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Lord Whitty: At first sight, I thought that Amendment No. 1 did not quite fall in the same category as the other amendments in this group, in that it was not a direct attempt to alter the implications of the TSE regulations. The noble Baroness explained the rationale in the first two or three sentences that she uttered in this regard. The rationale is to alter the interface between the Bill and the regulations, which would change the nature of those regulations.
The noble Baroness's other pointon the face of it, the amendment also deals with this pointraised the question whether we should refer to scrapie rather than TSEs throughout the clause. One of the motives for eliminating scrapie is to try to ensure that the unprovenI say that to avoid the need for the noble Countess to intervenebut nevertheless theoretical possibility of BSE being in sheep would be eliminated if we also eliminated scrapie. That deals with a TSE other than scrapie. To confine the provision to scrapie would limit the operation of the legislation.
The Countess of Mar: The Minister cannot have it both ways. We either talk about TSEs when we talk about BSE, CJD and TSE in cats or we talk about scrapie, BSE and CJD. Most of those diseases are animal specific. No one has yet been able to prove, despite trying with all of their might, that sheep get BSE. It would be much better if we were clear and said "scrapie" for sheep, "BSE" for cattle and "CJD" for humans.
Lord Lucas: One difficulty in this regard is that there are quite different patterns of susceptibility for different TSEs. We know reasonably well which genotypes are susceptible to the various strains of scrapie in this country. I do not believe that we yet have a clear picture of which strains are susceptible to BSE and we certainly do not know which strains are susceptible to classic human CJD, chronic wasting disease of deer, kuru or any of the other TSEs about which we know. We are in danger of confusing the problem if we think that we are dealing with TSEs in sheep. We are dealing with the sheep disease of scrapie. We have a reasonable idea of how susceptibility varies according to genotype. For the rest of it, we get many conflicting angles. A genotype that is particularly resistant to scrapie may well be particularly susceptible to some other TSE. We have not done the research. Should we not really be looking at the disease about
Lord Carter: As I understand it, if Amendment No. 1 were agreed to we would remove the chance in relation to this Bill of examining the genotypes that may be susceptible to BSE. If scientific work shows that there is such a link, we would need another Bill. If that is required in relation to BSE in sheep, the Minister will have to produce an order, which would be debated in this House. Presumably that order would be produced only after consultation with SEAC and the relevant and scientific authorities. We should adopt the precautionary principle in this regard. In relation to the Bill, to remove any chance of working on the theoretical possibility of BSE in sheep, which would have to be done by order anyway and would be subject to debate and approval by both Houses, would be extremely risky. We would need another Bill to deal with that form of TSE in sheep if we restricted the Bill only to scrapie.
Lord Jopling: The noble Lord, Lord Carter, raised a matter that I had hoped to raise but I felt that it was appropriate to do so when we debated the Question whether Clause 5 stand part. Since the noble Lord has raised that matter now, it is probably appropriate if I say at this point part of what I wanted to say on our clause stand part debate.
When the Minister winds up, will he tell us whether he thinks that it is wise to confine Clause 5 only to sheep? There are other species in this contextthe noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned deer, but one could also mention llamas; I know a number of people who keep them. Would it not be wise to amend the Bill at a later stage so that it referred to "sheep or similar species of animals"? Would it not be better to deal with that now and not, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, have to bring in new primary legislation at a later stage? If one was trying to deal in a similar way with other species besides sheep, one could not do so by secondary legislation, as the noble Lord seemed to imply. I may have misunderstood him; we should not worry about that. One could not possibly do that, as I understand it, with secondary legislation because Clause 5 refers to sheep, and to sheep alone.
Will the Minister consider that point and extend Clause 5 in future to include other species? Many people in this country farm deer commercially. If there were serious extensions of TSEs in the deer herd and it was felt necessary to deal with that, it would be an awful shame to have to go through the whole rigmarole of primary legislation again. Will the Minister open his mind to that possibility and consider tabling amendments at a later stage of our consideration of the Bill?
The Countess of Mar: We appear to be getting into just the sort of muddle that I feared we would get into. My understanding of the provisions on scrapie is that they put into legislation what is currently voluntary; that is, the national scrapie programme. Scrapie, we
Lord Whitty: I agree with the last two or three sentences that the noble Countess uttered. I take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, but it is the opposite of what the amendment and the move to delete Clause 5 are about. The reality is that we have a national scrapie plan, which has been supported and agreed with the industry on a voluntary basis. We wish to speed it up by providing for certain mandatory powers for the Government to accelerate that process. That national scrapie plan exists and we know where we want to get to. There may be arguments about aspects of it but we know that it is there. That is why this part of the Bill is about scrapie. Eliminating scrapie will have the effect of eliminating TSEs that might be masked by scrapie. There is the possibility that breeding out susceptibility to other TSEs in sheep could make use of a similar plan.
This is the implementation of a plan which already exists. We do not have a similar plan for deer or for other animals susceptible to the various diseases mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. It is therefore sensible to describe this for what it isthat is, a means of implementing the national scrapie plan. We have to recognise also that at various points it could impact and provide the basis and the means whereby we could tackle other TSEs in sheepalthough, as my noble friend Lord Carter said, an order would be required to so extend it. Indeed, the full implementation of the scrapie plan will require further orders before the House.
Baroness Byford: I thank all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. The wisest thing I can do at this stage is to withdraw the amendment and read what has been said in Hansard. We have had a rough start to the dayI use that term politely; I do not mean it in any rude wayand I need an opportunity to look at what has been said. I ask the Government to consider carefully my Amendment No. 2 before we return to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Greaves: I intervene on clause stand part because my noble friend Lord Livesy and I believe that there are a number of general issues in regard to the scrapie provisions in the Bill which would benefit from a general discussion of them. I wish to put a number of general questions to the Government which were not adequately dealt with in the Second Reading debate, now more than six months distant. That debate lasted for more than five hours but, for reasons we all understand, most discussion centred on Clause 1 of the Bill and not Clause 5 and Schedule 2, which deal with scrapie. Although the Minister referred to scrapie in opening, he did not say much at all in response to some of the points made during the debate.
I should like to put some general points to the Government. If the Minister can answer them to the satisfaction of the Committee, that will help in our deliberations on the more detailed, specific points we will come to later, one or two of which have been touched on in the unusual and interesting discussions so far.
My first question relates to the timetable envisaged by the Government if the clause and the schedule are agreed to. Only 12 months have elapsed since the national scrapie plan was first announced and got under way. That is not a long period in which to assess how it is working. Given that the plan was launched in the aftermath of the foot and mouth outbreak, which took up everyone's energy and attention even into the autumn of last year, organisations such as the NFU which suggest that the national scrapie plan has not yet been given a fair wind have a great deal of logic on their side.
My second question relates to rare breeds and traditional breeds. Again there was some discussion of this issue at Second Reading. To avoid having to re-invent the wheel now, perhaps I may quote what I said then:
I should like to ask, in particular, about the existing rare breeds genotyping schemewhich I understand applies to the 27 or 28 breeds recognised by the Rare Breeds Survival Trustbeing carried out by DEFRA with the co-operation of the trust and many owners. It differs from the national scrapie plan because it is not certificated and there is no obligation to castrate or cull on the basis of the resultsin other words, it is unconditional. The assurance at the moment is that it is in no way a cast-iron scheme which will result in culling.
It is important that we understand what the implications of Clause 5 will be in relation to those particular breeds if the Bill becomes law. Will they be incorporated into it? By what means will the Minister and the Government protect rare breeds and, indeed, a wider range of traditional breeds which may be susceptible to scrapie and under threat if special arrangements are not made for them? I refer specifically to Herdwicks. I understand that only 5 per cent of Herdwicks are of the most scrapie resistant genotype. This is clearly a matter of great concern.
That leads me to my third question. Why is this legislation needed now? What evidence does the Minister have, on the basis of the first 12 months of the national scrapie plan, under extremely difficult conditions, that the scrapie plan will not work and that this extra legislation is required? I do not believe that that has been clearly stated and we need to understand why?
My fourth question is: what is the evidence for the Government's clear belief that there is robust science behind the proposals? This is obviously a complex area which most Members of your Lordships' House will not find easy to understand or deal with. We can understand conflicting opinions and differing points of view, and it is quite clear that, at the very least, there is a great deal of controversy among people who can be counted as experts as to whether the science behind the proposals is robust. There are issues such as the interaction of genes and whether scrapie-resistant sheep are genuinely scrapie resistant or whether the apparent resistance is merely masking slow development of the disease.
There is the question of how many varieties of scrapie there are. We are told that there are possibly 20. I am bewildered as to whether breeding out one of these types of scrapie might open the door to other types of the disease. There is the question of the mutation of scrapie prions. All these are extremely difficulty scientific matters on which most of us cannot give a clear opinion. It would be helpful if the Minister could publish a statement during the Summer Recess, before the Report stage of the Bill, setting out the Government's position as regards the validity and robustness of the science behind all this. A public statement could then be placed under scrutiny by those with a more detailed understanding of these matters.
Finally, the crucial question arises of why the Government believe that the regime of control for the eradication of scrapie should in effect mirror the regime of control that they propose in other parts of the Bill in relation to foot and mouth disease. The situation seems to be quite different. On the one hand, we have a disease which is absent from the country, but which nevertheless is very infectious. When it arrives, it can spread very rapidly, with devastating consequences, as we saw last year. Later, we shall discuss whether we believe the Government's proposed measures on foot and mouth are the right ones; but one can understand why they believe that draconian measures are necessary in order to achieve the speed of reaction in terms of control.
Scrapie is a very different sort of disease. It may be a very nasty disease, but it is endemic. It has been in the sheep flock in this country for 200 or 300 years. It surely does not require the same kind of immediacy of action and the same kind of draconian measures that foot and mouth may require. The two diseases are quite different. Yet, as my noble friend said earlier, it looks as though the provisions in the part of the Bill relating to scrapie have been the result of what might be called lazy draftsmanshipthe idea being that if the measures have been included in one part of the Bill, they can simply be added, in almost exactly the same words, in another. There is a great deal of concern that these provisions are not appropriate for a very different sort of disease and very different circumstances.
I hope that the Minister will respond to these points. Members of the Committee will no doubt wish to raise others. If he can respond clearly and comprehensively, it will help us a great deal in our discussions on the later, more detailed amendments.
The Countess of Mar: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for so ably opposing the Question that Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill. There is now a large body of information about the genetic factors relating to scrapie in sheep; but less is known about BSE resistance in sheep, which is what we are really talking about. We are concerned about BSE getting into the human food chain. The noble Lord knows my thoughts on that.
Virtually nothing is known about what might happen to the sheep flock. If we wipe out a very large amount of the genetic pool, we might also be wiping out resistance to foot-rot, for example. My husband and I have Black Welsh Mountain sheepI should declare that we belong to the national scrapie plan and that our sheep were recently tested. Some sheep have very strong hooves and do not get foot-rot, while others are prone to it. Shall we at the same time be wiping out the sheep that have such resistance?
What consideration has been given to breeding immunity to scrapie in the sheep flock. I understand that in the 1730s there was a petition to Parliament asking that it do something about scrapie. It strikes me that scrapie must have been much more prevalent in those days than it is now. I do not have figures on the incidence of scrapie in the 1730s.
British farmers have been very good as regards breeding disease resistance into their animals. Why should we not continue to do that? Why should not research money be put into that? I ask again: why does there seem to be a greater prevalence of scrapie in Oxfordshire, Cumbria, part of Yorkshire and the Shetlands than there is in other parts of the country? Could it relate to some mineral deficiency or some mineral excess? It is notable that in Iceland, for example, where there was lot of scrapie, they killed the whole of their sheep flock; they reintroduced sheep and found that scrapie reappeared in certain valleys. What is the explanation? It is surely not a question of infection.
I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Please will the Minister give us the science on which this part of the Bill is based? If the science is not there, is it not better to leave the national scrapie plan as a voluntary plan rather than forcing farmers to do something which might in the end cause a lot of damage? I note that we shall be discussing amendments on protecting biodiversity. We need to consider these matters very carefully.
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