Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Whitty: This group of amendments covers a number of issues. Most would be covered in the Government's commitment to produce and lay before Parliament a contingency plan, which would deal with issues of a risk assessment of the kind of disease control mechanisms that are required of the structure of the veterinary service, and so on.

I have indicated in my Statement and in my letter to Members of the Committee that I propose to bring forward an amendment relating to contingency planning. Most of these issues could be dealt with in that context. The noble Lord will no doubt be disappointed that, although I say it can be laid before Parliament, my amendment is unlikely to include the affirmative procedure. Nevertheless, perhaps we should discuss that when we have my amendment before us. If we took each amendment separately there would be some difficulty with each. But the requirements and how far we want parliamentary involvement in a contingency plan, which is covered by the next amendment of the noble Baroness, are best dealt with at a later stage. No doubt Members of the

7 Oct 2002 : Column 53

Committee will want to comment both on these and other amendments. I therefore ask for the Committee's indulgence and ask it to consider them at that stage.

The Countess of Mar: While the noble Lord is considering matters to bring forward on Report, perhaps I may ask him to bear this point in mind. A number of private vets are contracted to DEFRA for specific purposes—for TB, brucellosis testing and that kind of thing, and in the markets for inspecting animals. When I first started in farming I remember that our vet used regularly to carry out a whole farm assessment for us. With the narrowing of profits in farming such assessments have dropped off. In particular, large animal vets have noticed the fall in their incomes because farmers are no longer employing them to carry out such assessments. I recognise the importance of having a vet on one's property to look at one's animals periodically. Can the Minister consider how this practice might be reconstituted in some way or another?

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: Can the Minister confirm where his contingency plan will appear in the Bill? The shape of this piece of legislation is important. It is quite offensive as it stands because Clause 1 immediately goes into slaughter. We recognise that there will be cases where action has to be taken. The Bill would be more user-friendly and more likely to be welcomed by the farming community if this kind of action in extreme circumstances were set in the context of an overall plan which comes first. Therefore, can the noble Lord tell us where he expects to put his contingency plan and whether there should be some kind of pre-amble before we get to the detail of killing animals or—I hope—vaccinating rather than killing them? My concern is how the Bill is presented and the priority with which these matters are addressed. Can the Minister give us some reassurance about that?

Lord Plumb: Before we have the reassurance, I share equally the views of the right reverend Prelate: I do not know where this will fit into the Bill. I was pleased with the Minister's comment that this is something that we ought to take into account, to consider and to think of.

I turn to Amendment No. 101, the proposed new clause on management. I fully understand what it says. It states:


    "The Minister shall make orders——

(a) creating an institute dedicated to the study and analysis of stock management practices". That is fine. However, we have more consultants in this country now than we have farmers. We can set up another institute, but who will be on it, how will it advise farmers, and what kind of recognition will the farmers give to that advice? There are ways and means—perhaps this again is a matter that we should discuss outside the Bill—that can help and perhaps improve the relationship with the veterinary practice. We recognise that those involved with large animals

7 Oct 2002 : Column 54

are becoming fewer in number. In that sense I believe that it is a question of finding ways and means of improving the relationship between all parties.

The Earl of Onslow: I wish to raise another point on this issue. I declare an interest as I have quite a few sheep. We had one or two which were turning their toes up in the air. So the vet had to come out. The vet's bill was about 250. The value of a sheep in the market at the moment is about 45 to 50. So the economics of getting veterinary assistance to farm animals is very different from what it was even 10 or 20 years ago. That matter should be borne in mind. The vets buy Mercedes and the farmers go bust.

Lord Whitty: In relation to veterinary surveillance, there are recommendations in the Royal Society report which lead us to assess the situation as regards the State Veterinary Service and relations with the private veterinary service. The response to those reports will deal with that issue. It is not really a matter of legislation.

The commitment to produce a clause dealing with contingency planning will not go into full details because a contingency plan is necessarily a living document and one which will feed on experience around the world in dealing with animal diseases, and foot and mouth in particular. But the commitment will be to ensure that we do draw up a contingency plan and that it is laid before Parliament. As to where that will be, to answer the question posed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, it will be pretty early in the Bill, because it will deal with many other issues in the Bill. When the Committee reads the amendment, it will find that it is prior to any of the more contentious issues with which we have been dealing today.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Before I withdraw the amendment, I should like to respond to one or two of the Minister's remarks. I point out that the contingency plan available resulted from the 1967 foot and mouth disease outbreak, but applies to all such diseases. It appeared at the beginning of the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak that the only source of information was the excellent Northumberland report, which came to conclusions. Where that fitted into the Government's contingency plan to deal with the disease was not clear, and there are many lessons to be learned. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will address the point, but everyone should know what procedures are contained in the national contingency plan and exactly what is the plan, so that from the first minute of the known outbreak of an infectious disease, we can pursue that course of action as fast as possible. Indeed, we can then measure how effective we have been in tackling such an outbreak. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford is right to ask where that will feature in the Bill and in what order. I am glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, say that it will appear early on. That is right; we need to know exactly where we are.

7 Oct 2002 : Column 55

I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Plumb said about relationships and instituting best practice. When I lectured in agricultural colleges, we always tried to let students know what was best practice. I believe that there is a much more effective system for disseminating information in the Scottish colleges. The advisory service in Scotland adjoins, and is a part of, the colleges and there seems to be a better communication system there to farmers on the ground, now that ADAS has become rather expensive for some smaller farmers. That whole area needs to be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, is right to say that that requires considerable discussion outside the Bill.

So, given the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that he will table his own contingency plan amendment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 100 to 103 not moved.]

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 103A:


    Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

"PART C1
STRATEGY

STRATEGY FOR CONTROLLING ANIMAL DISEASES
Before section 15 of the Animal Health Act 1981 (c. 22) there is inserted—
"14A STRATEGY
(1) The Minister may produce a strategy for controlling the incidence of the diseases listed in Schedule 2A in the United Kingdom.
(2) The strategy shall include—
(a) a three-yearly review of the world-wide incidence of each of the diseases listed in Schedule 2A;
(b) the resultant recommendation of steps to be taken in the United Kingdom to prevent the incidence of each disease listed in Schedule 2A;
(c) the incorporation of the steps identified in paragraph (b) into a contingency plan for each disease;
(d) the publication of each contingency plan;
(e) the annual testing of each contingency plan and the publication within six months of a critique of the outcome of the tests;
(f) the implementation of the relevant contingency plan upon the outbreak of any disease;
(g) the monitoring of the implementation of each contingency plan;
(h) the reporting, within four months of the official notification of the end of any disease outbreak, of the successes, failures, strengths and weaknesses of the control process and of the method of implementation.
(3) The Minister may investigate, recommend and implement vaccination programmes—
(a) for the emergency control of any disease listed in Schedule 2A in any animal species; and
(b) for the permanent control of all such diseases in animals in particular circumstances.
(4) The Minister may fund research into levels of susceptibility to diseases listed in Schedule 2A experienced within the United Kingdom since 1992, as between species and within each one according to the circumstances of the affected animals.

7 Oct 2002 : Column 56


(5) The Minister may collate research into the viability of permanent vaccination programmes against diseases listed in Schedule 2A.""

The noble Baroness said: This amendment has been tabled because I, too, share the thoughts expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. To me, to start straight into a Bill with a part entitled, "Slaughter" and nothing else seemed foolhardy and unwise in the first instance.

My amendment is lengthy. There is no way that the Government will accept it, although the Minister said that the Government will propose a contingency plan, for which I am grateful. I tried in framing the amendment to reflect certain important matters that the Government may take on board and build on in later amendments. It attempts to incorporate two items identified as important by all three foot and mouth reports: namely, the National Audit Office, the Royal Society and the Anderson reports.

The first plank of the strategy covers contingency planning, where the first priority is to maintain a watching brief on the incidence of exotic diseases. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, spoke of her concern about the closure of the part of Edinburgh University that deals with that. Perhaps when he replies the Minister can tell us more about the plans for that university. More than one comment has been made to the effect that had more attention been paid to the pan-Asian "O" strain of the foot and mouth virus, the UK would have been better prepared. In his report, on pages 42 to 45, Anderson presents maps and commentary on the progress of that strain. On page 44, the Royal Society uses maps to make the spread of that virus leap off the page at any reader. The Royal Society also sounded a serious alarm on page 29, in sections 360 to 367, about the northward spread of bluetongue and African horse sickness. Let us not say in future that the Government were not warned.

A watching brief is no good without an alert for those likely to be affected. There follows a plan of action in which local knowledge is key—all reports reflect that. Knowing what lies ahead and how to fight it, we must then make the contingency plans public and regularly test them to ensure that they continue to be workable. In his response to earlier discussion, the Minister said that he concurs with that. Local authorities' emergency services could produce a book on factors that have disrupted their regular incident simulation: for example, closed roads, buildings in the middle of previously open spaces, diversions of public services and even the removal of telephone boxes have all in their own way caused little hiccoughs. It is no use running simulations or similar tests if there is no thorough review of what went wrong and right and why. That should be followed up by recommendations for improvements.

Once the need arises, contingency plans must be actioned, their implementation monitored and their performance analysed. We are anxious that that analysis should cover performance in the front line and back at base; it must consider all departments, agencies and public and private bodies and individuals concerned. The recent foot and mouth outbreak

7 Oct 2002 : Column 57

served only to highlight how many different departments, people, and organisations are involved in coping with an outbreak.

The second plank of any strategy must be vaccination-about which we spoke at length earlier. On pages 87 to 111—a lot of pages—the Royal Society has a great deal to say on that matter and makes four recommendations. In brief, it says that emergency vaccination should be seen as a major tool of first resort, along with the culling of infected premises and known dangerous contacts. We have already spoken about that and agree with it. The report states that, for controlling foot and mouth outbreaks, the policy should be vaccinate to live. That is where we may have moved on since we met and discussed the matter in March.

I know that my noble friend Lord Onslow was specific in wanting the question of vaccination raised at a much higher level. But, if I may say so, we were then struggling with the fact that there was no answer to the question of what happened to vaccinated animals: would they go into the food chain and would compensation be available? It made vaccination difficult at that stage, but from our earlier comments, I think we have moved on, and I hope that in his response the Minister will pick up on that progress. If he can give the House a further indication of the Government's thinking, that will be welcome.

The policy of "vaccinate to live" necessitates the acceptance that meat and meat products from all vaccinated animals should be able to enter the food chain normally. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that there is no reason why that suggestion of the Royal Society should not be accepted, and that no one has raised that as an issue.

Anderson also devotes a whole chapter—pages 120 to 129—to vaccination. He recommends that the Government ensure that the option of vaccination forms part of any future strategy for the control of foot and mouth disease. In his response to our earlier discussions, the Minister indicated that the Government accepted that. The fact that he is nodding his head reinforces that.

Following the production of the EU report into the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, Commissioner Byrne said, on 12th September, that,


    "the Commission is of the view that emergency vaccination should be moved to the forefront of the response mechanism in the event of future outbreaks".

Any strategy should cover emergency control, but we should also consider special groups of animals for whom permanent control may be indicated—for example, animals in zoos or wildlife parks, or rare breeds. We touched on that matter in earlier debates. However, I would like the Minister to include a comment about it when he responds.

Since the end of the outbreak, there has been a rash of informed comment on apparent peculiar behaviour patterns. Letters to the Veterinary Record in June and July referred to the possibility that ewes on the point of giving birth and whole flocks immediately after gathering and colostral vaccination

7 Oct 2002 : Column 58

are more easily and more seriously affected by foot and mouth disease. On page 20 of its report, the Royal Society makes an interesting and—possibly—highly important comment. It says:


    "Infectivity is not readily destroyed by ultraviolet radiation but is particularly vulnerable to acid conditions below pH 6 and alkaline conditions above pH 10. Whereas infectivity might be stable for a few weeks under neutral conditions (pH 7), it survives for only two minutes in a slightly acidic pH 6 environment".

I am no scientist, and I find all that a little challenging. However, the Royal Society has made a suggestion, and the Minister should comment on it in his response. Our amendment is an attempt to ensure that government support for such future investigations continues.

We also consider that vaccination for the permanent control of some—if not all—of the diseases listed in Schedule 2A may become a practical necessity if the spread of those diseases continues. For instance, if African horse sickness were to become endemic, the horse-racing industry might need protection, along with animals involved in eventing, showjumping and dressage.

The amendment is wide-ranging. I do not expect the Government to accept it as it stands. However, having tabled it in September without knowing what the Government's thinking was, I hope that the Minister will highlight some of the suggestions in our list from (a) to (h) and indicate which they might consider including in their contingency plan, which we await.

As the Opposition, we do not have the facility to draft major legislation. However, we feel that the principles behind the amendment are important, and we hope that the Government will take them on board before the Bill becomes an Act. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page