Hon. Members who oppose the Bill would also be opposing measures to impose sanctions against people who bring about deliberate infection. Opposition to the measure would mean opposing the introduction of the national scrapie plan. That eradication programme is good for consumers and for the sheep industry, and has been generally welcomed.
I cannot believe that the Opposition want to oppose all those objectives; nor can I believe that they have failed to realise that, during the Bill's proceedings, I have given a series of undertakings to address the reasonable concerns expressed by organisations outside the House. That will form part of a public consultation in the new year.
I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to today's debates and to the Standing Committee: they deserve particular congratulations. I mention my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) and our esteemed colleague, the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). For my hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) and for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), it was their first experience as members of a Standing Committee[Hon. Members: "It did not show."] Indeed. They acquitted themselves with great distinction. Sadly, they have also learned that it is one thing to win the arguments, but another to win the vote.
Particular praise is due to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on whom much of the responsibility for opposing the Bill has fallen. She led her team with her customary vigour and thoughtfulness.
When the Bill began, it was bad. We can welcome some of it, but all in all it was a bad Bill and it remains a bad Bill. It is greatly to be regretted that, despite all our debates, nothing substantial has happened to alter that.
Anxieties about the Bill have brought together some strange bedfellows. Throughout, although the Minister sounded conciliatory, he was in fact unyielding. For the most part, he brushed aside the objections of animal welfare groups, environmental bodies, veterinary surgeons, farmers' representatives and other outside bodies. In doing so he has reinforced the growing feeling that this is an arrogant Government who are intolerant of criticism, closed to other people's views and careless of civil liberties.
Throughout these proceedings we have tried to stand up for the rights of individuals and for fair treatment. We have sought to persuade the Government that many of the new powers that they seek in the Bill are unreasonable, unfair and illiberal. On every occasion, the Government have rejected our arguments. It is wrong in principle for the state to assume new powers without seeking to balance them with adequate rights of representation for ordinary citizens. That is the way of totalitarianism.
I have said before that written into the heart of the Bill is an assumption that farmers were to blame for the foot and mouth outbreak. That is the basic premise on which the Bill rests, and it is untrue. From that starting point, Ministers have proceeded to seek to justify overturning the normal burden of proof in the compensation arrangements, assuming powers to enter property and slaughter livestock as they see fit, denying adequate rights of appeal, and suborning to their will, under threat of imprisonment, anyone who happens to be around at the time, regardless of any moral, ethical, religious or physical objection. They have refused to acknowledge the inadequacy of their own scientific advice, the risk that their actions may have caused to biosecurity or the bungling incompetence of their own procedures.
Something is clearly very wrong when a Government decide to push through legislation under the heading, "animal health" and then ride roughshod over the concerns of vets. Any legislation demands for its effectiveness the compliance of the people on whom it has an impact; the Bill certainly demands the compliance of the veterinary profession. It might be thought that the Government would pause when a senior vet can publicly say:
Mr. Ainsworth: If the Government had carried out a proper consultation exercise, they would have had plenty of contact with the college and the Minister would be better informed, so the Government carry on. Laws only
Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend makes a very disturbing point, but it merely confirms what I have saidMinisters are riding roughshod over the opinions of professional people whose good will is needed if the Bill is to be in any way a success.
If the Government had taken the trouble to consult before rushing to legislate, many of the problems might have been avoided, but they are seeking to push through the Bill having consulted no one but their own advisers on large parts of it. If the Government had waited to hear the outcome of their own inquiries into the foot and mouth outbreak, they might have been able to produce more proportionate legislation. If the Government had decided to hold a full, independent public inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak and waited to legislate on the basis of its findings, they would have done the right thing.
Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend says that there are 200,000 signatures. Organisations as diverse as the Countryside Alliance and Friends of the Earth have demanded such an inquiry. Conservatives have called for a full public inquiry into the origins and handling of the disease since March this year, but it is important to recognise that not only Conservatives have done so.
The public, national and regional newspapers and magazines, animal rights and environmental groups and farmers are all demanding a public inquiry. Even the Liberal Democrats are demanding a public inquiry and yet the Government have consistently set their face against such an inquiry. Why?
We are told that this is a listening Government. Why are the listening Government deaf to the demands for an independent public inquiry into the terrible impact of foot and mouth disease, which has cost the country billions of pounds, caused misery to families and businesses across the country, caused millions of healthy animals to be slaughtered and left a legacy of economic hardship that will take years to overcome?
What have the Government got to hide? Is the truth so very shameful? Just who is calling the shots? We know that, when asked about an independent inquiry on 3 April, the Minister for the Environment, said:
The Government's refusal to hold an independent inquiry kicks away the last strut of respectability from the Bill. It is not only foolish, hasty, badly drafted, misdirected, excessive and offensive, but it lacks moral justification. If it becomes law, I have every reason to expect that it will quickly become the subject of at least one legal challenge.