Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



Patrick Hall

  80. I look forward to the promised summary of appeals that are available and are anticipated will be available, but I would like to come back to the question of appeals available to farmers very briefly. My understanding so far of what you have said is that, under the provisions of the Bill, the situation available to farmers will be a pre-cull appeal to the district veterinary service.
  (Mr Morley) Yes.

  81. That exists now and will continue to exist.
  (Mr Morley) That is correct.

  82. And there will be, as you have said, a post-cull appeal by judicial review.
  (Mr Morley) If the individual wanted to do that, they could apply for judicial review and in fact they can apply for judicial review for any action of the department as they can now. Nothing has changed on that.

  83. So, it is not really an appeal, that is a judicial review which can be applied to all sorts of situations.
  (Mr Morley) That is right.

  84. Did you not also say that there is evidence—and I think you quoted Thirsk as being a centre that you have looked at very carefully—that suggested that even the existence of the pre-cull appeal to the district veterinary service did contain—?
  (Mr Morley) Yes. I think on the pre-cull appeals in Thirsk, 29 were accepted by the divisional veterinary manager and, of those 29, nine became infected premises.

  85. That is not seen as an argument for abolishing that.
  (Mr Morley) No, it is not. I think what that does illustrate to the Committee is the level of risk with this, in that it is a risky business in terms of dealing with this and the idea that all contiguous cull animals are healthy and are not going to get the disease is completely wrong.

Mr Borrow

  86. If I may take up the issue of compensation. The Bill envisages a situation where up to one-quarter of compensation claims could be withheld if it is held that the farmer had not been doing his or her best in terms of bio-security. What evidence does the farmer have that this sort of regime would actually make a difference and improve bio-security?
  (Mr Morley) I have some figures here in relation to the compensation scheme. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, we introduced blue boxes in the latter stage of the disease because of growing concern that a lot of disease spread was by poor bio-security. I think it is fair to emphasise that, in our experience, the majority of farmers were very sensible, wanted to co-operate and took proper action in relation to bio-security, but unfortunately it does not take very many to help the disease spread. In the first blue box area where there was special arrangements in relation to bio-security, there were 400 incidences.

  87. Which was your first blue box?
  (Mr Morley) It was the area that was drawn around Thirsk, so in that area there were 400 incidences of suspected bio-security offences. The majority was also the issuing of general notes as warnings basically, although I have to say that, by the time we got to this, there had been endless publicity about the risk of bio-security and I think that 400 incidences was a very disappointing figure. The majority were warned but there were 37 formal or informal cautions, 20 cases are still under investigation for prosecution and five individuals have been taken to court and were fined. In Penrith, we do not have the full figures at the present time but, in the figures that we do have, 55 cases were referred to Trading Standards of which 27 have been put forward for legal action. Fourteen out of the 15 cases so far have gone to court and resulted in a guilty verdict and there are 32 cases which are ongoing at the present time. These are minority figures overall, I must emphasise that, but they are significant minority figures and this presents a very real threat in relation to disease spread by bio-security and it is not fair, Chairman, I am sure the Committee would agree, that the majority of farmers who are taking precautions should be put at risk by the actions of a minority, so this is very important.

  88. Do you feel that the minority who were not following the proper bio-security regime actually realised that they were putting their own stock and other farmers' stock at risk or was it pure ignorance?
  (Mr Morley) It is very difficult to say; I think it is a combination of factors in relation to that. I think it was ignorance in some cases, I think some people just did not care and I think that, in a tiny, tiny minority it was irresponsibility.


  89. How do you appeal to a farmer now who is stuck at the top of a hill faced with severe moving restrictions who has to carry on farming who says, "Hell, if I do not get my bull on my heifers, I will not get a crop next year. If I am caught, I am fined £5,000. If I do not manage to get a crop next year, I am £50,000 down and if I do get foot and mouth disease, I get compensation that I can live with."? It is very difficult.
  (Mr Morley) It is difficult, Chairman, and again I think this might be something for the lessons learned report because of course there is an issue of risk sharing and I think there is not much risk sharing at the present time. For many farmers who do get the disease, it is of course a terrible emotional issue for them, but they do get compensation at quite a generous rate while those who do not get the disease do not get anything but get the restrictions and all the problems that go with that. That is a very serious issue and I do accept that point. There is not a simple answer to it because of course you have to have those restrictions because, when you have an infected area, the movement of animals is extremely high risk and what you have to do is try and stop the disease from spreading. Those are very relevant issues which are not covered within this Bill, but I think they certainly need to be considered.

Mr Borrow

  90. I am interested in your idea of what sort of evidence an inspector would be looking for in terms of making a decision on whether a farmer received that extra 25 per cent or part of it and I would also be grateful for clarification because my colleague mentioned earlier on the appeals in relation to contiguous premises. Is it possible to envisage a situation where a farmer who went through the legal processes to try and stop his stock being culled, lost in court and was then considered to be acting in a way that could possibly be putting his livestock at risk and therefore lost some or all of the 25 per cent?
  (Mr Morley) On the latter point, I think that is a little harsh because I do not condemn people who do not want to see their stock being culled and would rather not have them culled and have used the law to try and stop that. The problem that we have is of course the balance of risk and the Bill is all about risk and risk management, and it is felt that in the present system there is too great a risk of delays. That is the whole reason for it. I would not want to condemn individuals or punish them in any kind of way because I do not really think you can say that they are being irresponsible in the way that someone would be who was taking no bio-security measures. I think that is quite different. The kind of issues that we would want to address and the kind of issues that have come up in the examination in our blue box areas are things like failure to provide foot baths at farm entrances and exits for people and vehicles or of course failure to keep them filled with disinfectant, failure to prevent spillage of organic matter on roads around farms, allowing unauthorised people and vehicles onto farms, dirty farm vehicles picked up on local roads—a big problem in Thirsk—and allowing animals to stray. Those are the kind of issues that we want to address as a bio-security checklist and, as I was saying earlier on, Chairman, these are the kind of things that we want to talk to the farming organisations about so that we can get one which is easy to understand and people accept and people within the farming community accept as fair.

  91. Have you been able to make any assessment of the resource implications of being in the system where obviously some of your officials will need to devote time they have not in the past in making a judgment as to whether or not an individual farmer should have part or all of his 25 per cent and how that assessment is made, so there are resource implications?
  (Mr Morley) It should not be a huge resource implication because the assessments were made when our staff go onto farms as part of disease control measures but going onto farms anyway, the idea is that, when they go onto farm, they will make the assessment, so it is not really a big resource implication.

Mr Todd

  92. You have listed the warnings and then prosecutions for breaches of bio-security under the existing law. How does the checklist of bio-security breaches that you have just given us correspond to the existing legal basis for prosecution?
  (Mr Morley) In what respect?

  93. You have listed 14 cases in which you were pursuing prosecutions.
  (Mr Morley) Is this in Penrith?

  94. Yes.
  (Mr Morley) Trading Standards have issued the prosecutions.

  95. Presumably the grounds on which they are pursuing those prosecutions were breaches of movement restrictions of some kind.
  (Mr Morley) No. In the blue box area, it also includes things such as having dirty vehicles on the road. It is a range of issues. It is not just movement restrictions.

  96. To what extent does the bio-security checklist which you have just given us take us beyond the existing legal obligations which are placed on farmers now?
  (Mr Morley) It does not take us much beyond the legal obligations at all apart from, when we talk about legal obligations, we have no mechanism for dealing with a farmer who has refused to take any bio-security measure. There is no penalty apart from if they go on the roads within the blue box areas.

  97. Some of the things you listed were to do with dirty vehicles, you mentioned that as one of the restrictions you would expect to see in force through this checklist.
  (Mr Morley) Yes.

  98. Which actually is something you can be prosecuted for now.
  (Mr Morley) Yes.

  99. I am not quite clear what more we are getting at. I suppose you could withhold someone's money on the ground that they did not provide disinfectant foot baths.
  (Mr Morley) I will give you some examples and there may be others that the industry might want to talk about themselves, but I think what we are getting at here is that if people have poor bio-security and they get the disease, they get 100 per cent compensation. What we are looking for is an incentive to actually take bio-security seriously for the minority who do not. So what we have got here is the incentive of withholding 25 per cent of the compensation or up to 25 per cent—you can do it on a sliding scale. The Dutch have this system. The Dutch have a very rigorous system in relation to penalties and they actually withhold 100 per cent, but it is a very bureaucratic and complex one; they can penalise farmers for not having ear-tags. It is really quite complex. We are trying to introduce a much simpler one.

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