have responsibility; and how the command chain would work. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, misunderstands the matter of haste. In debates, there was said to be a need for much greater haste in slaughtering infected animals and disposing of their carcasses, but that was not achieved because of the enormous scale of the slaughter.
The Bill asks for more slaughter. There is no evidence of any system being in place by which animals could be slaughtered quickly and the carcasses disposed of equally quickly.
The untimeliness of the Bill is the main reason that I support the noble Lord's Motion. There has been no Government justification for insisting on bringing back this Bill before the outcome of the two reports on the science of foot and mouth disease and the lessons to be learnt. The Government have just published their own contingency plan in case there is another outbreak. That is avowedly an interim plan, not intended to pre-empt or prejudge the results of the inquiries. That makes thoroughly good sense, but by what contorted logic can it be right to press on with the Bill with obstinate determination when, by definition, it pre-empts and pre-judges the results of the inquiries?
The Government have locked themselves into an extraordinary contradiction and I am aghast at the sheer unreasonableness of their attitude. Every argument of logic and political good sense—never mind the pressure of opinion in rural areas—points to delaying the Bill, not spending three days in Committee at this premature stage.
If the arguments of logic, good sense and reasonable political process are not sufficiently persuasive, I will resort to the ad hominem argument that to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moran, means that your Lordships could go home early on Maundy Thursday—which is no day anyway for political debate.
My Lords, also, a more useful way could have been found to spend parliamentary time on 11th April.
I hope and pray that the Government—who showed such an ability to listen, such reasonableness and flexibility over the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill—may yet see sense and that your Lordships will agree with the noble Lord's admirable Motion. If I am in "Dad's Army", I am a mere private. I defer to my commanding officer—although I do not think that the noble Lord bears much resemblance to the gallant captain with whom most of your Lordships will be familiar.
My Lords, as always it is a great privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate, who very much reflected—as he did on Second Reading—the opinions of the House. I too support the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, which reflects not only the feeling in this House but, perhaps more importantly, in the countryside at large.
In addition to the two reports—and, for heaven's sake, it must be sensible to await their outcome—a report has been instigated by the European Parliament. Presumably all three reports will result in recommendations that will demand further legislation. I am surprised that the Government Chief Whip has not intervened because the amount of parliamentary time required as a consequence of those three sets of recommendations will be considerable—over and above the three days in Committee allocated to the Bill.
The Minister argues that he needs the additional powers in the Bill to cope effectively with foot and mouth, yet the Government's own submission to the Anderson committee acknowledged that many mistakes were made during the sad outbreak that we all witnessed and that the powers afforded to the Government in the 1981 Act were not used as effectively as they could have been. The Bill seems to offer very little above what is already available to the Government under the 1981 Act, yet the damage that it will do in terms of its heavy handedness and confrontation with those who suffered so much over the past year is completely out of all proportion.
There is one further point that I would like to raise with the Minister, and I did so on Second Reading; namely, the question of Scotland. I totally fail to understand why the Scottish Parliament does not appear to think that there is a need to rush through legislation. The chances of an outbreak north of the Border must be similar to England or Wales—at least in proportion to the number of livestock in either country. Yet the Minister stated in a Written Answer to me:
"I understand that Scottish Ministers hope to issue a consultation on proposed legislation shortly".—[Official Report, 28/1/2002; col. WA9.]
Consultation, not a Bill. I can only assume that Scottish Ministers do not regard the issue with the same degree of urgency as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I concur with virtually every noble Lord who has spoken with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, that the sensible course is for the Government to wait until the reports have been published, reflect on their outcome and recommendations, then come forward with well-considered legislation that balances the needs of government and the countryside in a Bill that we could all support.
My Lords, I had no intention of intervening and do so only in response to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Strange. I particularly want to pick up on one phrase used by the noble Baroness—"mindless murderers"—in referring to MAFF staff carrying out policies that are the responsibility of Ministers and the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, was his usual excoriating self about MAFF officials and their behaviour.
Ministers and ex-Ministers have plenty of opportunities to defend themselves and to debate and change policy. I would be the last person to suggest that we should not learn from last year's outbreak or that we should not debate vaccination as against slaughter. I remind the House that when MAFF officials coped with last year's epidemic, together with many vets from abroad and in private practice, they did so without the opportunity to change policy.
The right reverend Prelate reminded us that officials were urged to implement a slaughter policy as swiftly as possible, to curtail the spread of infection. That policy was part of the contingency plans of successive governments, in conjunction with farming interests across the whole of Europe, for many years. That does not mean that slaughter must be the policy for the future and should not be revised. However, we should be careful about criticising officials—I say this in relation to the noble Baroness, whom I count as a friend—and using intemperate language, when those officials were carrying out policies that had been endorsed across the board.
My Lords, it is with a heavy heart that I support my noble friend Lord Moran. I express my gratitude to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford for so adequately articulating the feelings of the rural and farming community. A friend of mine rang me on Sunday night to say, "I hope that you are taking part in debate on the Bill. Can you kindly tell the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that I am incandescent with rage about it?". I am not incandescent but I am disturbed about the content of the Bill.
The Minister said that it is his Bill and that he wants to see it through. On behalf of the Government, he asks us to extend permission for them to perform contiguous culls in future. The Government's figures show that not a single one of the 3,305 farms that lost their animals under the contiguous cull tested positive for the virus. Of 3,873 farms slaughtered out as dangerous contacts, only one tested positive.
At Second Reading, the Minister said of the Thirsk outbreak:
"Luckily, the disease did not spread any further south east, although in other directions the spread did not stop. That was due to luck, although good organisation and the support of the bulk of the farming community also played a major role. In the end, given the delay in the contiguous cull, it was probably luck that stopped the disease from spreading further".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 837.]
If delays in the contiguous culls and luck played a part in limiting the spread of the disease, should the Government not submit their existing control policies to rigorous scientific examination by international experts before they seek to amend the Animal Health Act 1981?
Of the Brecon Beacons, the Minister said:
"the situation in the Brecon Beacons, where there was a dangerous and rapid spread in the hills, is also instructive. There, the additional policy of contiguous heft culling proved to be essential to stop further spread of the disease".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 839.]
In view of the figures that I have just cited, would the Minister care to provide the scientific evidence on which that statement is based, especially in relation to laboratory-confirmed foot and mouth disease, the results of serological testing and the interpretation of that serology?
I am not in the least happy about the Bill; it is based on false science. We should get our language right. Culling means thinning; we were mass slaughtering animals. This was not an outbreak of foot and mouth disease; it was an epidemic. While I am at it, the Minister also said:
"after months of devastation from the biggest epidemic of foot and mouth disease in any country since records began".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 835.]
Can he confirm whether it was the biggest epidemic of foot and mouth disease in any country or whether this country was where the largest number of animals were slaughtered as a means of controlling the disease? I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran.
My Lords, I warmly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in his excellent speech. In a moment, I should like to expand a little on what my noble friend Lord Peel said about Scotland.
I find it hard to understand why the Government are proceeding with the Bill. They announced it with a great fanfare of trumpets and urgency way back in the autumn, when the Bill received its Second Reading in another place. Proceedings were so urgent that they were guillotined; many amendments were not discussed and none was accepted. So there was not much consultation with Members in another place. Then the Bill came to this House in mid-January. One would think that there would be great urgency again, but no. Today it is two-and-a-half months since Second Reading. Presumably, urgency has dropped from the Government's mind.
That additional point supports the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that we should delay proceedings until we receive the results of the inquiries—not only those being undertaken in England but the important study being carried out by the Royal Society in Edinburgh to the highest scientific standard. We could then put together a Bill of practical use within about 12 months.
A year ago, many of us called for a public inquiry and continued to do so all through last summer and autumn. Eventually, the Government refused to hold one and went ahead with their own separate inquiries with the obvious intention of minimising the criticism that they were bound to receive for their handling of the whole affair.
I want to press the Government hard on their relationship with Scotland over the Bill. The epicentre of the outbreak spread from Northumberland to Longtown in northern Cumberland—no more than 10 miles from my farm as the crow flies. I lost all my sheep in the contiguous cull. Easter Sunday last year was the worst day of my farming life, when the sheep were all killed and the lambs with them.
It is ridiculous that we are legislating for a disease that is fluid and moves about quickly, yet there will be different legislation in Scotland, a few miles away. The Scottish Parliament shows no sign of urgency to follow with legislation on the lines of the Bill. That may be because, by and large, the authorities in Scotland—not only the Executive but local councils and especially the Army—carried out their job efficiently and well. Later, I shall talk about some of those procedures under amendments to the Bill in Committee and later stages.
It is impossible to divide the United Kingdom in legislation on animal disease, which hops about all over the place across the Border, one way or another. We cannot have two separate sets of legislation, compensation and a whole host of different procedures either side of the Border. Another outbreak may be right on the Border, as was the last one.
I urge the Minister to think carefully about what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and other noble Lords have said and to postpone the Bill until we receive the results of the inquiries. We can then draft an effective Bill to cover the whole of the United Kingdom—jointly with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—so that we have a United Kingdom attack on the disease and, most importantly, a United Kingdom attack on imports, which are the root of the problem and about which the Government seem to do little at present.
We heard what happens in New Zealand. A few weeks ago, I was in America. On return to this country, absolutely nothing was said about agriculture or animal husbandry, whereas if one goes to America, one has to sign forms about where one has been and whether one has been on a farm. We do not seem to be taking such import controls seriously. Even in answer to a Question this week, the Minister said that things are developing. Why cannot they develop quicker than the Bill?
We really must wait until the detailed inquiries report to the country. We can then put together a Bill that we can be proud of.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak to the amendment because, while I fully agree with many of the sentiments expressed by those in favour of it, I thought that there might be advantage in seeing whether we can improve the Bill in Committee. My intention to remain silent was altered by the powerful speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. It is admirable that she should come forth to defend so powerfully officials of the ministry of which she was such an industrious and popular Minister. But surely, what she said demonstrated conclusively that we need to know what happened.
The noble Baroness told us that the officials did their job, and that, if things went wrong, it was because they had been given the wrong policy. There is no doubt that, in the country at large, MAFF—or DEFRA, or government or whatever we choose to call it—has lost its credibility with those on the farm. If the noble Baroness is right to say that that is because there was disorder and chaos at the top and that the officials and the people on the ground were commendable, sensible, hard-working people, we can work on that basis in deciding what is needed. If, on the other hand, contrary to the noble Baroness's plucky and admirable defence, the officials were, in fact, clots who were making a mess of it, we need other legislation. Until the inquiries have told us about such things, how on earth can we know what is needed?
I am afraid that the noble Baroness has, perhaps unintentionally, converted me to the theory that the Motion is right, although I entirely accept, like her, that until we know, we should not be abusive about individuals.
My Lords, I want to clarify what I said for the noble Viscount. I did not say that we should not take action until we knew. Nor did I suggest, in anything that I said, that there was chaos at the top. What I said, though perhaps not explicitly, was that the House had a rather short memory about how effusive it was in its praise of officials during the action and that we might well wish to review policy as the whole of Europe has done. In Australia they have torn up their contingency plan and want to think again, because of the scale of the epidemic that we encountered.
It is right that we consider policy. All that I was suggesting was that, if officials were implementing a policy that was accepted, agreed and unchallenged before the epidemic, it would be wrong to castigate those officials in the terms that were used in the debate.
My Lords, I fully accept that the noble Baroness did not say that that was a reason for postponement. I merely said that it seemed that the inevitable conclusion of what she was saying was that we needed to know what went wrong before we tried to produce a solution.
My Lords, I shall intervene in this singles match to support the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moran.
There can be no doubt that major errors were made during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. No one is likely to contradict that. If it were not so, why would there be three inquiries, as well as the European one, which will probably be almost as important as our own. My friend the MEP for the South East, Caroline Lucas, has been selected to be vice-chairman of that inquiry, and I have no doubt that it will be conducted with extreme rigour.
The history of MAFF in the past few months—if not longer—is a sad one. As noble Lords know, many highly competent civil servants did their best, but, largely, they got it wrong. They got it wrong in all sorts of ways, including their approach to dealing with the disease and in their dealings with farmers. MAFF and the Treasury, between them, have reduced our farmers to a level of subsistence that is about half that of any of their colleagues in Europe. That takes some doing.
We should not follow the suggestion that has been made by my former friends in front of me that we should embark on the Committee stage and see what happens. It would be better to wait until the various reports came in. For that reason, I hope that your Lordships will vote for the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and that he will put it to the vote.
My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for giving the House the opportunity to defer discussion on the Bill. We should be grateful for several reasons. It gives the Government the opportunity to think again and gives people generally the opportunity to give their views, which they have not been able to do so far. The noble Lord's Motion refers to two reports. It is essential that we should receive those reports before we proceed with the Bill. The Government, the Liberals and—I believe—the Conservatives believe in pre-legislative hearings.
If there were ever a case in which a Bill should have a pre-legislative hearing, this is it. The Bill damages so many people and involves the entry by the Government into people's property and allows them to destroy that property at will. Ordinary people everywhere will understand that and deplore it. As there is no urgency, the passage of the Bill ought to be suspended while a pre-legislative hearing goes ahead.
It is not only people in the country who are concerned about what went on during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Millions of people throughout the country were appalled at the destruction not only of diseased animals but of animals which were perfectly fit and well and were destroyed in a manner such as people had never contemplated or seen before. The general public must be satisfied that any legislation will take into consideration all aspects of an outbreak—not only foot and mouth disease, but BSE and others—to ensure that, if the Government have to deal with such an outbreak, they do so in the best, most humane way, with regard both to people and animals.
Recently, we heard about the Government's policy on fox hunting. I am bound to make a comparison. During the foot and mouth outbreak, the Government destroyed 9 million animals—mostly fit ones—by dubious and cruel means. It would take 300 years to destroy that number of foxes by hunting. I hope that that point will be taken on board.
I support the noble Lord's Motion, and I hope that the House will do so too. It would help farming, people in the countryside and, indeed, the Government. It would show that we had a concerned, humane, listening Government who were prepared to listen and delay such draconian legislation.
My Lords, the speech that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, was an extraordinarily important one. I join those who congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Moran, on tabling the Motion. The speech that we have just heard made it clear that the sentiments behind the Motion are held in all parts of the House. The Chief Whip is here. I hope that the Government will take on board the fact that the mood of the House is overwhelmingly in favour of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moran.
A little earlier we listened again to a quite outstanding speech from the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Hereford, which I hope the Government will reflect on very carefully indeed. I believe that the noble Lord's amendment is particularly justified at this stage of the Bill's proceedings. The Government come to your Lordships' House now looking a great deal more hapless and foolish than they looked when we had the Second Reading over 10 weeks ago. At that time the Government were still telling us that the Bill, as my noble friend Lord Monro of Langholm, said, came from another place with a tag of urgency attached to it with a background, as the noble Lord said, of a guillotine in the other place.
But what do the Government do after your Lordships dismembered the Bill at Second Reading? What do they do with this urgent Bill? They wait over 10 weeks before they start the Committee stage. It is no good them saying, "Oh, parliamentary time"—I have used that argument in another place on many occasions—"did not allow us to proceed". If the Government really felt that this Bill was urgent, they could have perfectly well dealt with the Committee stage in that ridiculous half-term holiday which we had a few weeks ago.
Until this moment, when we were told that we were going to have the Committee stage starting now, I thought the delay was because the Government had paid attention to the way in which your Lordships' House dismembered the Bill on 14th January. But what do we find? No way was that in their minds; they wanted to press on with this most unfortunate Bill.
It seems to me that what has happened is that the Government now have the worst of both worlds. They can no longer argue that the Bill is urgent because they wasted 10 weeks in allowing it just to lie on the table, but they are still mindlessly pressing on with it against the view widely held across the House that it is unnecessary and premature.
When the Minister replies, he has to answer two questions above all. First, what has been the reason for the 10-week delay? Why could we not have dealt with the Bill earlier if it is urgent? Secondly, if it is not urgent, why go on with it now when there are inquiries waiting to report? The Government cannot have it both ways. It seems to me that the Government have the worst of both worlds over this matter.
About a year ago I was one of the first to ask for a broad public inquiry on similar lines to the Northumberland committee of 1967. I was in the House of Commons at that time. I remember it vividly. At that time I said that I thought a public inquiry should start at once. My noble friend Lord Plumb was a member of the Northumberland committee. His distinction over matters of this sort as a former president of the European Parliament and of the National Farmers Union, confirm that his credentials to lead that committee were irrefutable. When I asked for an immediate start to the public inquiry it never occurred to me that there would not be one sooner or later. But I believed that it ought to start straightaway. I was totally astonished when the Government refused to have a similar inquiry to the one which Fred Peart set up when he was Minister for Agriculture all those years ago.
It occurs to me that if a Conservative Government had still been in power last year when this outbreak began and they had behaved in the same way as the current Government have behaved over setting up public inquiries, I could not envisage the extent of the howls which would have gone up from Opposition Members in this House and in another place. I am totally horrified by the way the Government have behaved over this matter. I believe that there has been incompetence from top to bottom in handling this recent outbreak.
As my noble friend Lord Ferrers rightly said, what is the point of setting up these inquiries and then embarking on legislation? It is the old case over which many of us castigated Labour governments in the past of the gentleman in Whitehall knowing best and ignoring inquiries and the experts on the ground who could give—and I hope they will still—advice as to how these things have come about and what ought to be done in future.
It seems that we are in the process of a great cover-up of government incompetence over the course of the last year. I hope that the House supports the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moran.
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. Contrary to what the Minister said at Second Reading, he does not need the Bill. As the noble Countess, Lady Mar, said, the Government have already slaughtered millions of animals. It was not a cull, but a slaughter. If they have slaughtered 5 million animals that were not infected then the Minister cannot possibly need this Bill. He may want it, but he certainly does not need it.
At the leisurely pace at which this Bill has been proceeding, I have had time to make my own private inquiry in the absence of a public inquiry. My sister lives in Hatherleigh in Devon which, as noble Lords may know, was the centre of the disastrous outbreak of foot and mouth. She arranged a meeting for me there with local farmers as did the local Devon NFU which, I may say, differed considerably from the London branch in its attitude to this Bill.
The point which emerged most tellingly from both those meetings was the lack of local organisation and communication. Vets, the police and the Army all seemed to be uncertain of their role. Local vets were sidelined and put under the control of MAFF. The bureaucrats did not have the faintest idea of what was going on. That was the information that I received.
For example, the local auctioneer had not got a job because there were no cattle auctions at all. It is an old-established firm there. He put at the disposal of officials the services of his employees, their expertise, vehicles and maps and intimate knowledge of local farms, but they were turned down. There were large numbers of lorry drivers going down small Devon lanes laden with sleepers and coal, but going in the wrong direction and without maps. That is an example of the short-sightedness which should never have occurred.
Both the groups of farmers to whom I spoke for quite a long time on both occasions made the point that disease control operations must be handled at local level and not by remote control from London. At the end of our meetings I asked them all what they thought about the Animal Health Bill. They said unanimously that it should be held over until the Government's own inquiry had reported. That is the reaction that I received on the ground since our last debate at Second Reading.
While I was there I spoke with Professor Ian Mercer who chaired the Devon County Council inquiry into foot and mouth, which I believe is the only report which has been completed and published on the foot and mouth epidemic so far. As your Lordships know, his conclusions were pretty damning. However, it is worth quoting a few lines from his conclusion. He said:
"The reports received by the Inquiry of insensitive and even belligerent operatives and bungled culls do little to enhance the professional reputation of those involved, from Ministers downwards . . . the evidence presented to us is overwhelmingly critical of the balance of effective need against unnecessary killing of healthy stock under the contiguous cull policy as carried out by MAFF".
Yet that is the policy which was so roundly condemned by his report and which the Government ask us now to sanction in the Bill. That is like a drunk driver saying, "I'll drive much better if I have another bottle of Scotch".
What I saw and heard on my visit to Devon has been borne out by the evidence given to the two inquiries that the Government set up: the lessons learned inquiry and the Royal Society inquiry. That evidence is available on an excellent Internet site, which I recommend to noble Lords who may not be acquainted with it. It is www.warmwell.com. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that the public and many people have not had their say. Many have had their say on that website. It makes extremely instructive reading. One can see many of the submissions made to the inquiries.
There are constants in the evidence presented by farmers and scientists, including Dr David Shannon, who until December 2001 was chief scientist at MAFF and DEFRA, the CLA, senior veterinary experts and other organisations and individuals. The constants involved are that the so-called contingency plan was ineffective and outdated; the remoteness of the centralised bureaucracy in Page Street was divorced from the reality in the field; and that there was lack of effort to ensure that infectious diseases such as foot and mouth disease do not come into this country. The United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada seem successfully to keep those diseases at bay. Why are we so slack when it comes to keeping out those diseases? If we cannot stop illegal imports, it seems utterly unrealistic to pretend that we can be a foot and mouth disease free country.
The final constant is the Bill. The contiguous cull was not necessary. It must be stopped. It was a highly expensive disaster for animal and human welfare and did nothing to prevent the spread of the disease—rather to the contrary. Evidence I have seen indicates that the contiguous cull may have contributed to the spread of the disease through movements of vehicles and people from infected areas into contiguous cull areas. What it did very successfully was to kill 5 million uninfected animals and divert resources away from essential disease control efforts in infected areas.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, mentioned the outbreak in the Brecon Beacons. I add my voice in asking this question. What is the evidence that the contiguous cull in the Brecon Beacons stopped the disease from spreading further? My information is that that was not the case. I shall be interested to hear evidence indicating that that action was successful. The noble Countess mentioned DEFRA's own figures. Of the 3,305 farms which were tested, one only was positive. DEFRA now seems to disagree with its own figures and has amended them. According to its most recent figures, there were 120 "positives" out of 2,960 contiguous culls. Perhaps in answer to a Written Question the Minister will explain the difference between the figures and state which figure is correct.
I conclude by quoting from the evidence presented by Dr Sheila Crispin to the lessons learned inquiry. She is an extremely experienced vet and reader in comparative ophthalmology at the University of Bristol. She says:
"If one single improvement is to be achieved after all the Inquires it is that the culture of MAFF/DEFRA must change . . . they must realise, or be made to realise that their own inadequacies cannot be hidden beneath draconian and unscientific measures such as contiguous culling policies and the amendment to the Animal Health Act".
DEFRA has forfeited the trust of the rural community. Until that trust is restored, I can see no reason for the Government to be given the powers they request in the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, will press his Motion to a vote. If so, I shall vote with him.
My Lords, unfortunately, I was not able to take part in the Second Reading debate. If I have an interest to declare, it is that I live in Cumbria which was at the heart of the dreadful outbreak. I do not farm but I am acutely aware of the enormous damage that the outbreak did to the tourism and recreational industries on which much of the economy of the Lake District, where I live, depended. As I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said in her Second Reading speech, I am well aware that if the foot and mouth disease were to break out again there the wide support which the tourist industry and recreational bodies gave to Her Majesty's Government last year would not be repeated. If this Bill were to become an Act of Parliament, it would not help.
I rather sympathised with the Prime Minister when he decided against having a public inquiry because I believed that that would take years and we wanted good, quick post hoc investigations. The three inquiries were set up. We have had the Curry report on farming, a first-class report. I should have thought that we were not that far away from receiving the other two important reports. But apparently the Government cannot wait. They want draconian measures. They want measures which make criminals of ordinary people. Yet it is 10 weeks since the Second Reading debate.
The Second Reading debate demonstrated that the Bill was exceptionally controversial. The fact that we have spent an hour and 19 minutes on the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, shows equally how controversial it still is. Yet apparently we cannot await the two reports. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, asked, what was the point of commissioning those reports? What an insult it is to the distinguished people who make up those committees if we cannot wait before we leap into legislation. We all know that legislation in haste—and if any measure was legislation in haste it must be this one—usually ends in tears. How can it be right to proceed with such highly controversial measures when we do not know what the two important reports will say?
My Lords, I shall briefly state the reason that I shall vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I refer to one lacuna in the Bill. There is nothing about protecting animal health by the proper processing of imports. I have been putting down a series of Questions for Written Answer. Those answers I have received reveal a shambles. I have put down subsequent questions which the Government have some difficulty in answering. But that consideration must be taken into account if the Bill is intended to protect animal health.
My Lords, I do not speak because of the kind compliments paid by my noble friend Lord Jopling. He referred to earlier days. It is amazing how much one can remember of what took place 34 years ago. How many lessons we have learned during that time is debatable. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the outbreak of last year. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, reminded us of the tremendous job that many people did in the field, working for periods of 24 hours. I wholly support that. The noble Baroness said that of course they did not cause the chaos, but chaos there was. We saw chaos in abundance throughout the whole country. We all hope that that kind of thing will be avoided in the future.
After a debate lasting one and a half hours, the Minister must be anxious to respond to the many comments that have been made, and I am sure that the Chief Whip will be keen to get on with the business of the House. But in his excellent opening speech leading the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, reminded us that some 10 weeks were allowed from the last debate we held in this House for evidence to be taken from those concerned in the industry. That was made clear. It will not surprise the Minister to learn that I have read the submissions of the majority of those who gave evidence over that period. I have to say that I see no comparison between the evidence that was submitted and what is contained in this Bill. The problem we have to face is that, while the Minister has tabled one or two amendments, they are not sufficient to satisfy people in the country.
As my noble friend Lord Peel pointed out earlier, it is those people with whom we are concerned. They have already reacted and they will react further unless we are given something that looks towards the future and which is satisfactory. I regret therefore that the changes we called for on the last occasion have not been included.
What will happen when Professor Anderson's "lessons learned" report eventually emerges? If we have come to certain conclusions in this place and the Bill has been passed, I ask the Minister whether we shall then have to have another Bill. Will further legislation be produced in light of those further reports? I know from my previous experience that I would have felt insulted if, after the government had accepted our recommendations, they had then suddenly decided to ignore them and to bring forward a Bill.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in his comment that further time needs to be given to consider this. That does not mean that I or anyone else is anxious to delay matters. Contingency measures have been put in place so that action could be taken in the disastrous event of another outbreak of foot and mouth disease or, indeed, any other disease, because the legislation seeks to cover all diseases and thus they have to be dealt with in this way.
I have every confidence in the veterinary services of this country. I have every confidence that we have sufficient scientists and epidemiologists, who are already considering and preparing for the possibility, God forbid, that we suffer another outbreak. I would only submit that if we did have another outbreak, we would never see the same situation again. I truly believe that greater concentration would be made on "ring" vaccination which—who knows at the moment?—could prevent the massive contiguous culls which have caused the slaughter of so many clean cattle during this outbreak.
Much has been said about the importance of dealing effectively with meat imports. Following our previous debate 10 weeks ago, I asked the Minister for a figure which was then sent to me in writing. At the time I was told that over the course of the foot and mouth disease outbreak, some 180,339 tonnes of meat had been imported from seven countries where foot and mouth disease is endemic. That was absolutely crazy, given the measures taken by certain countries that have been referred to during the course of our debate. They take firm measures to prevent products or even people from countries where there is a disease outbreak from entering their areas. I suggest that we concentrate far more on dealing with problems before they arise, rather than concentrate now on what measures would have to be taken in the event of such a terrible tragedy taking place again.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, deserves some praise for being the only supporter of the Bill over the entire one-and-a-half-hour discussion so far. But her argument that the Bill is needed because the Government do not have the essential powers to deal with an outbreak of foot and mouth disease have been completely undermined by the Government's actions since Second Reading.
In addition to the two questions put to the Minister by my noble friend Lord Jopling, I should be grateful if he could tell noble Lords what action he took after the scare in Yorkshire some weeks ago? It was thought that we were about to suffer another outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Did the Minister have in hand emergency legislation that would have been presented to the House? Was this Bill going to be brought forward as a matter of urgency? What action was taken at that stage to remedy the alleged lacuna in the Minister's armoury to tackle foot and mouth disease? It is clear that this Bill did not appear on the Order Paper at that stage and, so far as I know, no attempt was made to bring it forward.
I believe, therefore, that the Minister himself has destroyed his own argument, one which he used in response to the House in the debate on Second Reading. He said then that he needed the provisions of this Bill and that he needed them quickly. I hope that he will be able to give a full answer to my noble friend Lord Jopling in response to the question that I have just posed.
My Lords, of course I have a great deal of sympathy for the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, being considered this afternoon, having moved a similar Motion myself on Second Reading. My view then was that this House should hear the Government's reasoning as to why they needed the Bill in this form. This afternoon noble Lords have again expressed their anger in the strongest terms because they have not been offered a Bill in a form that they had expected.
The Government have claimed continually that what they seek is a simple amendment to the Animal Health Act 1981 in the form of emergency legislation. The anger that has been expressed by noble Lords this afternoon reflects the fact that this Bill goes far beyond that by conferring new powers on the Minister and his officials, while—as many noble Lords have pointed out—it does nothing to improve controls on imports. My party has pointed out both in this House and in another place that the Bill is not proportionate.
I had hoped that, between the debate on Second Reading and today, the Government would have brought forward a raft of amendments or would have indicated that they were willing to accept many of our amendments, along with those put down by other noble Lords. They would have vastly improved the Bill.
The two inquiries which have been referred to this afternoon are supplemented by the European Union inquiry which will look more deeply into the balance between vaccination and vaccination and cull. That inquiry may well reach different conclusions with regard to what the European Union will allow in terms of vaccination, as well as with regard to the whole policy approach to the control of foot and mouth disease. That is something which we should bear in mind.
I do not expect my position to be popular with noble Lords this afternoon because I continue to believe that we should allow the Government at least the Committee stage so that they are given an opportunity to explain how they might intend to bring forward simple emergency legislation. I recognise that the Government are responsible here and that they must do their best to control outbreaks of disease in animals. However, I firmly believe that the Government must accept into the provisions of this Bill some of the duties and responsibilities that are incumbent on them.
Beyond the matter of import controls, I return to the issue of the public inquiry, which is the subject of another amendment to the Bill. However, despite calls from all sides of the House and from all over the country, the Government have dug in their heels and have refused to allow a public inquiry. Thus, at the moment, the Floor of the House is probably the most public place in which we are likely to get any answers to our questions.
My Lords, I do not believe that the House wants to debate politics this afternoon. I want to debate the issue of animal health, and how best to control animal disease. The noble Earl should not make light of that aim.
The Government now have some choices before them: they can amend the Bill—indeed, there are many helpful hints as to how to do that in the amendments now before the House—or they could delay the Bill until they can benefit from the findings of the inquiries. I believe that the quality of the forthcoming evidence will be most useful. Alternatively, I ask noble Lords to consider a third option; namely, that we go for a thoroughly amended Bill that we debate on Report. I draw noble Lords' attention to my proposed sunset clause, which would allow the Government simply to take forward emergency powers that would then lapse. In tabling the amendment, I have given the Government time to consider the results of the inquiries, as well as the reactions to them, and to draw up legislation as a result.
If I do not vote for the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, this afternoon, noble Lords can be absolutely assured that that is not a sign that the Liberal Democrats are of the view that the Government have come anywhere near striking the right balance in this Bill thus far. We should explore the issues further in public. I believe that the Government could still table amendments that would provide us with a constructive way to proceed. I urge the Government, therefore, to take that opportunity. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
My Lords, I have much sympathy for the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, about which we have spoken together. A similar amendment was moved and debated on Second Reading by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, when there were two to three speakers only who spoke in favour of what I regard as an odious Bill. The Government should have no doubt about the feeling on the Bill—namely, that it should be held over. To date, there has been only one supporter for the proposition that we should go ahead; and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has just expressed her concerns in that respect.
As other noble Lords have said, this Bill was brought forward in great haste. As my noble friend Lord Jopling observed, if this legislation was urgently required why have we waited these 10 weeks for its introduction? The Minister urged that there could be another outbreak. He said that the draconian powers in the Bill would be necessary, and that such legislation was urgently required. Second Reading took place on 14th January—I should remember because it was my birthday—and some two months plus have elapsed since then. Having waited those two months, why is it not appropriate to wait for the findings of the Government's own inquiries that are due to be completed this summer, given the fact that we are unlikely to complete the proceedings on the Bill before that time? Indeed, that even adds weight to the suggestion that we should wait.
My noble friend Lord Plumb said that the evidence being given to the various ongoing inquiries does not reflect the thrust of the Bill. Indeed, Scottish Ministers are not pushing for an equivalent Bill, as is the case with the Northern Ireland Ministers. Animal health and disease control are not dependent on national boundaries. My noble friend Lord Peel spoke about the consultation in Scotland, without the introduction of a Bill, while my noble friend Lord Monro referred to issues that need addressing as regards the Scottish and English borders.
The National Audit Office and Dr Anderson's inquiries are well under way. On top of that, as several of my noble friends observed, there have also been various county inquiries. The Mercer inquiry in Devon was particularly critical, and stressed that the first matter to be addressed should be the question of import controls. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford referred to the need for the Government to address the prevailing situation. Although the Government have brought forward one or two amendments to the Bill, none of them appear before Clause 6. I believe that the first government amendment is Amendment No. 58.
The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, asks for a delay until,
"the responses to the consultation . . . have been published".
The consultation period on one of the matters that the Government are considering ended on 15th March of this year. But, to date, we have not heard anything from them. Can the Minister say why we are taking up this Bill again, when the Government know the results of those consultations? Indeed, they are privy to those results, while noble Lords in this Chamber and those outside are not. Surely the completed consultation ought to inform the Government's thinking and aid our debates.
The second part of the noble Lord's Motion deals specifically with the government inquiries into the foot-and-mouth outbreak. The Government should hold a proper, independent public inquiry. They should wait until such inquiries have been completed and reported; and, as several noble Lords have said, such findings should be incorporated in the legislation. In fact, looking at the situation logically, if we go ahead with the Bill today it will not complete its passage through both Houses of Parliament until the time when both inquiries will report. Therefore, is it not logical to wait until such inquiries have reported, so as to have something firm upon which to build? If proceedings on the Bill go ahead today, we shall press that argument strongly during its passage.
Amendment No. 151 goes further than the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. It is bad enough that the Government have set themselves against holding a public inquiry; but, in doing so, they risk losing the important information that the inquiries in progress could bring forward. Some of that information might help to restrict and to prevent the disease spreading in any future outbreak.
Does the Minister accept—I hope that he does—that the self-congratulatory style in the Government's submissions to the official foot and mouth inquiry dated 22nd March of this year do not inspire confidence in his department from those who were affected by the foot and mouth outbreak? I heard the pleas made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in that respect. As she knows, I have supported the way in which many officials carried out their work. However, there were criticisms. It seems strange that, in the submissions, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:
"We already have drawn up revised interim contingency plans which will build on our experience and are in place to guide our response to any further outbreak".
The noble Lord continued to say:
"There are further lessons to be learned. The lessons learned and Royal Society inquiries will be comprehensive and fully independent; they will identify what should be done if we were faced with any future outbreak of animal disease".
Does that not add weight to the argument that your Lordships have put forward this afternoon as regards the delay?
Perhaps I may refer the House to an animal health centenary document printed in 1965, which some noble Lords may remember. I believe that the statements made in that document are as relevant today as they were at that time. Under the heading "Principles and practices", it said:
"All these and other inconveniences will only be accepted by farmers if they are made fully aware of the objects of the policy and kept informed of the progress of the campaign at every stage . . . The farming community must be willing to co-operate in every aspect of the work".
Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke commented on the fact that we need to take communities with us.
Bearing all that in mind, is not the Minister prepared to accept some of the criticism of the way in which the foot and mouth outbreak was handled? If not, how does he expect the Government to take these farming and rural communities along with them, while at the same time giving themselves huge powers in the Bill to slaughter on suspicion?
The forum on illegal food imports, which was announced last week on 21st March, is to start work to address this issue. It has been asked to bring forward an action programme. What is the time-scale for this forum to report to the Government? When will its report be published? When will we have an opportunity to debate it?
Numerous reasons have been given today as to why we should not proceed with the Bill at this time. As I said, my only criticism of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is that it does not go far enough. Amendment No. 151 goes a step further and seeks a full independent public inquiry. That is what should happen.
The killing of millions of animals—as the noble Countess, Lady Mar, said, it was not a cull, it was a slaughter—brought untold suffering to animals and to farming communities. It also brought devastation to rural communities, rural businesses and the tourist industry. Compensation for consequential loss was not available and many people are still struggling to regain lost income.
In addition, different practices were adopted and different decisions were taken. For example, no scientific evidence was produced for allowing Phoenix the calf to live. Recently, Kirsty, the girl who attacked an official—I am sorry that she did—when her goat was killed, was given an absolute discharge because the judge felt that the circumstances warranted it.
Those two examples highlight the Government's difficulty. There is no logicality and no scientific grounds for many of the proposals in the Bill. The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, seeks to delay the Bill, but it totally fails to address the issue of the importation of meat and food products into this country, an issue which has been raised many times by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. The Government have announced the setting up of a forum to address the issue, but we need to know more about it.
We want to know what has been said to the Government by those who have been consulted during the inquiry which finished on 15th March. If we are to discuss these issues in Committee we shall need to know what people have said. If the Government refuse to hold a public inquiry, then, as far as the wider world is concerned, a public inquiry will be held in Committee and on Report in this House. The responsibility will fall on us.
I sympathise with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and I note the strength of feeling that has been expressed in this area. My role is to ensure that the Bill does not come into force until a full inquiry has been held.
My Lords, I very much regret that the Motion has been moved in this form. Let us be clear, if the Motion were agreed to the Bill would not pass in this Session of Parliament. If that is the aim of noble Lords rather than to delay the Bill to obtain information, let them be frank about it—because that would be the result.
A number points have been made, both about the conduct of the response to the foot and mouth epidemic and about the powers in the Bill. I shall deal primarily with procedural points and with the reasons why we believe that this Bill needs to be enacted as rapidly as possible. That is not to say that the other points are not important, but many of them will be touched on if we proceed into Committee on the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, and others—including the noble Baronesses who have spoken from the Front Benches opposite—asked why, if the matter was so urgent, there has been a delay between Second Reading and the Committee stage, which I hope will begin today. The answer is contained in part of another question of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, in regard to the results of the consultation which ended last week.
During the course of Second Reading, I was asked whether we would consider before Committee stage the response to that consultation in respect of the protocol on the slaughter powers in the Bill. I believed that that was a reasonable request. I did not immediately accede to it, but it seemed reasonable that we should consider those responses—and we have done so. Had we proceeded directly to the first group of amendments in the Marshalled List I would have indicated in broad terms the outcome of that consultation. I would have placed in the Library a summary of those responses in order to inform the Committee during the subsequent stages of the Bill.
It seemed a reasonable request. Although it has meant delay—and I would have preferred not to have had that delay—it is a clear example that the Government listened to the voice of the House during a fairly robust Second Reading.
The normal position with Bills at Committee stage in this House—certainly in my experience—is that the Government listen. My own personal conduct at Committee stage is also to listen. More than 200 amendments have been tabled by noble Lords who have taken the trouble to register their views as to why they believe the Bill is deficient and why we should take a different course with some parts of the Bill. I have indicated that I would very much be prepared to listen to some of those arguments. The Government have not closed their ears or their mind to the possibility of adopting some of the amendments, or something very like them, in the course of the Committee stage. That is what Committee stages are for. We would come forward with amendments at later stages if we were convinced of the arguments during Committee stage. But to deny the House a Committee stage seems to be an odd departure from the normal procedure of the House.
Indeed, at Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, moved an amendment which, if taken literally, would have delayed the Bill. She was persuaded that it would be sensible to proceed to the Committee stage, and she has rightly reiterated today that the House should move to the Committee stage to hear the Government's responses to the amendments and the arguments. She made the correct decision and did not press her amendment on that occasion. I therefore regret to see a rather more specific amendment, which would cause more delay, on the Order Paper today.
My Lords, is the Government's mind open to the concept of a full, honest and open public inquiry into this matter? Or is that something the Government will not accept during the Committee stage?
My Lords, that is not something the Government will accept during Committee stage. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, indicated that she has tabled an amendment to that effect, but we have made it clear that we believe the two inquiries will more rapidly establish the lessons to be learnt that are not already apparent. We shall proceed along those lines and take very seriously the outcome of the inquiries. A full quasi-judicial and very legalistic public inquiry would take far too long. There have been a number of examples where public inquiries have led to that kind of delay.
I find it slightly ironic that the people who argue for a public inquiry, which could take years, are the same people who are now arguing that we should delay until one has been held. We need to know the results quickly and we believe that the independent inquiries will give us those results.
My Lords, will the noble Lord undertake that if the inquiries come up with something which runs contrary to the Bill, and if the Bill has by then become an Act, the Government will immediately introduce an Act repealing those sections of the Bill which have been found by their own inquiry to be inadequate? If he will not give such an undertaking, the case for the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, will be overwhelming.
My Lords, we have always said that the inquiries—both the scientific inquiry and the lessons learned inquiry under Dr Anderson—could well lead to recommendations for legislation which is different from the existing Animal Health Act or any amendment to that Act carried during the passage of this Bill. Therefore, if the inquiries recommend that we should legislate on these issues, and the Government accept the recommendation, we shall take the matter very seriously. Therefore, I do not think that that issue arises. The issue is whether the House wishes to deprive the Government of powers which in their judgment the Government consider are wanting for the period between the passage of this Bill and a point at which we can further legislate.
My Lords, I have asked the Minister this question previously regarding interim recommendations that may be coming forward. The terms of reference for the lessons learned inquiry specifically state:
"If there are important emerging recommendations that should be passed to the Government sooner, the inquiry will publish interim findings".
Will the Government encourage the inquiry to do so, and bring them before the House so that we might learn what they are? Has the Minister inquired whether such findings are forthcoming?
My Lords, Dr Anderson's inquiry has the ability to bring forward interim recommendations. However, the conduct of that inquiry and whether he wishes to do so is a matter for him; it is not a matter for the Government. It is an independent inquiry and the procedure adopted by Dr Anderson at present does not seem to be leading to interim recommendations. But, as I say, that is a matter for him.
The point that I as a Government Minister have to face—and, frankly, the House has to face—is what powers are available to the Government were a disease, whether foot and mouth or any other, to occur over the coming year or so, which would be the minimum period which would ensue were we to legislate post the outcome of these inquiries.
My Lords, that is fairly clear in the Bill. We consider that the Bill does not answer all the questions as to what lessons can be learnt. We do not expect all those lessons to be learnt until we have the full outcome of those inquiries. But we already know what some of those lessons are. Some are now incorporated within the interim contingency plan. But some are also about legislative powers. It is clear to us—in particular in carrying out a contiguous cull, but also in potentially carrying out other strategies to contain diseases, whether vaccination, blood tests, serology or alternative approaches—that we do not have adequate powers of entry or rapid enough powers for enforcing entry in order to contain the disease.
However many specious cases and statistics are raised in the Sunday Telegraph, they are not relevant to this matter. What is clear is that the more rapidly we achieved our targets under the contiguous cull strategy, the more rapidly the disease was contained. That is not to say that there is not an alternative strategy that we might at some stage have to pursue.
My Lords, of course, if you kill all the animals, they will not get the disease. We need to have rational grounds for showing that those animals would have caught the disease. There is absolutely no indication of that. Using DEFRA's own figures, less than 2 per cent of the animals killed in the contiguous cull had the disease—and that even includes the 120 mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke.
My Lords, I have tried to explain this matter to the House on numerous occasions. I tried again in response to one of the supplementary questions to the noble Countess's Question the other day. A contiguous cull is to eliminate the spread of a disease. We should not expect the majority of animals, or even a significant minority, to have developed the disease if a contiguous cull is carried out within 48 hours of the disease appearing on the initial farm. Indeed, the more effective the contiguous cull, the lower would be the level of post-mortem tests showing the disease to have spread. If anything, the statistics reported in the Sunday Telegraph, and quoted by the noble Countess, are an indication of the relative success of the contiguous cull. The whole point of a contiguous cull is to ensure that other animals do not die; and the degree to which we achieve success in a contiguous cull reduces the ultimate number of animals that will be exposed to the disease.
My Lords, the noble Lord himself, in relation to the Thirsk outbreak, pointed out that the contiguous cull had been delayed in Thirsk. He said—believe it or not—that it was a matter of luck and the good will of the farmers and other people in the community who took care with disease control. We do not have the scientific proof that it was the contiguous cull that prevented the spread of the disease.
My Lords, the noble Countess completely misinterprets what I said at that time. The point was that, in the Thirsk outbreak, there were a number of delays to the contiguous cull. Where there was delay, there were a number of cases of animals having the disease—within a very few days in some cases. The disease was therefore spreading. At one point, it looked as if it was spreading in the general direction of the south east, towards the intensive pig units of the East Riding. It would have been an utter catastrophe had the disease got into those pig units. In fact, the disease spread in a different direction. When I referred to "luck", it was a matter of luck that the delay in the contiguous cull led to the disease spreading in a northerly direction. Had it spread to the south east, the pig industry and the whole of the East Riding and the East Midlands would have faced utter catastrophe. That was the point I was making.
The fact that we eventually contained the disease did depend to a large degree on the co-operation of the vast majority of farmers. But we are not talking about the vast majority of farmers; we are talking about those very few farmers who, one way or another, delayed the undertaking of the contiguous cull.
Nor am I saying that at some future point, either as a result of the inquiries or as a result of a reassessment of what the correct strategy should be at European level, a different strategy might not be adopted. But, whatever strategy is adopted, whether contiguous cull, vaccination or a mixture of the two, entry to premises will be required. The Bill provides a greater rapidity of access to such premises and greater rights of access. Those are the powers that we currently lack. Were there to be a further outbreak—let us all hope and pray that there is no further outbreak of foot and mouth or any other such virulent disease—the lack of those powers will inhibit the Government.
It would be utterly irresponsible of any Minister in this House—having the hindsight which neither the authors of the Animal Health Act 1981 nor my predecessors at the beginning of the recent epidemic could possibly have had, and knowing that we could have those powers—were he able to persuade the House to agree to them, to sit back and say: "Oh, sorry. Okay, I will take the view of the House and delay pressing for those powers".
I am talking about interim powers in many respects. We need to have the full reports of the inquiries. But those interim powers could be crucial: for the health of our agricultural industry, and possibly, in the case of some exotic diseases that might enter this country, for public health and for human health as well.
I believe that neither the noble Baroness opposite, nor the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, were they in government, would take a different view from mine. The Government need to acquire the powers that we know we need in such circumstances. There may be other things that we need.
My Lords, in circumstances where the powers were needed urgently because of an outbreak, surely the House of Commons and this place would give the Government those powers straightaway—and, not only that: the Minister must know now what powers he might need, because he has just tried to tell us what powers the Government would be given under the Bill which he considers to be essential. Why does he not put those into the form of a Bill which he could introduce and push through this House and the other place in a matter of 24 hours?
I do not see why we have to go into this great difficulty now in order to solve a problem which could easily be solved if it came to the crunch. In doing so, the Minister could then start to win the support of the rural community, which is longing to get together and stop all this stuff that is going on at the moment, at a time when the farming industry is in very serious trouble indeed.
My Lords, it seems odd to argue that powers that we know we could get through the normal legislative process should be sought only in an emergency situation. I may be wrong, but I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Prior, was the Minister for Agriculture at around the time that the Animal Health Act was passed. Had he and his colleagues had the terrible experience of this epidemic and known what we know now, I believe that they would rightly have written into that Act the powers that I am seeking. They would not have waited to rely on emergency powers. I am therefore seeking parliamentary time, which is always precious, to do that in the normal, considered way in which Parliament undertakes these things. I hope to avoid finding that there is already an epidemic before we bring the matter to the House.
We know what we need. It is not the totality of what we need. We do not know everything that we need, but we know this. In that situation, it would be irresponsible for the Government not to urge on the House the adoption of the Bill and it would be irresponsible of the House to prevent us from gaining those powers. I hope that the House will reject the amendment.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he address the question of Scotland? Why has the Scottish Parliament decided, in its wisdom, that it is not necessary to bring in an emergency Bill and instead issued a consultation document? I wonder whether the reason is that they managed the affairs in Scotland so admirably under the powers that they already have under the 1981 Act. As my noble friend Lord Monro said earlier, it is crazy to have legislation in England that will be different from that in Scotland.
My Lords, I am constantly amazed at the rejection of devolution in many contexts, which the Opposition continue to pursue. In this respect, agriculture is a devolved issue. Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament are entitled to take a different view from that taken in England. In addition, the fact that Scottish Ministers are engaging in a period of consultation shows that they, too, believe that they need additional powers. I also point out tentatively that if, at the end of that consultation period, Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament are convinced that they need legislation, the legislative process in the Scottish Parliament will be somewhat more rapid than it is in Westminster. For that reason, they have, perhaps, the luxury of being able to engage in consultation.
My Lords, the argument that Ministers use—that devolution means that Scotland will do something different—cannot apply when we are talking about a disease in cattle that wander backwards and forwards over the Border. Surely it is the responsibility of any government and any Scottish Parliament to come to an agreement before they legislate.
With respect, my Lords, no. The criminal law in Scotland is different from that in England. Criminals also cross the border with a fair degree of rapidity. There is no reason why the Scottish Parliament should not take a different view on animal health legislation, just as it can on criminal legislation. As a matter of good practice, it is important that Scottish Ministers and English Ministers should keep in close touch and that their powers should not be significantly different. However, the right of the Scottish Parliament to take a different view and to adopt a different timescale is a consequence of devolution. I wish that some noble Lords respected the logic of that position in this context as in many others.
My Lords, I thank all those around the House who have supported me. I have listened with great interest to what has been said. We have heard many powerful speeches and many new and different points have been made. That has been very useful.
My main concern on tabling the amendment was that, on this very important matter, it is necessary to get any legislation right. Almost everybody agrees that the Bill as it stands is not what we want. I am sure that, to be right, the legislation needs to be based on the inquiries that the Government set up. I believe that it is very much in the Government's interests to do that.
At the start of the afternoon, I was firmly of the opinion that it would not be sensible to divide the House, because I did not have the marshalled support of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Parties. It seemed to me dotty that I should try on my own to challenge the Government. At various times during the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has given me a baleful and rather intimidating look.
My Lords, I accept that assurance. I am sure that it was going through the noble Lord's head that here was a tiresome independent holding up proceedings, which he was anxious to get on with. I know that he is a distinguished countryman and a noted farming expert. I wondered whether, at the back of his mind, his private view was slightly sceptical.
Having heard what has been said all around the House, I think that it is right that, however slender our chances, those who take the same view as I do should have the chance to express their opinion. I therefore ask the House to support my amendment.