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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 Committeea 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 debatelonger
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,
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
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.
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
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,
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:
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
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:
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:
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
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.
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 Mondayonly two or three days agothe 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.
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.
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.
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