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Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, we are examining the successful amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in relation to the Animal Health Bill. Factually, the Government have considered the responses, at least theoretically, to the consultation on the implementation of powers in the Bill. Their response has arrived in the past 24 hours so I now understand why the noble Lord, Lord Moran, did not get that information. It has been placed in the Library of the House so technically it is in the public domain. Even though I do not like some of its conclusions or the way in which this has been handled at such short notice, the Minister has made a statement and provided assurances. I should be grateful if he would repeat in his summing up that we are going to consider only Part 2 of the Bill which addresses the issue of scrapie.
There are, as has been said, a number of important scientific issues in relation to the control of scrapie. I believe that it is possible to proceed with Part 2 of the Bill next week. However, I give warning that my party will examine Part 2 of the Bill together with amendments that we have put down. If we believe that scientifically the Bill is not sound, then we shall not hesitate to try and defeat it on Report. However, that is no reason why Part 2 of the Bill should not proceed.
Part 1 of the Bill, concerning foot and mouth and infectious diseases, will not be taken until October. Therefore there is time to consider the results of the Royal Society, the NAO report and other reports such as the Anderson Report into foot and mouth. Therefore, on balance, we cannot see a reason to delay the Animal Health Bill further, as long as only Part 2 is taken next week.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, while I accept the Minister's assurance that Schedule 2, which is the operative part of the Bill to be discussed next week and the week after, has nothing to do with the reports referred to in the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, passed some months ago, it occurs to me that there are parts of Schedule 2 which have a conformity with other parts of the Bill and other parts of the animal health legislation that will remain on the statute book. That being so, if the Government themselves seek to amend, for example, the enforcement provisions of this clearly controversial schedule, may we have an assurance that there will be reciprocal amendments to other parts of the Bill and animal health legislation more widely? If not, I have no doubt that all this time which has been found will be wasted and there will be quite serious cause for Schedule 2 to be recommitted after we come back from the Summer Recess.
Like other noble Lords, I am slightly disturbed by the way the Government wish to push ahead with this Bill. The scrapie section is not a deeply infectious or deeply worrying part. It is actually the least worrying part of the Bill. The need for urgency is, therefore, slightly beyond me. I have a briefing sent to me by the RSPCA this morning, appertaining to the whole Bill but particularly the scrapie section. The RSPCA,
It is to the latter that I should like to draw the Minister's attention. The Government maintain that there is nothing in those two reports that affect the scrapie section. Perhaps I may turn the Minister's attention to page 141, Annex A: Terms of Reference:
One or two other points particularly concern me. The first is that this Bill has already technically been through the other House and arrived before your Lordships today. If the Government find that they have to introduce many new amendments, our democratically-elected colleagues in the other place
Baroness Byford: My Lords, the noble Countess, as ever, is quite correct. I must choose my words more carefully. But what I am saying is that if we make huge changes to the Bill, because of the way that Parliament worksas noble Lords know well we discuss only the amendments tabled in this Housethe other place will not have a chance to discuss those changes. As we know and accept, the guillotine Motion is used in the other House and we could see huge swathes of this Bill going through undebated. I am concerned therefore about the procedure for Bills going through this House. I hope that the Minister will take that into consideration because it is enormously important.
As the Minister is aware, I wrote to him twiceonce on 29th May and again on 2nd Julywarning that we would not consider the scrapie provisions without taking into consideration the powers of enforcement and other aspects of the TSE regulations which we debated at great length. It was only this morning that I finally received a reply to my letter. It was a very full reply and I do not know whether other Members of this House have had a chance to see itI do not intend to read four pages of it now. It underlines my concern about the speed at which we are progressing.
The department's letter acknowledges that major concerns were raised when we took the TSE regulations through. It says it now intends to consult again with the industry on some of the provisions. How sensibly can we pursue the enactment of provisions relating to scrapie in a Bill containing powers for the control of animal disease while the Government are still consulting? I hardly think it wise to push ahead at this time.
I return to two earlier points. The first is that we are told that we will have two days in Committeethe first on Tuesday of next week and the other on the Monday of the following weekto deal with the scrapie provisions, which the Government consider to be uncontroversial. But as the noble Countess, Lady Mar, indicated when reading the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Moran, many of us believe that there are controversial aspects to consider. We are given two days for those provisions, which cover only one-third of the Bill. We have been given only two further days to consider the other two-thirds.
How does the Minister think we can handle the whole of the Bill in four days if he recognises, quite rightly, that we need two days to consider the scrapie provisions? Would it not be wiser to withdraw the Bill at the moment and wait until we have heard the various recommendations, particularly from the Anderson inquiry which reports this Monday, before we push ahead? The noble Lord may accuse me of trying to delay and putting the Bill off. But I would be
I should say at the outset that, as the noble Countess, Lady Mar, quoted the noble Lord, Lord Moran, the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, who unfortunately could not stay because his wife is unwell, made it clear that he supports the Government in their proposal to take the Bill forward in this way. The President of the National Sheep Association says that its members are anxious to get to grips with the scrapie situation. The NFU also supports the Bill. It has some concerns about compensation but that will be dealt with in the autumn when we come to the later part of the Bill.
So there are strong agricultural arguments for progressing the scrapie provisions. Of course the NAO report, to which reference has been made, relates entirely to foot and mouth disease and not to scrapie; it concerns the FMD outbreak.
Earlier this year 77 amendments were tabled on Schedule 2. I have not read the whole of the Royal Society report, but I find it hard to believe that there will be an enormous amount of extra amendments to the schedule required as a result of that report, which is a major scientific investigation which will need a long time and a great deal of consultation before any legislation finally appearsperhaps an all-embracing Animal Health Act much later. I believe I am correct in sayingI shall be corrected if I am wrongthat the Royal Society report excludes TSEs. It contains four paragraphs on the sheep industry generally and scrapie is mentioned in passing in one paragraph.
That is the agricultural argument for getting on with this part of the Bill dealing with scrapie. Even if a large number of amendments are tabled on Schedule 2, in my experience two days will be sufficient to deal with that part of the Bill.
The constitutional argument is that there is a powerful convention in this House which we tamper with at our peril. The elected Government are entitled to have their business considered. What we did in March had not been done since the 19th century. I regarded it as highly irresponsible. If there had been an outbreak of foot and mouth diseasethank God there has not beenor if one were to occur in the recess and the Government found that they did not have all the powers they needed to deal with it, those who supported the noble Lord, Lord Moran, would bear a heavy responsibility.
I cannot find any example, certainly in my 15 years in the House, where an order of consideration has been voted against. So yet another precedent would be created. The Government met the requirements of the Moran Motion, which only specified the NAO report and the Royal Society report. It was an oversight on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, to omit
The House will have the whole summer to consider the three reports. That is a sensible way of dealing with the Bill. We explored this procedure much earlierI am not revealing any secrets of the usual channelsafter the vote on the Moran Motion. It was then thought that this might be a way forward. But the Government waited to meet the terms of the Moran Motion. They have done so. Two reports have been published, though only one has any effect on scrapie, and that only in passing. So there are agricultural and constitutional grounds for proceeding. To oppose the order of consideration of this Bill and the way that the Government wish to proceed would, in my view, be extremely dangerous.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I gather from my noble friend on the Front Bench that this order has not been agreed by the usual channels. She said so much against it that it seemed to me that the usual channels could not have been involved in deciding the way in which things should be done.
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