Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I am concerned that the procedure being adopted will bring the House into total chaos. I am today concerned not with technical details or the overall merit of the Animal Health Bill, but with procedure—in particular, the idea that the Bill's foot and mouth disease provisions shall proceed on the first and second days after we return from the recess.

On Monday, during the Statement, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:

He also said, at col, 37:

    "we shall need to consider what is in these reports that may require amendment to the proposed Animal Health Bill".

Whether or not the House was right to pass the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is irrelevant. We are now where we are. Clearly, the intent and decision of the House was that the Bill should not be proceeded with until the Government had absorbed the reports and decided what to do about them.

As even the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, recognised, it will be appropriate to amend the Bill to some extent to take account of the reports. The Government will also have to consider how to deal with the reports more broadly. But under the presently suggested procedure, we shall arrive back here on our first sitting day in October and perhaps be faced with a raft of government amendments—perhaps not, because they may not have been drafted—but with no idea what is the overall government strategy to deal either with the reports generally or with the Bill in the light of those reports.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will tell us—and I do not dispute this—that parts of the Bill are needed urgently. But even those parts will inevitably need to be amended because they were conceived in the context of a slaughter policy, not a vaccination policy, and, above, all not a policy of "vaccination to live".

Other parts of the Bill are not urgent: for example, the part that deals with what is to me—I declare an interest as a farmer—the unattractive concept that any farmer who has broken the rules is automatically liable to have his compensation confiscated. That is plainly not urgently required to deal with an emergency—it may or may not be a good idea.

I shall spell out to the Minister what he needs to do stage by stage. On the first day on which we sit to discuss the Bill, instead of progressing with consideration in Committee he should make a Statement on how he will deal with the overall recommendations in the reports and table the amendments that the Government need to those parts of the Bill with which they wish to proceed early. He can then table or have tabled the amendments that the Government need to the parts of the Bill with which

25 Jul 2002 : Column 549

they wish to proceed at this stage. I pause, so that the Minister can hear what I say, rather than the words of his Chief Whip.

The Minister should make a Statement on how he intends to go forward, table some amendments and then move the amendments en bloc, so that they can be made. The Bill can then be recommitted, so that those who are concerned with it can table amendments relevant to the Bill as it will stand in the light of the Government's new policy. We can then drop the amendments relating to issues that have been solved, and we can ignore the parts of the Bill that the Government can safely afford to put away until the later day when, as the Minister said, we shall need to return to the matter. A week later, we can approach the new Bill or the new government strategy in the light of a clear explanation and in the light of any relevant amendments; otherwise, there will be total chaos.

I am certain that, regardless of whether we proceed with the Committee stage today, the Minister will find a strong body of opinion against continuing with the Committee stage on the first day after the Recess, if he does not follow the course of action that I have suggested.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said about how we should deal with the Bill. Part 2 should be the content of a separate Bill for scrapie, with appropriate wording. In part, the problem is that chunks of Part 1, which applies in particular to foot and mouth disease, are applied to Part 2, where they are inappropriate. That will be raised in our debate, if we have one today. Part 2 ought to make sense in the context of scrapie, not necessarily foot and mouth disease. There is also the question of vaccination, which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, just mentioned.

The House voted on 18th July to continue with Part 2 of the Bill, as it is, in theory, distinct from Part 1. The three reports that were requested have been published. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, was right to ask us in March to vote on whether it was right to consider the Bill until the reports were published. We must, of course, ask whether the reports have been considered properly; that is an open question. Most of the points made in the reports refer to Part 1, not Part 2.

We must also recognise that the sheep farming industry, particularly the pedigree breeders, want to get on and make a start on eradicating scrapie from the United Kingdom. The Government may be hung on the problem of finding enough legislative time to consider all the matters. That is probably one of several reasons why they want to expedite consideration of the Bill. I would still prefer to see another Bill dealing with scrapie as a separate issue with the appropriate clauses and amendments. However, given that we voted on the matter earlier in July, it looks as though we shall have to go on and amend Part 2 so radically that it will not look much as

25 Jul 2002 : Column 550

it does at the moment. That may not be a satisfactory state of affairs, but it is what the House has decided to do.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, mentioned me in his speech. I must repeat the point that has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth: the House has already accepted the order of consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, was unable to be present. The House agreed to split the Bill between the part relating to scrapie, which we will do today, and the rest, which we will consider after the Recess.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, has already admitted that he is opposed to the Bill, but he has not been consistent. As he admitted, he should have put down a Motion at Second Reading that the Bill be read in six months' time. We would have had a vote and, if the noble Lord had been successful, he would have killed the Bill. He did not do that, so we had the business of the vote earlier in the year, followed by an unusual debate on the order of consideration, and another debate today.

I still think that the vote earlier in the year to stop the Bill was irresponsible. In this House, in which the Government are in a minority, there is a long-standing convention that the Government of the day are entitled to have their business considered. If the House does not like that business, there are all sorts of ways in which it can amend or vote down a Bill. I shall repeat the point that I made before. If there is an outbreak of foot and mouth disease between today and the day on which the Bill receives Royal Assent, those who supported the vote in the spring—who may vote again today to hold up the Bill—would bear a heavy responsibility.

There are many technical points about the scrapie provisions relating to breeds, timescale and lots of other things. They are exactly the sort of points that we ought to discuss in Committee and at later stages. the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that he had a list of questions. Well, we should explore those problems in Committee and try to resolve them. I am sure that the Minister will discuss them between Committee and Report. If the House is not satisfied, it knows what to do.

The noble Lord said that the Sheep Veterinary Society had said that there was no evidence of BSE in sheep. I was Opposition spokesman on agriculture for 10 years, and I lived with the whole BSE saga. I remember all the statements from the Dispatch Box that there was no connection between BSE and CJD.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. There is still no proven connection between BSE and CJD or between scrapie and BSE or CJD.

Lord Carter: My Lords, there is no proof; the noble Countess is right. However, there is something called the precautionary principle.

25 Jul 2002 : Column 551

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt again. If there is something called the precautionary principle, why did neither Government take organophosphates off the shelf when they were making so many people sick?

Lord Carter: My Lords, the noble Countess is prepared to take the risk that there may be BSE in sheep. If, because of her theory, we take no action, she will bear a heavy responsibility, as the previous Government bear a heavy responsibility for what happened with BSE because it was eventually proved that there was a connection. There was enough proof at least to justify introducing the measures that that Government had to take. With all its horrors, foot and mouth disease also led to substantial economic loss. If there is a connection between BSE and nvCJD, over a hundred of our people will have died a horrible death because of it.

There is also the question of the timescale for the scrapie plan. I have here a letter from the National Sheep Association, of which, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, is president. The letter says:

    " . . . NSA has put its weight behind the initiatives of Government to work constructively to develop a population of resistant stock as quickly as possible within the limitations of breeding set by nature but using all the breeding technology and know-how which is appropriate and affordable".

The last sentence of the letter reads as follows:

    "Our recommendation therefore is that any legislation currently being put in place should reflect this aspect"—


    "as the best option to move the industry forward in a constructive way".

I believe that there is an opposition amendment dealing with timescale and Royal Assent for the scrapie part of the Bill. That is exactly the sort of thing that we deal with in Committee. If the House is not satisfied, it can deal with the matter on Report.

I urge the House to think carefully about the procedure that we are adopting. I know that some noble Lords do not like the Bill and that, with some, the Bill is extremely unpopular. However, all governments bring unpopular Bills to the House of Lords. If the House, in which the Government are in a minority, uses the procedure endlessly to hold up Bills, we would be playing with fire, with the powers of the House and, indeed, with the future of the House of Lords.

4.30 p.m.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the noble Lord has threatened us in various ways. He has threatened us about the powers of the House; he has threatened us that if we hold up the Bill and there is an outbreak of foot and mouth disease between now and whenever the Bill comes into force, that will be our fault.

With the House of Commons report, we now have four reports that show very clearly that government incompetence, not the actions of Members of the House of Lords, caused many of the problems with foot and mouth disease. On the whole, Members of the

25 Jul 2002 : Column 552

House of Lords are extremely responsible. They want to see good law on the statute book. With the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House, we have repeatedly raised our objections, as we are perfectly entitled to, and in doing so have been in the majority, both in terms of number of speakers and votes that have taken place. Do not let the former Chief Whip threaten us any more. We are not here to be threatened. Most of us are independent, even when we belong to parties, and we should be allowed to think for ourselves.

Our concerns are that we are dealing with inadequate science. I think back to Galileo and I think back to the vitamin C saga, which I raised when we debated TSE. I also think of the medical diagnoses that have been made over the past century for neuro-degenerative diseases, which, in the case of humans, have all been said to have psychological origins, except for CJD; that cannot be in people's minds. Multiple sclerosis and similar illnesses have all been classified as idle men's diseases or in the mind.

No one seems to be considering any hypothesis other than the meat and bonemeal hypothesis. There are many of them around. I know that Alan Ebringer has received some money, but we need more proof about the causation. If one considers reported scrapie cases, Oxfordshire, Cumbria, the Shetlands, and either Powys or Dyfed in Wales, have a very high incidence of reporting. If scrapie is such an infectious disease—I know that it is a slow infection—why is it not evenly spread over the country when sheep are evenly spread over the country? We have heard that about the markets.

That is why we are not happy with this section of the Bill, which I again ask the Minister to reconsider very carefully. He has the power that he needs in the existing Animal Health Bill and in the recent TSE regulations, to which I objected. He does not need any further power at the moment. Let us take time to get proper legislation on to the statute book instead of this hotchpotch of inadequate law.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page