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The Earl of Onslow: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may return to the importation of vaccinated meat. I believe—I am open to correction; I seriously seek knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment—that we still import considerable amounts of meat from Uruguay and the Argentine. I suspect that in those countries foot and mouth is endemic. I know that the Argentines make enormous use of vaccination. Are we not importing any meat, off the bone, raw or frozen, which is then sold. The term "heat treated" is used. Does that meat have to be cooked? I refer, for example, to meat used in pork pies and other such products. I know that the Committee would like to know the answer to this important question. It would clarify the general information.

The Countess of Mar: While the Minister is waiting for a reply from his officials, is it not the case that meat from a dead animal goes through a phase where it

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becomes fairly highly acid—in other words, it goes below 6 pH—and at this point any foot and mouth virus within it will normally be killed. The only parts of a dead animal where foot and mouth has been found to survive are the lymph glands and the bone marrow. The treatment required is often a matter of making sure that the meat is allowed to become acid before it is chilled, so it is kept at room temperature for a while so that the normal biological effects take place.

Lord Whitty: I believe that the noble Countess is right on that point. That is why we refer to a combination of de-boning and treatment. The meat is not required to be cooked.

The noble Earl is correct to say that we import from both Uruguay and Argentina. In Argentina, following the last outbreak of foot and mouth there, they have reverted to a process of what is effectively pre-emptive vaccination. Therefore, virtually all meat from Argentina has to be subject to those controls. There are other parts of the world where foot and mouth is endemic. Some regions have been excluded from exporting to Europe while others have retained that ability—South Africa being one and Botswana another. In those cases we are not talking about foot and mouth being currently endemic in the regions from which the meat is imported. I do not know whether that helps to clarify the position for the noble Earl. If there are greater complications, I had better write to him.

The Earl of Onslow: It would be most helpful if the Minister could provide detailed information. We should all like to have such information.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I think he understands the feeling of the Committee that there may be a way for the Government to find a suitable amendment that will at least meet us halfway, although I shall not hold him to any promise—he stated clearly that he would not make such a promise. I am grateful to him. The matter is of great concern to us all. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 [Foot-and-mouth disease]:

Lord Plumb moved Amendment No. 104:


    Page 1, leave out lines 9 and 10 and insert—


""(c) only those animals which the Minister believes, on the public advice of the chief veterinary officer, should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.""

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, perhaps I may be permitted to make a comment on the last point made by the Minister. He kindly wrote to me in answer to a question that I raised some time ago. I asked for the figure for imports from countries where foot and mouth disease is endemic. The figure that he gave is written on my heart. It was 108,339 tonnes, during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, coming from six countries that I know well, including Uruguay, where foot and mouth disease is endemic. A

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copy of the letter has been placed in the Library. The answer can be found there, although it may have been updated.

This amendment is very much related to Anderson recommendation number 38 on page 99, if anyone wishes to check it. The amendment would leave out lines 9 and 10 and insert the words proposed.

The wording in the 1981 Act was only one stage less emphatic than that proposed by the Minister. In 1981 it was seen as practical and workable. The Minister now tells us that it was found to be inadequate. The interpretation of the 1981 Act was at the root of most of the considerable aggravation which occurred during the outbreak of foot and mouth. Nowadays people are looking for greater explanation than hitherto.

The amendment therefore recommends suggestion number 38 in the Anderson report, but it is a little more specific as to when we should look for the well-informed veterinary and scientific advice. That advice, of course, has to be from those who fully understand the situation. That is important and it needs to be published with the reasons for using the preventive slaughter powers. There is much talk about slaughter. God forbid that there should be any further outbreak, but we hope that further slaughter would be kept to the absolute minimum because it is quite obvious that we are going to move towards some form of vaccination.

We also believe that the advice should come from someone who is a recognised authority on foot and mouth disease. During the last outbreak it was clear that the veterinary profession was occasionally in disagreement with the statisticians or whoever it might be. There were differences of opinion on so many issues. Therefore, it is a matter of concern that we get our act together in future so that that can be avoided.

Amendment No. 105 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 107 and 110. Amendment No. 107 is an effort to ensure that owners have a chance to share in what the Minister thinks or has reason to believe. The idea that a Minister and all his officers and employees can act on what they think is becoming increasingly unacceptable in the present day.

Amendment No. 109 is a subsidiary amendment to Amendment No. 104. The amendment is worded to cater for the Government rejecting the previous amendment. It is an effort to define a little more clearly the scope of the thinking that the Minister should employ and to remove any sense that decisions can be arrived at arbitrarily. The importance of this amendment is to stress the need for focused reasons for action in situations of stress, anxiety or emergency. It is all too easy to adopt a blanket approach. The danger is that the thinking process stops in such circumstances.

Amendment No. 113 relates to the current notice of slaughter, not including the reasons, and page 1, line 10, of the Bill. The suggested amendment follows on from Amendment No. 104 where the Minister is being given advice by the Chief Veterinary Officer. With this

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amendment in place it should ensure that the information is shared by those most affected. Those are my amendments. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): I advise the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 105 to 111 inclusive.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I start by expressing my warm agreement with almost everything that my noble friend said. After all, it is my habit to agree always with the Front Bench and with the greatest respect. I believe that I have done so consistently today.

I always find that there is something objectionable in the phrase "As the Minister thinks" in any Bill by any government. I am not suggesting for a moment that Ministers do not think from time to time, but I at least ask the Government to take note of the possibility that every now and again Ministers do not think all that deeply or, alternatively, that they get it wrong. I find there is something offensive in the suggestion that because a Minister thinks something, action should follow accordingly. I do not accept that point of view.

In fact, I prefer my noble friend's amendment to the one I have tabled, but mine has the virtue of simplicity, brevity and of being easily understood. In this context and in this arena I realise that, far from those being virtues, they are cardinal defects and give my amendment absolutely no chance of being accepted by the noble Lord opposite.

The Countess of Mar: I love to hear the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, speaking. He is so good and so blunt in what he says. I heartily concur with what he has said: let us have facts instead of beliefs and thoughts. That is the only point I have about Amendment No. 104 which states,


    "only those animals which the Minister believes, on the public advice of the chief veterinary officer".

Those words are absolutely fine. My Amendment No. 110 is incorporated in Amendment No. 104 so I am quite happy.

Lord Greaves: This is an interesting group of amendments which, on the face of it, are about different kinds of things. But they are all based on a basic unease at the bare statement that the Minister can do whatever he thinks is right. The amendments are all attempts either to define the basis on which the Minister or the Secretary of State should think, the basis of the information which he should look at before he thinks, or the way in which he has to communicate the reasons for his thoughts.

My noble friend and I have Amendments Nos. 108 and 112 in this group. The first is very much along the same lines as the amendment tabled by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, which she has just spoken to. We are suggesting that the Minister should think on the

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basis of an evaluation of a formal, written risk assessment undertaken by a suitably qualified veterinary inspector.

Our second amendment is an attempt to include a failsafe mechanism based on the suggestion that two people should be involved in the decision rather than one. That is a different argument, but it tackles the basic problem in the Bill. There is a great fear that arbitrary decisions will be taken on the basis of inadequate consideration by too few people. Whether we are talking about the Chief Veterinary Officer being consulted, as the Conservative amendment suggests; whether the owner should be consulted; whether it is a question of defining the basis on which the Minister should think, as in Amendment No. 109; whether it is a local veterinary assessment, as the noble Countess and ourselves suggest; whether it is the suggestion that the reasons have to be provided in writing by the Minister or there should be a double lock built in as regards the number of people who make the decisions, are all evidence of the widespread concern which exists at the very simplistic and direct approach that is being taken in this Bill to what can be quite horrific decisions, as we are aware, for individual farmers, not to mention the individual animals.

All these amendments are designed to probe the basis upon which the Minister will "think". We shall listen with great interest to the Minister's explanation of how he will think. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, seems to believe that he will not think at all, but I am sure that he will do so. The Minister may say that some of these matters are covered in other parts of the Bill; indeed, that is the case with one or two of them. However, as other Members of the Committee have said, there is grave disquiet about the phrase, "the Minister thinks". It would, therefore, be helpful if the Government could find a different way to express this in the Bill, as well as incorporating some of the safeguards suggested by the amendments.


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