Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Earl Russell: My Lords, I have no argument with my party's policy. But a vote on recommittal is not identical to a vote on first committal.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I very much welcome the interest taken by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in the Bill's proceedings. There is no question that his knowledge and expertise were of enormous help in allowing us to debate at Second Reading and in Grand Committee these very important issues with a great deal of care and clarity.

However, I believe, in the light of experience, that the Grand Committee process has been both appropriate and extremely valuable as a means of scrutinising this important Bill. Although items in the Bill are no doubt controversial, it is worth making the point that the broad intent to improve adoption processes and procedures in this country has received considerable support from all parts of the House. The Grand Committee process has allowed us to debate those items with a great deal of scrutiny and care. We have had the benefit of more than 26 hours of detailed and thorough debate over seven sessions. In total, more than 160 amendments have been considered.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, focused our attention, in particular, on the clauses concerning joint adoption by unmarried couples. I say to the noble Lord that that matter was debated very carefully at Second Reading, and the House decided that the Bill should be referred to a Grand Committee—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. The issue was debated thoroughly in Grand Committee. It spanned three Committee sessions and a total of four-and-a-half hours of debate—longer

25 Jul 2002 : Column 542

than any other issue raised in the Bill. Twenty-two Members of your Lordships' House spoke in debate during those discussions.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggested that there should be only one major debate on these issues, and he suggested that the Committee procedure would be more appropriate than Report. However, I do not believe, given the usual tolerance and good manners which prevail in your Lordships' House, that we cannot deal on Report with the issues that he raised. I am sure that we shall be able to do so.

Finally, I reiterate a point made by my noble friend Lady Gould and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. The issues of unmarried couples and of a local authority's duty to provide adoption support services are important. But many other debates took place on other matters, such as placement orders and consent orders, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has not suggested that they should come before your Lordships' House in a recommittal. From my own viewpoint, I do not see that the issue of unmarried couples is more significant than the other issues that we debated significantly in Grand Committee.

It is up to each noble Lord to make up his mind on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has made a significant contribution to our debates thus far. But I believe that the Grand Committee scrutiny has been very thorough.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, from the speech of my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley, who is a member of the usual channels, it was plain that, if this matter had been put to the usual channels now or at any time, they would have questioned the recommittal. They would have been against it without having heard what has been argued today and without the benefit of having read the opinion of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. This is not a question of whether my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley or I are right. It is not a question of right and wrong; it is a question of the sense of the House.

In answer to the noble Baroness, I take the view that these clauses are the cornerstone of the Bill. But the argument has been heard. These unusual and wholly exceptional circumstances would not create any precedent. In that context, when the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, looks at the report, he will see the words,


    "there is no procedural reason why a motion to commit a bill should not do as Lord Jenkin has proposed".

As I read it, the committee is expressly accepting split committals as an excellent procedure. The noble Viscount may read it otherwise. However, that is not the point.

Lord Carter: My Lords, this is not a split Committee; it is a recommittal, and there is a very big difference. At the outset, a split Committee takes part of a Bill in Grand Committee and the rest of it on the Floor of the House. We did that in relation to the Transport Bill in the previous Parliament. We spent one day in Grand Committee putting all the

25 Jul 2002 : Column 543

government amendments into the Bill, and the Bill was then reprinted and dealt with by a Committee of the Whole House in the Chamber. The noble Lord is confusing a split Committee and a recommittal.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, with respect, the noble Lord does not seem to appreciate that the decision was made before Second Reading. It was a perfectly proper decision because there was no reason to suppose that these matters of principle, which should be discussed on the Floor of the House, would arise. There was only a proposal to amend the procedure so that after Second Reading the decision as to recommittal could be taken. But the House could not recommit. No such suggestion could have been made because, on the information available, there was no reason why that should happen. Then it was too late to do anything. I took advice. The only way of dealing with the matter, if the House wished to exercise its entitlement, was to do as I have done. That was to seek a recommittal, which is exactly the same as what would have been a split committal. There is no other way to deal with it. However, if the sense of the House is against me, it would be quite wrong to divide the House. This is a matter for the sense of the House. So, in those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Animal Health Bill

4 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whitty.)

Lord Moran: My Lords, I should perhaps say a few words on this Motion because I was responsible for moving the amendment to hold up the Committee stage of the Bill which your Lordships accepted on 26th March. The Government propose today to go ahead with the Committee stage, which the letter, though hardly the spirit, of the amendment allows them to do. As always, I declare my interest in that my wife has a small herd of cattle in Wales; but we have no sheep.

I am sorry that I was not able to be present last Thursday when the House discussed the Government's Motion to take Part 2 of the Bill on scrapie out of turn. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was kind enough to give me two apologies, which of course I accept. I was only puzzled when, after the Committee stage appeared on the Order Paper, I was approached by the House authorities who were clearly surprised

25 Jul 2002 : Column 544

that I had not been consulted. They spoke to the Government Whips, after which they told me that I would receive a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and that I should respond, making it clear whether I agreed with what was proposed. I waited for the letter. Although it is dated 17th July, it reached me only half an hour ago. So I have not been able to respond.

The Minister explained to the House last week that the Government used the normal procedure, by which I suppose he meant the usual channels. So it appeared to me then that, as a Cross-Bencher, I did not need to be consulted, at any rate until the very last moment. The letter of mine, which my noble friend Lady Mar kindly read out my letter during her speech on 18th July, was originally intended as a brief for those who had supported me on 26th March. I should not like the House to think that I am now going to communicate with it only by letter rather than in person. But I am grateful to my noble friend for making my position clear and for adding her own eminently reasonable views.

The Minister said that the Government had already considered the reports. To have done so properly in the nine days which had elapsed since the Royal Society's report was published and the three days after the Anderson report came out was indeed surprising, especially since, as your Lordships will have seen, Sir Brian Follett, chairman of the Royal Society's inquiry, is reported as saying that by switching to vaccination,


    "we are in the process of turning around a ship of policy that has been sailing for decades".

That was a very significant remark.

Part 1 of the present Bill is based entirely on legitimising and extending the policy of mass slaughter. Long ago, on 14th January, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said of a future mass slaughter policy that:


    "The last outbreak brought the rural community in this country to its knees. It brought many families to a state of despair and many farming families to a position in which they were on the verge of open defiance of the law. I do not believe that they or the wider public will stand for a similar policy in the future".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 895.]

I am sure she was right. Six million animals were slaughtered. The direct cost to the public sector was, according to the National Audit Office, estimated at over 3 billion. The cost to the private sector was estimated at over 5 billion. To do all that again must be unacceptable.

I believe that in the light of the Royal Society's report a thorough rethink is necessary and that a new and radically different Bill needs to be introduced in the autumn. My noble friends Lord Bledisloe and Lord Williamson of Horton made important points on this issue when they spoke on Monday.

The Government, and most recently the noble Lord, Lord Carter, have said that in March we were irresponsible to hold up the Committee stage of the Bill. I do not accept that for a minute. On the contrary, I think we have been entirely vindicated by what has been said in the inquiry reports, especially that from

25 Jul 2002 : Column 545

the Royal Society. A similar report came out from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. It said that recent progress in research and development,


    "powerfully supports the case for emergency protective vaccination without subsequent slaughter, except for infected animals",

and recommended that,


    "emergency barrier or ring vaccination as an adjunct to slaughter of clinical cases, as this would lead to a considerable reduction in the number of animals requiring to be slaughtered".

On scrapie, I said at Second Reading that the then president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had pointed out that in this part of the Bill,


    "many unsupported scientific judgements are made".—[Official Report, 14/1/02; col. 900.]

We also learnt that its provisions might result in the elimination of many old-established and possibly genetically valuable sheep breeds such as, for example, Herdwicks. Many of these breeds suffered severely during the foot and mouth epidemic. Herdwicks, for example, lost one-third of their number, mostly young animals. Now to wipe out those breeds on the basis of uncertain and disputed science would surely be indefensible.

Many sheep breeders support the objectives of the Government's national scrapie plan and I know that DEFRA has been trying to find ways to overcome the difficulties. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who set up last year the National Consultative Council on Farm Animal Genetic Resources. DEFRA has also agreed to carry out the rare breed genotyping survey, sampling for which, I understand, is now half complete and should be fully completed by December.

But the main concern is that the Government are trying to push ahead too fast. Ways may be found to eliminate susceptible animals from herds without affecting the status of the breeds themselves. But that needs time. I am not alone in having serious doubts about what the Government seek to do in Part 2 of the Bill. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons advised me to consult the Sheep Veterinary Society, which is a division of the British Veterinary Association. That I did. It kindly passed on to me comments from members of the society who are experts in this field. The Government should consider carefully what they say. I shall give some examples. First:


    "The TSE part of the Animal Health Bill is . . . very draconian. There is no provision to use an R5 ram on say R1 ewes to protect rare or superior phenotype. It also presupposes that BSE is in the national flock. Far better to use the suggested approach of the Royal Society report and have a proper debate on the issues". Secondly:


    "There are too many scientific uncertainties to justify such draconian measures, particularly the question of whether BSE is, or ever was, in the UK sheep flock".

Thirdly:


    "In particular, I think the most important thing to question in the Bill is the use of the term 'TSE susceptible' rather than 'affected' or even 'exposed'. By implication, the Bill would allow slaughter of any animal of a species in which a TSE had ever been detected".

25 Jul 2002 : Column 546

Fourthly:


    "Why are they trying again to introduce this part of the Animal Health Bill when statutory instrument 843 appears to cover all the necessary controls (and more)".

Three of the experts produced a list of questions which they considered should be answered before the scrapie part of the Bill goes forward. There are 20 questions. I shall not read them all out. I have put a copy of the full list in the Library of the House. To give your Lordships their flavour, I shall quote one or two examples. They are:


    "Why the need for such extreme measures to deal with a disease (Scrapie) which is not known to be a public health risk and which has been recorded for hundreds of years?


    By selecting so strongly for one trait and culling animals with other genotypes, to what other potential disease epidemics may we be predisposing the national sheep flock?


    Is it welfare friendly to select strongly for one trait whilst potentially selecting against others including ability to survive in harsh conditions, mothering ability, resistance to other diseases e.g. foot rot?


    "If large numbers of the national sheep flock are culled out and breeding lines lost how will genetic diversity remain?


    "What about minority breeds or lines specifically adapted to a particular environment/location?"

What does seem most important is to allow breeders reasonable time to set up breeding programmes to build up scrapie resistance in their herds.

I have read carefully the reports of the National Audit Office and the Royal Society. I have had time only to read quickly and selectively the Lessons to be Learned report, which I received yesterday. Although couched in polite terms, it is a devastating indictment of a government department and its whole manner of proceeding. The penultimate paragraph of Dr Anderson's foreword states:


    "Within MAFF and now DEFRA, I detected a culture predisposed to decision-making by committee, with an associated fear of personal risk-taking. Such a climate does not encourage creative initiative. It inhibits adaptive behaviour and organisational learning, which, over time, lowers the quality of decisions taken. It seems to me that a reappraisal of prevailing attitudes and behaviours within the Department would be beneficial".

If the department were a business, the chief executive officer would by now have been dismissed. In my view, it would be sensible to bring in a new permanent secretary with a remit to reorganise the way DEFRA does its work, as was done when a new Minister took over the Department for Transport.

On legislation, the Anderson report states that the powers available under the Animal Health Act 1981 should be re-examined, possibly in the context of a wider review of animal health legislation, to remove any ambiguity about the legal basis for future disease control strategies. That seems a much more sensible course than persisting with the existing, now largely outdated Bill.

What has puzzled me most during the past seven months is the Government's apparent refusal to pay any attention to the many criticisms made of their Bill in this House on 14th January and 26th March and by many important bodies in the country. The noble

25 Jul 2002 : Column 547

Lord, Lord Whitty, talks every now and then of bringing back the Bill, although it must be clear to everyone that it is now wholly inappropriate.

On scrapie, just as much as on disease eradication measures, we need first to ensure that we obtain the right answers to the problems. Then, and only then, can we consider the need for legislation. I cannot understand why the Government think it desirable to rush ahead now, immediately before the recess, with consideration in Committee of a Bill that, in its present form, is clearly doomed. Their attitude appears to be, "Let us show this wretched Cross-Bencher that we are not to be put off by his tiresome initiative, and never mind the sheep". Surely, it would be far better for the whole Bill, including Part 2 on scrapie, to be carefully considered doing the recess and for us to meet in the autumn to consider what I hope will be a new and far more sensible Bill.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: I agree entirely with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said. The Animal Health Bill has few friends in this House or outside. At Second Reading on 14th January, 25 noble Lords spoke in the debate, 23 of them against the Bill. On 26th March, your Lordships voted for the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, to suspend the Bill until such time as the Government had received, published and, I emphasise, considered the results of the inquiries that they had commissioned. The operative word is "considered". The National Audit Office report was published in late June, and the Royal Society report on 16th July, a mere nine days ago. Meanwhile, the Royal Society in Edinburgh published a comprehensive report on 15th July, and this Monday—only two or three days ago—the Lessons to be Learned report was published.

The four reports, all recently published, run to a total of more than 500 pages. Each report makes recommendations. The Lessons to be Learned inquiry alone makes 81 recommendations. It is simply not credible that the Government have been able to consider all of the recommendations from all four reports in the short time since publication. Therefore, reintroducing the Animal Health Bill at this stage goes completely against both the letter and spirit of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, which was accepted by your Lordships' House in March.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, was absolutely right on Monday during our debate on the Statement. What he said is well worth repeating. He said:


    "how does the Minister consider that the Bill can possibly proceed until we have had a debate on these reports, and he has brought forward either a re-drafted Bill or amendments to it so as to bring it in line with the recommendations that the Government accept? If we do not follow that route, the entire postponement of the Bill's passage until such reports were made will have been a waste of time and a farce".—[Official Report, 22/7/02; cols. 36-37.]

This the wrong Bill at the wrong time. As the noble Lord. Lord Moran, said, the Government should in the coming months learn the lessons of the various published reports, digest the criticisms and return with a Bill that is acceptable to this House and the many people outside whom it will affect.

25 Jul 2002 : Column 548

I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, replies, he will give some answers and assurances so that we will not have to divide the House on the matter.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page