We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Schedule 2 - Scrapie

Part of Animal Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 4th December 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:00 pm, 4th December 2001

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.