Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Lord Bishop of Hereford: Once again, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has been lulled by the beauty of the Brecon Beacons into an unduly charitable way of expressing the matter. However, I suspect that we need the phrase "good reason to believe". I follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in believing that it is better to talk about a "suitably qualified veterinary inspector" than the Chief Veterinary Officer who will clearly have to devolve any decision to a local expert in each case. Indeed, the Chief Veterinary Officer will not be dashing around the country like a maniac to investigate every possible case. Clearly, in practice, this will have to be devolved to someone in the local area. We need to emphasise the importance of there being "good reason" for such a life-and-death decision being made.

Earl Peel: I think that I support the principles behind the amendment. The effective control of disease must clearly be the principal objective of both the Minister and his officials, while at the same time minimising slaughter wherever possible. As I said earlier, there seems to be one major defect in the Bill;

7 Oct 2002 : Column 73

namely, that if and when—I am still not sure whether we have reached that point—an effective means of detection is put in place, it seems essential that it must be implemented before slaughter takes place. Surely that is the only fair way to deal with the situation. It would give everyone in the industry that much more confidence if it were obligatory for such tests to be put in place.

I am not entirely sure that the amendment before the Committee would actually go some way towards delivering that aim. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to advise me in that respect. However, if it would go some way towards achieving that objective, I should certainly welcome it. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's view as to whether or not he thinks it would be appropriate to have an amendment in the Bill that would trigger the use of any technique that is able to detect disease quickly and effectively without deterring the Minister and his department in their ability to slaughter when it is thought necessary to do so.

Lord Whitty: The trouble with these amendments is that they attempt to pin down the decision in relation to a specific case in terms that really relate to the overall slaughter strategy. The expectation that the broad strategy should be explained is clearly reasonable. It follows, therefore, that the Minister's thinking should be based on a rational, reasonable, and proportionate broad strategy. That is why I have indicated my intention to bring forward an amendment that will commit the Government to provide an explanation of why the wider slaughter powers are necessary. This would specify the area, the disease, the species, and the circumstances in which such powers would be used. That is different from the implication that in every case we would have to provide in writing the reasons for slaughtering a particular batch of animals.

If Members of the Committee think about it, the latter is not a practical proposition when one is trying to contain the spread of the disease. Indeed, in primary confirmation of the disease, it is possible that some of the available technology will enable us to move more cautiously than has previously been the case. Once the disease has occurred, we need to move as rapidly as possible. I do not believe that such constraints on rapid action would be appropriate.

As to the question of whether or not the Minister "thinks", I should point out to the Committee that this terminology derives from the Animal Health Act 1981. We are not giving the Minister any more powers; we are simply changing the criteria upon which he should base those powers. In terms of the general powers, we are requiring him to give a clear explanation. We are not actually inventing a new ability for the Minister to "think" or to use his subjective judgment—

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I want the Minister to be quite clear in his mind about what I am trying to say. I should just add that any precedent—the fact that

7 Oct 2002 : Column 74

something has been done before—is no possible excuse. It may be some sort of palliation, but it could never be an excuse.

Lord Whitty: Much of the Bill consists of amendments to a previous Act and, therefore, uses some of its terminology. But we are both tightening and constraining the range within which the Minister can, if you like, "think", as well as requiring him to make transparent and clear the reasons for his thinking in this way. It seems to me to be a positive move, even if it does not go all the way towards deleting the words "the Minister thinks", which would lead to other consequential amendments.

A number of the other points raised by way of these amendments will also be met largely by the requirement that I intend to bring forward; namely, that the Minister would be required to explain the basis of the general strategy to slaughter if that were the road that we intended to take. Taken severally, I do not believe that the amendments would help the circumstances. Amendment No. 112 would require two people to be involved in the decision. Again, once the general policy is clear, someone will have to take a decision on its implementation at the local level.

Some of the other amendments would clarify the way in which such a decision could be queried, but it seems to me that a requirement for two people to be formally involved in taking an individual decision when the disease is rampant would slow down our ability to deal with the disease. The whole thrust of the legislation is to speed up the process of dealing with the disease and thereby avoid the unnecessary culling of animals. Indeed, that might cut across the process in certain circumstances.

Although I accept that a degree of transparency is required and that it is incumbent upon the Minister to provide for that in the Bill, as regards the overall justification for the slaughter strategy I do not believe that further constraints on individual decisions would be appropriate.

Lord Plumb: I thank the Minister for his response. I also thank all those Members of the Committee who spoke to this group of amendments. As I said earlier, the latter were based on the Anderson report. It is a question of clarifying some of the issues that are of concern to many people who lost their stock during the previous outbreak. They are confused: there was misunderstanding between the various sections of people who were involved. Therefore, the amendments were tabled in an effort to bring about some clearer thinking and some clarification on some of the issues that arose.

As ever, my noble friend Lord Peyton makes us all "think", and the Minister has thought about the amendments. I hope that that thinking will bring about at least a report, or reference, to the issues that have been raised. There needs to be some clarification. In those circumstances, I thank all those who have contributed to this debate. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Peyton for his support of the amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

7 Oct 2002 : Column 75

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

[Amendment No. 105 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 106:


    Page 1, line 9, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State"

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 124, 133, 139, 145, 150, 152, 155, 158, 162-163, 165, 168, 170, 172-173, 175, 177, 179, 181, 186-188, 191, 193, 200, 203, 298 and 300.

I have gone through the list properly in consideration of the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, with regard to things being done properly. These technical amendments reflect the recent transfer of functions order whereby the Secretary of State will carry out functions previously fulfilled by the Minister. As a result, we need to amend the provisions relating to scrapie and foot and mouth disease, and other provisions, so that the relevant powers will be transferred to the Secretary of State.

I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is not in his place. He referred to sinners repenting. I hoped that he would be able to withdraw his unwarranted attack on the officials who drafted the legislation. As the noble Earl knows only too well, and as noble Lords are aware, officials can draft legislation only in the light of the factual and legal position at the time. Because of the timing of the Bill and the delay involved, the officials, when they drafted the legislation, quite properly referred to the position before the transfer of functions order. These amendments are the first occasion on which the Government can put the matter right. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 107 to 110 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 111:


    Page 1, line 10, at end insert—


"but, notwithstanding the power in section 87 of this Act to amend the definition of "animals" by order, no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph which are not susceptible to infection of foot-and-mouth disease."

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment Nos. 114, 117 and 115.

Amendment No. 111 is designed to restrict the number of animals that must be slaughtered. The amendment states that,


    "no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph which are not susceptible to infection of foot-and-mouth disease".

I am sure that Members of the Committee will have been lobbied as I have. The NFU, in particular, supports the amendment. It is designed to limit the Minister's powers to slaughter animals that are susceptible to foot and mouth disease. There has been concern that by the use of ministerial orders under the

7 Oct 2002 : Column 76

1981 Act, these powers could extend to animals such as farm horses and dogs. When the issue was raised with Mr Morley in another place, he said that the Government did not intend to apply the slaughter power to non-susceptible animals. There is, therefore, no reason why the Government should not agree to the amendment. If the Government agree not to kill animals that are not susceptible, it seems logical that this amendment should be made to the Bill. I am not sure why the Government did not wish to accept the amendment moved by my colleagues in the other place.

I turn now to Amendment No. 114. During the 2001 outbreak, there was great emphasis on isolation and biosecurity. Farmers, farm workers, members of farming families, vets, milk-tanker drivers, postmen and election canvassers were all asked, "Is your journey necessary?". As a result, contractors ran out of work, routine animal inspection ceased, and children either stayed on the farm and missed school or attended school and stayed with friends. Biosecurity in the shape of foot baths, wheel washers and vehicle valeting was, rightly, introduced everywhere. Either these measures are effective or they are not. If they are, animals that are kept indoors, away from other animals or from anyone who has had contact with other animals, and that are subject to stringent biosecurity regimes, should be protected from slaughter, unless or until one of their number succumbs to foot and mouth disease.

Taking Amendments Nos. 115 and 117 together, we contend that no democratic legislature should ever allow for the destruction of people's livelihoods without crystal-clear reason. Subsection (3) is part of Clause 1, "Foot-and-mouth disease", which is contained in Part 1, entitled "Slaughter". To make a qualification by conferring, under this part of the Bill, the right to slaughter unaffected and non-suspect animals that have not had contact with the disease is unfair, unreasonable and, to a certain extent, unparliamentary—I will come stronger, as the right reverend Prelate tells me I must.

In another place, at the first sitting on the Committee stage, Mr Morley criticised the 1981 Act for providing opportunities for all sorts of legal challenges. Founded on a variety of reasons, only some of which were reasonable, these challenges delayed the contiguous cull. The Minister added:


    "The Bill makes it absolutely clear what the Government may choose to do on the basis of veterinary and scientific advice".

That may be Mr Morley's understanding of the Government's intentions—indeed, he stated it in another place—but it is not the intention with regard to the implementation of the Bill. Such an intention is certainly not reflected in the Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will state why the Minister suggested in another place that that was his understanding, despite the fact that it did not appear on the face of the Bill.

Page 1, line 9, refers to


    "any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered".

7 Oct 2002 : Column 77

Page 2, line 2, states that,


    "The Minister may by order amend Schedule 3".

Page 2, line 32, contains the words:


    "The Minister may cause to be slaughtered".

No reference is made to veterinary or scientific advice. I wish to make clear that what is being said in the other place is not reflected in what we are being asked to do here. My purpose, particularly in Amendment No. 115, is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to clarify the Government's intentions.

Moreover, there is a presumption in Mr Morley's statement that the contiguous cull was right and proper, and that anything that impeded it was wrong and improper. After the three major reports—the National Audit Office report, the Royal Society report and the Anderson report—we all know that the contiguous cull was not axiomatically right and proper. Page 97 of the Anderson report states that in Scotland,


    "a decision was taken to apply the contiguous culling policy pragmatically and only . . . at the edge of the epidemic zone . . . These policies worked well".

The National Audit Office report considered on page 4:


    "The implications of the vaccination could have been more fully considered".

At page 117, the Royal Society report said:


    "The detailed exploration of the most appropriate culling strategies for particular circumstances is a vital research area, which should begin forthwith".

In addition, the European Parliament's report of 16th September 2002 raises no fewer than 12 points on vaccination. Does the Minister accept the comment in point 50, which I think I quoted earlier, that the decision on vaccination is not always a scientific matter, but a political one? If so, what is the Government's response to point 57, which says that emergency vaccination, with the aim of allowing animals to live, must be considered as a first choice option from the onset of the outbreak?

These are important issues. Amendment No. 117 would leave out "immaterial whether or not" and insert "material that". Amendment No. 115 would leave out "it is immaterial" and insert,


    "the chief veterinary officer shall only advise the destruction of animals"

when his advice has been taken into account.

This is slightly confusing because we have already gone round the circle on previous amendments, but I beg to move Amendment No. 111.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page