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Lord Whitty: Yes, one might even include goldfish. None of these would fall within the definition of "animal", as repeated in this Bill, in the Animal Health Act 1981. I therefore think that I can lay to rest those concerns. The Act would have to be amended to change that definition, and Ministers have no intention of doing so.
As for the other point, I thought that it was clear that part of the Bill's intention, which was very strongly supported by the Anderson inquiry, is to extend the circumstances in which slaughter may be carried out to include preventive culling. "Pre-emptive culling" is the term that Anderson uses. This clause is designed to do that. I know that some commentators, and perhaps some noble Lords, will not like that, but it is a central intent of the Bill and is strongly supported by both Anderson and the Royal Society.
People are concerned about this clause and the "immaterial" provision because, hitherto, before they could be slaughtered, we would have had to prove that animals fell within the categories outlined in the clause to which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and others have drawn attention. In other words, the animals would have to be diseased, exposed to the disease or reasonably expected to be exposed to the disease. If, however, we provided a new power that extends the scope to pre-emptive culls as required by Anderson, one would have to say that the above constraint could be overridden when a pre-emptive cull is being undertaken. Those who oppose that provision oppose a basic tenet of the Bill and a basic strand of the thinking of both of the main inquiries into the matter.
Lord Whitty: The proposition particularly from the Royal Society but also to some extent from Anderson and the Europeans is that the vaccination option should be considered as a first resort, but not as a replacement for all culling and not necessarily as an absolute priority. As I said in speaking to a previous amendment, there will have to be some culling provisions in relation to both diseased and exposed animals. In some circumstances there will have to be a firebreak cull, and in other circumstances there will have to be a firebreak vaccination. We hope to vaccinate to live rather than to vaccinate to kill, as was previously being contemplated.
As it is pre-emptive, the vaccination proposalnot in this clause but in the equivalent provisionalso requires the powers of entry provided for in the Bill. Hitherto, everything has been based not on pre-emptive or preventive culling and vaccination but on the proposition that animals are or might be exposed to the disease. As I explained earlierI do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, was in the Chamber at the timeit is wrong to think that the recommendations which the Government have accepted on taking a much more positive line on vaccination replace the need for culling diseased and exposed animals or, in some circumstances, for culling for pre-emptive purposes.
This clause very explicitly expresses the recommendation of the Anderson inquiry to clarify the powers in this respect. Indeed, that is one of Anderson's most powerful recommendations. As I said, those who oppose the provision would go against Anderson's recommendation. I would therefore not be prepared to accept amendments along those lines.
I also do not think that the suggested exemption for animals kept indoors would be appropriate. I think that it is inappropriate not only because of the detailed reason spelled out by my noble friend Lord Carter, but because an animal could still be a carrier of the disease or exposed to the disease although it had been indoors for much longer than the incubation period. I therefore believe that we must have the ability to slaughter animals that are kept indoors to restrict the spread of the disease.
As I said, I do not think that the earlier concerns expressed most recently by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, are valid. The concerns about preventive culling are valid. However, if the Committee were to go along those lines, it would be very much flying in the face of the recommendations of both of the main inquiries. I therefore hope that the Committee will not pursue that.
The Countess of Mar: Will the noble Lord kindly address the question that I raised about the rapid diagnostic tests? They would probably eliminate the need for the clause altogether, because we would be able to diagnose very quickly whether animals were infected.
Lord Whitty: No. Not all advances in relation to the diagnostic tests have been fully validated but there is an advance which, we hope, will identify diseased animals and determine whether exposed animals were actually subject to the disease. However, it would not provide the basis on which one would carry out a pre-emptive cull. A pre-emptive cull, by definition, does not require us to be able to prove that an animal had the disease. That is precisely the firebreak or wall strategy that Anderson said should be more clearly available to us in legislation but which is not present in
The Countess of Mar: I am trying to say that a pre-emptive cull would not be necessary if we had a rapid diagnostic test. One would be able to test every animal to find out whether it was infected. There would be no need to go round culling all over the place.
Lord Whitty: That might reduce the requirement but when large-scale movements of sheep on hills are concerned, for instance, there is no way in which we would be able to carry out diagnostic tests in the way the noble Countess suggests. That would in some circumstances restrict the need for a pre-emptive cull but in other circumstancesin which the disease was virtually out of control and we needed to build a barrier to its spreada pre-emptive cull would be the obvious weapon for us to use. The problem (and the reason why Anderson suggested that we needed to make this explicit in the legislation) is that at times there was an argument about whether the contiguous cull was always justified in terms of exposure. Sometimes the contiguous cull's primary purpose was preventive. That is where Anderson's reference to ambiguity in the current legislation applies. I do not believe that it is quite as ambiguous as he indicated, but he firmly said that we need to clarify that there is a right to engage in preventive culling.
The Earl of Onslow: Will the noble Lord clarify what we know about diagnostic equipment? So far as I can gather, that equipment was developed in relation to germ warfare. It involves the method whereby someoneor a sheep or cowbreathes on to something, whereupon a computer recognises whether a virus is in the air that is breathed. The test is instantaneous. When that was suggested earlier during the outbreak, people said, "Oh, it has not been tested under field conditions". No one then said, "What a smashing time to test this instrument, when there is a major foot and mouth outbreak", although it could have been extremely useful. These diagnostic tests came as a result of germ warfare.
The Earl of Onslow: Yes, anthrax. A portable machine was designed and built at Porton Downit was used in the Gulf and was diagnostically efficientwithin three weeks. Those machines work, and we must consider them. The moment at which one can diagnose quickly and easily, one can use such machines. It is no good the noble Lord saying, "We cannot diagnose sheep". Yes we can. One herds them
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: I do not want to return to the diagnostic test although I am sure that important steps could be taken in that direction. I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, says about animals being kept indoorsthey may have been exposed previously and the disease may be present but not detected.
I do not believe that the Minister understood the force of what I was trying to say: perhaps I am the only Member of the Committee who feels this way. There is a disagreement between us about whether a pre-emptive cull and a pre-emptive vaccination are equally valid policies; I do not believe that they are. I hope that we are moving towards a policy of normally using pre-emptive vaccination, with pre-emptive culling being used in exceptional circumstances. The phraseology should cover that. The cavalier use of the word "immaterial" conveys entirely the wrong impression, which will be greatly resented in the farming community.
We must find a way to express the fact that there may yet be exceptional circumstances in which it is still necessary to cull animals in such categories but not in relation to paragraph (d), because if vaccination works, we will certainly not cull animals that are covered by that provision. It is the tone of voice that desperately needs to be altered. I hope that the Minister will say that he understands that and will do something to change the provision's phrasing. There may be occasionalexceptionalcircumstances in which pre-emptive culling is necessary of uninfected and unsuspected animals. However, we need to say that in a way that reassures people, rather than make people feel as if they are being hit over the head with a blunderbuss of a policy that can be applied absolutely indiscriminately anywhere and to any animal.
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