I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 1, leave out lines 9 and 10 and insert—
``(c) any animals the Minister has reasonable justification to believe should be slaughtered after consultation with an independent veterinary surgeon and the owners of the animals, and the provision of a notice containing a reasoned justification, with 48 hours notice of slaughter with a view to preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.''
We have had a lively debate on the programme motion and will now get into the meat of the Bill. On reading in page 1 of clause 1,
``any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease'', the word ``thinks'' leaps from the page. One wonders what ``thinks'' precisely means because there has to be much more than just thinking by the Minister, district veterinary officer or any DEFRA official, before a decision is made to slaughter sheep, cattle or any other animal which may contract, or be in danger of contracting, foot and mouth disease. That is why my hon. Friends and I felt that we should try to include conditions that must be fulfilled before such a decision could be made.
We believe that there must be ``reasonable justification'' to believe that slaughter should take place and that that must follow consultation with an independent veterinary surgeon and the owners of the animal, who can both give much information about the local situation.
During the recent foot and mouth epidemic, a valid criticism made of the contiguous cull was the crazy way in which it was implemented, almost following a computer model, which took no cognisance of the topography of the land, how the animals were farmed and husbanded, or the likelihood of the disease breaking out on a farm adjacent to premises where it was alleged to have broken out. Here we reach the nub of the problems with legislating in this way. The Minister said that urgent action is being taken, but, in fact, it is being taken to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. Urgent action was not taken at the beginning to try to prevent the disease in the first place. We understand that the virus may have entered this country through illegal meat imports, although that is not yet known and I doubt that it ever will be in the absence of a full, independent public inquiry, which could call for people and papers and answer difficult questions.
In the meantime, the Government have not taken urgent action on preventing re-importation of the disease. There has been a lot of activity, but what it has actually led to heaven alone knows—probably just a few more learned committees talking among themselves about what they may or may not do.
We are an island nation surrounded by sea, which should be a tremendous barrier to the importation of disease, both animal and human. Yet at our airports and seaports, defences against such diseases are minimal. Since the beginning of the foot and mouth epidemic, the Government have taken no meaningful preventive action—certainly no urgent action. As soon as the disease manifested itself, action should have been taken immediately to stop animal movements. Those three days in February caused tremendous difficulties. Urgent decisions should also have been taken on how to approach the problem in general. I accept that it is more difficult to diagnose FMD in sheep than in cattle. As a Member of Parliament for a Cheshire constituency, I am very much au fait with what happened in 1967, but I recognise that that outbreak was perhaps less difficult to deal with, given that it affected cattle and not sheep.
Had the decision been taken immediately to slaughter animals that had definitely been in contact with foot and mouth, the disease would not have spread throughout the United Kingdom. As we all know, foot and mouth is not a new phenomenon; much research and veterinary advice is available on the subject. Whether the animal is alive or dead, the infectious virus emanates and spreads dramatically, so one needs to kill it and dispose of the carcase immediately.
May I clarify one point? Veterinary and scientific evidence suggests that, once the animal is dead, the spread of the virus stops completely. As soon as cattle and, indeed, other animals die, the pH in the carcase rises, which effectively kills the virus. The animals are also sprayed with disinfectant as soon as they are killed. That is why the speed of the cull is important—dead animals do not spread disease.
The Minister makes a valid point, but he has carefully avoided the important point about the initial delay in slaughtering animals. There were delays of several days because nobody could make up their mind and the arrangements were not in place. It was at that time, and because the Government failed to take urgent action, that the disease spread dramatically.
I was interested to hear the Minister's veterinary advice, because we all know that there is no way that foot and mouth was introduced to this country through a live animal. It was much more likely to have been introduced through infected meat, and the idea that meat is not infectious is highly implausible.
I do not want those who read Hansard to be misled. The hon. Gentleman seems not to understand that the problem may not be meat but bone marrow. One reason why procedures are applied to legal imports is to ensure that they are de-boned. Illegal imports, on the other hand, could consist of uncooked meat or contain bone.
The Minister will recall that the 1967 outbreak was caused by imported beef from Argentina, which did indeed contain bone. It created immense difficulties in dairy counties such as Cheshire and Staffordshire. It was an horrific outbreak, but it was handled by the then agriculture Minister, who later served in the House of Lords, with great expediency. Many lessons can be learned from the way in which that outbreak was handled compared with the handling of the present outbreak. There is no doubt that the dithering at the beginning of the current epidemic caused further spread of the disease.
It should also be said that the decisions made once the Secretary of State had fixed the policy left a lot to be desired. I refer in particular to the contiguous cull. I mentioned topography and said that, for dairy cattle that were far distant from a boundary where slaughter might have taken place merely on suspicion, it was a heavy-handed instrument to try to bring the disease to a halt. Many farmers and those with animal sanctuaries and pets that might have been culled challenged the Government's right to implement such a policy.
I speak from personal experience because the parish in which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and I have lived for 30 years had such a case. Two flocks of sheep were slaughtered, the one nearest our property on suspicion only. It took so long for the blood tests to be taken and the results to come back that the Ministry decided in the meantime that there should be a contiguous cull. I hasten to add that the farmers involved were not informed; they merely heard on the grapevine that there would be a contiguous cull. I reiterate that the sheep were to be slaughtered on suspicion, because there was no way of knowing at that stage whether they had the disease.
The problem was one of welfare. I am not criticising the veterinary surgeon involved, but many others who had come to this country from overseas and many UK vets had not only not seen the symptoms of foot and mouth, which would have been difficult, but appeared not to be aware of the symptoms of other diseases, particularly in sheep, so they decided that almost every case was a potential outbreak of the disease. Many farmers objected, rightly, to the draconian slaughter when it was ordered merely on suspicion of a local case. The results could not be obtained quickly because there were huge blockages in the system and decisions were not made.
In my parish, three farmers were going to be affected by the contiguous cull and were extremely concerned. They had built up their dairy herds over many years and were convinced that the cows were disease free. The Minister may say that they could not have known that, and it is true, but they were not aware of their legal rights at the time. The Ministry tried to bounce farmers into having a cull by almost blackmailing them and saying that if they had the contiguous cull, they would receive compensation, but if they did not agree, they would not receive compensation. The legal basis for that was extremely dodgy, which is perhaps why the Minister is introducing this measure.
There were many examples, including the three that I have given, of the farming community standing up to the contiguous cull policy, and in my parish none of the herds was affected. A veterinary inspection was carried out every day and the farmers were careful with biosecurity and other measures.
Does my hon. Friend not find it extraordinary that we are discussing the Bill before the inquiries have reported? Much of the sense and wisdom behind it may be justified, or it may not. It is extraordinary to shoot first and legislate later, before asking questions.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that valid point and I agree that it seems silly. The Government have set their face against a full public inquiry, despite every rural organisation believing that it is absolutely necessary. They have set up three in-house inquiries, only part of which will be held in public and that perhaps because of the pressure on the Government. It is extraordinary to legislate before seeing the results and recommendations of the three inquiries, on which some distinguished people are serving.
Is it the view of the hon. Lady and her party that the Government should take no action to address the legal anomalies until such an inquiry has been undertaken, which might take two or three years?
First, there is no reason why any inquiry should take two or three years, so that is a red herring. Secondly, I do not believe that the Bill is the right mechanism--
That is an extraordinary question. Why should legislation be introduced now? The Government could have taken urgent action, and could do so even now, to prevent further infection coming into the country, but they have not acted. Perhaps that is the urgent action that they should take before introducing measures that will give more powers to DEFRA officials, whose biosecurity was often appalling. I shall give examples of that later.
We hear Labour Back Benchers supporting the Bill on the grounds that there is a legal anomaly in existing legislation, which justifies the haste with which the Bill has been presented to the House. I was a MAFF Minister for three years and dealt with animal health. The powers of the 1981 Act are wide-ranging and have served animal health crises in the past. One example is the selective cull that was necessary after BSE. The powers of that Act allowed animals over 30 months to be culled whether or not there was definitive proof that the beasts carried infectivity, proof of maternal transmission, or scientific proof of horizontal transmission. The 1981 Act has been used an emergency power in addition to the general powers enshrined in it. The Government say that they need the Bill now to enhance the Minister's powers to cull, not because they cannot wait for a proper inquiry--they have the powers now--but as a smokescreen for their mismanagement of the crisis. They are taking powers but are not resolving the matters for which they are responsible.
I really am most grateful to my hon. Friend, because no one could have explained the position more clearly or succinctly. Her comments back up the case that I made earlier. Her intervention was telling and I am most grateful to her. It is always good to hear from former Ministers who have held such responsibilities.
BSE was a new phenomenon--many scientists are researching the disease, but it burst on to the agricultural scene--whereas foot and mouth disease is totally different, because it has existed for a long time. There have been several outbreaks over hundreds of years and it has been very well researched. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention.
To return to the amendment and the word ``thinks'', it is important that the Minister or his officials have ``reasonable justification''. Every person who farms or owns animals—for example, many people keep small herds of sheep in their orchard as a hobby—has rights that come before their being dictated to by a district veterinary officer or a DEFRA official. It is right and proper that an independent veterinary surgeon who knows the local topography and local circumstances should be involved in making informed decisions about what should happen.
I mean anyone from the private sector who has sufficient experience and knows the locality. One need define ``independent'' in no other way. Although there are excellent vets in the state veterinary sector, they were hard pushed to do even what they were required to do. People from local private practices know the farming community and its land and methods. If problems arise from their being accused of erring towards supporting their own clients, it would be easy to get independent veterinary advice from someone in another part of the county, who would still have the requisite basic knowledge.
Does that definition include temporary veterinary inspectors who worked with the state veterinary service during the course of the outbreak, which meant that many of them were no longer necessarily independent in the true sense of the word?
The hon. Gentleman's might have done, but others did not. In fact, the state veterinary service ignored and overlooked the offers of many recently retired veterinary surgeons with previous experience of foot and mouth to come back into service for the duration of the epidemic. One such vet who did so was Alan Richardson from Cumbria, who has written a paper about how the epidemic was handled in Cumbria compared with how it was handled in Cheshire in 1967, when he was a veterinary officer based in Macclesfield.
The hon. Gentleman might care to read that paper, because it lays down markers for the right way in which to handle an epidemic. Essentially, it should be based much more on decisions that are made locally rather than by regional veterinary officers. Page street ran the whole show, and bad decisions were taken because the fight against the epidemic was centrally controlled.
We have had a useful debate about the basis on which the Government seek to introduce a carte blanche policy of being able to slaughter any animals that they think should be slaughtered with a view to preventing foot and mouth disease. That should be changed completely by implementing the safeguards that I described.
The Minister has often said that speed is of the essence. We all found the way in which foot and mouth spread so quickly alarming. Speed in getting on top of it was essential, but reactions were rather slow at the beginning of the outbreak.
However, that must be balanced by two other considerations: first, protecting the rights of farmers; and, secondly, the overall economic cost, which has implications for taxpayers. We must not apportion matters so as to disadvantage the people who have the most to lose. Some devastated farming families will never recover, yet the Bill gives many of them the impression that they are being seen not as victims, but as villains who need to be harshly controlled. We must balance the need for speedy action to get on top of the problem with the proper rights of individuals.
During the months when we were trying to get ahead of the disease, the co-operation of the farming community was absolutely essential. People were asked, sometimes by rather nefarious means, to do many things to try to control it. They should be involved in the decision-making processes. The Bill gives the impression that they are being taken out of the equation, and that whatever the Minister and his officials and advisers think is right and proper should prevail, regardless of independent veterinary advice. I agree with the hon. Member for Stroud that getting such advice can be difficult, but it is important to get it and utilise it within a time frame that is helpful to the farmer and the local agricultural community.
I doubt whether the average farmer, faced with the possible devastation of his business through the culling of all his animals, will think it reasonable, or be totally co-operative, if the cull is happening only because the Minister thinks it should and he has been able to contribute nothing to the evaluation process. The amendment is a valuable attempt to address the fundamental dichotomy of involving those most affected in the decision-making process within a time frame that will allow control of the disease.
When we were going through the foot and mouth crisis, everyone, including people at MAFF--then DEFRA--MPs and farmers, was learning from the experience. I wonder whether farmers will be as compliant next time, having seen what happened to them, to their neighbours and to agriculture in general. The Bill may not help in that respect.
We have not got the balance right. The Minister balance what he thinks should happen with recognition of farmers' legitimate concerns about their involvement in the decision-making process. The Government should come forward with an arrangement that involves the farmers in that process, while ensuring that the time frame used achieves the objective of limiting the spread of disease.
I have examined many of these issues, but part of the fundamental problem with the Bill is that there has not been sufficient consultation to allow people to put their own experience into the pot so that we can begin to understand how to achieve the necessary balance. We all support the aim of preventing the spread of disease, but we have not got the balance right yet.
Right at the beginning, we have seen the Minister's agenda of taking greater powers for himself. I am very concerned about whom he will consult when he uses the new powers. In the FMD crisis, his actions were not always based on veterinary advice, as he has claimed this morning. I shall discuss that at a more appropriate point, but I wish now to draw attention to a matter pertinent to the clause, which I raised on Second Reading.
When it suited the Prime Minister, rules were changed in response to public concern about Phoenix the calf. After that example of the Government's cavalier disregard of sensible veterinary advice to placate The Mirror readers, I have no confidence in a Minister who seems to be taking greater and greater powers to himself, who is not clear about the terms of reference under which those powers will be exercised and who finds the current legislation inadequate for his purposes.
The amendments would oblige the Minister to consult veterinarians and owners in exercising the powers that he wishes to take. I remind the Committee that the existing legislation, where clause 1 seeks to amend it, states:
``The Minister may, if he thinks fit, in any case cause to be slaughtered—
(a) any animals affected with foot-and-mouth disease, or suspected of being so affected; and
(b) any animals which are or have been in the same field, shed, or other place, or in the same herd or flock, or otherwise in contact with animals affected with foot-and-mouth disease, or which appear to the Minister to have been in any way exposed to the infection of foot-and-mouth disease.''
I should have thought that that gives the Minister pretty wide powers, but we are asked to consider adding to that list
``any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease'' without consultation with owners or veterinarians being required by the Bill.
It is no good the Minister praying in aid flexibility, saying, ``I can't at this important stage in the Bill's scrutiny give an example of how that power would be used, or under what circumstances I would wish to use it, that is not already in the 1981 Act'', and then expecting the Committee to pass it nem con without further commitments from him.
It is still the case in this country—I say ``still'' deliberately—that Parliament legislates and courts then interpret. That will change, because we are fast moving towards a stage when judges legislate and interpret. However, we have not reached it yet, so let us hope that those of us sent here to scrutinise legislation are aware of our responsibilities, as I hope that the Minister is. Under the current system, what we say during our proceedings may be used in a later court case, if the court needs to determine Parliament's intention. Unless the Minister can state the Government's practical intentions in respect of the consultation with veterinarians and owners that the amendments propose, courts will be left to interpret the matter based not on what we say in the Committee, but on what judges deem to have been our intention.
I therefore seek from the Minister clarification about his intentions on consulting with veterinarians and owners. If he intends to reject the amendments, he must reassure us that his intentions in clause 1 are just, fair and proportionate. I shall need much convincing that the words before us are exactly that, unless the Minister is prepared to spell out his response to the amendments.
I remind the Minister—I know that he is familiar with the document—that a committee that has looked at the experience of foot and mouth, the Devon county council inquiry chaired by Professor Mercer, has published preliminary findings. As my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton pointed out in her opening remarks, the Bill could have included many of the recommendations already made by Professor Mercer and others to assist with some of the problems involved in getting on with a cull after identification of the disease.
Professor Mercer's inquiry said:
``We find that there should be an immediate ban on animal movements from Day One of any future outbreak.''
I agree with that. It would almost certainly have assisted the Minister with disease control, but the Bill does not refer to the idea.
I do not have the report of the Devon foot and mouth inquiry in front of me, but I recall from my reading of it that paragraph 1.2, which I think is the first recommendation that Professor Mercer's committee made, relates to illegal imports. Does my hon. Friend agree that the absence of any reference to illegal imports in the Bill is an extraordinary omission?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The committee's first recommendation states:
``We therefore find that methods of import control must be tightened to the highest international standards and if necessary be the subject of new legislation.''
If the Government felt a compelling need for emergency legislation, surely that should be the reason. I am sure that I am not speaking out of turn and that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton agrees with me that they would then have had the full support of this side of the House. We could have had an important, really useful piece of legislation, dealing not just with the handling of the disease but with preventing it from getting into the country in the first place. Yet the Government have ignored that necessity. I shall not digress, Mr. Illsley, because I can see you giving me a certain look.
Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have suggested independent veterinary advice and consultation with owners as an addition to the amendment. The Mercer inquiry's findings stated:
``The State Veterinary Service was greatly overstretched during the outbreak and its aftermath, the Inquiry was told, while the knowledge and experience of many local vets was not used. Retired vets, some with experience of previous outbreaks, volunteered their services but were rebuffed. In some cases the eventual hiring of vets from other countries, while very welcome at the time, created new problems arising from a lack of local knowledge and unfamiliarity with the language.''
I hope that I shall not break any of the new rules—which I have not studied in great detail—and be regarded as a racist, but that what I am about to say has parliamentary privilege, because I believe it to be a statement of fact. The training of veterinarians in some other countries does not follow the same pattern as in this country. In many countries, some of them European, veterinary training does not have the same approach to, for example, farm animals and animal husbandry of farm animals as it has to companion animals.
Somebody who is qualified as a vet on an international basis may not have the same in-depth knowledge and training in farm animal husbandry as vets trained in this country. If the Minister is to take advice from local vets, the point made by Professor Mercer's inquiry must be taken on board because it would help the Minister to bring the disease under control. The advice that Ministers desperately need from veterinarians when they are trying to manage such a crisis must come from people who are fully conversant with the disease, and who have the necessary experience and knowledge. This is another measure on which the Government could have taken action, because it would help if the crisis were to flare up again in the future.
I accept that the Government are seeking to put in place preparation for ``what if?'' I do not criticise that principle, but I criticise the fact that the ``what if?'' is not based on good scientific advice or the recommendations of inquiries. The Government have not seen fit to base the Bill, especially this clause, on the Mercer inquiry. They are pressing ahead with legislation that they have plucked out of the air. I want reassurance from the Minister that he will consider adding the amendments tabled in the names of my hon. Friends about advice and consultation with owners and veterinarians. Otherwise, I cannot see where the Minister could show accountability if this were ever challenged in the courts.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Illsley. With your strong constituency interest in agriculture, you will find not only the Bill but every element of animal anatomy fascinating.
The amendment is a nice try by the Opposition, but the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton ended up arguing the same point that I shall make, which concerns how one defines independence, and how people who work within the veterinary profession are able, through experience, to know exactly what an outbreak of foot and mouth looks like. Farm vets, who might not have experienced foot and mouth, found it difficult to identify in sheep. Temporary veterinary inspectors and younger members of the state veterinary service with whom I discussed this issue said that despite their training including as much guidance and insight as possible into what animal diseases look like their particular problem was that they had no experience of foot and mouth. It was only when foreign vets from strange parts of the world arrived that there were vets with direct experience of the disease, but that was too little, too late. With the benefit of hindsight, we can all look back at that.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. He recognises that if the Government had a contingency plan—we were assured that such a plan was in place—none of these matters had been considered. Bearing in mind that foot and mouth is a devastating disease, I should have thought that those in the state veterinary service could have been sent overseas in the intervening 30-odd years, when we did not have an outbreak, to learn a little about it. That shows a remarkable lack of preparedness.
I do not deny the hon. Lady's point—one can always have better preparation. Government Members who struggled with foot and mouth will recognise that point, which is why some us asked to serve on this Committee with the aim of trying to learn from those experiences. We are discussing the Bill with the foot and mouth outbreak in mind, but we could talk about classical swine fever and other diseases. Budgets are always limited, and although it would help recruitment to the state veterinary service if we were to put on interviewing notes that we will be sending vets around the world to examine every strange disease, that is not practical.
My main point concerns practicability. It is a nice idea that we can define an independent vet, and I tried to tease out what an independent vet is in my exchange with the hon. Member for Congleton. When we have an outbreak on the scale that we have just experienced, many—incorrectly, I used to say that all private vets worked on the past outbreak—vets work for the state veterinary service. Because we had to have clean and dirty vets, many of them could not go onto different holdings. Many vets who had no particular experience of dealing with farm animals were employed because of the nature of the outbreak. In such an outbreak occurred in future, it would be difficult to find an independent vet because it is likely that somebody working as a temporary veterinary inspector would be going onto a holding for which they were also the vet. Such a person could give the work to colleagues in their practice, but it is difficult for vets within the same practice to argue against each other.
This is the crux of the matter. It depends on how one defines the words ``insistence'' and ``consultation''. My experience, which I hope to bring to the Committee, is that the people who were working for MAFF as it was then, DEFRA as it is now, did everything they could to persuade. Mistakes were made and people found it difficult to give the bad news that they thought a holding had foot and mouth. There are many emotional stories that those of us who were directly involved can dredge up.
We must accept that people use their best professional judgment, and we must empower those people. As much as we are talking about the people who objected to the cull, most farmers in my constituency accepted what had to happen. They wanted it done quickly; they wanted it done because they did not want the disease; they wanted it done because they did not want other people to go through what they were going through. The difficulty is one of balance. Legislation is a blunt instrument, and we are trying to do the best that we can. I shall look carefully at each amendment, but this amendment fails because it cannot define an independent vet.
The hon. Gentleman used the word ``think''; the Bill contains the word ``thinks''. However, he rejects this moderate amendment, which tries to introduce a modicum of independent veterinary advice and consultation with the owners. He rejects that because he thinks, and the Government think, that they should be able walk in and slaughter because they think it is possible. The hon. Gentleman, who is a moderate man, represents an agricultural constituency and should make a great quantum leap to support this modest amendment.
I am glad to hear that I am moderate because I have always tried to be moderate in everything I do. I shall try to be moderate in the time that I take defending my position. If those who would oppose having their animals taken or, let us remember, having their animals vaccinated—we are not necessarily discussing a culling strategy—do not want that to happen, they will get an independent vet who agrees with them. The problem is that time is always of the essence, and the best device to prevent that from happening is to delay it. There is a danger in talking about particular time periods, although the 24-48 hour argument does not apply here as we are talking about 48 hours. It was said that the Government should have acted more quickly on restrictions on animal movement, and reference was made to the period of three days. That is a nice idea with hindsight, but here we are talking about a period of 48 hours after the initial inquiry has begun. Such a delay could lead to further spread of the disease.
Several hon. Members rose—
The hon. Gentleman touched on a possible vaccination policy and powers of entry to vaccinate. Before talking about that in detail, would it not be sensible to hear what the Government's policy on vaccination is? We are supposed to believe that the Bill is needed urgently, in case something happens tomorrow, but in any event we would not know what the vaccination policy is. The Government have had plenty of time to examine the issue and collate information, and I know that conferences are planned. However, being in government is not about holding conferences; it is about taking decisions. We should be told today about the Government's vaccination policy.
I take note of your remark, Mr. Illsley, and I shall say nothing more about the issue now as we shall doubtless debate it in due course.
We must look at the implications of delay, as time is of the essence. In my view, a period of 48 hours after initially entering the holding is a long time, given that, according to all evidence, delay is one reason why the disease spread.
In these circumstances, we are not talking about obvious cases. There is no doubt that when a vet visits a farm, there are certain clear opportunities to tell whether cattle or sheep have the disease. We are talking about cases where there is a difference of opinion, and much of the problem relates to the contiguous cull. On the one hand, there is the speculative slaughter that no one wants, where, although there is no proven and clear link, the Ministry none the less thinks it sensible to cull the whole lot to get ahead of the disease. On the other hand, there is reasoned justification on the basis of independent advice and the comments of animal owners and others. The latter approach could surely fit in with the 48-hour period. I am talking not about cases where there is evidence of a clear link, but about holdings where there is currently no proven risk.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that lengthy intervention, and I do not disagree with everything that he says. If people disagree with the contiguous cull strategy through which the foot and mouth outbreak was handled, they should be honest enough to say so. On the basis of the evidence that I have seen, I genuinely believe that there was no alternative to that strategy. People can fantasise about the use of vaccines, and argue that it was possible to delay spread of the disease by careful monitoring of particular holdings, but unfortunately animal diseases do not work in neat ways. According to one devastating piece of evidence presented to the Select Committee—it was presented by epidemiologists rather than vets, but I see no reason for the chief vet to disagree—there is a 50 per cent. greater likelihood of further spread of the disease in areas with an existing outbreak. That suggests that one needs to deal with the cause and the immediate possibility of transmission. We will doubtless discuss this issue in more depth to ensure that we understand it.
The hon. Gentleman has been very generous in giving way, but he is ignoring the fact that, in terms of contiguous culls, topography plays a major part in where the disease spreads. He says that he has no difficulty with the contiguous cull where there is evidence of FMD, but the problem is that many contiguous culls were based not on evidence but on suspicion. Given the terrible experience that we have just gone through, we should be able to get back test results much more quickly than we did.
I wish it were that simple. I have talked to vets who made a judgment, disregarding blood tests. Animals were slaughtered on suspicion, based on evidence that vets saw on the holding. Such are the problems that are experienced out in the field. Taking away that power is not what the amendment is about, and I do not want to do that, but I should be interested to hear the Minister's views. The blood test is a nice idea, but as all evidence on sheep has shown, it does not necessarily prove that an animal was not infected with foot and mouth in the past. That is a further example of the importance of time.
I have taken far too long, but this is a useful debate that is central to the reason why the Government need to introduce powers. The question of whether they are the right powers, or whether there are too many of them, is for us to debate. Mention has been made of the need to strengthen measures on imports, but it interesting to note that the only member of the Committee to table an amendment to that effect was me. I look forward to discovering whether Opposition Members feel strongly about that and other matters, and to hearing their views on possible improvements to the Animal Health Act 1981.
I should point out that I have declared my interest, as a farmer, in the Register of Members' Interests. As a result of the foot and mouth outbreak, I have been unable to divest myself of that interest as quickly as I would perhaps have liked.
The amendment is central to the Bill. The farming community does not hold DEFRA in high regard because it has reservations about the way in which it dealt with the foot and mouth outbreak. It feels that giving the Department further powers at this stage is premature and unwise. I supported the way in which DEFRA went about controlling foot and mouth, and, in certain cases, I supported the contiguous cull because I thought it politically responsible to introduce such a cull in my constituency. Elements of DEFRA's approach, however, led to confusion, chaos and some cock ups, if that is not an unparliamentary phrase.
Still, I do not believe that there is a Government conspiracy to attack the farming community through the foot and mouth outbreak. On several occasions, I have told farmers—and been criticised by them for doing so—that this Government are not sufficiently competent to organise such a conspiracy. I am glad to see that a number of hon. Members who had foot and mouth in their constituencies are on the Committee. They will have an understanding of the issues raised by the Bill.
Many of the foot and mouth outbreaks in my constituency were obvious, so there was no problem with diagnosis and no complaints from the farming community. DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly took the appropriate action for the farmers involved. Problems arose when foot and mouth was diagnosed on farms, or premises were declared infected, even though it was completely unclear whether foot and mouth was there at all. A number of isolated farms in my constituency were declared infected premises, which brought great chaos for farming neighbours. That happened before the contiguous cull was in action, yet movement of animals was restricted and animals were on form Ds for months. Some farmers are still in at-risk areas and they are having great difficulty in carrying out their business effectively.
I will refer to one farm about which I am still in correspondence with DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly. The farmer believes that she did not have foot and mouth on her farm, and responsibly brought a vet on to her farm to look at the animals. A Ministry vet came but, because he was young and had not seen foot and mouth, he asked for a second opinion. However, he was told by the Ministry that he had to either diagnose foot and mouth or not diagnose it, and he was urged to diagnose. The animals were culled and the farmer's business was ruined. Her neighbours were also caused considerable problems in carrying out their businesses.
The hon. Member for Stroud said that some foreign vets made a contribution to the elimination of foot and mouth. They were from countries where foot and mouth is endemic, so knew what they were looking for. However, it was almost more important for vets to know what foot and mouth was not than what it was. When one sees foot and mouth, there is no problem, but eliminating farms without foot and mouth—taking them out of the net—is more difficult.
The problem with the Bill, and the powers it provides for the Minister, is that farms that are unclear could get caught up in a cull policy, as could contiguous farms. In respect of the farm that I referred to in my constituency, it is bad enough that the neighbours should have been involved in restrictions on animal movement. However, had the contiguous cull policy been enforced at the time—it was at the beginning of the outbreak—those neighbouring farms would also have been involved in that cull. Those issues have been made by many people in the farming community who are concerned about giving the Minister the powers under the Bill.
There is much to commend the amendment, which goes some way to address farmers' fears, and we support it, but it does not go far enough. I would like the Minister to reconsider the issues raised by the amendment.
A number of serious points have been raised by hon. Members. I take them seriously because they are not unreasonable. I return to the original point about the purpose of this part of the Bill: speed. If a culling policy is to be used for disease control, speed is of the essence. I accept that that should concern not only those who are objecting; the Department, too, has a responsibility to provide the necessary resources and measures. There was much to learn on that during the outbreak.
We had a dramatic outbreak—one of the biggest that the world has ever seen. The scale of it was gigantic, its logistical demands were enormous and dealing with it was difficult. I do not accept comments that suggest that, had there been an immediate stop on movements, things would have been better. I remember that when the outbreak was first announced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), praise came from all sides for the speed at which the Government and Department acted. Bearing it in mind that when the outbreak first came to public attention there were only one or two cases in Essex, and that the previous post-1967 outbreak was confined to the Isle of Wight, we must be proportionate and reasonable in our response.
Everything must be taken into account. Stopping all movement of livestock in the country was drastic, had enormous consequences and happened within 48 hours of the outbreak. Everyone who spoke, including the Official Opposition of the time, praised my right hon. Friend for the speed of his actions. We have to look at the issues in retrospect, while remembering that retrospect is a wonderful thing.
The hon. Gentleman says that retrospect is a wonderful thing—it is something that his party had the benefit of on BSE. Would he acknowledge, retrospectively, the reports, which are well researched, that say that because of the initial delay in stopping animal movements, about 50 per cent. of the stock that were culled need not have been?
We shall see. There will be an independent inquiry. Speed has an impact, and its effect is something for independent scientists and epidemiologists to consider. It is hard to make predictions, given the number of animals going through so many livestock markets. I am not sure that an immediate stop would have made a huge difference—it may have made a difference, but not by 50 per cent.
I was in the Select Committee meeting when those comments were made, and they may have been given more prominence than the professor had meant. The question of how many animals would have been involved is highly subjective. However, it is not subjective but clear that the movement restriction would have decreased the number considerably—whether it be by 50 per cent. or not. One might therefore suspect that the Government would focus on that first to try to introduce a sweep of regulations that showed that the lessons of foot and mouth disease had been learned. Most of us agree, however, that we have started at the wrong end. If we have learned lessons, why are we not concentrating on movements?
We are. We introduced a 21-day stop proposal for livestock movements, which we are now applying as part of other measures for the disease. We shall have to discuss with the livestock industry the future of those stops because they are controversial in that industry. The hon. Gentleman is right that the issues that will be highlighted will be the speed of the spread, how the disease was spread, and the role of stops on movements, which are currently applied to the pig industry but not to the sheep and beef industry. All that is now taking place.
Imports are also important and I am not complacent about them. Some people talk about imports in a rather overblown way, and some in the livestock community do not want imports. They want a protectionist policy, for which they are using the outbreak as an excuse. We are considering the notice given and spot checks taken, but we do not need primary legislation to strengthen that; if necessary, it can be achieved by order, so it need not be included under the Bill. If further changes are required, we would not hesitate to make them. We have considered such matters during the various inquiries.
I thought that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton was rather harsh on Phoenix the calf—Phoenix's agent will not like what she had to say. One of the many myths associated with that story is that a sudden decision was taken because Phoenix looked cuddly. I have followed the course of the outbreak and can tell the hon. Lady that the proposals for exemptions for cattle in the contiguous cull were simply applied. No sudden decision was made. Throughout the outbreak, different methods and changes have been introduced in light of experience, and that is right and proper.
That is the point. The decision about Phoenix the calf was not made on veterinary or scientific advice; it was made by the Government's spin doctors because the Prime Minister was under pressure. It worries me that the Government make decisions in that way. Later in our proceedings, when it may be a tad more appropriate, I may read to the Committee a little from the book on the Phoenix clause, so that it is understood that the decision was made in Downing street and was not based on veterinary science.
Much as I enjoy reading Andrew Rawnsley and much as I respect him as a journalist, he provided a rich vein of myths about the outbreak.
Let us get to the crux of the issue. The need to explain to farmers and to apply the measures proportionately is accepted. Some reasonable points have been made about how to apply the measure and I shall give further thought to it. Some of my hon. Friends have tabled amendments that also have a bearing on this.
I want to make it absolutely clear that there is already a requirement on the Government to provide reasonable justification. That will apply in practice. It is not necessary to spell it out, because it is taken as read. If the Government do not operate in a proportionate and justified way, of course we shall be open to legal challenge.
Mr. Breed rose—
Mr. Williams rose—
The farming community would be encouraged if the Government could give an assurance that the Bill will be accompanied by a commitment to examine the available tests for foot and mouth disease, particularly a test for the virus in blood. If that test could be advanced and if we could be assured that it is acceptable and done on the farm, the knowledge could be used in deciding whether to slaughter. Such decisions would then have much more credibility and the farming community would be better assured about them.
I am glad to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Pirbright is working on such a test to give an immediate reading of antibodies in an animal. However, even with the new tests, there is still a problem and it is the same as with the current blood test--the Elisa test. Blood tests do not pick up the antibodies until the disease is well established in the animal. We want to remove the animal before the disease becomes established. That is one of the problems. Many of the tests on animals that were taken out in contiguous culls or on suspicion came back negative, but the system worked and the animals were taken out before they developed the disease. The results of the blood tests may have come back negative, but they were probably not negative. I return to the point that speed is essential before an animal develops the disease.
The test for antibodies will always be retrospective. What is needed is a test for the virus in the blood, which is entirely different. The Government must give an assurance that they are working on that, because it is what the farming community wants.
The tests that are being worked on pick up live antibodies. There may be antibodies when the animal has had the disease and recovered, and there may be antibodies when the virus is active. The tests are designed to pick up the active virus, but the disease will still be in the later stages. The technology is developing all the time and there will be different decisions and responses as wider choices become available. I am very keen on that, because I am not one of nature's cullers. It is not my preference to go round knocking off every animal that moves.
Absolutely. I refute the allegation that was made on Second Reading.
I want a range of options, including vaccines. We have contingency plans and we shall have a chance to discuss those later. We have always had contingency plans and have held the door open to the use of vaccination. We are trying to develop vaccine technology.
In reality, if there were an outbreak now or in the future, I suspect that the initial response would always be an immediate contiguous cull, and fast and efficient action to try to stop the virus in its tracks. If that did not work, there would probably be a trigger point for vaccination, but one of the difficulties would be to decide what that trigger point should be and how it should be applied. Those are difficult technical issues and we shall have to consider the lessons learned from the current epidemic. I assure the Committee that that will be part of the Government's response.
I suspect that there will always be an element of culling, so we are back to the same issue. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton asked about the justification and referred to the sweeping powers in the 1981 Act. It is true that they are sweeping powers, but they have provided an opportunity for all sorts of legal challenges for all sorts of reasons--some have been reasonable and some have not--which delayed contiguous culling. The Bill makes it absolutely clear what the Government may choose to do on the basis of veterinary and scientific advice. An example is the 3 km cull in Cumbria, which was carried out under the 1981 Act. We are convinced that it was legal and within the provisions of the Act, but people argued about suspicion and exposure, which led to many legal challenges and a lot of time-wasting. It is one of the reasons, but not the only one, for clarifying the powers so that everyone knows exactly what they are and what is being done.
To the Department's knowledge there were about 102 legal challenges, most of which were withdrawn and the animals were culled. I cannot remember the exact number that finally went to court, but it was quite small. The Government's record on court cases was very successful and only a small number of legal challenges was lost. The issue is not whether we win or lose; it is the time that is taken up while legal challenges are made, during which the animals are still alive and at risk of developing the disease. That happened in Thirsk, where a high proportion of the animals in the cases that went on to appeal developed the disease. Each animal that developed the disease affected the contiguous farms. The key is to get ahead of the disease, which is why we are against the 48-hour delay.
I understand the reason for the amendment and we want to try to explain to individual farmers the reason for the application and the procedures that our vets will follow. I am prepared to give some thought to doing that. It need not be in the Bill; it could be in guidance to our vets, which we could make public and consult on. I am willing to consider that. However, to put a requirement for 48 hours' notice in the Bill is not acceptable.
While my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire and I were dancing the military two-step a little while ago, the Minister was saying that reasoned judgment would have to be tested at some stage. Is it not likely to be tested by way of judicial review, which would take place after the animals had been culled?
As I said to the Select Committee, that is likely, but it depends how fast people can move. It would not necessarily take place after the cull, but in reality it probably would in most cases because the issue is speed. We are talking about a war against the disease and, like all wars, this one has rough and ready aspects. The outbreak of foot and mouth cost taxpayers billions of pounds, put enormous stress on individual farmers and did enormous damage to non-farming interests and the tourism industry. We must deal with that as quickly as possible. That is the whole reasoning behind the Bill.
I accept the perfectly reasonable case about the need to apply good practice. In reality, vets would always aim to talk through the reason for culling animals with the owners prior to slaughter. The use of the new power is based on veterinary judgment, and national policies will have to be applied to fight the disease.
Hon. Members have mentioned the need for a balance between speed—getting on with it—and trying to explain things to owners and having reasonable procedures. I am not unsympathetic to that, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud that, whether we liked it or not, the contiguous policy was successful. Some say that the price paid for it was too high, and we could argue about that, but it was successful. I accept that we can consider other options for the future. However, having followed the matter in great detail, I suspect that, given the spread and distribution of the disease, the contiguous policy was probably the only way of stamping it out. Had it not been applied, on the worst case projection 50 per cent. of the country's animals would have been affected. There would have been terrible, catastrophic consequences if fighting the outbreak had gone wrong.
I understand the spirit behind the amendments, but 48 hours is not acceptable. Another problem with an obligation to consult the owner is that he might not live on the farm or want to co-operate, which would cause further delay. I accept the perfectly reasonable points about the proportionality of application and the need to explain to owners and farmers the basis and reasons for the decision. I am sure that there are ways of dealing with that and that they do not need to be included in the Bill. There will, however, be discussion on that as the Bill progresses, and I shall give it some thought.
We have had a wide-ranging, good debate on the amendments, relating to weighty matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton referred to the wide-ranging powers in the 1981 Act and the added powers in the Bill, especially as they might be interpreted by courts in the future.
I shall not go into detail about comments that other hon. Members made, so as not to hold up the Committee, but I was grateful for the support of the two Liberal Democrat Members, especially the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, who is a farmer. He described his extreme concern, which we share, at the further powers that will be given to DEFRA, and rightly described them as premature and unwise. He talked of chaos, confusion and mistakes in a more robust way than I should repeat, and pointed out, as have other hon. Members, that many younger vets were not given the support of their superior, more experienced colleagues and had to make decisions on the ground in difficult conditions about whether a herd or flock should be slaughtered.
The hon. Gentleman made an important point, which I also tried to make, but not as well as he did. It was that the greatest difficulty is caused when it is not 100 per cent. clear that FMD is present. I have never met a farmer whose flock or herd has the disease who thinks that there should be any delay in slaughtering. All farmers are very responsible about that. If a farmer is sure that the disease is there, he has no problems with slaughter. It is when the symptoms could have an alternative explanation and when vets cannot diagnose clearly that there is the greatest difficulty. Those cases will be affected by the Bill.
The Bill is unjust and does not give enough power to owners of farms and livestock to get advice and to be consulted thoroughly. During the epidemic, decisions were made in haste, which filled many people with fear and trepidation. Farmers have lost any trust that they might have had in DEFRA and its officials, and believe that the actions taken were disproportionate. My hon. Friends and I think that the Bill should contain safeguards. Although I heed the Minister's comforting words, we cannot accept them. We wish an amendment such as this one to be included in the Bill, so that there is a sensible fall-back to limit the powers given to officials, which are indeed draconian.
During the outbreak, one of my farming constituents asked me whether I could tell him what his rights were. He pointed out that he knew what his responsibilities were, and always discharged them fully, but wanted to know what rights he had if officials were to come on to his farm and tell him to do this, that and the other. He owns the land and the animals. If he had the disease, he accepted that they would have to be culled, but said that he would have no say in how the animals would be disposed of.
That was someone who went through the 1967 outbreak. Members of the farming community face up to their responsibilities. They have no problem with that, but they believe, as do I, that the Bill gives more and disproportionate powers to the Ministry, which we should resist. Sadly, I cannot accept the Minister's assurances, and I shall press the amendment to a vote.
Considerable discussion has taken place about the 1981 Act that the clause will amend. I am not entirely sure whether the Act was deficient and needed such additional powers to make it enforceable, or whether the Act has been appropriately used for 20 years. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton said that it was successfully used during the BSE crisis.
I return to the question of balance. There is little doubt in my mind that clause 1 is unacceptable. Discussion on the amendment has exposed certain difficulties, and the amendment is more in tune with a balanced approach and inclusive decision making. I am glad that it is being pressed to a vote, and we shall support it.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided : Ayes 7, Noes, 9.
I beg to move amendment No. 36, in page 1, line 10, at end insert—
`(d) but, notwithstanding the power in section 87 of this Act to amend the definition of ``animals'' by order, no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph which are not susceptible to infection of foot and mouth disease.'.
Clause 1 adds to the categories of animals that may be slaughtered because of foot and mouth any animal that the Minister thinks should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of the disease. The amendment would ensure that in taking that power he cannot include animals that are not susceptible to infection by foot and mouth. The definition of ``animals'' in section 87 of the 1981 Act is
``cattle, sheep and goats, and . . . all other ruminating animals and swine'', and Ministers are given powers by order to extend the definition to
``any kind of mammal except man''—
I am relieved about that, and presume that the Minister is not planning to make any changes in that respect; or perhaps only women are to be exempted. The definition continues:
``and . . . any kind of four-footed beast which is not a mammal.''
The measure then continues in some detail to include the right to issue orders in respect of other species, including
``fish, reptiles, crustaceans, or . . . other cold-blooded creatures''.
The Minister must try to convince the Committee that that extension of his powers will prevent the spread of foot and mouth. Why should he need to add animals that cannot carry or succumb to the disease? Does he think that species that are not already covered by the 1981 Act might have contributed to its spread? I know from his biography that he takes a close interest in birds—of the feathered variety; I could not comment on the other kind.
Has any evidence come out of the recent experience of foot and mouth to necessitate the provision? Such powers should be taken only on the basis of scientific evidence, and I do not recall any data being given in parliamentary debates or anything that I have read suggesting that DEFRA has identified any species not already covered by the 1981 Act that contributed to the spread of foot and mouth. It would be wrong for the Minister to take such powers without proper scientific advice. Why does he believe that he needs them?
I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend. It is important that the Minister should explain why section 87 of the 1981 Act, which allows him by order to extend the definition of animals to include any kind of mammal except, as my hon. Friend has just said, man, and any kind of four-footed beast that is not a mammal. It is therefore possible to use the power to slaughter other species, for example, horses and farm dogs, which, although they are not susceptible to foot and mouth disease, could carry and spread it. The obvious purpose of the amendment is to limit the wider power of slaughter that is sought in clause 1 to animals that can catch foot and mouth disease.
In evidence to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 6 November, the Minister said that he wanted to make it absolutely clear that the Bill related only to farm animals and susceptible animals, and to the actual wording of the Act. He said that it related to animals defined in section 87 of the Animal Health Act 1981, and that unless the context required otherwise some other species were not covered by the wide incoming powers.
It is not 100 per cent. clear. We should be told categorically which case is true. Is what he said in the Select Committee absolutely right? Can the power to slaughter extend beyond the listed animals that can catch foot and mouth disease to those animals that might unknowingly spread the disease? There are many animals on farms that can do precisely that.
I assure the hon. Lady that the wording refers to the definition of animals in the 1981 Act, which is not being changed. The wording applies only to susceptible animals. We are considering the matter in terms of foot and mouth disease. The Bill and the 1981 Act apply to all diseases, but I cannot think, in terms of disease control, which other species would be involved apart from farm animals and susceptible animals. In relation to foot and mouth disease, it would not apply to horses and dogs because they are not susceptible. They can spread the disease in the same way in which people spread and move viruses, but that does not justify a culling policy. That is not what we are considering, and it is not within the Bill. ``Any animals'' is included only within the definition in the 1981 Act.
Will the Minister be a little clearer about one particular point? He mentioned that he is concerned only with the control of foot and mouth disease and animals that could spread it. What is his view on deer? Deer can spread the disease, and on some estates they could be called a farm animal because they are farmed, not wild.
I regret to say that deer are susceptible and therefore come within the powers of the 1981 Act. Farm deer can get foot and mouth disease in the same way as cattle, sheep and pigs. Wild deer can also get foot and mouth, although we have no evidence that it is in the wild deer population. Of course, if that were the case we would have powers to deal with it. Currently, we regard the risks in the wild deer population to be low, but we cannot rule that out at this stage of the disease, which is active and at high levels in certain parts of the country. Deer are susceptible, and if they have caught the disease they come within the 1981 Act.
I should be most grateful if the Minister gave me an example of a species that is not currently covered by the 1981 Act. I assume that the question that he has just answered about deer is covered by section 87(1)(b) of the 1981 Act, which refers to ``all other ruminating animals''.
However, the explanatory notes to the Bill state:
``This adds to the categories of animals which may be slaughtered because of FMD any animal which the Minister thinks should be slaughtered''.
Other than those categories defined in the 1981 Act, of which categories is the Minister thinking?
That is the way in which the measure has been drafted in relation to the 1981 Act, which may be applied to the range of species that are regarded as susceptible. The range of species in the 1981 Act can be changed, but only by order. If there were a requirement to change the 1981 Act in relation to species—I cannot think of circumstances in which that would happen, but who knows in relation to diseases?—it would be by order, and there would be an opportunity to discuss it in Parliament.
``extends the range of animals which . . . may . . . be slaughtered in relation to FMD.''
We are not discussing swine fever. I am still not sure what the Minister is trying to do in extending the category. I have not heard him name a species that is not already covered in the 1981 Act, other than those sub-species subject to order. Those sub-species extend the definition of animal, and include a range of other creatures that are mainly wild, as opposed to farmed or domestic, animals. Will the Minister give me one example of why he is taking this power, because I cannot see a category that is not already covered that would be susceptible to foot and mouth disease?
I can explain the matter: as I suspected, it is a legal drafting point. The hon. Lady is mistaken in thinking in terms of a range of species. The measure refers to categories such as exposure to contact, not necessarily categories of animals.
``notwithstanding the power in section 87 of this Act . . . no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph, which are not susceptible to infection of foot and mouth disease.''
That seems reasonable to me.
It does seem reasonable, but it is not required because it does not apply in the way in which the hon. Lady thinks it does. It is therefore unnecessary.
I agree with my hon. Friend. [Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position, ``That is wrong.'' However, we are seeking definition. The power is FMD-specific. He feels that he has to take such a power, but will not agree to an amendment that is FMD-specific. He agreed that the amendment seemed reasonable. If we were giving him a general power that covered a range of animal diseases, which might include other species of animal, I could understand him pressing the point, but we are not. Clearly, if one is looking to control foot and mouth disease by extending one's powers, it is reasonable to say that those powers should be related to the species that we know carry the infection. If it were discovered that birds could spread foot and mouth disease, the Minister would come back with an order and amend the legislation.
The hon. Lady may be right on the last point. There have been allegations that birds have spread foot and mouth disease, but the evidence is not there for it to be a major issue. Nevertheless, all such matters are considered, and I am sure that matter will be considered by the inquiries.
I return to my point. FMD-specific powers relate to any animals—in plural. The animals are listed by species, but they are listed in terms of susceptible animals, and they are limited by the 1981 Act. All species in the Bill would apply only by amending the 1981 Act by order.
I beg to move amendment No. 86, in page 1, leave out lines 12 to 20 and insert—
`(1A) In applying subparagraph (1)(c) above the Minister will exclude animals not affected, nor having been in contact with affected animals, nor exposed to the infection of FMD, which have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement by any Government Department of an outbreak.'.
With this we may discuss the following amendments:
No. 117, in page 1, line 12, leave out `is immaterial' and insert
`must be taken account of and subject to judicial review'.
No. 1, in page 1, line 12, leave out `immaterial' and insert `material'.
No. 2, in page 1, line 14, leave out from `disease' to end of line 15.
No. 9, in page 1, line 14, leave out `suspected of being' and insert `reasonably believed to be'.
No. 3, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—
`(ba) are or have been in contact with a person who has been in contact with, or is suspected of having been in contact with, animals affected with foot-and-mouth disease'.
No. 10, in page 1, line 17, leave out sub-sub-paragraph (c).
No. 21, in page 1, line 20, at end insert—
`(a) could be vaccinated against foot-and-mouth.'.
No. 37, in page 1, line 20, at end insert—
`(1B) Where none of sub-paragraphs (1A)(a) to (d) above apply to the animals in question, the Minister shall serve on the owner of the animals (or in default of the owner being traceable the keeper of the animals) a notice containing a reasoned justification for his decision to require the slaughter of the animals, and no slaughter shall take place until at least 48 hours have elapsed from the serving of the notice.'.
This is another group of amendments that seeks to improve legislation proposed by the Government. Amendment No. 86 states that in applying subparagraph (1)(c),
`the Minister will exclude animals not affected, nor having been in contact with affected animals, nor exposed to the infection of FMD, which have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement by any Government Department of an outbreak.'.
Although that is a modest proposal, many examples that have already been referred to fall into that category. For example, there are animals that, because of the topography, time of year or nature of the farming, have a minimal chance of becoming infected. According to some of the Government's past plans, such animals would be slaughtered.
I shall not detail the many relevant examples that exist because to do so would hold up the Committee, but I shall certainly mention one. It will be apparent to the Minister and to the Committee that consideration should be given to dairy herds that have been kept throughout the winter in buildings on the far side of the farm, far further than 3 km away from the outbreak, excluded from nose-to-nose contact and kept in good biosecurity conditions. Such an example is one reason why we mentioned in previous debates the importance of knowledge of local farming practices when deciding how to implement Government policy.
Where animals have been kept away from infection prior to the first announcement of an outbreak by a Government Department, the matter would seem cut-and-dried, in that they have been kept as securely as possible. Will the Minister give serious consideration to that problem, which the amendment seeks to deal with? It would not be difficult to exclude such animals in future, given better testing and more research. We all hope that tests that can diagnose the virus before the disease shows itself will be developed and introduced in due course. That will help to control the disease and to prevent the kind of epidemic that we have just experienced.
Many culled animals had not been in any contact with infected animals or exposed in any way whatsoever. One reason why so many farmers questioned the contiguous cull was that they felt that their own circumstances were totally different and did not merit it. They understood the policy and agreed that if there were disease, or, sometimes, any danger of disease, there should be instant slaughter, but in certain cases they felt that it was unjust.
I want to flesh out the point about situations where the disease is suspected. Amendment No. 9 would insert the phrase, ``reasonably believed to be''. In other words, there must be a greater burden of proof that disease is apparent in the flock—it will usually be a flock, because it is self-evident in a herd and is much easier to diagnose. I accept the Minister's assertion that instant slaughter is vital in order to contain the disease, but he says that with the benefit of hindsight following the recent outbreak, and we hope that in future such matters will be handled differently. Amendment No. 9 would allow certain exceptions to be made that would not create the danger of further spread of the disease.
Another issue has come to light more forcefully of late with the publication in lower Cheshire of information about the right to roam legislation. Having had a brief glance at the map, I see that it includes not only heath and moorland, but pastures and farms where animals are out. It could cause problems if people gain access to such land, quite legitimately, by walking down footpaths.
There is another danger, of which I shall give an example. I recently spoke to a farmer in north Yorkshire who said that one of their fields was right on the road, and someone had thrown a cow's tail into the herd. They did not know whether it was someone making mischief, or whether the tail had had contact with foot and mouth disease. It was immediately sent off for testing and when I last spoke to them they were still awaiting the results. It appeared to be a mystery.
People walking or driving along a road trying to make mischief could have a devastating effect. Equally, people who have been in contact with foot and mouth are able to walk through farmland, where they may, perhaps not deliberately, cause the infection to be spread. The Minister should consider that because it raises the problem of access to farmland. In the previous debate, we spoke about the lists of animals that do not contract foot and mouth but that may play a part in its spread. Horses are one such species, but dogs are also a likely risk. Although dogs should be kept on a lead, often they are not. I have a public footpath running through my property and, more often than not, I have to ask people to put their dogs on leads. That is a risk that should be considered.
Amendment No. 37 would provide for a notice to be given to an owner. It states that
``the Minister shall serve on the owner of the animals . . . a notice''— or, if the owner is not available or present, it shall be served on the person keeping the animals. A case in point concerns extensification in the sheep industry where sheep are sent to winter off on different parcels of land. One of the differences between intensification and extensification is that in intensive situations the fodder is brought to the animals, while in extensification animals are taken to the fodder. That means that many flocks are on different parcels of land, where the owner is not present, and are looked after by others on behalf of the owner. The amendment tries to ensure that the notice giving justification for the Minister's decision to require the slaughter of animals should be given to the person looking after the animals and that
``no slaughter shall take place until at least 48 hours have elapsed from the serving of the notice.''
I am sure that the Minister will advance arguments that he gave in previous debates and I understand that this is one of the issues surrounding the firebreak cull. However, requiring the Minister to serve such a notification on farmers or animal keepers, and delaying slaughter for 48 hours would not be prejudicial. It is important that the Minister justifies why he should be able to slaughter any animals without advance notification to the farmers concerned. I know that many colleagues will want to comment on the amendments. They are important and weighty and I hope that the Minister will give them full consideration.
I understand the point made by the hon. Lady. During the outbreak, it was considered that housed cattle were in a more secure position than cattle which were out. The outbreak happened in February and many cattle were still in winter housing. Unfortunately, however, many cattle went down even though they were kept in sheds.
The hon. Lady's point is not unreasonable because, when one takes into account a contiguous cull, there must be a risk assessment and that was, indeed, applied to cattle. Local vets were given discretion to take a decision on whether adequate biosecurity existed in certain areas and whether cattle could be exempted from the contiguous cull. That was introduced during the outbreak.
That may have been the case as more farmers became aware of what they could do, such as challenge the contiguous cull, but it was not so in the early days when people were bullied into having their herds, particularly dairy herds, slaughtered, and perhaps that should not have taken place. I fully accept that later in the epidemic farmers were more aware of the opportunity to discuss matters before slaughter took place. I therefore accept the Minister's point, but point out that that was not case throughout the epidemic.
It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.