These are small but important amendments. Amendment No. 148 aims to assist owners and establish that those who have their sheep tested for scrapie should not have to meet the costs of any tests, bearing in mind that it would be a statutory scheme and not voluntary. Comments thus far suggest that most hon. Members support moves to hasten the eradication of scrapie in the national flock. However, concerns have been expressed, so we seek clarification on having provisions for the Minister to defray any of the keeper's costs for the identification and testing of sheep.
Under new section 36B, regulations can be made to genotype sheep and to keep a record of that. The new section also refers to electronic identification devices, which I assume are the boluses of which my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) spoke. There may be considerable costs, but if the Government and the Department introduce a national scheme, costs should be brought down to the minimum. Nevertheless, the Government should pay for them. I am glad that they will ensure that electronic identification devices are used because tagging is not an option and the new plastic ear tags for cattle have proved extremely difficult to use because they come out so easily. New boluses and technologies should make the scheme much cheaper to run.
New section 36B(2)(d) refers to requiring
''the issuing and keeping of certificates recording the genotypes of sheep.''
If one uses the new electronic devices, it should be possible to keep the resulting certification and paperwork to a minimum. The farming community are literally going under because of the amount of paperwork that must be dealt with. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when setting up the statutory scheme.
Amendment No. 43 seeks to omit sub-paragraphs (c) and (d) under the appeals structure and refers to the period after an appeal has been granted. The amendment would omit sub-paragraph (c), which requires the appellant to meet reasonable costs of carrying out further samples or tests, and sub-paragraph (d), which refers to the recovery of such costs. It is extraordinary that such a position arises only after a farmer has appealed to an assessor and the assessor has allowed the appeal and directed that a further test should be carried out on the sheep. It is fundamentally unjust that successful farmers should be penalised in such a way, so the two sub-paragraphs should be dropped from the Bill. To bear such costs is a disincentive to the farmer to carry on and I hope that the Minister will look on the amendments favourably.
I can give the hon. Lady an assurance on amendment No. 148. The initial sampling and identification of animals by inspectors will be paid for by the Department, as described under the national scrapie plan. The only activities that keepers will have to undertake will be the provision of assistance to inspectors. For example, they may have to round up sheep and retain records of the genotypes of sheep, but those activities are likely to incur minimal cost. We are not contemplating placing a large cost on the industry; the bulk of it will be borne by the Department.
On amendment No. 43, it is true that powers in the Bill could require appellants to meet the reasonable costs of activities connected with further genotyping samples and tests. In appeals of that kind, it is not unreasonable that the Department has the facility to recover some costs if it so chooses, bearing in mind that the initial work is paid for by the Department and the taxpayer.
They, and the certification, will be paid for by the farmer. The Minister said that the costs would be minimal. In the introduction of a national statutory scheme, can he give an assurance, given the Government's huge purchasing power, that the costs really will be minimal?
I certainly can. I believe that a large-scale electronic identification scheme will considerably reduce the costs of the electronic devices. I am a great
supporter of electronic identification, which brings the industry a range of benefits. There are various kinds of electronic device including the bolus, carried in the stomach, and electronic ear-tagging. We will want to consult with the industry on what it thinks is the most appropriate. I do not have a fixed view, but I would have thought that the stomach bolus is probably the best method.
I am grateful for the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend's question. It emphasises the importance of the amendment, because any industry that is asked what sort of tag it would like to put on its animals is bound to choose the most cost effective. Under the amendment, the Government would have a vested interest in ensuring that the cheapest option and the best option are one and the same. Otherwise, the cost will be borne by the industry. We must ensure that the industry not only has the best tag, but does not end up footing the Bill for the most expensive.
The amendments are minimal, but are intended to plead the case that farmers do not make excuses, but have reasons. I could not remove the word ''excuse'' without also taking out ''reasonable'' and putting in ''reason''. It is a small point, but farmers rightly believe that their reasons are sometimes strong—they pressed this point during the FMD outbreak—and based on local knowledge. They are not excuses, but reasons based on experience, knowledge and the things with which they have become familiar.
We should not perpetuate the idea that farmers are making excuses for what they are trying to do. I entirely accept that they would have to prove their reasons, but if we change the wording to ''reason'', it removes from the Bill the slight tone of treating farmers as if they are whingeing people, trying to make excuses rather than having sincere reasons for, perhaps, objecting, or putting forward their case.
The term ''reasonable excuse'' is used because it is a readily understood legal term. It is understood by the courts and is used to determine what is reasonable in the context of the particular circumstances of the charge before the court. The amendment would create confusion about the nature of events, because the provision of a ''reason'' does not necessarily mean a reason that is reasonable in the eyes of the court. The amendments would thus provide for
an uncertainty in the law. Although I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, they would confuse the issue because the existing terminology is understood.
I beg to move amendment No. 94, in page 18, leave out lines 1 to 3.
Again, this is a simple amendment. It would remove paragraph 4, which is frankly unnecessary and part of the big stick approach. The possibility that anyone could in any way be construed to be obstructing an inspector could have a very wide interpretation. For example, merely parking a car inconveniently could be construed as a direct attempt to obstruct. For that to be counted as an offence is a draconian measure too far. The previous paragraphs are perfectly adequate in terms of dealing with offences. It is the sort of catch-all provision that can sometimes be used inappropriately, and it adds nothing significant in terms of ensuring that the Bill is properly enacted and complied with. It is a paragraph too far, and I should like it to be removed.
The amendment has a read-across to article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which states:
''Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence . . . There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law''.
I suspect that the Minister will pray in aid that the public body or individual would be applying the law as it stood. However, our experience of the foot and mouth crisis provides clear examples of people whose homes were violated by people in authority in a manner that was in excess of what one would expect from such people. There were some extremely distressing situations. I do not deny that when people are emotionally upset they, too, can behave uncharacteristically. However, it happened once too often in the last outbreak for us not to be concerned about how it will be handled in future. If the authority of officials is increased through the Bill, and we see more of the same with their handling of such matters, many of them will be judged by the courts to be in breach of article 8 of the convention.
The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall was right to raise his concerns. We have heard nothing from the Minister about what lessons have been learned or what guidelines will be introduced on another occasion, nor about the whole way in which the matter was dealt with by people who must unfortunately be categorised as officials, although they were not necessarily all from one official body. We saw examples on our television screens of the problems that arose, and I spoke personally to many people in Devon who had had article 8 breached in their own homes. That cannot be right.
I understand the concerns of the hon. Members for South-East Cornwall and for Tiverton and Honiton. Wording such as this is not the way in which one wants to deal with any kind of programme. We have all agreed that the scrapie programme is in the interests of the sheep industry, which supports it. Sadly, however, it is not impossible that a handful of people, perhaps singly, will not co-operate, for whatever reason. The scrapie programme will cost the Government millions of pounds to implement. I accept that the sheep industry will be inconvenienced in the course of the eradication programme but it is for its long-term benefit. It would be quite wrong if everything—the expense, the co-operation, the work and the inconvenience—were then put at risk by a tiny number of people who would not co-operate.
If we do not have this provision within the Bill, we will probably have to go to the courts and get it sorted out. It would be better to have this provision from the very beginning to deal with such eventualities. I hope they will not happen, but we cannot rule out the fact that a small number of people will try to obstruct the progress of this programme. That cannot be tolerated.
Surely this provision is irrelevant if the number of people causing problems will be small. The Minister will still have to take them to court, and it will not make a great deal of difference if it is in the Bill, so it is entirely superfluous.
It does make a difference, because going to court is time-consuming and potentially expensive. This is a measure that has widespread support. I do not believe that we would have to use the measures that are laid out in the Bill. I very much hope that we will not have to use them, but if we are taking such measures, we need to think about all eventualities.
I think it is because it is in this part of the Bill that I take most exception. Other parts of the Bill apply to measures taken over 24 hours or 48 hours, but this part applies to scrapie eradication over a number of years. So to go rushing off to court because a few sheep are not going to be castrated, is not really the point. That is why I think this part of the Bill is unnecessary for this particular aspect of the issue. If scrapie were something whizzing through a flock, and we had to zip off to get things done in a hurry, I might have some sympathy, but, quite frankly, we know that it will take ages.
Yes, there may be some people who will not comply with that provision, but all the other provisions cover that possibility. Parts I to III make it very clear, even if I accept the reference to ''reasonable excuse''. This is just a sledgehammer, which is unnecessary in a restricted timeframe, while talking about scrapie.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that it will take some years to implement this programme. That is absolutely true. I return to the point that we will discuss with, and consult, the industry about the appropriate time scale required to implement the programme. In that respect, we are talking about reserved powers. If there are to be reserved powers, then all possibilities should be considered. This provision should be seen as reserved power, certainly not a power to be used to go rushing in and threatening people. I do not believe that will be necessary, or that such a provision will necessarily be used. If we have reserved powers, then we cover all eventualities and that is what this provision is designed to do.
I think that we can put that on to just about every piece of legislation—that at the end of the day, if people do not comply, then of course we will to make certain that they commit an offence eventually.
We need to decide what the threshold of reasonableness is. In respect to the scrapie provision, which is what we are talking about—not the emergency of the foot and mouth outbreak—the schedule is unnecessarily big stick and draconian. The hon. Member from Tiverton and Honiton raised the issue of human rights. We should vote on the amendment because it has connotations for the future.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No 131, in page 18, line 11, leave out from ''Subsection (1)'' to ''24'' and insert ''only applies when''.
No 115, in clause 7, page 4, line 16, after ''inspector,'' insert
''having given a minimum of four hours' notice''.
No. 98, in page 4, line 16, after ''any'', insert ''reasonable''.
No. 105, in clause 8, page 5, line 26, after ''premises'', insert ''at any reasonable time''.
We now come to some interesting and constructive amendments relating to power of entry where cases of scrapie are concerned. They suggest the modifying of some of the powers that will be given to the Minister so that when his inspector, or ''a constable''—I assume that that means a police constable—arrives at a farm, safeguards have been built in to ensure that farmers are not placed at too great a disadvantage.
I accept that, in the eradication of scrapie, timing might not be so critical as when inspectors and others arrived at farms during the foot and mouth epidemic. However, farmers co-operating in this eradication programme should have certain courtesies extended to them. Those are contained in the amendments.
Amendment No. 130 would place on the inspector a timeframe in which he could
''enter any premises for the purpose of—
(a) carrying out any function he has under or in pursuance of this Part, or
(b) ascertaining whether any such function should be exercised.''
Although new section 36G states:
''An inspector or a constable may at all reasonable times enter any premises'' for the purposes that I have just described, we believe, as stated in amendment No. 130, that we should stipulate that that should happen within a reasonable working day, for example, nine to five. The farmer would then know that the inspector or constable would turn up between those times, and he could make appropriate arrangements to deal with his other work at other times, and be available during those hours.
Amendment No. 131 would ensure that, when an inspector entered a premises, notice would be given to the occupier. Inspectors and Ministry officials often just turn up at premises to undertake their duties, but in this day and age, a farmer should be given some notice so that he can say whether it is convenient, or can arrange for his staff to be present if he cannot be. This is another modest little amendment to improve the situation.
Under amendment No. 115, an inspector may enter premises to assess animals to see whether they should be slaughtered, only if
''a minimum of four hours' notice'' is given. Farmers have many difficulties these days, and are hard pressed looking after their stock, dealing with paperwork and 101 other things. If an inspector is to turn up to see whether some of a flock should be slaughtered under the scrapie eradication scheme, it is only a matter of courtesy to give the farmer or owner such a period of notice. Four hours is a reasonable timeframe.
Amendment No. 98 would allow an inspector to enter only ''reasonable'' premises. There have been debates and mini debates about the word ''reasonable'' throughout the passage of the Bill. I wonder whether an inspector can insist on going into any kind of premise, any part of a farm and any kind of buildings, including the farmhouse. For the purposes of clarification, ''reasonable'', as far as an inspector's duties are concerned, is an adequate description.
Amendment No. 105 restricts the time at which an inspector may enter premises, in this case to test for foot and mouth disease antibodies, to ''at any reasonable time''. I am trying to impress on the face of the Bill that any inspector, constable or Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs official must ensure that the farmer is dealt with courteously, that the arrangements are made in advance and that co-operation is requested at all times. These simple amendments address the concerns that have been expressed to us.
I support all the points made by the hon. Member for Congleton. We are trying to provide an element of reasonableness into these important powers that are potentially explosive because they cover people coming into one's home or private premises, which returns us to the idea that the Englishman's home is his castle. We must be careful because the powers could be counter-productive, something about which several members of the Committee know from experience. Restricting the hours in which inspectors can call and ensuring that they provide notice would allow people to co-operate. If one does not give notice, it may take longer than two hours to make an inspection. Calling at 6 o'clock in the morning does not guarantee that a farmer will not be on their way to market or travelling to another part of their farm. It would help everybody if there were a notice period, and in a 24 or 48-hour timeframe, four hours does not seem especially problematic.
The amendments would place the onus back on DEFRA and its inspectors. We have had a small debate about reasonable excuses, and perhaps DEFRA inspectors should recognise that they must also have a reasonable excuse to call at 3 o'clock in the morning and demand that people instantaneously jump up. The onus of reasonableness must be a two-way process because inspectors, like farmers, must have a reasonable excuse. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, although that introduces into the debate another animal that could be slaughtered. Because we are dealing with private premises and homes, the Bill could be seen to trespass into people's private domains. Proper notice and reasonable times of day and night ought to be part of the way in which we seek the co-operation of those whose support will be vital. I hope that the Minister will accede to these modest yet helpful amendments.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton in endorsing this group of amendments. I shall comment on amendment No. 131, which concerns the question of the schedule applying only when notice of intended entry has been given.
Throughout the foot and mouth crisis—I have alluded to this before—farmers' distrust of the Ministry was a problem. That lack of trust was accompanied on many occasions by a lack of communication. The onus is on DEFRA to step up its level of communication and raise its game in
communicating its plans to farmers. Given that history, it is entirely reasonable that farmers should be given notice of intended entry.
As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall said, we are discussing private property and privacy. I agree with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton in relation to an earlier amendment to article 8, which concerned people's right peaceably to enjoy their homes. I shall not allude to my hon. Friend's age—my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton did that once and got away with it, but I shall not stray further down that path. I shall not trespass on that territory, at least not without giving notice of my intention in advance.
The Ministry failed to engender trust or communication. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall pointed out that although we are discussing scrapie there are cases in relation to foot and mouth where no notice was given and Ministry officials clomped on to people's property in their size 12s without having given adequate notice. People resisted because of that approach, and in many cases they were right. Healthy animals would have been slaughtered if the Ministry had been allowed to act in that way. This morning, I talked to a farmer who explained how he was told that his farm was a dangerous foot and mouth contact and that he was to be inspected every other day for 21 days. Suddenly, without any prior warning or communication, he stopped being subject to inspections every other day and became somebody whose animals were immediately to be culled. Of course, he resisted and barricaded himself in. As a result of his actions, the Ministry saved itself between £1.5 million and £2 million of taxpayers' money because it did not have to compensate him for the capital value of his sheep and cattle, and the Department for Work and Pensions did not have to pay out benefit to the six people whom he would have had to lay off. This was all because he resisted, and he was right to do so.
The schedule will make resistance more difficult. My previous example concerned foot and mouth, but we are discussing only scrapie, which, as the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall pointed out, will take years to eliminate. The provisions in the schedule are unnecessarily draconian, but the amendments are reasonable, and I hope that the Committee will accept them.
I remind Labour Members of their comments when the Committee met at 8.55 am: they complained how unreasonable it was that we should meet so early without coffee. This heated Room is not a windswept Welsh hillside, and we did not meet to slaughter or castrate our pets or livestock. I refer Labour Members to their complaint that 8.55 am was an unreasonable hour and I urge them seriously to consider whether they should vote against such an important amendment.
As we shall be paying inspectors to go out and visit people, we should be careful not to pay them overtime for visiting outside the hours of nine to five. In a previous amendment, we decided to exclude any elements of reasonable behaviour and make the
obstruction of an inspector an offence, so it is incumbent on us to ensure that, once catch-all elements are included in the Bill, we provide adequate protection to ensure that people are not offending unnecessarily. That is why the amendment is so crucial.
The valid point was made that, unless people visit at a reasonable time—perhaps between nine and five—there is a very good chance that they might get lost in the more wild and woolly parts of Wales or Herefordshire. It is extremely easy to get lost in such places, and even if an appointment is made for a reasonable time, there is a very good chance that one could start looking for the place in question at nine and not find it by five.
I should also like to tell the Committee about my mother-in-law, who keeps a flock of Hebridean sheep in Oxfordshire. It is incumbent on the Committee to ensure that, if her sheep are inspected for the scrapie genotype, she is not disturbed before nine or after five. It is essential that we protect sheep owners, shepherds and others who might wish to co-operate with the Government's laudable attempt to eradicate scrapie from the national flock, by preventing them from committing an offence—
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could enlighten me. I am not a farmer, but I thought that most farmers did not restrict their working day to between the hours of nine and five.
I was talking about my mother-in-law, and with Christmas coming it is essential to remember this important lady. Realistically, we are talking about all people who own sheep. Although we know that farmers get up very early in the morning and perhaps work until late at night, it is not right to assume that they are available all the time.
Does my hon. Friend agree that farmers get up between five and six in the morning—sometimes they get up in the middle of the night—and work until late at night not because they want to accommodate the needs of departmental officials, which are not urgent and could be satisfied through an appointment, but because they are desperately trying to keep their businesses afloat?
That is absolutely right. Perhaps the Minister will say how much quicker scrapie could be eradicated if officials were able to call earlier in the morning than nine. It is ridiculous to pretend that, in order to cut a 15-year programme down to two years, it is necessary for inspectors to call earlier than nine or later than five. The amendment is not only reasonable but important. It would counter the Bill's draconian nature, and help it to protect the income of sheep owners and the future of their industry.
These amendments are far too prescriptive for our own staff and for many farmers. Restricting entry times to between nine and five might not suit many farmers. Many might prefer inspectors to visit before nine or after five—it depends on the
circumstances. It is right to say that the scrapie eradication programme does not constitute an emergency; it is a phased programme that will take place over some years. In general, it is important to arrange an appointment with the farmer in question, and that is what our staff will do. One does not need to write such things down in a prescriptive fashion.
Amendments Nos. 115, 98 and 105 relate not to scrapie but to FMD, which constitutes a disease control issue. It is unreasonable to ask for four hours' notice when disease control and trying to stop spread are paramount. I cannot support the amendment.
Is there not always an assumption, especially with the scrapie eradication programme, that the farmer must be available when it is convenient for the official to call? The programme hinges on what the official must do rather than what the farmer must do. There is an assumption that the farmer will be there anyway, so people can turn up to do whatever has to be done and the farmer must drop every other chore. The amendments would put some formality into the system.
The amendments are too prescriptive and it is not right to say that the thrust of the scrapie plan is built around the convenience of our own staff and inspectors. Of course we must co-operate with farmers and that might involve rounding up a flock, for example, so of course advance notice would have to be given. However, the amendments are too restrictive; they are unnecessary as far as scrapie is concerned and dangerous as far as FMD is concerned.
I want to speak about the four hours' notice. I did not pluck that from the air, so let us consider the practicalities and the amount of time between DEFRA deciding to inspect a farm and arriving on the farm. The decision could be notified by telephone and the inspectors might happen to be adjacent to the farm. In those extraordinary circumstances, they could walk in within three minutes. That is not usually the case, not least because they sometimes go to the wrong holding or cannot find it. However, if the farm is identified from their headquarters, is it impossible at that moment to give some notice? It may be three hours from when they get into the Land Rover until they arrive. Four hours' notice may delay the inspectors a little, but that may happen anyway and it would give the farmer a little extra time. I am sure that some wonderful flow chart shows that without four hours' notice a huge additional number of animals could be culled, but a significant amount of the four hours might be used by the inspectors in travelling to a farm holding. Four hours' notice would not necessarily cause a four-hour delay. The delay might be only half an hour because it might take three and a half hours to get to the holding.
The hon. Gentleman is making some valid comments. Is it not a fact that during the recent foot and mouth epidemic, four hours would have been considered a very short period, because
stock were hanging around with the disease for 48 hours, never mind four hours. The amendment seems modest.
I entirely agree. It might even be helpful. If the farmer received four hours' notice, he might feel co-operative and start to gather the animals in so that the cull could start almost immediately. Alternatively, the inspectors might arrive at a farm with no notice and have to wait around for two, three or four hours. In terms of the totality of what we are trying to do and introducing sensible restrictions, we should try to balance the need get the disease under control with reasonableness for those who are suffering a traumatic situation anyway. I believe that that could be done without causing significant delays and problems. Problems might arise if inspectors happened to be in the area at the time, but generally that would not be the case, so we should consider that this is a reasonable amendment to the way in which draconian powers are sometimes implemented.
I do not want to say much in summing up because the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall and others have supported the amendment. If the Department is trying to build a new relationship with the farming community and ensure that, in the introduction of a statutory scrapie eradication programme, full co-operation is achieved, the amendment does go some way to ensure that farmers are shown the consideration that they deserve. We must therefore press the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 96, in page 18, line 26, leave out ''or a refusal is expected''.
No. 97, in page 18, leave out lines 30 and 34.
No. 156, in page 18, leave out lines 31 to 33.
No. 157, in page 19, leave out lines 3 to 5.
No. 111, in clause 6, page 3, line 26, leave out
''or a refusal is expected''.
No. 112, in clause 6, page 3, leave out lines 30 to 34.
No. 133, in clause 6, page 3, line 31, leave out paragraph (a).
No. 134, in clause 6, page 3, line 34, at end insert
''and uncontactable during the 24 hour period from when the warrant was granted.''
No. 135, in clause 6, page 3, at end insert—
''(6A) If animals are mistakenly slaughtered while the occupier is absent, the farmer shall receive compensation at the level of 200 per cent. of market value.''
No. 113, in clause 6, page 4, leave out lines 3 to 5.
No. 40, in clause 6, page 4, line 4, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' and insert
''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.
No. 89, in clause 6, page 4, line 4, after ''reasonably needs'', insert
''and that that person can normally give''.
No. 99, in clause 7, page 4, line 24, leave out ''or third''.
No. 100, in clause 7, page 4, line 31, leave out
''or a refusal is expected''.
No. 101, in clause 7, page 4, leave out lines 35 to 39.
No. 138, in clause 7, page 4, leave out line 38.
No. 149, in clause 7, page 4, line 39, at end insert
''and the inspector can demonstrate that all reasonable efforts to contact the occupier have been made.''
No. 102, in clause 7, page 5, leave out lines 6 to 8.
No. 139, in clause 7, page 5, line 6, leave out ''any person'' and insert
''the owner and any person employed by the owner.''
No. 41, in clause 7, page 5, line 6, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' in line 7 and insert
''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.
No. 73, in clause 7, page 5, line 7, after ''needs'', insert
''and that that person can normally give.''
No. 106, in clause 8, page 6, line 3, leave out ''or third''.
No. 119, in clause 8, page 6, leave out lines 14 to 18.
No. 75, in clause 8, page 6, line 30, after ''needs'', insert
''and that that person can normally give''.
It may take more than four hours to get through them—I give notice of that now.
Amendment No. 95 and subsequent amendments relate to the reasonableness of trying to make the Bill correct. Some of them address the wording of the third condition and that of the second condition, which refers to the warrants when a justice of the peace is involved. The first condition, which states that
''there are reasonable grounds for a person mentioned in section 36G(1) to enter the premises for the purpose there mentioned'' and the fact that a justice of the peace should be involved, is taken as read. The second condition states that
''admission to the premises has been refused or a refusal is expected''.
The subject of one amendment is the phrase ''or a refusal is expected''. That is a subjective statement. The idea that, at some unearthly hour that the JP has picked to give a warrant, one will be persuaded that a recalcitrant person would refuse entry and so ''refusal is expected'' and the warrant can go ahead is a nice catch-all. However, it means that even if one cannot demonstrate that a refusal has already taken place, one could say that one expected a refusal to take place. There seems to be no means of ensuring that there is such evidence to demonstrate that a refusal ''is expected'', but rather that the mere fact that it is expected should be part of the conditions.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is thinking of some of the examples that we saw during the foot and mouth crisis, where the decision and the intention to slaughter was so unreasonable that certain farms attracted the attention of a wide range of people who went to give support to the farmers. In those circumstances, especially if it had been in the papers or on television that, for whatever purpose, those people were collectively supporting the farmer against entry, the anticipation of refusal might almost be self-explanatory. Consequently, where there was a wholly unjustified intention to enter the premises to slaughter animals, the farmer would necessarily be denied the sort of back-up that, rightly, saved many farms during the previous crisis.
I agree entirely. The Minister has accepted that the measures are being introduced in the light of everything that occurred last time to ensure that next time every possible obstruction is dealt with, however blunt the instrument in terms of wording, and the legitimate concerns of people at the farm gates can be swept aside on the assumption that a warrant will be issued and anyone who obstructs it will be subject to an offence.
It is one thing to take action on the basis of clear evidence, expressed in writing or in some other way, that a refusal has taken place. Merely to say that a refusal ''is expected'' and to assume that the second condition has thereby been fulfilled is going a bit too far.
The third condition is that
''an application for admission or giving notice of intention to apply for a warrant would defeat the object of entering''.
That is an interesting phrase, which could mean many different things. According to the Bill, it means if
''the case is one of urgency, or . . . the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent.''
That aspect needs to be teased out by the Minister. How does one ensure that the premises are unoccupied?
The premises we are talking about are not a house or a barn, but a farm. I expect that many members of the Committee have visited a farm, knocked on the door, which is open, shouted inside, found that nobody seems to be in, although the fire is going, then spent the next quarter of an hour trying to find
someone. Nowadays, regrettably, there are so few people working on huge areas of land that they could be almost anywhere. How much time and effort that will be made to find out whether the premises are indeed unoccupied or the occupier is absent? Absent from what? Absent from where one expects him to be? Absent from the farm socially? Perhaps he is on his way to the DEFRA office to try to sort something out. Whatever the situation, it will be assumed that he is absent, so it is perfectly okay to get a warrant to go zooming into his farm.
The powers are extreme, and I accept that they should be used only in the most extreme circumstances. In one case, a dealer—a major dealer in this country—was known to absent himself for the best part of 24 hours so that he could drive up the compensation. I accept that that was a foot and mouth incident and we are now discussing scrapie, procedures for which are more organised, but there have been occasions when, against the wishes of the vast majority of farmers, people have decided that their personal income was more important than everyone else. We must bear such circumstances in mind.
I entirely agree that there are always such individual cases. That can happen in the context of almost any piece of legislation. We are trying to formulate measures that are in equity and reasonable. If we tried to address literally every single possible obstruction, the legislation would have to be even more draconian.
The conditions for the warrant should be clear, reasonable and able to be properly understood. The third condition is, I think, a hurdle too far. By removing the subjective nature of ''a refusal is expected'' in condition two, it is still clear that if there has been refusal to enter a premises, a warrant should be issued. I am happy to accept that that is right, but including the subjective ''a refusal is expected'' goes that little bit too far.
It is up to the Minister to demonstrate how the powers are going to be used and that they will be used properly, not in a draconian way. On occasions, yes, they should be used to sort out problems such as those that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) just mentioned, where people deliberately flout procedures. However, we must recognise that the powers are being introduced on the back of very recent, raw experiences. People who are feeling bruised, and who thought that the powers under the Animal Health Act 1981 were draconian enough, are now facing these additional measures. I think that the real impact that the measures might have is slowly
beginning to leak out into the wider agricultural community and various people are becoming concerned about what the Bill will mean for them if it is passed.
Often, legislation can slip through and people only find out about it when it confronts them. This legislation, however, is beginning to unsettle a considerable number of people. They feel that the Government are going too far too quickly, and that there is no need for such an absolute timetable. We did not have a consultation process, and people feel that they are being bulldozed into accepting things that will substantially restrict their rights in an epidemic or time of disease spread.
There is much in the amendments, but the aspect relating to warrants, on which we have concentrated, is important. Once the enforcement of a warrant—legal action—starts to take place, all sorts of other things can come about. When we look at the whole issue of whether a premises is unoccupied, or whether a person is away, we can see that no reasonable excuse will make any difference: whack, in the officials will come. That is unacceptable, and I hope that we can modify it.
It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.