Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Plumb Lord Plumb Conservative 6:30 pm, 7th October 2002

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.