Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 7th October 2002

This is an interesting group of amendments which, on the face of it, are about different kinds of things. But they are all based on a basic unease at the bare statement that the Minister can do whatever he thinks is right. The amendments are all attempts either to define the basis on which the Minister or the Secretary of State should think, the basis of the information which he should look at before he thinks, or the way in which he has to communicate the reasons for his thoughts.

My noble friend and I have Amendments Nos. 108 and 112 in this group. The first is very much along the same lines as the amendment tabled by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, which she has just spoken to. We are suggesting that the Minister should think on the basis of an evaluation of a formal, written risk assessment undertaken by a suitably qualified veterinary inspector.

Our second amendment is an attempt to include a failsafe mechanism based on the suggestion that two people should be involved in the decision rather than one. That is a different argument, but it tackles the basic problem in the Bill. There is a great fear that arbitrary decisions will be taken on the basis of inadequate consideration by too few people. Whether we are talking about the Chief Veterinary Officer being consulted, as the Conservative amendment suggests; whether the owner should be consulted; whether it is a question of defining the basis on which the Minister should think, as in Amendment No. 109; whether it is a local veterinary assessment, as the noble Countess and ourselves suggest; whether it is the suggestion that the reasons have to be provided in writing by the Minister or there should be a double lock built in as regards the number of people who make the decisions, are all evidence of the widespread concern which exists at the very simplistic and direct approach that is being taken in this Bill to what can be quite horrific decisions, as we are aware, for individual farmers, not to mention the individual animals.

All these amendments are designed to probe the basis upon which the Minister will "think". We shall listen with great interest to the Minister's explanation of how he will think. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, seems to believe that he will not think at all, but I am sure that he will do so. The Minister may say that some of these matters are covered in other parts of the Bill; indeed, that is the case with one or two of them. However, as other Members of the Committee have said, there is grave disquiet about the phrase, "the Minister thinks". It would, therefore, be helpful if the Government could find a different way to express this in the Bill, as well as incorporating some of the safeguards suggested by the amendments.