Clause 6 - Treatment: power of entry

Animal Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 4th December 2001.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 109, in page 3, line 15, leave out 'inspector' and insert

'an authorised person of the Minister'.

The changing of ''officer of the Minister'' to ''inspector'' adds confusion rather than helping the situation. It is important to make it clear which person is authorised by the Minister, especially considering the fact that a group of people could turn up, perhaps unannounced. We are always telling our older folk not to let people into their premises to read the gas meter, for example, until they produce some proper authorisation. Indeed, in this case the authorised person should carry authorisation. That is not clear if the Bill uses the term ''inspector'', because it could mean an RSPCA, police or DEFRA inspector. We should identify who is the authorised person of the Minister, especially because, potentially, such a person will be empowered to carry out serious actions. If we change the term to ''an authorised person'', he or she would have to demonstrate the relevant authorisation to everyone concerned.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

I support the amendment. The argument of the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall was reasonable. It seems rather odd to replace the term ''officer of the Minister'', which is at least plausibly clear, with ''inspector''. I agree with the proposed new drafting, and using the wording

''an authorised person of the Minister''

would probably help out the Minister. It would enable him to authorise a variety of different people. I suspect that he will say that he cannot do that because he has the word ''inspector'' scrawled across the rest of the Bill in the draconian clauses that we just discussed about the inspector requiring people to do this, that and the other. The departmental lawyers would have kittens if it turned out that we had an inspector dictating to people left, right and centre, but no longer as a representative of the Minister. I am not too hopeful that the Under-Secretary will listen to this sensible amendment. I invite him to give us a pleasant surprise but I do not think that he will, because the whole Bill seems to have been put together in too much of a hurry. It does not make internal coherent sense, and an anomaly is bound to be the result.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 6:45 pm, 4th December 2001

I, too, support the amendment, which is modest but would improve the Bill. I must admit that I like the phrase ''officer of the Minister'' best. I cannot understand why that phrase was not used elsewhere in the Bill and that we had consistency, rather than the word ''inspector'', which means very little to me.

Whichever people turn up at a farm, it is essential that the person who leads that group and acts is standing as an officer of the Minister. I can therefore understand the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, which would ensure that that person was described as

''an authorised person of the Minister''.

Anything is better than ''inspector'', for the reasons that have been given. I trust that the Minister will look favourably on this modest improvement.

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

I am sympathetic to the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, particularly as we have just heard a new myth about the Bill. It has been suggested that the Bill will result in the killing not only of cats, dogs and horses, but of people delivering Liberal Democrat leaflets, or at least that they will receive six months in jail. Even though their leaflets are not always great, that would be a bit hard.

The amendment is unnecessary, because we are talking about consistency. The Bill relates to the 1981 Act, in which an inspector is defined as a person appointed to be an inspector for the purposes of that Act by the Minister or by a local authority. When used in relation to an officer of the Ministry, the definition includes a veterinary inspector. As the term is in the 1981 Act, this is simply a question of consistency.

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

I thank the Minister for that response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 110, in page 3, line 21, leave out from ''premises,'' to end of line 22.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this we may discuss amendment No. 107, in clause 8, page 6, line 5, leave out

'if necessary using reasonable force'.

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

The amendment is another attempt to remove some words from the Bill. Of course, if the Department were prepared to remove everything that we wanted it to, the Bill would probably be only one page long. The power that we are debating may not be used at all; I know that the Minister will say that he just wants to have that power. However, with regard to the circumstances that are described in this part, the part on scrapie and so on, we need to tease out the differences and establish the position.

One real problem with the Bill relates to the fact that we are talking about three clearly different circumstances. In an emergency situation, it is perhaps—I say only perhaps—right to consider using reasonable force, but we should not make it a general power. Again, these words and powers, even if they are not used, give entirely the wrong impression to people whom we want to co-operate. In fact, active co-operation and participation will be essential, whether to tackle the spread of foot and mouth, to conduct tests and take samples, or to eradicate scrapie. All that will involve co-operation from the farming community.

Holding the threat of reasonable force, if necessary, like a sword of Damocles over the heads of people in that community does not create the right atmosphere in which to seek a co-operative approach. In accordance with amendments Nos. 110 and 107, I should like to see those words removed.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I rise briefly to support the hon. Gentleman's amendment, which would leave out the phrase,

''if necessary using reasonable force, for the purpose mentioned in subsection (2).''

I agree that our thrust should be to gain the confidence of farmers in future and achieve what needs to be done on scrapie and other problems through co-operation. It is difficult to define ''reasonable force''. If I shut and padlock the farm gates and someone cuts through the padlock and bashes down the gate, does that amount to ''reasonable force''. I honestly do not know what it is, but I do not want any force to be used. Other methods such as co-operation should be encouraged. Including ''reasonable force'' in the Bill is unnecessary.

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

While I understand that entering a farm to cull animals is an emotional issue, the provision deals with powers of entry for tests and samples. We are talking about having the power to enter, if necessary by force, when people refuse to co-operate with blood testing or the vaccination programme.

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

The hon. Lady asks why should they refuse. That is a fair question, but some people have refused to co-operate with vaccination and blood testing. Some have barricaded themselves in and refused blood testing: it happened in Essex, Devon and the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall provided another example. These things do happen, but forced entry is a last resort. Nobody wants it, but it is, regrettably, necessary in dealing with epidemic control by vaccination and blood testing. In those circumstances, entry is necessary in the national interest. That is why those powers are in the Bill.

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

These are emotive times. It is the combination of different powers that can give the wrong impression. I accept that some people want to prevent—for whatever reason—tests and sampling from taking place, which could jeopardise the results. With some reluctance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I beg to move amendment No. 88, in page 4, line 1, after 'persons', insert

'up to a maximum of 10'.

The amendment is straightforward. Proposed new paragraph (8) states:

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

The amendment would add that persons should be only up to a maximum of 10. That is, to be fair, an arbitrary figure, but it is necessary to limit the number of persons that inspectors—

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

My hon. Friend takes the words out of my mouth. I was about to suggest that it might be a platoon—

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Indeed. We have said many times that the way forward is to work with the farming community and rebuild its trust and confidence. The inspector has a job to do, but the option to take as many people as he wants is totally unnecessary. Vast numbers of people turned up on some farms during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. That is off-putting. It makes people feel even more sensitive in the circumstances, and is neither proportionate nor reasonable.

This modest amendment would limit the number of people in the party that turned up at a farm or premises to 10. Of those 10 people, there would be at least one inspector, one veterinary surgeon, some stockmen, and possibly some policemen in case of trouble. Limiting the number to 10 would more than adequately cover the needs of the inspector in carrying out his duties.

Before I conclude, Mr. Illsley, I would like to thank you and Mr. Conway on behalf of Opposition Members for chairing the Committee so effectively and affably. You have been very tolerant and we are grateful. As I have pointed out to many people, the Chair is a voluntary position and many Chairmen give generously of their time, which we greatly appreciate. I also thank the Clerk for his assistance, and the Doorkeepers and police for ensuring that the Committee could sit without any difficulty.

There are fewer than 10 people in the Room to keep us in order, and therefore a maximum of 10 people would be more than enough to accompany the inspector to a farm. I hope that the Minister will look kindly on this last opportunity to accept the amendment.

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

I also express my thanks to you, Mr. Illsley, and to Mr. Conway. I also thank the Committee and my hon. Friends for their support and excellent contributions. It is a pity that there have been so many unnecessary Divisions, as we could have had more debate. Nevertheless, the hon. Lady is right; 10 is an arbitrary number. There are generally fewer people in teams that go to farms. However, large teams may be needed for large farms, or when large flocks of hefted sheep must be brought down, as in the Brecon Beacons. The teams would contain no more people than necessary, otherwise there would be a waste of important resources.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I may as well shut up shop, which is not the right attitude, but I want to vote on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 22 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 6 - Treatment: power of entry

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

It being Seven o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [22 November] and the Order of the Committee [19 November], to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Clauses 6 to 18 agreed to.

Question put, That clauses 6 to 18 stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division number 23 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 6 - Treatment: power of entry

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at two minutes past Seven o'clock.