Animal Health Bill

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Mr. Bacon: I, too, support the amendment. The Bill's emphasis on farmers' obligations, duties and responsibilities is massive. However, the Minister and his Department are obliged to do very little. Proposed new section 36K states:

    ''The Minister may make regulations providing for the payment by him of compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred as a result of the exercise of a power conferred by or under this Part.''

If a constituent came to a surgery and explained that he was trying to claim compensation, what could one say if the Minister had chosen not to make the regulations? All one could do is point to the Bill and explain that a claim could have been made had the Minister bothered to make regulations, as he ''may'' choose to do, but that it appeared that he did not consider it worthwhile. That is what the provision boils down to in its present form. It seems reasonable that the Government should be obliged to set down regulations.

I recall the Minister saying, ''The key to this is transparency''. Let us take him at his word. Why does he object to the requirement to make regulations, under the word ''shall''? The amendment is reasonable, and it is about time that the Government realised that if the Bill is to be accepted by the farming community, it should not be a one-way street. The Minister should have duties and obligations, and the requirement to set regulations for compensation is reasonable.

Mr. Morley: People should not get too worked up about the words ''may'' and ''shall''. The important point is that there is provision to make compensation if it is deemed appropriate; that is spelled out. The priority for scrapie is to breed it out of the UK flock. The high percentage turnover of sheep in any one year makes that possible. However, that does not preclude taking other measures—for example, castration of animals that are not scrapie resistant—as we get to the end of the programme, which is some years away. In such circumstances, there may be a case for compensation. I do not dispute that, and it is recognised in the Bill, which makes provision for compensation if it is appropriate.

If a decision were made that compensation was appropriate, the details would be set out in supplementary regulations. There is a need to retain some flexibility about payment of compensation, and factors such as prevailing market conditions must be taken into account. However, the Bill includes a provision to cover developments under the scrapie relegation plan, and the details are open for negotiation with the industry. I would expect industry representatives to make their case at that time.

Mrs. Winterton: The Minister says that there is provision for compensation in the Bill. However, the proposed new section on compensation states that

    ''The Minister may make regulations''.

There is more than an element of doubt, because the Minister may not make regulations, depending on the circumstances.

The Minister's comments have not reassured me, nor do I think that they will have reassured my hon. Friends. The Minister will need to make regulations; therefore, ''shall'' is a much more positive word. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall correctly said that the amendment is modest. However, it is vital because it shifts the balance away from doubt and the possibility that the Minister may not make regulations to a much more positive situation in which he is required to make regulations.

We are not saying what the regulations will be. We are not trying to specify the payment amount, although many people wish that the Bill set it at the proper market value compensation at the time. We leave those elements to one side. The Minister says that the proposed new section's wording gives him flexibility in respect of compensation. What it actually gives him is a cop-out. That is not acceptable, and we wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division No. 20]

Bacon, Mr. Richard Breed, Mr Colin Browning, Mrs. Angela Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill Williams, Mr. Roger 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.

Tony Cunningham: May I make a point about schedule 2?

The Chairman: No. I must now put the question.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Second schedule to the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division No. 21]

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

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

Question accordingly agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

The Chairman: Before we move on, it might be helpful if I explained to the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) that, because my co-Chairman allowed a debate on clause 5, it was generally accepted that there would be no stand part debate on schedule 2.

Clause 6

Treatment: power of entry

Mr. Breed: I beg to move amendment No. 109, in page 3, line 15, leave out 'inspector' and insert

    'an authorised person of the Minister'.

The changing of ''officer of the Minister'' to ''inspector'' adds confusion rather than helping the situation. It is important to make it clear which person is authorised by the Minister, especially considering the fact that a group of people could turn up, perhaps unannounced. We are always telling our older folk not to let people into their premises to read the gas meter, for example, until they produce some proper authorisation. Indeed, in this case the authorised person should carry authorisation. That is not clear if the Bill uses the term ''inspector'', because it could mean an RSPCA, police or DEFRA inspector. We should identify who is the authorised person of the Minister, especially because, potentially, such a person will be empowered to carry out serious actions. If we change the term to ''an authorised person'', he or she would have to demonstrate the relevant authorisation to everyone concerned.

Mr. Bacon: I support the amendment. The argument of the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall was reasonable. It seems rather odd to replace the term ''officer of the Minister'', which is at least plausibly clear, with ''inspector''. I agree with the proposed new drafting, and using the wording

    ''an authorised person of the Minister''

would probably help out the Minister. It would enable him to authorise a variety of different people. I suspect that he will say that he cannot do that because he has the word ''inspector'' scrawled across the rest of the Bill in the draconian clauses that we just discussed about the inspector requiring people to do this, that and the other. The departmental lawyers would have kittens if it turned out that we had an inspector dictating to people left, right and centre, but no longer as a representative of the Minister. I am not too hopeful that the Under-Secretary will listen to this sensible amendment. I invite him to give us a pleasant surprise but I do not think that he will, because the whole Bill seems to have been put together in too much of a hurry. It does not make internal coherent sense, and an anomaly is bound to be the result.

6.45 pm

Mrs. Winterton: I, too, support the amendment, which is modest but would improve the Bill. I must admit that I like the phrase ''officer of the Minister'' best. I cannot understand why that phrase was not used elsewhere in the Bill and that we had consistency, rather than the word ''inspector'', which means very little to me.

Whichever people turn up at a farm, it is essential that the person who leads that group and acts is standing as an officer of the Minister. I can therefore understand the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, which would ensure that that person was described as

    ''an authorised person of the Minister''.

Anything is better than ''inspector'', for the reasons that have been given. I trust that the Minister will look favourably on this modest improvement.

Mr. Morley: I am sympathetic to the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, particularly as we have just heard a new myth about the Bill. It has been suggested that the Bill will result in the killing not only of cats, dogs and horses, but of people delivering Liberal Democrat leaflets, or at least that they will receive six months in jail. Even though their leaflets are not always great, that would be a bit hard.

The amendment is unnecessary, because we are talking about consistency. The Bill relates to the 1981 Act, in which an inspector is defined as a person appointed to be an inspector for the purposes of that Act by the Minister or by a local authority. When used in relation to an officer of the Ministry, the definition includes a veterinary inspector. As the term is in the 1981 Act, this is simply a question of consistency.

Mr. Breed: I thank the Minister for that response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Breed: I beg to move amendment No. 110, in page 3, line 21, leave out from ''premises,'' to end of line 22.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment No. 107, in clause 8, page 6, line 5, leave out

    'if necessary using reasonable force'.

Mr. Breed: The amendment is another attempt to remove some words from the Bill. Of course, if the Department were prepared to remove everything that we wanted it to, the Bill would probably be only one page long. The power that we are debating may not be used at all; I know that the Minister will say that he just wants to have that power. However, with regard to the circumstances that are described in this part, the part on scrapie and so on, we need to tease out the differences and establish the position.

One real problem with the Bill relates to the fact that we are talking about three clearly different circumstances. In an emergency situation, it is perhaps—I say only perhaps—right to consider using reasonable force, but we should not make it a general power. Again, these words and powers, even if they are not used, give entirely the wrong impression to people whom we want to co-operate. In fact, active co-operation and participation will be essential, whether to tackle the spread of foot and mouth, to conduct tests and take samples, or to eradicate scrapie. All that will involve co-operation from the farming community.

Holding the threat of reasonable force, if necessary, like a sword of Damocles over the heads of people in that community does not create the right atmosphere in which to seek a co-operative approach. In accordance with amendments Nos. 110 and 107, I should like to see those words removed.

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