Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:15 pm, 7th October 2002

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.