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Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the words of the noble Countess in relation to scrapie. He has had longer than any of us in this House to consider the three reports and the Scottish report into the foot and mouth outbreak, and he will be well aware that the essential recommendations are that there should be an adequate strategy for large outbreaks of disease and that lessons should be learnt from earlier outbreaks. Those are the two errors that appear to have compounded what happened in the recent case.

Unless the Minister brings together those reports and the chairmen of the committees who made them in order to produce a proper strategy, how can we begin to have legislation to give effect to that strategy? Regardless of what happens today in relation to the Committee stage, I ask him to ensure that that takes place during the summer so that by October there will be in place a strategy for dealing with any defects in the legislation. It seems that we are proceeding entirely in the wrong order. So far as I am aware, we still have no

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adequate strategy. I am afraid that if we proceed with a Bill in this form, much of the country will think that once again history is repeating itself and that lessons are not being learnt.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: This debate is about scrapie, a disease that has been with us for 200 years or more. It is a nasty disease of sheep. It is not good for their welfare. On the other hand, sheep breeders and flock owners have made extraordinarily good progress in controlling it and eradicating it from their flocks. There is no doubt that the proposal in this Bill will hasten that eradication.

However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that more thought needs to be given to the provisions of this section of the Bill. There certainly is a question over whether BSE is present in sheep. With more work done at the neuropathogenesis unit in Edinburgh, we may be able to determine whether that is so and whether the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, are justified.

I suggest that we are running on what is known as the principle of unripe time. We need to sit back for a month or two during the Summer Recess to reconsider this part of the Bill or a new Bill, whichever is necessary. Scrapie needs to be controlled. I am sure that the flock owners of this country would welcome this Bill and the eradication of scrapie, which would help our export trade and our meat trade. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that this is not the right time to move forward. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will take note of the concerns of various people about the uncertainties and demonic aspects of scrapie and will return in a few months' time, perhaps with some research that may have been initiated at the neuropathogenesis unit, to put the Bill in a much clearer and more effective form than it is at present.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I, too, have read the reports. One thing that emerges clearly is the need for quick, decisive action. If there is provision for that in this Bill, we should go ahead with it.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, in that case, we should kill all the animals. We would then have no problem.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I do not know how we can resolve this debate, instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, but I hope that when deciding individually how to react, your Lordships will not be taken in by the extraordinarily strange argument that, because on 18th July we agreed to an instruction as to how the Bill should be dealt with, it is not appropriate for us to oppose going into Committee. In my view, that is a totally spurious argument.

It is right that several days before one considers a Bill in Committee, one knows how that Bill will be taken over the days on which it is debated. It is quite right that a formal Motion should be tabled to tell Members of the House in what order the clauses and schedules will be discussed, so that your Lordships can

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prepare for the debates that follow. The decision as to whether your Lordships' House goes into Committee should be taken on the day. In my view, we are dealing with the matter in the proper way. It is a totally spurious argument that we should not discuss whether to consider the Bill now in Committee because we passed an instruction some days ago. In deciding how to proceed, I hope that your Lordships will not consider that argument at all.

Lord May of Oxford: As president of the Royal Society, I formed the 15-person committee that produced the Royal Society report. Although I had nothing more to do with it, I believe that it is one among many excellent reports.

The remarks of the former Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggest that our discussion is entirely coloured by party politics. That is not how I judge it. I have heard a variety of voices pleading that we try to absorb wide-ranging discussions, embracing people in the countryside and in the world of science. We have deliberately considered those views. At least one report is not a report of lessons learnt and scientific questions put forward for the future to sit on a shelf and be forgotten, as was the Northumberland report, until too late; it recommends a debate in Parliament, various structural features and annual or triennial reviews to be embedded in the relevant departments.

All that seems to me, in my naivety, to be relevant to a soundly designed Bill. I do not see our producing that unless we follow a slightly more leisurely course.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, having listened to the contributions from around the House, the Minister will feel challenged in responding to the many comments made, in particular those of the noble Lord, Lord May, for which I am grateful.

While not picking on any noble Lord, I point out that the former Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said previously that the National Sheep Association wishes to go ahead and eradicate scrapie from the flock. Indeed, it does; I have no difficulty with that argument. However, it clearly states that it should be done within a time-span. For that reason, I have tabled an additional amendment.

That is not the only argument. I quote from a copy of a letter, also sent to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, from the National Sheep Association. It is dated 24th July. I should like to read all of it but I believe that that would push your Lordships' patience beyond belief and I shall not do so. However, the extract I have selected states:

    "We do not have sufficient robust, up-to-date data on the population size of various breeds to make an accurate assessment of the ability of the industry as a whole to adopt more radical

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    breeding strategies. However, given a number of assumptions that we believe accurately reflect industry structure and good practice, we predict"—

Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I believe that she is quoting from a letter from the University of Wales, not from the NSA letter.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am sorry, I was indeed quoting from a letter which accompanied the letter from the National Sheep Association and I should record that in Hansard. I apologise to your Lordships. The letter comes from the Institute of Rural Studies, University of Wales, and supports what is said by the National Sheep Association.

The institute predicts that,

    "even the most radical breeding plan would be unable to deliver a national flock that was 100% ARR carrying (i.e. resistant to scrapie) in much less than 10 years. The consequences of such radical breeding policies on the survival of some breeds and the financial viability on some farming businesses could be severe".

The noble Lord is right. I was mistaken in trying to get the papers together so as to make sense.

I spoke again to John Thorley, the chairman of the NSA. He clearly accepts that the association wants to see scrapie bred out. However, he realises that time has been lost. One of the problems is that as a result of last year's foot and mouth outbreak, some of the plans for the breeding programme have been delayed. At paragraph 7 of his letter, he states:

    "To sum up, we would estimate that the NSP [national sheep plan] is at a stage in development which we would like to have seen some three years ago. The problems associated with foot and mouth having removed important commercial traits also needs to be taken into consideration at this juncture. To take the industry forward in a sensible way we would contend that a period of four breeding seasons needs to elapse before consideration is given to introduce rules which entail restricting the use of breeding stock according to their resistance rating".

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will agree that the University of Wales and the National Sheep Association are highly respected by the industry.

I shall not repeat all the comments made by other noble Lords, but last week in discussing the sequence in which we would debate the Bill we agreed that we would first take the section relating to scrapie. That proposal was put before us. It was not put before us that we should take it today, but, for the benefit of noble Lords who were not present, the agreement was that we would take the scrapie part of the Bill first, rather than as originally proposed. Those are two important issues of which Members who were not here should be aware?

Secondly, being critical, and I hope supportive, the scrapie part of the Bill is not the urgent part in respect of which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggested the Government did not have to hand the information they required. They do not need the scrapie part as an urgent measure. That also adds to the weight of argument to which other noble Lords have referred outside the Chamber. Some have suggested outside the

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Chamber that they feel we are rushing the Bill through and they would like to give the NSA a chance to get to grips with what it wants to see happen.

In addition, one or two people say that more thought needs to be given. Like the noble Lord, Lord May, I read the report to which he referred. It gave a light to the future. None of us wants to see what happened last year, with the outbreak of foot and mouth and thousands of animals being killed. However, if we rush through legislation, we are likely to condemn many sheep to death. And for the benefit of noble Lords who do not understand the sheep business too well, I should add that many of those sheep have good genome types which we need to preserve for cross-breeding purposes. We run the risk of killing them because they are more susceptible to scrapie.

I do not believe that I need to speak at greater length. It is a judgment for this House to make. It is not a party political judgment; it is one for Members all around the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, made an imposing speech. She well knows sheep breeding and is involved in it; I am not. There are good reasons why we should think again and why we should have a chance to come back to the legislation.

When discussing the questions whether we should move the debates forward or whether there is too much rush, I have argued that following the three valuable reports we have received this summer following the foot and mouth outbreak, the Government—let alone we in opposition and Members around the House—will want to see improvements made to the Bill. Vaccination has been highlighted. There are good reasons why we should think again. If I were being practical and I were the Government, I believe that the passage of the Bill would be quicker if we were given time to think about it and to come back. If we try to push the legislation through, the Government will say to us, "Oh, my goodness, we have looked again and we have to change the Bill yet again". That seems nonsensical.

I take up another point that has been raised. We are likely to have only today to debate this part of the Bill. When we spoke earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, rightly said that he thought two days would be adequate for discussions on the scrapie part. But it does not look as though we shall get even two days on the scrapie part, which is a worry. More worrying for all noble Lords is the fact that we all work hard and are willing to do what we can. But the hard rub is that when we return on 7th October we shall have had no chance to debate the recommendations of the reports. When tabling amendments, noble Lords will not know the Government's response. I suggest that that leaves us in a mess.

I urge the Government to give us the opportunity to consider those reports. We realise that there are practical problems. As the noble Countess, Lady Mar, said, in many cases the science is not proved. New vaccines are being developed all the while. That is

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hugely encouraging. How much better to have a vaccination than to have to slaughter animals. But at the end of the day the decision is for noble Lords.

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