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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)



  120. So everyone gets only 75 per cent initially, presumably?
  (Mr Morley) No. I am sorry. The assessment is made right away and I think they can get 100 per cent right away, if they pass the assessment. It only applies to infected premises for a start. Therefore, if you are a contiguous premises you get 100 per cent.

  121. I am not quite clear as to how long it takes for someone to make a decision as to whether you are entitled to the 25 per cent or not.
  (Mr Morley) I think in practice, bearing in mind that the assessment is made as soon as our people go on to the premises, as soon as they go on they will make the assessment immediately.

  122. They will tick a box straight away and say "It looks like he is okay, give him the money".
  (Mr Morley) Yes, absolutely. That is how I would interpret this.

Mr Martlew

  123. Are you saying that for every infected farm the early payment will only be 75 per cent?
  (Mr Morley) My understanding of this—and I am going to be corrected at any moment if I am wrong—is that the assessment is made by our people who go on to the farms. That assessment is immediate. If the assessment is that everything is fine, there is not a problem, then you are within exactly the same timescale for paying the compensation, so therefore the 100 per cent compensation should go ahead. If the person concerned fails the assessment, the 75 per cent payment goes ahead and then there will be a decision on how much to withhold, up to a maximum of 25 per cent.

  124. The logic, Minister, is that there will be some delay on the present system by the fact that somebody will be making a judgment.
  (Mr Morley) I do not accept that, actually. What we want to do is to have this assessment, which is made by our people going on to the farm, on the first visit. They are going on anyway as part of the inspections, or, indeed, to check the animals or because the vet has gone to see whether they have been reported as having suspicious symptoms. Therefore, that is done right away. I really do not see, myself, why there should be a delay.

Mr Todd

  125. Why should there be a 21-day window on that initial assessment? I do not see how you can turn up on the day and say "It looks okay now so we will pay him" when one of the determinants is what they have been doing during the previous 21 days. That must require some questioning. I cannot believe it does not.
  (Mr Morley) If there is a suspicion that there has been a breach of bio-security. I would have thought that those assessments could be made fairly quickly.


  126. Let us just be clear: normally, a farmer who you have no reason to suspect has breached any bio-security is culled out and your people will say straightaway "Full compensation paid". The question then is, let us say there is some doubt as to whether or not he has been lax. Are you saying that in those circumstances 75 per cent is paid pending an assessment of how much of the remainder he may or may not be paid, or are you saying that there is an immediate decision to pay something between 75 per cent and 100 per cent?
  (Mr Morley) No, if there is some doubt about the bio-security and if there is an investigation, the 75 per cent can go out straightaway—that is not a problem. There is also an issue that, of course, if there is money withheld in relation to whatever it is of the 25 per cent, there is likely to be a delay in that to give the farmers a 14-day period to appeal, if they want to.

  127. So the initial payment will always be either 100 percent or 75 per cent.
  (Mr Morley) That is my interpretation, yes.

Mr Jack

  128. Just following that on a point of detail: let us imagine a situation where a farmer had no bio-security and the disease gets on to this holding. Then he thinks "Hang on a minute. I had better do something about this." He does not know the disease is there yet because it has not shown in the animal, but it incubates.
  (Mr Morley) How does he know it is there then?

  Mr Jack: You are in the middle of a disease, it is happening around you. He does not know the problem has come on to his farm because he had poor bio-security. Then he thinks "I had better do something about this just in case it arrives". So when the inspector arrives it all looks wonderful because he has got his disinfectant there, but the actual admission of the disease to his premises in the first instance came because he did not have good bio-security. So he still—if I understood you correctly—gets his 100 per cent because the inspector walks on and says "Wonderful bio-security, Mr Smith, it looks fantastic" but, in actual fact, it was lousy because he got the disease in the first place.

Mr Todd

  129. That is the 21 days point.
  (Mr Morley) That is correct. Yes, theoretically, that is possible if people do something wrong and then try and cover it up. That is always a possibility and I do not dispute that, because no system—whatever it is—is going to be perfect. What I would say in practice is that if you have disease running in an area then there are regular visits to adjacent farms by our own staff, control visits and veterinary visits, so therefore they will be getting visits quite quickly as soon as the disease is in the area.

Mr Jack

  130. Do you think, given what has happened, bio-security should be a built-in part of every farmer's operation 365 days a year every year?
  (Mr Morley) Ideally, yes, Chairman, but again I think we have to be realistic, in that for many people who try to maintain good bio-security it is quite a burden on them: steam-cleaning vehicles all the time, making sure that people are careful. I am just talking about the practicalities of this. There are different levels of bio-security and different levels of risk. There is a serious point you are making and I think it is quite significant that this disease did not really get into the pig pens in this country. The bio-security in pig units is traditionally very good, and the pig sector have long applied quite high standards of bio-security. So there is a serious point to make, in that there ought to be regular routine application of bio-security, but you have to be reasonable about this.

Mr Mitchell

  131. The Bill creates an offence of deliberately infecting an animal. I smile because I remember all the sheep jokes that we used to crack. How does that offence of deliberately infecting differ from the current provisions?
  (Mr Morley) There are no procedures for taking action against someone who deliberately infects an animal with foot and mouth. There are some measures for certain pathogens. One of them is anthrax, Chairman, in that you can take action against people who deliberately infect animals with anthrax. However, it is limited to certain pathogens at the present time and there are no measures that cover foot and mouth. You will be aware, Chairman, as I am sure you all are, that there have been all sorts of stories and allegations about deliberate infections. We have investigated cases that have been brought to our attention, but we have not yet been able to prove that there has been deliberate infection. However, if we had been able to prove it there was nothing we could have done about it. The Bill gives us measures to take action on that.

  132. Will this give you a greater ability to prove it?
  (Mr Morley) It does not really give us a greater ability to prove it, Chairman, but it does do something about it. Hopefully, now we have these measures it acts as a deterrent to people who might be thinking about it.

  133. Given the very low level of proof that deliberate infection has actually occurred, is a new offence really necessary?
  (Mr Morley) This does not put any burdens on anybody, it does not make any allegations about anybody, all it does do, Chairman, is that if it ever was proved it would allow us to do something about it. I think it is a bit pointless investigating these allegations if there is nothing we can do about it if we actually prove it.

  134. The investigation proved futile, did it not?
  (Mr Morley) We have not been able to prove deliberate infection, but that does not get away from the point that if it ever happened at the moment there is no penalty for that. That is something I was not aware of myself, and now there is a penalty for it if it was ever proved.

  135. What will the criteria be for assessing whether or not a farmer has acted deliberately to bring disease to his farm?
  (Mr Morley) There were all sorts of allegations, and Section 11 does give the detail of this. Basically it says "A person commits an offence if without lawful authority or excuse (proof of which shall lie on him) he knowingly does anything which causes or is intended to cause an animal to be infected with a disease specified in Schedule 2A." It is crystal clear to my legal friends, of course, what that actually means. Basically, we have had allegations of people throwing infected samples into fields—you will all have heard them. In fact, we have found animal body parts lying around and they have been tested, but the ones that have been brought to our attention have tested negative.

Mr Martlew

  136. Are you really saying that (and we accept there is no evidence of this) if a farmer deliberately infected his animals, not only would he not have been prosecuted but, under the current law, he would have got 100 per cent compensation?
  (Mr Morley) Yes.

  137. So he could have actually deliberately done it and we would have paid him 100 per cent compensation on what was, probably, generous compensation anyhow, and the law of this country would not have been able to stop him?
  (Mr Morley) That is absolutely right, Chairman, which I think makes a very good case for having this in the Bill.

  138. The second point is—and obviously we will not talk about anthrax—what will the law be for other people who are out to cause problems, who are not going to directly benefit from it but who would just, for the hell of it, spread infection? What sort of sentences will we have for those individuals?
  (Mr Morley) This covers anybody, it is not just farmers.

  139. What is the maximum sentence?
  (Mr Morley) On summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both. On conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine or both. Basically, it is a maximum of two years for anyone who is convicted.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 November 2001