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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Animal Health Act 1981 (Amendment) Regulations 2005




 
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Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman:

John Bercow

†Atkinson, Mr. Peter (Hexham) (Con)
Baker, Norman (Lewes) (LD)
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Browning, Angela (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
†Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
†Flynn, Paul (Newport, West) (Lab)
†Keeley, Barbara (Worsley) (Lab)
†Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
†McGovern, Mr. Jim (Dundee, West) (Lab)
Meacher, Mr. Michael (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab)
†Mullin, Mr. Chris (Sunderland, South) (Lab)
Mundell, David (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)
†Rogerson, Mr. Dan (North Cornwall) (LD)
Tapsell, Sir Peter (Louth and Horncastle) (Con)
†Wareing, Mr. Robert N. (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
†Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
†Wyatt, Derek (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab)
Libby Davidson, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee


 
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Thursday 8 December 2005

[John Bercow in the Chair]

Draft Animal Health Act 1981 (Amendment) Regulations 2005

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Animal Health Act 1981 (Amendment) Regulations 2005.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Bercow.

These regulations should not be contentious as their purpose is straightforward. They make a minor amendment to the Animal Health Act 1981 to bring it in line with the requirements of the 2003 European Union foot and mouth directive. The Government have the option to make such regulations by negative or affirmative resolution procedure. I have chosen in this case to use the affirmative resolution procedure because of parliamentary and public interest in foot and mouth.

The Government’s existing powers to slaughter animals to prevent the spread of foot and mouth are discretionary. The EU directive places a duty on the Government to slaughter any susceptible animal on premises where foot and mouth is confirmed. This regulation affects that change. It does not change policy, which has always been to slaughter all susceptible animals on infected premises.

The directive also sets out several limited exemptions to the duty of slaughter for different types of premises where the animals involved merit special treatment. They are also transposed by the regulations. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

2.33 pm

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow.

Any hopes of a short speech must be dashed, because this instrument is designed to adapt United Kingdom—more specifically, English and Welsh—legislation to comply with obligations resulting from articles 10, 15, 16 and 18 of Council directive 2003/85/EC. The directive deals with Community measures for the control of foot and mouth, and further statutory instruments will be required to implement it fully. The explanatory note states that there will be a draft Foot-and-Mouth Disease (England) Order 2005 and Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Control of Vaccination) (England) Regulations 2005, as well as Welsh equivalents. Is some of the legislation belt and braces for what already exists? I am sure that that is why
 
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many crucial aspects of FMD control are absent from the statutory instrument. I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong.

The primary focus of this statutory instrument is the slaughter of susceptible animals on infected premises. The definition of what constitutes “infected premises” is not included but is due to be included in the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (England) Order 2005, which will transpose annex I of the directive—all good clear stuff, is it not? There is an obligation in paragraph 2A(2) of this statutory instrument to slaughter all susceptible animals that are “kept on the premises”, although there is discretion for authorities to decide not to slaughter animals that are

    “principally for the purposes of display and education of the public”,

such as those in zoos, laboratories and wildlife parks.

The relevant authority can also act with discretion and decide not to slaughter all susceptible animals on a premises if kept on separate production units. However, although the criteria for eligibility as laid down, despite article 18 paragraph 4 of the directive, are mentioned in sub-paragraph (7), there are no provisions in place for declarations to be applied for in advance. The statutory instrument only partially transposes articles 10, 15, 16 and 18 of the directive. The other measures are in separate statutory instruments that have not yet been published. Moreover, there will be separate versions of those statutory instruments for England and for Wales, whereas this one covers both. I wonder whether that is indicative of a perhaps slightly more confusing response to this major subject.

Given the cost to rural and farming communities of an FMD outbreak, all the measures that are to be implemented as a consequence of the directive could be implemented through primary legislation, if so wished. I would like to know the precise definition of “infected premises” before we consider enacting the statutory instrument.

We also need to know more about how a farmer can obtain a declaration that their premises constitute separate production units, and whether they can do that in advance of an outbreak, as that could reduce the quantity of slaughtered animals, which I am sure that we would all want.

There are problems with the organisation of these measures across the UK in the event of an outbreak. Devolution has led to there being different chief veterinary officers in each constituent country. The former CVO, Mr. Jim Scudamore, felt that operating within a GB-wide context had many advantages, such as being able to move resources between the various regions when necessary. With there currently being separate CVOs for Wales and the UK, we cannot be certain of having a co-ordinated GB-wide response to a foot and mouth outbreak. Although the regulations cover England and Wales, they make no mention of how the two CVOs would co-ordinate—and there is, of course, also no mention of how we would co-ordinate with the Scotland and Northern Ireland CVOs.


 
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The regulations are also not clear about whether a distinction will be drawn between an infected animal and an affected animal for compensation purposes. That is detailed in proposed new paragraph 2A(10) in regulation 2. There is also no hint as to what the time scale should be from infection to slaughter, and what should be done with the slaughtered animals’ remains.

The regulations partially transpose articles 10, 15, 16 and 18 of directive 2003/85/EC. The other measures transposing the directive are the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (England) Order 2005 and the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Control of Vaccination) (England) Regulations 2005, and their Welsh equivalents. There are a huge number of measures beyond that as well, and we would like to know whether they will need to be enacted. How do we know that transposing those four articles of the 95 articles of the directive will be satisfactory and sufficient for what the Government want to achieve?

According to paragraph 4.6 of the explanatory memorandum, the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Control of Vaccination) (England) Regulations 2005 will define the term “infected premises”. Why do we need to use more than one statutory instrument to comply with our legal obligations in the directive?

The Royal Society’s “Infectious Diseases in Livestock” report of July 2002 suggests:

    “The Government must be empowered to act decisively during an outbreak.”

Does the Minister think that having four different CVOs running disease control across the United Kingdom will facilitate decisive action?

As I am sure the Minister is aware, on Wednesday 24 April 2002, Mr Jim Scudamore, the then CVO, gave evidence about the impact of devolution on animal health matters. I am curious to know why the Government have ignored Mr. Scudamore’s comments. I have some quotes from him, but I will spare the Committee them.

Four years have passed since the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. Why has it taken so long for these regulations to be implemented, and why did they have to come in the form of a directive from Europe? As I said, I am curious as to whether this is a belt-and-braces exercise.

With reference to proposed new paragraph 2A(3)(a) in regulation 2, has the possibility been considered of extending that to include susceptible animals that are kept by private individuals and small-scale farmers—perhaps the sort of animals that would not be sold or transported? The explanatory notes state:

    “A Regulatory Impact Assessment has not been produced for this instrument as it has no impact on business.”

However, this regulation does have an impact on the costs for farming businesses and for tourism.

Proposed new paragraph 2A(5) states:

    “If the premises consist of two or more separate production units . . . the relevant authority may decide not to slaughter susceptible animals.”


 
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That measure hands over the power of discretion to a number of local officers; they decide. What will the Minister do to ensure that those discretionary powers are exercised with consistency across England and Wales?

With reference to proposed new paragraph 2A(6), how would an “occupier” set about obtaining from the “relevant authority” a notice stating that their premises

    “are to be regarded as two or more separate production units”?

The provision is designed to implement article 18 of directive 2003/85/EC, which makes reference to:

    “Holdings consisting of different epidemiological production units.”

Article 18 (4) states:

    “Where a derogation is granted . . . Member States shall lay down in advance detailed rules for applying such derogation.”

Why are those rules not specified in the regulations, and when can we expect them to be?

Article 1(1)(b) states that the directive sets out

    “certain preventative measures aimed at increasing awareness and preparedness of the competent authorities and the farming community for foot-and-mouth disease.”

Does the Minister agree that the granting of declarations relating to separate units on premises would help to achieve that aim, and that the regulations should have included provisions for that? Does he believe that a distinction should be made between infected premises and affected premises, an issue that I discussed earlier?

As defined in regulation 2(11), the relevant authority for England is the Secretary of State, and for Wales the National Assembly for Wales. With that in mind, regulation 2(6) and (9) refers to the “relevant authority” declaring free units and revoking the declaration of free unit status. Presumably the Secretary of State and the National Assembly will be unable to take those decisions themselves directly. Who will be authorised to act on their behalf, and why is that not detailed in the regulations?

The regulations provide the relevant authority with the powers to slaughter susceptible animals on the infected premises, whether or not the animals are actually infected. Does that mean that neighbouring premises with no history of foot and mouth disease will be spared the mass slaughter that we witnessed in 2001? I am not absolutely sure that that is what the regulations intend, and I suspect that the risk would have to be assessed case by case.

Regulation 2(10)(b) makes provision for compensation, but it states that

    “compensation shall be the value of the animal immediately before it was slaughtered.”

Who determines that value, and will the decision take into consideration the fact that the value of livestock will be in flux, particularly in the middle of an outbreak? I am curious to know whether it would be better to take a pre-market, a mid-market or a post-market valuation, or whether the Minister will take the most generous valuation? I suspect that he probably will not, if the Chancellor has his way.


 
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In regulation 2(10)(a) on the provisions for compensation, does the term

    “affected with foot-and-mouth”

have the same meaning as

    “infected with foot-and-mouth”,

or does “affected” include animals in a unit that they share with an infected animal? Does the Minister believe that the compensation provisions in regulations 2(10)(a) should set a precedent for the slaughter of poultry in the event of an avian influenza outbreak, given that there are currently no compensation provisions for poultry that are affected and consequently slaughtered?

How will the regulations be changed over time if scientists find other more effective ways to contain foot and mouth disease outbreaks? Will we need permission from Brussels, or can we change the provisions ourselves?

Finally, the regulations are designed, as I said, to transpose articles 10, 15, 16 and 18 of Council directive 2003/85/EC. Article 2 (a) of the directive states that animals other than ruminantia, suina and tylopoda can be classed as an

    “animal of a susceptible species”,

and that the

    “order Rodentia or Proboscidae, may be considered susceptible to foot-and-mouth disease in accordance with scientific evidence.”

The regulations do not contain that provision, so does the Minister really believe that our laws are properly transposing those from Europe?

2.44 pm

Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr. Bercow.

In the spirit of consensus that seems to be breaking out all over at the moment, I share the Minister’s assertion that the Committee generally supports the thrust of the regulations in that they do not actually change Government policy on the matter. I also, however, share many of the concerns of the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) about how the regulations will operate and about the message that it sends to those working in the agriculture industry in rural areas as to how the regulations will operate. I particularly share his concerns about the pronunciation of many items. I should like epidemiological put on the record in my name, although I may disagree with his pronunciation of the word.

I shall direct my comments to the wider areas around affected premises. We have heard about the provision for premises to be designated as separate. It will be particularly desirable for farmers and others operating in the industry to have that confirmed prior to a potential outbreak, as the hon. Member for Leominster said. One of the stressful aspects of the outbreak in 2001 was that many people were unaware of what measures would be imposed on them and how
 
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those measures would come into effect. There was a general sense of hopelessness about the lack of information.

Unlike the Minister’s county of Devon, my county of Cornwall was fortunate in that the measures that had been put in place prevented an outbreak from crossing the border. My party wants assurances that the directive will not weaken the approach that has been taken. The key point is that we need to know in more detail how the proposals will come into operation and what the wider approach will be beyond the affected premises. We want to know the Government’s response to the directive and how other wildlife species and dogs in such areas will be controlled.

Powers that remain discretionary for the Secretary of State are an advantage, given her flexibility. However, unlike the regulations that impose a duty on the Secretary of State to take action to cull animals on infected premises, the remaining discretions will inevitably lead to uncertainty about what actions will ensue should another outbreak unfortunately occur. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to questions from Conservative Members. We need clarity. Not only do we have problems in respect of the impact of the disease on those working in the industry, but stress is caused by the uncertainty that people faced last time. I hope that the steps that the Government intend to take with the regulations and others that they might implement in future will overcome that uncertainty and, thus, reassure people that the measures are robust enough. People must be reassured that their worries will be taken into account.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): I have a couple of questions for the Minister, the first of which is out of a shameless constituency interest. My constituency borders Scotland. I assume that similar legislation will be introduced in the Scottish Parliament, so there will be no difference in the way in which farmers are treated on either side of the border.

Following recent legislation, the payment of compensation became discretionary. The order would make compensation compulsory. Will the Minister clarify that point?

2.49 pm

Mr. Bradshaw: I am grateful to members of the Committee for their contributions to the debate, most of which had absolutely nothing to do with the regulations. One of the reasons why I offered an affirmative process was in a spirit of openness, but perhaps I have learned my lesson the hard way and will be a little reluctant to do the same in future.

All the regulations do is transpose part of the EU directive that moves from a discretion to an obligation to slaughter animals on infected premises. It is as simple as that. I shall deal with some issues raised by members of Committee, so perhaps we can avoid returning to them in a future debate if, and when, we have one. The reason for separate statutory instruments is that the implementation of the directive requires changes to be made to different laws. The order that we are discussing is the only measure that
 
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requires a change to primary legislation, which is why I thought that it would be in the right spirit to offer it as an affirmative process.

There is no change in the definition of infected premises. All the statutory instruments, including the other two to which the hon. Member for Leominster referred, were consulted on in great detail in the summer. Infected premises

    “are those premises which are confirmed by the Chief Veterinary Officer . . . as having disease present”.

It would not be possible to designate separate production units. That designation has to depend on the circumstances at the time, what animals are kept and where, the biosecurity of the premises and the nature of the outbreak of the disease. It would not be a good idea for biosecurity or disease prevention to put ourselves in a straitjacket and take away the discretion of slaughter in those cases.

As for slaughtering outside infected premises, nothing will change. The discretion in such circumstances remains. I was asked why matters have
 
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taken so long. One reason is that the United Kingdom probably had some of the most detailed foot and mouth legislation anyway because of our unfortunate experience with the disease, and that always makes it a little more complicated when transposing EU directives into UK legislation. We also tend to be a bit more rigorous about how we do that, and we are keen not to lose the good safeguards under our domestic legislation.

I reassure the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr.­ ˝Atkinson) that similar legislation will apply to Scotland. In answer to the hon. Member for Leominster, infected and affected mean the same. Compensation is not discretionary for animals that are taken for the purposes of controlling foot and mouth disease. There has been no change to such matters.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Animal Health Act 1981 (Amendment) Regulations 2005.

Committee rose at eight minutes to Three o’clock.

                                                                                           
 
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