Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative 6:15 pm, 7th October 2002

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.