Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
MORLEY, MP AND
1. Minister, we are grateful to you for coming
at very short notice to talk about this Bill. I think it was first
mooted when the Secretary of State was answering questions in
the House only a couple of weeks ago and then it has taken material
form very rapidly and, once it did take material form, it appeared
to be really rather wider than I had originally thought and it
seemed to me that it was therefore the job of this Committee to
investigate the reasons behind it and what was in this Bill. I
regret that we are going to second reading because it does not
enable us to do a proper pre-legislative scrutiny. I do not imagine
that there is any way in which the Government are not going to
go ahead with it on Monday but at least what you say will go straight
onto the Internet so that people will be informed when we come
to debate. Can we start with what is always my favourite piece
of paper with any legislation which is the explanatory notes,
which I always find of such a density and compression that the
Bill itself is easy reading by comparison. Could I draw your attention
to paragraph 4, "The Bill supplements existing powers under
the Animal Health Act 1981 to slaughter animals to control the
spread of FMD by allowing animals to be slaughtered wherever this
is necessary for disease control reasons. At present, only animals
which are affected or suspected of being affected with the disease,
have been in contact with affected animals, or exposed to the
disease may be slaughtered." Why on earth might you want
to slaughter anything else?
(Mr Morley) I can certainly answer that
one! May I begin by saying that Brian Dickinson from our legal
department is sitting next to me and he may want to comment on
some of the legal aspects if you wish to raise that. May I also
begin by saying that I want to make it very clear to the Committee
that the Committee should not read into this Bill anything which
might suggest that the Government are taking a definitive position
on any method of disease control. What we are looking for is maximum
flexibility in terms of the range of options that can be applied
in different circumstances at different times. I, for one, certainly
believe that, in relation to the scale of this outbreak, there
might be a case for reviewing that and of course
2. I am sorry to interrupt but, under your existing
powers, had the Government then decided to do a ring vaccination,
was it doubtful about whether you would have powers to slaughter
a vaccinated animal subsequently?
(Mr Morley) I think we would have power to slaughter
the vaccinated animals but what we did not have is the power to
pay compensation. Chairman, you can obtain power to do that by
going to the Standing Veterinary Committee of the European Commission
and you get emergency orders through the European Union. We would
however prefer to have these powers ourselves so that it is very
clear about what we can and what we cannot do. Of course, vaccination
was considered on a number of occasions in relation to this outbreak.
However, the scientific advice that we had was that it was not
effective in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. These
are all issues that we are going to have to look at and I am sure
you will look at them.
3. We are going to deal with the substantive
issue, whether vaccination is a good idea or a bad idea.
(Mr Morley) I very much welcome that.
4. As far as the Bill is concerned, it enables
you then to pay compensation if you go down that route.
(Mr Morley) It does. Incidentally, it also deals with
problems of people who are resisting teams to come onto farms
to do vaccinations. We have power to vaccinate but this Bill,
as you know, also deals with obstruction and access. Of course,
we were not vaccinating in this outbreak but we did have obstruction
and delay on such things as serology which did cause, for example,
a 14 day delay in Devon and other parts of the country.
5. May I just come back to that questionand
I acknowledge that I did interrupt youwhen I asked you
what animals might you want to slaughter. The Bill actually talks
about whichever animal the Secretary of State thinks should be
killed. What animals might the Secretary of State think should
(Mr Morley) Do you mean what species or in what circumstances?
6. Both. The Bill would enable you to go in
and slaughter budgerigars.
(Mr Morley) No, it would not, Chairman. In fact, I
noticed that there was some press commentary that, under this
Bill, we were going to slaughter hamsters, goldfish, budgies,
dogs, cats and rabbits, and I want to make it absolutely clear
that this Bill only relates to farm animals and susceptible animals
and it relates to the actual wording of the Act. It relates to
animals defined in section 87 of the Animal Health Act 1981 and,
unless the context requires otherwise, animals means cattle, sheep
and goats and all other ruminating animals and swine, so other
species are not covered by these wide incoming powers and I want
to make that point clear now.
7. Minister, the phrase that I just read to
you was, "At present, only animals which are affected or
suspected of being affected with the disease, have been in contact
with affected animals, or exposed to the disease may be slaughtered."
(Mr Morley) That is right.
8. What else might you want to slaughter?
(Mr Morley) Not other species. What I think this refers
to is if veterinary advice was for a fire break cull, for example.
At the present time, we do not have powers for a fire break cull.
There was the three kilometre cull in Cumbria but that was a voluntary
cull and people were invited to participate in that. Basically,
if there were a situation where it was recommended that a fire
break cull would be desirable, then it gives you powers to do
9. My second point is, you have saidin
fact you said it just a few seconds agothat delays which
could, or perhaps did, help the spread of the disease were caused
by farmers appealing against cull orders. How many cases do you
think materially led to the spread of disease?
(Mr Morley) I think it is very difficult to put an
exact number on the cases, Chairman. I can give you some idea
of the kind of issues. We are aware of 103 cases where there was
legal involvement or certainly appeals against culling. Of those
103 cases, 36 accepted the case and were slaughtered as planned,
42 were looked at by our divisional veterinary manager and they
were accepted, 18 ran out of time
10. You say "accepted", but accepted
by . . .?
(Mr Morley) The cases were accepted not to cull by
the divisional veterinary manager, which incidentally is still
the situation within this Bill. Eighteen ran out of time, the
time went on so long that, as the animals had not gone down, it
was pointless to actually cull them in those circumstances; seven
went on to become infected premises. There were three High Court
cases and the Department won two and lost one and the one that
was lost in Devon went on to become an infected premise itself.
As time went on, there was much more attention to this and there
was greater concern about the effect of the appeals and our vets
on the ground in Thirsk felt that the appeals were a very real
risk in terms of disease spread because they were very concerned
about it getting into the pig centre and, in Thirsk, there were
55 local appeals dealt with by the veterinary managerthey
did not go to courtand, of those, 29 were upheld by the
divisional veterinary manager. Even then, nine of those which
were actually agreed by our own divisional vets went down as IPs;
there were two that were rejected that also went down as IPs.
With each of those that went downand I accept that the
latter situation was one where our own vets accepted the case
and that would not changeyou are taking a risk. Many of
the cases which were appealed as contiguous culling did go down;
it is a significant number.
11. I want to tease out those figures. A little
while ago, you spoke about 103 cases; is that nationally?
(Mr Morley) Yes, that is England.
12. Then you said that seven became infected.
(Mr Morley) Yes, they became IPs.
13. Which means that 96 were not.
(Mr Morley) Of those 103, 36 were slaughtered.
14. Did you do blood tests on all of them?
(Mr Morley) I am not sure that blood tests were done
on all of them; I do not have that information.
15. The question I am getting at is, in how
many of those cases where there had been an appeal . . . in many
cases an appeal is just a letter, they did not reach the point
of getting to court.
(Mr Morley) Not in all circumstances, no, I do not
16. For example, I have been told that in Devon
there were 200 "appeals" and none of those premises
actually went down.
(Mr Morley) I am not sure where that figure of 200
comes from unless they were appeals to our divisional veterinary
manager. There were exemptions made in relation to the contiguous
culls: there were exemptions made for rare breeds; there were
exemptions made where there was a case made that the animals were
not infected and had not been in contact; there were cases made
for cattle. Of course, many of those 200 would have been within
those categories and there is nothing wrong with that. We are
not looking to maximise the slaughter of animals, we want to reduce
the slaughter of animals. One of the principles behind this Bill,
Chairman, is to actually make sure that if you have a contiguous
slaughter policyand I emphasise again that you should not
read into this Bill that we are committing ourselves to any one
particular policythen it needs to be done quickly and efficiently
and I accept that appeal is only one aspect of this, there is
the issue of logistics as well which is a departmental matter.
I have spoken to our vets on the ground and in the Thirsk area
in particular where I took particular attention because of the
blue box scheme and the kind of new ideas that were there
17. So did I, it was too close to home.
(Mr Morley) I am sure you did, Chairman. They were
adamant there that the appeals and delays were stopping them getting
on top of the disease. They were adamant about that.
18. We take your point, we do not draw from
this Bill any indications about direction on policy: this is a
bill which will enable you to implement a policy should you decide
to go down that route.
(Mr Morley) That is absolutely right and it does not
preempt the three inquiries and the scientific inquiry.
19. We need not get ourselves diverted into
that. It would be helpful if you were able to produce some figures
for us on the number of appeals to help define what they were
and what the fate of those premises was subsequently. I am not
asking for it now; you obviously do not have that figure but you
could have it by the end of the week.
(Mr Morley) Certainly. I do have figures but I will
try and make them a little clearer for you.