Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative 4:45 pm, 7th October 2002

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.