Clause 1 - FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE

Animal Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 22nd November 2001.

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Amendment proposed [this day], 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.''.—[Mrs. Ann Winterton.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made:—

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup 2:30 pm, 22nd November 2001

I remind the Committee that with this we are taking 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.''.

Because of the heat in the Room, which I gather was cold this morning, if hon. Members wish to remove their jackets, that is in order, but not ties or any other apparel.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Conway. I am pleased to see you in the Chair for this sitting, and look forward to your guidance of the Committee.

To recap briefly on my remarks on amendment No. 86, the principles in it involve taking into account the risks with animals not carrying foot and mouth disease, animals that have not been exposed to the disease and animals that have been kept indoors since the day before the outbreak was first announced. Those are legitimate issues that vets on the ground would take into account in their risk assessments in any culling programme or contiguous cull.

It would not make sense to include that in the Bill because it would put an undue burden on the Government to demonstrate that animals did not fall into any of those categories before the cull took place. That would give great opportunity to anyone who wished to, to delay proceedings. The whole idea is to ensure that culls are carried out as quickly as possible. Those aspects, as part of a risk assessment, are perfectly reasonable and there is no reason why our veterinary service cannot take them into account, as it currently does.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Breed, and look forward to your guidance.

I have much sympathy with the amendments that have been discussed so far, but I wish to speak to my own amendment, No. 117. Many words, such as those often found in legal documents, are pregnant with meaning. ``Material'', ``immaterial'', ``reasonable'' and ``unreasonable'' are such words. The word ``immaterial'' appears to be in the manner of the Government's wish to have a catch-all provision. There are many things that are absolutely material to any decision that will be made, as has been amply demonstrated in our discussions so far.

We are, again, seeking to achieve a balance between preventing delay and possible spread on one hand and the rights of individual farmers on the other. We should seek to ensure that people will not cause unreasonable delay by any of the means to which the Minister referred. Some people might want to use parts of the legislation in order to delay, but they would have to prove that that was reasonable, and that they were not unreasonably delaying any proposal to cull or vaccinate their animals. Such matters would be subject to judicial review at some stage, which is why that aspect has been included in my amendment.

I recognise that the Government want to have as free a hand as possible, but should we use the word ``immaterial'' for any circumstance? We want to give the Bill some longevity. Should that term apply in circumstances that have not yet arisen but might arise in the future, from reports or anywhere else? Some sparkling pieces of wisdom might ultimately come from the reports now being undertaken, but they will all be encompassed here under the term ``immaterial''.

It is clearly wrong to have such words in a Bill because, many years down the line, however substantive a reason might be, it can be called immaterial and not taken into account. We need some definition here. We must ensure that people do not unreasonably delay anything in the legislation for their own reasons, and that such things are properly considered in judicial review. We should seek to balance the different interests. The use of the word ``immaterial'' is too heavy-handed and catch-all.

I would like to refer to traceability, which comes up later in the Bill. If we are to have effective controls for movement, ownership and scrapie, traceability is key to what we seek to achieve. I hope that, at some stage in the Bill's passage, the Minister will be able to provide evidence about the Government's direction on traceability. It is becoming clearer as we go into detail that identifying individual animals and tracing where they have been and what they have been subject to, or in contact with, will be very important, especially if a judicial review is to take place afterwards.

On a technical point, amendment No. 21 says ``(a) could be vaccinated''. Should it be ``(e) could be vaccinated''? Is it an additional reason?

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Just to help the hon. Gentleman, I think that it is a misprint.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

So that should be ``(e)'' and not ``(a)''. That just demonstrates that I read my documents.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

It is a great pleasure to speak for the first time in Committee with you in the Chair, Mr. Conway.

There has been much talk about balance, to which the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) has just referred. The Minister referred several times to proportionality. I would like to examine that more closely, because it bears directly on some of the amendments.

The concept of proportionality clearly entails a notion of balance and of a proper relationship between means and ends. Case law gives us greater detail about the tests that should be applied in determining whether an act is proportionate. There are three basic principles: first, whether the disputed measure is the least restrictive that could be adopted in the circumstances; secondly, whether the means adopted are necessary to achieve the end and whether they correspond to its importance; and, thirdly, whether the challenged act is suitable and necessary for the achievement of its objective and does not impose excessive burdens on the individual.

Let me take those points in turn. First, according to the Bill, the disputed measure is not the least restrictive possible in the circumstances. Amendment No. 86, which would exclude animals kept constantly indoors, might help to make the actions more proportionate, or less restrictive, but the Minister rejects it. A pig farmer in my constituency keeps his pigs in the tightest conditions of biosecurity, and as a result he was not exposed to classical swine fever, even though it came to Norfolk, or to foot and mouth—Norfolk was blessedly free of foot and mouth. None of that would matter under the terms of the Bill, if there is no proportionality in it.

The truly draconian nature of the Bill becomes more evident when we look at the second principle--that the means adopted should correspond to the importance of the end and be necessary to achieve it. As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall said, the word ``immaterial'' crops up in the Bill. My hon. Friends and I want to amend that. One of our amendments seeks to specify that whether animals were affected or suspected of being affected

``must be taken account of and subject to judicial review''.

The Minister rejects that, too. He has already said that he thinks that it would not be practicable to have a judicial review and slaughter afterwards if the Government's case were found, and that a judicial review would take place after slaughter. However, article 6(1) of the European convention states:

``In the determination of his civil rights and obligations . . . everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgement shall be pronounced publicly''.

If one is to go against that, one ought to have a pretty good reason for doing so. We have seen as much with the anti-terrorist legislation that is before the House. There has been debate on the Home Secretary's seeking to introduce derogation from the European convention on the ground that there is an extreme emergency.

Interestingly, even where a derogation is sought, the circumstances in which it is appropriate are circumscribed by law. As an article in a recent book, ``Human Rights—An Agenda for the 21st Century'', points out, the

``main requirement posed by the derogation regime, for there to be a legitimate derogation from otherwise protected rights, is that the circumstances in which the derogation has been effected constitute an exceptional threat. A derogation justifying emergency cannot be just any crisis. It has to be a truly extraordinary exigency, a `public emergency threatening the life of the nation'.''

The article continues by addressing directly the question of proportionality:

``The overarching requirement . . . is . . . further strengthened by the principle of proportionality that forms another fundamental pillar of the derogation regime. Even when an act of derogation may be justified under the human rights conventions, the State does not enjoy an unfettered discretion with respect to the derogation measures that it wishes to pursue. Such measures can only be taken `to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.' This means that derogation measures employed by a government must be proportional''—

I emphasise the word ``proportional''—

``to the particular threat, both with respect to degree and duration.''

The extraordinary point about the Bill is that the Government are not even seeking a derogation. On the front page, the Secretary of State says:

``In my view the provisions of the Animal Health Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.''

Even if the Government had sought a derogation, they might well be on dodgy ground legally, because they would not have unfettered discretion. They have not sought a derogation, however, although they have claimed the most extraordinary and sweeping powers for themselves.

The third issue is whether the challenged action is suitable and necessary for the achievement of its objective, and does not impose excessive burdens on the individual. Some hon. Members may be familiar with the Rosemary Upton case, which, according to the Ministry, was even more serious than a contiguous premises case. It was said that Rosemary Upton was a dangerous contact, and the Ministry was adamant that her remaining animals had the disease and would therefore have to be destroyed as quickly as possible. Throughout that case, Rosemary Upton offered to let the Ministry blood test her animals in order to check its strenuously asserted belief. The Ministry rejected that opportunity, however.

After listening to the argument for three days, the High Court was satisfied that the right way forward was the testing that Rosemary Upton had offered all along. The Ministry's application for an injunction was dismissed and it was ordered to pay all Rosemary Upton's costs, which it would hardly have been expected to do had she been behaving in a dangerous or irresponsible way. In other words, the requirement that the challenged act does not impose excessive burdens on the individual was not met either.

I do not know why the Government were given legal advice to the effect that the Bill does not contravene the European convention on human rights—perhaps the lawyer who offered it was drunk at the time. It seems extraordinary to suppose that the Bill is not in very serious breach of the convention. It was not the Conservative party that introduced the convention into English law. Many warnings were issued at the time that there would be all manner of unsavoury repercussions. The Government have made their own bed and I am afraid that, if the amendments are not accepted, they will have to lie in it. Should the Bill become law in its present form, it will not stand and the Government will have to go back to the drawing board.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 2:45 pm, 22nd November 2001

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Conway. Like others, this is the first time that I have served in Committee under your chairmanship, and I look forward to the experience.

I want to discuss the Bill's use of the word ``immaterial'' and amendment No. 1, which would remove it, because the issue is central. Clause 1 encapsulates the criticisms of those in this House and outside who feel that the Bill is draconian. As has been noted, by inserting in the 1981 Act the phrase

``any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth'',

the Bill will grant the Minister the power to do what he thinks should be done in terms of slaughter. Astonishingly, however, subsection (3)(1A) states that it is immaterial whether animals

``are affected with foot-and-mouth disease or suspected of being so affected'', whether they

``are or have been in contact with animals so affected'', whether they

``have been exposed to the infection of foot-and-mouth disease'',

``have been treated with vaccine against foot-and-mouth disease.''

According to the Oxford English Dictionary definition, ``immaterial'' means

``having no physical substance; of no importance''.

When a Minister so exercises his powers, how can all those qualifying factors possibly be of no importance? In terms of balance and natural justice, it beggars belief that anyone could regard the provision as acceptable.

Amendment No. 1, which would replace the word ``immaterial'' with ``material'', is tiny but it is perhaps one of the most important that we are considering. As we have heard, under the Bill as drafted the Minister can think and carry out action that can affect any animal, regardless of any recognisable condition that would justify its being slaughtered.

Mr. Morley indicated dissent.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The Minister shakes his head, but much of today's debate has been based on the premise that a risk assessment will be made, and that when push comes to shove and the Minister has to seek guidance, it will be based on veterinary advice. By excluding those conditions and making them ``of no importance'', the Minister has made it difficult for anybody else to measure the transparency of a given risk assessment. I hope he agrees that it is essential to the wider public, especially those who own the animals, that a risk assessment and its formulation be transparent. If those conditions are excluded as ``immaterial'', one wonders what will be left that is material on which a judgment could be made.

As with many other Bills that have passed through the House in the past four years, we are being asked to enact legislation on the basis that important decision making will be at the discretion of Ministers. We are being asked to trust them to do the right thing and show fairness and proportionality. A little earlier, the Minister prayed in aid the fact that he would not advocate unnecessary slaughter. I want to remind him, however, of his track record on mass slaughter. In March 1996, the Animal Protesters' Bulletin published an article about BSE by the Minister, who was then Opposition spokesman on agriculture and rural affairs, in which he concluded:

``Calves for export are not currently included in the European ban as it has not yet been proved that BSE passes from cow to calf. If this is proved, then the slaughter of the whole UK herd is inevitable.''

We now know—as we knew then, because it was identified in the trials that went on before the Government came to office—that there is indeed maternal transmission, but at such a low rate that there is clearly no need to slaughter the whole national herd. However, that was the Minister's judgment at that time.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I shall in a moment.

The Minister did not hesitate to recommend the slaughter of the whole national herd based on a presumption about a matter that was subject to scientific research and properly controlled experimentation. There was no question of confusing cows and calves with sheep and lambs in the research that was being conducted then by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. When we are asked to put into legislation and support powers whereby he and other Ministers will exercise judgment and power during a future foot and mouth crisis, we are reticent about doing so.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Animal Protesters' Bulletin is not one of the most reliable sources of quotes. I am willing to engage with any organisation or group, and I have on occasion contacted them to point out that they are mistaken in what they have said. I do not recall having made those comments. However, if we ever found ourselves in a doomsday scenario in which BSE was rife in the UK herd and being passed on maternally so that it was constantly present, that would be a severe problem. I am glad to say that we are not in that position.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

If the Minister would like a copy of issue number 47 of the Animal Protesters' Bulletin, which carries the article in his name from which I quoted, I shall make it available to him. However, he knows only too well that a few years ago our roles were reversed: I was the Minister and he was the animal rights campaigner constantly banging on my door about animal welfare issues. What goes around comes around. My memory is long, as are my archives.

I hope that he will take my point that such an important matter should not rest merely on personal intuition on the part of a Minister. Safeguards should be built into the Bill, but that is far from being the case and clause 1 epitomises that. The Bill is not proportionate, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) said. It is not even reasonable in the sense of natural justice. It is draconian, and nowhere more so than in this clause.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

I am following what the hon. Lady says with great interest and look forward to any other pieces of archive material that may turn up in the course of our deliberations. Perhaps the real reason for the provision is so that the Government can defend themselves in any judicial review, but how can anyone defend himself by saying, ``Basically, I can do anything I like''?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the first things I said in the debate on the programme resolution was that the Bill is fundamentally flawed in terms of its legal powers, and I am sure that it will be challenged legally. We have already discovered that the Government are not amenable to perfectly reasonable amendments that are intended to help them to improve the Bill. It falls foul of the European convention on human rights, and the courts will find that any powers that the Minister needs to deal with emergency situations caused by animal diseases are already enshrined in the Animal Health Act 1981, and that these provisions are disproportionate.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Conway.

I want to discuss the keeping of animals inside. The Minister will have read in Farmers' Weekly about the activities of a company called Cogent, which locked up its bulls in an airtight shed, along with two members of staff—[Interruption.] It was airtight—or sufficiently airtight to prevent the virus from gaining access. Perhaps hon. Members are more expert on the airtightness of sheds than on the transmission of the virus. My point is that the Bill does not give people the opportunity to help themselves. If a company can go to those lengths to ensure the survival of its livestock—the genetic information stored in those bulls was so vital that it was prepared to take the financial steps necessary to safeguard them—we must consider an amendment of this nature.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

I should have thought that the genetic material from bulls could easily be stored in their semen.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

The company in question produces semen. I think that it was looking to keep more than just one or two straws.

We shall go on to discuss biosecurity and continue to lament the fact that it was possible for the disease to spread as it did. The amendment would give people a chance to help themselves to combat it. I hope that Labour Members will consider that carefully before voting against it.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is precisely the situation now. If farmers can demonstrate good biosecurity, exemptions can be made. The amendment is therefore unnecessary. The company in the hon. Gentleman's example demonstrated extremely good biosecurity—naturally, as it did not want to jeopardise very valuable animals.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

When the Minister says that exemptions can be made, does he mean, ``If I, the Minister, feel that exemptions should be made, I shall do so''? I return to the example of the Norfolk farmer whose pigs did not get classical swine fever, although it was all around, and who, like others in Norfolk, was not affected by foot and mouth. Under the Bill, could the Minister, if he so chose, go to that farm and kill those pigs?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I should put it this way. A decision has to be made on the ground in relation to the appropriate measures to contain disease spread. That is what the Bill is all about. Opposition Members seem to be trying to put as many obstructions as possible in the way of our vets, saying what they can and cannot do.

It comes down to the issue of proportionality, which the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) mentioned. She must bear it in mind that the slaughter powers in the Bill are no different from any other measure that the Government have to put in place. They are obliged to demonstrate that any measures that they implement are proportionate. One of the tests of proportionality is satisfied if a fair balance is struck between the rights of individuals and the public interest. The means by which that is achieved is no more restrictive than necessary. Those are the kinds of tests that are applied.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk 3:00 pm, 22nd November 2001

The Minister ignores the fact that natural justice requires the right to a fair hearing. He has already said that, were there a judicial review it would, from a practical point of view, have to take place after slaughter, by which time it would be rather late. I return to my question, which he did not answer: if the Bill were to go through unamended, would he have the power to go on to my farmer's farm and kill those pigs?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This is being presented as though I would spend my time lurking around the back streets of Norfolk or Suffolk looking for pigs to slaughter. The answer is that it depends on the risk assessment, the veterinary advice and the risk that that particular herd posed in relation to spreading or harbouring a disease. Those risks would be assessed on the basis of the circumstances and the professional view of the veterinary surgeons involved.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

How can such veterinarians make a transparent risk assessment, when the Bill states that they should disregard whether animals

``(a) are affected with foot-and-mouth disease or suspected of being so affected;

(b) are or have been in contact with animals so affected;

(c) have been exposed to infection of foot-and-mouth disease;

(d) have been treated with vaccine against foot-and-mouth disease''?

If they must disregard all that, what sort of veterinary advice does the Minister think that he will get?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That suggests that veterinarians are compelled to discount those reasons. The hon. Lady should not interpret the Bill in that way. It is worded in that way because there may be circumstances in which the veterinary advice is for a firebreak cull. We had a firebreak cull in Dumfries when all sheep were taken out in a 3 km zone, and there was also a firebreak cull in Cumbria, which was supported by farmers. When the Prime Minister went to Cumbria, farmers were pressing strongly for more culls to stop the spread of disease. During the course of the disease, consideration was given, for example, to whether there should be a firebreak cull to protect the intensive pig units in east Yorkshire from the Thirsk outbreak. We also considered whether we should use vaccination.

The 3 km culls took place under the 1981 Act. Individuals who say that there were no powers to do that are now challenging those culls, even though it is clear that they were carried out under powers in that Act. Clause 1 makes the position absolutely clear. If, in future, firebreak culls were considered to be an essential part of disease control—it would have to be proportionate and there would have to be justification—there would be no argument about terminology.

The current argument is about the terminology of the 1981 Act. Some people will advance those arguments because they want to delay culling. Some people are against any kind of culling. Some people have legitimate concerns about culling, about which there is a legitimate debate, but there are also people who want to delay culling. The clause is worded in that way so that there is no argument about powers, and there is no opportunity for people to use legal proceedings to argue in a nit-picking way about the interpretation of language.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The point is that the Bill deals not only with firebreak culls, but with any culling for any reason whatsoever. If the Government were bringing forward legislation as a result of experience gained during the recent foot and mouth outbreak, and in particular experience of where firebreak culls took place or were frustrated, one might consider it to be a little more reasonable. However, we have not had the results of the inquiries looking into the detail of how those firebreak culls worked, or did not work. All the Minister can say is, ``Court cases are still going on.'' On that basis, he is trying to put primary legislation on to the statute book to give him greater powers.

The Bill is not based on analysis of what happened, or on a proposition that an additional clause should be added specifically to cover future Ministers who want to use firebreak culls. It is in advance of scientific analysis. It is another example of how the Government are seeking to put draconian powers on to the statute book, not on the basis of veterinary or scientific analysis, but purely for political expediency, because it does not suit them to have their views and decisions challenged in a court of law. That is the people's right, which the House is here to uphold.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is just bonkers, frankly. Why on earth would the Government want to impose these measures against the advice of vets and scientists? The Bill is based on veterinary and scientific advice, and the experience of dealing with the foot and mouth disease outbreak. There have been several changes in policy because we learn from the experience as we discover more about the nature and development of the outbreak, which I must remind the hon. Lady is not yet over; there are still risks.

The purpose of the measures is to provide a range of options in disease control. That does not necessarily mean that we would want to use firebreak culls again. I do not know about that because it would depend on the circumstances and the advice. If vaccines became more efficient it would be better to use them as a firebreak rather than culling. Those are decisions for scientists and vets, and it is their advice on which Governments act—as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton well knows.

Photo of Patrick Hall Patrick Hall Labour, Bedford

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill does not propose to abolish the current right for a farmer to appeal to the district veterinary manager with regard to a proposed cull? In order for that appeal to have an effect, several matters regarding the local veterinary situation would have to be taken in account. Some of those matters would be material. Some are listed in the Bill. Would it not be helpful if he were to make available to the Committee the sorts of considerations that the district veterinary manager could take into account in making that appeal wholesome and real? Will he explain how he sees that appeal sitting comfortably with the proposals in the Bill?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I am sympathetic to the case he is making. When we come to the appeal procedures, he will have an opportunity to discuss those issues, which we shall talk about in greater detail.

My hon. Friend is correct to say that the right to judicial review will not be taken away, and that it is open to any individual who wants to take it. Such a review would not necessarily be after the event; it would depend on the circumstances. I should not want to mislead the Committee. I have always tried to be open and straightforward in my answers. I accept that, if a Bill is designed to speed up culling measures, more than likely, the animals will have been culled before judicial review of the procedure. However, that does not take away the right. If the judicial review were successful, it would bring about a rethink of the Government's policies. The appeal remains an important right that is not being taken away from individuals.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Will the Minister give his advice for the benefit of the Committee? In what, if any, circumstances would a judicial review be held before slaughter? Will he list the circumstances in which that would happen, because the presumption is the other way round?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is not the presumption that is the other way round; it is the practical application. There is a range of reasons, not all of which are relevant, why people have asked for judicial reviews, which are a matter for lawyers and not a matter for me. It depends on the circumstances and the speed of legal proceedings, on which I am not an expert. All I know is that it is not right to say that in every single circumstance a judicial review could not take place before the animals were slaughtered. However, I must be honest and say that as the Bill is designed to be quick about the slaughter, more than likely, the animals would be dead. I would not want to mislead anybody about that.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

The Minister is trying to say that there will be implicit reasonableness when the Bill is enacted. However, we are trying to make what he can and cannot do explicit. We will keep returning to the question of balance. If we accepted the notion that all existing and future generations will have implicit confidence in the Government whom they have elected, there would be no need for any legislation because the Government would always act favourably. On the basis that that is fairly unlikely, we need legislation that is explicit. To introduce legislation that is vastly implicit about everything that will happen in future is not helpful.

The Minister raised a point about public interest, which was interesting. From our experience of foot and mouth during the past few months, there was a change in the public perception of what the public interest is. On Second Reading, and in other debates, it has been said that, if the Government tried to proceed with a contiguous cull in the same way that they have done in the past, there would be considerable public opposition. A balance must be struck. The public interest, as perceived through issues such as the locality and the industry, is one thing, but I do not think that to introduce culls all over again, based on legislation that provides for the widest spread of sweeping powers, will command public support, and that is an important part of public interest.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is opening up the debate to wider issues, such as whether it could be regarded as in the public interest if the same scale of culling were repeated. That is a moot point, which the independent inquiries will be addressing. I return to my point that we should not take the Bill as a template for an automatic response by the Government in future. I probably agree with him that, given the overall effects and costs of culling on such a scale, people would not want to see it again. However, given the problem of the widespread nature of the disease, it is a moot point as to whether any other option could have been chosen in this outbreak. I suspect that there was no other option.

We must think ahead and have contingencies for all eventualities. I suspect that the suite of powers that covers all diseases and the range of options may be used in a more localised fashion than they have been in the recent outbreak. However, we cannot escape from the fact that if they are to be used, they must be quick and efficient. There is an inherent responsibility on the Government to act proportionately and to strike a fair balance between the rights of individuals and the public interest. I am not averse to the notion that we could have public guidelines about how to do that.

As I said this morning, I am willing to give further thought to one or two of the issues raised. There may be ways in which we can give reassurance, but not necessarily under the provisions of the Bill, because one cannot deal with every eventuality in that way. I accept that people want to know the thinking that would be applied in different scenarios and I am in favour of that being open and transparent. I am not against considering how that might be achieved during discussion on the Bill.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

The Minister reiterated the need to act proportionately and to strike a fair balance between the rights of Government and the rights of individuals. He also said earlier that there is no opportunity to argue—the record will show that. If there is no opportunity to argue, how can one possibly strike a fair balance between the rights of Government and those individuals?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentlemen suggests that my sentence ended abruptly at ``argue''. I suspect that I said something after that, perhaps about arguing about the principles, or whatever. Of course, there will be opportunities to appeal and for consultation on the criteria, and the judicial review has not been removed. The Government's application of the 1981 Act has been successful in general and most challenges have been resisted, although there will always be technicalities.

Unless the wording is clear--this applies to any legislation--it is an invitation to people who want to quibble about its interpretation and meaning. There is always someone who will do that. We want to bring the disease under control in the national interest and it is not reasonable to put into such measures wording that is so complex, bureaucratic and difficult that it becomes almost impossible to react to disease control. I do not believe that there is any disagreement in the Committee that if we intend to use the measures we must do so quickly and effectively.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

With reference to amendment No. 86, will the Minister confirm that foot and mouth is an airborne disease? It certainly was in 1967. I do not know of any holding that can be made secure from wildlife--unless the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) is right and it can be made airtight--which could be a contributory factor in the spread of foot and mouth. The amendment would be difficult to enforce if it were taken to mean what it says. Such holdings would be exempt from action.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his interpretation. The amendment would be almost impossible to operate on the basis of the wording. It would limit the slaughter provisions, significantly undermining their value in the prevention of disease spread. It is not right to say that there is no opportunity to argue against reasonable proportionate culling because there will be an opportunity to make reasonable representations. That is the position now and it will remain so under the Bill. We are not trying to take that away.

Amendment No. 2 would remove those animals that are suspected of carrying FMD from the categories of animals that are already immaterial. The amendment is unclear, because it simply subtracts from a negative without putting any positive requirements on the Minister instead.

Amendment No. 3 would deem immaterial to any decision to use wider slaughter powers animals that have been in contact with people who have been or are suspected of having been in contact with animals affected by foot and mouth. Making such animals immaterial would have little if any effect, and I do not understand the point.

The other amendments in this group are linked to the general theme. The issue is balance, as the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall rightly stated. Amendment No. 37 could introduce a delay in slaughter, which would have significant implications for disease control. That would be unacceptable. I come back to the point that any decision to cull would be proportionate, based on sound veterinary judgment, and explained to the farmer by the local veterinary inspector. The farmer would have the opportunity to ask the district veterinary manager to review the decision. One vet would go to the farm to explain why it was thought necessary to cull, and if the farmer did not accept that, he could then appeal to the district veterinary manager. That appeal process will be available.

We are trying to provide options for disease control, not policies cast in stone. Speed and flexibility are necessary in the application of any culling policy, should it be decided that that has a role to play in any future outbreak. I am not against the reasoning behind the amendments, particularly if animals can be kept in a biosecure environment. That would be very difficult, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) said, but there could be exemptions for them, as there were exemptions during the present outbreak. We can certainly think about that for the future. However, the amendments in this group would cripple the Bill and make it impossible to operate the provisions quickly and effectively.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 3:15 pm, 22nd November 2001

It is great pleasure, Mr. Conway, to see you in the Chair this afternoon. I wonder whether the Clerks told you that the first printing error was spotted by me and the second was spotted by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall. If a third is found, the Committee has decided that you will buy the person who finds it a bottle of champagne. Was that made clear to you? Ouch.

The debate has been interesting and wide ranging, and I suspect that the Minister has been rocked back on his heels a little by the contributions from this side of the Committee. He hasbeen at pains throughout to say that the matter is one of balance, that the Government have the right balance in the Bill and that it is essential that the extra sweeping powers should be introduced just in case. I have great difficulty with that position because I believe that the Bill is too one-sided.

The Minister said that the first vet who inspects the farm and the stock can make reasonable representations about the risk assessment and that the farmer can then appeal to the district veterinary manager. However, the farmer has nowhere to go after that. The decision is made by a member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, albeit a veterinary surgeon, and no meaningful appeal is available. I do not believe that many farmers want to stop slaughter when they know that a cull would stop the disease spreading. They would not want to stand in the Ministry's way. However, there are occasions when they would, and we discussed examples of that earlier, so I shall not repeat them.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

This is a point that we might slide past, but it is at the core of some of the arguments. There are people who think of foot and mouth as an unimportant disease--this has been put to me personally--and would allow it to pass through their herd or flock. What action is both fair and reasonable in such circumstances?

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I do not question the integrity of the hon. Gentleman, but that must be a unique case. Never has a farmer expressed such a view to me. Labour Members may have had that experience; that is fair do's. However, the point is that there must be a reasonable right of appeal. It may have to be quick, but it should not be summary justice.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I do not see why a system could not be arrived at, but I am not a lawyer and I may need to be rescued by one of my hon. Friends. If the Government provided for a meaningful appeal within, say, 12 hours, why could not special courts sit or special arrangements be made so that farmers and others who have legitimate reasons to stand against a decision--

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

What puzzles me—I am thinking aloud—about the insistence on going to court is the idea that courts are somehow better than vets. Generally, the legal profession will listen to the veterinary argument, which influences them a great deal. There has not been much evidence of courts overturning the views of the vets working on behalf of the Department. An appeal process dealing with local issues and local circumstances, based on veterinary advice, is surely better than dragging everything through the courts, which does not guarantee that individuals will get the desired outcome.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

No indeed, but to look at the number of cases that have gone to court, and the number of cases that the Ministers' Department has withdrawn, is to open a can of worms.

The Minister's reassurances have been cold comfort to most people. The way in which local vets react will set the tone of the policy to be implemented. Most people want the whole system to be much more transparent. The Minister said that the powers in the Bill might not need to be used. That reinforces our earlier point that it would have been better for the Government not to have rushed into legislation in a headstrong way, but to have waited for the reports and recommendations of their inquiries. We would then have known that legislation was being introduced with the facts before us.

The amendments, to which many hon. Members have spoken, list the several material reasons for resisting this part of the Bill. The wide-sweeping powers will be a hostage to fortune in the future and are at the discretion of a future Minister. We need more clarity and transparency of the Government's aims. We cannot go along with the Minister's line at this stage, and we shall press the amendments to a vote.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

We have had an interesting, informative debate. We divide on what is implicit and explicit, and the protections that we feel are needed.

We have highlighted the fact that, if decisions are to be made locally, farm by farm—such local decision-making was often lacking in the past—we will rely on local independent vets and veterinary managers. I foresee some problems with the different interpretations of wide-ranging legislation that might exist in different places. Any subsequent judicial review might quote precedents from places up and down the country.

An argument against the Minister's remarks that the appeals will be fair—we shall discuss it again later—is that there is no real right of representation. Farmers will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage in trying to pursue their cases without representation or support. Overall, the differences and the seriousness of the issues are such that we cannot go along with the current wording, so I am pleased that the amendments are being pressed to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 3 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 1 - FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I beg to move amendment No. 22, in page 1, line 20, at end insert—

``(1B)In applying sub paragraph (1A)(c) above, there must be provision for the disposal of the carcasses within 48 hours of slaughter or in accordance with the requirements of the National Contingency Plan.''

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

With this is will be convenient to take amendment No. 23, in page 2, line 4, after `of,' insert `infectious'.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I shall begin by painting a nightmare scenario. Let us imagine that in a few years time—one day, perhaps—I am the Minister—[Interruption.] It gets worse: there is an outbreak of foot and mouth in Scunthorpe. ``What should I do?'' I ask, holding up my hands up in despair to my civil servants. ``Oh, don't worry, Mr. Wiggin'' they reply, ``You can slaughter just about everything.'' I say, ``Oh, thank you very much. I remember when that Bill was passed—what luck! Is there anything else I can do?'' They say, ``It would be a mistake to hesitate when speed is so important in handling this type of outbreak.'' And I reply, ``Of course, it would. Start killing at once.''

For a balance of rights and compassion to be struck, we must build in brakes and a method of slowing down the decision-making process so that someone who has not been here today would not react in the way that I might by beginning to cull immediately. The reason why the two amendments are so important is that they give the Minister the opportunity to pause for thought and consider his options besides culling, such as vaccination. We need to see more amendments that provide for the option of vaccination, which was one of the Minister's considerations when he drafted the Bill. Labour Members will have been looking forward to the opportunity to vaccinate, so that we may not need to begin the culling process at all.

I am sure we all remember that the foot and mouth crisis got worse and worse until the Army was brought in, which is why the 48-hour window in the amendment is crucial. Unless we take steps, such as those in the amendment, we will again see lorries dripping with blood and gore trundling down country lanes, transporting carcases and spreading the disease. If we can amend the Bill so that that scenario is never on our televisions in future, we shall have done our job well. None of us enjoyed seeing huge numbers of carcases put in landfill sites, and we all felt horror at the sight of great JCB machines dropping dead cows into holes and the subsequent burning carcases. In Bromyard in my constituency, many residents complained about the smell of burning flesh.

Anything that we can do to give the Minister pause for thought before beginning a cull of such magnitude again is worthy of inclusion in the Bill. In Winferton in my constituency, carcases lay rotting in the farmyard for nine days. Earlier, the Minister and I crossed swords on the spread of the virus, and I was grateful for his words of wisdom about the fact that the virus ceases to be spread provided that no bone marrow is present once the animal is dead. However, it is possible for carcases in which bone marrow is present to be nibbled at by foxes and crows and for the disease to spread.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that carcases should be disposed of within 48 hours of slaughter or that there should be a plan on the disposal of carcases in 48 hours?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

The most important thing is that slaughter does not begin unless the carcases can be disposed of in 48 hours, or a comprehensive plan can be put together. There must not be a motorway of time.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

There are many lessons to be learned from the outbreak of foot and mouth during the spring and summer, but we know that the quickest way to eradicate the disease is early slaughter. The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that there should not be slaughter unless carcases can be disposed of within 48 hours. We all regretted the build-up of carcases lying around for nine days, but we were aiming for as quick a slaughter as possible from the time of either diagnosis or the start of the contiguous cull—within either 24 or 48 hours. I am concerned that his slightly different proposal would delay slaughter and therefore might aid spread of the disease. Can he clarify that?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing that matter to the forefront of the argument, because that is exactly what we are not talking about.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

It is what the hon. Gentleman just said.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Well, I appreciate that, so I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify.

When the current outbreak began, culling was the only option. Technology has moved on considerably since then. It is now possible to blood-test almost on farm and have the results immediately. The Bill will not be fundamental to the complete eradication of the disease at the moment—it is in abeyance now. In the future, we must use the technology available, as it comes out, and not react, as the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ) said, by culling immediately. That is what I am getting at.

If we stick exactly to the Bill as worded, we will have to cull whether or not the technology to vaccinate exists. Not to do so would be to fail to take advantage of the legitimate process that has been made available, and that might not be the speediest and most effective way of dealing with the disease. However, we want to build in an amendment that allows the Minister to think first before culling—the Bill is fundamentally about thinking. If there is an opportunity to explore vaccination, it does not have to take 48 hours or even half an hour. But if we do not allow that to be part of the thinking process, we will not have done our job.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

The hon. Gentleman suggests that there may be other methods of eradicating the disease. Culling has always been the policy here and elsewhere. Does he agree that considering vaccination moves us on to a completely different argument, because the country would lose its disease-free status? Vaccination does not stop the disease; it only masks it and allows it to carry on.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

It is vital that we clarify the point. I agree that the value of our export market is a factor and that, historically, culling has worked. However, it has not worked especially well. Five million animals is not a small number; it is an horrendous statistic. Eradication of the disease worked considerably better in Holland, where they did vaccinate. It is wrong simply to say, ``Culling works, so it is what we must do and there is no alternative.'' That is definitely not the case, as the Dutch case shows.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall pick him up on that matter and then go on to the point that I wanted to raise.

The Dutch taught us something about vaccination. There were particular reasons why they vaccinated, but after independent, careful consideration, they subsequently decided to cull. The vaccination was, in a sense, irrelevant. It was a firebreak.

My main point is to ask the hon. Gentleman to define what he means by a national contingency plan, because I am confused about it. The recent crisis was a series of localised outbreaks rather than one national outbreak.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Let me deal first with the Dutch situation. Isolating the case and following that by vaccination and then by slaughter struck me as a more effective and humane way in which to deal with this kind of outbreak. That method was impossible in this country because of the widespread nature of the viral outbreaks. However, that does not mean that we should not explore the Dutch method in future.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Does my hon. Friend recall the big conference in Downing street at which, we are reliably informed, the Government had decided to go down the vaccination route? Even Lord Haskins, who advises the Government on agricultural matters in another place, said that as far as he was concerned they were going to go out and vaccinate. That was stopped because of meat exports and the National Farmers Union, which did not agree with the policy. Thus the Government were about to introduce a policy of vaccination and then backed away from it. They are sponsoring a conference in Belgium next week, but they do not have a policy if the situation arose again.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, but I should like to return to the national contingency plan, which is something that every Government have on every contingency. The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions explained the position on Railtrack by stating that his contingency plan was in place in August. As a new and trusting Member, I am sure that the Government have a contingency plan for any future outbreak of foot and mouth. A fortnight ago at Prime Minister's Question Time, the Deputy Prime Minister was at great pains to point out that the Government are the Government, and the Opposition do not have to answer the questions. He took a great deal of trouble to explain the size of the Government's election victory. On that basis, I do not have to explain the national contingency plan. Hopefully, one day I shall be elected as a Government Member. [Interruption.] Unlike my predecessor, I shall not change sides.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

Do I take it that the hon. Gentleman will be here tomorrow to support the Age Equality Commission Bill to ensure that he will not be moved out because of his age?

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is far too young.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I am more likely to be culled.

Every effort was made to cull our way back into our valuable export market. The amendment would mean that we could cut down on television images of dead cows and sheep. We could help our market rather than knocking it, which would help us sell our meat abroad. Nobody who was hoping to sell food abroad welcomed the horrendous sights on the television. I wonder whether the Northumberland report is propping open a door somewhere in a Ministry.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Tremendous. The Northumberland report is a good example of how times change, and many of my constituents have told me that it was a shame that the Government did not follow its recommendations. That the Minister reads it on the train every day is a good example of why we must make sure that we build into our legislation the opportunity to move forward as technology changes, which brings me back to considering vaccination before thinking about culling.

I hope that the Committee will vote to support the amendment, which would change the tone of the Bill. It would introduce an element of compassion, but would still allow the speedy response required to beat the disease. It would give the Minister more options and it would reflect what people want: the knowledge that he has the opportunity to think before he acts. Most important of all, the vile images that we saw on our television screens, the devastation caused by a mass cull, the misery of farmers who watched their stock being slaughtered and the horrendous implications for our tourism industry might not be repeated. If we do not have to start killing from the moment disease breaks out, we might see a change for the better in the countryside.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 3:45 pm, 22nd November 2001

Amendments Nos. 22 and 23, which seek to address errors and omissions resulting from what I am sure was an oversight on the Government's part, are in fact quite helpful to the Government. All of us, and certainly those in my constituency, experienced the horror of slaughtered animals that were not disposed of for a very long time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster pointed out, if the amendments are accepted, veterinarians will be able to slaughter only if they have the wherewithal to dispose of carcases within 48 hours. That is not only reasonable but highly desirable, and I would hope that quick disposal within a reasonable time limit of 48 hours was an aim that the Government shared. Indeed, they could have included such a provision in the Bill, but they failed to do so.

One assumes that the national contingency plan has picked up on the problems of delayed disposal and disposal options. It appears that the Government might advocate a policy of vaccination in the near future, and amendment No. 23 offers the further option of vaccination where there is delay beyond 48 hours. That is wholly sensible, and the Government should consider the proposal very carefully.

Earlier—I am sorry that you were not here at the time, Mr. Conway—I promised the Committee that from time to time I would dip into that well-known book ``Servants of the People'', by Mr. Andrew Rawnsley. I want to remind the Committee of the conditions in which Phoenix the calf appeared on our television screens.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

It is up to the Minister to correct it if necessary, and if it is wrong I shall write to Mr. Rawnsley. [Laughter.] This is nothing to laugh at—it is a very sad story. According to Mr. Rawnsley:

``The slaughtermen arrived to kill her mother and the rest of the cattle on a Devon farm five days after Phoenix was born. The carcasses were left behind closed doors pending disposal, a scene typical across the country. Five days later, the corpses by then putrefying, more men from the ministry arrived to spray the shed with disinfectant.''

Note that they did not remove the carcases; they simply sprayed them with disinfectant. Mr. Rawnsley continues:

``Amidst the stinking carnage, Phoenix rose from her mother's side and walked towards them, mooing.''

The rest is history, as they say.

The point is that that was not an untypical scene on many Devon farms. As the Minister will know, not all the animals were behind closed doors. We had the unedifying sight, and risk, of animals lying in open fields for longer than five days. The Government will want to deal with the issue of disposal immediately after slaughter, and I hope that the national contingency plan will explain how the Government intend to do so. These are not easy options. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster mentioned the problem of carcases going into landfill, and it would be interesting to know whether the Government have identified sites other than landfill in which to bury carcases.

In the Mercer report's preliminary conclusions, Devon county council expressed great concern about large-scale burials and using large-scale pyres. The report states:

``We find that large-scale pyres should never be used again''.

I should have hoped that the Government took that into account before legislating. Presumably it is covered by the national contingency plan. However, whatever their preferred options and whatever is in the contingency plan, including the option of vaccination, there may well be a delay in disposal.

The amendments contain pragmatic proposals, and I hope that the Minister will consider accepting them in the spirit in which they were tabled. He should recognise that, if there are no guarantees in relation to widespread culling—for which he is taking powers—practical measures to dispose of animals must automatically follow if we are not to go through the same experience again.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

Does the hon. Lady support Blue Circle Cement's proposal that instead of using its chipped tyres as an alternative fuel it should use carcasses? I assume that the fact that they are burned at 1,400 deg would overcome local residents' concerns.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

That may be a good suggestion, but I am not in a position to judge. That sort of issue would be raised in the results of a proper inquiry, and we could then make a valid decision. If there had been a proper inquiry or the Minister's own inquiry had reported before the Bill was introduced, we would have had a much better view of what is and what is not an acceptable way to proceed next time. At the heart of one of the complaints about the Bill is the fact that it was introduced before such an analysis had been properly made and the conclusions put into the public domain. This is a premature Bill, and the hon. Lady's example illustrates that.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

The Bill gives so many powers to the Minister and his Department that I am prone to support any amendment that would give them responsibilities and duties. If the thread running through amendment No. 22 is that the Minister has a duty or responsibility to dispose of carcasses within 48 hours, I would support that, although I cannot follow why it does not apply to new sub-paragraphs (1A)(a), (b) and (d) as well as (1A)(c). The disposal of carcases was one of the key issues that led to so much dissatisfaction during the outbreak.

Perhaps amendment No. 22 could have stipulated disposal within 48 hours or in accordance with the national contingency plan, whichever is the shorter. The national contingency plan caused many thousands of carcases, which may or may not have been infected, to be transported through my constituency and buried on top of a mountain, leading to the pollution of local inhabitants' water courses and certain rivers that are important for biodiversity. However, I understand that the national contingency plan is now a devolved matter and we will be moving towards a local contingency plan, so those problems will be eliminated.

Amendment No. 22 refers to the disposal of carcases within 48 hours and amendment No. 23 refers to slaughter within 48 hours. Whether we adopt a culling policy or a vaccinating policy for eliminating the disease, it must be done as quickly as possible. We should not delay if we decide on vaccination for animals that have been in contact with the disease or with other animals that have the disease, because that would mean that immunity would not have enough time to work and animals would display symptoms of the disease before the vaccination process was complete.

Although I can support certain elements of the two amendments, I cannot support the thinking that runs through them.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It has been an interesting debate, and important issues have been raised about vaccination and quick disposal. I do not have any problem with the principles that have been raised, and the issues must be addressed. However, I do not think that we need to do that in the Bill, and it would make us, yet again, a hostage to fortune.

The hon. Member for Leominster gave us a nightmare scenario—indeed it was. However, anyone who holds a ministerial position has trusty civil servants at their side to advise them on what they can or cannot do in relation to proportionality, the law, and the other frameworks within which we have to operate. The hon. Gentleman must bear that in mind.

Slaughter is the most effective way of stopping virus production, for the reasons that I gave. As soon as the animal is dead, it stops producing the virus. The spread from the carcase is limited by the movement of infective materials. There can be scavenging, and the disease can be spread by the leaking of body fluids. That is why the Department's guidelines say that as soon as the animals have been slaughtered, they must be sprayed with a citric acid solution, which kills the virus and makes the carcases unattractive to predators. They are put off if carcases have been soaked in disinfectant. There are also guidelines on covering the carcases to keep predators off.

Ideally, we want to remove carcases as quickly as possible, but we must consider reality when facing an epidemic on the scale of the one that we have just had. There were practical problems such as getting enough leak-proof lorries and getting them on site. In parts of Devon, even once those lorries had been obtained, they would not go down the lanes because they were too big. Other vehicles had to be used there, and secure transfer stations had to be found, where there were, of course, disease risks. Such practical problems mean that an absolute commitment to a 48-hour target cannot be given. I do not dispute that that target is desirable. Of course we want to get the carcases removed as quickly as possible.

The amendment would give individuals the right to go for vaccination if the slaughter could not be effected in 48 hours. Again, that target is desirable but cannot always be guaranteed. The individual would have the right to demand vaccination, which might take place only on their farm, notwithstanding the interests of their neighbours or the fact that EU approval is needed to use vaccination. Someone using vaccination must also think carefully about how to apply it. At least 80 per cent. coverage of the area is needed to make it effective. Vaccination is not appropriate in all circumstances. When we discussed the contingency plan for vaccinating pig units, the practical difficulties, given the constant production of piglets and their movement from one unit to another—because of the nature of the pig pyramids—were horrendous.

I am not saying that some of those practical problems cannot be overcome. They will be dealt with in inquiries and in future contingency plans. The role of vaccination is serious, but not simple. Sometimes people think that it would solve all the problems of foot and mouth disease, but I regret to say that it would not. Vaccination is appropriate only in certain circumstances.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk 4:00 pm, 22nd November 2001

The Minister said that he believed that the practical problems could be overcome. By enshrining the principle of doing things within 48 hours in the Bill, does not the amendment encourage the Government to focus on delivering slaughter in a reasonable time? Were not carcases left lying in fields for nine days and, in some parts of the country, longer because they legally could be?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is true, but although I am all for encouragement, I am against being paralysed, and that would be the effect of the amendments. Also, as I have said, one of them is illegal and could not be applied.

I am not saying that we should rule out speedy disposal and vaccination options. As I have said, the Bill does not preclude any particular approach; in fact, it strengthens powers for vaccination. We have the power to vaccinate now, subject to EU approval, but the Bill will strengthen any future vaccination or serology programmes. There is a range of measures, which I strongly commend to the Committee.

Phoenix the calf will be a great story in its own right. Far be it from me to offend Mr. Rawnsley, who I realise is a much greater threat than the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton in terms of this issue. However, although I accept that one cannot always believe what one reads in the newspapers, according to one report the owners of the farm disputed that Phoenix the calf was found in the pile of dead animals. They said that Phoenix was found wandering around and that it was a mystery how it had survived. Mystery or not, those were the circumstances of that particular case.

Vaccination and disposal are important issues. I take the points that have been made by Opposition Members. We need to address them, but we cannot do so through these amendments because they are technically flawed and would cripple the Bill.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I was amused by the Minister's saying that Phoenix the calf is no mystery. Nor was there any mystery at the timing of the press release that hit the 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock news.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Does my hon. Friend recall that such was the importance of Phoenix the calf that its being saved was announced by the Prime Minister in person?

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Oh my goodness. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that important information. We all recognise that news management and touchy, feely stories are the order of the day before a general election, and certainly for the Prime Minister. However, I must move on to more serious things.

The Government would have benefited from the recommendations of their in-house—and perhaps other—reports. They would have given the Government, and those of us in Committee, a lot more information than we have at present.

Although we in Cheshire had foot and mouth, it was nowhere near as bad as in Cumbria and Devon. I shall never forget the pictures of carcases lying in the fields for days on end. I know the uplands well, and I am sure that the Minister does too. There were so many carcases at the front of the farmhouse yard that the children had to get to school by climbing through the windows at the back. That was an appalling sight that we hope we shall never see again.

The Minister said that contingency plans were in place, but it is clear that the outbreak was considerably larger than was ever envisaged. I wonder what improvements and recommendations he will make for the removal of carcases in the event of another outbreak. It is well worth thinking about that now, because once an outbreak starts it is far too late. In 1967, stock were buried on farm with quicklime, and it was all done and dusted within three days. I accept that the recent outbreak was different. The Environment Agency put its views forward, there was a very high water table, and there were many other factors—

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Yes, and in the uplands there is nowhere to bury in any case, so the carcases had to be disposed of in other ways such as in pits. I must admit that, on my recent visit to Cumbria, virtually everyone who was connected in any way with the outbreak said that they thanked God the day the Army arrived because it gave order to what was complete and utter chaos and did an exceptionally good job.

My constituents were concerned about the wagons running through Cheshire to the incineration plant. The wagons were supposed to be sealed—at the time, we were assured of that by Ministers—but they were not, and dripped with blood and other substances everywhere.

In respect of the national contingency plan and the requirements that should be placed on it, there should be an objective to dispose of carcases in 48 hours. In this day and age, it is not acceptable to see what we saw during the outbreak ever again. It is essential that measures be undertaken to ensure that we do not. Amendment No. 22 should be considered and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster will press it.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

Disposal is one of the most important aspects. I accept the Minister's comments about the ability to meet his targets of 24 hours or 48 hours. Following the outbreak, there are now large burial pits, some of which have not been used. Those that are empty are costing a considerable amount of money to maintain and are causing much grief to a significant number of people living nearby.

Mention has been made of what happened in Holland. There, ring vaccination and then cull were used to ensure that disposal of carcases was commensurate with the ability to dispose. That may be a way forward, although it is not explicitly stated in the amendments. Perhaps the thrust of the amendments is to achieve a vaccination, then cull, commensurate with ability to dispose. On the environmental impact of burial, are the Government considering, in local or national contingency plans, the operation of more localised rendering plants? I think that most people would prefer disposal through rendering.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government are reviewing the provision of rendering because it is, without doubt, the best method of disposal. The problem is that it is a capital intensive industry, and it is difficult to maintain spare capacity which may or may not be used—who would pay for it? It is expensive and cannot immediately be put in place.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many local farmers were concerned that local rendering plants in communities were being used for potentially infected animals?

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

Yes, I am. Many were concerned about being asked to render animals from far away that were not in their locality. I am talking about plans for more localised operation. Is any study being undertaken into the cost of care and maintenance of rendering capacity? There may be a capital cost attached to that, but the cost of digging burial pits seems to be astronomic. The cost of maintaining empty pits is also enormous—I am not sure why it costs so much to keep them clear. We need a clear cost-benefit analysis of the maintenance of pits for use in any future outbreaks. Using money more constructively on rendering operations and selective vaccination and cull may make for a coherent policy that provides the benefits of quick disposal after slaughter, rendering rather than burial and better value for money for the whole process.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have contributed so constructively to the discussion. It was particularly useful to hear the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire suggest that the amendment should apply to sub-paragraph (1A)(b) and (c). That was a tremendous suggestion and I am grateful for it.

The suggestion that carcases could be disposed of by Blue Circle Cement was also interesting. However, the germ of the amendment concerns the 48 hours in which to dispose of carcases, the key point being that disposal should be commensurate with slaughter. If that is not possible, we should move to vaccination. Although my attempts at amending the Bill may have been a little amateur, I took a germ of hope from the Minister's kind response to my first couple of points. I was thinking that I should perhaps take the amendment away and have another go, but I could not possibly do that because it is fundamental to how we all live our lives, how we face our farmers and how our export market is seen internationally. We must grasp the first opportunity to show that we are compassionate, that in legislation there must be hope, and that we recognise that the mass cull must never happen again. I am convinced that we should take the earliest opportunity to include vaccination in the legislation.

Labour Members may be thinking furtively that they would like to vote against my amendment, but I am sure that they will think twice about that; I certainly hope so. When they go to bed at night, perhaps after eating an imported lamb sandwich, and cannot sleep, they may count sheep jumping over a gate, but when they remember that they voted against the opportunity for vaccination, they will count sheep dripping in gore and being loaded into the back of a lorry. Nobody would want to live with that and nobody would want to send themselves into a nightmare sleep. That brings be back to my sweet dreams of one day being a Minister with responsibility for agriculture. I urge Labour Members to support my amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Division number 4 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 1 - FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Diana Organ: I beg to move amendment No. 54, in page 1, line 20, at end insert:

`(3A)After sub-paragraph (1) insert—

``(1A)The Minister may not cause to be slaughtered any animal kept as a pet or in an animal sanctuary or for other non-commercial purposes—

(a) under sub-paragraph (1)(b) above on the ground that it has been exposed to the infection of foot and mouth disease, or

(b) under sub-paragraph (1)(c) aboveunless the Minister reasonably believes, on the basis of a veterinary risk assessment, that the animal is at significant risk of having been affected with foot and mouth disease.''.'.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

With this is will be convenient to take new clause 1--Pet animals—

``In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 34.

`34A Pet animals

Where it can be shown that a pet animal has been in contact with an animal affected by foot-and-mouth, it shall not be slaughtered until the result of a blood test for the disease is known'.''.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean 4:15 pm, 22nd November 2001

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud raised a point of order this morning to have his name added to the amendment. It is a simple amendment and would exempt a particular group of animal owners.

The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 was the biggest the world has ever seen. There was a war against the disease, but it was carried out against animals in the commercial livestock sector. We waged that war to maintain the productivity rate of those animals and for those animals to be in good health. The policy against foot and mouth has always been the cull to maintain the disease-free status that is so important for the export of our meat. Speed was of the essence in that policy. However, one part of it, the contiguous cull, caused great concern, indeed distress, to many of my constituents who fall within the wording of the amendment—that is, those who keep animals as pets, in animal sanctuaries or for non-commercial purposes. The Minister said that the contiguous cull was successful—indeed it was, in terms of beating the disease—but suggested that it might have been too high a price to pay in some areas and that there may have to be a debate about other options to use in the war against this dreadful disease.

The Forest of Dean suffered a dreadful outbreak in which there were 47 confirmed cases. Two factors had an impact on the number of people going to appeal against the contiguous cull. First, the Forest of Dean is a statutory forest that is considered as one premise for the purposes of the contiguous cull. Within its area there are villages and other settlements, and it surrounds about three quarters of the area of the district of the Forest of Dean. That meant that when some of the sheep that roam freely were discovered to have foot and mouth, the infected premise became contiguous to the whole district. The model produced by Professor Anderson stated that there may be an impact on four or five farms around an infected premise. In our case, it was impossible not to be included in the contiguous cull. All sorts of people were affected, including virtually every smallholder, farmer and cottage gardener. That would not happen in other landscapes with livestock.

Secondly, in the Forest of Dean there is a tradition of keeping farm animals as pets. For example, in the mining community there is a long tradition, going back about 150 years, of keeping a pig at the bottom of the yard.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

As the hon. Lady says, it was slaughtered, because people needed to eat it. However, while it lived in the garden the children played with it and considered it a pet. There is a tradition of keeping the odd pot-bellied pig. Indeed, until foot and mouth broke out, Dean heritage museum kept a pet pig in a sty.

There is also a tradition of keeping sheep as pets. Many people in the Forest of Dean have an apple orchard, and keep one, two, three or four sheep there. They are companions, not commercial livestock animals.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

I have tremendous sympathy with what the hon. Lady is trying to do, but is there not a problem of definition in terms of whether it is normal for most people ultimately to eat their pets?

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

I am clear about that. I have no intention of ever eating my cat. I love my cat; it is my companion. Similarly, these animals are companions to the people who keep them, not part of a production line or livestock. They will never sell them on commercially, nor would they want to slaughter them. They want them to go happily to the orchard in the sky, passing from this pasture to the next. One can make a clear distinction between farm animals that are kept as pets and those that are kept by smallholders for commercial purposes or to slaughter for food. Many people in the Forest of Dean are concerned about the Bill, so much so that public meetings have been held.

I am pleased that we have clarified some of the issues this morning. One of my constituents, Pat Jacobson, wrote to tell me that at the public meeting held on 13 November, Barbara Jordan and Stephen Alexander, QC made it clear that the Bill included the slaughter of dogs and cats. I am pleased to say that we have cleared up that point this morning. People such as myself who keep a cat need not fear the Minister's powers.

We have traditionally kept animals in the Forest of Dean. Even the ex-chief constable of Gloucestershire, Tony Butler, rang me in the middle of the foot and mouth crisis because he keeps three goats. They are his pets and he cares for them, cherishes and loves them. He would not be considered to be a farmer or even a smallholder. The tradition is so deep that the occupants of the Miners Arms at Sling keep a horse in a paddock. In recent years they have also kept a cow there. The cow was a pet, and it behaved like the horse—indeed, it believed it was a horse. Until the foot and mouth outbreak, it gambolled around like a horse; then it was unfortunately slaughtered.

Many people in my constituency rightly objected to that. There were 16 people who were classified as farmers, but they probably owned one pot-bellied pig. The other constituents who objected were those who keep animals in a sanctuary. For example, the Padfields keep 42 sheep and one pig. Many of those sheep have been rescued from their next-door neighbour, a farmer whose record on animal welfare is not good. Whenever a lamb is tossed over the hedge, Mrs. Padfield will scoop it up and care for it. Those lambs have grown to become healthy, if elderly, sheep. Her animals live in a sanctuary, and she cares for them deeply. Some of them are old and frail, and they would never leave her care or her property.

When the contiguous cull was introduced, nearly all the farmers, with the support of the National Farmers Union, wanted action to fight the outbreak because it affected their livelihood and commercial interests. However, with heavy hearts they agreed to co-operate with the contiguous cull. Those who had animals as companions and those who kept sanctuaries objected, and they had the right to do so. I am pleased that the Bill will not remove that right to object. They took great care and introduced severe biosecurity measures, but they still felt that they were placed under tremendous pressure, which is why I tabled the amendment. The pressure and stress on people with small animals was intolerable. MAFF officials pressured them, and it was a case of the little person against the giant of officialdom. I should not want them ever to go through that same stress and pressure again.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

The hon. Lady is making a strong case for her constituents. However, the same pressure and stress were on the shoulders of the farming community, which was also up against officialdom. It was equally bad for them, and I should like the hon. Lady to recognise that fact because no other Government Member has done so today.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

The hon. Lady misjudges us. Those of us with foot and mouth in our constituencies were well aware of the stress on the farming community and on other areas of the rural economy. The tourism industry suffered great stress during the foot and mouth crisis.

The difference that I am trying to point out—perhaps not very well—is that the members of the farming community who owned commercial livestock in my area, almost overwhelmingly, co-operated with the contiguous cull, albeit with a heavy heart, difficulties and distress, because they wanted the disease eradicated. The individuals to whom my amendment relates wanted to object because the animals are not their livelihood; they are companions, or in a sanctuary, so they are in a slightly different category. I take on board the fact that the farming community's distress was tremendous.

I know of one woman with a pot-bellied pig whose husband suffered a heart attack during the period because of distress over the animal. Some of us might find it unbelievable that anyone could be so attached to a pet. I think that they were subject to such distress because of a mixture of attachment to a companion and the fact of an official saying, ``We are doing this in the interests of animal health and animal disease eradication.''

I want to mention the group at Oaklands Park, a Camphill Village Trust, a self-sufficient community of craftspeople, carers and people with learning disabilities, who made an objection. I shall discuss them later.

We are talking about a small number of animals. Each individual that I have mentioned took great precautions and serious biosecurity measures, and was willing to vaccinate to protect animals that would never leave their premises. When tests were carried out because people objected, none were found positive for foot and mouth disease. If the animals had tested positively, I am sure that their owners would have been prepared to have them slaughtered, because they cared so much for their animals that they would not have wanted them to suffer with the disease.

I want to say a little more about how the two factors—the statutory forest and the contiguous cull—meant that those people, by comparison, lost rights. Oaklands Park, which I have just mentioned, does not use its livestock for commercial purposes. It is self-sufficient and raises its own animals, for example for milk. It uses sheep for wool for weaving. The community took great care and virtually isolated itself for months. It wanted to vaccinate, and should be included here because the animals would never be used in the commercial sector. Those people objected, and I believe that in a democracy they had a right to do so. I am pleased to hear that, should such a dreadful thing occur in the district again, they will still have such a right.

It is important to mention that those people were all aware of the need to take biosecurity measures and that they would have accepted a local veterinarian risk assessment. That saved their animals in the end. Not all offered them up for slaughter; some stood out until the bitter end. With local veterinary interpretation and a risk assessment and evaluation, many were able to keep their animals. It was recognised that they were not a risk simply because they had been caught up in the contiguous cull of the whole Forest of Dean.

Those people live in the wider community of the Forest of Dean. They were aware that farmers around them were suffering dreadfully, and did not want to spread the disease and cause their neighbours distress or loss of livelihood. They have a commitment to their neighbours and felt it important to take every measure to keep their animals healthy and ensure that they were not passing the disease on to other animals.

We must also take on board the fact that we are talking about a small number of animals, not herds or flocks, but one or two: a pot-bellied sheep or a cow in a field.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 4:30 pm, 22nd November 2001

The people from Oaklands Park sent me some information. Perhaps the hon. Lady will confirm that they have a herd of 60 dairy shorthorn cattle and a flock of 100 Wensleydale sheep, which is a few more than just a few pets.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

It is a few more, but those animals have been reared from within their owners' premises. The people of Oaklands Park have built up their flock and their herd but they are not using them in the commercial sector. They use the dairy herd for milk for their own cheese, yoghurt and milk, and the sheep for their weaving wool. They are not a livestock operation in the manner of a normal farm; they are a community that needs to be catered for, because their animals are almost companions.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

The Vietnamese pot-belly is a pig, not a sheep, but I am sure that that matters little to the people of the Forest of Dean, who obviously care about their pets very much. Approximately how many of the hon. Lady's other constituents are pet owners of that nature?

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

Although it is a widespread tradition, the numbers involved are relatively small—perhaps a maximum of two dozen. However, many were very concerned about what was happening to those people.

It is important that the amendment be included in the Bill. It is proportionate, fair and just, and it encompasses the treatment that we seek for a group of people who have been under tremendous stress. They feel that, in a way, their families have been invaded by officialdom.

I want to ensure that there will be an accompanying veterinary risk assessment, so that the disease does not spread to surrounding farms. It is important to save those much-loved animals from slaughter. Their owners should not have to resort to judicial review to protect them. Under the Bill as drafted, the animals would be slaughtered before a judicial review reached a judgment. The point is that, to the owners, the animal is not just any animal. Even though they might win the legal battle in a judicial review, the loss of a particular animal would be the problem. It would be small compensation to win in law when a much-loved animal had been lost. I therefore hope that the Minister will look favourably on the amendment.

Debate adjourned—[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes to Five o'clock, till Thursday 29 November at five minutes to Nine o'clock.