Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)|
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
MORLEY, MP AND
140. He does not get his 75 per cent, does he?
(Mr Morley) The farmer concerned you mean? The farmer
would get his 75 per cent. Yes, he would.
141. So under the old legislation you could
deliberately infect your animals and get 100 per cent compensation
and under this legislation you can deliberately infect your animals,
spend two years in jail and get 75 per cent compensation.
(Mr Morley) Yes. So it is an improvement.
142. If you look at the problems we have had
in Cumbria this summer, if somebody had set about deliberately
infecting animals with foot and mouth, the maximum they could
have got was two years' jail, yet this infection in Cumbria alone
will probably have cost the Exchequer £1 billion. It does
not really seem a long sentence, does it, Minister?
(Mr Morley) I think I am going to have to clarify
this, but I have a feeling that this is to do with Human Rights,
and the fact that even if someone is guilty of this offence and
the state kills his animals, I still think there is a Human Rights
issue here. I will clarify that for you, Chairman, and I will
make sure you have written information.
143. Can I just touch quickly on the process
by which you can decide whether an offence is committed or not?
You know very well that part of the problem is that you have got
different people going out and working in different ways. Much
as I am a great fan of local government working with central government,
the amount of pressure on trading standards officers (without
pointing the finger there) and their lack of knowledge is obviously
going to be a problem. This is one of many jobs they do. Is there
not a case for looking at a different way in which we would at
least pursue cases which are of a suspicious nature?
(Mr Morley) I am not quite sure in what different
way you would pursue it because there would be police involvement
(as this is now a criminal offence) in terms of any investigation.
The kind of allegations that were madepeople ringing up
and offering to sell infected sheep and meeting them at placesthese
are the kinds of thing that can be checked out and investigated.
So I think the procedures are fairly straightforward. The important
thing is that there are penalties, and there were no penalties
before. In fact, you mention the fact that farmers can get the
money if they are found responsible, but I think the powers also
mean they are banned from keeping animals in the future. That
is quite a severe penalty in relation to this.
144. We have hit squads for everything nowadays,
but here the police currently cannot do anything.
(Mr Morley) That is right. Apart from certain pathogens.
There is also a welfare issue. If you deliberately infect an animal
it is a welfare offence and you can probably prosecute them under
145. MAFF/DEFRA officers can pursue suspicious
places and where they think an offence has been committed, but
it is down to trading standards officers to take up the formal
offence. This is not, obviously, on the face of the Bill, but
in cases where there is a very suspicious set of circumstances,
I do think you need expert investigation, and that is not going
to happen, with the best will in the world, at county level.
(Mr Morley) I think we can talk to trading standards
about whether they feel they need that kind of specialist back-up.
I am sure those are issues that we can address. I know that (going
back to this point) so far there has been a lack of proof, but
if this ever happened it would be a very serious offence. I think
the seriousness of such an offence does warrant provision to deal
with it if it ever arose.
146. I wanted to ask you, Minister, does your
department provide the words, for example, that the Prime Minister's
official spokesman gives at lobby briefings? Does that mechanism
(Mr Morley) Not to my knowledge, Chairman. I am sure
there will be briefings provided for all sorts of things, but
not writing the text for the Prime Minister's official spokesman.
147. I appreciate the actual words that the
spokesman uses may not be entirely crafted by yourself, but I
just wanted to make certain that there was that sort of reasoned
briefing that still goes on.
(Mr Morley) There will be a briefing, yes.
148. At the lobby briefing when this wonderful
spokesperson announced this to the world he said that this Bill
" . . . would give us new powers to deal with tail-end cases
of foot and mouth from this outbreak". Do you agree with
(Mr Morley) Yes.
149. Was that your briefing?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
150. Just give us a scenario. Have you got any
idea of what the effect is going to be? I think it comes back
to something we started with, which is why now?
(Mr Morley) Because we still face the very real, serious
prospect of another outbreak. It is very serious. The risks are
high. If there was an outbreak, particularly at this stage in
the outbreak, we would want to snuff that out as quickly as possible,
and speed is essential. Of course, there is a logistical issue
in relation to how fast we can do this. With the "no current
outbreaks" we can get logistics on site very quickly in terms
of our departments and the teams we need, such as vets, but we
could still be held up by people going to court. In fact, if you
look at the nature of this outbreak, where there has been the
so-called "sparks" which are isolated cases outside
the main epicentres of disease, we have been very successful in
snuffing those out quickly, but there is always a constant risk
that you will get people who will want to object, and you have
the situation where farmers are being actively encouraged to object.
It is not a hypothetical issue here, people are being encouraged
to object to the contiguous cull, and the risks of that, in relation
to disease control, are very great indeed.
151. Who is encouraging them?
(Mr Morley) I do not know.
152. You must have some evidence to make a statement
(Mr Morley) I have, and I can provide you with the
so-called "pack" that was circulated in Thirsk. Looking
at it myself, I cannot actually see a name and address of who
is behind it. It gives all sorts of contact numbers of law firms,
but it is not necessarily these particular law firms who are doing
it. There is no identification on this.
153. What is the timetable for this Bill?
(Mr Morley) The timetable is that Second reading is
next Monday, and it goes into Committee the following week. I
think that we would certainly like to have Royal Assent for it
as early as we can in the new year, 2002.
154. You see it still as an important potential
contributor to fighting the disease to a finish, although the
sense I got earlier was that it was more about what might happen
if there were suddenly to be another outbreak at some point in
the future, but what is the latest estimate as to when you think
you might have got on top of this? Or are you not saying?
(Mr Morley) Officially, Chairman, the outbreak will
be over when there has been a three-month gap between the last
case. That is the kind of timescale we would be looking at. We
have had a number of cases of suspected animals. I might just
tell the Committee that the information we have on the most recent
one at Hexham is negativewhich we have just heard today.
We have been picking up antibodies, as part of our serology programmes,
which demonstrates that there are animals which have had the disease
or been in contact with disease and been missed. So, therefore,
the chances of there still being latent disease out there somewhere
are currently high. However, of course, this measure is beneficial
because, as I was saying to the Committee, it extends our range
of options. We also are responding to the Food Standards Agency
in relation to TSEs. We need primary legislation to extend this
to being compulsory, in relation to the National Scrapie Plan.
That is in line with what we have already said and consulted on.
As you are having the Bill, then this is an opportunity for dealing
with some of these measures, as I am sure you will appreciate.
So we are taking that opportunity now, and it means that we will
have this at the earliest opportunitywhich, in fact, will
not be that earlyat the beginning of 2002. Sadly, no one
at the moment can put their hand on their heart and say there
will not be an outbreak between now and then. I very much hope
there will not be, and no one will be more happy than me if we
never have to use the provisions within this Bill.
Chairman: We do not want to let scrapie escape
155. This is very topical and I am sure you
are looking forward to this, Elliot. Just as a background to this,
given that the way in which you can best control this disease
is through pathogenesisbreeding it outhow effective
is legislation going to be to actually try and find the stock
which you want to keep and get rid of the stock you do not want?
(Mr Morley) It is essential that we have these powers,
although I do want to put on record that we have had excellent
co-operation from the sheep sector with the National Scrapie Plan,
in helping us set it up and helping us give information in relation
to our database. In particular, I want to pay tribute to John
Thorley from the National Sheep Association who joined me at the
launch of the National Scrapie Plan and who has done an awful
lot of work on this. I want to emphasise again, Chairman, we are
not planning to go rushing in with compulsory measures to the
sheep sector. We are looking to shorten the time to eradicate
scrapie, which under the present timescale is predicted at between
10 and 15 yearsprobably more like the 15 at the current
rate of uptake. We think that is too long. The Food Standards
Agency certainly thinks that is too long. So we certainly want
to reduce that. We will talk about the timescale for doing that
with the industry. There are also one or two specialist concerns
about rare breeds and specialist blood lines. We have the provision
within this Bill to make exceptions.
156. This is because you are afraid of what
it has been, if you like, masking?
(Mr Morley) That is right. The fact is that the situation
remains the same, that there is a theoretical risk of BSE in sheep.
We have not been able to identify it. We are actually increasing
the number of scrapie brains that we are monitoring and there
are new bio-molecular tests coming out, which will make a big
difference in terms of the speed at which we can do the testing.
That is quite a big breakthrough. Of course, if we breed scrapie
out of the national flock, not only do we remove with it the theoretical
risk of BSE because we have got TSE-resistant sheep, but we also
improve the quality of the flock. I happen to think that there
is a very good future for the sheep sector in this country and
I think there are good market opportunities. Concentrating on
these quality issues will give dividends in relation to the future
prospects in terms of sales and exports. I think this is a good
thing for the industry. Of course it is a reassurance to the consumer
as well. We are committing quite a lot of money from the Government
in relation to the database and setting this up, and we would
expect that the majority of people in the sheep sector will think
this is a sensible way forward.
157. How do you identify the more susceptible
genotypes to TSEs?
(Mr Morley) They are done by blood testing, and we
get a result from that. We can identify those which are severely
resistant, those which are partially scrapie-resistant and those
which are susceptible. We do not have great accuracy in relation
to the current flock, but we know that there are 15 known genotypes
which determine the level of susceptibility and their resistance
to scrapie. We have not got reliable statistics about what proportion
of the flock are carrying these. There is an estimate, and it
is only a rough estimate at the present time, that round about
25 per cent of breeds carry the scrapie-resistant gene and about
two-thirds of the national flock are at least partially scrapie-resistant.
It is fairly well-understood how we can advance this programme.
158. These scrapie-resistant tups are going
to be worth a bob or two, are they not?
(Mr Morley) It is a question of identifying them.
We have already done this in the pedigree sector. All the pedigree
breeds have been identified and are logged on the database. They
are micro-chipped as well, as part of that.
159. Can I go on to the issue of how you keep
records? I was told by one of the interested parties, who say
they have got the ability to run quite complex databases, that
they were surprised that you had taken the decision initially
to have a paper-based record-keeping exercise. Is that true?
(Mr Morley) I am not aware of that. When I opened
the programme it was a computerised database.