|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Peter Ainsworth: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Is he aware that the Bill substantially reduces the flexibility that Ministers already have and have exercised during the foot and mouth outbreak? For example, culling was due to take place on 34 farms in the Forest of Dean, but it took place on only 18. A successful legal challenge by farmers resulted in the Minister using his discretion to arrange for blood tests to be carried out on the animals on the remaining 16 farms. Those animals were saved from the cull, and it eventually turned out that none of the farms had any infection at all. The discretion that existed will no longer exist and that will result in substantially greater costs to public funds because of the compensation that will have to be paid.
Mr. Jack: My hon. Friend's powerful point echoes the concerns of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ). She asked searching questions when the Select Committee twice took evidence on the issue. I recognise the scientific justification for culling and accept the power of the concept that a diseased animal is a disease factory unless action is taken early. However, the circumstances under which the powers are operated have been justifiably questioned in the debate.
Mr. Morley: The right hon. Gentleman raises a number of serious points which I am sure can be addressed when the Bill is further considered. It is certainly true that ministerial discretion was exercised in relation to blood testing on the farms in the Forest of Dean. I was the Minister who took that decision, and I was happy to do so. Nothing in the Bill rules out such discretion. The key is to make clear the criteria that one would want to apply in the appeals process. In the Forest of Dean, more blood testing was possible and some time had passed, so the situation just required some common sense.
Mr. Jack: I am grateful to the Minister for saying that, but the very fact that he had to give us such a lengthy response illustrates the point that I and so many others have made about lack of consultation on the Bill. If drafting began in August, at least some discussion with interested parties was possible. The Ministry quite often calls in people. Why did not DEFRA call in the interested parties, perhaps for a one-day conference? Perhaps it did; we have not been told.
Mr. Jack: I would cast a little doubt on that. I suspect that there was a legislative slot and that somebody had suggested such a Bill. It is very much a tail-end Charlie measure. If it really is that important, it should have been introduced earlier.
In evidence sent to right hon. and hon. Members, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, while welcoming certain aspects of the Bill, seeks clarification. Vegetarians International Voice for Animalsthe hon. Member for West Ham will be interested in thissays that it is concerned about the human rights implications of the Bill. The Countryside Alliance wants a public inquiry. The National Farmers Union expresses surprise at the Bill, and the National Beef Association questions the content of it. One could go on; the number of people who want to know more is legion.
Let us consider the operation of the culling powers. Mr. Anthony Gibson, who looks after matters for the NFU in the south-west, has said that the Minister's accusation that farmers spread the disease by resisting the cull is
The Secretary of State told the House what was in the Bill without spending a moment on justifying its powers. She did not go through the science about culling or mention the findings of Professor King and others, but strode straight in to say, "This is what we are going to do; this is how we are going to do it. Take it or leave it." She drifted on to talk about scrapie, but that was it. Yet we are supposed to say that that is justification for such measures.
Let us consider those who have had to go to court to defend their interests. Peter and Gillian Cave, who are farmers in the west country, were successful. They saved 100 pedigree Devon cattle which were earmarked for slaughter. They described the Government's approach as "jackboot tactics". They said of the measures:
It is a pity that the Secretary of State did not comment on some of the people who, it is suggested, did cause a problemso-called hobby farmers. Owing to the nature of their farming, they may have been less justified in making claims than those who are knowledgeable, run large-scale operations and are well advised and informed farmers. We have heard nothing about that from the Government in presenting the Bill. It is sad that there has been no in-depth justification for the measures.
Right hon. and hon. Members have discussed the mechanism of the courts and compensation, but I want to touch on the biosecurity measures. It is interesting to note how biosecurity is a firm feature of the pig industry. It is breached occasionally, but not often. Why has not the Minister decided, for example, to introduce under the cover of this Bill a national code of practice on biosecurity?
Mr. Jack: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speakerso anxious was I to engage the Minister in debate. I am delighted that he says that such a suggestion can be implemented. Why has the Secretary of State not said the Department has learned a lesson and will, from now on, advise farmers on some practical, permanent and implementable biosecurity measuresnot just on foot and mouth but for the list of other animal diseases covered by the Bill? That would have been practical, but it has not been done.
The National Pig Association produced a powerful video on meat importation showing the failings of the current system. The former Secretary of State for the Department, the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), said that all kinds of new controls would be proposed. Where are they? I keep hearing that Ministers are rushing in with this Bill, yet we were told in July that they were working hard on new defence mechanisms to stop infected meat entering the country. Where are those mechanisms? We have had no detail; the Minister says that he will write to us. It is now November, so the Department's priority has been to draft the Bill and not to strengthen the import defences of the UK. As the NPA video showed, our defences were wide open even until recent weeks.
Mr. Jack: It is all very well for the Minister to nod, but the Secretary of State did not review progress on the voluntary scheme. She said virtually nothing about resources for it; she said nothing about the signs of vulnerability of some genotypes to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies; she gave us no comfort by suggesting that the matter had been considered properly; she gave us no details on discussions with the NSA; she answered none of the points raised by the association. For example, the NSA said: