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6.41 pm

Diana Organ: Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We can all say how things should have been, but we would all be severely criticised by the farming community and the general public if, as a result of the horrendous outbreak during the spring and summer, we had taken no action to deal more effectively and speedily with another potential outbreak in the future. We still face a risk. If the disease flared up again into a major outbreak, heaven forfend, and we had taken no action, we would look extremely stupid—

David Taylor: And have been irresponsible.

Diana Organ: Indeed. We recognised in the summer that speed and efficiency were essential in dealing with the outbreak. It is important that we have the ability to fight the disease. We had the worst-ever outbreak of foot and mouth and we need effective weapons to fight it. The Bill strengthens our options. Many felt that vaccination was an option that could have been deployed last time, but for various reasons it was not.

Widespread concern has been expressed about the Bill and its timing. As the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) mentioned, many people have called for a public inquiry. I, too, have expressed my view that there should have been one. However, other public inquiries have taken years to report, in which case we might not have been able to enact the Bill for another five or six years, until the results of the inquiry had been published, whereas the Anderson inquiry will report within six months.

David Taylor: At the time of the last Conservative Government, when an even greater disaster on a grander scale in every sense occurred, does my hon. Friend recall whether there were calls from the Conservative party for a public inquiry?

Mrs. Ann Winterton: Double standards!

Diana Organ: The silence was a little deafening, and it was a case of double standards, as the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) said.

13 Dec 2001 : Column 1098

Concern has also been expressed about the scope of the Bill. Much of that concern is based on misinformation. My hon. Friend the Minister rightly said that the Bill does not apply to all animals, such as goldfish, guinea pigs, pot-bellied pigs, which I called pot-bellied sheep in Committee, cats, dogs or horses. It is clear that the Bill relates only to animals that are susceptible to foot and mouth and other animal diseases. There has been much misinformation about the scope of the Bill. In the same way, misinformation has been propagated about the appeals procedure and the right to judicial review.

Mr. Bacon: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Diana Organ: I am afraid not. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) had little time to speak, and neither have I.

There has been a lot of misinformation about the Bill, which has caused concern that might not have been engendered if hon. Members on both sides of the House had been a little more honest.

The Government have taken the opportunity to listen during the scrutiny process. Many issues have been raised and my hon. Friend the Minister has responded very positively. I emphasise the key provisions on consultation, new protocols and new guidelines for vets, as well as new criteria on rights of appeal and on the slaughter power. I have two questions in that context. First, my hon. Friend said that the consultation would occur in the new year. Will he give us a tighter time scale on how long the consultation will last? Secondly, how do people other than stakeholders feed into that consultation? For instance, how do farmers in the Forest of Dean and others there who wanted to object fit in?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is worth saying for the record that it was she and other hon. Members who convinced me to introduce the protocol on which we will be consulting. Of course, we will put the information on the DEFRA website, contact hon. Members who have expressed an interest and make the consultation public to the local press.

Diana Organ: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments.

My hon. Friend and the Government have been listening to the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) about the transportation of animals and the maximum time of eight hours. We recognise that the issue of resubmission to market within 20 days, which also arose earlier, is not only an animal welfare matter, but one of the measures that we can put in place to fight disease. I think that we have made progress. The Government have been listening to concerns and looking at the way forward on making the Bill better, perhaps with the insertion of provisions in another place to strengthen it.

Admittedly, the Bill was considered for a short time in Committee, although I understand that no objection was made about having three days of sittings and that nobody called for further days. We gained from the pre-legislative scrutiny that was undertaken. This is a useful model that helps hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider the effects of legislation before it goes into Second Reading and Committee. I commend the process as a model that we can use in respect of other measures.

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Obviously, all of us are looking forward to the reports of the three inquiries—especially that of Professor Anderson. The lessons to be learned from the devastating outbreak that occurred will be most important for all of us. I hope that the measures in the Bill, which may be amended in another place, are a means of answering the lessons that will identified and will help us to fight this terrible disease in future, so that we do not have to suffer again the misery, destruction and distress that we went through this summer.

6.48 pm

Mrs. Browning: I shall be brief, as I realise that other hon. Members want to contribute.

The Bill is disproportionate and will almost certainly be challenged under the European convention on human rights. I look forward to seeing it challenged in such a way. The Minister has taken unto himself in the Bill powers that he already has under the 1981 Act regarding the slaughter of diseased animals. He is putting on to the statute book additional powers for slaughter and powers that allow Department officials to come on to people's premises in respect of contiguous culls. I am not talking about animals that are clearly showing clinical signs of disease. I have no opposition at all to such animals being slaughtered out immediately and disposed of as quickly as possible, but the question of how a contiguous cull is identified and expedited is one of the big problems in terms of our experience during the past few months. It was in relation to the contiguous cull that the Government fouled up—and they did so in a big way.

People's rights—they had them until the Minister produced the Bill—should be respected. The measure is not about controlling animal disease. The Department uses computer modelling to identify the farms, but cannot even find them on an Ordnance Survey map. The Government need to sort out the mess before introducing measures that give the Minister additional powers.

Hon. Members from all parties have pointed out that the Minister is prepared to take the Bill through without accepting any amendments, even Labour amendments. In Committee, Labour Members tabled reasonable amendments and voted against them under duress. That is astonishing and nonsensical. The measure is not about animal health, but Government power. I hope that it will be challenged in the courts as soon as possible.

6.50 pm

Tony Cunningham: I shall be brief. We all agree that we cannot deal with a future outbreak of foot and mouth in the same way as we have tackled the current outbreak, especially in my constituency, which is in Cumbria and has suffered enormously. I feel tremendous sadness for farmers whose animals have been slaughtered and for those whose animals have not been culled but who have suffered all the associated pressures and stress, such as not being to able to move from their farms.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ), but I want to enlarge on her points. Prevention is a key element in the fight against foot and mouth. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we need continued vigilance and the tightest biosecurity. However, as I said earlier, we also need to ensure that security at our ports and airports is as tight as possible.

13 Dec 2001 : Column 1100

I support the Bill because it allows us to deal with the epidemic through a different approach, which may include vaccination. Several farmers in my constituency would view that favourably.

As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) said, scrapie formed the basis of the Bill. That was discussed and debated at length in Committee, but not on Report. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider traceability and identification for sheep? Will he propose a scheme for that? If so, will he consider the superb model in my constituency? The successful British Cattle Movement Service deals with the traceability of cattle. I hope that my hon. Friend will examine it and use it as a model for the future.

6.53 pm

Mr. Wiggin: I shall be brief. Farmers' incomes have fallen by 72 per cent. since 1975 and 40 per cent. of farmers are on family credit and working families tax credit. We have experienced the worst period in the history of agriculture and 5 million animals have been slaughtered. Yet the Government introduce a Bill that will force people not only to lose 25 per cent. of their compensation but to pay to appeal. The Bill will penalise farmers who practise proper biosecurity but will not punish those who deliberately infect. They will be allowed to keep 75 per cent. of their compensation.

This is a Bill of shame. The part relating to scrapie is based on extremely difficult science. Codon 136—which is involved in the testing for the valene codon—is extremely difficult to identify, and in 80 per cent. of the tests carried out on sheep in my constituency, the tests were incorrect. We have evidence for that. I hope that, when the Minister considers the time frame for the scrapie plan, he will consider the testing methods to be used. It is difficult to find anything good to say about such a punishing Bill. If there is one word that sums up my feelings, it is rage.

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