Schedule 2 - Scrapie

Animal Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 4th December 2001.

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Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 95, in page 18, line 18, leave out ''or third''.—[Mr. Breed.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

I remind the Committee that with this we are taking 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 page 3, leave out lines 30 to 34.

No. 133, in page 3, line 31, leave out paragraph (a).

No. 134, in page 3, line 34, at end insert

''and uncontactable during the 24 hour period from when the warrant was granted.''

No. 135, in 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 page 4, leave out lines 3 to 5.

No. 40, in page 4, line 4, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' and insert

''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.

No. 89, in 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 page 4, line 31, leave out

''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 101, in page 4, leave out lines 35 to 39.

No. 138, in page 4, leave out line 38.

No. 149, in 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 page 5, leave out lines 6 to 8.

No. 139, in page 5, line 6, leave out ''any person'' and insert

''the owner and any person employed by the owner.''

No. 41, in page 5, line 6, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' in line 7 and insert ''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.

No. 73, in 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 page 6, leave out lines 14 to 18.

No. 75, in page 6, line 30, after ''needs'', insert

''and that that person can normally give''.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

We come to the vast group of amendments which I have marked in red ink although I do not know whether it is a red-letter day. I shall begin at the beginning with amendment No. 95, which was tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) and Conservative Members. Essentially, it would leave out the third condition in the Bill under proposed new section 36H of the Animal Health Act 1981, which is entitled ''Warrants''. The proposed new section states that

''If a justice of the peace is satisfied on sworn information in writing that the first condition is satisfied and that the second or third condition is satisfied he may issue a warrant authorising a person mentioned in section 36G(1) to enter premises . . . The first condition is that there are reasonable grounds for a person mentioned in section 36G(1) to enter premises for the purpose there mentioned . . . The second condition is that . . . admission to the premises has been refused or a refusal is expected''.

There is another part to the second condition, but the amendment refers to the third condition, which we want to omit. It is that

''an application for admission or giving notice of intention to apply for a warrant would defeat the object of entering, . . . the case is one of urgency, or . . . the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent.''

Other amendments refer to the second condition, which is in proposed new subsection 36H(3). Its paragraph (a) states that

''admission to the premises has been refused or a refusal is expected''.

Amendment No. 96 would leave out the words

''or a refusal is expected''.

Short of having a crystal ball, I do not know how that phrase could have been included in the provision. When admission to the premises has been refused, the provision will be reasonable and sensible, but I cannot understand what is meant by a refusal being expected. When officials and others call on farmers and find a problem or dispute, people often say things in anger and become extremely worked up. However, that is not fair to insist that even if a refusal were expected, or had been hinted at or threatened, a warrant would be issued under those terms. It seems wrong.

Amendment No. 97 seeks to leave out the whole of the third condition.

I move on to amendments Nos. 111, 112, 133, 134 and 135, and I shall leave the first two and talk about amendment No. 133. It seeks to delete proposed new section 16(6)(a) of the 1981 Act, which is proposed in clause 6 of the Bill under the powers on enforcement. It states that

''an application for admission or giving notice of intention to apply for a warrant would defeat the object of entering''.

I cannot see what that adds, so perhaps the Minister would like to intervene. How would that provision defeat the object of entering premises? We need some clarification.

Amendment No. 134 is rather meaty. It deals with the third condition, under which entry can be gained if

''the land or premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent''.

It is quite wrong that no notice can be given if that is the case, so the amendment adds that the occupier should also be

''uncontactable during the 24 hour period from when the warrant was granted''.

An occupier might be absent for good reasons, and I can think of many examples but I will spare the Minister them.

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

There are problems sometimes when farmers cannot get back to their farms as, for biosecurity reasons, they are trapped on someone else's farm. That would be a reason why a farm would not be occupied for a 24-hour period.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

My hon. Friend is right. We discussed such issues earlier in Committee, especially in relation to separate sheep flocks being wintered off or grazing on other land. The problem with extensification is that one has to take animals to where the food is. That provides a perfect example of when the farmer might be away from the premises. The sheep would be on a parcel of land and might be checked now and again to ensure good husbandry, but the occupier would not be present. In that case, so far as scrapie, enforcement and the powers in the Bill are concerned, action could be taken by an official in the absence of the owner or occupier of the land, who would then turn up and find that action had been taken without his knowledge or any attempt having been made to contact him.

As most parcels of land are registered under the integrated administration and control system, and housing is usually nearby if land is rented, one would have thought that reasonable inquiries could be made as to whose flock was on a parcel of land. Reasonable attempts could therefore be made to contact the owner of the flock and discuss with him the action that the inspector would take, so that he was aware of the warrant that was about to be granted.

Amendment No. 135 is also about land or premises that are unoccupied or from which the owner is absent. It provides that if any animals were mistakenly slaughtered while the occupier was absent compensation would be payable at a level of 200 per cent. That follows on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). If for some good reason the occupier is not present, and then comes back to find that the flock has been slaughtered or dealt with without his permission or knowledge and without attempts to contact him, it is reasonable for compensation to be at double the market value of the mistakenly slaughtered stock.

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

Amendment No. 135 suggests that compensation should be paid at the level of 200 per cent. where animals are mistakenly slaughtered in the owner's absence. Animals that graze on open moorland or uplands might well be mistakenly slaughtered. I hope that it would be some comfort to owners to know that they would be properly reimbursed if that happened.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Indeed. My hon. Friend makes a good point. A huge number of hefted sheep were slaughtered on moorlands and common land in Cumbria, although I do not know of specific instances where mistakes were made. However, I know that mistakes were made elsewhere in Cumbria, and compensation should be paid at 200 per cent. of market value in such cases.

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

Animals may mistakenly be presumed to be owned by the person whose land they are on, and we know of several such cases. They might, therefore, be culled even though they do not belong to the owner in question and should not be killed in any case. Such mistakes can be obviated if people are given proper notice and are on the premises.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

That is another example of what can go wrong. This does not relate to scrapie, but animals were mistakenly slaughtered during the foot and mouth epidemic because people were given the wrong map references and the wrong integrated administration and control system references. It is not beyond the wit of man to imagine such distressing mistakes being made. If farmers must be responsible for their actions—the Bill requires them to be even more responsible—officials should be, too.

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

I raised the issue of the reliability of the maps with the Minister on Second Reading. He helped me with some cases during the foot and mouth crisis, and we sat in his office with his official, looking at a map of Devon farms. None of us could identify from the map the farm that we were discussing. It is incumbent on the Ministry to put together a definitive map on the computer or wherever. There is a clearly a lack of accurate information that one can rely on to identify farms.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

My hon. Friend reinforces what we have said about the amendments. I was recently in Devon, and many farmers told me that vets and officials visited their farms several times during the foot and mouth epidemic and went over the maps again and again. Those farmers nearly went round the bend because they had already been through the process twice when a third person turned up asking them to mark their fields on the maps. That happened relatively recently and shows the validity of my hon. Friend's comments.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

That raises another important point. All sheep may soon be electronically tagged, and Ministry officials will arrive with a bleeper to find out where the sheep are. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be even more sensible to compensate farmers at 200 per cent. of market value if the wrong animals are still slaughtered?

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I do. We rightly put a lot of faith in new technologies and hope that they will improve all the time, but they are by no means 100 per cent. perfect. Added to that is the possibility of human error. For that and many other reasons, the amendments are worth considering.

I turn now to amendments Nos. 100, 101 and 138. Amendment No. 138 would remove proposed new section 62B(4)(b), which states that the third condition is that

''the case is one of urgency''.

The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall spoke to his amendments earlier.

Amendment No. 149 repeats our position on the previous group of amendments and relates to proposed new section 62B(4)(c) which states:

''the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent.''

That relates to the power of entry for the purpose of slaughter. We believe that we should add to that provision the words

''and the inspector can demonstrate that all reasonable efforts to contact the occupier have been made.''

The Bill makes no provision for a reasonable effort to be made to contact the owner of the land or of the flock. That should be a requirement and a responsibility. It is wrong for people to slaughter animals without first making serious efforts to contact the occupier. That should not be allowed.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 139 relate to proposed new section 62C(3), which states:

''The inspector may require any person on the premises to give him such assistance as he reasonably needs for the purpose mentioned in section 62A.''

Amendment No. 139 would replace the words ''any person'' with the words

''the owner and any person employed by the owner.''

That is surely the way forward. How can an inspector be allowed to turn up at a farm or premises and press-gang anyone present

''to give him such assistance as he reasonably needs''

for the purpose of slaughter? Would the provision include members of the farmer's family or someone who was making a delivery? Could the inspector turn to the delivery man and say: ''I've got a bit of a problem. I can't cope, so you've got to give me a hand to get these animals into position so that I can slaughter them.'' Do the words ''any person'' mean a younger member of the farmer's family? Many farmers' children who are in their teens or a little younger help around the farm, doing odd jobs and learning the business. Would the inspector require someone who was under-age to assist him in the grizzly business of slaughtering stock? The phrase ''any person'' is far too wide and must be focused on what is reasonable.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:45 pm, 4th December 2001

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be interesting to know whether the Minister thought that the words ''any person'' could include members of the police force and the armed services who enter the premises? The Minister should tell us and those who watch our proceedings exactly who was envisaged when the provision was drafted in such a wide and lax fashion.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

My hon. Friend is right that the words ''any person'' must be clarified. She made pertinent points the people who might be involved. The definition is so wide as to be irresponsible.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Has my hon. Friend considered the possibility that the Minister himself might have to give assistance?

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

There is the potential under the provision for the inspector to lean on any person with any reason to be on a farm at any time. If they are unlucky, they could be asked to assist in a process of which they do not approve and in which they do not want to take part. What will happen if they refuse?

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

My hon. Friend will know that there are some clear recommendations in the preliminary conclusions of the Mercer report for Devon county council. At 1.13, the report states:

''Reports received by the Inquiry of insensitive and even belligerent operatives and bungled culls do little to enhance the professional reputation of all those involved, from Ministers downwards''.

It then goes on to state that,

''training in slaughter management is needed''.

That does not concern solely those licensed to kill animals, but also those who handle animals. There are clear animal welfare problems in relation to the training of those asked to assist in such operations. Some of the most appalling pictures on our television screens showed the results of culls carried out by people who clearly did not have experience of dealing with animals outside a slaughterhouse or in the open air. It is incumbent on the Government to get that aspect right; they should put forward their recommendations on the handling of animals in such circumstances before drafting this sort of detail into a Bill.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

My hon. Friend makes a telling point; one which has been mentioned before and clearly needs to be repeated. What went on previously would not be at all acceptable now; it was not acceptable then, but it did happen. Much thought must be given to the training of those who are to slaughter animals on farms. It is an extremely sensitive issue; the farmer's life's work may be about to be put down before his eyes. His family will be upset and he will have suffered much stress in the run up to the event. Years ago we had an old pony, which had to be put down. People said: ''Let him go away to be put down,'' and I said, ''No, I will have him put down at home,'' and I held him while the deed was done. It upset me greatly at the time, but I knew that he had been handled properly. I had fulfilled my responsibility to an animal that had been a family pony and was by then quite old. In an identical way, farmers are not heartless people. They do not want to see their stock being put down in the way that we saw during the foot and mouth epidemic. They want to ensure that, if slaughter is to take place, it is carried out properly and they must be accorded certain conditions to ensure that those needs are fulfilled.

I turn to proposed new sub-paragraph 62C(3), which states:

''The inspector may require any person''

We have commented that ''any person'' needs positive definition; that it should mean the owner and any person directly employed by the owner. That person is required to give the inspector

''such assistance as he reasonably needs for the purpose mentioned in section 62A''.

Amendment no. 73 seeks to insert, after ''reasonably needs'',

''and that the person can normally give.''.

What does ''reasonably needs'' mean? You have to be an able-bodied person in order to help people who have come in to slaughter a flock of sheep, for example. How does one define what the inspector ''reasonably needs''? Can it be described and quantified so that we know precisely what it means? Or should we look at it from the perspective of the person who is being roped into the proceedings and consider the assistance that that person could normally give under the circumstances? Many people would feel under such circumstances that they could not give the inspector assistance. I do not believe that they should be required to do so. If the inspector needs assistance, he himself should ensure its provision before he visits the farm.

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

As my hon. Friend her case on this powerful and lengthy group of amendments, I am becoming increasingly alarmed. Under proposed new section 62C, which relates to the amendments, the inspector is turned into a demigod who has total power over everyone and everything that moves and breathes, without any restriction on his powers when he is in situ. The more I read the drafting and listen to my hon. Friend's comments, the less there seems to be a right of appeal or anyone sitting in judgment on the inspector's actions. The Bill gives him an absolute right to walk over everyone and slaughter everything in sight, without safeguards for farmers or their animals. The proposed new section gives an absolute power that is abhorrent in our country and situation.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

My hon. Friend is right to say that the proposed new section gives inspectors carte blanche. We have used the word ''proportionate'' in previous debates, but we have not used it today. The powers that the new section gives the Minister and his official, the inspector, are simply disproportionate. The farmer, the landowner or the occupier appears to have no rights whatever.

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

Once more, would my hon. Friend care to speculate with me? Does she not think that the draftsmen worked in such a hurry that they could not put the fine detail into the Bill? We need much longer to scrutinise such new sections, because they have been drafted in such a hurry, but we are in danger of letting down the farming community because we have no possibility of considering them in real detail in Committee.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

My hon. Friend is right to say that more time is needed. We have kept strictly to debating the amendments and have tried to reflect the concerns of the farming community about the Bill, which, as my hon. Friend says, is being introduced with undue haste. I understand that my hon. Friend wanted some of its stages to be delayed until the new year, but that proved impossible. The Bill will be considered on Report and Third Reading a week on Thursday, as the Government are in a tremendous rush to get the Bill to the House of Lords in the first weeks in January.

It is a shame that, consequently, the Bill will threaten the freedom of farmers and those who own herds or flocks. As we said in previous sittings, the Bill is premature and should have been held back until more information was in the public domain and Government inquiries had published their reports. We should then have been legislating with knowledge rather than reacting to a situation and introducing sweeping and—although I hate to use the word again—draconian powers. They are disproportionate powers that keep the owners of flocks on the back foot. The inspector holds all the cards, and nothing can be done to restrain him.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 5:00 pm, 4th December 2001

Before my hon. Friend moves too rapidly through this large group of amendments, I would like to draw her attention to two key situations. The inspector may demand that anyone he chooses should assist him, and if that person does not comply, that person commits an offence under the Bill.

Let me give my hon. Friend two examples of how that might work on the ground. First, an employee of the farmer or animal owner might be required, at the inspector's request, but against his own better judgment, to take action against his employer which could lead to litigation. I am not a lawyer, but I would have thought that the employee might be challenged over any action that he might take.

My second example actually occurred during the foot and mouth outbreak. A veterinarian might refuse to do what the inspector wanted because, in his or her judgment, what he or she was being asked to do was wrong.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley) indicated dissent.

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

The Minister shakes his head, but I assure him that if he sends me a bundle of letters, I shall send him one about my constituent, Mr. Julian Heath, a veterinarian who refused to slaughter animals on professional grounds and was sacked by the Minister—[Interruption.]

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

My hon. Friend has raised two important points. The relationship between an employer and employee is a personal one, especially in agriculture. It is disgraceful for a third party to interfere in that relationship by insisting that an employee might be charged if he does not conform with the inspector's demands, when that employee knows that his employer—let us imagine that he is absent—would want a certain course of action to be taken but the inspector has instructed him to do exactly the opposite. That defies common sense—how can the potential for such a situation be drafted in legislation?

My hon. Friend also referred to a veterinarian who refused to slaughter animals because his instructions to do so ran contrary to his professional judgment. In such circumstances, could an inspector insist that a third person who was professionally qualified and was asked to take action against his professional judgment, be required to assist the inspector?

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

It may save a lot of time if I outline for the hon. Lady what would be regarded as reasonable assistance. It would include identifying which animals are owned by the farmer, helping to round up those animals and providing information such as movement records. Those are examples of reasonable assistance, beyond which people will not be requested to do anything.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

The Minister seeks to reassure me, but where might the records be kept, for example, to which he referred?

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Of course it is a legal requirement, but let us imagine that the owner of the flock was not on the farm but was away for some perfectly legitimate reason, and that the house was locked up and the records in the farm office. How could anyone be expected to produce records in that situation? It could not be done. Therefore, technically, the employee might be construed as preventing the inspector from undertaking the duties placed on him. After all, some of the duties include slaughter. The Minister says that any persons assisting the inspector would not be involved in slaughtering. However, they would have to gather up the animals and do other things to assist. They would not have the right to say: ''I am sorry, I do not want to do this,'' for any good reason. They would be drafted into doing it, and if they did not give assistance, they might find themselves in hot water later on. The phrasing of this part of the Bill is completely one-sided and is not proportionate.

As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall said earlier, at this time the Government should be seeking to work with the farming community. The farming community will support anything that is reasonable, but unreasonable powers are being vested in people about whose qualification for the position we know very little and who will have tremendous powers of entry and slaughter. They will also have powers to dragoon others into assisting them in what some people may consider to be nefarious purposes.

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

I want to add to my recent intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) and discuss further the refusal and obstruction of an inspector, not just by the owners of animals but by third parties on whatever grounds. I understand the Minister's remarks, but during the recent foot and mouth outbreak, one of the Ministry's problems was that its plans to slaughter were thwarted when people made reasonable demands for delay while blood tests were carried out and other factors were taken into consideration. There were many reasonable propositions against slaughter, yet the Bill tries to get rid of every extraneous reason why the Ministry cannot proceed at a rate of knots regardless of people's rights and considerations.

I raised with my hon. Friend the question of employees of the owner of the animals, or employees working on the land when the owner may not be present. The Bill states that it is an offence for employees not to co-operate, but surely there are limitations on what one can expect them to do in the absence of the owner of the animals. I do not mean just people who winter animals or run rearing units for pigs, or those who have an arrangement whereby they keep other people's animals on their farms. This has a broad read-across for any person who the inspector thinks might be useful in getting what he wants.

I want to pick up on the question of professional people involved, who could be veterinarians, licensed slaughtermen, or anybody who feels that they are being asked to do something against their professional judgment. I will not make the rather invidious comparison between veterinarians and doctors, but one cannot think of an example of a third party demanding that a doctor do something against their better judgment. However, there is a slight read-across here—the Minister is shaking his head—

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

It is not appropriate for the Minister to say from a sedentary position that I am mad. If I am mad, I must stand in very good company with a lot of other mad people, including most of people in the county of Devon.

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

I would not refer to the hon. Lady as mad on her birthday—that would be very unfair. I was saying that the argument is mad. The hon. Lady's example concerns vets being ordered to do something that they do not want to do. The vets who we use in such situations work for the Ministry. If they do not want to work for the Ministry, they do not have to. We are not dragooning vets against their principles. It is our own staff.

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

That will not do. Yes, veterinarians were on the payroll of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but the Minister knows that vets from other organisations and in private practice were also working for the Ministry. However, the moral argument remains. Regardless of who pays his wages at the end of the month, if a veterinarian or any other professional person believes that what he is asked to do goes against the ethical code of his training, a code that he has applied throughout his working life, that person's wishes surely cannot be overridden by an inspector.

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

In a moment; I am answering the Minister. When the Minister was in opposition, he used the moral argument many times on behalf of animals. I do not say that in a disparaging way, but the values that he held then must still apply now that he is a Minister. It cannot be morally right to ask a professional, whoever employs him, to do something that he thinks is wrong.

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

The hon. Lady is arguing that vets would be hanging around on farms doing nothing, and that the Ministry vet would give them instructions when he arrived. The reality is that the vet who is sent will be the one to make the decision—for instance, on whether slaughter is appropriate. We shall not have unfortunate vets being ordered around by Ministry vets who happen to find them on the farm. That is a nonsensical argument.

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

I am sorry, but it is not nonsensical. The Bill provides that a person commits an offence if he does not carry out the inspector's instructions.

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

The Bill does not say that. I wish that the Minister would stand up and speak rather than continually making sedentary interventions. He has just said from a sedentary position that it is the owner. That is not what the Bill states. The Bill says nothing about it being the owner. It states ''person''. The Bill states in several places that

''The inspector may take with him such other persons as he thinks necessary to give such assistance as he thinks necessary.''

When he arrives at the farm, the inspector may demand that that ''other person'' does something that that person thinks is morally or ethically wrong or is against his training. That person should have the professional and moral right to say no; instead, saying no will be an offence.

Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Labour, Workington

Would not the inspector be a vet?

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

Not necessarily. The inspector could visit a farm with a veterinarian, and perhaps other staff, to identify what needs to be done. He may leave the vet and the other staff to get on with the job while he goes on to another farm. It is not necessarily the inspector who will carry out all that has to be done there.

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

I think that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton is getting mixed up on that last point. A distinction must be made between DEFRA staff who are going on to farms to do a job and those who work on the farm who may be asked to provide reasonable assistance. The Bill refers to an ''authorised person''. It would not be a child or the person delivering the post, but a farmhand or someone involved with the animals. With great respect, the hon. Lady has gone off the argument.

The granting of a warrant on the grounds that refusal of entry is expected is generally combined with the requirement to notify the owner of the application. In that case, DEFRA staff would not go on to a farm without informing the owner. It is worth saying again that we are dealing with enabling legislation. The vast majority of farmers and others dealing with this epidemic and national emergency were fully co-operative in working with Ministry officials and staff. Many wrote to thank the Ministry for the sensitive way in which it handled a difficult situation and that it dealt well with people's great distress. Those enabling powers would relate only to a minority. I have seen conspiracy theory articles, about the Prime Minister attending a secret European Union meeting and about the Department being under orders to reduce the national livestock. Such an extreme view might deter people from co-operating with any kind of disease-control measure. In those circumstances enabling powers might be needed.

In some cases, sadly, it might be necessary to seek powers of entry without informing the person concerned. Such a case might arise if it had been made clear in conversation with the divisional veterinary manager that, if the appeal failed, the animals would be moved or access would be denied. Although a tiny minority of cases is likely to be involved, the powers would nevertheless be needed.

Slaughter is not the only reason for the measures. They would also be applicable, for example, to the taking of blood samples or to a vaccination policy if people refused to co-operate. It might be necessary to take powers of entry in those circumstances. It might be necessary to seek assistance in identifying animals, ascertaining the number of animals on the premises or obtaining other information that would normally be required to carry out disease-control measures.

Let us not forget that the outbreak was hugely expensive and very damaging, and had to be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible. I do not believe that such powers are unreasonable in the very few cases in which people refuse to co-operate. They would have to be used proportionately. That has been made clear. A reasonable case would have to be made to a magistrate in connection with a warrant. It is not sufficient to tell the magistrate: ''I want powers to enter someone's property.'' The measures must be carried out in a reasonable and proportionate way.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 5:15 pm, 4th December 2001

They may well be carried out in a reasonable and proportionate way, but the farmer does not have the right to argue his case before the magistrate, as he could in the past. That is why the powers under the Bill are unjust. The Minister said again that the powers are intended to deal with a tiny minority. They are disproportionate if that is so. If only a tiny minority is involved, surely the traditional way, with a meaningful right of appeal, is better. Under the Bill, the farmer would not have that.

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

There is a right of appeal. We are going over old ground, now. I want to improve on the appeal procedure under the Animal Health Act 1981 and I believe that we can do that.

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

I want to pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton about the rights of minorities. It saddens me to hear a Labour Government being so dismissive about a minority of any kind. If the House is for anything, it is to uphold the rights of minorities. The moment we lose that focus, this place becomes meaningless, with respect to what we have understood by democracy.

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

I see; I had not realised that the Conservative party was now embracing the rights of a minority to spread disease to the majority. That seems a funny minority right to protect—[Interruption.] That is what the hon. Lady is arguing for. We are considering how to deal with a devastating epidemic. The powers are intended, in the light of experience, to enable that to be done as quickly as possible, and, incidentally, to minimise the number of animals affected and therefore culled.

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

May I take the Minister back to the provisions that worry me? Proposed new section 66A of the 1981 Act is headed:

''Refusal and obstruction of inspector''

and subsection (2) states:

''A person commits an offence if—

(a) he is required to give assistance under section 62C(3), and

(b) he fails to give it.''

Proposed section 62C(3) states:

''The inspector may require any person on the premises to give him such assistance as he reasonably needs for the purpose mentioned in section 62A.''

Proposed new section 62A, under the heading, ''Slaughter: power of entry'', states:

''An inspector may at any time enter any premises for the purpose of . . . ascertaining whether a power conferred by or under this Act to cause an animal to be slaughtered should be exercised, or . . . doing anything in pursuance of the exercise of that power.''

I am sorry; the subject is complicated, but it is important to consider the detail, or one loses track of what the new powers are about. They deal with the right to slaughter under new directions that give inspectors the power to commandeer anyone, and if people refuse they will commit a criminal offence. That must be wrong.

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

If those powers are wrong, I wonder why the then Government introduced the same ones in the Food Safety Act 1990. Let us calm down. The issue is serious and I am trying to tackle the points seriously. Provisions that deal with the insistence on people's co-operation and guilt of an offence are enshrined in the 1990 Act. There is nothing unusual about the provisions in the Bill, as there are precedents in legislation and in how they apply. There is no difference in the principle—the provisions still require co-operation—and the wording is nearly identical to that in the 1990 Act.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I have a separate concern. Animal owners, by being forced to co-operate under the wording, might go through such traumatic experiences that they might be driven to suicide or other terrible acts. The Bill will not ease the lot of animal owners, so it will not encourage the co-operation that it should. It is deeply flawed. Any responsible animal owner would want to help an inspector and prevent the spread of any disease, even if it were only scrapie, but the Bill is overtly draconian. The impact on the mental state of animal owners has not been considered.

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

Of course there is an impact on the mental state of individuals. We want to minimise that by taking prompt and efficient action, to ensure that many other people are not put in similar positions. Let us not forget that.

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

If the requirements are so reasonable, will the Minister outline what will constitute a defence against them? How will someone justify committing an offence under new section 66A(2) of the Animal Health Act 1981, which is proposed in clause 7?

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

That is a strange question. If a farm labourer were asked to produce movement records but he did not know where they were and the relevant building was locked, that would be a reasonable defence. Decisions would have to be made on what was regarded as fair. The definition depends on whether the request was reasonable. If it were not, that would be a defence. I have given an example of the required reasonable requests.

Amendments Nos. 102, 113, 40, 89, 75, 41, 73, 139 and 157 relate to the requirement to give assistance to officials. In nearly all cases, slaughter, vaccination, serological testing and genotyping involve rounding up stock. That can be impossible without the assistance of the farmer or another appropriate person on the premises, which can hinder effective disease control. That is another example of what is regarded as reasonable assistance. In the majority of cases, farmers co-operated fully with officials and provided the vital assistance necessary to carry out slaughter or serological testing. I do not doubt that that will always be the case in scenarios related to disease control.

The provisions cover the minority of cases in which co-operation was not forthcoming. The amendments would change nothing of substance. The Bill already requires inspectors to act reasonably in seeking assistance. Demands that are made on the farmer will not be unreasonable or go beyond what he can be expected to provide. It is important to remember that the provision specifies reasonable assistance. An inspector could not, therefore, make unreasonable demands on a person, particularly one who was not qualified to help.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I want to take up a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) made a moment ago about proposed new section 66A, which is entitled:

''Refusal and obstruction of inspector''.

Subsection (1) refers to those who commit an offence by refusing assistance

''without lawful authority or excuse (proof of which shall lie on him)''.

The burden of proof will lie not on the inspector, but on a person who might have reasonable grounds for not giving assistance. Surely that is the wrong way round.

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

It is not quite like that. The wording is standard in legislation, and there are precedents for it. The defence lies in the word ''reasonable'', which is a common legal term. It applies to the exercise of powers that are vested in the Government or the Crown. It is for the court to determine the definition of the word ''reasonable'' in any situation, just as it will determine whether someone has acted in a way that is specified in the Bill.

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

Surely we still accept that people are innocent until proven guilty. Is there not a rather European flavour to the burden of proof in the Bill?

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

I am not sure that it has a European flavour. The form of wording in the Bill is common in a range of legislation, including the Food Safety Act 1990.

It is important to keep the issue in perspective. Sadly, whatever one does to control a disease, someone somewhere will not co-operate. Such people can put many others at risk by spreading the disease and, as we saw during the epidemic, refusing access for the purpose of blood testing. Such behaviour delayed the lifting of the restrictions on the majority of farmers in the area. It is not a reasonable position to take. It is important to protect the rights of minorities, and the law does that. However, it is also important to bear in mind the impact of a disease on the rights of the majority. That is what the Bill is all about.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

This debate is typical of the way in which the Bill is being handled. In every debate, we must listen to the Minister explain that what we read in the Bill will not happen. In every debate, we must take his word that what DEFRA will do will be very different from what it can do under the Bill.

I am reminded of a constituent, Mr. Brodie, whose stock was culled during the foot and mouth crisis. It was a contiguous cull, and he was very reasonable about it. The Ministry valuers came to his farm and valued his stock and the silage that was lost. Unfortunately, after Mr. Brodie agreed the valuation, a Ministry vet turned up and said: ''Actually, we're not going to pay for the silage. We'll only pay for the first two or three feet of the clamp.'' That is extraordinary given the emphasis that the Minister rightly put on biosecurity.

Provisions that are enforced on the ground are clearly a million miles away from the platitudes and calm statements that we hear in Committee. It is extraordinary that we are legislating to chase and prosecute people and to break into their property because they are worried about scrapie genotype and may be hiding a sheep in their attic. That is the kind of legislation that we have put up with.

Technically, an inspector could take the Minister with him to witness what happens on a farm. We have to put up with that sort of nonsense. It is extraordinary that we should take these steps to deal with a few irresponsible people. I know that they exist and that two or three people in Herefordshire refused to let their animals be given blood tests. They held the whole county to ransom for several weeks.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 5:30 pm, 4th December 2001

Does my hon. Friend accept that in some cases people refused access to their land for blood testing and so on, because the farming community, most of whom had exercised strict biosecurity measures, did not trust the viability of their farms in letting in other people, including people from DEFRA?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

The lack of trust in DEFRA grows every day. When one looks at Bills like this one, that is hardly surprising. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is ridiculous legislation. It gets worse and I cannot understand it. In my own area of Herefordshire a couple of people held up the process. We are legislating for two or three people. That is not responsible; it is for this sort of reason that courts exist.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

In many cases, more farmers wanted to resist the Government's policy during the contiguous cull, but they did not because of peer pressure from their neighbours. They were afraid that if they made a mistake and there was the slightest chance of infection, they would be responsible. They agreed to the cull requested by the Minister because they wanted to protect their neighbours.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

That is right. I am grateful to my honourable Friend. It is astonishing that the Minister can quote the powers bestowed on him by the Animal Health Act 1981 and yet he feels it is necessary to pursue the two or three people in Herefordshire or elsewhere who may be causing him minor difficulties. We are not talking about spreading the disease or cutting the speed at which scrapie will be eradicated from the national flock; we are talking about a bizarre, badly-drafted, ill-advised Bill that could cause farmers to lose their stock and be forced to witness the entire procedure—they would have to go through the same experience as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton when she held her pony while it was being put down, but on a massive scale that could leave them damaged beyond reasonable mental strain. The Government are proud to bring this kind of legislation before the House. I think it is appalling. I urge Members opposite to support the amendment.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I rise briefly to indicate that we wish to press for a vote on this group of amendments. We have argued the case forcibly. The Bill provides sweeping powers. Although the Minister has sought to give reassurance on many points, sadly, due to the wording in the Bill and because he himself admits that only a small minority of people would resist doing the right thing to contain a disease outbreak, we genuinely believe that the proposals fly in the face of natural justice. People should have a meaningful right of appeal. The great majority of the farming community should not be punished by these powers being on the statute book, irrespective of whether they are used.

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

I support that. We can consider only what is written in the Bill. We hope that what the Minister reasonably expects will happen—that there will not be another outbreak and that the powers will be exercised responsibly and reasonably. I understand the difficulties in codifying that wish in legislation, but part of the problem with passing this legislation is that no time has been allotted to ensure that it is drafted in such a way that would enable us to support it. This group of amendments attempts to clarify the provisions, to place restrictions in certain areas and to define matters such as notice. We must put it to a vote to record the fact that we have attempted these amendments, they have been rejected, but we wish these considerations to be included in the clause.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 17 Adults Abused in Childhood — Schedule 2 - Scrapie

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Patrick Hall Patrick Hall Labour, Bedford

I beg to move amendment No. 123, in page 18, line 21, at end insert—

'(1A) Any person given notice under subsection (3)(b) below shall be entitled to present sworn information in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant.'.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With which it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 124, in clause 6, page 3, line 22, at end insert—

'(3A) Any person given notice under subsection (5)(b) below shall be entitled to present sworn information in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant.'.

No. 125, in clause 7, page 4, line 27, at end insert—

'(1A) Any person given notice under subsection (3)(b) below shall be entitled to present sworn information in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant.'.

No. 126, in clause 8, page 6, line 6, at end insert—

'(1A) Any person given notice under subsection (3)(b) below shall be entitled to present sworn information in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant.'.

Photo of Patrick Hall Patrick Hall Labour, Bedford

This group of amendments deals with a situation in which warrants are being sought by Ministry officials from a justice of the peace in order to gain access to premises to enforce a decision to slaughter or to carry out tests or take samples. The Bill replaces the current route available to officials in cases where farmers refuse access to their premises, which is to seek an injunction in the High Court. That process causes delay, as has been proved in the past few months. Delay leads to further problems—more infection and more slaughter—so I understand the need to reduce it and support efforts to do so.

As things stand, however, the justice of the peace will consider the case for the warrant on the basis of submissions from officials only. The farmer will not be permitted to be heard. I am well aware that the procedure for issuing warrants enabling the police to get information and to conduct searches, and other warrants made under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and the Competition Act 1998 do not allow the subject of the warrant to put forward their own point of view. It would be ridiculous and perverse if someone who might have committed a crime were given an opportunity to undermine police or other investigations. However, the Bill is not dealing with criminals. Farmers are not criminals.

In the circumstances to which the amendments apply—certainly with regard to slaughter—the farmer is simply disagreeing with a decision of the district veterinary manager or the veterinary surgeon on site and is seeking to protect his or her livestock and his or her livelihood. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. The circumstances are very difficult and emotional. In that context, everything that happens must be fair, reasonable and transparent and seen and understood to be so.

I want the farmer to have improved means to be heard by, for instance, being permitted to submit a sworn affidavit to the justice of the peace alongside that submitted by Ministry officials. I do not believe that that would undermine the circumstances that rightly apply to the serving of warrants in other circumstances. I do not believe that the amendments would set an unhelpful or dangerous precedent in that regard. Last week in Committee, the Minister very helpfully and reasonably announced moves to ensure that farmers get a fair hearing. A copy of his statement was circulated. I would like the Committee to consider my proposals in the context of that statement.

I understand that under current legislation the clerk's opinion can take precedence over that of the magistrate. I believe that that relates to matters of procedure and law, but I should like my hon. Friend to assure me that, should relevant circumstances arise in matters covered by the Bill, if the clerk made a decision it would be only on matters of procedure and law.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I welcome the amendment. It is a small voice of reason creeping into the Bill, but a very welcome addition. I reiterate the point that the Bill is not a measure for dealing with hardened criminals. At worst, the people concerned simply love their animals and want to protect their livelihood. Considering the nature of the Bill, they have every reason to fear. Therefore, the amendment would be a constructive addition to the Bill. It would allow people to protect their livelihoods, as the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) says, and would constitute some recognition of the fact that the House is not run solely by one party, and that we can still improve the drafting of a Bill. The amendment would add a welcome element of transparency to the measure. To be allowed to present sworn information to a justice of the peace is a minor entitlement for farmers, but I hope that the amendment will find its way into the Bill quickly. That would be a positive step.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

I support the amendment. It seems entirely reasonable that in such circumstances as might arise under the Bill, a farmer would be given a chance of a hearing. The right to a fair hearing is one of the rules of natural justice. The fact that it is missing from the Bill is an unfortunate omission, which the amendment would put right. I do not want to repeat the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), and will just emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Bedford, that the amendment should be considered in the context of the Bill and of relations between farmers and the Department. The amendment would be helpful, in making it clear that the farmer had the right to be heard and to present his sworn version of events. I hope that the Committee will support the amendment.

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

I also support the amendment, which would bring balance and proportionality to the Bill. It is an injustice for farmers to be unable to make some representations. I should have preferred an amendment enabling the farmer to appear in person or to be represented by a solicitor or friend who could put his case to the magistrates. I know that the procedures in question will be needed in only a minority of cases, but the amendment would bring the farming community some comfort; its members would know that during a foot and mouth epidemic, which is a time of strain and stress for the community and individuals, they could put their case.

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

I want to raise with the Minister an issue that falls appositely within the ambit of this group of amendments. The hon. Member for Bedford spoke to his amendments so well that I hope that the Minister is considering at last agreeing to amend the Bill in some respects. When he responds I shall be watching him optimistically. The Opposition will be ever hopeful.

I want to mention the new section 36H that schedule 2 would insert into the Animal Health Act 1981. Subsection (5) of the new section states:

''A warrant issued under this section remains in force for one month starting with the date of its issue.''

Will the Minister enlighten the Committee? Why was the period of one month necessary, when other parts of the Bill specify days? When dealing with emergencies, one month seems otiose. Why did he choose that arbitrary timing?

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 5:45 pm, 4th December 2001

I, too, would like to reflect on what has been said about the amendments. I commend the hon. Member for Bedford on the way in which he moved them and the thought that he put into drafting them. On Second Reading, and during earlier sittings of the Committee, concerns were expressed about the fact that magistrates would be asked to issue warrants quickly or even overnight. As magistrates usually come from the local community in which the slaughter is to take place, they might feel under pressure. The hon. Gentleman also said that, as often happens, the clerk might have undue influence over whether a warrant should be granted.

The Opposition have tried to express, probably inadequately, our concerns about the lack of balance and the lack of justice in these provisions. The amendments go some way to addressing that problem constructively and positively. I therefore add my support for the amendment to that expressed by my hon. Friends.

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

I quite understand the thinking behind my hon. Friend's amendment, and I am not unsympathetic to the case that he makes. It is perfectly reasonable in disputed cases, and particularly if a contiguous cull is being called for, that the farmer should be allowed to put his side of the argument. There are already provisions for appeals to the divisional veterinary manager. I have already undertaken to establish a protocol—a procedure to ensure that the farmer's views are taken into account in such appeals.

The farmer's first discussion will with the vet who visits the farm; if they do not agree, the farmer can appeal to the DVM. If the DVM rules against the farmer, the Department can apply to a magistrate for a warrant. That is the point at which my hon. Friend asks for the magistrate to be given the farmer's side of the story. Incidentally, I am not averse to a representative of the farmer making his case. I give my hon. Friend an undertaking that that will be considered when we draw up the guidelines, which will be open to public consultation. I have no objection to giving people the opportunity to have someone make representations on their behalf.

We return to the question of balance; it is about speed in relation to disease control, and the need to balance that against other legitimate concerns. Whatever else we do, I want to give people as much opportunity as I can to make their case and if necessary to disagree with the decisions of the local veterinary inspector. I am not aware of any legislative precedent for representations to be allowed on applications for warrants, but that is a legal problem.

I am sympathetic to the arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford. At the very least, I believe that we take that into account in the proposed guidelines, on which we intend to consult and which the DVM will have to follow, without unduly delaying the process. I shall have to get more advice on that. I do not disagree with the case made by my hon. Friend. I want to accommodate his proposals as far as I can, but I shall have to take advice on the way in which representations are made to the magistrate. I cannot accept his amendment without further discussion.

Photo of Patrick Hall Patrick Hall Labour, Bedford

Hon. Members' concerns were not raised for the first time today. They were also raised on Second Reading and in Committee over the past week when the amendments were tabled. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary responded to the concern that the right to be properly heard should be included in the Bill, and he has usefully elaborated on that today. It is important that the farmer be heard as fully and fairly as possible. There must, of course, be a balance between undue delay and people feeling that their points of view are taken on board. It is not good enough simply to push for maximum speed and diminish the benefits of supporting, understanding and respecting a system, even in difficult and emotional circumstances.

The Under-Secretary has responded well to our concerns, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 18 Adults Abused in Childhood — Schedule 2 - Scrapie

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 108, in page 19, leave out lines 21 to 23.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 114, in clause 6, page 4, leave out lines 10 to 12.

No. 136, in page 4, line 12, at end add—

'unless there are mitigating circumstances.'.

No. 104, in clause 7, page 5, leave out lines 19 to 21.

No. 141, in page 5, leave out lines 19 to 21.

No. 120, in clause 8, page 6, leave out lines 34 to 36.

No. 145, in page 6, line 36, at end insert—

'unless there are mitigating circumstances'.

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

The amendments relate to offences and what a person does to commit an offence. It is overkill to try to accommodate a wide range of offences that almost anyone who is taken to court can have committed. Amendment No. 108 would remove subsection (2) from proposed new section 36J. Proposed new section 36J(1) states:

''A person commits an offence if without lawful authority or excuse . . . he—

(a) refuses admission . . .

(b) obstructs or impedes him . . .

(c) assists in any such obstruction or impeding.''

We can live with that, but there is the catch all in subsection (2) which a person commits an offence if

''he is required to give assistance under section 36I(3), and . . . he fails to give it.''

That refers to any person on the premises. I have now worked out why there is no opportunity to give notice. If notice were given, people would get themselves off the premises because, if they are not on the premises, they cannot be caught within the offence. It is like the sheriff riding into town and deputising people in sight to carry out work within him, whether they like it or not. One reason why there were objections to giving any notice was to ensure that those measures were not frustrated

The proposed new subsection covers anyone on the premises, as has been teased out by other Opposition Members. The Minister said that such people are likely to be farmers or people working with them and that it is reasonable to request help from them. However, that gets us into definitions. Many people who could be found on the premises are not directly concerned with the business or agriculture in general. They may be family members or children. Indeed, we could easily imagine a situation in which young people would be loath to assist anyone with the destruction of their pets. It is possible that neighbours, friends or, indeed, professional advisers might be visiting. It might be the day that the bank manager, accountant, refuse collector or anyone else is round.

We are including unnecessary measures and we should just stick to proposed new section 36J(1). We do not need subsection (2) because subsection (1) clearly defines the three major reasons for committing an offence: refusing admission to someone, obstructing or impeding someone doing the job, and assisting in such obstruction. That could include all the actions that the Minister mentioned; someone who failed to find the records would be impeding or obstructing. That is defined already, and we do not need to include the other aspects. Once again, we are asking the Minister to consider restricting what are wide-ranging powers so that the Government will not only be acting reasonably, but be seen to be acting reasonably. They would do that by defining the people who could be obstructing or impeding scrapie testing or sampling. It is important to remember that we are discussing only that, not the spread of foot and mouth.

That is another problem. There are different circumstances and time scales in testing and sampling scrapie than in controlling spread. We have heard that point often in debating such amendments. The Bill is trying to tackle three different situations with different time scales and potential consequences. We are in danger of saying that, because we must move quickly and in a draconian fashion to control foot and mouth, we should extend that approach into scrapie testing and sampling, even if the same strictures do not necessarily apply. The amendments would show that, in scrapie testing and sampling, we could reduce the draconian aspect of the measures to a more sensible level and ensure that they can be accepted.

We must recognise the potential for civil disobedience. At the start, people who destroyed genetically modified crops were considered crazy, but in recent court cases, such people have not been convicted, as many thought would happen. In fact, the courts have been entirely sympathetic to their views. Those people had clearly committed an offence in destroying crops, but the public felt that they had a legitimate reason to do that.

Some—if not a considerable number—of these measures will be treated similarly. Public opinion will be that people felt very strongly and were acting properly, even if that amounted to civil disobedience. As a result, if the measures were enforced as they could be, the court outcome might not be as successful as the Minister might expect.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk 6:00 pm, 4th December 2001

I, too, should like to examine the circumstances in which one is found to have committed an offence, because that subject greatly interests me. In particular, I shall consider the case of Mr. Guy Thomas-Everard, a farmer who acted in a way that I regard as wholly responsible, but who could easily have been found to have committed an offence under the Bill. His farm is at Dulverton in Somerset, on the Devon border.

Mr. Thomas-Everard was classified as a dangerous contact. On Wednesday 2 May, a senior MAFF state veterinary service vet, Mr. Malcolm Wigglesworth, served a form D notice on him, which prohibits livestock movement and usually implies recurring visits from the Ministry. In doing so, Mr. Wigglesworth advised Mr. Thomas-Everard that he did not think that the farmer had much to worry about, given that six days had passed since the contact with the contractor whom the Ministry suspected of having spread foot and mouth. In fact, as Mr. Thomas-Everard contended all along, the contractor was not the cause of the spread.

Mr. Wigglesworth said to Mr. Thomas-Everard that

''as we had reached Day 6 we could breathe again, when we reached Day 10 we could sleep again at night''.

However, he went on to say that

''for certainty our stock would be regularly inspected by a MAFF appointed 'clean' vet until 3 weeks had passed''

since the contractor's visit.

On Thursday 3 May, Mr. Wigglesworth telephoned Mr. Thomas-Everard to say that a clean vet from a private practice would inspect the cattle on Friday. Mr. Thomas-Everard spent the whole of Friday waiting for that vet to appear. Indeed, he telephoned the MAFF office in Taunton a number of times to find out when he would appear. At 4.30 pm, Mr. Thomas-Everard's father rang and was told that a vet would ring back, although none did.

At 5 pm, Mr. Thomas-Everard received a deluge of calls from friends and the press saying that MAFF had held a press conference saying that his stock was to be slaughtered. As a result, he telephoned the Ministry's office in Taunton and spoke to the state veterinary service disease control manager, Mr. Jonathan Milree. He responded that as far as he knew, London was still deliberating on the matter. At that stage, the Ministry had not contacted Mr. Thomas-Everard directly. I am talking about what others said to him on the basis of what MAFF had said to the press. Nothing direct was said to the farmer who was so concerned—so much for a fair hearing or the chance for consultation.

On Saturday 5 May, Mr. Thomas-Everard's father sent a letter to the divisional veterinary manager, Mr. David Bowman. That evening, Mr. Thomas-Everard's father received a telephone call from Mr. Bowman, who said that his son's cattle would be slaughtered. During that conversation, Mr. Thomas-Everard's father asked Mr. Bowman how he should go about appealing against the slaughter decision, if that is what he wished to do. Mr. Bowman replied that there was no right of appeal. In his witness statement, Mr. Thomas Everard says that that was not true, and he believes that Mr. Bowman was aware that it was not true when he made that statement.

At 8.45 pm that Saturday, a MAFF state veterinary service vet, Miss Sue Waterman, arrived with a Somerset county council trading standards officer at the Broford farm gate, which is more than half a mile from the buildings and the cattle. Miss Waterman wanted to go on to the farm to value the cattle, which seemed rather impractical considering that it was getting dark by that time and there are no lights in six of the eight cattle buildings. Mr. Thomas-Everard's parents refused Miss Waterman permission to enter the farm to value the cattle, but repeatedly invited her to send any clean vet to inspect the cattle that remained free of foot and mouth.

Miss Waterman admitted, after persistent questioning, that she had in fact been on a holding where foot and mouth was suspected, in a foot and mouth infected area near Okehampton, within the previous three days; in other words, she fitted the Ministry's definition of a dirty vet. Miss Waterman and the trading standards officer argued until 11.30 pm with Mr. Thomas-Everard's parents about the need for her to value the cattle that night. Mr. Thomas-Everard states:

''We were aware that if a farmer agrees to allow a valuation he waives all rights to appeal against a slaughter notice. My parents realised that was the reason for the determination on the part of Miss Waterman to come in and ''value'' the stock even though it was dark. My father suspected that if he refused entry to Miss Waterman to inspect our cattle as a vet, that refusal would give MAFF justification to obtain a Court Order to enter and slaughter all my animals.''

However, the family had been told that a clean vet would be sent to them, and Miss Waterman had admitted, after persistent questioning, that she was a dirty vet. Mr. Thomas-Everard continued:

''My father was therefore particularly careful to repeatedly invite an inspection by a 'clean' vet but to refuse a one-sided valuation by a potentially infected person who was not a professional valuer.''

Mr. Thomas-Everard's father also insisted that the trading standards officer should record, first, that there had been an invitation to inspect the cattle, secondly, that Miss Waterman was not a clean vet and, thirdly, that his father had not agreed to allow a valuation.

At about 11 am on Sunday 6 May, Mr. Thomas-Everard received a call from MAFF to say that a vet would be with him shortly to carry out a further inspection of the stock and at midday, a MAFF state veterinary service vet, Mr. Malcolm Bruce, arrived, with a trading standards officer, at the farm gate. All the cattle on Broford and Week farms were inspected. Mr. Bruce clinically examined the feet and mouths of all the at-risk calves, and he could see no signs of foot and mouth.

At 5 pm that Sunday, Mr. Bruce telephoned the Ministry to say that all the cattle were in good health. Despite that information, the Ministry official to whom Mr. Bruce was talking instructed him to serve a form A notice on the farms. At that point in the telephone conversation, according to Mr. Thomas-Everard:

''Mr. Bruce's demeanour changed and he was clearly angered by this instruction. He did however complete and serve a Form A notice.''

The following day, on Monday 7 May, the Ministry held a stakeholder's meeting. Mr. Thomas-Everard said:

''I was not invited to attend or send a representative to this meeting, which surprised me, as I was surely someone with a stake in this matter.''

At the meeting, Ministry officials persuaded those present that Mr. Thomas-Everard's stock should be slaughtered rather than monitored because they were deemed to pose a very significant risk to Exmoor. After the meeting, the Ministry informed the press that it would obtain a court order to allow its representatives on to the farm to carry out the slaughter.

It was reported on the 6 o'clock news on the evening of Tuesday 8 May that the Ministry was reconsidering its position in the light of new evidence that had been brought to its attention by Mr. Thomas-Everard. He received no direct notification from the Ministry that that was going to happen, hearing of it merely through the media. The new information concerned the contractor's movements and the circumstances of those movements. The Ministry had in fact known that for four days when it made its announcement. Mr. Thomas-Everard's statement goes on:

''I have experienced many problems as a result of MAFF's handling of the FMD crisis and like many other farmers want to see a public inquiry so that someone is accountable for the bad handling. These problems are primarily in connection with their insistence that my cattle by slaughtered despite the fact that a vet had undertaken a thorough inspection of my cattle and confirmed they showed no signs of FMD. MAFF continued to instruct the same vet to serve a Form A notice. This was 10 days after any possible link with FMD. Further, MAFF sought to imply on 10th May that new evidence had come to light which caused them to reprieve my cattle. The truth in fact is that MAFF had had this information for some but appeared to be desperate to try and find an alternative reason that still justified their slaughtering my cattle.

Despite requests MAFF would not provide a copy of their report to the central veterinary office detailing their assessment of the need to slaughter my cattle.

When the Form D was served on me on 2nd May no blood tests were taken of my cattle. Even after a written request for such MAFF still refused.''

So much for farmers refusing to have blood tests done. That farmer begged for a blood test and wrote to the Ministry to ask that his cattle be tested. The Ministry refused.

Mr. Thomas-Everard's statement continues:

''Not only might a test have reprieved my cattle from slaughter sooner, but if my cattle had been slaughtered it would have shown that they did not have the disease and therefore there was no need for an expensive clean-up procedure.''

The point surely is that by resisting the Ministry, Mr. Thomas-Everard saved the Ministry and the taxpayer a considerable amount of money on compensation that would, he tells me, have been was somewhere in the region of £1.5 to £2 million. That money was saved and employees who would have been out of a job continued to be employed.

That man did nothing more than protecting his business and his animals against the actions of an irresponsible vet who had to be pressured into admitting that she was in fact a dirty vet. Yet under the Bill, that responsible farmer would be committing an offence. Proposed new section 36J(2) quite clearly states:

''A person commits an offence If—

(a) he is required to give assistance under section 36I(3), and

(b) he fails to give it.''

I concur with amendment No.114, tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, that the best thing to do is to strike out the clause. Failing that, I would support amendment No. 136, which says that any person will be committing an offence if he fails to give assistance

''unless there are mitigating circumstances''.

The case that I have just outlined would surely provide supremely good mitigating circumstances, and I hope, in the absence of any other such balancing measure, that the Committee will consider accepting either amendment. They would bring some balance to the circumstances in which someone might or might not have committed an offence. We should not be willing to penalise people who are trying to do the right thing.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 6:15 pm, 4th December 2001

My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk has done the Committee a great service in outlining the precise circumstances in which Mr. Thomas-Everard found himself. If the Bill had been on the statute book, Mr. Thomas-Everard would have been guilty of an offence because he would have been required to give assistance and he failed to give it. Many other cases have been reported to me and other hon. Members over the months since the height of the foot and mouth epidemic. It fills me with fear and dread about what may happen to innocent people, who would have committed an offence although they had done what they did in good faith.

In amendment No. 114, the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall seeks to omit the provision that a person would commit an offence if he failed to give assistance when required to do so under subsection (9). That would be the best solution to the problem, and I hope that the Minister will consider it favourably.

The fallback position is contained in amendment No. 136, which would include a point about mitigating circumstances. That would provide greater balance, and the person who was accused of committing an offence would explain the mitigating circumstances that had made him refuse to give assistance when requested to do so. That point takes us back to the ''any persons'' argument, which relates to the kind of people who may be required to give assistance, the circumstances in which they find themselves and valid reasons that they may wish to give for not providing the assistance that the Bill would require them to give.

I hope that the Minister will consider including some balance in the Bill and accept the amendments.

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

The point before us is balance, but I am not sure that individual cases can be dealt with in the way done by the hon. Member for South Norfolk. I do not know the other side to that story and, from what little I know about the Thomas-Everard case, I understand that our officials had great difficulty in obtaining accurate information, particularly in relation to the movements of the contractor who was linked with a disease outbreak.

I cannot comment on that particular case. However, in general terms, the amendments discuss appropriate and proportionate powers in relation to co-operation. I am not sure that the example given by the hon. Member for South Norfolk is relevant.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

My example is utterly germane. The amendments deal with the provisions, as exemplified in, for example, new section 36J in schedule 2, and in clause 6(12). Those provisions deal with circumstances in which someone has committed an offence. If the example that I have discussed is not relevant to the circumstances in which one is, or is not, committing an offence, I am at a loss to understand what would be relevant.

As to the Minister's comment that have I cited an individual case while we are talking about the general point, I must say that I was referring by way of illustration to a specific case, but there are many others. I have just been handed a note, which I imagine is from someone sitting in the Committee—

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

I shall be brief. The note says:

''I had to deal with a similar problem to Guy Thomas-Everard's with the Ministry and we ended up resisting an attempt to obtain an injunction against us . . . We won that case and had our costs awarded. We also offered to have all our animals blood tested, and Judge Harrison in the High Court agreed that this was the right action.''

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is far too long.

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

We cannot use individual examples; there are equal examples of people who did not co-operate. I know of at least one case in which people would not co-operate even though the animals were infected and had the virus. The issues must be dealt with on a general basis without taking individual stories into account.

It is possible that there will in future be greater facilities for blood testing, which should mean that that option could be applied. It certainly could not have been applied at the height of the outbreak, however, because there was not the capacity for blood testing. Circumstances during the outbreak were very different from the situation now, when we are using blood testing. One or two doubtful cases have come to light since 3 September, and blood testing is a way of checking what is going on. We must be proportionate about the circumstances that apply. The amendments change nothing of substance in the Bill, which requires inspectors to act reasonably in seeking any assistance that they need.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

The Minister said that he knows of one case in which a farmer had refused to co-operate when he had disease on the farm. That is an exceptional situation, but there are many other cases in which good evidence could be produced that people would have been caught by the Bill. Is it proportionate and just that one should legislate for the odd case of someone whom we would all condemn, who must be insane, mad or irresponsible, when the greater majority of people only wish to do the right thing? Under the Bill, the would have committed a criminal offence if, even for good reasons, they did not wish to give assistance to the inspector. The balance is not right and we will therefore press the amendments to a Division.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Does the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall intend to press the amendment to a vote?

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

Yes, very much so. It is important that we place on record our opposition to the clauses, as we are considering offences that people may commit, wittingly or unwittingly, which might have serious consequences in respect of how they could be treated.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 19 Adults Abused in Childhood — Schedule 2 - Scrapie

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I beg to move amendment No. 44, in page 19, line 26, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

This simple amendment would right a wrong with respect to compensation arrangements for scrapie. Under proposed new section 36K:

''The Minister may make regulations providing for the payment by him of compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred as a result of the exercise of a power conferred by or under this Part.''

We propose to substitute the word ''shall'' for ''may'' for obvious reasons. The scheme is statutory, not voluntary, so it is right and proper that the Ministry ''shall'' make regulations

''providing for the payment . . . of compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred''.

I do not understand why ''may'' appears in this part of the Bill. It gives the Minister a discretion, which doubtless the Treasury will appreciate in due course, but my hon. Friends and I do not believe that it is just. If a statutory scheme is introduced, the Ministry should defray the costs incurred through the exercise of the powers. For those reasons, and others that may be proposed by members of the Committee, we ask the Minister to accept the amendment.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Suppose that we view the amendment in a different light and suggest that the Minister ''may not'' instead of must make regulations about payment. My understanding is that taking something from someone without paying compensation is theft—or, at best, borrowing. The amendment would ensure that under no circumstances could the Minister borrow people's stock without making compensation. That is entirely right and proper. Under the Bill of Rights of 1688, no fines or forfeitures before conviction can be binding. That is the basis of what we all believe in—property, liberty and the right to life. In suggesting that compensation should not be paid, the Government are out of order. What better way of triggering the vigilantism, lawlessness and civil disobedience that some have warned might follow from the draconian nature of the Bill than the withdrawal of compensation? It is a mild form of theft, but theft it is, so the amendment is essential.

People delivering a Liberal Democrat leaflet or passing a farm for some other reason may be put in prison for six months. That would be all right if it were for delivering a Liberal Democrat leaflet, but not for something more serious, such as a visit of a Member of Parliament. That is the nature of the Bill and the reason why we must fight every inch of the way to prevent this draconian measure becoming law.

The amendment is vital. The Minister must make regulations to provide for the payment of

''compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred as a result of the exercise of a power''.

If not, we will be forced back to the Bill of Rights and the basic freedoms that we all enjoy in this country. I urge Government Members to consider the oath of allegiance that they took when they were elected. They must protect people on the basis of common law, which is about taking something and ensuring that it is paid for.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall 6:30 pm, 4th December 2001

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman wants to protect me from possible arrest should I deliver leaflets in future. Who knows what the result might have been had we been able to deliver them during the foot and mouth crisis?

The Minister was sympathetic to the fact that farmers should not be over-burdened with costs or made uncompetitive by the scrapie eradication programme. The amendment would change the important word ''may'' to ''shall''. It would not ensure that the Minister paid all the costs, but only that he would make regulations providing for their payment. It does not set out what the payment should be, how or when it should be made, but only that regulations should provide for compensation of farmers in the compulsory eradication of scrapie. The Minister would not want farmers co-operating with the Government in the eradication of scrapie to lose out. This modest amendment should be instantaneously accepted by the Minister as it would give force to his earlier view.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

I, too, support the amendment. The Bill's emphasis on farmers' obligations, duties and responsibilities is massive. However, the Minister and his Department are obliged to do very little. Proposed new section 36K states:

''The Minister may make regulations providing for the payment by him of compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred as a result of the exercise of a power conferred by or under this Part.''

If a constituent came to a surgery and explained that he was trying to claim compensation, what could one say if the Minister had chosen not to make the regulations? All one could do is point to the Bill and explain that a claim could have been made had the Minister bothered to make regulations, as he ''may'' choose to do, but that it appeared that he did not consider it worthwhile. That is what the provision boils down to in its present form. It seems reasonable that the Government should be obliged to set down regulations.

I recall the Minister saying, ''The key to this is transparency''. Let us take him at his word. Why does he object to the requirement to make regulations, under the word ''shall''? The amendment is reasonable, and it is about time that the Government realised that if the Bill is to be accepted by the farming community, it should not be a one-way street. The Minister should have duties and obligations, and the requirement to set regulations for compensation is reasonable.

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

People should not get too worked up about the words ''may'' and ''shall''. The important point is that there is provision to make compensation if it is deemed appropriate; that is spelled out. The priority for scrapie is to breed it out of the UK flock. The high percentage turnover of sheep in any one year makes that possible. However, that does not preclude taking other measures—for example, castration of animals that are not scrapie resistant—as we get to the end of the programme, which is some years away. In such circumstances, there may be a case for compensation. I do not dispute that, and it is recognised in the Bill, which makes provision for compensation if it is appropriate.

If a decision were made that compensation was appropriate, the details would be set out in supplementary regulations. There is a need to retain some flexibility about payment of compensation, and factors such as prevailing market conditions must be taken into account. However, the Bill includes a provision to cover developments under the scrapie relegation plan, and the details are open for negotiation with the industry. I would expect industry representatives to make their case at that time.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

The Minister says that there is provision for compensation in the Bill. However, the proposed new section on compensation states that

''The Minister may make regulations''.

There is more than an element of doubt, because the Minister may not make regulations, depending on the circumstances.

The Minister's comments have not reassured me, nor do I think that they will have reassured my hon. Friends. The Minister will need to make regulations; therefore, ''shall'' is a much more positive word. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall correctly said that the amendment is modest. However, it is vital because it shifts the balance away from doubt and the possibility that the Minister may not make regulations to a much more positive situation in which he is required to make regulations.

We are not saying what the regulations will be. We are not trying to specify the payment amount, although many people wish that the Bill set it at the proper market value compensation at the time. We leave those elements to one side. The Minister says that the proposed new section's wording gives him flexibility in respect of compensation. What it actually gives him is a cop-out. That is not acceptable, and we wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 20 Adults Abused in Childhood — Schedule 2 - Scrapie

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Labour, Workington

May I make a point about schedule 2?

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

No. I must now put the question.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Second schedule to the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division number 21 Adults Abused in Childhood — Schedule 2 - Scrapie

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Before we move on, it might be helpful if I explained to the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) that, because my co-Chairman allowed a debate on clause 5, it was generally accepted that there would be no stand part debate on schedule 2.Clause 6 Treatment: power of entry