|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, do the Government have any intention of allowing noble Lords other than those on the Front Benches to have a copy of the very extensive and complicated Statement he has made? Going at the speed he did, the Minister was asking much too much of most of us if he expected us to digest this very detailed Statement. It would be quite unfair to the Houseand especially to the Back-Benchers who had no notice of what he was going to sayto continue any discussion on the Bill until a copy of the Statement has been made available to all noble Lords.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, although not all of the amendments set out in the letters I sent to noble Lords who participated in the debate previously are tabled today, we intend to do so. The only additional information is that we propose accepting the amendment on import controls and the amendment to delete the adjusted compensation.
I shall ensure that a copy of the Statement is made available in the Printed Paper Office as rapidly as possible. This will ensure that noble Lords who are interested are informed of the Statement and will enable us to proceed appropriately when we reach those parts of the Bill.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I should like to add my concerns to those which I suspect will be expressed by other noble Lords. My noble friend asked when we received the Statement. I was surprised that my copy, which was brought up especially for me, arrived on my desk at 2.40 p.m. today. Had I been in the Chamber during Questions, I would not have received it. The Statement took some 12 minutes to read. I have had a chance to look at it, but obviously not in great detail. As my noble friend said, clearly we need to do so.
Perhaps I may make one or two comments on where we are. Today we have had a second Statement on a second Bill on which the Government, through their own fault, have got themselves into a mess yet again. That is nothing new with this Bill; it was running into a mess back in March. The Government have had six months to get their act together. Indeed, since we last debated the Bill, nine weeks have elapsed before the Government have decided to get their act together.
I am sure that most other noble Lords who tried to work on the Bill during the Recesswhich most of us didfound it most difficult having to wait for government amendments which did not arrive. That is why I make no apology for Amendment No. 103A, to which we shall come later, being so huge and difficult. It seeks to force the Government at least to debate the broader issues to which the noble Lord referred. We have been very patient with the Government but on this occasion, on this Bill, they have dealt with us somewhat shabbily.
The Government said that they would wait for the reports of the National Audit Office, the Royal Society and Professor Anderson, look at the costs and the science surrounding the issue and come up with conclusions. If I were to refer to many of the issues which came out of the reports I would be accused of making a Second Reading speechwhich, heaven forbid, I do not wish to do at this stagebut there are three matters arising which are relevant to the way in which we should now proceed.
One matter concerns the whole question of contingency plans. As it stands, the Bill deals only with slaughter; it does not deal with any other options. That is something we should look at. The reports deal also with the way in which the State Veterinary Service operated and with alternative measures. They were reinforced by the European Parliament's recently produced Working Group 5a report, of which other noble Lords have had copies. Paragraphs 50, 54 and 57 of that reportI could refer to many morehighlight the question of vaccination and how it should fit into some kind of animal health protection or animal health legislation.
Paragraph 50 refers to the fact that the decision on vaccination is in any case not a purely scientific matter but a political one, and yet we are being asked today to give approval to issues about which we need to talk more broadly than we are able to with the Bill as it stands. Paragraph 54 states that vaccinations are available which make it possible, at least on a herd by herd basis, to distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals. When we debated the Bill in March it was not said that it was possible to do that. It now isand yet we still have the same Bill, with promised government amendments for which we are waiting. Paragraph 57 very tellingly states that vaccination must be considered as a first-choice option from the outset when an outbreak occurs. That is a major change from what we have been considering. Those three issues perhaps highlight the very difficult position in which the Government have placed us today.
Obviously there are many other points I should like to raise but I shall leave them and allow other noble Lords to make them in their contributions. I am grateful that the Minister has indicated the Government's acceptance of two of our points, but if it had not been for the push from our Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches and other noble Lords who have tabled amendments, I suspect that the Government would not have moved the Bill forward. We are going one step forward with at least two hands
Amendments were laid by the Opposition and other noble Lords in Septemberwell before Octoberbut we still await some government amendments. We acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has moved to rid the Bill of some of the worst conditions surrounding the issue of warrants and to clarify the kind of people who will be required to assist inspectors and to ensure that inspectors are reasonable in their demands for help. But the Government have had time to serve us better. They surely cannot accuse the previous government of putting them in this position. I wish to record my extreme unhappiness of continuing with a Billwe shall be debating it again tomorrowon which we have some information but still do not know when government amendments will be available or what they will include.
Speaking as one of the usual suspects on the Bill, I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for the letters he has sent me, as promised, informing me of what the Government intended to do and giving me some of the amendments he planned to move. These letters were helpful and I have listened carefully to his Statement, although, like others, I shall wish to study it carefully.
The government amendments change some of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the Bill as it stoodfor example, limiting the requirement to provide assistance to the keeper of the stock and those in charge of the animals. They also meet one or two of the other points made in earlier debates in the House. Finally they seek to meet some of the points made in the reports of the inquiries, to which the Government are only to respond at the end of this month or in early November.
But a number of the key recommendations seem to have been ignored. For example, the Royal Society's report, which struck me as particularly valuable, called for contingency plans to be brought before Parliament for debate and approval; the Government to bring before Parliament a framework for the contingency plans covering the principles involved in handling outbreaks of infectious exotic diseases; the tightening of import controls over meat, together with a much more co-ordinated approach at every level by all bodies concerned with import controls; a commitment to consider emergency vaccination as part of the control strategy from the start of any outbreak instead of as a last resortthe Royal Society says that emergency vaccination could be far more appropriate than the alternative of extensive cullingthe preparation of a regulating framework and practical arrangements, including the supply of vaccines; consideration of ways to minimise animal movements; and a national strategy for animal disease research.
None of that was mentioned in the noble Lord's letters or covered by the government amendments but some of those matters were included in his statement. The noble Lord stated in his letter to me of 25th September that
I would normally be reluctant to see responsibility moved from Londonwhere we can at least put our views to the Government, however little attention they payto Brussels, where we have no influence. In this instance, I admit that in contrast to an invincibly obstinate British Government bent on making mass slaughter easier, the European Parliament's committee seems to be taking a much more enlightened viewalmost identical with that of the Royal Society, laying the main emphasis on emergency vaccination-to-live.
If we are to proceed, it would seem sensible for the Bill to have at least specific guidelines and powers for dealing with reactive vaccination, explicit requirements for contingency planning and regular consultations with experts on disease control. Those provisions need to be as clearly prescriptive as those for preventive slaughter and to provide for keeping fully up to date with scientific advances. We do not want the Bill to be out of date by the time it receives Royal Assent.
I hope that we shall hear from the Minister soon about his plans, now that he has heard his master's voice and had ample time to study the inquiry reports. I hope that the noble Lord will decide to wait until the draft directive is published.
A vote at this stage would not be appropriate, especially as the Official Opposition is holding its policy conference this week. However, if the Government remain obdurate, the House may wish to divide on the issue on Report.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page