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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Animal Health Bill

Animal Health Bill

Standing Committee E

Thursday 29 November 2001


[Mr. Derek Conway in the Chair]

Animal Health Bill

2.30 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On a point of order, Mr. Illsley. Further to my request to the Minister, could the very long, detailed and interesting speech that he made in the Committee this morning be made available to the Committee in note form this afternoon?

The Chairman: I understand that copies are now available in the Room. Does the Minister wish to add anything?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): Further to that point of order, if copies are not available in the Room, they will be very shortly, because I have arranged--[Interruption.] I understand that they are available in the room. I am glad that the hon. Lady found what I had to say interesting. I like to think that whenever I speak, it is interesting.

Clause 2

Extension of power to slaughter

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 12, line 4, after `of', insert `contagious'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 24, in page 2, line 4, after `of', insert `infectious'.

No. 87, in page 2, line 5, after `disease', insert--

    `except where those animals have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement by any Government Department of an outbreak'.

No. 118, in page 2, line 5, after `disease', insert--

    `following a full disease risk assessment'.

No. 4, in page 2, line 7, at end insert--

    `(1A) An order under subsection (1)(a) above may in particular refer to the following diseases:

    Foot-and-mouth disease
    Swine vesicular disease
    Peste des petits ruminants
    Lumpy skin disease
    African horse sickness
    Classical swine fever
    Newcastle disease
    Vesicular stomatitis
    Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia
    Rift Valley fever
    Sheep pox and goat pox
    African swine fever
    Highly pathogenic avian influenza.'.

Mr. Wiggin: This morning we heard the Minister explain how other amendments had not been eloquent enough to be worthy of his approval. How much more eloquent can they be than ``insert the word `contagious'''? I am pleased to speak on a very important improvement. Some may think that some amendments are not as helpful to the passage of the Bill as others. How much more helpful can we be than adding just one word?

It is important to point out at this stage that this part of the Bill refers to diseases other than foot and mouth. It is extraordinary for the Minister to find it necessary to slaughter animals that have a disease that is not contagious or infectious. Why would he want them slaughtered? Having thought a great deal about that, I wondered whether the cat-loving Minister, in the kindness of his heart, wished to put suffering animals out of their misery. Realistically, however, I do not believe that that is what is going on in this part of the Bill.

I also wondered whether he thought that there was a genetic reason for slaughtering animals, which is why he omitted the words `infectious' or `contagious' when he drafted the Bill. I know that we shall deal with transmissible spongiform encephalopathy later and discuss the different types of diseases that are transmissible. I also realise that that could not be the Minister's reason for omitting those words. It may be to do with the spread of genetically modified diseases. This morning, Radio 4 announced that evidence had been found that the spread of genetically modified maize pollen was considerably more extensive than first estimated. That is of great concern to my constituents, as there are several GM crop test sites near my constituency.

Then I thought that bovine TB might be the reason that we needed the amendment. Bovine TB can also be spread by badgers, so perhaps the words `infectious' and `contagious' have been missed out of the clause because the Minister plans to slaughter badgers. [Hon. Members: ``Oh, come on.''] It might not be such a bad idea. More legislation is written on badgers than on any other animal, including pandas and blue whales.

I have written to the Minister about the fact that, in my constituency, bovine tuberculosis appears in herds of cattle that could not have been in contact with other cattle because they are surrounded by crops. The only change has been the appearance of badgers. I shall not go on about badgers, because those who remember my father know that they were his obsession and that the Agriculture Select Committee had to consider badgers more than perhaps they should have done.

If it is not badgers, perhaps it is worms. I refer the Minister to the letter that I sent him some time ago about a poor constituent whose sheep were slaughtered in the cull. The run-off went into his worm pit and now he cannot sell his worms in case they have eaten the soil containing the virus and have become infected with foot and mouth. With this gentle nudge, I hope that the Minister will remember to reply to that letter. Why on earth would such vital words as ``contagious'' and ``infectious'' be missed out?

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): My hon. Friend may not forgive me for dragging him back to the subject of badgers, but does he agree that it would be useful to hear in the Minister's response about the effect of the foot and mouth crisis on the badger cull? We read in Farmers Weekly that 90 out of the 3,000 herds involved in the Krebs badger culling trial have now been slaughtered. I believe that the trials, and the slaughter policy on badgers, are still on course, so it would be useful to know how that affects having results by 2004{**nrl**}05. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be useful?

Mr. Wiggin: Yes, that would be extremely useful and I am sure that the Minister has much to say about badgers, and we looking forward to hearing it.

Amendment No. 87 deals with animals that have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement, and it would be a useful addition to the Bill because it offers farmers and animal owners the carrot approach--the incentive to take action to protect their own stock. The carrot and stick approach would be useful in the Bill, but is missing.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): Will the hon. Gentleman define ``indoors''?

Mr. Wiggin: The key point that the hon. Gentleman seems to be getting at concerns intensive pig units.

Mr. Drew: No.

Mr. Wiggin: Perhaps not yet. We are looking for an opportunity for people to take positive action to protect their animals. The important thing is not whether they are indoors or outdoors, but that they have been protected and action has been taken before the disease was announced. That would be a useful addition to the Bill.

Mr. Drew: Should not the words be, ``secure from any other wildlife''? Being indoors is completely irrelevant to any farm unit that is secure from wildlife.

Mr. Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is leading me down the garden path to say that it will make no difference where animals are kept. During the debate, we might find out whether one can make a building disease-proof. I certainly hope that the offices in Pirbright, where the tests are done, are disease-proof.

Not only farm animals are at risk; section 32(4)(a) of the Animal Health Act 1981 includes horses. The Minister was at pains to point out that only farm animals were in danger of being culled. Horses are not farm animals and I am sure that he recognises that, when dealing with a problem as thorny as the spread of disease other than foot and mouth, he would have needed a wider remit. That is why I am surprised that poultry were not covered. Foot and mouth does not affect poultry, but other diseases do, and that might have been a useful addendum. The Bill is beginning to widen and badgers, horses and other animals are beginning to appear on the Minister's menu for culling.

No one is perfect, and we are doing our best to improve the Bill. Labour Members may snigger, perhaps at the thought of their own imperfections or at the thought of mine, but the amendment, which would insert just one word--either ``contagious'' or ``infectious''--into the Bill, would considerably restrain the much wider powers that the clause gives the Minister. What is the point of culling animals that are not infectious or cannot pass on a disease unless it is genetic? I hope that the Minister will tell us why animals that are not infectious need to be culled. I have given the matter a great deal of thought and I can find no evidence of the Ministry proving conclusively that it knows precisely when animals are contagious or infectious. Indeed, this does not help them in that search.

This part of the Bill is wide and draconian, and I hope that the Minister will take on board the points that I have made about spreading the net wider. If we were considering the spread of disease other than foot and mouth, we would be considering diseases of which the Committee does not have a great deal of veterinary experience. Inclusion of the word ``contagious'' or ``infectious'' would be a positive step.

If that is not acceptable, including the phrase

    ``following a full disease risk assessment''

would ensure that we knew what we were talking about before culling. Given that the Minister may be doing something else in the future and although his intentions are undoubtedly positive, it might be useful to improve the clarity of the Bill for his successors. The Minister wanted transparency in the Bill and I hope that we shall get that transparency and clarity to show us which animals can and cannot be culled to prevent the spread of diseases other than foot and mouth.

I hope that the Minister will tell us what diseases would be covered by the provision, why they are not specified, why the words ``infectious'' or ``contagious'' would be such a disaster in the Bill and why he would want to cull animals that were not contagious.


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Prepared 29 November 2001