Section 1 — Slaughter for preventing spread of disease

Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:04 pm on 31st May 2006.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 2:04 pm, 31st May 2006

Group 1 is on the conditions for the exercise of the power of slaughter. Amendment 1 is grouped with amendments 9, 2, 3, 14 and 14A.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

The power to order the slaughter of livestock, wild animals and companion animals is a serious power to put in the hands of Government. The power has been used carefully and proportionately in the past, but we can always learn from previous experience. Amendment 1 would provide a safeguard to ensure that the powers of slaughter are not misused or used in error, by including in the bill a requirement to consider veterinary and scientific advice.

There was much debate in the Environment and Rural Development Committee about the need to take such advice. Amendment 1 would include a simple statement on the matter in the bill, because there is no reason not to do so. By agreeing to amendment 1, we would acknowledge concerns that were expressed during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Many witnesses told the committee that aspects of the approach to that outbreak are now considered to have been unnecessary and that some culling could have been avoided if scientific and veterinary advice had been taken and interpreted differently.

In its stage 1 report, the committee said on the powers of slaughter:

"the Committee considers it important that stakeholders are both involved and seen to be involved before decisions are made."

Ross Finnie told the committee:

"It is inconceivable that a minister would exercise a random power of slaughter without taking advice".—[Official Report, Environment and Rural Development Committee, 11 January 2006; c 2620.]

However, the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development told the committee that at the point of an initial outbreak the powers of the Animal Health Act 1981 would enable ministers

"to deal with most fast-spreading diseases."—[Official Report, Environment and Rural Development Committee, 15 March 2006; c 2859.]

Amendment 1 would enable ministers to adopt a proportionate response to an outbreak of disease. Parliament would also have a role. We could learn from the contingency plans of other countries, on avian flu for example.

We acknowledge that scientists and veterinary surgeons can give conflicting advice and believe that we can increase stakeholders' confidence in section 1 by ensuring that there can be better communication than there was in the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

The other amendments in the group seek to achieve the same objective as amendment 1. We will listen to members' arguments for those amendments.

I move amendment 1.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I have only one name on my screen, but I suspect that more members want to contribute to the debate on group 1. Please press your request-to-speak buttons. There are time constraints and I must do my sums.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

Amendment 9 would include in the bill a requirement for ministers to take

"appropriate veterinary and scientific advice."

It is similar to amendment 1, which Rob Gibson lodged, and I will not go over the ground that he covered.

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development assured the committee that it was "inconceivable" that he would cause animals to be slaughtered without taking appropriate veterinary and scientific advice. I have no reason to doubt the minister's word, but that is not the point. Ross Finnie is an honourable man and his deputy is an honourable woman, but it is not inconceivable—albeit that it is difficult, given how elections are organised—that there could be an Executive of a different hue and that different ministers could be running affairs. We should cover such eventualities.

There is no reason why the requirement to take appropriate veterinary and scientific advice should not be included in the bill. What is the problem? If it is inconceivable that the minister would ever take such action without first consulting vets and scientists, why not simply put a requirement to do so in the bill?

Like Rob Gibson, I acknowledge that the other amendments in the group are along the same lines as our amendment 9. If any of them are accepted, we will be happy not to move our amendment. However, until we hear good arguments from the minister for why he consistently refuses to put such a requirement in the bill, despite the fact that the Environment and Rural Development Committee urged him to do so, we will call for that requirement.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

In many ways, the bill is an excellent one, but it is let down by the provision of seemingly limitless powers to ministers to slaughter animals. That contrasts with the situation in England and Wales, where statutory requirements are in place for contingency plans and slaughter protocols. The bill will not create such requirements. For the reasons that Rob Gibson and Ted Brocklebank spelled out, we need veterinary and scientific advice. The only point on which the Executive has conceded is on the requirement, proposed in Maureen Macmillan's amendment 14, for a statement to be made when the slaughter powers are to be used. The statement, as described in amendment 14, would be about the events, the disease, disease control and why ministers had chosen to slaughter animals. That would be useful, but it would not have to cover much more than that. For example, ministers would not have to say what advice they had been given or what procedures had been followed. Under Maureen Macmillan's amendment 14, the provision of that information would be only voluntary. The amendment would not require ministers to provide information on important aspects that need to be considered during a disease outbreak.

I am concerned that ministers will open themselves up to judicial review of whether they acted unreasonably during a disease outbreak. In presenting her slaughter statement amendment, Maureen Macmillan will no doubt say that she does not believe in lists, because something always gets missed out. I am sorry, but I do not believe in blank sheets of paper. If the statement is to be meaningful, it must add to our scrutiny. The statement must have key statutory elements if we are properly to scrutinise ministerial decisions to slaughter animals.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I feel as though I am taking part in a beauty contest to decide which is the best way of reassuring the public that an appropriate decision has been made on controlling disease when ministers exercise their power of slaughter rather than, for example, order vaccination. My suggestion is in amendment 14, which proposes the introduction of a new section 32F in the Animal Health Act 1981. My Environment and Rural Development Committee colleagues will recall that ministers agreed at stage 2 to reflect further on the concerns that I and others expressed about the importance of transparency in giving an understanding of how any decision to use the new slaughter powers was reached. It is important that such a decision should be presented before the slaughter takes place. In my view, amendment 14 would satisfy those concerns.

I will explain why. Any consideration of the use of the slaughter powers in proposed new schedule 3A of the 1981 act would be a matter of significant public interest at a time of disease emergency. The risk of disease spread will be an important factor in considering appropriate measures to deal effectively with the outbreak. Opinions will no doubt vary on those measures—that is a natural facet of an emergency—but, ultimately, it is ministers' responsibility to take difficult decisions, including that on whether to slaughter animals or birds beyond the immediate disease-risk zones. That action may be key to enveloping and controlling the outbreak. It is inconceivable that the minister would not take the appropriate advice beforehand. I hear what Ted Brocklebank says about that. Perhaps he is thinking of the day when, by some awful chance, a Tory minister might be in charge of disease control—never.

Amendment 14 will require ministers, before exercising the additional slaughter powers under schedule 3A, to set out, in a statement, the circumstances giving rise to the decision and why additional slaughter powers are to be used. The format and detail of such a statement can best be determined at the time and in the light of the particular circumstances. Amendment 14 allows for that to be done. I do not believe in constraining things too closely.

The same requirement to make a statement will also apply in the event that the proposed new section 16B power of slaughter of vaccinated animals or birds to obtain or to contribute to obtaining disease-free status is to be exercised.

I commend amendment 14 to the Parliament. It provides for transparency in any decision to exercise the new slaughter powers.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None 2:15 pm, 31st May 2006

Mr Lochhead, I will call you, if you can be up and down in two minutes.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I can do it in 10 seconds if you wish, but I will take my two minutes.

There is an element of déjà vu here, in that many of these debates were rehearsed at stage 2. The arguments were won by the members who lodged similar amendments, but at the end of the day we lost the vote. We all recognise that a balance must be struck. The minister should have sufficient powers to act quickly and robustly in the event of a disease outbreak in Scotland, but we must ensure that checks and balances are in place. The Environment and Rural Development Committee's stage 1 report said that the bill should mention explicitly that the minister should take the appropriate advice, as laid out in the various amendments.

I remind members that the stage 1 report said:

"These new powers, therefore, provide for the slaughter of animals that may not be affected, suspected, exposed or in contact with disease."

We are giving the minister an enormous power, without any checks or balances in the bill. The minister will be able simply to issue an order to slaughter wild animals, companion animals and animals that have not come into contact with disease or shown any evidence of disease. That is a wide-ranging power.

The minister could order the slaughter of wild animals, which could have an impact on biodiversity or rare breeds. I ask members to imagine the public backlash in Scotland if that went ahead without reassurance to the public that the appropriate advice had been taken. That is a crucial element of the bill.

Even if we do not agree to the other amendments in the group, we should agree to amendment 14. Maureen Macmillan lodged a similar amendment at stage 2, which she withdrew because the minister, Rhona Brankin, said that she would lodge an amendment to cover the issue. There is no such amendment. Therefore, if the main amendments—which, although better than amendment 14, may not find favour with the coalition parties—fail, I take it that the Government will support amendment 14.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I make it clear at the outset that I recognise that the powers are wide. Ted Brocklebank is right—this is not about me, Ross Finnie; it is about an act that provides for how ministers should conduct themselves, whoever they may be and whichever party they are from.

I understand perfectly what Mark Ruskell, Ted Brocklebank and Rob Gibson are saying, but I continue to have difficulties with it. They say that the amendments are simply about taking advice, but a minister in the middle of an emergency must be accountable to Parliament. The power is not an absolute power, because ministers must justify their actions in the light of the requirements of the Animal Health Act 1981. Ministers can only exercise those powers if they can demonstrate that they are aimed at controlling disease. To start specifying in the bill a general category of veterinary and scientific advice would lead us to the position that Mark Ruskell was trying to avoid in which those who are generally opposed to such control might seek judicial review and argue about the interpretation of "advice". That is where we get into dangerous territory.

I am clear that the minister must be responsible to Parliament and that he must exercise the duties of care required under the 1981 act. Having reflected further and having discussed those matters at some length, I believe that transparency in the use of the powers is at the heart of the matter. Therefore, for reasons slightly different from those enunciated by Richard Lochhead, I believe that amendment 14, which would place a requirement on ministers to make a statement on why action should be taken before exercising the powers, provides a transparent explanation on which Parliament would then have an opportunity to question the minister. That is important, which is why we will be supporting amendment 14.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

He is in his last minute, I am afraid.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I cannot support the other amendments. I think that binding ministers to a statutory obligation to narrate the types and forms of advice gets us into a debate about the state veterinary service. I point out that ornithologists were among those with whom we had extensive discussions in relation to bird disease.

I understand the motives behind the wish to tie the minister down in the way that is suggested. However, people must think carefully about what they are trying to achieve. The minister must satisfy the requirements of the Animal Health Act 1981. He can exercise the powers only after disease has been established and only when he is able to demonstrate that he is using the powers for the explicit purpose of controlling disease. If we agree to Maureen Macmillan's amendment, the minister will be required to state before Parliament his justification for taking action under the 1981 act and how he has come to a view on that justification.

On that basis, I hope that members will support Maureen Macmillan's amendment and reject the other amendments.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Many of the lobbying organisations consider that my amendment 1 is worth supporting. We have been talking about a proportionate response, the way in which the minister interprets the scientific advice and the potential for conflict. It is essential that Parliament be tested in that regard and I ask that people support the amendment in my name.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

There will be a division. As this is the first division, there will be a five-minute suspension.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Division number 1

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fox, Colin, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Kane, Rosie, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macmillan, Maureen, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McMahon, Michael, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Radcliffe, Nora, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 52, Against 56, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 1 disagreed to.

Amendment 9 moved—[Mr Ted Brocklebank].

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 9 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 2

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kane, Rosie, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macmillan, Maureen, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McConnell, Mr Jack, McMahon, Michael, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 43, Against 60, Abstentions 6.

Amendment 9 disagreed to.

Amendment 2 moved—[Mr Mark Ruskell].

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 2 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 3

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fox, Colin, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Kane, Rosie, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McMahon, Michael, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 52, Against 61, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 2 disagreed to.

Amendment 3 not moved.