Animal Health Bill

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Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman made a reasonable point—

Mr. Breed: It is a reasonable excuse.

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Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that it will take some years to implement this programme. That is absolutely true. I return to the point that we will discuss with, and consult, the industry about the appropriate time scale required to implement the programme. In that respect, we are talking about reserved powers. If there are to be reserved powers, then all possibilities should be considered. This provision should be seen as reserved power, certainly not a power to be used to go rushing in and threatening people. I do not believe that will be necessary, or that such a provision will necessarily be used. If we have reserved powers, then we cover all eventualities and that is what this provision is designed to do.

Mr. Breed: I think that we can put that on to just about every piece of legislation—that at the end of the day, if people do not comply, then of course we will to make certain that they commit an offence eventually.

We need to decide what the threshold of reasonableness is. In respect to the scrapie provision, which is what we are talking about—not the emergency of the foot and mouth outbreak—the schedule is unnecessarily big stick and draconian. The hon. Member from Tiverton and Honiton raised the issue of human rights. We should vote on the amendment because it has connotations for the future.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9

Division No. 15]

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

Ainger, Mr. Nick
Atkins, Charlotte
Cunningham, Tony
Drew, Mr. David
Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Organ, Diana
Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 130, in page 18, line 6, leave out ''at all reasonable times'' and insert ''between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.''.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No 131, in page 18, line 11, leave out from ''Subsection (1)'' to ''24'' and insert ''only applies when''.

No 115, in clause 7, page 4, line 16, after ''inspector,'' insert

    ''having given a minimum of four hours' notice''.

No. 98, in page 4, line 16, after ''any'', insert ''reasonable''.

No. 105, in clause 8, page 5, line 26, after ''premises'', insert ''at any reasonable time''.

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Mrs. Winterton: We now come to some interesting and constructive amendments relating to power of entry where cases of scrapie are concerned. They suggest the modifying of some of the powers that will be given to the Minister so that when his inspector, or ''a constable''—I assume that that means a police constable—arrives at a farm, safeguards have been built in to ensure that farmers are not placed at too great a disadvantage.

I accept that, in the eradication of scrapie, timing might not be so critical as when inspectors and others arrived at farms during the foot and mouth epidemic. However, farmers co-operating in this eradication programme should have certain courtesies extended to them. Those are contained in the amendments.

Amendment No. 130 would place on the inspector a timeframe in which he could

    ''enter any premises for the purpose of—

    (a) carrying out any function he has under or in pursuance of this Part, or

    (b) ascertaining whether any such function should be exercised.''

Although new section 36G states:

    ''An inspector or a constable may at all reasonable times enter any premises''

for the purposes that I have just described, we believe, as stated in amendment No. 130, that we should stipulate that that should happen within a reasonable working day, for example, nine to five. The farmer would then know that the inspector or constable would turn up between those times, and he could make appropriate arrangements to deal with his other work at other times, and be available during those hours.

Amendment No. 131 would ensure that, when an inspector entered a premises, notice would be given to the occupier. Inspectors and Ministry officials often just turn up at premises to undertake their duties, but in this day and age, a farmer should be given some notice so that he can say whether it is convenient, or can arrange for his staff to be present if he cannot be. This is another modest little amendment to improve the situation.

Under amendment No. 115, an inspector may enter premises to assess animals to see whether they should be slaughtered, only if

    ''a minimum of four hours' notice''

is given. Farmers have many difficulties these days, and are hard pressed looking after their stock, dealing with paperwork and 101 other things. If an inspector is to turn up to see whether some of a flock should be slaughtered under the scrapie eradication scheme, it is only a matter of courtesy to give the farmer or owner such a period of notice. Four hours is a reasonable timeframe.

Amendment No. 98 would allow an inspector to enter only ''reasonable'' premises. There have been debates and mini debates about the word ''reasonable'' throughout the passage of the Bill. I wonder whether an inspector can insist on going into any kind of premise, any part of a farm and any kind of buildings, including the farmhouse. For the purposes of clarification, ''reasonable'', as far as an inspector's duties are concerned, is an adequate description.

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Amendment No. 105 restricts the time at which an inspector may enter premises, in this case to test for foot and mouth disease antibodies, to ''at any reasonable time''. I am trying to impress on the face of the Bill that any inspector, constable or Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs official must ensure that the farmer is dealt with courteously, that the arrangements are made in advance and that co-operation is requested at all times. These simple amendments address the concerns that have been expressed to us.

Mr. Breed: I support all the points made by the hon. Member for Congleton. We are trying to provide an element of reasonableness into these important powers that are potentially explosive because they cover people coming into one's home or private premises, which returns us to the idea that the Englishman's home is his castle. We must be careful because the powers could be counter-productive, something about which several members of the Committee know from experience. Restricting the hours in which inspectors can call and ensuring that they provide notice would allow people to co-operate. If one does not give notice, it may take longer than two hours to make an inspection. Calling at 6 o'clock in the morning does not guarantee that a farmer will not be on their way to market or travelling to another part of their farm. It would help everybody if there were a notice period, and in a 24 or 48-hour timeframe, four hours does not seem especially problematic.

The amendments would place the onus back on DEFRA and its inspectors. We have had a small debate about reasonable excuses, and perhaps DEFRA inspectors should recognise that they must also have a reasonable excuse to call at 3 o'clock in the morning and demand that people instantaneously jump up. The onus of reasonableness must be a two-way process because inspectors, like farmers, must have a reasonable excuse. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, although that introduces into the debate another animal that could be slaughtered. Because we are dealing with private premises and homes, the Bill could be seen to trespass into people's private domains. Proper notice and reasonable times of day and night ought to be part of the way in which we seek the co-operation of those whose support will be vital. I hope that the Minister will accede to these modest yet helpful amendments.

12.30 pm

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): I join my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton in endorsing this group of amendments. I shall comment on amendment No. 131, which concerns the question of the schedule applying only when notice of intended entry has been given.

Throughout the foot and mouth crisis—I have alluded to this before—farmers' distrust of the Ministry was a problem. That lack of trust was accompanied on many occasions by a lack of communication. The onus is on DEFRA to step up its level of communication and raise its game in

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communicating its plans to farmers. Given that history, it is entirely reasonable that farmers should be given notice of intended entry.

As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall said, we are discussing private property and privacy. I agree with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton in relation to an earlier amendment to article 8, which concerned people's right peaceably to enjoy their homes. I shall not allude to my hon. Friend's age—my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton did that once and got away with it, but I shall not stray further down that path. I shall not trespass on that territory, at least not without giving notice of my intention in advance.

The Ministry failed to engender trust or communication. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall pointed out that although we are discussing scrapie there are cases in relation to foot and mouth where no notice was given and Ministry officials clomped on to people's property in their size 12s without having given adequate notice. People resisted because of that approach, and in many cases they were right. Healthy animals would have been slaughtered if the Ministry had been allowed to act in that way. This morning, I talked to a farmer who explained how he was told that his farm was a dangerous foot and mouth contact and that he was to be inspected every other day for 21 days. Suddenly, without any prior warning or communication, he stopped being subject to inspections every other day and became somebody whose animals were immediately to be culled. Of course, he resisted and barricaded himself in. As a result of his actions, the Ministry saved itself between £1.5 million and £2 million of taxpayers' money because it did not have to compensate him for the capital value of his sheep and cattle, and the Department for Work and Pensions did not have to pay out benefit to the six people whom he would have had to lay off. This was all because he resisted, and he was right to do so.

The schedule will make resistance more difficult. My previous example concerned foot and mouth, but we are discussing only scrapie, which, as the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall pointed out, will take years to eliminate. The provisions in the schedule are unnecessarily draconian, but the amendments are reasonable, and I hope that the Committee will accept them.

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