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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I believe that I am grateful for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. At least it enables me to place on record our recognition of the many fine contributions of Ministers and officials in the history of MAFF. The noble Lord raised a matter that I cannot remember, but I bow to his greater knowledge.

I do not recollect an occasion in my lifetime when farmers alleged that they were prospering and doing well. In saying that, I do not in any way underestimate the degree of severity that members of the farming community have experienced recently. However, I believe that the noble Lord will understand the point that I make.

The noble Lord is concerned about the role of the Minister as opposed to that of the Secretary of State. I can only say to the noble Lord that I have three sons whom I view as equals. I do not believe that I shall ever be equal to the third son of a Marquess in the terms in which the noble Lord couched it.

The order which transferred the powers was the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dissolution) Order 2002, which, I understand, was agreed on 27th March. Sadly, I fear that I cannot undertake to go back and ask for another change with a view to returning to your Lordships to reconsider the order. However, I am delighted to place on the record the fine work that has been done in the past.

Baroness Byford: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may add my thanks to my noble friend for his observation. It is a pity that the Government do not have a Minister of Agriculture. As the noble Lord and noble Baroness will know, we have

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such a post on these Benches. We have a person who still has responsibility for acting for the food and farming community and who is a Shadow Cabinet member. Therefore, I want to place on record that my noble friend has raised an important point. It is a post that we value and we still have a Shadow Cabinet member who acts in that capacity.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I associate my remarks with those of the two previous speakers. MAFF has played an enormous part in the life of this country and, on the whole, a very constructive one. I believe we should be grateful to have been reminded of the work done in the past and to have been reminded of the people who have toiled long and hard to produce food for this country in times of great hardship with, indeed, great fortitude. It is right that that is placed on the record.

At the same time, it is worth observing that other countries, particularly in the European Union, still have Ministers of Agriculture who act in a specific capacity in relation to agriculture. We have included rural affairs as well as agriculture in that post. But it is important that the status of the Minister who deals with agriculture is such that he can meet his cohorts in the rest of the European Union and in powerful places such as, for example, the United States, where he represents British agriculture, the interests of farmers and, indeed, consumers.

There is sometimes a danger of agriculture being marginalised within DEFRA. I notice that that has occurred in the other place, where, since the formation of the new DEFRA, questions about agriculture have tended to be marginalised and fewer questions have been raised. We need to be vigilant about that in the interests of the farming community.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: In responding to the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, it has not been our experience that questions on agriculture have been slow in coming forward in your Lordships' House. It is not for me to comment on the priorities of those who put questions in another place.

I appreciate the comments that have been made. I am sure that both the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will agree that, particularly in view of the revision that is currently envisaged and being discussed with regard to the CAP, the relationship between agriculture and the environment is extremely important. Therefore, it is possible that for some functions DEFRA is the more appropriate ministry.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo): Before calling Amendment No. 12, I should inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 under the pre-emption rules.

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Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 12:

    Page 14, line 37, leave out ", in his opinion,"

The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 12 on behalf of my noble friends Lady Byford and the Duke of Montrose. I declare an interest as a livestock farmer and as president of the much-quoted National Sheep Association, which came in for both support and attack during the course of the afternoon. There were moments when I wished that I was on the Back Benches for a little while. However, we were reminded of the importance of obeying the rules of the House. Therefore, I obeyed the rules of the House by remaining seated.

My noble friend Lord Jopling has been reminiscing. The words that he spoke rang a very loud bell with me and were rather nostalgic. Perhaps I may also be a little nostalgic in saying that in 1946 I spent many months learning about scrapie under the great Professor Parry, who was way ahead of his time. As we debate this issue, I begin to wonder what has changed. But, of course, that was long before websites came into being.

The amendment may seem small but it is one of importance. I believe that the phrase "in his opinion" is superfluous and, in the context of the Bill, it is meaningless. No Minister, including, I am sure, our present Minister or Secretary of State, is likely to make orders if it is not his opinion that they should be made. In a situation where the Bill does not demand the reassurances of an expert judgment, the Minister will most likely not have an opinion on the subject. In those circumstances, he will doubtless sign orders which are placed in front of him by others who, according to this clause, are not necessarily restricted as to motivation, knowledge or experience. At least let us ensure that the Minister is in a position to know enough about what he is doing with the information available from the experts to have a valid opinion.

I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 14. That amendment is similar, but it stresses that,

    "the opinion of the chief veterinary officer and the President of the British Veterinary Association",

should be taken into account. There is sometimes doubt between the various experts as to the conclusivity of research into scrapie genotypes. There can also be a variation between test results from different laboratories, even when presented with samples taken from the same animal at any one time. The finality of slaughter and a ban on breeding mean that the Minister must be advised to act only where the level of doubt about diagnosis is extremely low. Therefore, before slaughter, it is important to minimise the level of doubt to the lowest reasonably objective point. I believe that that point was made by the Minister a little while ago. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 12 and also to Amendment No. 13, in which the statement of evidence to prove that there is evidence that disease is present is certainly allied with Amendment No. 14. That amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, stated, concerns consultations with the chief veterinary officer and the president of the BVA.

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Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 go together in that the Minister's opinion must surely be the result of consultation. It would be better to state in the amendments what the consultation will be. Obviously, other scientific bodies may be consulted in order to get the necessary evidence to take an action.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: We had some earlier discussion on the scientific basis of the national scrapie plan. There is a wide range of science which supports the approach in relation to TSEs. It has received the support of the formal advisory committees and the scientific community in general.

The phrase "in the Minister's opinion" does not mean that the Minister is in a position to outguess this wealth of scientific information and judgments. But it means that at the end of the day the judgment is the Ministers and if there is a conflict between the scientific advice the buck stops with him. If we refer that back in the slightly odd way that Amendment No. 14 does to named scientists, the president pro tem of the BVA may not be the expert in this field and it is quite rare for a senior civil servant to be designated as the single source of advice. But clearly the Minister has the judgment to make. He also has, by implication in all such legislation, the duty to act with reasonableness. That means that the scientific evidence has to be seen to be weighed in any judgment and the Minister ultimately makes that judgment.

The activation of the powers will require an order. Should the Committee believe that the judgment was completely wrong—although it is the negative procedure—it will obviously have the means to oppose that order. It must be clear that finally it is the Minister's judgment. That is the traditional way to express that in legislation.

Lord Jopling: I understand what the Minister says with regard to what in practice is the Minister's opinion. Having listened to the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer on a great many occasions trying to influence the judgment of the Minister, I know exactly what he is talking about.

Perhaps the Minister can give us some guidance which might help as we approach the Report stage of the Bill. Does he think that he could table an amendment on Report stating that,

    "in his opinion after consulting with"—

for example—

    "the relevant breed societies, the British Veterinary Association, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the National Sheep Association ..."?

That would put an onus on the Minister before he forms his opinion, which will clearly be influenced by the Chief Veterinary Officer. It also includes an obligation to consult with some of these other bodies. That would be a sensible way to pursue the issue. Perhaps he could give a green light, either for us or for him to table an amendment on Report. I hope that I am being constructive. I am trying to be.

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