Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative 7:00 pm, 7th October 2002

I shall speak also to Amendment Nos. 114, 117 and 115.

Amendment No. 111 is designed to restrict the number of animals that must be slaughtered. The amendment states that,

"no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph which are not susceptible to infection of foot-and-mouth disease".

I am sure that Members of the Committee will have been lobbied as I have. The NFU, in particular, supports the amendment. It is designed to limit the Minister's powers to slaughter animals that are susceptible to foot and mouth disease. There has been concern that by the use of ministerial orders under the 1981 Act, these powers could extend to animals such as farm horses and dogs. When the issue was raised with Mr Morley in another place, he said that the Government did not intend to apply the slaughter power to non-susceptible animals. There is, therefore, no reason why the Government should not agree to the amendment. If the Government agree not to kill animals that are not susceptible, it seems logical that this amendment should be made to the Bill. I am not sure why the Government did not wish to accept the amendment moved by my colleagues in the other place.

I turn now to Amendment No. 114. During the 2001 outbreak, there was great emphasis on isolation and biosecurity. Farmers, farm workers, members of farming families, vets, milk-tanker drivers, postmen and election canvassers were all asked, "Is your journey necessary?". As a result, contractors ran out of work, routine animal inspection ceased, and children either stayed on the farm and missed school or attended school and stayed with friends. Biosecurity in the shape of foot baths, wheel washers and vehicle valeting was, rightly, introduced everywhere. Either these measures are effective or they are not. If they are, animals that are kept indoors, away from other animals or from anyone who has had contact with other animals, and that are subject to stringent biosecurity regimes, should be protected from slaughter, unless or until one of their number succumbs to foot and mouth disease.

Taking Amendments Nos. 115 and 117 together, we contend that no democratic legislature should ever allow for the destruction of people's livelihoods without crystal-clear reason. Subsection (3) is part of Clause 1, "Foot-and-mouth disease", which is contained in Part 1, entitled "Slaughter". To make a qualification by conferring, under this part of the Bill, the right to slaughter unaffected and non-suspect animals that have not had contact with the disease is unfair, unreasonable and, to a certain extent, unparliamentary—I will come stronger, as the right reverend Prelate tells me I must.

In another place, at the first sitting on the Committee stage, Mr Morley criticised the 1981 Act for providing opportunities for all sorts of legal challenges. Founded on a variety of reasons, only some of which were reasonable, these challenges delayed the contiguous cull. The Minister added:

"The Bill makes it absolutely clear what the Government may choose to do on the basis of veterinary and scientific advice".

That may be Mr Morley's understanding of the Government's intentions—indeed, he stated it in another place—but it is not the intention with regard to the implementation of the Bill. Such an intention is certainly not reflected in the Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will state why the Minister suggested in another place that that was his understanding, despite the fact that it did not appear on the face of the Bill.

Page 1, line 9, refers to

"any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered".

Page 2, line 2, states that,

"The Minister may by order amend Schedule 3".

Page 2, line 32, contains the words:

"The Minister may cause to be slaughtered".

No reference is made to veterinary or scientific advice. I wish to make clear that what is being said in the other place is not reflected in what we are being asked to do here. My purpose, particularly in Amendment No. 115, is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to clarify the Government's intentions.

Moreover, there is a presumption in Mr Morley's statement that the contiguous cull was right and proper, and that anything that impeded it was wrong and improper. After the three major reports—the National Audit Office report, the Royal Society report and the Anderson report—we all know that the contiguous cull was not axiomatically right and proper. Page 97 of the Anderson report states that in Scotland,

"a decision was taken to apply the contiguous culling policy pragmatically and only . . . at the edge of the epidemic zone . . . These policies worked well".

The National Audit Office report considered on page 4:

"The implications of the vaccination could have been more fully considered".

At page 117, the Royal Society report said:

"The detailed exploration of the most appropriate culling strategies for particular circumstances is a vital research area, which should begin forthwith".

In addition, the European Parliament's report of 16th September 2002 raises no fewer than 12 points on vaccination. Does the Minister accept the comment in point 50, which I think I quoted earlier, that the decision on vaccination is not always a scientific matter, but a political one? If so, what is the Government's response to point 57, which says that emergency vaccination, with the aim of allowing animals to live, must be considered as a first choice option from the onset of the outbreak?

These are important issues. Amendment No. 117 would leave out "immaterial whether or not" and insert "material that". Amendment No. 115 would leave out "it is immaterial" and insert,

"the chief veterinary officer shall only advise the destruction of animals" when his advice has been taken into account.

This is slightly confusing because we have already gone round the circle on previous amendments, but I beg to move Amendment No. 111.