Too many sleepless nights—[Hon. Members: ''Oh.'']—have made me slow on my feet this morning. There is no question of ''oh'' or ''ah''; it is only work, I am afraid.
This is an extremely important part of the Bill, and some interesting points have been made in the debates on the amendments. The Minister has been patient and has made one or two small concessions, which are to be welcomed, and we look forward to seeing them written in tablets of stone on Report.
We began the debate with an amendment to ensure that farmers were not left uncertain for longer than 28 days after their stock had been slaughtered about the level of compensation that they would receive. We withdrew the amendment after the Minister's assurance that 28 days would be the maximum period, and we are grateful to him for that.
We moved on to the vexed question whether compensation should be paid fully from the word go, which would mean 100 per cent. compensation rather than 75 per cent. of full market value. Bearing in mind that the Minister and others have said that the number of farmers who did not implement good biosecurity measures was minimal, the presumption that farmers should receive only 75 per cent. compensation immediately, and then be judged by inspectors as to whether they would qualify for the further 25 per cent. to make up a full 100 per cent., was thoroughly debated. The disease risk assessment to ensure farmers' entitlement to the final 25 per cent. of compensation was also discussed. Valid points were made about ensuring that every farmer would understand what was required on that person's farm, and that that advice should be given by people, whom the Minister would appoint, other than the inspectors. However, that line of argument fell by the wayside.
It is essential that biosecurity plans are farm specific because different topographies mean that biosecurity risks can be greater in some areas than others. We argued that a disease risk assessment must take place within seven days of the Minister having reason to believe that such an assessment was necessary, and that it should occur at a convenient time when the
occupier could be present. We also pressed for independent veterinary surgeons or practitioners to be used in the process.
The farming community has had a terrible experience with the foot and mouth epidemic, and the Minister recognises that. As a result of the epidemic getting completely out of control, the measures that had to be undertaken to try to halt the disease have resulted in a grave lack of trust among the rural and farming communities towards the Government and the centralisation of the powers of government. A great deal of work must be done to put back the confidence and trust that have been devastated by events. The schedule, and the issues that were raised during the debates on it, has not achieved what is required in the present circumstances. Opposition Members and I believe that the schedule is regrettable, and I hope that we shall return to it on Report.
On schedule 1, we debated the key principles that underpin the Bill in relation to slaughter powers and compensation. I have undertaken to consult widely on those issues, and the Committee has seen the printed copy of my speaking notes on that matter. Those consultations will take place as soon as possible in the new year, and will provide an opportunity to address a range of issues that have been raised in Committee by Opposition and Government Members. We intend to involve people in public consultation and make the guidelines that we intend to bring forward—in particular, protocols relating to vets, slaughter policy and appeals policy—publicly available so that the process is open and transparent, and people can see exactly what is intended. The point of the Bill is to ensure that if culling forms part of future disease control measures, it must be done quickly and efficiently.
I should like to clarify a point about the 55 cases in North Yorkshire, a significant proportion of which later became infected premises, where the divisional veterinary manager upheld appeals. That was described as the Thirsk area because the Thirsk blue box area is used to describe that geographical location. To be clear on this point, there were not 55 cases in the Thirsk area; there were 55 cases in the North Yorkshire area. In the Thirsk area, 10 cases were upheld by the DVM, of which two later became infected premises. That 20 per cent. infection rate fits in with the North Yorkshire average of between 20 and 30 per cent. Although the infection rate was 20 per cent., that is still a significant figure in terms of the spread of a disease, which is another issue that we must take into account.
Motion made, and Question put, That this schedule be the First schedule to the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 6.