Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:38 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative 3:38 pm, 7th October 2002

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.