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.)
My Lords, I should perhaps say a few words on this Motion because I was responsible for moving the amendment to hold up the Committee stage of the Bill which your Lordships accepted on 26th March. The Government propose today to go ahead with the Committee stage, which the letter, though hardly the spirit, of the amendment allows them to do. As always, I declare my interest in that my wife has a small herd of cattle in Wales; but we have no sheep.
I am sorry that I was not able to be present last Thursday when the House discussed the Government's Motion to take Part 2 of the Bill on scrapie out of turn. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was kind enough to give me two apologies, which of course I accept. I was only puzzled when, after the Committee stage appeared on the Order Paper, I was approached by the House authorities who were clearly surprised that I had not been consulted. They spoke to the Government Whips, after which they told me that I would receive a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and that I should respond, making it clear whether I agreed with what was proposed. I waited for the letter. Although it is dated 17th July, it reached me only half an hour ago. So I have not been able to respond.
The Minister explained to the House last week that the Government used the normal procedure, by which I suppose he meant the usual channels. So it appeared to me then that, as a Cross-Bencher, I did not need to be consulted, at any rate until the very last moment. The letter of mine, which my noble friend Lady Mar kindly read out my letter during her speech on 18th July, was originally intended as a brief for those who had supported me on 26th March. I should not like the House to think that I am now going to communicate with it only by letter rather than in person. But I am grateful to my noble friend for making my position clear and for adding her own eminently reasonable views.
The Minister said that the Government had already considered the reports. To have done so properly in the nine days which had elapsed since the Royal Society's report was published and the three days after the Anderson report came out was indeed surprising, especially since, as your Lordships will have seen, Sir Brian Follett, chairman of the Royal Society's inquiry, is reported as saying that by switching to vaccination,
"we are in the process of turning around a ship of policy that has been sailing for decades".
That was a very significant remark.
Part 1 of the present Bill is based entirely on legitimising and extending the policy of mass slaughter. Long ago, on 14th January, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said of a future mass slaughter policy that:
"The last outbreak brought the rural community in this country to its knees. It brought many families to a state of despair and many farming families to a position in which they were on the verge of open defiance of the law. I do not believe that they or the wider public will stand for a similar policy in the future".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 895.]
I am sure she was right. Six million animals were slaughtered. The direct cost to the public sector was, according to the National Audit Office, estimated at over £3 billion. The cost to the private sector was estimated at over £5 billion. To do all that again must be unacceptable.
I believe that in the light of the Royal Society's report a thorough rethink is necessary and that a new and radically different Bill needs to be introduced in the autumn. My noble friends Lord Bledisloe and Lord Williamson of Horton made important points on this issue when they spoke on Monday.
The Government, and most recently the noble Lord, Lord Carter, have said that in March we were irresponsible to hold up the Committee stage of the Bill. I do not accept that for a minute. On the contrary, I think we have been entirely vindicated by what has been said in the inquiry reports, especially that from the Royal Society. A similar report came out from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. It said that recent progress in research and development,
"powerfully supports the case for emergency protective vaccination without subsequent slaughter, except for infected animals", and recommended that,
"emergency barrier or ring vaccination as an adjunct to slaughter of clinical cases, as this would lead to a considerable reduction in the number of animals requiring to be slaughtered".
On scrapie, I said at Second Reading that the then president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had pointed out that in this part of the Bill,
"many unsupported scientific judgements are made".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 900.]
We also learnt that its provisions might result in the elimination of many old-established and possibly genetically valuable sheep breeds such as, for example, Herdwicks. Many of these breeds suffered severely during the foot and mouth epidemic. Herdwicks, for example, lost one-third of their number, mostly young animals. Now to wipe out those breeds on the basis of uncertain and disputed science would surely be indefensible.
Many sheep breeders support the objectives of the Government's national scrapie plan and I know that DEFRA has been trying to find ways to overcome the difficulties. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who set up last year the National Consultative Council on Farm Animal Genetic Resources. DEFRA has also agreed to carry out the rare breed genotyping survey, sampling for which, I understand, is now half complete and should be fully completed by December.
But the main concern is that the Government are trying to push ahead too fast. Ways may be found to eliminate susceptible animals from herds without affecting the status of the breeds themselves. But that needs time. I am not alone in having serious doubts about what the Government seek to do in Part 2 of the Bill. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons advised me to consult the Sheep Veterinary Society, which is a division of the British Veterinary Association. That I did. It kindly passed on to me comments from members of the society who are experts in this field. The Government should consider carefully what they say. I shall give some examples. First:
"The TSE part of the Animal Health Bill is . . . very draconian. There is no provision to use an R5 ram on say R1 ewes to protect rare or superior phenotype. It also presupposes that BSE is in the national flock. Far better to use the suggested approach of the Royal Society report and have a proper debate on the issues". Secondly:
"There are too many scientific uncertainties to justify such draconian measures, particularly the question of whether BSE is, or ever was, in the UK sheep flock".
"In particular, I think the most important thing to question in the Bill is the use of the term 'TSE susceptible' rather than 'affected' or even 'exposed'. By implication, the Bill would allow slaughter of any animal of a species in which a TSE had ever been detected".
"Why are they trying again to introduce this part of the Animal Health Bill when statutory instrument 843 appears to cover all the necessary controls (and more)".
Three of the experts produced a list of questions which they considered should be answered before the scrapie part of the Bill goes forward. There are 20 questions. I shall not read them all out. I have put a copy of the full list in the Library of the House. To give your Lordships their flavour, I shall quote one or two examples. They are:
"Why the need for such extreme measures to deal with a disease (Scrapie) which is not known to be a public health risk and which has been recorded for hundreds of years?
By selecting so strongly for one trait and culling animals with other genotypes, to what other potential disease epidemics may we be predisposing the national sheep flock?
Is it welfare friendly to select strongly for one trait whilst potentially selecting against others including ability to survive in harsh conditions, mothering ability, resistance to other diseases e.g. foot rot?
"If large numbers of the national sheep flock are culled out and breeding lines lost how will genetic diversity remain?
"What about minority breeds or lines specifically adapted to a particular environment/location?"
What does seem most important is to allow breeders reasonable time to set up breeding programmes to build up scrapie resistance in their herds.
I have read carefully the reports of the National Audit Office and the Royal Society. I have had time only to read quickly and selectively the Lessons to be Learned report, which I received yesterday. Although couched in polite terms, it is a devastating indictment of a government department and its whole manner of proceeding. The penultimate paragraph of Dr Anderson's foreword states:
"Within MAFF and now DEFRA, I detected a culture predisposed to decision-making by committee, with an associated fear of personal risk-taking. Such a climate does not encourage creative initiative. It inhibits adaptive behaviour and organisational learning, which, over time, lowers the quality of decisions taken. It seems to me that a reappraisal of prevailing attitudes and behaviours within the Department would be beneficial".
If the department were a business, the chief executive officer would by now have been dismissed. In my view, it would be sensible to bring in a new permanent secretary with a remit to reorganise the way DEFRA does its work, as was done when a new Minister took over the Department for Transport.
On legislation, the Anderson report states that the powers available under the Animal Health Act 1981 should be re-examined, possibly in the context of a wider review of animal health legislation, to remove any ambiguity about the legal basis for future disease control strategies. That seems a much more sensible course than persisting with the existing, now largely outdated Bill.
What has puzzled me most during the past seven months is the Government's apparent refusal to pay any attention to the many criticisms made of their Bill in this House on 14th January and 26th March and by many important bodies in the country. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, talks every now and then of bringing back the Bill, although it must be clear to everyone that it is now wholly inappropriate.
On scrapie, just as much as on disease eradication measures, we need first to ensure that we obtain the right answers to the problems. Then, and only then, can we consider the need for legislation. I cannot understand why the Government think it desirable to rush ahead now, immediately before the recess, with consideration in Committee of a Bill that, in its present form, is clearly doomed. Their attitude appears to be, "Let us show this wretched Cross-Bencher that we are not to be put off by his tiresome initiative, and never mind the sheep". Surely, it would be far better for the whole Bill, including Part 2 on scrapie, to be carefully considered doing the recess and for us to meet in the autumn to consider what I hope will be a new and far more sensible Bill.
I agree entirely with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said. The Animal Health Bill has few friends in this House or outside. At Second Reading on 14th January, 25 noble Lords spoke in the debate, 23 of them against the Bill. On 26th March, your Lordships voted for the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, to suspend the Bill until such time as the Government had received, published and, I emphasise, considered the results of the inquiries that they had commissioned. The operative word is "considered". The National Audit Office report was published in late June, and the Royal Society report on 16th July, a mere nine days ago. Meanwhile, the Royal Society in Edinburgh published a comprehensive report on 15th July, and this Monday—only two or three days ago—the Lessons to be Learned report was published.
The four reports, all recently published, run to a total of more than 500 pages. Each report makes recommendations. The Lessons to be Learned inquiry alone makes 81 recommendations. It is simply not credible that the Government have been able to consider all of the recommendations from all four reports in the short time since publication. Therefore, reintroducing the Animal Health Bill at this stage goes completely against both the letter and spirit of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, which was accepted by your Lordships' House in March.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, was absolutely right on Monday during our debate on the Statement. What he said is well worth repeating. He said:
"how does the Minister consider that the Bill can possibly proceed until we have had a debate on these reports, and he has brought forward either a re-drafted Bill or amendments to it so as to bring it in line with the recommendations that the Government accept? If we do not follow that route, the entire postponement of the Bill's passage until such reports were made will have been a waste of time and a farce".—[Official Report, 22/7/02; cols. 36-37.]
This the wrong Bill at the wrong time. As the noble Lord. Lord Moran, said, the Government should in the coming months learn the lessons of the various published reports, digest the criticisms and return with a Bill that is acceptable to this House and the many people outside whom it will affect.
I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, replies, he will give some answers and assurances so that we will not have to divide the House on the matter.
My Lords, I am concerned that the procedure being adopted will bring the House into total chaos. I am today concerned not with technical details or the overall merit of the Animal Health Bill, but with procedure—in particular, the idea that the Bill's foot and mouth disease provisions shall proceed on the first and second days after we return from the recess.
On Monday, during the Statement, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:
"Clearly, the reports may have implications for the Animal Health Bill . . . There may be other, wider implications for animal health legislation that may have to be dealt with more broadly".—[Official Report, 22/7/02; col. 34.]
He also said, at col, 37:
"we shall need to consider what is in these reports that may require amendment to the proposed Animal Health Bill".
Whether or not the House was right to pass the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is irrelevant. We are now where we are. Clearly, the intent and decision of the House was that the Bill should not be proceeded with until the Government had absorbed the reports and decided what to do about them.
As even the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, recognised, it will be appropriate to amend the Bill to some extent to take account of the reports. The Government will also have to consider how to deal with the reports more broadly. But under the presently suggested procedure, we shall arrive back here on our first sitting day in October and perhaps be faced with a raft of government amendments—perhaps not, because they may not have been drafted—but with no idea what is the overall government strategy to deal either with the reports generally or with the Bill in the light of those reports.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will tell us—and I do not dispute this—that parts of the Bill are needed urgently. But even those parts will inevitably need to be amended because they were conceived in the context of a slaughter policy, not a vaccination policy, and, above, all not a policy of "vaccination to live".
Other parts of the Bill are not urgent: for example, the part that deals with what is to me—I declare an interest as a farmer—the unattractive concept that any farmer who has broken the rules is automatically liable to have his compensation confiscated. That is plainly not urgently required to deal with an emergency—it may or may not be a good idea.
I shall spell out to the Minister what he needs to do stage by stage. On the first day on which we sit to discuss the Bill, instead of progressing with consideration in Committee he should make a Statement on how he will deal with the overall recommendations in the reports and table the amendments that the Government need to those parts of the Bill with which they wish to proceed early. He can then table or have tabled the amendments that the Government need to the parts of the Bill with which they wish to proceed at this stage. I pause, so that the Minister can hear what I say, rather than the words of his Chief Whip.
The Minister should make a Statement on how he intends to go forward, table some amendments and then move the amendments en bloc, so that they can be made. The Bill can then be recommitted, so that those who are concerned with it can table amendments relevant to the Bill as it will stand in the light of the Government's new policy. We can then drop the amendments relating to issues that have been solved, and we can ignore the parts of the Bill that the Government can safely afford to put away until the later day when, as the Minister said, we shall need to return to the matter. A week later, we can approach the new Bill or the new government strategy in the light of a clear explanation and in the light of any relevant amendments; otherwise, there will be total chaos.
I am certain that, regardless of whether we proceed with the Committee stage today, the Minister will find a strong body of opinion against continuing with the Committee stage on the first day after the Recess, if he does not follow the course of action that I have suggested.
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said about how we should deal with the Bill. Part 2 should be the content of a separate Bill for scrapie, with appropriate wording. In part, the problem is that chunks of Part 1, which applies in particular to foot and mouth disease, are applied to Part 2, where they are inappropriate. That will be raised in our debate, if we have one today. Part 2 ought to make sense in the context of scrapie, not necessarily foot and mouth disease. There is also the question of vaccination, which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, just mentioned.
The House voted on 18th July to continue with Part 2 of the Bill, as it is, in theory, distinct from Part 1. The three reports that were requested have been published. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, was right to ask us in March to vote on whether it was right to consider the Bill until the reports were published. We must, of course, ask whether the reports have been considered properly; that is an open question. Most of the points made in the reports refer to Part 1, not Part 2.
We must also recognise that the sheep farming industry, particularly the pedigree breeders, want to get on and make a start on eradicating scrapie from the United Kingdom. The Government may be hung on the problem of finding enough legislative time to consider all the matters. That is probably one of several reasons why they want to expedite consideration of the Bill. I would still prefer to see another Bill dealing with scrapie as a separate issue with the appropriate clauses and amendments. However, given that we voted on the matter earlier in July, it looks as though we shall have to go on and amend Part 2 so radically that it will not look much as it does at the moment. That may not be a satisfactory state of affairs, but it is what the House has decided to do.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, mentioned me in his speech. I must repeat the point that has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth: the House has already accepted the order of consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, was unable to be present. The House agreed to split the Bill between the part relating to scrapie, which we will do today, and the rest, which we will consider after the Recess.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, has already admitted that he is opposed to the Bill, but he has not been consistent. As he admitted, he should have put down a Motion at Second Reading that the Bill be read in six months' time. We would have had a vote and, if the noble Lord had been successful, he would have killed the Bill. He did not do that, so we had the business of the vote earlier in the year, followed by an unusual debate on the order of consideration, and another debate today.
I still think that the vote earlier in the year to stop the Bill was irresponsible. In this House, in which the Government are in a minority, there is a long-standing convention that the Government of the day are entitled to have their business considered. If the House does not like that business, there are all sorts of ways in which it can amend or vote down a Bill. I shall repeat the point that I made before. If there is an outbreak of foot and mouth disease between today and the day on which the Bill receives Royal Assent, those who supported the vote in the spring—who may vote again today to hold up the Bill—would bear a heavy responsibility.
There are many technical points about the scrapie provisions relating to breeds, timescale and lots of other things. They are exactly the sort of points that we ought to discuss in Committee and at later stages. the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that he had a list of questions. Well, we should explore those problems in Committee and try to resolve them. I am sure that the Minister will discuss them between Committee and Report. If the House is not satisfied, it knows what to do.
The noble Lord said that the Sheep Veterinary Society had said that there was no evidence of BSE in sheep. I was Opposition spokesman on agriculture for 10 years, and I lived with the whole BSE saga. I remember all the statements from the Dispatch Box that there was no connection between BSE and CJD.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt again. If there is something called the precautionary principle, why did neither Government take organophosphates off the shelf when they were making so many people sick?
My Lords, the noble Countess is prepared to take the risk that there may be BSE in sheep. If, because of her theory, we take no action, she will bear a heavy responsibility, as the previous Government bear a heavy responsibility for what happened with BSE because it was eventually proved that there was a connection. There was enough proof at least to justify introducing the measures that that Government had to take. With all its horrors, foot and mouth disease also led to substantial economic loss. If there is a connection between BSE and nvCJD, over a hundred of our people will have died a horrible death because of it.
There is also the question of the timescale for the scrapie plan. I have here a letter from the National Sheep Association, of which, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, is president. The letter says:
" . . . NSA has put its weight behind the initiatives of Government to work constructively to develop a population of resistant stock as quickly as possible within the limitations of breeding set by nature but using all the breeding technology and know-how which is appropriate and affordable".
The last sentence of the letter reads as follows:
"Our recommendation therefore is that any legislation currently being put in place should reflect this aspect"— timescale—
"as the best option to move the industry forward in a constructive way".
I believe that there is an opposition amendment dealing with timescale and Royal Assent for the scrapie part of the Bill. That is exactly the sort of thing that we deal with in Committee. If the House is not satisfied, it can deal with the matter on Report.
I urge the House to think carefully about the procedure that we are adopting. I know that some noble Lords do not like the Bill and that, with some, the Bill is extremely unpopular. However, all governments bring unpopular Bills to the House of Lords. If the House, in which the Government are in a minority, uses the procedure endlessly to hold up Bills, we would be playing with fire, with the powers of the House and, indeed, with the future of the House of Lords.
My Lords, the noble Lord has threatened us in various ways. He has threatened us about the powers of the House; he has threatened us that if we hold up the Bill and there is an outbreak of foot and mouth disease between now and whenever the Bill comes into force, that will be our fault.
With the House of Commons report, we now have four reports that show very clearly that government incompetence, not the actions of Members of the House of Lords, caused many of the problems with foot and mouth disease. On the whole, Members of the House of Lords are extremely responsible. They want to see good law on the statute book. With the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House, we have repeatedly raised our objections, as we are perfectly entitled to, and in doing so have been in the majority, both in terms of number of speakers and votes that have taken place. Do not let the former Chief Whip threaten us any more. We are not here to be threatened. Most of us are independent, even when we belong to parties, and we should be allowed to think for ourselves.
Our concerns are that we are dealing with inadequate science. I think back to Galileo and I think back to the vitamin C saga, which I raised when we debated TSE. I also think of the medical diagnoses that have been made over the past century for neuro-degenerative diseases, which, in the case of humans, have all been said to have psychological origins, except for CJD; that cannot be in people's minds. Multiple sclerosis and similar illnesses have all been classified as idle men's diseases or in the mind.
No one seems to be considering any hypothesis other than the meat and bonemeal hypothesis. There are many of them around. I know that Alan Ebringer has received some money, but we need more proof about the causation. If one considers reported scrapie cases, Oxfordshire, Cumbria, the Shetlands, and either Powys or Dyfed in Wales, have a very high incidence of reporting. If scrapie is such an infectious disease—I know that it is a slow infection—why is it not evenly spread over the country when sheep are evenly spread over the country? We have heard that about the markets.
That is why we are not happy with this section of the Bill, which I again ask the Minister to reconsider very carefully. He has the power that he needs in the existing Animal Health Bill and in the recent TSE regulations, to which I objected. He does not need any further power at the moment. Let us take time to get proper legislation on to the statute book instead of this hotchpotch of inadequate law.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the words of the noble Countess in relation to scrapie. He has had longer than any of us in this House to consider the three reports and the Scottish report into the foot and mouth outbreak, and he will be well aware that the essential recommendations are that there should be an adequate strategy for large outbreaks of disease and that lessons should be learnt from earlier outbreaks. Those are the two errors that appear to have compounded what happened in the recent case.
Unless the Minister brings together those reports and the chairmen of the committees who made them in order to produce a proper strategy, how can we begin to have legislation to give effect to that strategy? Regardless of what happens today in relation to the Committee stage, I ask him to ensure that that takes place during the summer so that by October there will be in place a strategy for dealing with any defects in the legislation. It seems that we are proceeding entirely in the wrong order. So far as I am aware, we still have no adequate strategy. I am afraid that if we proceed with a Bill in this form, much of the country will think that once again history is repeating itself and that lessons are not being learnt.
This debate is about scrapie, a disease that has been with us for 200 years or more. It is a nasty disease of sheep. It is not good for their welfare. On the other hand, sheep breeders and flock owners have made extraordinarily good progress in controlling it and eradicating it from their flocks. There is no doubt that the proposal in this Bill will hasten that eradication.
However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that more thought needs to be given to the provisions of this section of the Bill. There certainly is a question over whether BSE is present in sheep. With more work done at the neuropathogenesis unit in Edinburgh, we may be able to determine whether that is so and whether the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, are justified.
I suggest that we are running on what is known as the principle of unripe time. We need to sit back for a month or two during the Summer Recess to reconsider this part of the Bill or a new Bill, whichever is necessary. Scrapie needs to be controlled. I am sure that the flock owners of this country would welcome this Bill and the eradication of scrapie, which would help our export trade and our meat trade. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that this is not the right time to move forward. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will take note of the concerns of various people about the uncertainties and demonic aspects of scrapie and will return in a few months' time, perhaps with some research that may have been initiated at the neuropathogenesis unit, to put the Bill in a much clearer and more effective form than it is at present.
My Lords, I, too, have read the reports. One thing that emerges clearly is the need for quick, decisive action. If there is provision for that in this Bill, we should go ahead with it.
My Lords, I do not know how we can resolve this debate, instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, but I hope that when deciding individually how to react, your Lordships will not be taken in by the extraordinarily strange argument that, because on 18th July we agreed to an instruction as to how the Bill should be dealt with, it is not appropriate for us to oppose going into Committee. In my view, that is a totally spurious argument.
It is right that several days before one considers a Bill in Committee, one knows how that Bill will be taken over the days on which it is debated. It is quite right that a formal Motion should be tabled to tell Members of the House in what order the clauses and schedules will be discussed, so that your Lordships can prepare for the debates that follow. The decision as to whether your Lordships' House goes into Committee should be taken on the day. In my view, we are dealing with the matter in the proper way. It is a totally spurious argument that we should not discuss whether to consider the Bill now in Committee because we passed an instruction some days ago. In deciding how to proceed, I hope that your Lordships will not consider that argument at all.
As president of the Royal Society, I formed the 15-person committee that produced the Royal Society report. Although I had nothing more to do with it, I believe that it is one among many excellent reports.
The remarks of the former Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggest that our discussion is entirely coloured by party politics. That is not how I judge it. I have heard a variety of voices pleading that we try to absorb wide-ranging discussions, embracing people in the countryside and in the world of science. We have deliberately considered those views. At least one report is not a report of lessons learnt and scientific questions put forward for the future to sit on a shelf and be forgotten, as was the Northumberland report, until too late; it recommends a debate in Parliament, various structural features and annual or triennial reviews to be embedded in the relevant departments.
All that seems to me, in my naivety, to be relevant to a soundly designed Bill. I do not see our producing that unless we follow a slightly more leisurely course.
My Lords, having listened to the contributions from around the House, the Minister will feel challenged in responding to the many comments made, in particular those of the noble Lord, Lord May, for which I am grateful.
While not picking on any noble Lord, I point out that the former Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said previously that the National Sheep Association wishes to go ahead and eradicate scrapie from the flock. Indeed, it does; I have no difficulty with that argument. However, it clearly states that it should be done within a time-span. For that reason, I have tabled an additional amendment.
That is not the only argument. I quote from a copy of a letter, also sent to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, from the National Sheep Association. It is dated 24th July. I should like to read all of it but I believe that that would push your Lordships' patience beyond belief and I shall not do so. However, the extract I have selected states:
"We do not have sufficient robust, up-to-date data on the population size of various breeds to make an accurate assessment of the ability of the industry as a whole to adopt more radical breeding strategies. However, given a number of assumptions that we believe accurately reflect industry structure and good practice, we predict"—
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am sorry, I was indeed quoting from a letter which accompanied the letter from the National Sheep Association and I should record that in Hansard. I apologise to your Lordships. The letter comes from the Institute of Rural Studies, University of Wales, and supports what is said by the National Sheep Association.
The institute predicts that,
"even the most radical breeding plan would be unable to deliver a national flock that was 100% ARR carrying (i.e. resistant to scrapie) in much less than 10 years. The consequences of such radical breeding policies on the survival of some breeds and the financial viability on some farming businesses could be severe".
The noble Lord is right. I was mistaken in trying to get the papers together so as to make sense.
I spoke again to John Thorley, the chairman of the NSA. He clearly accepts that the association wants to see scrapie bred out. However, he realises that time has been lost. One of the problems is that as a result of last year's foot and mouth outbreak, some of the plans for the breeding programme have been delayed. At paragraph 7 of his letter, he states:
"To sum up, we would estimate that the NSP [national sheep plan] is at a stage in development which we would like to have seen some three years ago. The problems associated with foot and mouth having removed important commercial traits also needs to be taken into consideration at this juncture. To take the industry forward in a sensible way we would contend that a period of four breeding seasons needs to elapse before consideration is given to introduce rules which entail restricting the use of breeding stock according to their resistance rating".
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will agree that the University of Wales and the National Sheep Association are highly respected by the industry.
I shall not repeat all the comments made by other noble Lords, but last week in discussing the sequence in which we would debate the Bill we agreed that we would first take the section relating to scrapie. That proposal was put before us. It was not put before us that we should take it today, but, for the benefit of noble Lords who were not present, the agreement was that we would take the scrapie part of the Bill first, rather than as originally proposed. Those are two important issues of which Members who were not here should be aware?
Secondly, being critical, and I hope supportive, the scrapie part of the Bill is not the urgent part in respect of which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggested the Government did not have to hand the information they required. They do not need the scrapie part as an urgent measure. That also adds to the weight of argument to which other noble Lords have referred outside the Chamber. Some have suggested outside the Chamber that they feel we are rushing the Bill through and they would like to give the NSA a chance to get to grips with what it wants to see happen.
In addition, one or two people say that more thought needs to be given. Like the noble Lord, Lord May, I read the report to which he referred. It gave a light to the future. None of us wants to see what happened last year, with the outbreak of foot and mouth and thousands of animals being killed. However, if we rush through legislation, we are likely to condemn many sheep to death. And for the benefit of noble Lords who do not understand the sheep business too well, I should add that many of those sheep have good genome types which we need to preserve for cross-breeding purposes. We run the risk of killing them because they are more susceptible to scrapie.
I do not believe that I need to speak at greater length. It is a judgment for this House to make. It is not a party political judgment; it is one for Members all around the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, made an imposing speech. She well knows sheep breeding and is involved in it; I am not. There are good reasons why we should think again and why we should have a chance to come back to the legislation.
When discussing the questions whether we should move the debates forward or whether there is too much rush, I have argued that following the three valuable reports we have received this summer following the foot and mouth outbreak, the Government—let alone we in opposition and Members around the House—will want to see improvements made to the Bill. Vaccination has been highlighted. There are good reasons why we should think again. If I were being practical and I were the Government, I believe that the passage of the Bill would be quicker if we were given time to think about it and to come back. If we try to push the legislation through, the Government will say to us, "Oh, my goodness, we have looked again and we have to change the Bill yet again". That seems nonsensical.
I take up another point that has been raised. We are likely to have only today to debate this part of the Bill. When we spoke earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, rightly said that he thought two days would be adequate for discussions on the scrapie part. But it does not look as though we shall get even two days on the scrapie part, which is a worry. More worrying for all noble Lords is the fact that we all work hard and are willing to do what we can. But the hard rub is that when we return on 7th October we shall have had no chance to debate the recommendations of the reports. When tabling amendments, noble Lords will not know the Government's response. I suggest that that leaves us in a mess.
I urge the Government to give us the opportunity to consider those reports. We realise that there are practical problems. As the noble Countess, Lady Mar, said, in many cases the science is not proved. New vaccines are being developed all the while. That is hugely encouraging. How much better to have a vaccination than to have to slaughter animals. But at the end of the day the decision is for noble Lords.
My Lords, in every sense of the word, this has been an extraordinary debate. What is before your Lordships is a simple Motion to move into Committee on those parts of the Bill which the House decided last week we would take first and to move into Committee on the day decided in the normal way by the usual channels.
Almost all of the earlier speeches did not relate to the business today. Although it is quite rare, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is correct that at any time the Motion to move into Committee can be challenged, debated and negatived if the House so wishes. I have to say that if the House continues to have such wide-ranging debates at four-monthly intervals on the simple Motion to move into Committee, we shall rapidly lose the ability to deal with business in this House in a sensible way.
I have no intention of replying to every point because, frankly, I do not think that it is in order for me to do so. What is before us, and is in order for me to reply to, is the Motion that the House move into Committee on those parts of the Bill referred to on the Marshalled List to which a significant number of amendments have been tabled by government and noble Lords.
The points dealing with the implications of the reports, relating back to the Motion passed in March, are good but they are not relevant to the Motion. We are not debating any part of the Bill which has implications arising from those reports. We have, therefore, two and a half months to consider the implications of those reports before we return to the matter in October.
My Lords, no recommendations from those reports, apart from informational ones, relate to any legislative measures in relation to scrapie or TSEs. The recommendations in the report which might be relevant to the Bill relate to the FMD part of the Bill, the contiguous cull and the pre-emptive cull vaccination. Your Lordships will have had far longer than is normal to deal with government papers and reports before we consider their implications—two and a half months.
Many of the points raised are good. Many will no doubt be debated at some length in October. But they are not relevant to the decision today. Many of the points regarding scrapie may reflect wide-ranging views in this House and outside. Those are quite important points to be raised in Committee and perhaps returned to on Report and at Third Reading. But they are not relevant to the decision whether we move into Committee today.
Those who oppose the Motion are in fact denying your Lordships the ability to debate those points. That seems an extraordinary move by those who think that we should have a wider debate on the implications of animal health legislation.
I do not think that I need say more. If noble Lords wish to oppose the Motion, no doubt they will. If they do so and are successful, I think that it is a sad day for the House. The implications of doing so have to be considered seriously. Above all, I think that the good will of the Government in accepting both the letter and—I would argue—the spirit of the Motion in March will have been ignored. On closer examination, I do not believe that what we ask today could possibly be said to prejudice the implications of the Motion passed in March.
The clauses to be debated today deal with scrapie. There are no substantive implications from the reports. We can debate the implications of the reports in October. Let us debate the part of the report relating to scrapie during what remains of today. I commend the Motion.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he apply himself more closely to the views expressed from all sides of the House, including the Cross- Benches? The only party not to support the consideration that this might be the wrong time to go into Committee is the Liberal Democrats. But has the Minister noted that on the second page of the Marshalled List, the noble Lords, Lord Livsey and Lord Greaves, have given notice of their intention to oppose the Question that Clause 5 stand part of the Bill? They intimate on the Marshalled List that they do not want any of the scrapie legislation to go through. That indicates that they would be in sympathy with not proceeding with debate on it today: they want the clause to be dropped.
My Lords, I cannot follow the noble Lord. Far be it from me to defend noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, but they are behaving in the way that this House normally behaves—and which those who want to stop the House moving into Committee argue against.
Those noble Lords have different opinions from the Government on this part of the Bill. I have no doubt that they and others have different opinions from us on other parts of the Bill. That is what Committee stage in this House is for. The suggestion is that we should be prevented from doing what is normal: scrutinising a Bill in Committee. That is to me an extraordinary assertion. I cannot think that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, really believes that that should be so.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he has not referred to how we shall deal with the remainder of the Bill in October. I am sure he is technically right. Whether he was wise to do as he has, I do not know.
Will the Minister undertake to write to noble Lords who are concerned well before we return in October stating how he intends to go ahead with the Bill in the light of the points that I and other noble Lords have made?
My Lords, I undertake to indicate in writing—it will probably now be over the Recess—to those noble Lords who have spoken in the debate which amendments, if any, the Government intend to put forward in Committee in the autumn; and whether there are procedural implications of so doing.
My Lords, I said that I would give the Government's consideration of what changes to the Bill the Government wish to propose in the light of those reports. The full implication of the reports is much wider than the Bill. Let me make it clear that I am not undertaking to have given overall consideration to those very detailed reports. But I give an undertaking to let know Lords know how the Government intend to deal with those parts of the reports which relate to the Bill. I believe that we shall see that the implications are to accelerate and consolidate the Bill, but I do not argue that today.
We now have the pleasure of starting our debates on the Bill. Noble Lords will note that I have tabled 10 amendments together on the groupings list. Although it is not the fault of the Government, I would have liked to have broken down the amendments into smaller groups. However, because they all relate to the TSE regulations, I decided that they should be taken together. Perhaps I should say at the outset that, in particular with regard to Amendment No. 2, I hope that we shall have a more detailed discussion about the difference between the words "susceptible" and "suspect". The issue is extremely important.
I shall move Amendment No. 1 and speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 2 to 10. Part 2 of the Bill deals with scrapie. Our discussions on dealing with the Bill before the Summer Recess turned entirely on that part. The caveats I have expressed with regard to the Anderson and Royal Society reports have been met with repeated assurances that Part 2 deals only with scrapie and, as such, is not affected by either of them. Indeed, the Minister has confirmed that this afternoon.
I understand that scrapie is a form of TSE. I further understand that tests are being undertaken to try to isolate OSE, the form of BSE in sheep, which in turn is another form of TSE. For all I know, there may be yet other forms of TSE waiting to be discovered. All that is irrelevant to a part purporting to deal solely with scrapie. I am concerned that the wording has been used deliberately to leave a door open in legal terms for a future circumstances of which we are yet unaware. I am even more concerned that the wording may have no particular purpose, but is in place simply because it might be used at some point in the future to create a situation of which we might not approve. In the event of any further discoveries relating to TSE, we think it only right that the Government should come back to Parliament to discuss those developments.
I turn now to Amendment No. 2. The Official Journal of the European Communities dated 31st March 2001 refers to Regulation 999/2001 of 22nd May. It lays down the rules for the prevention, control and eradication of certain TSEs. The preamble at paragraph 12 refers to the,
"animals suspected of being infected by a TSE".
Article 12 is headed,
"Measures with respect to suspect animals".
Annex 3 lays down the minimum requirements for monitoring scrapie in ovine and caprine animals. Three selection criteria are listed under the general heading:
"animals displaying clinical signs compatible with scrapie".
Perhaps I may translate that into human terms. I have had two heart attacks which makes me, I believe, susceptible to them. I sincerely hope that I am not displaying at this moment any clinical signs compatible with a heart attack. I am not a heart attack suspect. Certain families have appalling and heart-wrenching histories of susceptibility to specific diseases. Tests prove that family members are much more than ordinarily susceptible, yet some still do not succumb to the disease in question.
With regard to Amendment No. 3, I have mentioned already the distinction to be made between the terms "susceptible" and "suspect". The Committee will appreciate the depth of my dismay at the notion that anyone would slaughter an animal simply because it is susceptible to a disease which, at present, is only a theoretical possibility, not even a probability.
After the excessive cull of so many animals during the foot and mouth outbreak, surely no one would wish to legislate for the on-farm slaughter of yet more animals. Clause 4(2)(j) of the TSE regulations allows for the service of notice in connection with slaughter, which should be confined to the slaughterhouse. There is no need for an inspector to slaughter on farm premises.
Turning to Amendment No. 4, farms tend to be places which attract families. It may have something to do with the country air or the relative isolation, but families and farms go together. Indeed, the Government are pushing farmers to diversify and thus to encourage this. Modern families are encouraged to use computers, both at home and at school. Indeed, some local education authorities have a system of lending computers to pupils who do not have a suitable model available at home.
Some parents buy a computer for each child as part of their education, or to help them keep up with their work. Surely, therefore, it is not necessary for inspectors to interfere with computers on farm premises that have nothing to do with the business in hand, in particular after the treatment meted out to some farmers during the foot and mouth outbreak.
Many farming families rely on the money brought in by the farmer's wife in her "day job". Sometimes these redoubtable ladies work from home using their employers' computers, and sometimes they will use the farm computer. It is wrong to confer on state veterinary inspectors powers to access and check the operation of a machine which may contain commercially sensitive information. Or do all inspectors sign the Official Secrets Act? The Minister will recall that during the foot and mouth outbreak, many farmers were required to do so.
I move on to Amendments Nos. 5 to 10. At this point I should apologise to the Minister and the Committee. I may have gone beyond the elements dealing with scrapie, owing to a misunderstanding on my part, and moved on to dealing with animal feedstuffs, which may not be appropriate to our discussions today.
We have tabled the amendments to probe the situation with regard to Part 3 of the TSE regulations. Will the Minister explain how Regulations 11 to 29 sit with regard to our own laws covering the production and use of mammalian meat and bone meal? The Explanatory Note refers only to the European regulations, while Part I of Schedule 9 does not state specifically that they, together with the savings, encompass the whole of the then existing legislation.
Once more, I apologise if I have moved further ahead than I should have done. I beg to move.
The Minister already knows of my objections to the TSE regulations because I made my position very clear a couple of months ago. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. First, however, I should declare my interests as the wife of a small farmer and as a specialist cheese maker rather than as a specialist "goats disease maker".
We have gone over and over the business of distinguishing between a susceptible animal and an animal that is suspected of having a disease. I am still not clear why the Minister seeks to override the primary legislation—that is, the Animal Health Act 1981—and European legislation, all of which indicates that an animal must either be sick or must have been in contact with an animal suffering from an infectious disease and thus is likely to become sick itself.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, made it very clear that she is susceptible to heart disease but that she is not suspected of having heart disease. We really need some clarification from the Minister on this point. I support the noble Baroness as regards the other amendments that she has tabled under this grouping.
I also support what the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said in relation to the description that clearly ought to relate to the word "scrapie". It is far clearer; indeed, the farming community knows precisely what is meant by "scrapie". In the interests of clarity, it is well worth supporting the need for changing the wording.
I agree with the remarks just made by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, about the use of the word "suspect" instead of "susceptibility". I am sure that that is the correct way to proceed. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, quoted and prayed in aid EU legislation, which refers to suspect cases.
I should like to refer to a few of the other amendments in this group, particularly Amendment No. 5. During the foot and mouth outbreak, it was certainly my impression that one of the Minister's right honourable friends in the other place said that meat and bonemeal would be banned in relation to the feeding of certain types of livestock, especially meat and bonemeal that originated from sheep. Can the noble Lord give the Committee a clear statement as regards the feeding of meat and bonemeal to ruminant animals?
Certain points have been made about computers and the information they provide, which does not actually relate to livestock matters and other farming issues. Surely it must be correct that none of that other information should be removed, especially now that there is terrific diversification of activities on farms through necessity as a means of earning income other than through farming. At present, many farms earn more than 50 per cent of their income from other sources and use information technology a good deal in order to do so. I do not propose to make a "meal" of all these amendments. I merely wished to make those points.
On the issue of the use of the word "susceptible" or "suspect", I notice that new Section 36A to the 1981 Act, as set out under Schedule 2 to the Bill, refers to the power of the Minister to "specify sheep genotypes", and says:
"The Minister may by order specify sheep genotypes which, in his opinion, are more susceptible than other sheep genotypes".
That suggests to me that it is a matter of degree and that, therefore, all sheep are susceptible but that some are more susceptible than others. If all sheep are susceptible, they must all be dealt with under whatever provision applies—which I gather probably means slaughtering the lot.
It seems to me that the use of English is rather like my experience with my English teacher, who hated my saying "nearly unique" or "almost unique". Because it is a matter of degree and because there can be nothing that is not to some degree susceptible under certain conditions, I suspect that you cannot possibly use the word in a case like this where we are dealing with legal language.
Being an IT man, I should like to make a quick comment on the removal of computers. I have not read the provision in this respect, but it is very dangerous to remove people's computers along with the data. Nowadays one is reliant on e-mails and on the Internet for marketing data, and so on. It is very easy to take an image of a disk drive and remove the data on the computer, and thereby leave the user with the computer and the other information. There are programmes like Drive Image that will do that quite simply and easily. I do not see why modern technology cannot be used to solve the problem.
Not for the first time this afternoon I rather wish that this Chamber had slightly tighter rules of order. I believe that the amendments that have been tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, relate to a matter that is not before the Committee. The amendments relate to the TSE regulations, which have been passed by this place subject to an amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. That amendment may lead to our producing further statutory instruments, but the matter is not before the Committee today.
Those regulations, which are not before the Committee, have two purposes. It is not as if there is overlap between the two arrangements. First, the TSE regulations tackle the actual occurrence of a disease in individual animals—a "suspect" animal in that sense—and, secondly, they provide for a major, active surveillance programme in line with our EU obligations in order to generate important epidemiological information on the disease. That entails dealing with "susceptible" animals. But those two processes are contained within the TSE regulations; they are not in the part of the Bill now before us.
This part of the Bill is about genotype in sheep, and about developing resistance—
Perhaps I may make the point that neither the Animal Health Act 1981 nor the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 are before the Committee this afternoon, yet this Bill contains references to both Acts. There is no reason why we should not amend other legislation through this Bill.
Yes, but we need to know what we are doing. At present, we do not seem to know what we are doing.
If we are talking about the TSE regulations, I should remind the Committee that we had a pretty lengthy debate on the subject a week or so ago. Those regulations deal with something different from the objectives of this Bill. The reason that the preceding regulation is referred to is that the means of delivering the Bill's objectives impact, in part, on the pieces of legislation to which the noble Countess referred. In essence, this Bill is an amendment to the Animal Health Act 1981. However, those powers do not deal with the process outlined under the TSE regulations. Therefore, it is not appropriate to deal with amendments that seek to amend those regulations.
The Bill deals with something quite different: it deals with genotyping sheep and developing resistance to disease, which is not covered in the TSE regulations. There is no reference in those regulations to the national scrapie plan, which is the basis of this part of the Bill—
Surely we have a process in this Chamber whereby amendments are approved by the Clerks. Therefore, if an amendment has been accepted by the Clerks, it ought to be dealt with in Committee. I am sure that the former Chief Whip, who is more of an expert on such matters than I am, will contradict me if I am wrong. However, if an amendment has been allowed, surely it should be debated.
My noble friend Lord Carter puts it much more diplomatically than I was about to do.
To pass these amendments, or anything like them, would completely skew this part of the Bill and lead us away from what is a very focused topic; namely, the accelerated delivery of the national scrapie plan. That is the objective of this part of the Bill, and it has the support of the bulk of the industry. There may be differences in detail, or about time-scale, and so on, but the need to eradicate scrapie from the national sheep flock is acknowledged throughout the industry.
I turn to the surveillance required by the EU regulations, which is dealt with under the TSE regulations. If we were to pass some of the amendments in this group, we would not be complying with those regulations. However, as I said, they are not the focus of this part of the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue her amendments in that context.
As to the amendments in this group relating to feed that the noble Baroness feels might be taking us a little further than is applicable under this part of the Bill, again, these fall under the TSE regulations. Indeed, if we were to alter the latter in this somewhat tangential way, we would also find ourselves in some difficulty as regards being in compliance with the EU regulations. However, I understand that the noble Baroness recognises that fact. I trust that these amendments will not be pursued because they would exceed the Bill's purpose and lead us into other difficulties in terms of transposition of EU regulations.
At first sight, I thought that Amendment No. 1 did not quite fall in the same category as the other amendments in this group, in that it was not a direct attempt to alter the implications of the TSE regulations. The noble Baroness explained the rationale in the first two or three sentences that she uttered in this regard. The rationale is to alter the interface between the Bill and the regulations, which would change the nature of those regulations.
The noble Baroness's other point—on the face of it, the amendment also deals with this point—raised the question whether we should refer to scrapie rather than TSEs throughout the clause. One of the motives for eliminating scrapie is to try to ensure that the unproven—I say that to avoid the need for the noble Countess to intervene—but nevertheless theoretical possibility of BSE being in sheep would be eliminated if we also eliminated scrapie. That deals with a TSE other than scrapie. To confine the provision to scrapie would limit the operation of the legislation.
The Minister cannot have it both ways. We either talk about TSEs when we talk about BSE, CJD and TSE in cats or we talk about scrapie, BSE and CJD. Most of those diseases are animal specific. No one has yet been able to prove, despite trying with all of their might, that sheep get BSE. It would be much better if we were clear and said "scrapie" for sheep, "BSE" for cattle and "CJD" for humans.
"Schedule 2 contains provision about transmissible spongiform encephalopathies".
However, Schedule 2 is entitled "Scrapie" and says nothing about TSEs. I am now confused. Should we amend Schedule 2 so that it refers to TSEs throughout?
One difficulty in this regard is that there are quite different patterns of susceptibility for different TSEs. We know reasonably well which genotypes are susceptible to the various strains of scrapie in this country. I do not believe that we yet have a clear picture of which strains are susceptible to BSE and we certainly do not know which strains are susceptible to classic human CJD, chronic wasting disease of deer, kuru or any of the other TSEs about which we know. We are in danger of confusing the problem if we think that we are dealing with TSEs in sheep. We are dealing with the sheep disease of scrapie. We have a reasonable idea of how susceptibility varies according to genotype. For the rest of it, we get many conflicting angles. A genotype that is particularly resistant to scrapie may well be particularly susceptible to some other TSE. We have not done the research. Should we not really be looking at the disease about which we know and deal with that rather than broadening the concept as if we knew much more than we do?
As I understand it, if Amendment No. 1 were agreed to we would remove the chance in relation to this Bill of examining the genotypes that may be susceptible to BSE. If scientific work shows that there is such a link, we would need another Bill. If that is required in relation to BSE in sheep, the Minister will have to produce an order, which would be debated in this House. Presumably that order would be produced only after consultation with SEAC and the relevant and scientific authorities. We should adopt the precautionary principle in this regard. In relation to the Bill, to remove any chance of working on the theoretical possibility of BSE in sheep, which would have to be done by order anyway and would be subject to debate and approval by both Houses, would be extremely risky. We would need another Bill to deal with that form of TSE in sheep if we restricted the Bill only to scrapie.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, raised a matter that I had hoped to raise but I felt that it was appropriate to do so when we debated the Question whether Clause 5 stand part. Since the noble Lord has raised that matter now, it is probably appropriate if I say at this point part of what I wanted to say on our clause stand part debate.
When the Minister winds up, will he tell us whether he thinks that it is wise to confine Clause 5 only to sheep? There are other species in this context—the noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned deer, but one could also mention llamas; I know a number of people who keep them. Would it not be wise to amend the Bill at a later stage so that it referred to "sheep or similar species of animals"? Would it not be better to deal with that now and not, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, have to bring in new primary legislation at a later stage? If one was trying to deal in a similar way with other species besides sheep, one could not do so by secondary legislation, as the noble Lord seemed to imply. I may have misunderstood him; we should not worry about that. One could not possibly do that, as I understand it, with secondary legislation because Clause 5 refers to sheep, and to sheep alone.
Will the Minister consider that point and extend Clause 5 in future to include other species? Many people in this country farm deer commercially. If there were serious extensions of TSEs in the deer herd and it was felt necessary to deal with that, it would be an awful shame to have to go through the whole rigmarole of primary legislation again. Will the Minister open his mind to that possibility and consider tabling amendments at a later stage of our consideration of the Bill?
We appear to be getting into just the sort of muddle that I feared we would get into. My understanding of the provisions on scrapie is that they put into legislation what is currently voluntary; that is, the national scrapie programme. Scrapie, we have to accept, is a nasty disease in sheep. We do not know what the incidence is, although it is not very high: I understand that there are between 200 and 300 reported cases a year in a flock of about 46,000 sheep. If we refer to other TSEs in the Bill we will find ourselves in trouble. We have the TSE (England) Regulations 2002, which would cope with any possible cases of BSE in sheep. The major fear is that sheep may have BSE which can be transmitted to humans. As I said—I have objected to this all along—we have those regulations if we happen to need that power. If we concentrate on scrapie and the national scrapie plan and put that on to a statutory basis, we might focus a bit better when dealing with the Bill.
I agree with the last two or three sentences that the noble Countess uttered. I take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, but it is the opposite of what the amendment and the move to delete Clause 5 are about. The reality is that we have a national scrapie plan, which has been supported and agreed with the industry on a voluntary basis. We wish to speed it up by providing for certain mandatory powers for the Government to accelerate that process. That national scrapie plan exists and we know where we want to get to. There may be arguments about aspects of it but we know that it is there. That is why this part of the Bill is about scrapie. Eliminating scrapie will have the effect of eliminating TSEs that might be masked by scrapie. There is the possibility that breeding out susceptibility to other TSEs in sheep could make use of a similar plan.
This is the implementation of a plan which already exists. We do not have a similar plan for deer or for other animals susceptible to the various diseases mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. It is therefore sensible to describe this for what it is—that is, a means of implementing the national scrapie plan. We have to recognise also that at various points it could impact and provide the basis and the means whereby we could tackle other TSEs in sheep—although, as my noble friend Lord Carter said, an order would be required to so extend it. Indeed, the full implementation of the scrapie plan will require further orders before the House.
Primarily, this provides the framework to deliver the national scrapie plan. I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue these amendments.
I thank all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. The wisest thing I can do at this stage is to withdraw the amendment and read what has been said in Hansard. We have had a rough start to the day—I use that term politely; I do not mean it in any rude way—and I need an opportunity to look at what has been said. I ask the Government to consider carefully my Amendment No. 2 before we return to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I intervene on clause stand part because my noble friend Lord Livesy and I believe that there are a number of general issues in regard to the scrapie provisions in the Bill which would benefit from a general discussion of them. I wish to put a number of general questions to the Government which were not adequately dealt with in the Second Reading debate, now more than six months distant. That debate lasted for more than five hours but, for reasons we all understand, most discussion centred on Clause 1 of the Bill and not Clause 5 and Schedule 2, which deal with scrapie. Although the Minister referred to scrapie in opening, he did not say much at all in response to some of the points made during the debate.
I should like to put some general points to the Government. If the Minister can answer them to the satisfaction of the Committee, that will help in our deliberations on the more detailed, specific points we will come to later, one or two of which have been touched on in the unusual and interesting discussions so far.
My first question relates to the timetable envisaged by the Government if the clause and the schedule are agreed to. Only 12 months have elapsed since the national scrapie plan was first announced and got under way. That is not a long period in which to assess how it is working. Given that the plan was launched in the aftermath of the foot and mouth outbreak, which took up everyone's energy and attention even into the autumn of last year, organisations such as the NFU which suggest that the national scrapie plan has not yet been given a fair wind have a great deal of logic on their side.
"At the present rate, it could take far too long to have the desired effect".
He has not yet answered the questions of how long is reasonable and how long is "far too long".
"Therefore, the Bill will enable us, if necessary, to accelerate the process of eradication by compulsory means".
It is very clear that that is the reason the Government are bringing forward the Bill. But, in the Minister's opinion, under what circumstances and time-scale will it become necessary?
He then said:
"we believe that these powers are necessary further down the line".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 842.]
That raises the crucial point, reflected in later amendments, of when is "further down the line" and at what stage would the Minister introduce these additional powers. I raise these issues now because the Minister did not have time to reply to them on Second Reading.
My second question relates to rare breeds and traditional breeds. Again there was some discussion of this issue at Second Reading. To avoid having to re-invent the wheel now, perhaps I may quote what I said then:
"There is a real concern about the effect that the provisions will have on rare and traditional breeds and on the diversity of the gene stock within this country. In Committee the Government and the Minister will have to tackle that matter head on and provide satisfactory answers . . . the question is how it [the elimination of scrapie] is done and what knock-on effects there may be and its effects on the rare and traditional breeds".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 925.]
This is a fundamental question which will run throughout the debate. If the Minister can make a statement on it at the beginning it will be extremely interesting.
I should like to ask, in particular, about the existing rare breeds genotyping scheme—which I understand applies to the 27 or 28 breeds recognised by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust—being carried out by DEFRA with the co-operation of the trust and many owners. It differs from the national scrapie plan because it is not certificated and there is no obligation to castrate or cull on the basis of the results—in other words, it is unconditional. The assurance at the moment is that it is in no way a cast-iron scheme which will result in culling.
It is important that we understand what the implications of Clause 5 will be in relation to those particular breeds if the Bill becomes law. Will they be incorporated into it? By what means will the Minister and the Government protect rare breeds and, indeed, a wider range of traditional breeds which may be susceptible to scrapie and under threat if special arrangements are not made for them? I refer specifically to Herdwicks. I understand that only 5 per cent of Herdwicks are of the most scrapie resistant genotype. This is clearly a matter of great concern.
That leads me to my third question. Why is this legislation needed now? What evidence does the Minister have, on the basis of the first 12 months of the national scrapie plan, under extremely difficult conditions, that the scrapie plan will not work and that this extra legislation is required? I do not believe that that has been clearly stated and we need to understand why?
My fourth question is: what is the evidence for the Government's clear belief that there is robust science behind the proposals? This is obviously a complex area which most Members of your Lordships' House will not find easy to understand or deal with. We can understand conflicting opinions and differing points of view, and it is quite clear that, at the very least, there is a great deal of controversy among people who can be counted as experts as to whether the science behind the proposals is robust. There are issues such as the interaction of genes and whether scrapie-resistant sheep are genuinely scrapie resistant or whether the apparent resistance is merely masking slow development of the disease.
There is the question of how many varieties of scrapie there are. We are told that there are possibly 20. I am bewildered as to whether breeding out one of these types of scrapie might open the door to other types of the disease. There is the question of the mutation of scrapie prions. All these are extremely difficulty scientific matters on which most of us cannot give a clear opinion. It would be helpful if the Minister could publish a statement during the Summer Recess, before the Report stage of the Bill, setting out the Government's position as regards the validity and robustness of the science behind all this. A public statement could then be placed under scrutiny by those with a more detailed understanding of these matters.
Finally, the crucial question arises of why the Government believe that the regime of control for the eradication of scrapie should in effect mirror the regime of control that they propose in other parts of the Bill in relation to foot and mouth disease. The situation seems to be quite different. On the one hand, we have a disease which is absent from the country, but which nevertheless is very infectious. When it arrives, it can spread very rapidly, with devastating consequences, as we saw last year. Later, we shall discuss whether we believe the Government's proposed measures on foot and mouth are the right ones; but one can understand why they believe that draconian measures are necessary in order to achieve the speed of reaction in terms of control.
Scrapie is a very different sort of disease. It may be a very nasty disease, but it is endemic. It has been in the sheep flock in this country for 200 or 300 years. It surely does not require the same kind of immediacy of action and the same kind of draconian measures that foot and mouth may require. The two diseases are quite different. Yet, as my noble friend said earlier, it looks as though the provisions in the part of the Bill relating to scrapie have been the result of what might be called lazy draftsmanship—the idea being that if the measures have been included in one part of the Bill, they can simply be added, in almost exactly the same words, in another. There is a great deal of concern that these provisions are not appropriate for a very different sort of disease and very different circumstances.
I hope that the Minister will respond to these points. Members of the Committee will no doubt wish to raise others. If he can respond clearly and comprehensively, it will help us a great deal in our discussions on the later, more detailed amendments.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for so ably opposing the Question that Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill. There is now a large body of information about the genetic factors relating to scrapie in sheep; but less is known about BSE resistance in sheep, which is what we are really talking about. We are concerned about BSE getting into the human food chain. The noble Lord knows my thoughts on that.
Virtually nothing is known about what might happen to the sheep flock. If we wipe out a very large amount of the genetic pool, we might also be wiping out resistance to foot-rot, for example. My husband and I have Black Welsh Mountain sheep—I should declare that we belong to the national scrapie plan and that our sheep were recently tested. Some sheep have very strong hooves and do not get foot-rot, while others are prone to it. Shall we at the same time be wiping out the sheep that have such resistance?
What consideration has been given to breeding immunity to scrapie in the sheep flock. I understand that in the 1730s there was a petition to Parliament asking that it do something about scrapie. It strikes me that scrapie must have been much more prevalent in those days than it is now. I do not have figures on the incidence of scrapie in the 1730s.
British farmers have been very good as regards breeding disease resistance into their animals. Why should we not continue to do that? Why should not research money be put into that? I ask again: why does there seem to be a greater prevalence of scrapie in Oxfordshire, Cumbria, part of Yorkshire and the Shetlands than there is in other parts of the country? Could it relate to some mineral deficiency or some mineral excess? It is notable that in Iceland, for example, where there was lot of scrapie, they killed the whole of their sheep flock; they reintroduced sheep and found that scrapie reappeared in certain valleys. What is the explanation? It is surely not a question of infection.
I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Please will the Minister give us the science on which this part of the Bill is based? If the science is not there, is it not better to leave the national scrapie plan as a voluntary plan rather than forcing farmers to do something which might in the end cause a lot of damage? I note that we shall be discussing amendments on protecting biodiversity. We need to consider these matters very carefully.
I am glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words about scrapie. I must begin by apologising to the Committee for not declaring my farming interests when I spoke earlier—although I have not owned sheep for a great many years.
At Second Reading, I confined my remarks almost entirely to the implications of these provisions in terms of foot and mouth disease and some of the enforcement arrangements. I thought that I would keep my general comments for this debate on Clause 5 stand part. I am glad to express those points now.
I have known about scrapie ever since I was a boy. I can remember being taught about scrapie at university. The noble Countess referred to her sheep being tested for scrapie. I remember being told when I was at university that the farmers' test in the old days was to put their thumb on the brow of the sheep and press. If the thumb went through the skull, that meant that the sheep had scrapie and was culled. It was a pretty crude and horrible way of doing it, but I can remember being told that that was the way in which farmers, particularly in the Uplands used to discover whether their sheep were suffering from this extremely nasty disease.
When I was first elected to another place, in the late 1960s, I was joint secretary of the Conservative Back-Bench Agriculture Committee, with that great agriculturist, Sir Peter Mills, who is sadly deceased. We were approached by a sheep dealer from the North of England whom I knew, Mr Metcalfe, who was based in Darlington. He wrote to us to say that he was desperately concerned about scrapie and asked to come and talk to our Back-Bench committee, which he did. I believe I am right in saying that he also talked to the Labour Back-Bench committee as well. His message was that we really should understand what a dreadful scourge scrapie was. He expressed the belief that it could easily spread to other species. I do not think that Mr Metcalfe had ever been anywhere near a university or any great seat of agricultural learning, but he had a good deal of good sense. I am afraid that, to our discredit—and to that of the Labour Party too, as I recall—we listened politely and said, "Yes. Well, maybe, one day", and did not take his view too seriously. What a pity we did not. He was right. He was foretelling the future, and we all know what the future has brought about. I personally welcome the efforts being made to try to deal with the scourge of scrapie.
I am particularly concerned about the Herdwick flock. I do not know, but I guess that my constituency when I was in another place contained up to half the Herdwick sheep in the country. They are confined to the high areas of the Lake District. Without the Herdwicks, those bleak Lake District mountains could not possibly be farmed, because no other breed could live and thrive there. Some people have tried other breeds over the years, but they have all failed.
That breed is crucial for the Lake District, not only for the livelihood of those who farm in those areas, but for those who go to enjoy the environmental beauties of the Lake District. The look of those mountains would be very much changed if, because of these arrangements, they were not grazed by Herdwick sheep. That is a serious problem.
I am not saying that nothing should be done about scrapie. We should do something about scrapie, but at the same time I hope that the Government will do everything they can to bring about a timescale or some form of support for that breed, which is crucial for the farming prosperity of the Lake District and for the amenity value that visitors from all over the world enjoy.
Finally, I strongly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, said about the need for the Government to produce a full scientific statement to bring us up to date before we proceed further with these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has made a most useful suggestion. I hope that the Minister will be kind enough to look at that and consider whether something can be produced so that we know the exact state of current scientific knowledge on this horrible disease, which has ravaged so many parts of our country for centuries.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for giving us the chance to consider this important issue. It is unnecessary to repeat what other noble Lords have said, because they have all spoken well. The problem with following my noble friend Lord Jopling is that he usually pinches everything that I wish to say. I am grateful to him for his comments. I had already written down one or two questions that I wanted to ask.
As other noble Lords have said, the National Sheep Association is obviously pushing ahead with its scrapie plan. What is the Government's current spending towards that plan? Presumably they are helping this voluntary organisation of work that the National Sheep Association is giving. If not, I wonder why not. How much of the £431 million allocated in the recent spending review is going into current research on scrapie and on testing? Will the Minister also give us some indication on timings? I acknowledged earlier that the national scrapie plan had been delayed because of the foot and mouth outbreak. What timings, if any, do the Government have on how they can move the agenda forward?
Thirdly, following my noble friend's comments on rare breeds, of all the lobbying that I have had in the past year, one of the biggest groups—and yet they are the smallest groups—has been those who specialise in rare breeds. Many of them are very anxious, knowing that some of their sheep will fall within the scrapie provision. They are also anxious because they are not just kept as pure breeds, but are used in a cross-breed capacity. As my noble friend Lord Jopling has just said, it is particularly relevant that the Herdwick sheep seem to be the only ones able to survive in some of the very bleak mountains up in the North.
Finally, picking up on my noble friend's point, which I wanted to raise, one of the difficulties currently facing most of the farming industry is their lack of income. That is particularly relevant to those who keep sheep. The turnover for those who breed sheep is very small. As the letter I read out earlier pointed out, if we put additional hurdles in their way, there is a great risk that many farmers will be squeezed out of existence. As my noble friend Lord Jopling rightly asked, where does that leave the future for our landscape in some of the very remote areas where no other animal can survive?
Those are my few questions for the noble Lord. First, what money is being paid on the existing voluntary scheme? Secondly, what money is going into research and how much of the new £431 million is being made available? Thirdly, what timings do the Government have in mind to move the programme forward?
I clearly oppose the implications of the clause not standing part of the Bill, but we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for giving us the opportunity of this debate, which allows me to explain the principles of the plan and allows other noble Lords to raise some of those principles.
The existing scrapie plan is voluntary. It has been agreed with the industry and is supported by substantial scientific opinion, in particular by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee and, on the enforcement side, by the Food Standards Agency. Farmers who enter their sheep in the plan can genotype them to establish whether they are genetically resistant to scrapie. Breeding controls are then imposed on the more susceptible sheep.
That is dealing with scrapie directly. There is also the theoretical risk that BSE could be found in sheep. It is important to achieve a flock that is resistant to scrapie and to BSE if it is masked by scrapie.
However, it is clear that the voluntary plan, to which scientific opinion, the industry and the Government are all committed, is likely to take a long time to have the desired effect. The plan was launched in July 2001, with a genotyping scheme for pure pedigree flocks. Uptake on that first appeal was less than expected. It was only just over 4,000 as of the beginning of this month. We then announced a further extension to non-registered flocks in January this year. More than 2,000 have subscribed to that.
Assuming that all goes well and we continue at that rate, the estimate for the elimination of scrapie in 50 per cent of the rams in the flock—which is the best method of calculating—is 25 years. That is why we wish to speed up the process. The noble Countess referred to anxieties in 1730. Whatever methods farmers in the former constituency of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and elsewhere have used have not succeeded in eliminating scrapie in that time. We have a rather tighter time horizon in mind. We want to deal with half the problem in 25 years. We do not have a specific end-date, but if we did it would be substantially less than 25 years—and the accelerated process could get us there much quicker.
In terms of immediate take-up, it is perhaps more important to establish in the mind of the industry the Government's commitment to the scheme. That commitment includes not only money—an issue mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, to which I shall return shortly—but also the indication that, if necessary, we will use mandatory powers to ensure that the scheme is delivered in total. We therefore need the Bill's legislative powers to back up the current voluntary scheme.
There is a wider European dimension. There are programmes for breeding out TSEs in the Netherlands and in France, and the European Commission has proposed minimum requirements for EU-wide genotyping. Much of that has been influenced by our own national scrapie plan. So there is a major Europe-wide movement to eliminate scrapie as fast as possible from the flock. "As fast as possible", in our view, means that we will have to speed up what would happen voluntarily. These methods are part of that.
The resources which the Government are providing are composed of various subsets of figures. The total figure, however, is about £120 million. So the Government are clearly showing the priority that we assign to improving the robustness and quality of our national flock.
The plan is based on the substantial quantity of available scientific information, although we will have better information as we continue. As a greater proportion of the flock is genotyped, the weaknesses and strengths will become clearer. We know that some sheep breeds do not have all 15 of the scrapie genotypes and that some have only a handful. We also know that only about four of the genotypes can be considered as resistant or semi-resistant. There is a quite significant difference between breeds. If we find that a particular breed has a very low incidence of resistant genes, we can consider pursuing breeding restrictions such as those provided for in the Bill.
The noble Duke is clearly correct. This approach is based on a quite wide range of science. Although publication of all the science would be difficult, a substantial volume of it has been published in both the UK and worldwide. I refer particularly to SEAC's own 1999 report which dealt with research into and surveillance of TSEs in sheep. The WHO and the OIE—the world animal health organisation—produced a summary of the scientific evidence following a consultation in February 2000. There are also other relevant publications. So there is a substantial range of scientific information. If it would be helpful, I can place in the Library a bibliography of the relevant research.
One of the clear implications of the research is that we may find that some breeds and some areas have a higher proportion of scrapie susceptible sheep than others. That is what has increased the anxiety among some of the rare breed societies and others with sheep with particular features. However, the Bill does not take a uni-dimensional approach. Not only is the overall plan to be developed in conjunction and consultation with all parts of the industry, but the Bill explicitly recognises the possibility of exemption from restrictions that we might have to impose on breeding in certain circumstances. However, one does not have to be too prescriptive at this stage, and orders will follow under this legislation.
We certainly intend to work with the individual breed societies to agree with them realistic timetables for breeding in resistance to TSEs and how their own breed improvement plans relate to the TSE elimination plan. The fact that a breed is rare does not mean that it is incapable of increasing its resistance to TSEs; many breeds are capable. However, if there turn out to be cases in which the survival of the breed is threatened and total resistance to scrapie is shown to be wholly impracticable, that would seem to us to constitute an exceptional circumstance. We would need to deal with such cases in conjunction with the breed societies and the industry as a whole. Regardless, we would continue to consult with them and the pedigree groups, and to consult the scientific advice to try to ensure that our approach preserves flocks to which special conditions apply. The principle of a joint approach with the industry runs through both the voluntary plan and the plan which will be strengthened by the provisions in this clause.
I believe that I have dealt at least generally with most of the points. The main point is that this clause is the means of enabling us to deliver the national scrapie plan. It gives teeth to the national scrapie plan and accelerates it. However, not only does it do that in consultation and conjunction with the industry; it takes account of the special circumstances presented by particular breeds, particular areas or particular terrain.
I therefore oppose the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that Clause 5 should not stand part of the Bill. However, I thank him for the opportunity of this more general discussion.
If the noble Lord is going to write to us, I would be very grateful if he will do me one more little favour. I have taken off the DEFRA website the incidence of scrapie in Great Britain for January, February, March and April 2002. The numbers are only very small. Perhaps he can let us know where those cases occurred and which breeds of sheep were involved. There were only 113 positive cases in the whole of the United Kingdom. Perhaps the information for England would be sufficient; although the Welsh Members of the Committee might like to see the relevant figures. That information might be interesting and help us to form in our own minds how matters are progressing.
I thank the Minister for his comments. He said that £120 million has been put aside, but he did not say how much of that has already been spent or what timeframe it is meant to cover. I appreciate that he may not be able to answer today. If he cannot, I would be grateful if he will write to me and place a copy in the Library.
I am happy to undertake to write to the noble Baroness and to place the information in the Library. However, the exact speed and profile of the spend is subject to the speed with which we can introduce the genotyping, particularly during the voluntary stage of the plan. Nevertheless, I confirm that I shall provide what detail I can.
I am happy to see whether it is possible to provide the noble Countess, Lady Mar, with the information that she requested. One of the problems in this whole issue is that the information available suggests that scrapie is a greatly under-reported disease. On one estimate, only one in eight cases is reported. Therefore, given the geographical and breed profiles, information on the cases reported might be misleading in terms of actual incidence of the disease. Nevertheless, I shall do what I can to provide that information.
I thank the Minister for replying in considerable detail to most of the points that have been raised. I return briefly to two very specific ones. I mentioned the national genotyping scheme for rare breeds, and I asked him how the scheme would fit in with his proposals on future testing and the move towards making the national scrapie plan compulsory rather than voluntary. I should be grateful for a reply on that point.
Secondly, the Minister's response to a request for the science on which all of this is based was to refer us to a series of deeply academic papers, a list of which he will place in the Library. I wonder whether, at the least, he could also tell us what emphasis the Government place on each of those papers. It is a series of academic papers, and they are bound to differ in some respects.
Finally, I refer to a broad question which I do not think that the Minister answered. Why should the same kind of legal framework of compulsion apply to a disease such as scrapie as would apply to a very different disease such as FMD?
I apologise for not addressing that point. I believe that the provisions to which the noble Lord refers are those relating to entry and powers of slaughter. The compulsory implementation of the scrapie plan would require powers of slaughter and, were there resistance to those powers, powers of entry. When one is dealing with a disease such as BSE, which is covered by the TSE regulations, or FMD, the powers do not have the same purpose. However, one would still require powers of access and of execution. Therefore, the relevant powers are similar but they have a different purpose.
I accept that but in the situation to which I refer the powers would not necessarily require the same speedy timescale. It would be possible to provide a longer period for appeals and discussion in particular cases.
That might be the case. However, allowing livestock to breed on a substantial scale in certain circumstances could be detrimental to the achievement of the targets in the national scrapie plan and therefore a degree of speed may be required.
As regards the national genotyping scheme of individual breeds, I thought I had indicated that a genotype identification operation run by the rare breed societies or others would need to be compatible with the national genotyping scheme. The genotyping scheme and the national scrapie plan would also need to be compatible. We should like to discuss that matter with the rare breed societies and with other representative groups.
I am a little wary of Ministers oversimplifying science. That could get us into serious trouble. However, I shall see whether I can help the noble Lord on that point but I cannot promise to provide the information in the form he has requested.
In moving Amendment No. 11, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 20, 28, 32, 36, 39, 40, 46, 48, 56, 61, 62, 64, 66 and 91. These are technical amendments reflecting the recent transfer of functions order whereby functions previously carried out by the Minister will be carried out by the Secretary of State. As a result, we need to amend the provisions in the Bill relating to scrapie as well as the foot and mouth disease and other provisions so that powers are now given to the Secretary of State. I beg to move.
The old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has disappeared before our eyes with relatively little of a whimper. I believe that the Committee will agree that it has as a department been vilified, particularly recently, as being in need of being done away with and amalgamated into the thing that is now called DEFRA. I believe that this is an appropriate moment to make a plea to the noble Baroness to refer a point to the Secretary of State.
I believe that the defamation of MAFF, as I shall call it, is not fair. It ignores the huge contribution MAFF made to Britain's food supplies in the years during and after the war. It does not take account of great Ministers such as Tom Williams, Fred Peart, Tommy Dugdale and others who played a massive part in creating the prosperous state of agriculture that existed only a few years ago.
In the old days there was always a Minister of Agriculture. He was the only member of the Cabinet who did not hold the rank of Secretary of State. In 1983 I became Minister of Agriculture. Lord Peart—our much missed old friend—said to me at that time, "Michael, you won't allow yourself to become a Secretary of State, will you"? I replied, "I am not of a mind to". But, lo and behold, shortly afterwards a note was sent to me from the Cabinet Office stating that it would be much neater and more convenient if the Minister would allow himself to be upgraded to the rank of Secretary of State. It amounted to the Cabinet Office bowing the knee to the great God of uniformity.
I told my officials that we had always historically had a Minister of Agriculture rather than a Secretary of State for Agriculture. They replied that it would be to my advantage to accept the title as I would rise in the rank of precedence. I asked, "What on earth is that"? I cannot remember exactly what they replied, but I say illustratively, "It will put you one peg up after the third son of a Marquess". I said that I could think of nothing more irrelevant and stupid than to rise in a rank of precedence of which I had never heard. I also said that the title of Minister of Agriculture had been good enough for everyone in the past.
I hope that the Committee will not consider me too nostalgic when I ask whether it is not too late to return to that historic role. The noble Baroness may say that the Secretary of State now has other duties besides those that were embraced by MAFF. However, it was a fine department. Many of us who served in it were extremely proud of it. I realise that to revert to that title is a case of turning back the clock but I hope that the noble Baroness will be prepared to say to the Secretary of State that it would be a good public relations move if he would allow himself to be demoted with regard to the crazy order of precedence and go back to being Minister of Agriculture. I believe that I am right in saying that a Minister holding such a title would be the only member of the Cabinet not holding the rank of Secretary of State. I believe that such a move would be greatly appreciated by the farming industry. I believe that that industry would prefer to have someone with the title of Minister in charge of their affairs. I understand the purpose of the amendments. The noble Baroness may consider that I am being over sentimental. I apologise if that is the case. However, as I say, such a move would go down well.
I believe that I am grateful for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. At least it enables me to place on record our recognition of the many fine contributions of Ministers and officials in the history of MAFF. The noble Lord raised a matter that I cannot remember, but I bow to his greater knowledge.
I do not recollect an occasion in my lifetime when farmers alleged that they were prospering and doing well. In saying that, I do not in any way underestimate the degree of severity that members of the farming community have experienced recently. However, I believe that the noble Lord will understand the point that I make.
The noble Lord is concerned about the role of the Minister as opposed to that of the Secretary of State. I can only say to the noble Lord that I have three sons whom I view as equals. I do not believe that I shall ever be equal to the third son of a Marquess in the terms in which the noble Lord couched it.
The order which transferred the powers was the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dissolution) Order 2002, which, I understand, was agreed on 27th March. Sadly, I fear that I cannot undertake to go back and ask for another change with a view to returning to your Lordships to reconsider the order. However, I am delighted to place on the record the fine work that has been done in the past.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may add my thanks to my noble friend for his observation. It is a pity that the Government do not have a Minister of Agriculture. As the noble Lord and noble Baroness will know, we have such a post on these Benches. We have a person who still has responsibility for acting for the food and farming community and who is a Shadow Cabinet member. Therefore, I want to place on record that my noble friend has raised an important point. It is a post that we value and we still have a Shadow Cabinet member who acts in that capacity.
I associate my remarks with those of the two previous speakers. MAFF has played an enormous part in the life of this country and, on the whole, a very constructive one. I believe we should be grateful to have been reminded of the work done in the past and to have been reminded of the people who have toiled long and hard to produce food for this country in times of great hardship with, indeed, great fortitude. It is right that that is placed on the record.
At the same time, it is worth observing that other countries, particularly in the European Union, still have Ministers of Agriculture who act in a specific capacity in relation to agriculture. We have included rural affairs as well as agriculture in that post. But it is important that the status of the Minister who deals with agriculture is such that he can meet his cohorts in the rest of the European Union and in powerful places such as, for example, the United States, where he represents British agriculture, the interests of farmers and, indeed, consumers.
There is sometimes a danger of agriculture being marginalised within DEFRA. I notice that that has occurred in the other place, where, since the formation of the new DEFRA, questions about agriculture have tended to be marginalised and fewer questions have been raised. We need to be vigilant about that in the interests of the farming community.
In responding to the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, it has not been our experience that questions on agriculture have been slow in coming forward in your Lordships' House. It is not for me to comment on the priorities of those who put questions in another place.
I appreciate the comments that have been made. I am sure that both the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will agree that, particularly in view of the revision that is currently envisaged and being discussed with regard to the CAP, the relationship between agriculture and the environment is extremely important. Therefore, it is possible that for some functions DEFRA is the more appropriate ministry.
I rise to move Amendment No. 12 on behalf of my noble friends Lady Byford and the Duke of Montrose. I declare an interest as a livestock farmer and as president of the much-quoted National Sheep Association, which came in for both support and attack during the course of the afternoon. There were moments when I wished that I was on the Back Benches for a little while. However, we were reminded of the importance of obeying the rules of the House. Therefore, I obeyed the rules of the House by remaining seated.
My noble friend Lord Jopling has been reminiscing. The words that he spoke rang a very loud bell with me and were rather nostalgic. Perhaps I may also be a little nostalgic in saying that in 1946 I spent many months learning about scrapie under the great Professor Parry, who was way ahead of his time. As we debate this issue, I begin to wonder what has changed. But, of course, that was long before websites came into being.
The amendment may seem small but it is one of importance. I believe that the phrase "in his opinion" is superfluous and, in the context of the Bill, it is meaningless. No Minister, including, I am sure, our present Minister or Secretary of State, is likely to make orders if it is not his opinion that they should be made. In a situation where the Bill does not demand the reassurances of an expert judgment, the Minister will most likely not have an opinion on the subject. In those circumstances, he will doubtless sign orders which are placed in front of him by others who, according to this clause, are not necessarily restricted as to motivation, knowledge or experience. At least let us ensure that the Minister is in a position to know enough about what he is doing with the information available from the experts to have a valid opinion.
I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 14. That amendment is similar, but it stresses that,
"the opinion of the chief veterinary officer and the President of the British Veterinary Association", should be taken into account. There is sometimes doubt between the various experts as to the conclusivity of research into scrapie genotypes. There can also be a variation between test results from different laboratories, even when presented with samples taken from the same animal at any one time. The finality of slaughter and a ban on breeding mean that the Minister must be advised to act only where the level of doubt about diagnosis is extremely low. Therefore, before slaughter, it is important to minimise the level of doubt to the lowest reasonably objective point. I believe that that point was made by the Minister a little while ago. I beg to move.
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 12 and also to Amendment No. 13, in which the statement of evidence to prove that there is evidence that disease is present is certainly allied with Amendment No. 14. That amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, stated, concerns consultations with the chief veterinary officer and the president of the BVA.
Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 go together in that the Minister's opinion must surely be the result of consultation. It would be better to state in the amendments what the consultation will be. Obviously, other scientific bodies may be consulted in order to get the necessary evidence to take an action.
We had some earlier discussion on the scientific basis of the national scrapie plan. There is a wide range of science which supports the approach in relation to TSEs. It has received the support of the formal advisory committees and the scientific community in general.
The phrase "in the Minister's opinion" does not mean that the Minister is in a position to outguess this wealth of scientific information and judgments. But it means that at the end of the day the judgment is the Ministers and if there is a conflict between the scientific advice the buck stops with him. If we refer that back in the slightly odd way that Amendment No. 14 does to named scientists, the president pro tem of the BVA may not be the expert in this field and it is quite rare for a senior civil servant to be designated as the single source of advice. But clearly the Minister has the judgment to make. He also has, by implication in all such legislation, the duty to act with reasonableness. That means that the scientific evidence has to be seen to be weighed in any judgment and the Minister ultimately makes that judgment.
The activation of the powers will require an order. Should the Committee believe that the judgment was completely wrong—although it is the negative procedure—it will obviously have the means to oppose that order. It must be clear that finally it is the Minister's judgment. That is the traditional way to express that in legislation.
I understand what the Minister says with regard to what in practice is the Minister's opinion. Having listened to the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer on a great many occasions trying to influence the judgment of the Minister, I know exactly what he is talking about.
Perhaps the Minister can give us some guidance which might help as we approach the Report stage of the Bill. Does he think that he could table an amendment on Report stating that,
"in his opinion after consulting with"— for example—
That would put an onus on the Minister before he forms his opinion, which will clearly be influenced by the Chief Veterinary Officer. It also includes an obligation to consult with some of these other bodies. That would be a sensible way to pursue the issue. Perhaps he could give a green light, either for us or for him to table an amendment on Report. I hope that I am being constructive. I am trying to be.
I agree with the general thrust of the amendments. The Minister is right that Amendment No. 14 is too precise and prescriptive. That might also apply to the suggestion just made by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. Many of us would be uneasy if the phrase "in his opinion" rested on the face of the Bill as it stands.
It is difficult to know why the Minister wants to resist Amendment No. 13. That says in clear language what he has said he would do in practice—he will take expert advice and he would need evidence before he came to his judgment. The Minister should accept Amendment No. 13, or tell us what form of re-assuring words he would like, rather than the dangerously subjective words "in his opinion".
I am always willing to consider matters further without at this stage making a commitment to tabling an amendment. I add two qualifications to that. First, this will be subject not only to the initial draft order but to consultation on the draft order. Therefore, in practice a wide range of people will be consulted before it is finally enacted.
Secondly, I should be somewhat wary of committing myself to engaging on a list process of those to be consulted. There are some people who would be consulted in those circumstances. It is always those who might be or feel excluded by lists that cause problems.
However, I take the tone of what several noble Lords have said. We will have a look at it and perhaps come back on Report. I undertake to address the matter on Report.
I thank the Minister for his response. Although Amendment No. 14 is precise, the Chief Veterinary Officer and the president of the British Veterinary Association have ultimate responsibility. They have their experts in the field who they can contact.
However, the Minister has been helpful in his response. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving Amendment No. 15, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 which have been grouped together.
My interest lies in the herds of cattle and sheep that I own, all of which require to be acclimatised to remain in good health.
This group of amendments has two purposes. First, it is not the intention to halt the proper precautionary measures, but to ensure that the policy proceeds in a measured way. It is entirely appropriate that, as the Government's research develops and the susceptibility of each genotype becomes clearer, the Minister should return to Parliament to outline his intended steps.
Secondly, within the parameters of safety, the amendments would allow breeders of the major and minor breeds more time to breed the susceptibility out of their flocks. We have already heard that correspondence has been received from the National Sheep Association which points out the desirability of having this time.
We are entering a field of experimentation and unproved science in addressing the problem. A great many Members of the Committee have mentioned that today. The fact that it concerns the PrP gene means that that experiment is charged with emotion, with visions of mad cows and new variant CJD lurking either just below the horizon or, in some cases, above the horizon.
Can the Minister tell us exhaustively what the PrP gene does—at least in terms that the ordinary layman can understand? How will we ever know whether it is associated with valuable sought after traits, when in the present state of science we regard its variants as harbouring potential harm.
I shall illustrate the problem that arises from one of our major breeds. Of the 20 million breeding sheep in the United Kingdom, three million belong to the Blackface breed. These have been bred for wintering outside in hill and mountain conditions. That breed has never been known to contract scrapie under natural conditions. In the samples of all breeds carried out so far under the national scrapie plan, 33 per cent were from the most resistant category. Of the Blackface breed, only 9 per cent have turned out to have this characteristic.
There are not many who would quarrel with the Government's idea that the 3 per cent of the national flock, or the 1 per cent of the Blackface breed that are considered to be highly susceptible, should be removed at an early time—possibly immediately. The problem arises in the middle ground, which contains 64 per cent of the national flock, but 90 per cent of the Blackface breed.
The fact that the most resistant strain is so poorly represented in this breed may suggest something about the relationship of the PrP gene to survivability in adverse circumstances. I am sure that the Minister is aware, because I have received communications to this effect from the breed society, that if he removed all Blackface sheep with a risk factor of three and below, it would be impossible to provide sufficient rams for the national flock in the next two years.
For another threat in the argument, I draw the Committee's attention to a meeting held by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust on 18th December 2001. Professor Peter Smith presented evidence suggesting that when BSE was experimentally induced—or introduced—into sheep, animals possessing the most susceptible genome variant still showed no sign of infection after almost 200 days. Perhaps the Minister can tell me whether there have been advances in that research but there is a chance that, with the best of intentions, we could be removing the very thing that makes sheep BSE-resistant.
I ask the Minister to bear those points in mind when considering the validity of my amendments. I beg to move.
I strongly support the amendments. I have a background in farming, although I am not engaged in it at present. Progress has been made with the National Sheep Plan, but the description of susceptibility—in particular, the use of the phrase "more susceptible than other sheep genotypes"—is not entirely appropriate. "Most susceptible" would certainly not be very appropriate, especially for commercial flocks. As has been described in relation to the Blackface breed, it will take some time to breed out those characteristics, especially in commercial flocks. In pedigree flocks, the situation is different. I shall address that question under another amendment.
I support the noble Duke, Lord Montrose, especially on Amendment No. 16. I am not entirely happy with Amendment No. 15, because to incorporate the words "at the present time" in a Bill that may last for 10 years is a little dicey.
The noble Duke has made clear what will happen to Blackface sheep, but we need to understand what part Blackface sheep play in our sheep industry. The ewes are crossed with Blue Leicester rams to make the Mule, and the Mule is the most common breeding ewe in the Lowlands. It provides the hardiness and mothering ability of the Highland sheep—the Blackface sheep—mixed with the milkiness and meatiness of the Lowland sheep and makes a jolly good mother. That sheep is then crossed with a continental sire to achieve lamb that fits the requirements of the modern housewife.
If we wipe out 96 per cent—I think it was—of the Blackface flock, we shall be in serious trouble. We must consider the economic aspects as well as the genetic and disease aspects.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and others asked several questions, not all of which I can answer, but I shall try to address the amendments, which clearly give us cause for concern, because they are too restrictive and prescriptive. As I said, we must bear in mind that the whole sheep plan will be carried out in conjunction with the industry. Clearly, how we deal with particular breeds and identified spreads of genes will be informed not only by science but by the future structure of the industry.
For example, Amendment No. 16 would mean that we could not include in the order any genotypes that may none the less be TSE-susceptible—or may be found to be so in future—but are not the most susceptible. To go down that path would exclude us from advancing on a wide front against problems, some of which may be easier to deal with than others but may not be at the top range of susceptibility.
As for the science, as the Committee will be aware, much scientific evidence describes the varying susceptibilities of the 15 known sheep genotypes. However, that is constantly being updated. How we carry out the plan will therefore also be constantly updated. That was implicit in the voluntary scheme and will be implicit in the compulsory elements of the scheme. We will base that on the best scientific knowledge at the time, taking the advice of SEAC and other scientific and regulatory bodies.
The powers are enabling only. In other words, if we were to activate them, we should have to be able to defend them in the light of the prevailing scientific knowledge at the time, rather than be constrained by the wording of the Bill. Of course, it is true that under the present scrapie plan, there are already restrictions on sheep with R3 genotypes, but to be absolute, as is one of the amendments, is not the way in which we want to proceed.
On the issue of the carrier, I shall probably have to write to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but essentially, that evidence is based on the scientific information to which I referred earlier.
All the amendments would provide a degree of prescription that may tie our hands later, whereas we want to act in the light of the best information and take the most appropriate action at the time.
To return to the previous point, I, too, intended to rise to ask the Minister the implication of paragraph (b) at the top of page 15:
"to becoming carriers".
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rose as I did to ask what I had wanted to ask. I do not really understand that paragraph.
I am now trying to give the Minister time to find in his brief what I know from my experience of those with whom I used to work in my department will be there somewhere. I well know Ministers' problem when they are asked something and cannot immediately find it. I am trying to talk until he is ready and indicates to me that he has found in his brief the reference to carriers. I was entirely unaware that it was possible for animals to carry the disease without showing any clinical symptoms. I am surprised that it is possible to identify individual animals that are carriers although they do not show any clinical symptoms. I am beginning to run out of things to say.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Although I can give him some sort of answer, despite his efforts, I am not sure that it will be entirely satisfactory.
One reason for the provision is that, although we may have limited experience of identification of potential carriers, research is at present being carried out in that area. Indeed, I understand that we are currently funding a total of 14 projects on the whole dimension of carriers. Inevitably, that is a long-term process. On present knowledge, it appears that infectivity by carriers is low, but we need the results of that research. Should the results of that research point to a particular susceptibility to produce carriers, we clearly want the powers to do something about that. That is what it relates to. It does not relate to specific immediate knowledge, but to the potential outcome if there were latent carriers in the flock.
I am grateful to the Minister, and I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will have more to say. Our discussion underlines the value of having a document before we return in October that lays out some of the scientific facts, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, proposed some time ago. It would be extremely helpful if we knew more about this sort of thing. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will agree with me that it is the sort of thing that ought to go into the document that he proposed.
I am sure that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling; he has been agreeing with me. It is a circular process.
I am still intrigued by the notion of carriers of the disease. Will the Minister tell us how the disease is transmitted from one animal to another? That information is crucial if we are to discuss carriers.
With regard to carriers, we reckon that there is a low level of infectivity at the moment. We are trying to establish whether there is a substantial problem with carriers. Until we have completed that research, we will not be able to identify the exact means of transmission. There could be several means of transmission, if carriers are not showing infectivity themselves but have, nevertheless, transmitted the disease in some way. At this point, not only do I not know the answer to that question, but the scientists do not know it.
Do they know the answer to the question how the disease is transmitted from an animal that has scrapie and shows all the clinical symptoms to an animal that has not yet got scrapie but might get it?
There are several different theories about whether there is spread via horizontal infectivity or via maternal transmission. The exact method of transmission has not been finally proven, as we found with BSE.
I cannot remember how many TSE projects there are, but it is a large number. They are carried out by DEFRA and by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council institutions. Some deal with the environmental dimension, as well as the medical dimension.
I thank the Minister for expressing his views on the amendments. I cannot say that I agree with his worry about time delay. In Amendment No. 16, we ask the Government to take out the reference to "more susceptible" elements. That would mean that the Minister could come back, at fairly short notice, with the next most susceptible, if it were a particular worry for him.
I may not be fully up to speed on parliamentary procedure, but I think that the Minister could introduce a statutory instrument that included six or eight levels of susceptibility. We would have the option only of rejecting the whole thing, rather than being able to distinguish between the different levels and the risks involved. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 15, line 4, at end insert—
"(c) subject to the guidelines outlined in a national scrapie plan, which shall be drafted by the Minister in consultation with relevant individuals and organisations, and which shall not be made unless laid in draft before, and approved by a resolution of, both Houses of Parliament."
I intend to ask the Minister some questions about the national scrapie plan, but, before I do, I shall tell the Committee that I come from a family both sides of which have been involved in sheep farming. I was brought up on a small farm with a sheep flock; I have managed flocks in Wales—flocks of my own—and in Scotland, where I managed flocks of Blackface sheep. So, I know something about the industry. I did not see scrapie until the mid-1950s. It had not been present in our district of Wales, but the methods of sheep breeding changed radically. Scrapie was a horrible thing to observe. It was particularly daunting to have seen it for the first time as a relatively young person. The aim of eradicating scrapie is good and honourable.
I shall ask a question that ought to have been at the forefront of our debate: what status has the national scrapie plan? Should it not be in a Bill concerned with scrapie? We need a strategy for the eventual elimination of scrapie, and a national scrapie plan should, perhaps, be put into statute, given some of the clauses in the Bill and the proposed amendments. Later, I shall speak to Amendment No. 34, which contains ideas that ought to be in a national scrapie plan. I shall not speak on that now.
Should the existing scrapie plan followed by the National Sheep Association and other bodies remain voluntary or should it be mandatory? What is the Minister's view about that? What is the present status of the national scrapie plan? After all, we can look back on the elimination of other diseases—notably tuberculosis and contagious abortion—in cattle. Some of those schemes started as voluntary schemes, before going onto statute and helping to eliminate those diseases. However, that took a long time, and it will take us considerable time to get to a scrapie- free national flock. I would like to know the Minister's views.
I have discussed the matter with the secretary of the National Sheep Association, Mr John Thorley. He was anxious that the question be discussed, so that we could see whether the Minister wished to push the scheme further forward.
I understand the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, has tabled the amendment. However, as I understand it—I may be missing something—the Bill is before the Committee tonight so that we can put in on a mandatory footing. If I misunderstand the reasons behind the noble Lord's amendment, I apologise.
I thank the noble Lord for that interjection. I understood that the voluntary scheme would continue; I hope that it will. The Government are concerned at the speed of success that the scheme might have.
I shall add a further question to those asked by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth. I accept that the Government wish to make the scheme mandatory and take it forward that way, but I want to know at what point it will become a mandatory scheme. Will the Government leave the voluntary scheme in place for another six months or a year? Do they envisage that the mandatory scheme will kick in straight after the Bill becomes law?
It is quite important. Some briefing I have seen suggests that the words refer to the genotype order. However, the noble Lord's amendment could be read as meaning that the national scrapie plan shall not be made unless laid in draft before, and approved by a resolution of, both Houses.
I agree that there is some ambiguity in what the noble Lord is proposing, but his clarification in a sense alarms me.
When dealing with any disease, human or animal, there comes a point at which the Government may need to use mandatory powers. The Bill provides us with an opportunity of using those mandatory powers. I cannot say at what point the powers would be triggered. That will depend on the effectiveness of the voluntary scheme. But we need the powers to speed up the degree of voluntariness, because we know that eventually they may become compulsory, and to ensure that, if we need them, we have the powers on the statute book and do not need to come back to Parliament at some stage when matters are not proceeding very well.
When dealing with malaria, animal health disease, TB, or whatever, Parliament has on occasions granted the Government powers to implement aspects of disease control or to improve conditions. The same powers would apply in this area. But it is not the disease eradication plan that has to be laid before and approved by Parliament. The genotype order is one of the instruments that the Government have, and one of the bases on which the plan will be carried out. However, the totality of the plan will inevitably alter as circumstances alter. To freeze it in a parliamentary, quasi-statutory way at one point in time is not the most effective means of disease control or flock improvement.
Therefore, the idea that the plan itself should effectively be a parliamentary instrument is not the appropriate way forward. Clearly, Parliament needs to know what powers the Government have that can be compulsorily enforced and needs to ensure that the best and widest range of opinion is mobilised in support of the plan; but the plan itself is to be more flexible than the parliamentary procedure.
Will the Minister explain why we need to speed up this plan? If BSE is suddenly found in sheep, the Minister can use the TSE Regulations 2002. Should not this matter be taken at a reasonably leisurely place, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord May? The Minister already has the necessary powers to deal with an emergency. Why does he need these extra powers?
Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that this amendment should have come right at the beginning, immediately before line 35, under the heading "Sheep genotypes", which would have made it clear that it referred to the proposed national scrapie plan.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, the Minister said that it was difficult to give a time at which the scheme may become mandatory. Perhaps I may put the question another way. Have the Government set themselves a target of, for example, 50 per cent, 60 per cent or 20 per cent scrapie-free flocks?
There are three different time dimensions. The present voluntary scrapie plan already has in it certain time benchmarks. If the take-up rate under the voluntary plan continues at its present rate, 50 per cent of the rams in the national flock should be scrapie free in 25 years' time. In our opinion, that rate of progress is too slow. It is slower than originally envisaged by the scrapie plan. The reason for having mandatory powers is to speed up the process and to reduce it significantly from 25 years. It would be unwise to have an absolute target date, but it is hoped that it will be significantly below that level.
The reason that we need the instruments on the statute book immediately, even if they are not used immediately, is so that the industry and everyone involved can see that the Government and the leaders of the industry are determined that this plan will be carried out. We believe that that will speed up voluntary involvement with the scheme, because people will see that it will definitely be delivered. At the moment there is some doubt that it will be delivered. The earlier we make that clear, the better and faster the scheme will move. That is the degree of urgency.
I hesitate to press the Minister further. We have now moved from "targets" to "significantly". For a Government who believe in setting targets, I am surprised that the Minister is a little shy. I thought that the Government always tried for targets. But enough of reminiscing. If, by the time we come to Report, the Government have some idea of a set target plan, it would be immensely helpful, not only to this House but to the many people outside the House who will be affected by the decisions we make today.
Despite the criticisms, in some respects justified, of the drafting of my amendment, there is no statement that there will be a national scrapie plan. We have been talking piecemeal about different aspects of possible targets, and there will be more of that when we debate other amendments. Some of the animal health measures adopted in the middle of the last century occurred under schemes whereby disease was eliminated on a county-by-county basis. Plans of that kind are dynamic, they move forward, and times change.
Only the principle of the national plan should perhaps be accepted. Whether it will become mandatory or remain voluntary is a matter that will evolve, as it did at other times, with the elimination of TB. Nevertheless, I am trying to probe the kind of strategy that is to be approved. It is implicit in everything we are discussing that there is a national sheep plan. We know about it. We should focus our attention on how it is to be carried out, on the priorities contained in it, on the most important aspects of it, and on whether it is to remain voluntary or become mandatory. I believe that we need a framework in which to discuss the gradual elimination of scrapie from our national sheep flock. For the time being, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving Amendment No. 19 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 19A. Transparency is of crucial importance in the specification of sheep genotypes by the Minister. If the agricultural community is confident that there is a thoroughly researched and broad-ranging basis to the order, there is a greater chance that it will encourage co-operation and mutual understanding. For the same reason, I believe that any order made under this new section should be presented before Parliament.
The Bill provides for the Minister to specify by order, and without process of consultation, which sheep may be susceptible to infection by TSEs or to become carriers. I hope that the Minister will assure us that an extremely thorough process of research and consultation will take place. I should like to see that on the face of the Bill.
The Minister is concerned about speed. I was a little surprised to hear him say that he was worried about the speed at which sheep breed. We are not here dealing with mice or rabbits and, naturally, sheep reproduce only once a year but science can speed up that process. The Minister must have a bleak expectation of the time that the legal process and our legal profession is developing if it will require more than a year to gain participation from some of those who will need to comply. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 19A requires an order subject to annulment, but that provision is already contained in new Section 36L. It states that such regulations under this part shall be
"subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament".
On that basis, Amendment No. 19A is—to use my favourite word—otiose.
The Bill already provides for the sheep genotypes order to be subject to a negative resolution. That explanation probably disposes of the substance of Amendment No. 19A.
Amendment No. 19 seems to reflect the concern about the robustness of the scientific basis on which we are proceeding and the need for consultation. Throughout we have said that any decision taken by the Minister must be reasonably based on the scientific information at the time—which, it is to be hoped, will improve over time. We already have a substantial amount of knowledge and a fair amount of breeding out of scrapie has already taken place in relation to particular breeds. Therefore, we have the scientific information and some of the practicalities at our disposal.
However, before making an order we will need to base our decisions on the science and on a process of consultation. Members of the Committee can take my assurance now and at various points in our discussions that that will be so and is implied by the general duty to take reasonable decisions. I do not therefore believe that at every point we need to spell out the fact that this is subject to the best scientific opinion and to widespread consultation. We believe that the order-making process will ensure that.
I do not oppose what the Minister has said. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, spoke of the precautionary principle and no one appreciates more than I do what a horrible disease CJD is. The fact that it hits young people is very emotionally stirring. However, we must also remember that farmers breed their sheep over many years. Some of them would be extremely distressed to lose their sheep—and we know about farmers' suicide rates. We must carry out a risk assessment before deciding on how extreme we shall be on removing farmers' livelihoods.
I am exercising the precautionary principle in another direction and believe that the matter should be viewed from both sides. I recognise that CJD is a horrible disease, but there is insufficient scientific evidence to show that BSE is in sheep or is linked to human CJD. We need to look at both sides of the picture.
I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said. He was convincing in his assertion on how he will take in all the scientific evidence and exercise his judgment. The purpose which lies behind Amendment No. 19 is that when publishing the statutory instrument he should publish the scientific reasons behind the making of the order as it applies to the matters contained in the instrument.
I am not satisfied with the answer that the Minister has given and I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.
The age of electronic identification can mean many things. The method is more difficult to apply to sheep than to other animals. The identification is implanted in the form of a bolus. That is the only way at present that we can achieve electronic identification.
However, the Bill has to guard against the cheapest form of identification and must openly consider, therefore, the animal's welfare. The amendment attempts to do so. It is vitally important that any electronic identification device is effective and as tamper proof as possible. It is for that reason that we have tabled the amendment. I beg to move.
We have been somewhat remiss in not drawing attention during debate to the first appearance on the Front Bench of my noble friend Lord Plumb. If Members of the Committee will allow me to do so, I remember being, I think, the youngest member of the National Farmers Union Council many years ago when the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, was one of the gods. He later became President of the National Farmers Union and President of the European Parliament. It is a great reflection on his abilities that he should add to his CV, "Front Bench spokesman"—occasional it may be—"in the House of Lords". I should not like this moment to pass without expressing congratulations to him. I am sure they will be reflected throughout the Chamber.
Some years ago I was a director of a company—I no longer am and have no interest in it—which was involved with electronic tagging. It is all very well stating in the Bill,
"attach to it an electronic identification device".
Often that is not enough. There has to be some means of interpreting what is in the tag.
Hand-held devices are available on the market for reading the information held in the tag. Crushes are available which sheep and cattle can pass through. Again, they are equipped to identify the information stored in the device. But the equipment is fairly expensive. Can the Minister say whether this will involve a large capital outlay which farmers will have to face in order to fulfil their half of the job of tagging the animal?
As I recall, another problem could arise. Difficulties can be encountered when implanting tags under the skin. I understand that the tag can move around the body of the animal. That was certainly the case when I had some knowledge of these matters some years ago, but I may be out of date.
It would be helpful if the noble Baroness—from watching the body language on the Front Bench, I have the impression that the noble Baroness is the Minister who is to reply—could set out the details with regard to the capital outlay for the electronic reading devices and what is the position with regard to implanted tags possibly moving around in the body.
The alternative is to use an external device such as an ear-tag on the animal. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to explain exactly what is involved in these matters.
I have explained that we are members of the national scrapie plan. The current procedure involves shooting a bolus into the stomach of the sheep, which remains in place for the rest of the animal's life. It is provided free of charge by DEFRA. I should like to know whether the tagging will continue to be provided free of charge. Individual farmers do not need the reading devices because only DEFRA is interested in the information.
I believe that it is set out in the Bill that DEFRA will continue to bear the cost of tagging. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could confirm that.
I, too, should like to take this opportunity to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, to his role—not permanent but for an occasional guest performance—on the Opposition Front Bench. Given the noble Lord's knowledge and background, I must admit that I shall welcome him even more when my noble friend replies than when I must do so personally. I am sure that he will understand that.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, was right. She answered the point with regard to genotype identification by saying that the Government meet the capital outlay. On the further point, we recognise the concerns about causing distress to animals. We would not want to cause any unnecessary pain or suffering. However, it can be difficult to identify pain in an animal and thus it is a very subjective term to use in legislation. I can assure noble Lords, however, that we recognise the concerns and want to continue to put the welfare of sheep as a matter of paramount importance to inspectors as they apply the electronic identification devices.
I hope that those explanations will reassure the noble Lord. The Government are paying for the devices and, as the noble Countess, pointed out, they remain in place for life. The reading is carried out as a part of the project and therefore the identification devices are not a problem for farmers.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is wrong. I should have thought that sausage skin would have sufficed.
The bolus used for the national scrapie plan is a ceramic tube encasing a transponder which emits a signal containing a unique ID number. We believe this process was initiated because of concerns raised in another place that, as my noble friend Lord Carter sought to point out—
I am about to tell my noble friend. The bolus is inserted orally into the sheep's stomach. It was chosen in preference to tags or implants because it enables a more secure audit trail. Momentary discomfort may be felt while the device is swallowed. However, as far as I am aware, there is no problem with regard to the device lodging anywhere other than in the rumen reticulum. Were we to learn of boluses lodging in other parts of the complex gastronomic system of the sheep, I would write to my noble friend.
Is the noble Baroness aware that problems have been encountered with the boluses and that some sheep have had to be put down? Occasionally the bolus has not settled in the right place or it has become stuck in the animal's throat. Alternatively, the bolus has been found to be too big for some of the smaller breeds of sheep.
It should be stressed that inspectors using the equipment to administer the boluses should be highly skilled. That is extremely important. Certainly when dealing with pedigree flocks, some very expensive sheep have had to be put down.
I understand that those problems were encountered in the early stages of the project when the issue arose with regard to very young animals. I believe that the problem has been resolved.
We recognise the paramount importance of good training for the inspectors involved in the project.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for her expert knowledge and information on this matter, as well as her response to the first-class question put to her by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. However, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, put the point clearly when she pointed out that the bolus is implanted in the stomach. That is good enough for me.
Nevertheless, it is clear that a technique must be followed. The amendment seeks to ensure that the proper procedures are in place. It has been suggested that if the electronic device being placed in sheep was any stronger, then it might affect aeroplanes flying overhead. One has to be a little careful.
I thank the noble Baroness for her kind remarks. I thank also my noble friend Lord Jopling for his comments. He suggested that years and years ago I might have been described as one of the gods. To sit on the Front Bench in the House of Lords and to be described as one of the gods of years ago puts me, on this occasion, in a remarkable position.
Again, I thank the noble Baroness for her clear response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.