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Clause 2 - Extension of power to slaughter

Animal Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 29th November 2001.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster 2:30 pm, 29th November 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 12, line 4, after `of', insert `contagious'.

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

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 24, in page 2, line 4, after `of', insert `infectious'.

No. 87, in page 2, line 5, after `disease', insert--

`except where those animals have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement by any Government Department of an outbreak'.

No. 118, in page 2, line 5, after `disease', insert--

`following a full disease risk assessment'.

No. 4, in page 2, line 7, at end insert--

`(1A) An order under subsection (1)(a) above may in particular refer to the following diseases:

Foot-and-mouth diseaseSwine vesicular diseasePeste des petits ruminantsLumpy skin diseaseBluetongueAfrican horse sicknessClassical swine feverNewcastle diseaseVesicular stomatitisRinderpestContagious bovine pleuropneumoniaRift Valley feverSheep pox and goat poxAfrican swine feverHighly pathogenic avian influenza.'.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

This morning we heard the Minister explain how other amendments had not been eloquent enough to be worthy of his approval. How much more eloquent can they be than ``insert the word `contagious'''? I am pleased to speak on a very important improvement. Some may think that some amendments are not as helpful to the passage of the Bill as others. How much more helpful can we be than adding just one word?

It is important to point out at this stage that this part of the Bill refers to diseases other than foot and mouth. It is extraordinary for the Minister to find it necessary to slaughter animals that have a disease that is not contagious or infectious. Why would he want them slaughtered? Having thought a great deal about that, I wondered whether the cat-loving Minister, in the kindness of his heart, wished to put suffering animals out of their misery. Realistically, however, I do not believe that that is what is going on in this part of the Bill.

I also wondered whether he thought that there was a genetic reason for slaughtering animals, which is why he omitted the words `infectious' or `contagious' when he drafted the Bill. I know that we shall deal with transmissible spongiform encephalopathy later and discuss the different types of diseases that are transmissible. I also realise that that could not be the Minister's reason for omitting those words. It may be to do with the spread of genetically modified diseases. This morning, Radio 4 announced that evidence had been found that the spread of genetically modified maize pollen was considerably more extensive than first estimated. That is of great concern to my constituents, as there are several GM crop test sites near my constituency.

Then I thought that bovine TB might be the reason that we needed the amendment. Bovine TB can also be spread by badgers, so perhaps the words `infectious' and `contagious' have been missed out of the clause because the Minister plans to slaughter badgers. [Hon. Members: ``Oh, come on.''] It might not be such a bad idea. More legislation is written on badgers than on any other animal, including pandas and blue whales.

I have written to the Minister about the fact that, in my constituency, bovine tuberculosis appears in herds of cattle that could not have been in contact with other cattle because they are surrounded by crops. The only change has been the appearance of badgers. I shall not go on about badgers, because those who remember my father know that they were his obsession and that the Agriculture Select Committee had to consider badgers more than perhaps they should have done.

If it is not badgers, perhaps it is worms. I refer the Minister to the letter that I sent him some time ago about a poor constituent whose sheep were slaughtered in the cull. The run-off went into his worm pit and now he cannot sell his worms in case they have eaten the soil containing the virus and have become infected with foot and mouth. With this gentle nudge, I hope that the Minister will remember to reply to that letter. Why on earth would such vital words as ``contagious'' and ``infectious'' be missed out?

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend may not forgive me for dragging him back to the subject of badgers, but does he agree that it would be useful to hear in the Minister's response about the effect of the foot and mouth crisis on the badger cull? We read in Farmers Weekly that 90 out of the 3,000 herds involved in the Krebs badger culling trial have now been slaughtered. I believe that the trials, and the slaughter policy on badgers, are still on course, so it would be useful to know how that affects having results by 2004{**nrl**}05. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be useful?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Yes, that would be extremely useful and I am sure that the Minister has much to say about badgers, and we looking forward to hearing it.

Amendment No. 87 deals with animals that have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement, and it would be a useful addition to the Bill because it offers farmers and animal owners the carrot approach--the incentive to take action to protect their own stock. The carrot and stick approach would be useful in the Bill, but is missing.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman define ``indoors''?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

The key point that the hon. Gentleman seems to be getting at concerns intensive pig units.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Perhaps not yet. We are looking for an opportunity for people to take positive action to protect their animals. The important thing is not whether they are indoors or outdoors, but that they have been protected and action has been taken before the disease was announced. That would be a useful addition to the Bill.

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

Should not the words be, ``secure from any other wildlife''? Being indoors is completely irrelevant to any farm unit that is secure from wildlife.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

The hon. Gentleman is leading me down the garden path to say that it will make no difference where animals are kept. During the debate, we might find out whether one can make a building disease-proof. I certainly hope that the offices in Pirbright, where the tests are done, are disease-proof.

Not only farm animals are at risk; section 32(4)(a) of the Animal Health Act 1981 includes horses. The Minister was at pains to point out that only farm animals were in danger of being culled. Horses are not farm animals and I am sure that he recognises that, when dealing with a problem as thorny as the spread of disease other than foot and mouth, he would have needed a wider remit. That is why I am surprised that poultry were not covered. Foot and mouth does not affect poultry, but other diseases do, and that might have been a useful addendum. The Bill is beginning to widen and badgers, horses and other animals are beginning to appear on the Minister's menu for culling.

No one is perfect, and we are doing our best to improve the Bill. Labour Members may snigger, perhaps at the thought of their own imperfections or at the thought of mine, but the amendment, which would insert just one word--either ``contagious'' or ``infectious''--into the Bill, would considerably restrain the much wider powers that the clause gives the Minister. What is the point of culling animals that are not infectious or cannot pass on a disease unless it is genetic? I hope that the Minister will tell us why animals that are not infectious need to be culled. I have given the matter a great deal of thought and I can find no evidence of the Ministry proving conclusively that it knows precisely when animals are contagious or infectious. Indeed, this does not help them in that search.

This part of the Bill is wide and draconian, and I hope that the Minister will take on board the points that I have made about spreading the net wider. If we were considering the spread of disease other than foot and mouth, we would be considering diseases of which the Committee does not have a great deal of veterinary experience. Inclusion of the word ``contagious'' or ``infectious'' would be a positive step.

If that is not acceptable, including the phrase

``following a full disease risk assessment''

would ensure that we knew what we were talking about before culling. Given that the Minister may be doing something else in the future and although his intentions are undoubtedly positive, it might be useful to improve the clarity of the Bill for his successors. The Minister wanted transparency in the Bill and I hope that we shall get that transparency and clarity to show us which animals can and cannot be culled to prevent the spread of diseases other than foot and mouth.

I hope that the Minister will tell us what diseases would be covered by the provision, why they are not specified, why the words ``infectious'' or ``contagious'' would be such a disaster in the Bill and why he would want to cull animals that were not contagious.

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

I should like to speak to the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed). I thank the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) for his encouraging words about it. The amendment would require a disease risk assessment to consider whether a disease was infectious or contagious, where the animals were kept, how secure they were from wild animals and how near or far they were from other animals that might be susceptible to the infection. The words in amendment No. 118 cover all the issues that have been raised by the hon. Member for Leominster and I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I, too, shall be brief and supportive of the two contributions that have already been heard on this group of amendments. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the clarification that has been sought, because we need to know on what grounds he would take those powers to himself.

Two vital issues are at stake. First, slaughter should be made less of a blunt instrument to allow for exceptions where it is warranted, for example in respect of animals that have been neither in contact with, nor exposed to, the disease and are therefore unable to spread it.

Secondly, a full risk assessment should take place to help the Minister to decide whether a policy of slaughter is the best course of action. That raises questions about who should undertake the assessment and the right to appeal in cases where the policy is followed.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:45 pm, 29th November 2001

I accept that the amendments are well meaning, but they are unnecessary, partly because they can be dealt with under the guidelines on acting on these measures and partly for technical reasons.

The technical reasons relate to the comments of the hon. Member for Leominster. Amendment No. 12 would insert the word ``contagious''--that is, spread only via direct contact. We cannot accept that, because some animal diseases are not spread by direct contact--that is, they are not contagious. Two examples of that are African horse sickness and blue tongue, where the vector is biting insects. The amendment would restrict the number of diseases that can be dealt with under the Bill.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

The Minister's wording appears to be rather different from mine. The amendment does not say, ``due to contact'', but merely ``contagious''.

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

Yes, but the definition of ``contagious'' is ``due to contact'', or certainly ``due to local spread'', and some disease vectors are not spread in that way. Incidentally, I do not want to give the impression that African horse sickness and blue tongue necessitate the culling option.

The amendment is unacceptable because it would remove the opportunity for limited slaughter to remove reservoirs of infection if it was decided that that was an option. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this part of the Bill covers only foot and mouth disease. If its powers were to be extended to other diseases, it would have to be by the affirmative resolution procedure. That is a safeguard in that it gives Parliament an opportunity to scrutinise and debate any decisions before they are enforced.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

As the Minister knows, TB in cattle is a very serious problem, and it is spreading like wildfire up the west coast. Will he comment on how it could be contained--[Interruption.] It is a serious matter, and the amendments could have an impact on its control. Can the Minister give us the benefit of his wisdom?

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

Bovine TB is indeed a very serious disease, and we treat it as such. For example, we are implementing the Krebs trial. I shall say no more, Mr. Conway, because you would call me to order if I was diverted from concentrating on the Bill.

Amendment No. 87 would exempt animals from wider slaughter powers relating to diseases other than foot and mouth if they have been kept indoors since before the start of the outbreak. I understand the principle behind that, but the problem is that ``indoors'' could be very difficult to define. The consultation, and the guidelines and protocols that we will issue to our vets, will take into account the way in which animals are kept and the balance of risk. As has been said, risk assessment is perfectly reasonable, but we have not included such a provision in the Bill because there would be all sorts of wrangles about what is meant by ``indoors''.

We were somewhat surprised by the spread of disease to cattle that were still in sheds during the winter months. We thought that cattle in sheds would be secure from the disease, although it may have been spread by the movement of people. We need to examine such issues.

Under amendment No. 118, any decision to use the powers to prevent the spread of disease would need to be based on sound veterinary judgment. I agree entirely, but that principle is taken as read. We shall consult on the criteria so that farmers can understand why those decisions are taken. If the Bill were to include provisions such as a full disease risk assessment, it would be enormous. None the less, I understand and accept the principles behind the amendment.

Amendment No. 4 would limit the diseases to which powers could be extended. That would be very constraining and in many respects illogical, as the list does not include TSE or BSE. A key lesson from the Phillips inquiry was that contingency legislation should not be constrained by current circumstance. That we must try to think ahead is one principle behind the Bill. Indeed, the Department is following post-Phillips guidelines by preparing for all eventualities. The Bill does not specify diseases that would not be controlled through a slaughter policy, such as African horse sickness.

I appreciate the intention behind the amendment and I assure the Committee that we will take into account the principles that underpin it. Nevertheless, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I am grateful to the Minister for the useful information on bluetongue--it is perhaps an improvement on silver tongue, which I was rather hoping I might catch one day. [Laughter.]

I recognise that Committee members are working far more closely together in an effort to make constructive progress, but I still have grave reservations about this wide-ranging provision. I am grateful to the Minister for explaining his reservations, and for his answers to some of my questions. I am disappointed that he avoided badgers. None the less, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I beg to move amendment No. 5, page 2, line 6, after `compensation', insert `at full market value'.

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

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 25, in page 2, line 7, at end insert

`pursuant to section 36(3) of this Act.'.

No. 38, in page 2, line 14, at end insert--

`(2A) The Minister shall for animals slaughtered under this section pay compensation, which shall be the value of the animal immediately before it was slaughtered.'.

No. 39, in clause 4, page 2, line 39, leave out from `compensation' to end and insert--

`which shall be the value of the animal immediately before it was slaughtered.'.

No. 132, in schedule 2, page 19, line 27, leave out from `compensation' to end of line 28 and insert--

`to the full value of the animal immediately before slaughter'.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

The amendments relate to the important issue of compensation. Amendment No. 25 refers to the 1981 Act, section 36(3) of which states:

``The compensation payable under subsection (1) or subsection (2) above for anything seized shall be its value at the time of seizure.''

Amendments Nos. 5 and 38 reinforce that point. Amendment No. 5 would require that compensation was paid at full market value. Self-evidently, it would ensure that farmers' rights were protected and that orders could not limit compensation.

Amendment No. 38 would reinforce that point by inserting:

``The Minister shall for animals slaughtered under this section pay compensation, which shall be the value of the animal immediately before it was slaughtered.''

The important point is that full compensation should be paid. I would like reassurance from the Minister on those points.

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

I shall briefly add to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton).

EU Governments usually agree the matter of compensation. What discussions has the Minister had with the Commission and other EU partners about compensation levels? Will he outline why he felt it necessary to introduce compensation into the Bill in this way? He clearly has the right to pay compensation when animals are slaughtered. That is not being questioned, but the Bill defines how compensation may be paid in certain circumstances. What discussions has he had within the EU about compensation when there is an outbreak of foot and mouth? How does our compensation for foot and mouth compare with that of our EU partners, if I may use that phrase?

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

I shall take the last point first while it is still in my mind. Compensation arrangements vary among member states, and they vary in this country depending on the disease. I shall explain why in a moment. Although I do not know the details of every EU country, I know the Dutch details because I had a long discussion with the Dutch chief veterinary officer about Holland's experiences of foot and mouth disease control. The Dutch told us about their laws on compensation and how it relates to biosecurity. Their laws go much further than the measures in the Bill. In Holland, much of the compensation for foot and mouth comes from a levy on farmers, which means that the state does not pay 100 per cent.

As the hon. Member for Congleton rightly stated, the Bill will give us powers to pay compensation for any disease, and we can pay up to 100 per cent. of market value, which is appropriate in many cases. We discussed that issue with farmers' representatives such as the NFU, which does a good job of negotiating on behalf of its members.

The reason why 100 per cent. compensation is not specified in the Bill is that it acts as an incentive in the case of diseases such as classical swine fever. The current arrangement is that, where animals are affected, compensation is paid at 50 per cent.; where they are unaffected, it is paid at 100 per cent. It is important for people to report such a disease as quickly as possible to prevent its spread. The mechanism is designed to encourage early reporting, and there is a major incentive for farmers to report the disease before it spreads to their herd. Pigs that are not affected attract 100 per cent. compensation.

That is just one example. The Bill contains powers for 100 per cent. compensation, but there should be some flexibility to adjust compensation rates when that is felt appropriate, and to recognise the present regime. The amendments do not recognise that there are differences now.

There is nothing sinister here. In many cases, market value is not an unreasonable aspiration for farmers, but any responsible Government would want some flexibility to design a compensation scheme with an element of incentive.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 3:00 pm, 29th November 2001

I understand the Minister's argument about incentives, and I would generally support it. I am a little concerned that the Government's regulatory impact assessment associated with the Bill--I am afraid I cannot quote it because I gave the document to Hansard this morning--gives the impression that this measure is to save money. It cannot be for both reasons.

The Minister has made a sensible case for the incentivisation of compensation, but let us bear in mind that document. It is not made available to Committee members. I do not know how many of them have a copy, but such documents never form part of our general discussion in Committee. I always read them, because I find them fascinating. Perhaps I am a bit odd in that way. Will the Minister look at the wording of that document? It does give the impression that the motive is to save taxpayers' money.

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

I assure the hon. Lady that saving taxpayers' money is not the primary purpose. That, however, has to be a consideration; the money must be used in a reasonable, proportionate and justifiable way.

There is nothing sinister about the fact that the Bill does not specify 100 per cent. compensation. That does not necessarily mean that 100 per cent. compensation will not be paid. There may, however, be cases where we want some flexibility over the structure of a compensation scheme. I do not want the Committee to close that door.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

The Minister has been extremely helpful in responding to the valid points that were raised. He has gone out of his way to state, on more than one occasion, that 100 per cent. compensation or full market value could be paid, and that although under certain circumstances that may not happen, he hoped--if he did not quite say that, I, at least, hope--that those who had to lose their stock would be compensated in an appropriate manner. I would have liked him to go a little further, but he has been generous. He has said, ``Trust me; all will be well'', and on this occasion I think that we will give him the benefit of the doubt. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.