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6.3 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you are aware, there is a well established convention of the House called the Sewel procedure, which has been exercised some 28 times in the two and a half years since the passage of the Scotland Act 1998. If the House intends to legislate on areas that were devolved under that Act, the Scottish Parliament has to have a debate on a so-called Sewel motion to transfer those areas to this place. Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 would have the effect of amending the Scotland Act 1998 and taking back to this place subjects that were devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Sewel procedure was introduced as a protection against anti-Scottish elements in this place reversing devolution.

The Tory party may say one thing in Scotland and something entirely different here. Can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, say whether the Scottish Parliament has exercised the Sewel motion? Has there been any communication or consultation with the Scottish Parliament, or are amendments Nos. 21 and 22 a back-stairs attempt to take away powers devolved under the Scotland Act?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): We are not going to reach the amendments to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but will now move on to Third Reading.

Order for Third Reading read.

6.5 pm

Mr. Morley: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had a detailed debate in Committee and on Report. I sometimes felt that it was not altogether focused and earlier thought that we had spent two hours on some other Bill, but all the principal issues have been covered nevertheless. Hon. Members have made some sensible, reasonable and constructive suggestions and comments.

Concerns have been raised about the timing of the Bill, but I repeat that the epidemic is not over yet. The Government are not complacent: we still think that the risks are comparatively high and, although they will diminish proportionately as time passes, we will not drop our guard. It is important that the Bill contain measures to increase the range of options available to fight disease, and to ensure that any option that is used is applied efficiently and without the undue delay that can allow disease to spread and jeopardise a great many people.

I recognise that there is a need for consultation on all aspects of the Bill, but it is not true that the consultation has been insufficient and rushed. For example, there has been extensive consultation about the part of the Bill dealing with scrapie. It was made clear in that consultation that the Government would bring forward compulsory measures at some stage, and that is what we are doing.

Also, we are engaging with the industry to sort out details of the time scale of the national scrapie plan. We very much welcome those negotiations, in which industry representatives have been very helpful and constructive, as they have all along.

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In addition, I discussed the Bill with the foot and mouth disease stakeholders group set up by the Department, which used to meet every week at one stage of the outbreak. It includes representatives from every species organisation in this country, and everyone involved in the livestock sector is represented in the group. I was able to have a long discussion with the group about the Bill and its details, and I also had further discussions with industry organisations. Therefore, there has been a lot of consultation and discussion about the Bill.

The House might be interested to know that the stakeholder group has been so successful that the Government propose to retain it and to form it into an animal health group. That will mean that the livestock industry will be permanently involved in consultation with the Department on all issues of animal disease. The proposal has been very much welcomed by members of that group.

The Government also propose to be open and transparent in our implementation of the measures. In Committee, I gave a detailed commitment to bring forward wide-ranging consultation on key provisions in the Bill in the new year. My officials are working on that at present. That consultation will include the criteria governing the use of new slaughter powers and the implementation of the scrapie provisions that I mentioned earlier.

It has been suggested that we should wait for the results of the independent inquiries before introducing disease- control measures. However, I think that the matter is too important. I repeat that the Bill contains nothing that precludes the findings of the independent inquiries, or to suggest that the Government prefer one disease control measure over another.

I am anxious that we have as wide a range of options as possible. No one wants there to be culling on the scale evident in this epidemic, given all the associated problems that went with it. I repeat that I suspect that the inquiries will probably conclude that there was no other option but to deal with outbreak as we did—that is, by implementing the culling programme. However, new technology is on the horizon, and changes in the role of vaccination will give us a wider range of options.

I remind the House that the international conference will have to consider matters such as trade rules, as they place a restraint on vaccination. Again, the aim is to achieve as wide a range of options as possible.

I welcome the scrutiny that the Bill has had. It also received detailed pre-scrutiny by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which was a useful experience.

I agreed in Committee to consider a number of useful suggestions arising from amendments such as the time scale of the appeal period in which farmers can make representations about the disease risk assessment and the level of the adjusted compensation award. I intend to take those issues forward, along with points raised by my hon. Friends today. We might include those as part of our consultation on the implementation of the powers in the Bill. If appropriate, I am prepared to ensure that amendments are brought forward when the Bill reaches another place.

Mr. Simon Thomas: The Minister mentioned the Select Committee's scrutiny of the Bill. However, I think

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that he will accept that the Bill was put together and has gone through at a fair lick. The one legislative body that has not had the chance to scrutinise the Bill so far is the National Assembly for Wales. If it brings forward any amendments or suggestions between the Bill leaving this House and being debated in another place, will the Minister confirm that he will consider them and that he will involve the assembly in the consultation?

Mr. Morley: I will ensure that the National Assembly is involved in the consultation because it will be as wide as possible. We have been in close touch with our colleagues in the National Assembly in relation to putting the Bill together. However, I refute the point that the Bill has been rushed. We are still in a serious situation—the epidemic is not yet over. We need to consider that, and the sooner these measures are in place, I believe, the better it will be. We will arrange consultation on the aspects that I have mentioned as quickly as possible.

Much of the focus has been on slaughter, which is understandable. People are concerned about their animals being slaughtered. There are also the issues of pet farm animals and sanctuaries, which we want to address. If we are to use slaughter, whether as part of a wider strategy or on its own—the options are open—it must be done quickly and effectively. The quicker we do it, the fewer animals will be culled. Part of the reasoning is that if we are to use a culling policy, we should minimise it to minimise the number of animals affected.

I emphasise that the Bill is not just about powers to slaughter animals. We should get away from that idea. It also provides powers to enter premises for the purposes of testing, sampling or conducting a vaccination programme, should those options be appropriate. Some Members who have spoken are in favour of vaccination as an option; measures in the Bill strengthen the position on vaccination, so I hope that we will have their support.

We want to ensure that in the appeal process, sensitive issues such as pet farm animals are taken into account. However, the Bill does not take away the right of appeal on slaughter. People will still have the right to appeal to the divisional veterinary manager. It is my intention to publish the criteria on which that will be based. I intend to clarify the process with farming representatives and other interested groups during the consultation process in the new year.

I am surprised to see some reports suggesting that the Bill will give us powers to kill horses, dogs, cats, goldfish and hamsters. It will not. I made it very clear in Committee that the criteria in the Bill apply to susceptible animals. [Interruption.] We cannot kill anything we like. The position is defined in the Animal Health Act 1981 and it can only be changed by order. I cannot imagine circumstances in which it would be changed.

We are also taking a new approach to compensation on affected premises. I make no apologies for that. We have had a very good debate on it. I accept that only a minority of people are concerned, but I do not see why the rights of the majority should be put at risk because of the actions of a minority. The proposed measures are proportionate and balanced. We intend to take them forward.

The scrapie proposals have been generally welcomed. The vast majority of people in the sheep industry believe that scrapie eradication is a sensible and desirable

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objective. We want to bring that forward. We are obtaining good co-operation, and I have made it clear to the industry that the powers are enabling and that it is unlikely that the compulsory element in the national scrapie programme would be needed until some years down the line, as part of the agreed discussion on that plan.

I welcome the debate: in general, it was sensible and constructive—although perhaps rather long at times. We might have moved faster, although I certainly do not criticise the involvement of Opposition Members. However, I have a serious point to make. If they are still thinking of opposing the Bill, they should consider what they are opposing: the opportunity to bring in a range of options—including strengthening the vaccination option, and taking blood tests and samples. They will be undermining the rights of the majority who are put at risk by the actions of a minority. They will be undermining the Government's speed of action in response to such outbreaks. That response would reduce the number of culled animals—surely that is everyone's objective.

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