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Schedule 2 - Scrapie

Part of Animal Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 4th December 2001.

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Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall 5:45 pm, 4th December 2001

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.