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My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
With the leave of the House, I shall now make a Statement on the Government's position on the Bill. On 25th July, we considered the scrapie provisions of the Bill, and I gave an undertaking that I would let noble Lords know how the Government intended to deal with the parts of the foot and mouth disease inquiry reports that relate to the Bill. I recently wrote to noble Lords who had participated in earlier debates, indicating how the Government had taken account of the reports of the FMD inquiries, with regard to the disease control parts of the Bill, and setting out my proposals for government amendments. I also indicated how I had taken account of the points made at Second Reading and during discussion of the two procedural Motions on the Bill in March and July. I shall expand on that in a moment.
First, however, I must apologise to noble Lords who received that letter. Not all the amendments to which I referred will be before the Committee today. Specifically, the amendments on the contingency plan and on import controls are not yet finalised. Due to unfortunate delays, I have been unable to table in time the amendments relating to the publication of reasons for using the new preventive slaughter power and the requirement to consult on and publish a disease control protocol and the amendment requiring that compensation for compulsorily slaughtered FMD vaccinates be set at 100 per cent of the market value of the animal at the time of slaughter. I can assure the Committee that all those amendments will be tabled for the Report stage and that they will follow the outline I gave in the letter to which I shall refer soon.
The Government, as a matter of priority and before finalising our full response to the Anderson and Royal Society reports, have been assessing the recommendations of those reports and of the National Audit Office in relation to the contents of the Bill. We have decided that we should amend the Bill in a number of ways to reflect the terms and recommendations of the inquiries and some of the points raised in this House and elsewhere. I believe that we have been able to address some of the concerns of the stakeholders, such as the NFU, with some of our proposed amendments.
I should make clear that our comprehensive response to the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries were intended to be published in late October or early November and I cannot pre-empt the publication of that response on other matters. However, we have given priority consideration to those aspects of the inquiries that could impact on the Bill.
The Lessons to be Learned inquiry, under Dr Anderson, mentions the issue of legislation and makes two recommendations. The first is that,
"The animal health legislative framework should be robust, unambiguous and fit for purpose. This was not the case during the 2001 epidemic. The powers available in 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 over the legal basis for future disease control strategies".
Secondly, it said that,
"Provision should be made for the possible application of pre-emptive culling policies, if justified by well-informed veterinary and scientific advice, and judged to be appropriate to the circumstances".
Those recommendations support the central part of this Bill, which deals with the new power to cull animals,
"to prevent the spread of the disease", and, implicitly, to clarify the powers of entry.
I should also make it clear that although the Government do not agree that the Animal Health Act 1981 powers are "ambiguous", as suggested in the report, we nevertheless recognise that greater clarity would be desirable and that current powers do not go far enough to underpin some aspects of disease control—notably pre-emptive culling and emergency vaccination—which the inquiries advocate.
The Government's view is that we need to obtain the additional culling powers and powers of entry for vaccination or culling as soon as possible through the present Bill and that that should not wait for a wider review of animal health legislation. However, I believe that the recommendations in the Lessons to be Learned inquiry report clearly support the need to obtain the additional powers provided in the Bill as a matter of urgency.
I also need to deal with the issue of vaccination in the light of the reports which have appeared in the media from the EU and the concern about how we might use vaccination in a future outbreak. It is important to recognise that the powers in the Bill relate not only to slaughter but also to alternative and complementary strategies for combating the virus, specifically vaccination. For vaccination to be effective, it requires just the powers of entry and the speed of execution that the Bill will provide. Vaccination, even more than culling, will fail if there are loopholes in the system.
The option of emergency vaccination now forms part of the Government's interim contingency plan for the control of foot and mouth disease. The Government's view is that the powers in the Bill, particularly those allowing clearer powers of entry to vaccinate, are critical in ensuring that any future emergency vaccination programme could be completed comprehensively.
The Government's preference, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear in July, is that a vaccinate-to-live policy should be used wherever possible, in line with the Royal Society report. However, there will be scenarios where vaccinate-to-slaughter may be appropriate. The Bill will complete the powers we need effectively to implement whichever strategy is appropriate in the prevailing circumstances. Powers are also needed for serological surveillance through the administration of blood testing.
The Bill strengthens the powers in two main respects; first, the need for clear powers of preventive slaughter together with the power to slaughter vaccinated animals, and, secondly, the need for powers providing for swifter entry to farms for the purposes of vaccination, slaughter or testing. Together with existing legislation, these powers will provide for a wide range of disease control options.
The Government have tabled some amendments and, as I indicated, intend to table further amendments directly addressing concerns which noble Lords have raised about the nature of the Bill's powers. Those will introduce some significant changes to the Bill.
I shall table an amendment that requires the Secretary of State to publish the reasons for using the new preventive slaughter power. Before using the power, the Secretary of State will have to publish a justification of the need to use it in the prevailing circumstances. I shall also table an amendment introducing a requirement to consult on, and publish, a "disease control (slaughter) protocol".
I am aware that some have criticised the Bill for removing the so-called "right of appeal" against entry for vaccination, slaughter or other purposes, but that is not the case. The Bill replaces the current procedure for securing entry to premises on the authority of a High Court injunction with a far swifter procedure based on a magistrate's warrant. However, the existing procedure whereby a farmer may seek review by a senior vet of a decision to cull and make representations to him will continue to be available. However, in response to concerns regarding the warrant procedures, I have tabled amendments to strengthen the conditions in the Bill that a magistrate must be satisfied have been met before granting a warrant to obtain entry.
Concerns have also been expressed that the Government might not fully compensate farmers if vaccinated animals were compulsorily slaughtered for disease control purposes. I believe that there are strong grounds for clarifying the position. I shall therefore table an amendment requiring compensation for compulsorily slaughtered vaccinates to be set at 100 per cent of market value of the animal at the time of slaughter; that is, as if it had not been vaccinated.
I also had intended tabling an amendment providing for the Government to report annually on actions taken to prevent illegal imports of animal products, in addition to the existing requirement in the 1981 Act to report on diseased live animals imported into Great Britain. In view of the fact that we have not tabled an amendment in time for the Committee stage, I am prepared, with qualifications, to accept Amendment No. 96 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Livsey and Lord Greaves, to the same effect. It may be necessary to tidy it up subsequently, but the principle is accepted and I am prepared to accept the amendment.
One of the overriding themes of the inquiry reports is the need for contingency planning. We have done much work on that during the past year. Nevertheless, given the weight placed on that issue by the inquiries, it is appropriate that we require on the face of the Bill that the Government prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a national contingency plan. I had hoped that I could have tabled the amendment for the Committee stage, but I can assure noble Lords that I will table it in good time for Report.
Finally, the Bill provides for an adjusted compensation scheme designed to encourage high standards of biosecurity on farms by adjusting compensation where biosecurity provisions have not been observed. I am aware that in farming circles there has been considerable opposition to that part of the Bill. The inquiries do not help us here. The Government regret that the industry and the opposition parties have not felt able to go down that line, which could improve biosecurity. However, it is also true that the National Audit Office report points out some serious concerns about the whole operation of the valuation system and the system for compensation and raises the degree to which taxpayers should meet full compensation in all circumstances. In the light of that, we now intend a full- scale review of the basis of compensation and valuation in the case of foot and mouth and other diseases. As regards those other diseases, the arrangements differ somewhat. This will need to take into account issues of risk sharing and proposals for levy or insurance-based schemes and will therefore go considerably wider than the provisions of the Bill.
We have therefore decided not to proceed with this provision of the Bill and will be accepting the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, which deletes that part of the Bill and the associated schedule.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for repeating a quotation, but the point of the Bill is summarised in the Phillips inquiry into BSE. It stated that,
"legislation should clearly empower Ministers to take precautionary measures in a situation where the existence of a hazard is uncertain".
That is precisely why we brought forward the Bill.
It is true that the Bill adds to the sets of circumstances in which an animal could be culled the criterion "to prevent the spread of disease". But that should not lead to the culling of more animals. The opposite will be our aim, as considerable scientific evidence supports the view that by culling or, indeed, vaccinating quickly in the early stages we could prevent further spread of the disease.
The proposed amendments together provide a package which will result in a Bill that provides the Government with the powers they need but at the same time meets some of the concerns expressed in the House. They will ensure that the Bill is reasonable and proportionate and that decisions will be explained in an open and transparent manner. I apologise for the length of the Statement. I beg to move.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whitty.)
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, do the Government have any intention of allowing noble Lords other than those on the Front Benches to have a copy of the very extensive and complicated Statement he has made? Going at the speed he did, the Minister was asking much too much of most of us if he expected us to digest this very detailed Statement. It would be quite unfair to the House—and especially to the Back-Benchers who had no notice of what he was going to say—to continue any discussion on the Bill until a copy of the Statement has been made available to all noble Lords.
My Lords, although not all of the amendments set out in the letters I sent to noble Lords who participated in the debate previously are tabled today, we intend to do so. The only additional information is that we propose accepting the amendment on import controls and the amendment to delete the adjusted compensation.
I shall ensure that a copy of the Statement is made available in the Printed Paper Office as rapidly as possible. This will ensure that noble Lords who are interested are informed of the Statement and will enable us to proceed appropriately when we reach those parts of the Bill.
I reiterate that the purpose of the Statement is to underline that the intentions in the letter, which most noble Lords who have previously participated have already received, will be fulfilled.
My Lords, I should like to add my concerns to those which I suspect will be expressed by other noble Lords. My noble friend asked when we received the Statement. I was surprised that my copy, which was brought up especially for me, arrived on my desk at 2.40 p.m. today. Had I been in the Chamber during Questions, I would not have received it. The Statement took some 12 minutes to read. I have had a chance to look at it, but obviously not in great detail. As my noble friend said, clearly we need to do so.
Perhaps I may make one or two comments on where we are. Today we have had a second Statement on a second Bill on which the Government, through their own fault, have got themselves into a mess yet again. That is nothing new with this Bill; it was running into a mess back in March. The Government have had six months to get their act together. Indeed, since we last debated the Bill, nine weeks have elapsed before the Government have decided to get their act together.
I am sure that most other noble Lords who tried to work on the Bill during the Recess—which most of us did—found it most difficult having to wait for government amendments which did not arrive. That is why I make no apology for Amendment No. 103A, to which we shall come later, being so huge and difficult. It seeks to force the Government at least to debate the broader issues to which the noble Lord referred. We have been very patient with the Government but on this occasion, on this Bill, they have dealt with us somewhat shabbily.
The Government said that they would wait for the reports of the National Audit Office, the Royal Society and Professor Anderson, look at the costs and the science surrounding the issue and come up with conclusions. If I were to refer to many of the issues which came out of the reports I would be accused of making a Second Reading speech—which, heaven forbid, I do not wish to do at this stage—but there are three matters arising which are relevant to the way in which we should now proceed.
One matter concerns the whole question of contingency plans. As it stands, the Bill deals only with slaughter; it does not deal with any other options. That is something we should look at. The reports deal also with the way in which the State Veterinary Service operated and with alternative measures. They were reinforced by the European Parliament's recently produced Working Group 5a report, of which other noble Lords have had copies. Paragraphs 50, 54 and 57 of that report—I could refer to many more—highlight the question of vaccination and how it should fit into some kind of animal health protection or animal health legislation.
Paragraph 50 refers to the fact that the decision on vaccination is in any case not a purely scientific matter but a political one, and yet we are being asked today to give approval to issues about which we need to talk more broadly than we are able to with the Bill as it stands. Paragraph 54 states that vaccinations are available which make it possible, at least on a herd by herd basis, to distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals. When we debated the Bill in March it was not said that it was possible to do that. It now is—and yet we still have the same Bill, with promised government amendments for which we are waiting. Paragraph 57 very tellingly states that vaccination must be considered as a first-choice option from the outset when an outbreak occurs. That is a major change from what we have been considering. Those three issues perhaps highlight the very difficult position in which the Government have placed us today.
Obviously there are many other points I should like to raise but I shall leave them and allow other noble Lords to make them in their contributions. I am grateful that the Minister has indicated the Government's acceptance of two of our points, but if it had not been for the push from our Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches and other noble Lords who have tabled amendments, I suspect that the Government would not have moved the Bill forward. We are going one step forward with at least two hands tied behind our backs because we do not have the amendments to which the Minister referred. It is a ridiculous position to be in.
Amendments were laid by the Opposition and other noble Lords in September—well before October—but we still await some government amendments. We acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has moved to rid the Bill of some of the worst conditions surrounding the issue of warrants and to clarify the kind of people who will be required to assist inspectors and to ensure that inspectors are reasonable in their demands for help. But the Government have had time to serve us better. They surely cannot accuse the previous government of putting them in this position. I wish to record my extreme unhappiness of continuing with a Bill—we shall be debating it again tomorrow—on which we have some information but still do not know when government amendments will be available or what they will include.
My Lords, as usual I declare a marginal interest—our very small herd of Welsh Black cattle in mid-Wales.
Speaking as one of the usual suspects on the Bill, I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for the letters he has sent me, as promised, informing me of what the Government intended to do and giving me some of the amendments he planned to move. These letters were helpful and I have listened carefully to his Statement, although, like others, I shall wish to study it carefully.
The government amendments change some of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the Bill as it stood—for example, limiting the requirement to provide assistance to the keeper of the stock and those in charge of the animals. They also meet one or two of the other points made in earlier debates in the House. Finally they seek to meet some of the points made in the reports of the inquiries, to which the Government are only to respond at the end of this month or in early November.
But a number of the key recommendations seem to have been ignored. For example, the Royal Society's report, which struck me as particularly valuable, called for contingency plans to be brought before Parliament for debate and approval; the Government to bring before Parliament a framework for the contingency plans covering the principles involved in handling outbreaks of infectious exotic diseases; the tightening of import controls over meat, together with a much more co-ordinated approach at every level by all bodies concerned with import controls; a commitment to consider emergency vaccination as part of the control strategy from the start of any outbreak instead of as a last resort—the Royal Society says that emergency vaccination could be far more appropriate than the alternative of extensive culling—the preparation of a regulating framework and practical arrangements, including the supply of vaccines; consideration of ways to minimise animal movements; and a national strategy for animal disease research.
None of that was mentioned in the noble Lord's letters or covered by the government amendments but some of those matters were included in his statement. The noble Lord stated in his letter to me of 25th September that
"the central features of this part of the Bill remain unchanged".
I read that with despair. I said on Second Reading on 14th January that the Bill might more appropriately be entitled the "Animal Slaughter Facilitation Bill". On 26th March and 25th July, I said that Part 1 was,
"based entirely on legalising and extending the mass slaughter of animals".
I am astonished that under the huge weight of criticism in your Lordships' House and outside, the Government should still be keen on a policy of mass slaughter. Little wonder that Dr. Anderson called in the lessons to be learned report for a
"reappraisal of prevailing attitudes and behaviours" within DEFRA. The Government and the department seem determined not to listen to their critics. Help is at hand. I am not an enthusiast of the European Union—I would be much happier if we came out of it—but we belong for the present. Agriculture is one of the areas for which we have handed over responsibility to Brussels—which has, it seems, decided to take over the running of foot and mouth policy from the UK and other member states. Reports in the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times on 12th and 13th September said that the Commission was planning to take over responsibility for the handling of foot and mouth disease and to that end had prepared a draft directive that is to be published this month. Meantime, an interim report has been published by the rapporteur of the EU temporary committee on foot and mouth.
I have not seen the whole text but reports quote that committee as saying that,
"The mass slaughter policy employed to control foot-and-mouth disease last year was based on flawed scientific models and probably did not help curb the epidemic".
The policy was said to have,
"dubious legal grounds and may have led to animal welfare abuses".
The committee makes a number of recommendations, including
"vaccination as a 'first choice' control option in future".
It added that
"some farmers were intimidated and pressurised into having animals culled".
I would normally be reluctant to see responsibility moved from London—where we can at least put our views to the Government, however little attention they pay—to Brussels, where we have no influence. In this instance, I admit that in contrast to an invincibly obstinate British Government bent on making mass slaughter easier, the European Parliament's committee seems to be taking a much more enlightened view—almost identical with that of the Royal Society, laying the main emphasis on emergency vaccination-to-live.
My noble friend Lord May, president of the Royal Society, kindly sent me the text of a speech by Commissioner David Byrne to the EU temporary committee on 12th September, in which he said:
"It is no longer acceptable to the public that large numbers of animals can be slaughtered and destroyed now that new diagnostic tests have been developed and are available which differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals . . . the Commission is of the view that emergency vaccination should be moved to the forefront of the response mechanism in the event of future outbreaks . . . vaccination had been viewed as a weapon of last resort. It is now time to break with this approach".
Commissioner Byrne added that there would shortly be a Commission proposal for a European Council directive on foot and mouth disease on those lines, which he described as a "blockbuster" proposal running to more than 130 pages.
Like many of your Lordships, the Commissioner spoke also of,
"serious concerns that poor controls over imports from third countries were at the origin of last year's outbreak".
We have now heard from the boss. The draft directive is to be published this month. In the circumstances, surely it would be sensible to defer consideration of the Bill until we know exactly what the directive says, whether the Bill is compatible with it and whether we need a Bill at all now that the Commission is taking over the problem.
If we are to proceed, it would seem sensible for the Bill to have at least specific guidelines and powers for dealing with reactive vaccination, explicit requirements for contingency planning and regular consultations with experts on disease control. Those provisions need to be as clearly prescriptive as those for preventive slaughter and to provide for keeping fully up to date with scientific advances. We do not want the Bill to be out of date by the time it receives Royal Assent.
I hope that we shall hear from the Minister soon about his plans, now that he has heard his master's voice and had ample time to study the inquiry reports. I hope that the noble Lord will decide to wait until the draft directive is published.
A vote at this stage would not be appropriate, especially as the Official Opposition is holding its policy conference this week. However, if the Government remain obdurate, the House may wish to divide on the issue on Report.
My Lords, I have great sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who spoke with a great deal of wisdom and raised a number of important points. I thank the Minister for accepting our amendment on imports, for which we are most grateful.
It has been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to discuss the issues so I welcome the opportunity provided by the Statement to make a few comments. I cannot see how we can address a contingency plan adequately with no amendment before us. Nor is there any amendment on a new preventive slaughter policy, when the policy adopted in 2001 was so controversial. Indeed, we await a disease slaughter control. Vaccination is a crucial aspect and one that caused frenetic debate at all levels during the 2001 outbreak. I echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that the EU will tackle many of the issues within one month. There is also a report from the European Parliament on the British Government's conduct in 2001.
All those factors could contribute greatly to a far better Bill. I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that the department requires additional legislation in case of another outbreak before a new Act is in place. I view the Bill as interim legislation to cope with that situation but down the line much more comprehensive legislation will be required to ensure that our law is contiguous with that of the European Union. The points made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord could be taken into account to produce eventually a good Bill and Act. If the Minister's intention is that the Bill should serve as an interim measure, he should make that clearer than he has done.
My Lords, we should remember that the Marshalled List contains 320 amendments. Every subject that noble Lords, quite correctly, want to discuss in Committee is there. We can debate the contingency plan in dealing with Amendment No. 99. We can debate strategy in relation to Amendment No. 103A, vaccination in relation to Amendment No. 268, and the European Union report in relation to Amendment No. 316. The House is not being denied the chance to debate these matters in full and hear the Government's response.
The Government—unusually—have already said what they intend to do. The discussion in Committee will inform the drafting which the Government now say they will bring forward on Report. The situation has been extremely unusual. As a result of the way in which the Bill has been handled in this House the Government have already had the chance, before the House goes into Committee, to indicate their thinking on the various issues. We have seen the letter that has been sent out and some amendments have been proposed. So the Government have indicated their thinking. We can debate all the various issues in Committee, hear the Government's response and possibly improve the Government's thinking. Then, in the normal way, the Government will bring forward amendments at a later stage. That is entirely normal.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is right. That is the normal way to proceed. But the Minister has in effect just delivered a Second Reading speech at Committee stage, so we do not find ourselves, as it were, in the normal mode of procedure. The Minister wrote to many of us who are involved with the Bill, and I was grateful to receive his letter. But the noble Lord has raised important issues. Some clarity is required. Before we can proceed, we need to know what is happening.
On the question of vaccination, has new information come to light during the course of the summer which will have a bearing on the way in which this House will determine the outcome of the Bill? With the leave of the House, I should like to raise two specific questions on vaccination.
First, is it the Government's intention that compensation will be payable for animals which are vaccinated and not slaughtered? As matters stand, such animals may not necessarily be allowed to enter the food chain. It seems a gross injustice if an animal can be vaccinated, not be allowed into the food chain and not be compensated for. I should be grateful if the Minister would give the House a clear indication of what would happen in that case.
Secondly, in the letter that the Minister kindly circulated to us, he refers to the most appropriate strategy in any future outbreak. It is perfectly clear to me that the most appropriate strategy will be to try to find a system of accurately testing suspected livestock within as short a period as possible, thus ensuring that hundreds of thousands of animals are not slaughtered unnecessarily and that farmers' livelihoods are protected. Before the Summer Recess, it was my knowledge that such a system was not in place. But do I gather from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that matters have changed? If that is the case, the situation is very different and there should be incorporated within legislation a clause that makes effective testing mandatory before any culling can take place. If that is done, the farmer concerned can be satisfied that his stock have in fact contracted a particular disease, matters will be above board and everyone will be clear as to what is going on. Will the Minister be kind enough to tell the House whether that is now the situation? If so, it is very different from what it was when we discussed the Bill previously.
My Lords, I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Moran. His wisdom, as always, should be listened to. The situation is fluid, as he and other speakers have made clear. I am concerned that we shall be discussing legislation that will be out of date in six months' time.
I recognise the Minister's need to be able to deal quickly with an outbreak of disease. He can probably have the assurance of most people in the farming industry who have been involved with the recent foot and mouth outbreak that they will have the support of the farmers whose animals are involved. I do not think that there is any doubt about that. However, the Minister needs to reassure us that the measures to be taken are not over the top.
The Minister may have heard a programme on Radio 4 on Friday or Saturday on which a Mrs Morris from my locality, Worcester, spoke about the numbers of animals that were killed unnecessarily because they were regarded as contiguous to animals that were not infected at all. We need to bring into legislation the new rapid diagnostic tests and all the differences in terms of vaccination—whether the vaccinated animals will be killed or whether they will live and possibly enter the food chain. There needs to be an exercise in public education. People need to understand that most of the animals that they eat now have already been vaccinated against a number of diseases and that we suffer no problems as a result.
So I have all kinds of concerns about the Bill. My own preference is to wait and see what the EU comes up with, then to introduce a Bill dealing with all those matters in one go, properly, at our leisure. The noble Lord should trust the farmers. Incidentally, he made a blanket reference to farmers. Most of the severe problems arose in relation to dealers. There is a need to distinguish in legislation between what I call proper farmers, and dealers. I should be grateful if the Minister would give that some thought.
My Lords, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, we are in an unusual position in debating these matters at Committee stage. I agree with the remarks of the noble Countess and the noble Earl, Lord Peel.
It is appropriate that we should consider in general terms why we are where we are in relation to the Bill at this stage. Most of us hoped that we should not be at this stage. At Second Reading in January, most of us criticised the Bill sharply. A great deal of time has elapsed since then and there has been a great deal of change, not least in the science of vaccination. Major reports have been published and others are pending. The European Union report is to be published shortly, and there is the Government's definitive response to their own inquiry reports. It seems extraordinary that we should be pursuing detailed Committee points on parts of the Bill when we still do not know what amendments the Government propose to bring forward on some critical and important matters.
We have just had an extended debate on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill and on the extraordinary procedural difficulties that we are in as a result of having substantive amendments moved on Report when the issues involved ought to have been discussed at Second Reading or at the very least in Committee. It places the House in an extraordinary position in trying to tackle important issues.
Because so many criticisms were levelled at this Bill at Second Reading, I believe that most noble Lords expected far more radical changes to be made by the Government. I echo what has been said in gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his kindness in writing to me and in sending in advance a copy of the essence of his Statement. I want to express gratitude for some of the government amendments which have met some of the criticisms that were made in the course of the Second Reading debate and the debate in March. However, I still feel that this is a deeply defective Bill.
Were I a theologian—I hesitate to claim that title—I would say that this is a sinful Bill, giving the word "sin" its proper root meaning. Every student of elementary New Testament Greek is told that the word "sin" comes from a word in classical Greek which does not mean "doing a bad thing"—that is the wide misunderstanding of sin—but which means "missing the mark". Thucydides refers to people throwing a spear or shooting an arrow and missing the target. There is reference to someone who takes the wrong turning on a journey. That is "sin". It is making a mistake of that kind, falling short of what you should be aiming at. In Plato and Aristotle the word has come to mean "an error of judgment". By any standard, this Bill misses the mark, falls short of where it should have gone, takes many wrong turns and fails to address a great many of the issues which were extremely pressing at the end of the foot and mouth outbreak this time last year.
One can imagine what was going on in DEFRA this time last year: an attitude of despair, total bewilderment and perplexity. The outbreak had been a disaster and its handling had been a catastrophe. There were various targets which could have been addressed by new legislation, in particular illegal meat imports. We still await action on that. If we simply debate the amendments we shall not have a serious debate about how we control illegal meat imports.
I returned twice to an airport in this country during the summer Recess. I had absolutely no indication that anyone minded what I brought with me. There was no notice, no questions, no sniffer dogs—nothing. The NFU survey of 10,000 people returning to this country produced exactly the same result. Ninety-nine per cent of those people did not know about it. I looked for it. It is not in this Bill. It may be that we shall have the promise of further amendments at Report stage, but is that good enough?
Are proper information systems in place? There was such confusion over this matter during the outbreak. Have we the opportunity to debate that during the course of this Committee stage? The State Veterinary Service was dismantled by the previous Conservative government in the 1980s. That service needs to be rebuilt. There should be adequate contingency plans which are rehearsed and practised regularly.
We may have the chance to touch on some of these matters as we debate the amendments. But the fact of the matter is that, as several noble Lords have said, we need comprehensive, new legislation which goes to the root of all these issues and not simply to look at one aspect of one part of the solution to the problem, which is how we deal with an outbreak through culling or vaccination. I welcome the references to vaccination which have crept into these amendments, but I hope that there will be vaccination to live and only in exceptional cases would there be vaccination to slaughter.
We really do need new legislation. We need to go back to the drawing board and to produce a comprehensive Bill which will win the enthusiastic support of the farming and livestock industry. I am very worried that if we pursue this debate at this stage of the Committee proceedings on a limited number of amendments, we do so knowing that the farming community is deeply hostile to what is going on and still does not believe that the Government understand the position and the problems which farmers face and the despair which affects so many of them. The 407,000 people who took part in the march cannot have been wrong. Many agendas were running on that particular day. I fervently wish that we could be addressing more of those questions than simply the small number which will arise during this Committee stage.
My Lords, perhaps I may detain your Lordships' attention for a very short time. I totally accept what the right reverend Prelate has said about the need for a new and comprehensive Bill. I have tabled a series of amendments which are based on the assumption of slaughter. There is no other assumption. For that purpose certain new rights are claimed such as entry into premises and co-operation: if people co-operate this will happen; if they do not, then that will happen, with penal conditions and so forth.
Nobody has written to me about it and there is no reason why they should. I have been sitting here and listening to what is going on. It now appears that the whole scenario has changed. What am I supposed to do with my amendments? They are designed wholly for slaughter, but we are now going to talk about vaccination. I suppose that the best thing to do is to pack it in and, so to speak, shove off. But is that the way to deal with the Bill? How is it to be dealt with? Am I going to be given time to talk to a few of my friends in the farming community and redraft my amendments? Lord, no! There is not an earthly chance of that. It is the kind of imposition against which I personally protest and I do not believe that the House should indulge it.
My Lords, I say to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, the right reverend Prelate and others, that we are following a slightly unusual procedure today because, under pressure from noble Lords during the first day of Committee, I was asked to make clear at the beginning of the second day how the Government intended to proceed with the remainder of the Bill. That was broadly welcomed by the House and that is why I made the Statement today, which is now available in the Printed Paper Office.
We need to recognise the history of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, asked if it was an interim measure. We first proposed this Bill several months ago in the shadow of the foot and mouth disease. The House voted not to proceed with it at that point until we had the outcomes of the committees of inquiry. We now have them. Since July we have considered in detail the implications for this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that he is unhappy that the central features of the Bill still remain. The reason is that there was very strong support for it in the two inquiry reports. They indicated very clearly, first, that we needed to widen the scope for slaughter and vaccination to ensure that we can carry out a disease-control strategy which had some pre-emptive culling or vaccination. Secondly, the powers of entry needed to ensure that we rapidly carried out those powers. Both those measures are now firmly based in the recommendations of the reports and that is why the central features of the Bill have not been significantly altered.
What has altered is the reassurances that people sought about the warrant procedure, the protocol and clarification of the reasons for such a policy. I am committed to all of them. They are either on the agenda today in my name or I am committed to producing them for Report stage. The same applies for contingency planning and import controls where I have indicated that I will accept the gist of the Liberal Democrat amendment.
We have also responded to the strong view from the industry that the provisions on adjusted compensation would not be appropriate and that as they stand they would alienate rather than help to carry out disease control. With that section being removed, I believe that the bulk of the farming industry would actually support the remaining provisions of this Bill. Therefore, I do not believe that it is going against the view among farmers in general, although some will have different opinions.
The issue of vaccination has obviously concerned a number of noble Lords who have spoken. I made clear from the early stages of this Bill that the powers we were seeking were those needed for a wholesale vaccination process as much as for a wholesale culling process. One needs powers for rapid entry in order to carry out vaccination as much as one needs them for culling. Indeed, it could be argued that for a vaccination process to be effective one needs even fewer loopholes than one can afford under the culling process.
It is true that the Royal Society and, it would appear, the European committee to which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred, and others, say that vaccination should be higher in the priority of weapons used in disease control. We made a Statement on 25th July which I repeated in this House. We indicated that we accepted the proposition that vaccination should be a weapon of first resort, where appropriate, rather than last. Not all circumstances will be appropriate: the vaccination available may not be appropriate. Moreover, we accept the recommendation that the procedure should be normally to vaccinate to live rather than was the case as regards the options we considered during the previous disease and the options followed in the Netherlands, namely, vaccinate to kill.
What is needed and what this Bill provides, are powers to cover all of those options so that we have flexibility, clarity of law and speed of operation to carry out vaccination to live or as a prelude to slaughter or to the culling process. The powers are the same. If the EU raises the priority given to vaccination, we shall still need these powers to carry out the vaccination programme.
Therefore, the issue of whether we carry out vaccination more substantially than we carry out culling and whether the balance changes represents an important signal to the farming community and to society at large as regards how we would deal with a future disease. However, in terms of the powers in this Bill, those same powers will be required. That is why the central part of the Bill has not changed. I am conscious of the anxieties about proportionality, about transparency, and about explanations given to farmers and other livestock owners. All such issues are now covered either by the amendments that I have tabled for today, by amendments tabled in the names of other noble Lords, or, indeed, by amendments that will be available on Report.
I believe that we shall end up with a better Bill than the one with which we began. It will certainly be a slightly narrower Bill than was the case originally. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said, that does not preclude our returning to some of these issues in pursuit of a more substantial piece of legislation at a later stage. When first proposed, this Bill was meant to cover us for the immediate period. It will still need to cover us for some considerable time until we have fully developed the animal health strategy that emerged from the reports, including the European report that will shortly be before the House.
However, in the immediate period, we have already lost several months by not having the powers that the Government were convinced we needed earlier in the year. The committees of inquiry support the fact that we need those powers and, by and large, with the compensation requirements removed, the farming community accept that we will need them. Without further ado, I suggest that we move forward to deal with the substantive amendments. Therefore, I beg to move, once again, that the House resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.
My Lords, I have one suggestion for the Minister to consider. We have about four weeks until the State Opening of Parliament. Would it not be miles better to take away this Bill, reintroduce it in the dog days of the early part of the Session to your Lordships' House and do so in a way whereby we could have time to consider it properly and get it through this Chamber in, say, six weeks? We would have it ready to go to the Commons before Christmas, and it could be out of the other place fairly quickly. In those circumstances, the Bill would have been well scrutinised in this place and we would not have this gobbledegook of how not to approach legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is clever enough to realise the advantage of my suggestion. As for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, he is much cleverer than the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He can certainly see the advantage of such an approach. I am not being beastly to the Government; I am trying to suggest to them a way out of what is a ghastly legislative muddle. We must get this right. If we do it in the way now proposed, it is likely to become a sort of Mark l, gold-plated "Dangerous Dogs Bill". I am sure that neither the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, nor the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would like to see that happen.
My Lords, without going into the merits of who is the cleverer, perhaps I may return to the simple question of vaccination. I believe that I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, told us that the powers of entry are the same whether or not vaccination is the means of controlling the disease or part of the culling process. I am sure we all acknowledge that fact; indeed, we all acknowledge the need for the Government to have such powers. However, I have one fundamental point to make and should be most grateful for the Minister's response.
I refer to the question of vaccinated animals that are not slaughtered but are prevented from entering the food chain. In such circumstances, is it the Government's intention that farmers with such animals will be fully compensated? The answer to that question is absolutely essential to the way that this Bill proceeds.
My Lords, the Minister said that he needs these measures. However, in a state of emergency, has he considered issuing orders to cover such matters? This has been done frequently to cover all sorts of situations in emergencies on previous occasions. Further, as other noble Lords, especially the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, have suggested, will the noble Lord consider taking away the Bill and rehashing it to take into account not only what the European Union is saying but also what the other reports have found? In that way, we would have something that is a composite, not a hotchpotch.
My Lords, I have three quick questions for the Minister. First, he said that the Government have reconsidered the position on vaccination. However, there is nothing mentioned in the Bill, which raises the question as to how he will proceed in that respect. Secondly, on the question of the amendments that the Government have not as yet tabled, we are told that we should wait for the Report stage. Can the Minister say whether or not we shall be able to debate those proposed amendments in Committee, rather than having but one chance to consider them on Report? Obviously, the Committee stage of a Bill gives us the chance to have a debate around the amendments that are laid. Clearly, if they are not brought forward before Report, we shall have a one-go-only situation.
Thirdly, I turn to compensation. I should like to put on record our thanks to the Minister for the fact that he has acknowledged the position with regard to compensation. When commenting, the Minister touched on insurance and levy systems that I know are under consideration. I believe that the latter would have implications but, again, there is nothing in the Bill in that respect.
My Lords, if I accepted the noble Baroness's amendments it would have the effect of removing compensation issues from the Bill, except for those in the specific clause regarding compensation for vaccinates to which I shall return shortly. It would mean that the whole system of compensation would be delayed until further policy decisions have been taken and further legislation introduced, and would include the wider issues of risk sharing and of possible insurance or levy-based schemes upon which the Government propose to consult at some length with the industry. Therefore, such issues are not appropriate for this Bill. All those matters now fall outside the scope of this legislation.
I turn to vaccination, which is referred to in the Bill and in some of the amendments. In particular, the powers of entry relate to entry for vaccination and for blood testing, as well as for culling. We will have some culling in any situation; for example, even if we maximise the use of vaccination elsewhere, we will kill the clearly diseased animals. Therefore, even if we fully adopt the recommendations for a vaccinate-to-live process, there will be a mixture of measures. A vaccinate-to-live process is very complicated to introduce as the mainstream choice of weapon to deal with the disease: it requires not only EU backing but there are also implications in the OIE review as regards how vaccinated meat is dealt within the trade.
Further, we must consider how the domestic meat industry and the retail industry deal with meat from vaccinated animals. Until the position is clear, it is difficult to answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Peel. The Bill provides for 100 per cent compensation for vaccinated animals where they are slaughtered. If a vaccinate-to-live programme were introduced, it would be largely dependent on the trade being prepared to take vaccinated meat on the same terms as non-vaccinated meat. If the situation were different we would have to consider the noble Earl's question, but we have not yet reached that point. Therefore, it is not covered in the Bill.
In relation to the issues raised by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, both of whom sought to delay the Bill, I should point out to the noble Countess that the use of orders would not fulfil the aims of this legislation. Orders can be put forward only within the confines of existing primary legislation. The Animal Health Act does not provide sufficient powers in terms of the scope of vaccination or slaughter and in terms of the scope of the powers of entry to enable us to deal with it through secondly legislation—
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but how does he compare this with the TSE 2002 regulations, which constitute an order and give huge scope; indeed, they cover everything, from taking one's computer out of one's home and killing every animal on the farm?
My Lords, as the noble Countess knows, that is a ludicrous interpretation of the TSE regulations. Those regulations stem primarily from European legislation, not primary legislation. Dealing with foot and mouth stems from the Animal Health Act 1981 and, therefore, in terms of orders and secondary legislation, we are confined by the terms of that legislation.
We have been considering the measures for a long time. We have the wisdom of three important reports, which broadly support the central thesis of the Bill. We have had plenty of comment from the farming industry, scientists, vets and Members of this House on the appropriateness or otherwise of the measures. Some 300 amendments have been tabled, so obviously a number of noble Lords can see ways of improving the Bill, which I hope that we can now go on to debate. I see no further need for delay.
My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that it is in neither my power nor hers to alter the procedural rules of the House. Report stage will be as normal.
My Lords, I must correct the noble Lord. It is quite possible for the House to move that we can do that. It was done on the peerage Bill. It is called recommitment. Perhaps it might be a good idea to consider that procedure. I would much rather the Government started all over again, because I think that would be quicker and more sensible, but that is another argument.
My Lords, the noble Earl is clearly right that a resolution of the House would be required to alter the proceedings. That is a matter to be considered by the usual channels. As of today, Report stage will be as it normally is.
moved Amendment No. 96:
Before Clause 14, insert the following new clause—
"ANNUAL REVIEW OF IMPORT CONTROLS
In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 10—
"10A ANNUAL REVIEW OF IMPORT CONTROLS
(1) The Ministers shall prepare a report during each financial year which will—
(a) review all activities of government departments, the Food Standards Agency, local authorities, customs, police authorities and other relevant public agencies directed to the prevention of the introduction of disease into or within England and Wales through the importation of animal products and matter, whether animate or inanimate, and other things;
(b) identify the nature, origin and quantity of such animal products and matter and stating whether the product or matter was destined for personal or commercial consumption;
(c) assess the making of any orders under section 10 of this Act;
(d) assess the effectiveness of any action taken under an order made under section 10 of this Act; and
(e) propose such further action as may, on the basis of advice given to the Ministers by suitably qualified individuals appointed as scientific advisers to the Ministers, be required to further reduce the risk of disease being imported.
(2) The Ministers shall lay their report before Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales at the end of each financial year.""
It is a privilege to move this amendment, because of the great concerns that have been expressed by informed people in the agriculture industry, the food industry and the veterinary profession, who regard the provisions on the import of animal meat into this country as wholly unsatisfactory. I acknowledge that the Minister has said that he will accept the amendment.
We require an annual review of import controls, with Ministers preparing a report during each financial year to review all activities of government departments that are connected with import controls, including the Food Standards Agency, local authorities, Customs and Excise, police authorities and other relevant public agencies directed to the prevention of the introduction of disease into or within England and Wales through the importation of animal products and matter, whether animate or inanimate, and other things. The amendment would bring together all those departments and any annual report produced would be a composite of their findings.
The report would also identify the nature, origin and quantity of such animal products and matter and state whether the product or matter was destined for personal or commercial consumption. It would assess the making of any order under Section 10 of this Act and the effectiveness of any action taken under such an order. On the basis of advice given to the Ministers by suitably qualified individuals appointed as their scientific advisers, it would also propose such further action as may be required to reduce further the risk of disease being imported. Ministers would lay the report before Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales at the end of each financial year.
The amendment is a comprehensive way of tackling the problem of illegal imports. I have heard various estimates of the problem, the highest being that 6 million containers come in through the ports of this country. Another estimate is 1.7 million. There is no doubt that many containers carry illegal imports. We do not have adequate controls. I welcome the fact that sniffer dogs are now being used at Heathrow, but I was rather dismayed to learn that there were only two and that they were the only ones operating in the country. When I entered Australia from New Zealand last winter, my size 12 shoes were removed immediately and I had quite a job getting them back because I had been on farms in New Zealand. New Zealand farms are pretty clear of disease and there is a fairly pristine environment over there. We have nothing like that sort of control.
We can report on these matters, but the big questions are how effective the measures are going to be and what action will be taken to make import controls of animal products much more effective. On 1st May in the other place, my successor in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency, Roger Williams MP, introduced a Port Protection Authority Bill, which would establish an authority,
"to exercise those powers and responsibilities now exercised by port health authorities, trading standards authorities and HM Customs and Excise; to monitor the legality, quality and integrity of imported goods and to collect any duties upon them; and to report annually to Parliament on its effectiveness in carrying out its duties".
The purpose of that Bill is to strengthen import controls at sea ports and airports by simplifying the structures and making the lines of accountability much more transparent. As I have said, there is a great deal of public concern about the control of imports. Large quantities of drugs, tobacco, alcohol and meat are smuggled into Britain each year. The current system of import control is very complex and involves a number of agencies, including Customs and Excise, which is responsible to the Treasury, trading standards departments, which are local authority functions, and port health authorities, which are local authorities in their own right.
Trying to monitor imports of animal products into this country is a complex process. The annual report suggested in the amendment would be a considerable move forward. Are the Government actively pursuing the streamlining of those bodies to ensure that we have an effective control system, which could be a super-authority covering all departments addressing illegal imports of food, drugs and other things?
The amendment is a milestone on the way to that kind of legislation, but we need immediate legislation to ensure that an annual report is produced. It should be the result of careful gathering of information by all the authorities concerned and should result in effective action by the Government against illegal imports of food, which may bring with them foot and mouth disease and other infectious diseases that cause the kind of mayhem that occurred during 2001 with foot and mouth. We never want to see that again. The amendment is an important part of a control to ensure that we do not. I beg to move.
It may be for the benefit of the Committee if I make it clear that, as has already been said, I am prepared to accept the amendment. Some marginal tidying up may be needed, but I accept the principle of what the noble Lord says.
The Government are already engaged on the other matters of enforcement of import controls, including looking at the jurisdiction of the various authorities involved. However, that is not a matter for legislation, most of which is European. The requirement here is to report to this House, to another place and to the National Assembly for Wales. We fully accept that.
The Minister should not expect to escape quite as easily as that. However, I am glad that he has agreed to accept the amendment in principle. I declare an interest—as I have many times in foot and mouth debates—as one who was deeply involved and who lost his stock. I feel very personally about some of the issues in the Bill.
It is quite right that we should have this type of detailed report from the Government each year. Had we had one over the past few years, I am sure that the country would have picked up the fact that the Government's contingency plans were totally inadequate. That, as it turned out, was indeed the fact. The three reports we have had have been a devastating criticism of the Government's handling of the foot and mouth epidemic. It would therefore be useful if the Government annually had an opportunity to show that none of the defects will recur and that they will be much nearer the ball in dealing with any future case of foot and mouth.
In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, rightly pointed out the agriculture industry's grave concern about imports. I have raised the issue on various occasions in the past 18 months, but I have received pretty unsatisfactory replies. Today, the Minister has a chance to give more detail about what the Government have achieved in import control. We keep hearing that there will be more inspectors here and there, but what has happened on the ground? How many cases of illegal import have inspectors discovered? How many prosecutions have we had?
What is being done to deal with countries such as Argentina and South Africa where foot and mouth is endemic? Are those countries still sending unlimited quantities of beef to this country? As we know, there is currently complete turmoil in Argentina. Are we confident that the government services are operating effectively in the various designated areas which are supposed to be free of foot and mouth? Or is beef being shipped willy-nilly from that country, where foot and mouth is endemic, and are we picking it up in this country?
I am very concerned that we have not taken adequate steps since the foot and mouth outbreak to prevent the import of all sorts of meat into this country. I think that the majority of the farming community believes that the outbreak began in the Newcastle area from imported meat. Had we had strict controls, with luck, the whole issue of foot and mouth over the past two years would not have arisen. I ask the Minister to tell us now, in detail, the action that he has taken. That is the point of this amendment. It proposes an annual report to set out in detail the action being taken on import controls.
I should like to raise with the Minister one other important point—liaison between England, Wales and Scotland. Foot and mouth knows no boundaries; it crossed the border thousands of time during the epidemic. The Scottish Executive says it has taken action and introduced legislation and that all is well, and the Government are implying that this Bill will ensure that sufficient resources are available to deal with another outbreak, but I should like to think that there is genuine liaison between England, Scotland and Wales in relation to foot and mouth. I feel that the countries are currently going in slightly different directions and wonder whether, whatever action the Government take to prevent outbreaks, because of devolution and Scotland's legislative independence the link-up between countries is adequate to deal with cross-border problems such as foot and mouth, brucellosis and even scrapie.
I therefore believe that this amendment, which the Government have accepted in principle, will give them a chance to set out in detail each year the steps that they are taking to raise the standard of foot and mouth prevention in this country. I believe that the Government would have been defeated in the Lobby had they not accepted the amendment. It proposes an important way of ensuring that prevention and contingency planning remain a high priority within the Government. I certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, in his amendment.
I very strongly support the amendment; it is absolutely right that we should have an annual review of import controls. I also agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Monro, said. However, I am also struck by the fact that we have raised this issue every time the subject has been discussed, ever since January, and practically nothing has been done. The right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Hereford, pointed out that he has twice recently come into this country but that no one asked or showed him anything in relation to meat imports.
Some noble Lords may have watched last night's "Panorama" programme about corruption in racing. Time and again during the programme, the representative of the Jockey Club was asked why it had done nothing. He said that the issue was all very difficult and that there was not enough evidence and so on. The comments seemed utterly futile and reminded me very much of the line that the Government have taken about the import of animal meat, which everyone agrees is probably the cause of last year's outbreak. Apart from reporting to the House annually, the Government should deal with this matter firmly and now.
Like the Minister, who I am absolutely sure has visited many farms and spoken to farmers and representatives of the industry over the summer, I have met my fair share of farmers. If one issue comes out more strongly than any other, it is the import of illegal meat products. I cannot stress powerfully enough how strongly the farming fraternity feels about the need for the Government to take urgent action to curtail this illegal trade.
The difficulties arise in two channels. The first is the conventional channel where the level of testing is simply not sufficiently rigorous. The second is the import by ordinary passengers in their suitcases of illegal meat products such as bushmeat which commands a very high price on the black market. I am very well aware that the Minister himself is deeply concerned about this issue; I have heard him speak about it on Radio 4 and have read his remarks in the newspapers. Concern and action, however, are two very different things.
Like my noble friend Lord Monro, I look forward to hearing in some detail the Government's plan to deal with the problem. One of the difficulties is that various agencies have responsibility for dealing with it. Perhaps the Government intend to introduce legislation to establish one agency to deal with it; the Minister may be able to expand on that possibility. I have no doubt, however, that Amendment No. 96 will go some way in helping us to learn what the Government are doing about the issue.
I suspect that the only way in which the difficulty can really be dealt with is to increase considerably both the level of commitment and the level of investment in personnel and surveillance equipment. Such equipment is already available and being used in Australia and America. Indeed, anyone who has visited America will know only too well how vigilant it is in these matters. Why we cannot emulate such countries, particularly in view of the fact that we are an island, I simply do not know.
I hope that the Minister will take this matter much more seriously than has so far appeared to be the case. Frankly, we would save ourselves a huge amount of money in future if we got the whole question of illegal importation sorted. The chances of reducing a future outbreak of foot and mouth or any other such disease would be greatly enhanced. I looked forward to the Minister's response.
I have a question about the use of dogs. During the Recess, I heard that two trained dogs would be used in relation to illegal meat. Some time ago, with the Drugs Misuse Group, I visited the hangars at Heathrow to watch dogs working in relation to drugs. The hangars are absolutely vast. Two dogs are just a drop in a tiny ocean. The problem is a huge ocean and at least 200 dogs are needed. In the report, will we be told how the whole thing works and what is being done? As the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, the import of illegal bushmeat is very worrying. Monkeys, gorillas and all sorts of tropical animals are coming in and being eaten.
I heard during the previous Session that the veterinary school for tropical diseases in Edinburgh will close. That is absolutely mad. We need it. It could help to provide aid to developing countries. Many of their veterinary officers have died of AIDS and other trained people are needed to replace them. If we really take this matter seriously, we have to consider many ways of preventing disease coming in.
I back up the comments of the noble Baroness.
The Minister may be aware that I have asked a number of Questions on this subject in recent months. He should be aware of that because he signed a good many of the Answers. In one Answer, he said that enforcement was not a matter for legislation; but—my gosh—it is a matter of concern: deep, deep concern. At the moment, the concern does not begin to be allayed.
The noble Baroness referred to the issue of two dogs. Let the Minister at least tell us the current and projected strength of the canine defence force of this country.
One of my Questions was about whether it was possible to discriminate, in terms of investigation and surveillance, at an airport between passengers arriving from different destinations. There are obviously limited resources; we should focus them where they are needed. The Answer that I got was that it was not appropriate to discriminate between passengers coming from different places. Is that really true? None of this gives one any confidence that anything is going to be done or is being done. I totally support the amendment of the noble Lord on the Liberal Front Bench; of course we support it. However, it is action that is needed, not just words. Frankly, to say that this is not a matter for legislation is not good enough.
I begin by declaring an interest as a farmer, although at the moment I have no livestock.
I was very struck by the speech of the right reverend Prelate. I had a similar experience the day before yesterday. I found myself on Saturday in the airport at Atlanta, Georgia. As my wife and I were mooching through the duty free shop, she picked up a sealed package of smoked ham and said to me, "Look, this is that very good smoked ham we had two or three days ago". I was about to say to her, "I hope you're not thinking of taking it back home", but, before I could do so, she said to me, "Oh my God! We should find ourselves on the front page of the newspapers if we took this home". With that in both our minds, when we came back into Gatwick yesterday, I, like the right reverend Prelate, looked very carefully to see what steps were being taken to warn passengers arriving by air that the importation of meat is illegal. At least I believe that it is illegal. I saw absolutely no signs of any sort.
I very much welcome the Government's announcement. In his Statement, the noble Lord said that he intends to table an amendment providing for the Government to report annually on actions to prevent the illegal import of animal products. We are all grateful for a copy of the Statement, which we have now received.
I strongly support the new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the Government might have to tidy up the new clause. We all understand that because careful drafting is needed. When the Government consider doing so, I hope that they will be prepared to add a new provision strengthening paragraph (a). I want a sub-paragraph to be added—I speak in broad terms—that will explain what steps have been taken at airports and seaports, as well as in relation to the Channel Tunnel, to warn people entering this country that it is illegal to import meat, that those doing so will be subject to very heavy fines and that anyone who did not know and who finds himself importing meat illegally should give it up before leaving the airport. That helpful step should be highlighted in the new clause.
Like other noble Lords, I am most concerned about the fact that the Government have just come round at this late stage—18 months after the outbreak last year—to the fact that something needs to be done about imported meat. We have all been saying for months and months that this is a major hole in our arrangements and that it causes great dangers of a new outbreak. The Government's incompetence in handling the outbreak is not in the past; it is still going on. They are still not addressing that problem sufficiently urgently.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us whether he will amend the new clause to ensure that each year the report will explain exactly what has been done to warn people entering this country of the illegality and folly of their actions if they have illegal meat with them.
Before the Minister responds to the many questions and comments, I add my voice to those who have spoken of their concern about this issue. You, Minister, are well aware of the many farmers around this country who have expressed their concern: this matter is their priority. We are concerned that there should not be another outbreak. We are also concerned that regulations should be in place so that, in the event of something happening, we are able to cope with it and the Government are very much in control.
But are we doing enough on the import front? It is appropriate that this matter should be raised before anything else in the debate, although it is taking a little time. However, it is appropriate that it is raised and that it is raised in this way. It is hoped that imports will appear as the first item in the Bill in terms of what the Government will do by way of control. Therefore, I support the proposal tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for an annual review of the activities of all departments to identify the nature and origin of imported products.
The Minister said clearly that he accepts the amendment, and we welcome that. Therefore, why are we spending time on it? We are doing so because—this very simple point has just been raised by my noble friend Lord Jopling—we need an answer. I am well aware that some time ago the Minister launched a publicity campaign aimed at raising public awareness of import rules and the reasons for them. What has that achieved? As was said by the right reverend Prelate—other noble Lords have supported his comment and I can, too—it has done absolutely nothing. Among the 10,000 people consulted on what was called "Holiday Watch", only 4 per cent said that they had noticed anything and 96 per cent said that they knew nothing.
As I came though an airport only last week, I asked what precautions were being taken or what advice was being given to people passing through the airport. The girl looked at me and said, "My dear, it's all over. You don't have to worry any more. Foot and mouth disease has finished". Something far stronger than that type of answer needs to be given to passengers. Surely consumers, producers and taxpayers would feel far better if positive action were taken and if the country were able to see that action was being taken in order effectively to bring about import controls.
I was not able to take part in the earlier debate but I have seen the report from Europe, as, I am sure, has the Minister. In it he will see that the question of regionalisation is raised, together with the difficulties relating to imports. Undoubtedly he will speak about that now. At the same time, that report contains the toughest measures on import controls that I have yet seen. Therefore, having seen the measures proposed, I hope that the Minister will incorporate them in the final report.
I, too, support all those who have expressed concerns about imports and the lack of controls that exist at present. Over and over again at Question Time, the Minister has been asked what is being done about import controls. He says that we are having meetings with this and that person and with this and that group and that everyone is being consulted. But at the end of the summer, 18 months after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, all we have is two sniffer dogs.
When introducing the Bill at Second Reading, the Minister said how urgent and important the Bill was and how badly needed it was. He has—Ministers generally have—the power to stop imports coming into the country. I see the Minister shaking his head, but they do. Section 10 of the Animal Health Act 1981 states:
"The Ministers may by orders make such provision as they think fit for the purpose of preventing the introduction or spreading of disease into or within Great Britain through the importation of . . . animals and carcases . . . carcases of poultry and eggs; and . . . other things, whether animate or inanimate, by or by means of which it appears to them that any disease might be carried or transmitted".
The Minister has the powers to make orders to stop people bringing in such items. But what do we have? Two sniffer dogs. And all this talk, talk, talk achieves nothing.
I wonder whether Ministers have carried out a cost-benefit exercise on providing sniffer dogs and environmental health officers to inspect loads and baggage entering the country and the cost of the last foot and mouth outbreak. The benefits of import preventions and even posters on the walls at airports and ports would be enormous compared with doing nothing except having meetings. Frankly, I am appalled by the lack of action in these circumstances when something could have been done very much sooner.
If the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will forgive me—this is his amendment—I believe that I should respond to one or two of the points raised, although I am not sure that many of them are apposite to the content of the Bill.
The regulation of imports from third countries into this country is governed by European legislation. The Government have recently been very successful in getting the EU—Commissioner Byrne—to agree that the one-kilogram exemption, which currently might have allowed Lady Jopling to bring in her smoked ham, assuming that it was not too large, should effectively be reduced to zero, with a number of exemptions. Nevertheless, the EU has moved very much in the way that we have advocated it should. That is the legislative structure.
With regard to the enforcement structure, noble Lords are right that more could be done. More has been, and will be, done. There will be additional personnel, and we have initiated a number of pilot schemes. The scheme involving sniffer dogs is a pilot; it is not intended that there should be only two dogs. If it works, clearly the scheme will be extended substantially. A number of spot checks are, and will be, based on far better sharing of intelligence. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that, although we cannot discriminate, we base our spot checks on intelligence.
There is more that can be done on that front, including in relation to information. Despite the fact that no noble Lord seems to have seen them, a significant number of posters have now been mounted in airports for those entering the country on long-haul flights. Unlike America, the bulk of our passengers arrive from the European Community, and that is a single market. We are now taking steps to ensure that more people are informed both at the point of departure and on the airline. However, in order to be effective in that regard, we require the co-operation of the airlines and airports abroad. We have made a breakthrough on that front.
As regards the longer-term deployment of resources, we shall shortly receive the outcome of a risk assessment as to how disease might enter this country. That assessment will cover not only the legal and illegal paths of entry into this country but also the question of how disease might enter the food chain thereafter. It is important that Members of the Committee recognise that, however draconian the measures, one cannot be absolutely certain of keeping out diseased or illegal meat. In practice, tonnes and tonnes of illegal meat enter the United States and even Australia. Therefore, we need to combine internal controls with minimising the threat from outside.
As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and others who made this point, there is an overlap of jurisdictions of agencies. We are currently in the process of examining that overlap to see whether some rationalisation and enhancement would be helpful.
I believe that that deals with the points of regulation enforcement, information and jurisdiction. No doubt Members of the Committee would like to have more details and, once we have received the review of the operation of the various authorities, I shall let noble Lords who have taken part in this debate know the outcome of that review.
However, today we are debating the issue of an annual report covering all those actions. I believe that paragraph (a) of the new clause proposed in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, covers most of the areas. If it is necessary for it to be more explicit, no doubt we can consider that. But I support the noble Lord's amendment and ask the Committee to do so.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his comments. I know that he takes this matter extremely seriously and has stated so on numerous occasions. We have been calling for far stronger action, and I am grateful for the support shown for the amendment from all quarters of the Committee. There are currently many inadequacies. Some noble Lords have referred to those inadequacies; for example, the lack of dogs for ferreting out illegal imports. More dogs are required. We also need notices at airports and ports and warnings of the consequences for people who illegally import meat foodstuffs into this country, including confiscation at appropriate points. I thank the Government for accepting the amendment. It gives me pleasure to move Amendment No. 96 on the annual review of import controls as part of a new clause before Clause 14.
This is a tidying up amendment. The former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was disbanded in June 2001 and its responsibilities passed to the new department, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As we are revising the 1981 Animal Health Act, I believe that we should also update the title of the new department which is responsible for the implications of the Bill. I beg to move.
A dissolution order has been approved in draft by both Houses and was presented to Her Majesty in Privy Council on 26th March. Consequently the order received Her Majesty in Council's approval, so the functions of the Minister under the Animal Health Act 1981 were transferred to the Secretary of State on 27th March. An amendment to the Bill has been tabled and follows in the government amendment to delete Clause 14. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
That Her Majesty's present advisers do not know which department is responsible shows how sloppy the Bill is. We all want animal health to be carried out properly, but the whole Bill has not been thought through and it is sloppy and inconsequential. This is not how to conduct legislation. This is a perfect example of why the Bill is wrong. We want animal health to be protected properly and I include the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in that because I give him credit for wanting to do the right thing. Surely the Bill must be worded correctly rather than in this sloppy manner. There is a general indication of sloppy thinking—grade four minus, go to the back of the class and wear a dunce's hat!
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is fully entitled to his opinion which he expresses with great force. I defend those who constructed the legislation. I have reported to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, the factual position. In view of his long service in the House I am sure that the noble Earl knows that we have followed the appropriate procedure with Her Majesty in Privy Council.
I thank my noble friend for his intervention. While I could not possibly comment on it, it reinforces some of our concerns about the Bill. We are struggling to cope with the Bill in its present form. A serious point to take from my noble friend's contribution is that we are asked to give extra powers to this department without any checks or balances, although noble Lords have tabled amendments to ensure that there are some. However, I accept what the Minister has said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 98:
After Clause 14, insert the following new clause—
"ANNUAL REPORT ON ANIMAL DISEASES
In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 10—
"10B ANNUAL REPORT ON ANIMAL DISEASES
The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament in each calendar year a report on measures taken by government departments and agencies and other public bodies to prevent the importation into the United Kingdom of the diseases mentioned in Schedule 2A.""
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, that to a large extent this amendment is subsumed by the wording of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that has just been adopted. In so far as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, feels that it is not, perhaps he will contact me before any tidying up is engaged in at a later stage. I believe that the point has already been covered.
moved Amendment No. 99:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
:TITLE3:"PART A1 CONTROL
In the Animal Health Act 1981 (c. 22) the following section is inserted after section 16—
"16A NATIONAL ACTION PLAN FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASES
Ministers shall make a national plan covering the measures applicable for the eradication and prevention of such specified disease and for addressing related matters—
(a) subject to an order laid before and approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament;
(b) subject to consultation with statutory appointed individuals, bodies and other organisations;
(c) subject to a formal review every three years; and
(d) which comes into immediate effect upon confirmation of a disease.""
I shall now comment on the other amendments and I apologise for not doing so earlier. Amendment No. 100 relates to disease prevention in Part B1 on consultation and inserts the words:
"following consultation with the relevant local authority or authorities".
I believe that that is extremely important because we all know that local authorities have a massive part to play in ensuring that a national action plan is effective and that disease is controlled at a local level. I congratulate many local authorities on their activities when they are confronted by such a situation.
Amendment No. 101 relates to management practices. It states:
"The Minister shall make orders—
(a) creating an institute dedicated to the study and analysis of stock management practices."That is important because the management of stock in particular—and certainly in my lifetime—has changed radically. That is one of the findings of the independent reports. It is a good idea to incorporate a best practice and for that to be disseminated among livestock keepers. The encouragement of a health plan for stock, which is arranged with a named private veterinary surgeon, would be a big leap forward in improving practices and in ensuring that we have the situation fully under control, or at least as under control as we can in often difficult circumstances.
Amendment No. 102 classifies the definition of premises considered at risk of disease, subject to affirmation by Parliament. That is a controversial matter at the time of outbreaks of, for example, foot and mouth disease. I am sure that other Members of the Committee will want to make points on that subject.
Finally, Amendment No. 103 refers to reports. It seeks insertions into the 1981 Act. It seeks to elicit the number of established veterinary personnel, which is a vexatious problem. We all know that the State Veterinary Service has seen a massive reduction in veterinary personnel. We could argue about whether they have gone sideways into some other activity. However, I should like to congratulate the State Veterinary Service on its excellent work. I believe that more veterinary personnel in strategic positions in the field would be a good improvement. The amendment refers to measures and practices on conduct to eradicate and prevent disease and risk scenarios. There is also reference to a report to Parliament.
Those are my comments on these amendments. I note that Amendment No. 103A is being taken separately. I beg to move.
This group of amendments covers a number of issues. Most would be covered in the Government's commitment to produce and lay before Parliament a contingency plan, which would deal with issues of a risk assessment of the kind of disease control mechanisms that are required of the structure of the veterinary service, and so on.
I have indicated in my Statement and in my letter to Members of the Committee that I propose to bring forward an amendment relating to contingency planning. Most of these issues could be dealt with in that context. The noble Lord will no doubt be disappointed that, although I say it can be laid before Parliament, my amendment is unlikely to include the affirmative procedure. Nevertheless, perhaps we should discuss that when we have my amendment before us. If we took each amendment separately there would be some difficulty with each. But the requirements and how far we want parliamentary involvement in a contingency plan, which is covered by the next amendment of the noble Baroness, are best dealt with at a later stage. No doubt Members of the Committee will want to comment both on these and other amendments. I therefore ask for the Committee's indulgence and ask it to consider them at that stage.
While the noble Lord is considering matters to bring forward on Report, perhaps I may ask him to bear this point in mind. A number of private vets are contracted to DEFRA for specific purposes—for TB, brucellosis testing and that kind of thing, and in the markets for inspecting animals. When I first started in farming I remember that our vet used regularly to carry out a whole farm assessment for us. With the narrowing of profits in farming such assessments have dropped off. In particular, large animal vets have noticed the fall in their incomes because farmers are no longer employing them to carry out such assessments. I recognise the importance of having a vet on one's property to look at one's animals periodically. Can the Minister consider how this practice might be reconstituted in some way or another?
Can the Minister confirm where his contingency plan will appear in the Bill? The shape of this piece of legislation is important. It is quite offensive as it stands because Clause 1 immediately goes into slaughter. We recognise that there will be cases where action has to be taken. The Bill would be more user-friendly and more likely to be welcomed by the farming community if this kind of action in extreme circumstances were set in the context of an overall plan which comes first. Therefore, can the noble Lord tell us where he expects to put his contingency plan and whether there should be some kind of pre-amble before we get to the detail of killing animals or—I hope—vaccinating rather than killing them? My concern is how the Bill is presented and the priority with which these matters are addressed. Can the Minister give us some reassurance about that?
Before we have the reassurance, I share equally the views of the right reverend Prelate: I do not know where this will fit into the Bill. I was pleased with the Minister's comment that this is something that we ought to take into account, to consider and to think of.
"The Minister shall make orders——
(a) creating an institute dedicated to the study and analysis of stock management practices". That is fine. However, we have more consultants in this country now than we have farmers. We can set up another institute, but who will be on it, how will it advise farmers, and what kind of recognition will the farmers give to that advice? There are ways and means—perhaps this again is a matter that we should discuss outside the Bill—that can help and perhaps improve the relationship with the veterinary practice. We recognise that those involved with large animals are becoming fewer in number. In that sense I believe that it is a question of finding ways and means of improving the relationship between all parties.
I wish to raise another point on this issue. I declare an interest as I have quite a few sheep. We had one or two which were turning their toes up in the air. So the vet had to come out. The vet's bill was about £250. The value of a sheep in the market at the moment is about £45 to £50. So the economics of getting veterinary assistance to farm animals is very different from what it was even 10 or 20 years ago. That matter should be borne in mind. The vets buy Mercedes and the farmers go bust.
In relation to veterinary surveillance, there are recommendations in the Royal Society report which lead us to assess the situation as regards the State Veterinary Service and relations with the private veterinary service. The response to those reports will deal with that issue. It is not really a matter of legislation.
The commitment to produce a clause dealing with contingency planning will not go into full details because a contingency plan is necessarily a living document and one which will feed on experience around the world in dealing with animal diseases, and foot and mouth in particular. But the commitment will be to ensure that we do draw up a contingency plan and that it is laid before Parliament. As to where that will be, to answer the question posed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, it will be pretty early in the Bill, because it will deal with many other issues in the Bill. When the Committee reads the amendment, it will find that it is prior to any of the more contentious issues with which we have been dealing today.
Before I withdraw the amendment, I should like to respond to one or two of the Minister's remarks. I point out that the contingency plan available resulted from the 1967 foot and mouth disease outbreak, but applies to all such diseases. It appeared at the beginning of the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak that the only source of information was the excellent Northumberland report, which came to conclusions. Where that fitted into the Government's contingency plan to deal with the disease was not clear, and there are many lessons to be learned. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will address the point, but everyone should know what procedures are contained in the national contingency plan and exactly what is the plan, so that from the first minute of the known outbreak of an infectious disease, we can pursue that course of action as fast as possible. Indeed, we can then measure how effective we have been in tackling such an outbreak. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford is right to ask where that will feature in the Bill and in what order. I am glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, say that it will appear early on. That is right; we need to know exactly where we are.
I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Plumb said about relationships and instituting best practice. When I lectured in agricultural colleges, we always tried to let students know what was best practice. I believe that there is a much more effective system for disseminating information in the Scottish colleges. The advisory service in Scotland adjoins, and is a part of, the colleges and there seems to be a better communication system there to farmers on the ground, now that ADAS has become rather expensive for some smaller farmers. That whole area needs to be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, is right to say that that requires considerable discussion outside the Bill.
So, given the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that he will table his own contingency plan amendment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 103A:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
Before section 15 of the Animal Health Act 1981 (c. 22) there is inserted—
(1) The Minister may produce a strategy for controlling the incidence of the diseases listed in Schedule 2A in the United Kingdom.
(2) The strategy shall include—
(a) a three-yearly review of the world-wide incidence of each of the diseases listed in Schedule 2A;
(b) the resultant recommendation of steps to be taken in the United Kingdom to prevent the incidence of each disease listed in Schedule 2A;
(c) the incorporation of the steps identified in paragraph (b) into a contingency plan for each disease;
(d) the publication of each contingency plan;
(e) the annual testing of each contingency plan and the publication within six months of a critique of the outcome of the tests;
(f) the implementation of the relevant contingency plan upon the outbreak of any disease;
(g) the monitoring of the implementation of each contingency plan;
(h) the reporting, within four months of the official notification of the end of any disease outbreak, of the successes, failures, strengths and weaknesses of the control process and of the method of implementation.
(3) The Minister may investigate, recommend and implement vaccination programmes—
(a) for the emergency control of any disease listed in Schedule 2A in any animal species; and
(b) for the permanent control of all such diseases in animals in particular circumstances.
(4) The Minister may fund research into levels of susceptibility to diseases listed in Schedule 2A experienced within the United Kingdom since 1992, as between species and within each one according to the circumstances of the affected animals.
(5) The Minister may collate research into the viability of permanent vaccination programmes against diseases listed in Schedule 2A.""
This amendment has been tabled because I, too, share the thoughts expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. To me, to start straight into a Bill with a part entitled, "Slaughter" and nothing else seemed foolhardy and unwise in the first instance.
My amendment is lengthy. There is no way that the Government will accept it, although the Minister said that the Government will propose a contingency plan, for which I am grateful. I tried in framing the amendment to reflect certain important matters that the Government may take on board and build on in later amendments. It attempts to incorporate two items identified as important by all three foot and mouth reports: namely, the National Audit Office, the Royal Society and the Anderson reports.
The first plank of the strategy covers contingency planning, where the first priority is to maintain a watching brief on the incidence of exotic diseases. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, spoke of her concern about the closure of the part of Edinburgh University that deals with that. Perhaps when he replies the Minister can tell us more about the plans for that university. More than one comment has been made to the effect that had more attention been paid to the pan-Asian "O" strain of the foot and mouth virus, the UK would have been better prepared. In his report, on pages 42 to 45, Anderson presents maps and commentary on the progress of that strain. On page 44, the Royal Society uses maps to make the spread of that virus leap off the page at any reader. The Royal Society also sounded a serious alarm on page 29, in sections 360 to 367, about the northward spread of bluetongue and African horse sickness. Let us not say in future that the Government were not warned.
A watching brief is no good without an alert for those likely to be affected. There follows a plan of action in which local knowledge is key—all reports reflect that. Knowing what lies ahead and how to fight it, we must then make the contingency plans public and regularly test them to ensure that they continue to be workable. In his response to earlier discussion, the Minister said that he concurs with that. Local authorities' emergency services could produce a book on factors that have disrupted their regular incident simulation: for example, closed roads, buildings in the middle of previously open spaces, diversions of public services and even the removal of telephone boxes have all in their own way caused little hiccoughs. It is no use running simulations or similar tests if there is no thorough review of what went wrong and right and why. That should be followed up by recommendations for improvements.
Once the need arises, contingency plans must be actioned, their implementation monitored and their performance analysed. We are anxious that that analysis should cover performance in the front line and back at base; it must consider all departments, agencies and public and private bodies and individuals concerned. The recent foot and mouth outbreak served only to highlight how many different departments, people, and organisations are involved in coping with an outbreak.
The second plank of any strategy must be vaccination-about which we spoke at length earlier. On pages 87 to 111—a lot of pages—the Royal Society has a great deal to say on that matter and makes four recommendations. In brief, it says that emergency vaccination should be seen as a major tool of first resort, along with the culling of infected premises and known dangerous contacts. We have already spoken about that and agree with it. The report states that, for controlling foot and mouth outbreaks, the policy should be vaccinate to live. That is where we may have moved on since we met and discussed the matter in March.
I know that my noble friend Lord Onslow was specific in wanting the question of vaccination raised at a much higher level. But, if I may say so, we were then struggling with the fact that there was no answer to the question of what happened to vaccinated animals: would they go into the food chain and would compensation be available? It made vaccination difficult at that stage, but from our earlier comments, I think we have moved on, and I hope that in his response the Minister will pick up on that progress. If he can give the House a further indication of the Government's thinking, that will be welcome.
The policy of "vaccinate to live" necessitates the acceptance that meat and meat products from all vaccinated animals should be able to enter the food chain normally. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that there is no reason why that suggestion of the Royal Society should not be accepted, and that no one has raised that as an issue.
Anderson also devotes a whole chapter—pages 120 to 129—to vaccination. He recommends that the Government ensure that the option of vaccination forms part of any future strategy for the control of foot and mouth disease. In his response to our earlier discussions, the Minister indicated that the Government accepted that. The fact that he is nodding his head reinforces that.
Following the production of the EU report into the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, Commissioner Byrne said, on 12th September, that,
"the Commission is of the view that emergency vaccination should be moved to the forefront of the response mechanism in the event of future outbreaks".
Any strategy should cover emergency control, but we should also consider special groups of animals for whom permanent control may be indicated—for example, animals in zoos or wildlife parks, or rare breeds. We touched on that matter in earlier debates. However, I would like the Minister to include a comment about it when he responds.
Since the end of the outbreak, there has been a rash of informed comment on apparent peculiar behaviour patterns. Letters to the Veterinary Record in June and July referred to the possibility that ewes on the point of giving birth and whole flocks immediately after gathering and colostral vaccination are more easily and more seriously affected by foot and mouth disease. On page 20 of its report, the Royal Society makes an interesting and—possibly—highly important comment. It says:
"Infectivity is not readily destroyed by ultraviolet radiation but is particularly vulnerable to acid conditions below pH 6 and alkaline conditions above pH 10. Whereas infectivity might be stable for a few weeks under neutral conditions (pH 7), it survives for only two minutes in a slightly acidic pH 6 environment".
I am no scientist, and I find all that a little challenging. However, the Royal Society has made a suggestion, and the Minister should comment on it in his response. Our amendment is an attempt to ensure that government support for such future investigations continues.
We also consider that vaccination for the permanent control of some—if not all—of the diseases listed in Schedule 2A may become a practical necessity if the spread of those diseases continues. For instance, if African horse sickness were to become endemic, the horse-racing industry might need protection, along with animals involved in eventing, showjumping and dressage.
The amendment is wide-ranging. I do not expect the Government to accept it as it stands. However, having tabled it in September without knowing what the Government's thinking was, I hope that the Minister will highlight some of the suggestions in our list from (a) to (h) and indicate which they might consider including in their contingency plan, which we await.
As the Opposition, we do not have the facility to draft major legislation. However, we feel that the principles behind the amendment are important, and we hope that the Government will take them on board before the Bill becomes an Act. I beg to move.
The quotation about the "sinner that repenteth" springs immediately to mind. I must congratulate the Government on coming round to the concept of vaccination. I wish only that they had listened to someone who took five O-levels—I failed history—in 1954 and learnt a fraction of science, which he did not even bother to take at O-level. The money spent on selling Mrs Messenger's cottage so that I could be sent to Eton was almost totally wasted. If I was able to come to the conclusion that I did, which was no great intellectual achievement, surely the clever-clogs in the department and the Government should have been able to reach it too. Other people, much cleverer than I, advocated vaccination. Vaccination was being practised, but, to go back to biblical analogy, there was a certain amount of passing by on the other side.
I shall continue the biblical analogy by saying that we must forgive sinners who repent, and I shall go on to a slightly more difficult problem. The European Commission demanded that a contingency plan should be drawn up to deal with foot and mouth disease: it would appear that that was not done. The Government were warned that type O was rampaging all over the place and that that was likely to happen here too. However many plans we produce, however many strategies we contrive, however many plots we cook up to make sure that certain things do not happen, nothing will make up for the fact that people have not paid attention to what happened. Plans lie in drawers and gather dust.
Every report on foot and mouth disease has been preceded by the words "If only we had paid attention". The report of the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, and the Duke of Northumberland is, I believe, preceded by such a statement. If we do not keep our eye on the ball, it will not matter what is on the statute book. Unless people pay attention to what is happening, things will go on getting worse. Thank goodness we are now considering vaccination. We will never again slaughter God knows how many animals in a blind, ignorant, witchcraft-driven policy.
The more I see of the amendments to the Bill, the more I want to say to the Minister that he should take the Bill away and come back with a proper one next time. I see that he is looking uncomfortable: so he should. He is now grinning because he does not want to admit that he is uncomfortable. We want a proper Bill. I say that to help the Government, not to cause them difficulties. We want the things that my noble friend Lady Byford said were necessary. We want some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, mentioned. The Government admit that we want them, but they are all over the place. The changes will come in on Report and at Third Reading but, because the Bill will have been half-chewed in this House, it will have to go back to another place, where they will not have time to do what is needed. That is a crazy way to legislate.
The Government must be big enough to say, "We have made a mistake, and we want to do it better. Our aim is the same as yours, and some of us think that there are better ways of achieving it".
I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, explaining why she wanted the amendment. As she went through each point, I thought, "I do that already". As a food producer, I am required to have a system of hazard assessment and critical control points. I must account for everything that I do in my cheese making. That is precisely what the noble Baroness is asking the Government to do. It is a good idea. If the Minister will not accept the amendment, he should seriously consider tabling a more refined one. The noble Baroness is to be congratulated on tabling her amendment.
I also support the amendment or something very like it. I hope that the Government will propose a preamble to the Bill that covers the same ground.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, might have been firmer in her proposals. I would like subsection (3) to say:
"The Minister shall investigate and"— perhaps—
"may recommend and implement".
Subsection (5) should say:
"The Minister shall collate research".
It must be done and should not remain optional. It is essential that we put it in terms stronger than those in the amendment. There is still time for the Minister to incorporate them in his contingency plan or in the preamble to the Bill and I hope that he will do so.
While I, from this Bench, welcome repentant sinners, I am not sure that the noble Earl is right in believing that this particular repentance could have taken place in 1954. I suspect that only this summer has it become clear that it is possible to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals. That is the critical difference, so it is a last-minute repentance and we cannot blame the Government for not having repented sooner.
This is a well-informed debate and I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Hereford that the provision requires more force. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on a well-researched amendment. It is very detailed and it needs to be in order to be effective. Emergency vaccination is important and where possible the animals should live.
I commend in particular the noble Baroness's remarks about local knowledge. It is vital. In 2001, I was greatly distressed by the fact that local knowledge was completely overridden. People who knew a great deal about their locality—about how much livestock were here, there and everywhere else—were not consulted. That included myself and I forced myself on to the scene at one point because I was so distressed about what was happening. Local knowledge is vital and the proposals in the amendment and the strategy are to be commended. If the amendment is not acceptable to the Minister, it has provided a great deal of food for thought. If necessary, perhaps he can produce an equally detailed amendment covering the same points but drafted differently.
I want to make two brief points. I do not have the Anderson report in front of me, but I am sure that it mentioned vaccination and that the science is still uncertain and unclear. Perhaps the Minister can tell the Committee about the latest state of the scientific play as regards vaccination. I am sure that all Members of the Committee will agree that to embark on a vaccination policy before the science is clear might be as dangerous as the previous situation—
I believe that the Anderson report refers to the situation in Uruguay where there was a similar outbreak. They vaccinated and slaughtered only 10,000 cattle. It started earlier and ended earlier and they vaccinated to slaughter. The science of vaccination is sound and has been applied for the past few years. Although I do not have chapter and verse in front of me, I am pretty certain that that is what Anderson stated.
That could well be so, but from memory I am certain that the executive summary of the Anderson report states that the science is still unclear—or words to that effect.
Furthermore, the vaccination-to-live provision is already contained in the Bill. Clause 4(2) states:
"The Minister may cause to be slaughtered any animal to which this section applies".
"Shall" cause to be slaughtered is vaccination-to-kill, but the Minister "may" cause to be slaughtered; in other words, he can do so or not. Therefore, the power to vaccinate-to-live already exists.
I share the implied view of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and would be reluctant to accept the vaccination strategy until the science is clear. I have always been dissuaded from embracing the concept of vaccination until I am sure that it is clear and my recollection is similar to that of the noble Lord's.
For the second time today, I was struck by the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, who was not in his place when I spoke earlier. Previously today he dazzled us with his scholastic knowledge of Greek and he has dazzled us again with his infinite good sense. As I said to the Chamber previously, it is a pity that he did not become the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I turn to the points in the proposed new clause which deal with contingency plans for the stated diseases. Perhaps I may detain the Committee for a few moments by speaking of contingency plans through the eyes of one who between 15 and 19 years ago had the honour of being responsible for them. I want to repeat what I said to the House about 18 months ago.
When I was responsible for such plans, there were three or more scares—I forget precisely—that an outbreak of foot and mouth disease was suspected in the country. Happily, on each occasion it was a false alarm. However, I remember asking officials on each occasion whether they were absolutely sure that in the event of a scare becoming a reality the department was utterly prepared with a contingency plan which followed in close terms the report of the Northumberland committee of 1967. On each occasion, I asked officials to review whether the plan was ready to go if the worst happened. On each occasion, I was told, "Yes, we have looked into it and the contingency plan is ready to move into action". I am sure that that was right and I have no reason to suppose that it was not.
However, there is no doubt that in the intervening 16 years eyes went off the ball. The proposed new clause suggests that the contingency plan for each disease should be identified; that the plan should be published; and that there should be annual testing of the plan. Looking back, 15 to 19 years ago, I must tell the Committee that I wish I had insisted on something similar. I asked the question which needed to be asked and received the answer which I badly wanted to hear. However, it would have been better if we had had an obligation to publish contingency plans for the diseases and to have an annual testing of them. I do not believe that it would have taken enormous resources within the department and it would have been clearly proved.
Like other Members of the Committee, I hope that if the Minister is unable to accept the new clause—my noble friend suggested that she would not be surprised if that were so—he will try to write into the Bill provisions which in the same terms will deal with contingency plans. The old phrase that time spent on reconnaissance is rarely wasted is extremely appropriate in this case.
The noble Baroness recognised that the amendment is wide and touches on many aspects of disease control, prevention and intelligence, many of which are not really appropriate for legislation but are clearly appropriate in the consideration of the reports and the outcome of the way in which the disease was handled last time.
I am proposing that we put within the Bill—this is the amendment I shall bring forward on Report—a commitment to contingency planning. However, contingency planning is not as wide as the clause. Contingency planning concerns how we should deal with a disease if it were it to break out. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, my predecessor departments had contingency plans; indeed, there was a contingency plan for foot and mouth and other diseases. However, it is clear from our experience of foot and mouth disease that we need to upgrade them very significantly and to broaden the range of possible outbreaks from a relatively small number, which was covered by a quite detailed contingency plan, to a situation where—as actually happened—60 or so cases occur before we discover the disease. The foot and mouth disease contingency plan we shall produce, and which I wish to see reflected in the Bill, would be a template for contingency plans for other diseases of the kinds referred to by the noble Baroness. So the contingency planning part of that, in process terms at least, would be in the Bill under my amendment.
It would not, however, deal with all the issues of substance referred to by the noble Baroness and many other Members of the Committee. The issue of vaccination is not appropriate for legislation in terms of it being absolutely definitive that we would adopt a vaccination strategy rather than a culling strategy. That proposition is not in any of the reports or in the expected report from Europe. Clearly a very substantial amount of culling will be involved. I do not think that anyone is indicating that we should not cull diseased animals. Very few are suggesting that we do not cull obvious direct contacts with those animals. Where vaccination comes in is as a pre-emptive fire-break or control mechanism whereby we control the spread of the disease beyond those animals identified as diseased or subjected to the disease.
The Minister raises a very valid point. Will he inquire of the Uruguayan authorities how they did it, what they did and when they did it? One does not want to be clever, but they succeeded and it would seem a sensible idea to go and look at how people design things that work and to learn from them.
I do not disagree with that. The Uruguayan vaccination campaign to control foot and mouth was confined to cattle. The disease that we experienced in the UK was spread almost entirely by sheep and sheep movements. Obviously there are sheep in Uruguay, but the Uruguayans did not include the vaccination of sheep—which is, of course, much more difficult, particularly with our topography—in their campaign. They were successful in dealing with the outbreak by vaccinating cattle because the disease at that point was still only in cattle and therefore only a relatively small number of diseased animals and those close to them had to be destroyed.
However, we cannot immediately transfer that experience to the British outbreak or any potential future European outbreak. The vaccination science and vaccination operations are not as clear cut as some of the comments made in the debate would suggest. Indeed, as Anderson said, in moving more substantially to vaccination there are hurdles to overcome and the science is not clear, as my noble friend Lord Carter said. Quite apart from that, many farmers and other operators have extreme doubts about adopting the vaccination strategy.
However, we accept the view of the Royal Society and Anderson, and the putative view of the European committee, that we should be prepared to consider vaccination as part of the immediate strategy rather than as a last resort strategy. However, there is no analogue of any control of the disease which is exactly equivalent, or anywhere close to equivalent, of the sheep-carried disease which we dealt with in this country.
There are also the operational difficulties to which I referred in my remarks to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, during a previous intervention. There are issues as to whether vaccinated meat would be acceptable to the trade, both domestically and internationally.
Can the Minister confirm that at the moment we are importing vaccinated meat into this country and that it is being sold? If that is the case, the scare as to whether people will eat vaccinated meat vanishes in a puff of wind. The Minister is being briefed, so he had better listen.
Vaccinated meat which is legally imported into this country has to be subjected to heat treatment. Therefore, that is not the same as saying that all meat can go into the food chain on the same terms. It is not quite the equivalent, although it is certainly true that vaccinated meat is being eaten by British consumers. Vaccination of poultry and other animals is quite frequent. I do not believe British consumers entirely understand that, but nevertheless it is the case. However, imported vaccinated meat would be treated before it could go into our food chain.
I make this diversion because some of the issues are too complex and strategic to be reflected in a fairly narrow Bill. If my suggested amendment on Report is accepted, there will be a requirement on the Government to take these matters into consideration in their contingency plan and to lay that contingency plan before Parliament.
That is as far as I can go on this amendment. I cannot accept it as it stands. I understand what the noble Baroness is driving at but I do not think that it is appropriate for this legislation. I hope that the assurances I have given on the issues that have been raised will be accepted by the noble Baroness. As the issue of vaccination will no doubt be returned to at subsequent stages of the debate, I hope that people will understand exactly what is being said and how the Government are dealing with the recommendations of the various inquiries in relation to vaccination.
I find that answer slightly disappointing. In moving the amendment my noble friend made it clear that she did not think there was the slightest chance of the Government accepting the amendment. Even with her persuasiveness and charm she was unable to move the immovable object opposite her. I had hoped—I do not think it is unreasonable—that in the circumstances that the government amendments are not ready now, the Minister should take advantage of the situation by saying that at least some of the points raised by my noble friend would be incorporated in those amendments. Clearly in their state of unreadiness there is home in them for such good sense.
I particularly mention two points to which the Minister did not refer—that is, the three-yearly review of the world-wide incidence of each of the diseases mentioned in Schedule 2A and the resultant recommendation of steps to be taken in the United Kingdom to prevent the incidence of each disease. Both points are important and I should like to hear something about the Government's intentions in regard to them.
I was rather surprised that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford should allow his optimism to overleap his good nature and say that the Bill had some prospects of ever being made user friendly. That is going far too far beyond the boundaries of reality. I hope that the right reverend Prelate, whose opinions I greatly respect and to a large extent share, will not be so unrealistic in the future.
Before I sit down I should like to say a word about my noble friend Lord Jopling, whom I have known for many years. When I had the misfortune of being the shadow agriculture Minister, he had the misfortune of helping me to avoid mistakes. One does not often see former Ministers going out of their way to express regret and sorrow at not taking a certain sensible course of action. Tonight, my noble friend clearly said how sorry he was that even though he had the good sense to ask whether there was an adequate contingency plan, he accepted an assurance that there was without asking to take a look at it and having it published. I am sure that was a pity.
My final point to the Minister is on the vexed issue of meat imports. They cause great irritation and if on top of that they are a source of danger, that would be absolutely intolerable.
I live in hope, perhaps unrealistically, that the Bill will be ever be user friendly. I detect a degree of convergence. I wonder whether we can lean on the Minister. If there is no prospect in the immediate future of a broader Bill offering many of the provisions that the Committee would like to see, I suggest that it should include a preamble that includes some kind of strategy. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is headed "Strategy". A strategic prospect is needed, so that people know what the Bill is attempting to do in the context of an overall strategy that is reasonably convincing. Then we can spell out in detail how we shall deal with disease, if and when it breaks out.
I suspect that the Minister is not quite right. I believe that the indications are that the European Union report will be more positive about vaccination than the noble Lord allowed. It may even be the case that science has moved on since Anderson was doing his work. I press the point that if there is time for a further amendment on Report, it could include an element of strategic description. That would be enormously helpful.
The noble Baroness's strategy is also good discipline. It makes one sit down and look at each issue step by step. What is the hazard? The hazard is this disease. What are the critical control points? Airports? Farmers being sloppy? Vets carrying illnesses from one farm to another? How is one to control them? Then there should be a report at the end. That is something which I do every day. I am used to it and can recommend it. Even if it comes at the beginning of the contingency plan, that would help. It would bring everything into a framework. I earnestly ask the Minister to think about it much more seriously than he has indicated that he might do.
I have come to the debate rather late, for which I apologise. I want only to twist one or two tails.
I can just imagine the scene around the table when this amendment was being discussed with Ministers. I can hear the civil servants saying, "Minister, this is very dangerous stuff. This will lead us into all sorts of difficulties and a lot of unnecessary work". Sir Humphrey would say, "Minister, I think that we had better turn it down".
Actually it is a sensible course to pursue. If there were proper discipline, as the noble Countess said, we would overcome a lot of our problems. Not only that—we would create a lot more confidence than there is at present. I beg the Minister to think again, not take the advice of his civil servants. They are far too conservative and far too keen on these occasions—I have great admiration for civil servants on many occasions—to say, "This is going to create a tremendous amount of work and would be an absolute minefield. Minister, please turn it down". I hope that the noble Lord will not listen to them.
I will just point out to the noble Lord that I spent 10 years as an Opposition Front Bench spokesman on agriculture. I cannot remember how many times that I moved amendments asking a Conservative Government to report to Parliament, produce plans or whatever. Almost invariably, those amendments were turned down. With this Bill, we have already seen the acceptance of an amendment covering reporting on imports and a commitment to producing a contingency plan. The noble Lord was just a little unfair.
I will jump in before the Minister does so. I follow the thinking of my noble friend Lord Peel—that as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, pushed for such measures, surely he must support them. I hope also that when we were in power, we never introduced such a rotten Bill, which highlights the practical difficulties. I thank the Government for acknowledging that there are difficulties and for being willing to do as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Countess, Lady Mar. She copes with risk assessment in her everyday life. She regards it as essential and I certainly do. My noble friend Lord Onslow commented about contingency plans and vaccination policy. According to the European report, things have moved on since Anderson took his views—although people such as Fred Brown were pushing for vaccination, saying that tests were available, and held their ground strongly. That is another argument and perhaps we shall reach it later.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. He said that I was not being strong enough. Perhaps that is because I had been through his beautiful city, which I had never visited before. The amendment was put together 1,200 feet up in the Brecon Beacons, thinking what could we do to introduce some kind of strategy in the form of an amendment. We share the same concerns at the right reverend Prelate. I once described this measure as the Animal Death Bill, which I still think it will be if we are not careful, and said that we were going straight to slaughter. We walked and sat among the sheep, trying to think of ways of tempting the Government to attempt that which my noble friend Lord Jopling thinks impossible and which my noble friend Lord Prior says that we should do anyway.
I watched the civil servants in the Box—although perhaps that is something to which I should not refer—thinking "No, Minister" and quietly smiled to myself. But perhaps that is unparliamentary. If it is, I apologise.
I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. As to the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, he is right that science is not clear and about what Anderson said. I have the book with me but could not find the right page. The EU report to which we have referred many times this afternoon comments at paragraph 47:
"The Commission failed to review the Member States' contingency plans within an appropriate period following the introduction of the ban on prophylactic vaccination in 1992. At the time of the 2001 crisis it had still not reviewed the contingency plans of the UK, the Netherlands or France".
As to vaccination, the report states at paragraph 51:
"Experts attending the hearings held by the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on FMD were not agreed amongst themselves"— that is one of the problems referred to in our debate earlier today—
"as to the appropriateness of vaccinations to stem an outbreak or eradicate the disease, from the point of view, inter alia, of veterinary medicine or in the light of the epidemiological considerations. However, many of the experts stressed that, under certain conditions, emergency vaccination is a better way of controlling FMD than the 'stamping out' method. The issue of vaccination needs to be resolved in the context of the particular situation. It must also be seen in the light of the seriousness of the risk of future FMD outbreaks due to the particular control method adopted".
Suggestions are made in the document which I hope noble Lords will accept.
I turn finally to paragraph 54—which relates to the query of the noble Lord, Lord Carter:
"The vaccines currently available make it possible—at least on a herd by herd basis—to distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals. It is true that the problem of transmission of FMD by carrier animals (animals in which the virus can under certain circumstances still be detected more than 28 days after infection but which may possibly not be producing any antibodies to non-structural proteins or displaying clinical symptoms) still remains in principle and is not quantifiable so far".
So the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is right in his thinking on that point.
"However, many experts consider the risk of transmission of FMD by carrier animals to be extremely slight".
I hope that my quotations from the working document may help to fill in some of the gaps and explain why I believe that matters have moved on since we discussed this matter previously. Yes, I have heard what other noble Lords have said either in support or in terms of expressing some slight concern on the question of vaccination.
On the question of meat entering this country from countries where foot and mouth is endemic, perhaps the Minister will clarify one point. I was not aware that the meat had to be heat treated, but I was aware that it had to be de-boned. The Minister almost implied that it had to be heat treated, and was heat treated, but I do not believe that it is. Again, I look for guidance on that point.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peyton for his support on some of these points. I hope that the Minister will take on board some of the suggestions in the amendment. I had it in mind, if I did not receive an encouraging response to my amendment, to put the matter to a vote this evening. However, because of the discussion on all sides of the Chamber, I would rather wait to see what the Government have to say and give them a chance to return to the matter on Report. My noble friend says that I am "very kind". I could take Members of the Committee through the Lobby now—and lose heavily, I fear. I hope that, knowing that I had intended to press the amendment to a vote, the Minister will realise how seriously I view the matter. I hope that he will respond to a couple of my queries before I withdraw it.
I was attempting to clarify the situation in regard to meat imported from areas where there has been foot and mouth. The noble Baroness is right to say that it has to be de-boned. But there are also some stipulations in relation to its being heat treated in certain circumstances. In a sense, I put it the wrong way round. The principal qualification is that it should be de-boned; heat treatment is a supplementary qualification in some circumstances.
I appreciate the importance that the noble Baroness places on this matter. There is a difficulty in the way in which we deal with legislation as regards what the right reverend Prelate suggests should be a "preamble". We do not normally legislate in terms of preambles or strategies; we legislate in terms of powers and duties. The duty here is clearly on the Minister to produce a contingency plan which meets many of the objectives that lie behind the noble Baroness's amendment. To promise to go further than that in the direction of her amendment would not be appropriate. That is why I have had to take the attitude that I have.
Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may return to the importation of vaccinated meat. I believe—I am open to correction; I seriously seek knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment—that we still import considerable amounts of meat from Uruguay and the Argentine. I suspect that in those countries foot and mouth is endemic. I know that the Argentines make enormous use of vaccination. Are we not importing any meat, off the bone, raw or frozen, which is then sold. The term "heat treated" is used. Does that meat have to be cooked? I refer, for example, to meat used in pork pies and other such products. I know that the Committee would like to know the answer to this important question. It would clarify the general information.
While the Minister is waiting for a reply from his officials, is it not the case that meat from a dead animal goes through a phase where it becomes fairly highly acid—in other words, it goes below 6 pH—and at this point any foot and mouth virus within it will normally be killed. The only parts of a dead animal where foot and mouth has been found to survive are the lymph glands and the bone marrow. The treatment required is often a matter of making sure that the meat is allowed to become acid before it is chilled, so it is kept at room temperature for a while so that the normal biological effects take place.
I believe that the noble Countess is right on that point. That is why we refer to a combination of de-boning and treatment. The meat is not required to be cooked.
The noble Earl is correct to say that we import from both Uruguay and Argentina. In Argentina, following the last outbreak of foot and mouth there, they have reverted to a process of what is effectively pre-emptive vaccination. Therefore, virtually all meat from Argentina has to be subject to those controls. There are other parts of the world where foot and mouth is endemic. Some regions have been excluded from exporting to Europe while others have retained that ability—South Africa being one and Botswana another. In those cases we are not talking about foot and mouth being currently endemic in the regions from which the meat is imported. I do not know whether that helps to clarify the position for the noble Earl. If there are greater complications, I had better write to him.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I think he understands the feeling of the Committee that there may be a way for the Government to find a suitable amendment that will at least meet us halfway, although I shall not hold him to any promise—he stated clearly that he would not make such a promise. I am grateful to him. The matter is of great concern to us all. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving this amendment, perhaps I may be permitted to make a comment on the last point made by the Minister. He kindly wrote to me in answer to a question that I raised some time ago. I asked for the figure for imports from countries where foot and mouth disease is endemic. The figure that he gave is written on my heart. It was 108,339 tonnes, during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, coming from six countries that I know well, including Uruguay, where foot and mouth disease is endemic. A copy of the letter has been placed in the Library. The answer can be found there, although it may have been updated.
This amendment is very much related to Anderson recommendation number 38 on page 99, if anyone wishes to check it. The amendment would leave out lines 9 and 10 and insert the words proposed.
The wording in the 1981 Act was only one stage less emphatic than that proposed by the Minister. In 1981 it was seen as practical and workable. The Minister now tells us that it was found to be inadequate. The interpretation of the 1981 Act was at the root of most of the considerable aggravation which occurred during the outbreak of foot and mouth. Nowadays people are looking for greater explanation than hitherto.
The amendment therefore recommends suggestion number 38 in the Anderson report, but it is a little more specific as to when we should look for the well-informed veterinary and scientific advice. That advice, of course, has to be from those who fully understand the situation. That is important and it needs to be published with the reasons for using the preventive slaughter powers. There is much talk about slaughter. God forbid that there should be any further outbreak, but we hope that further slaughter would be kept to the absolute minimum because it is quite obvious that we are going to move towards some form of vaccination.
We also believe that the advice should come from someone who is a recognised authority on foot and mouth disease. During the last outbreak it was clear that the veterinary profession was occasionally in disagreement with the statisticians or whoever it might be. There were differences of opinion on so many issues. Therefore, it is a matter of concern that we get our act together in future so that that can be avoided.
Amendment No. 105 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 107 and 110. Amendment No. 107 is an effort to ensure that owners have a chance to share in what the Minister thinks or has reason to believe. The idea that a Minister and all his officers and employees can act on what they think is becoming increasingly unacceptable in the present day.
Amendment No. 109 is a subsidiary amendment to Amendment No. 104. The amendment is worded to cater for the Government rejecting the previous amendment. It is an effort to define a little more clearly the scope of the thinking that the Minister should employ and to remove any sense that decisions can be arrived at arbitrarily. The importance of this amendment is to stress the need for focused reasons for action in situations of stress, anxiety or emergency. It is all too easy to adopt a blanket approach. The danger is that the thinking process stops in such circumstances.
Amendment No. 113 relates to the current notice of slaughter, not including the reasons, and page 1, line 10, of the Bill. The suggested amendment follows on from Amendment No. 104 where the Minister is being given advice by the Chief Veterinary Officer. With this amendment in place it should ensure that the information is shared by those most affected. Those are my amendments. I beg to move.
I start by expressing my warm agreement with almost everything that my noble friend said. After all, it is my habit to agree always with the Front Bench and with the greatest respect. I believe that I have done so consistently today.
I always find that there is something objectionable in the phrase "As the Minister thinks" in any Bill by any government. I am not suggesting for a moment that Ministers do not think from time to time, but I at least ask the Government to take note of the possibility that every now and again Ministers do not think all that deeply or, alternatively, that they get it wrong. I find there is something offensive in the suggestion that because a Minister thinks something, action should follow accordingly. I do not accept that point of view.
In fact, I prefer my noble friend's amendment to the one I have tabled, but mine has the virtue of simplicity, brevity and of being easily understood. In this context and in this arena I realise that, far from those being virtues, they are cardinal defects and give my amendment absolutely no chance of being accepted by the noble Lord opposite.
I love to hear the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, speaking. He is so good and so blunt in what he says. I heartily concur with what he has said: let us have facts instead of beliefs and thoughts. That is the only point I have about Amendment No. 104 which states,
"only those animals which the Minister believes, on the public advice of the chief veterinary officer".
Those words are absolutely fine. My Amendment No. 110 is incorporated in Amendment No. 104 so I am quite happy.
This is an interesting group of amendments which, on the face of it, are about different kinds of things. But they are all based on a basic unease at the bare statement that the Minister can do whatever he thinks is right. The amendments are all attempts either to define the basis on which the Minister or the Secretary of State should think, the basis of the information which he should look at before he thinks, or the way in which he has to communicate the reasons for his thoughts.
My noble friend and I have Amendments Nos. 108 and 112 in this group. The first is very much along the same lines as the amendment tabled by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, which she has just spoken to. We are suggesting that the Minister should think on the basis of an evaluation of a formal, written risk assessment undertaken by a suitably qualified veterinary inspector.
Our second amendment is an attempt to include a failsafe mechanism based on the suggestion that two people should be involved in the decision rather than one. That is a different argument, but it tackles the basic problem in the Bill. There is a great fear that arbitrary decisions will be taken on the basis of inadequate consideration by too few people. Whether we are talking about the Chief Veterinary Officer being consulted, as the Conservative amendment suggests; whether the owner should be consulted; whether it is a question of defining the basis on which the Minister should think, as in Amendment No. 109; whether it is a local veterinary assessment, as the noble Countess and ourselves suggest; whether it is the suggestion that the reasons have to be provided in writing by the Minister or there should be a double lock built in as regards the number of people who make the decisions, are all evidence of the widespread concern which exists at the very simplistic and direct approach that is being taken in this Bill to what can be quite horrific decisions, as we are aware, for individual farmers, not to mention the individual animals.
All these amendments are designed to probe the basis upon which the Minister will "think". We shall listen with great interest to the Minister's explanation of how he will think. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, seems to believe that he will not think at all, but I am sure that he will do so. The Minister may say that some of these matters are covered in other parts of the Bill; indeed, that is the case with one or two of them. However, as other Members of the Committee have said, there is grave disquiet about the phrase, "the Minister thinks". It would, therefore, be helpful if the Government could find a different way to express this in the Bill, as well as incorporating some of the safeguards suggested by the amendments.
Once again, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has been lulled by the beauty of the Brecon Beacons into an unduly charitable way of expressing the matter. However, I suspect that we need the phrase "good reason to believe". I follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in believing that it is better to talk about a "suitably qualified veterinary inspector" than the Chief Veterinary Officer who will clearly have to devolve any decision to a local expert in each case. Indeed, the Chief Veterinary Officer will not be dashing around the country like a maniac to investigate every possible case. Clearly, in practice, this will have to be devolved to someone in the local area. We need to emphasise the importance of there being "good reason" for such a life-and-death decision being made.
I think that I support the principles behind the amendment. The effective control of disease must clearly be the principal objective of both the Minister and his officials, while at the same time minimising slaughter wherever possible. As I said earlier, there seems to be one major defect in the Bill; namely, that if and when—I am still not sure whether we have reached that point—an effective means of detection is put in place, it seems essential that it must be implemented before slaughter takes place. Surely that is the only fair way to deal with the situation. It would give everyone in the industry that much more confidence if it were obligatory for such tests to be put in place.
I am not entirely sure that the amendment before the Committee would actually go some way towards delivering that aim. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to advise me in that respect. However, if it would go some way towards achieving that objective, I should certainly welcome it. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's view as to whether or not he thinks it would be appropriate to have an amendment in the Bill that would trigger the use of any technique that is able to detect disease quickly and effectively without deterring the Minister and his department in their ability to slaughter when it is thought necessary to do so.
The trouble with these amendments is that they attempt to pin down the decision in relation to a specific case in terms that really relate to the overall slaughter strategy. The expectation that the broad strategy should be explained is clearly reasonable. It follows, therefore, that the Minister's thinking should be based on a rational, reasonable, and proportionate broad strategy. That is why I have indicated my intention to bring forward an amendment that will commit the Government to provide an explanation of why the wider slaughter powers are necessary. This would specify the area, the disease, the species, and the circumstances in which such powers would be used. That is different from the implication that in every case we would have to provide in writing the reasons for slaughtering a particular batch of animals.
If Members of the Committee think about it, the latter is not a practical proposition when one is trying to contain the spread of the disease. Indeed, in primary confirmation of the disease, it is possible that some of the available technology will enable us to move more cautiously than has previously been the case. Once the disease has occurred, we need to move as rapidly as possible. I do not believe that such constraints on rapid action would be appropriate.
As to the question of whether or not the Minister "thinks", I should point out to the Committee that this terminology derives from the Animal Health Act 1981. We are not giving the Minister any more powers; we are simply changing the criteria upon which he should base those powers. In terms of the general powers, we are requiring him to give a clear explanation. We are not actually inventing a new ability for the Minister to "think" or to use his subjective judgment—
Much of the Bill consists of amendments to a previous Act and, therefore, uses some of its terminology. But we are both tightening and constraining the range within which the Minister can, if you like, "think", as well as requiring him to make transparent and clear the reasons for his thinking in this way. It seems to me to be a positive move, even if it does not go all the way towards deleting the words "the Minister thinks", which would lead to other consequential amendments.
A number of the other points raised by way of these amendments will also be met largely by the requirement that I intend to bring forward; namely, that the Minister would be required to explain the basis of the general strategy to slaughter if that were the road that we intended to take. Taken severally, I do not believe that the amendments would help the circumstances. Amendment No. 112 would require two people to be involved in the decision. Again, once the general policy is clear, someone will have to take a decision on its implementation at the local level.
Some of the other amendments would clarify the way in which such a decision could be queried, but it seems to me that a requirement for two people to be formally involved in taking an individual decision when the disease is rampant would slow down our ability to deal with the disease. The whole thrust of the legislation is to speed up the process of dealing with the disease and thereby avoid the unnecessary culling of animals. Indeed, that might cut across the process in certain circumstances.
Although I accept that a degree of transparency is required and that it is incumbent upon the Minister to provide for that in the Bill, as regards the overall justification for the slaughter strategy I do not believe that further constraints on individual decisions would be appropriate.
I thank the Minister for his response. I also thank all those Members of the Committee who spoke to this group of amendments. As I said earlier, the latter were based on the Anderson report. It is a question of clarifying some of the issues that are of concern to many people who lost their stock during the previous outbreak. They are confused: there was misunderstanding between the various sections of people who were involved. Therefore, the amendments were tabled in an effort to bring about some clearer thinking and some clarification on some of the issues that arose.
As ever, my noble friend Lord Peyton makes us all "think", and the Minister has thought about the amendments. I hope that that thinking will bring about at least a report, or reference, to the issues that have been raised. There needs to be some clarification. In those circumstances, I thank all those who have contributed to this debate. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Peyton for his support of the amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 124, 133, 139, 145, 150, 152, 155, 158, 162-163, 165, 168, 170, 172-173, 175, 177, 179, 181, 186-188, 191, 193, 200, 203, 298 and 300.
I have gone through the list properly in consideration of the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, with regard to things being done properly. These technical amendments reflect the recent transfer of functions order whereby the Secretary of State will carry out functions previously fulfilled by the Minister. As a result, we need to amend the provisions relating to scrapie and foot and mouth disease, and other provisions, so that the relevant powers will be transferred to the Secretary of State.
I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is not in his place. He referred to sinners repenting. I hoped that he would be able to withdraw his unwarranted attack on the officials who drafted the legislation. As the noble Earl knows only too well, and as noble Lords are aware, officials can draft legislation only in the light of the factual and legal position at the time. Because of the timing of the Bill and the delay involved, the officials, when they drafted the legislation, quite properly referred to the position before the transfer of functions order. These amendments are the first occasion on which the Government can put the matter right. I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 111:
Page 1, line 10, at end insert—
"but, notwithstanding the power in section 87 of this Act to amend the definition of "animals" by order, no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph which are not susceptible to infection of foot-and-mouth disease."
I shall speak also to Amendment Nos. 114, 117 and 115.
Amendment No. 111 is designed to restrict the number of animals that must be slaughtered. The amendment states that,
"no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph which are not susceptible to infection of foot-and-mouth disease".
I am sure that Members of the Committee will have been lobbied as I have. The NFU, in particular, supports the amendment. It is designed to limit the Minister's powers to slaughter animals that are susceptible to foot and mouth disease. There has been concern that by the use of ministerial orders under the 1981 Act, these powers could extend to animals such as farm horses and dogs. When the issue was raised with Mr Morley in another place, he said that the Government did not intend to apply the slaughter power to non-susceptible animals. There is, therefore, no reason why the Government should not agree to the amendment. If the Government agree not to kill animals that are not susceptible, it seems logical that this amendment should be made to the Bill. I am not sure why the Government did not wish to accept the amendment moved by my colleagues in the other place.
I turn now to Amendment No. 114. During the 2001 outbreak, there was great emphasis on isolation and biosecurity. Farmers, farm workers, members of farming families, vets, milk-tanker drivers, postmen and election canvassers were all asked, "Is your journey necessary?". As a result, contractors ran out of work, routine animal inspection ceased, and children either stayed on the farm and missed school or attended school and stayed with friends. Biosecurity in the shape of foot baths, wheel washers and vehicle valeting was, rightly, introduced everywhere. Either these measures are effective or they are not. If they are, animals that are kept indoors, away from other animals or from anyone who has had contact with other animals, and that are subject to stringent biosecurity regimes, should be protected from slaughter, unless or until one of their number succumbs to foot and mouth disease.
Taking Amendments Nos. 115 and 117 together, we contend that no democratic legislature should ever allow for the destruction of people's livelihoods without crystal-clear reason. Subsection (3) is part of Clause 1, "Foot-and-mouth disease", which is contained in Part 1, entitled "Slaughter". To make a qualification by conferring, under this part of the Bill, the right to slaughter unaffected and non-suspect animals that have not had contact with the disease is unfair, unreasonable and, to a certain extent, unparliamentary—I will come stronger, as the right reverend Prelate tells me I must.
In another place, at the first sitting on the Committee stage, Mr Morley criticised the 1981 Act for providing opportunities for all sorts of legal challenges. Founded on a variety of reasons, only some of which were reasonable, these challenges delayed the contiguous cull. The Minister added:
"The Bill makes it absolutely clear what the Government may choose to do on the basis of veterinary and scientific advice".
That may be Mr Morley's understanding of the Government's intentions—indeed, he stated it in another place—but it is not the intention with regard to the implementation of the Bill. Such an intention is certainly not reflected in the Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will state why the Minister suggested in another place that that was his understanding, despite the fact that it did not appear on the face of the Bill.
Page 1, line 9, refers to
"any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered".
Page 2, line 2, states that,
"The Minister may by order amend Schedule 3".
Page 2, line 32, contains the words:
"The Minister may cause to be slaughtered".
No reference is made to veterinary or scientific advice. I wish to make clear that what is being said in the other place is not reflected in what we are being asked to do here. My purpose, particularly in Amendment No. 115, is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to clarify the Government's intentions.
Moreover, there is a presumption in Mr Morley's statement that the contiguous cull was right and proper, and that anything that impeded it was wrong and improper. After the three major reports—the National Audit Office report, the Royal Society report and the Anderson report—we all know that the contiguous cull was not axiomatically right and proper. Page 97 of the Anderson report states that in Scotland,
"a decision was taken to apply the contiguous culling policy pragmatically and only . . . at the edge of the epidemic zone . . . These policies worked well".
The National Audit Office report considered on page 4:
"The implications of the vaccination could have been more fully considered".
At page 117, the Royal Society report said:
"The detailed exploration of the most appropriate culling strategies for particular circumstances is a vital research area, which should begin forthwith".
In addition, the European Parliament's report of 16th September 2002 raises no fewer than 12 points on vaccination. Does the Minister accept the comment in point 50, which I think I quoted earlier, that the decision on vaccination is not always a scientific matter, but a political one? If so, what is the Government's response to point 57, which says that emergency vaccination, with the aim of allowing animals to live, must be considered as a first choice option from the onset of the outbreak?
These are important issues. Amendment No. 117 would leave out "immaterial whether or not" and insert "material that". Amendment No. 115 would leave out "it is immaterial" and insert,
"the chief veterinary officer shall only advise the destruction of animals" when his advice has been taken into account.
This is slightly confusing because we have already gone round the circle on previous amendments, but I beg to move Amendment No. 111.
Although I normally support my noble friend with enthusiasm and salute the charm with which she speaks to amendments, on this occasion I think she has got things a little wrong. It is surely unreasonable of her, on this day of all days, with the experience of the past three or four hours to guide her, to expect that the Minister will clarify the Government's intentions. That would be asking him to exercise miraculous powers, which he does not have. The Bill has proved beyond all shadow of doubt that the Government's intentions are immune to clarification, even by such a genius as the Minister on the Front Bench.
My Amendment No. 116 is distressingly simple and for that reason is bound to fail. No one would dispute that the fact that animals are affected with foot and mouth disease or are suspected of being so affected is a material fact. Nor would anybody doubt that the fact that animals have been in contact with others so affected is also a material fact. The same applies to those that have been exposed to infection or treated with vaccine against foot and mouth disease. These are all clearly relevant material facts. The Bill says that it does not matter whether they are material.
That heightens my concern about the level and quality of the Minister's thinking, which is referred to in paragraph (c) inserted by subsection (2). I hope that the Minister will attempt to clarify this extraordinary situation in which the Government are suggesting that, at the stroke of a pen, Parliament can make material facts immaterial, or at least can decide that it does not matter whether they are material.
Subsection (2) inserts:
"any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease".
That raises some key issues. Amendment No. 111 is particularly important, because it exposes the vexatious issue of the contiguous cull, which caused enormous problems in 2001. I spent a fortnight trying to protect a herd of British Friesians, which are becoming increasingly rare. They were inside a property, not out on the farm, and there was a contiguous cull on the neighbouring farm. We can all quote examples of that. After a fortnight the herd was slaughtered. That was a loss of a considerable gene pool, because, as most of us know, the Canadian Holstein has become the main black and white cow in this country now. The issue caused no end of angst in my former constituency, where people could not understand clearly why they were being told that their flocks or herds had to be slaughtered. I have to concede that in the Brecon Beacons, where animals were on the open hill and 18,500 were slaughtered, there was perhaps a case for doing such a thing, although it caused a great deal of distress at the time.
It is extremely important to have accurate assessment. I know the problems. There is very little time in which to make the assessments and come to material conclusions. The amendments begin to clarify the circumstances in which we could perhaps avoid the unnecessary slaughter of animals without contributing to the spread of the disease. I do not underestimate the difficulty of achieving that. We have the possibility of ring vaccination coming up. That will help to overcome some of the acute difficulties and may help to solve the problem in the future. I shall not talk about general vaccination, because that raises a lot of difficulties relating to consumption and exports, but in the longer term—and perhaps even in the shorter term—ring vaccination will help to overcome the problem.
The issue that we are confronting is very important. Psychologically, the farming community in the areas affected is still suffering from it. People have still not come to terms with having to have their animals slaughtered. We are talking about the reasons and what we can do to improve matters. I therefore support the amendments.
As one who was involved in the contiguous cull, I think it important to clarify the procedures when a cull is likely to take place. The amendments would help to do that. With a foot and mouth epidemic all around, one could contemplate that a contiguous cull within the three kilometre limit was a possibility, but when it comes it comes swiftly. On the Friday the veterinary officer and my vet came to see the stock and agreed that they were all healthy, but were within the mileage limit. On Saturday there was the valuation and the setting up of the pens for slaughter and on Easter Sunday came the slaughter. One does not have much breathing space to consider whether there is a reason to object to the cull. In any case, when there is a huge epidemic in the area it would be very wrong for any farmers to try to stand out against the cull if it was in the interests of the majority to get on with it.
However, a number of cases, particularly in the hefted hill flocks, ended up in court cases in Edinburgh. They needed clarification, because the chance of a hill ewe crossing a boundary, which never really happens with a hefted flock, was so remote that most people thought that the hefted hill flock cull was going a step too far.
What my noble friend has suggested would clarify how and when the cull should take place—and whether it should take place at all. That will help the farming industry if we have another outbreak of foot and mouth, although I hope we do not.
I think that it is generally recognised by everyone who has reflected on what happened last year that we could never again contemplate culling on the scale that took place. It is just intolerable and unacceptable that we could consider such things. I believe that the following phrase in line 12 of the Bill goes to the heart of what is found most objectionable about the Bill in its original form. The Bill states that,
"it is immaterial whether or not".
Such phraseology has a kind of indiscriminate arrogance about it which I believe is extremely offensive.
It is preposterous to suggest that paragraph (d) can stand in relation to that phraseology, so that it would be immaterial whether or not animals have been vaccinated. It cannot possibly be immaterial whether or not they have been vaccinated, particularly as all noble Lords are agreed, I think, that we are moving towards a much wider and much more intelligent use of vaccination.
This particular phrase must be changed. I do not mind by which method it is changed or by whose amendment it is changed. To say that "it is immaterial" is not something that can remain in the Bill. I urge the Minister to accept that this must be changed in some way.
The use of the phrase is intended in law to restrict the particular meaning and to ensure that if there are animals outside these four categories—for example, in a firebreak cull—they could still be slaughtered. I am not sure that the phrase has all the meaning that the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, have given it. I believe that it is there for legal reasons which I am sure that the Minister will explain.
I have two very brief points on Amendment No. 114, which is this business about,
"animals . . . which have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement by any government department of an outbreak".
We should remind ourselves that the outbreak was in the country for about a month, we think, before it was recognised and announced. Animals that were outside during the time that the disease was in the country, although we did not know it, and moved indoors on the day before the outbreak would still have been susceptible. I therefore think that there is a fatal weakness in the drafting.
The one redeeming feature of the FMD outbreak, as bad as it was, was that it did not spread to any extent to the pig population. If it had done, the results would have been very serious indeed. Almost all pigs are kept indoors.
What these amendments indicate is the need for rapid testing, which I gather is now well on the way. I hope that the Minister will agree that once we have rapid testing, we will not need this clause in the Bill either. This is another reason for delaying the Bill until we know exactly what is happening. Rapid testing was well on the way when Fred Brown was here; it just had not been audited and authenticated by various departments in either this country or the EU. I ask the Minister to consider whether a government amendment would be appropriate in this case.
I support Amendment No. 111 because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, pointed out, the provision might cover dogs and horses which could never get foot and mouth because they do not have cloven hooves. Will the Minister table an amendment to clarify the position, so that no dogs and no horses are killed in this way?
I think that this debate is driven by two misunderstandings, one of which relates to the terms of the current legislation, in relation to which I think I can provide some comfort to noble Lords. The other misunderstanding relates to the intent of the Bill. Given some of the more recent remarks, I think that I will not be able to provide such comfort on that point.
As the Bill stands, the new powers of slaughter could not be used to slaughter non-susceptible animals. The reference to "animals" in the Bill is dependent on the definition in the Animal Health Act 1981, which states that only ruminants and swine can be slaughtered for the purposes of the control of foot and mouth disease. Consequently, all these scares about the susceptibility to slaughter of dogs, horses and even budgerigars and canaries—which have not been mentioned today—
Yes, one might even include goldfish. None of these would fall within the definition of "animal", as repeated in this Bill, in the Animal Health Act 1981. I therefore think that I can lay to rest those concerns. The Act would have to be amended to change that definition, and Ministers have no intention of doing so.
As for the other point, I thought that it was clear that part of the Bill's intention, which was very strongly supported by the Anderson inquiry, is to extend the circumstances in which slaughter may be carried out to include preventive culling. "Pre-emptive culling" is the term that Anderson uses. This clause is designed to do that. I know that some commentators, and perhaps some noble Lords, will not like that, but it is a central intent of the Bill and is strongly supported by both Anderson and the Royal Society.
People are concerned about this clause and the "immaterial" provision because, hitherto, before they could be slaughtered, we would have had to prove that animals fell within the categories outlined in the clause to which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and others have drawn attention. In other words, the animals would have to be diseased, exposed to the disease or reasonably expected to be exposed to the disease. If, however, we provided a new power that extends the scope to pre-emptive culls as required by Anderson, one would have to say that the above constraint could be overridden when a pre-emptive cull is being undertaken. Those who oppose that provision oppose a basic tenet of the Bill and a basic strand of the thinking of both of the main inquiries into the matter.
The proposition particularly from the Royal Society but also to some extent from Anderson and the Europeans is that the vaccination option should be considered as a first resort, but not as a replacement for all culling and not necessarily as an absolute priority. As I said in speaking to a previous amendment, there will have to be some culling provisions in relation to both diseased and exposed animals. In some circumstances there will have to be a firebreak cull, and in other circumstances there will have to be a firebreak vaccination. We hope to vaccinate to live rather than to vaccinate to kill, as was previously being contemplated.
As it is pre-emptive, the vaccination proposal—not in this clause but in the equivalent provision—also requires the powers of entry provided for in the Bill. Hitherto, everything has been based not on pre-emptive or preventive culling and vaccination but on the proposition that animals are or might be exposed to the disease. As I explained earlier—I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, was in the Chamber at the time—it is wrong to think that the recommendations which the Government have accepted on taking a much more positive line on vaccination replace the need for culling diseased and exposed animals or, in some circumstances, for culling for pre-emptive purposes.
This clause very explicitly expresses the recommendation of the Anderson inquiry to clarify the powers in this respect. Indeed, that is one of Anderson's most powerful recommendations. As I said, those who oppose the provision would go against Anderson's recommendation. I would therefore not be prepared to accept amendments along those lines.
I also do not think that the suggested exemption for animals kept indoors would be appropriate. I think that it is inappropriate not only because of the detailed reason spelled out by my noble friend Lord Carter, but because an animal could still be a carrier of the disease or exposed to the disease although it had been indoors for much longer than the incubation period. I therefore believe that we must have the ability to slaughter animals that are kept indoors to restrict the spread of the disease.
As I said, I do not think that the earlier concerns expressed most recently by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, are valid. The concerns about preventive culling are valid. However, if the Committee were to go along those lines, it would be very much flying in the face of the recommendations of both of the main inquiries. I therefore hope that the Committee will not pursue that.
No. Not all advances in relation to the diagnostic tests have been fully validated but there is an advance which, we hope, will identify diseased animals and determine whether exposed animals were actually subject to the disease. However, it would not provide the basis on which one would carry out a pre-emptive cull. A pre-emptive cull, by definition, does not require us to be able to prove that an animal had the disease. That is precisely the firebreak or wall strategy that Anderson said should be more clearly available to us in legislation but which is not present in the current legislation. We are increasing the scope—I make no bones about that—but we do so in line with what the report suggests.
I am trying to say that a pre-emptive cull would not be necessary if we had a rapid diagnostic test. One would be able to test every animal to find out whether it was infected. There would be no need to go round culling all over the place.
That might reduce the requirement but when large-scale movements of sheep on hills are concerned, for instance, there is no way in which we would be able to carry out diagnostic tests in the way the noble Countess suggests. That would in some circumstances restrict the need for a pre-emptive cull but in other circumstances—in which the disease was virtually out of control and we needed to build a barrier to its spread—a pre-emptive cull would be the obvious weapon for us to use. The problem (and the reason why Anderson suggested that we needed to make this explicit in the legislation) is that at times there was an argument about whether the contiguous cull was always justified in terms of exposure. Sometimes the contiguous cull's primary purpose was preventive. That is where Anderson's reference to ambiguity in the current legislation applies. I do not believe that it is quite as ambiguous as he indicated, but he firmly said that we need to clarify that there is a right to engage in preventive culling.
Will the noble Lord clarify what we know about diagnostic equipment? So far as I can gather, that equipment was developed in relation to germ warfare. It involves the method whereby someone—or a sheep or cow—breathes on to something, whereupon a computer recognises whether a virus is in the air that is breathed. The test is instantaneous. When that was suggested earlier during the outbreak, people said, "Oh, it has not been tested under field conditions". No one then said, "What a smashing time to test this instrument, when there is a major foot and mouth outbreak", although it could have been extremely useful. These diagnostic tests came as a result of germ warfare.
Moreover, I do not know whether the noble Lord is aware—or even whether I am 100 per cent correct—that at the outbreak of the Gulf War, there was a panic about diagnosing disease-borne attack—
Yes, anthrax. A portable machine was designed and built at Porton Down—it was used in the Gulf and was diagnostically efficient—within three weeks. Those machines work, and we must consider them. The moment at which one can diagnose quickly and easily, one can use such machines. It is no good the noble Lord saying, "We cannot diagnose sheep". Yes we can. One herds them into a pen and one makes them breathe into something, or one puts a bullet in their head. That is the same thing.
My noble friend says, "Not quite", but it involves the same amount of effort.
Will the noble Lord and his department please look more carefully at such diagnostic instruments?
I do not want to return to the diagnostic test although I am sure that important steps could be taken in that direction. I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, says about animals being kept indoors—they may have been exposed previously and the disease may be present but not detected.
I do not believe that the Minister understood the force of what I was trying to say: perhaps I am the only Member of the Committee who feels this way. There is a disagreement between us about whether a pre-emptive cull and a pre-emptive vaccination are equally valid policies; I do not believe that they are. I hope that we are moving towards a policy of normally using pre-emptive vaccination, with pre-emptive culling being used in exceptional circumstances. The phraseology should cover that. The cavalier use of the word "immaterial" conveys entirely the wrong impression, which will be greatly resented in the farming community.
We must find a way to express the fact that there may yet be exceptional circumstances in which it is still necessary to cull animals in such categories but not in relation to paragraph (d), because if vaccination works, we will certainly not cull animals that are covered by that provision. It is the tone of voice that desperately needs to be altered. I hope that the Minister will say that he understands that and will do something to change the provision's phrasing. There may be occasional—exceptional—circumstances in which pre-emptive culling is necessary of uninfected and unsuspected animals. However, we need to say that in a way that reassures people, rather than make people feel as if they are being hit over the head with a blunderbuss of a policy that can be applied absolutely indiscriminately anywhere and to any animal.
I support the comments of the right reverend Prelate; he conveys exactly my feelings.
Listening to the way in which the Minister responded to this group of amendments, I became profoundly depressed. It seems to me that we are learning nothing from all that occurred last year. It is absolutely crucial to get away from the situation that one farmer described to me: he said that for the first time he understood what Shakespeare meant by the "insolence of office". We are providing powers to do more of the same, although that went wrong. I appreciate that the Minister said that he needs such powers and that he has not got them. However, the circumstances in which they could conceivably be used in future, after all that has happened, must be very limited indeed. We should look beyond simply trying to take powers to justify what went wrong last time and look at ways of avoiding ever having to use them again in such a way.
I intervene in view of the last three contributions. I am sure that the Committee has the necessary resolve. We are very concerned about the use of the word "immaterial"; we want to have "material" in the legislation because there are material facts that should be taken into consideration. Perhaps I should give the Minister another chance before deciding what to do with the amendments.
If the right reverend Prelate or the noble Baroness can find a word that means the same as "immaterial" without wrecking the Bill, I might consider it. However, that is not what is being proposed. The whole point of using the term "immaterial" is that it is no longer necessary, in relation to animals that fall under the four categories, for us to engage in a policy of pre-emptive culling, as was firmly recommended by the Anderson inquiry. Changing the word "immaterial" to "material" would have exactly the opposite effect. That is why this is a wrecking amendment; it would wreck not only the Government's intention but also the very firm recommendations of the inquiries.
I turn to the point of my noble friend Lady Mallalieu. Clearly, because we have taken on board the recommendations about being more positive about using vaccination as a strategy, we hope that the number of occasions on which a pre-emptive cull was proven to be necessary would be limited. Nevertheless, we cannot exclude the possibility—for logistical reasons or because the disease was running out of control—that we may need to engage in a pre-emptive cull. Nor can we ignore the firm recommendation of the inquiries that we need to clarify the law to that effect. If the Committee wishes to pursue this amendment, it must recognise that it does so in the face of the recommendation of the inquiries, which the House has hitherto said are the main reasons for delaying progress on the Bill. Therefore, I would not recommend the Committee to go down that road. If it were to do so, far from meeting the concerns of the farming community, I believe it would be acting seriously against its interests.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I do not believe that I made the point very well in my previous remarks on my amendment. The noble Lord must avoid letting the law look plainly silly, which it would do if he continued to make the statement that obviously material facts shall cease to be material. That is a real "sillyness" and it must be taken out of the Bill.
Perhaps my noble friend would agree that the wording means that, in applying sub-paragraph (1)(c), the application shall not be restricted to the four cases listed below. That is all that it means.
The wording actually says that we can go and kill anything whenever we want to, however we wish, simply because we believe that we should. The use of the word "immaterial" means that that is exactly what one can do. That is what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said. It is the arrogance of power and it is very unattractive. It does not matter whether it comes from our side, the opposite side or the Liberals in 1909. It is still arrogance of power, which is unattractive.
I cannot conceive that the proposed sub-paragraph bears the interpretation that the noble Earl has just put on it. As my noble friend Lord Carter said, it is intended to say that the categories of animals will not be confined to the previous considerations. If Members of the Committee wish to use a different word from "immaterial" and wish to come forward with an amendment on Report, I shall obviously be prepared to consider it. However, I am not prepared to consider allowing on to the statute book a measure which entirely reverses the intention of the clause and the intention of the inquiry.
I return to a point that I raised earlier. I tried to explain to the Minister my hope that somewhere in the Bill the Government would make a commitment that, if effective diagnostic tests were in existence, there would be a statutory obligation on those making the decisions to use those tests before they decided to go ahead with the pre-emptive power. Is that or is that not a possibility? If the Minister could give us an assurance along that line, I believe that Members of the Committee would be far happier.
I have already made two commitments. One was that there would be a published slaughter protocol; the other was that the Secretary of State would have to make clear the reasons for the general strategy in terms of disease control. Both would be public documents, and neither was required during the outbreak of the disease last year. Therefore, with those commitments we should make a considerable advance in terms of transparency.
If the diagnostic tools were universally accepted, one would expect that to feature in a disease protocol. Although substantial advances have been made, there is also an international dimension to this issue in terms of tests which are internationally validated, both in this context and also in the context to which the noble Earl referred earlier distinguishing between vaccinated and diseased animals. However, if the tests were to be totally validated, I should expect that to be reflected in the disease protocol. We have not quite reached that point yet, but it will obviously be a consideration when we draw up the protocol.
I am very much at heart with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. To use the word "immaterial" is to say that it does not matter. Would the Minister be prepared to place the words "it does not matter" on the face of the Bill? Would he be happy with that wording? That is what he is saying. He is saying that it does not matter whether or not the animals have been affected, whether or not they have been exposed or any of the other points listed. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, made a very strong point. Is the Minister happy with the words "it does not matter"?
I suspect that "immaterial" is neither a Civil Service nor a ministerial word but a legal one. I can blame the lawyers and possibly reach some consensus in this Chamber. However, it does not mean that "it does not matter" in the sense to which the noble Countess referred but that it is not the determining factor. As I said, if there is a better way in which to express that, I shall consider it. However, as I also said, the amendments before us reverse the meaning rather than clarify it.