Animal Health Bill

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Mr. Bacon: The Minister said that he believed that the practical problems could be overcome. By enshrining the principle of doing things within 48 hours in the Bill, does not the amendment encourage the Government to focus on delivering slaughter in a reasonable time? Were not carcases left lying in fields for nine days and, in some parts of the country, longer because they legally could be?

4 pm

Mr. Morley: That is true, but although I am all for encouragement, I am against being paralysed, and that would be the effect of the amendments. Also, as I have said, one of them is illegal and could not be applied.

I am not saying that we should rule out speedy disposal and vaccination options. As I have said, the Bill does not preclude any particular approach; in fact, it strengthens powers for vaccination. We have the power to vaccinate now, subject to EU approval, but the Bill will strengthen any future vaccination or serology programmes. There is a range of measures, which I strongly commend to the Committee.

Phoenix the calf will be a great story in its own right. Far be it from me to offend Mr. Rawnsley, who I realise is a much greater threat than the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton in terms of this issue. However, although I accept that one cannot always believe what one reads in the newspapers, according to one report the owners of the farm disputed that Phoenix the calf was found in the pile of dead animals. They said that Phoenix was found wandering around and that it was a mystery how it had survived. Mystery or not, those were the circumstances of that particular case.

Vaccination and disposal are important issues. I take the points that have been made by Opposition Members. We need to address them, but we cannot do so through these amendments because they are technically flawed and would cripple the Bill.

Mrs. Winterton: I was amused by the Minister's saying that Phoenix the calf is no mystery. Nor was there any mystery at the timing of the press release that hit the 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock news.

Mr. Morley: Coincidence.

Mrs. Winterton: Oh, pull the other one!

Mrs. Browning: Does my hon. Friend recall that such was the importance of Phoenix the calf that its being saved was announced by the Prime Minister in person?

Mrs. Winterton: Oh my goodness. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that important information. We all recognise that news management and touchy, feely stories are the order of the day before a general election, and certainly for the Prime Minister. However, I must move on to more serious things.

The Government would have benefited from the recommendations of their in-house—and perhaps other—reports. They would have given the Government, and those of us in Committee, a lot more information than we have at present.

Although we in Cheshire had foot and mouth, it was nowhere near as bad as in Cumbria and Devon. I shall never forget the pictures of carcases lying in the fields for days on end. I know the uplands well, and I am sure that the Minister does too. There were so many carcases at the front of the farmhouse yard that the children had to get to school by climbing through the windows at the back. That was an appalling sight that we hope we shall never see again.

The Minister said that contingency plans were in place, but it is clear that the outbreak was considerably larger than was ever envisaged. I wonder what improvements and recommendations he will make for the removal of carcases in the event of another outbreak. It is well worth thinking about that now, because once an outbreak starts it is far too late. In 1967, stock were buried on farm with quicklime, and it was all done and dusted within three days. I accept that the recent outbreak was different. The Environment Agency put its views forward, there was a very high water table, and there were many other factors—

Mr. Morley: Yes, and BSE as well.

Mrs. Winterton: Yes, and in the uplands there is nowhere to bury in any case, so the carcases had to be disposed of in other ways such as in pits. I must admit that, on my recent visit to Cumbria, virtually everyone who was connected in any way with the outbreak said that they thanked God the day the Army arrived because it gave order to what was complete and utter chaos and did an exceptionally good job.

My constituents were concerned about the wagons running through Cheshire to the incineration plant. The wagons were supposed to be sealed—at the time, we were assured of that by Ministers—but they were not, and dripped with blood and other substances everywhere.

In respect of the national contingency plan and the requirements that should be placed on it, there should be an objective to dispose of carcases in 48 hours. In this day and age, it is not acceptable to see what we saw during the outbreak ever again. It is essential that measures be undertaken to ensure that we do not. Amendment No. 22 should be considered and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster will press it.

Mr. Breed: Disposal is one of the most important aspects. I accept the Minister's comments about the ability to meet his targets of 24 hours or 48 hours. Following the outbreak, there are now large burial pits, some of which have not been used. Those that are empty are costing a considerable amount of money to maintain and are causing much grief to a significant number of people living nearby.

Mention has been made of what happened in Holland. There, ring vaccination and then cull were used to ensure that disposal of carcases was commensurate with the ability to dispose. That may be a way forward, although it is not explicitly stated in the amendments. Perhaps the thrust of the amendments is to achieve a vaccination, then cull, commensurate with ability to dispose. On the environmental impact of burial, are the Government considering, in local or national contingency plans, the operation of more localised rendering plants? I think that most people would prefer disposal through rendering.

Mr. Morley: The Government are reviewing the provision of rendering because it is, without doubt, the best method of disposal. The problem is that it is a capital intensive industry, and it is difficult to maintain spare capacity which may or may not be used—who would pay for it? It is expensive and cannot immediately be put in place.

Mr. Breed: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention.

Charlotte Atkins: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many local farmers were concerned that local rendering plants in communities were being used for potentially infected animals?

Mr. Breed: Yes, I am. Many were concerned about being asked to render animals from far away that were not in their locality. I am talking about plans for more localised operation. Is any study being undertaken into the cost of care and maintenance of rendering capacity? There may be a capital cost attached to that, but the cost of digging burial pits seems to be astronomic. The cost of maintaining empty pits is also enormous—I am not sure why it costs so much to keep them clear. We need a clear cost-benefit analysis of the maintenance of pits for use in any future outbreaks. Using money more constructively on rendering operations and selective vaccination and cull may make for a coherent policy that provides the benefits of quick disposal after slaughter, rendering rather than burial and better value for money for the whole process.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to all hon. Members who have contributed so constructively to the discussion. It was particularly useful to hear the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire suggest that the amendment should apply to sub-paragraph (1A)(b) and (c). That was a tremendous suggestion and I am grateful for it.

The suggestion that carcases could be disposed of by Blue Circle Cement was also interesting. However, the germ of the amendment concerns the 48 hours in which to dispose of carcases, the key point being that disposal should be commensurate with slaughter. If that is not possible, we should move to vaccination. Although my attempts at amending the Bill may have been a little amateur, I took a germ of hope from the Minister's kind response to my first couple of points. I was thinking that I should perhaps take the amendment away and have another go, but I could not possibly do that because it is fundamental to how we all live our lives, how we face our farmers and how our export market is seen internationally. We must grasp the first opportunity to show that we are compassionate, that in legislation there must be hope, and that we recognise that the mass cull must never happen again. I am convinced that we should take the earliest opportunity to include vaccination in the legislation.

Labour Members may be thinking furtively that they would like to vote against my amendment, but I am sure that they will think twice about that; I certainly hope so. When they go to bed at night, perhaps after eating an imported lamb sandwich, and cannot sleep, they may count sheep jumping over a gate, but when they remember that they voted against the opportunity for vaccination, they will count sheep dripping in gore and being loaded into the back of a lorry. Nobody would want to live with that and nobody would want to send themselves into a nightmare sleep. That brings be back to my sweet dreams of one day being a Minister with responsibility for agriculture. I urge Labour Members to support my amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Division No. 4]

Bacon, Mr. Richard
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill
Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Atkins, Charlotte
Breed, Mr. Colin
Drew, Mr. David
Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Organ, Diana
Owen, Albert
Reed, Mr. Andy
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Williams, Mr. Roger

Question accordingly negatived.

Diana Organ: I beg to move amendment No. 54, in page 1, line 20, at end insert:

`(3A)After sub-paragraph (1) insert—

    ``(1A)The Minister may not cause to be slaughtered any animal kept as a pet or in an animal sanctuary or for other non-commercial purposes—

    (a) under sub-paragraph (1)(b) above on the ground that it has been exposed to the infection of foot and mouth disease, or

    (b) under sub-paragraph (1)(c) aboveunless the Minister reasonably believes, on the basis of a veterinary risk assessment, that the animal is at significant risk of having been affected with foot and mouth disease.''.'.

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