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Lord Whitty: If we are to adopt pre-emptive vaccination as a key disease control measure, I envisage circumstances in which failure to gain access could jeopardise the whole vaccination strategy in a firebreak situation. For example, during the last outbreak, we contemplated vaccination when the disease appeared to be moving in the direction of the pig population of the East Riding. Had we engaged in a firebreak vaccination, the plan could have been undermined if we had missed significant premises because a person was not available at a particular hour. Admittedly, in most circumstances, vaccination would not be quite as urgent as culling. However, in some circumstances it might be, which is why the emergency override is included.
I do not think that the Government intend that to happen as a result of the Bill. We talked about reasonableness, and the noble Lord may refer me back to that. However, I hope that the Minister can take on board the five additional words that are proposed.
Amendment No. 264 is an alternative response, for which the general argument is the same. However, at this stage I wish to move Amendment No. 236, and the same argument applies to Amendments Nos. 266 and 294. I beg to move.
I think immediately of my neighbour, who is now well into her 90s, but, when she was well into her 80s she and her sister, who is a year younger, kept a flock of sheep. Both were crippled with arthritis and unable to go out and about. People in the village helped them with their sheep whenever they needed it. My neighbour and her sister were able to keep an eye on the animals, but, when they needed help with them, they had to ring someone else. Although they were the keepers of the animals, they would have been unable to help with them. Those and other circumstances that the noble Baroness mentioned need to be taken into account, and it is not reasonable to expect elderly people to tend a flock of sheep. I urge the Minister to take that into account.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Even a few hours ago, I would have hoped that the Minister would accept this reasonable and modest amendment, which was so charmingly moved. The Minister said earlier that reasonableness runs through all of this. I hope that his dictum is of general application. Am I misquoting him? I thought that I heard him say that just nowI woke up, so great was the shock. I hope that his wonderful statement was not so narrow in its focus as to be almost meaningless. I cherish the hope that it has a broad application. I cannot believe that the Minister would be so obstinateI almost said pig-headedas to refuse the amendment.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: I support the amendment. Six miles from where I live in North Yorkshire, during the last foot and mouth disease outbreak, a farmer's son-in-law, in his 40s, died from a heart attack while rounding up a flock of sheep. He should not have been rounding up the sheep. That example shows that in some cases people should not carry out certain activities. I hope that the Minister accepts this reasonable amendment.
Lord Jopling: I strongly support this amendment. Subsection (12)(a) states that a person commits an offence if he is required to give assistance under subsection (9). We have included in subsection (9), through Amendment No. 233, which we have already agreed, the occupiers of the premises.
Modern agriculture involves far fewer people working on the land, so many farmhouses are occupied by people who have nothing to do with farming. If an inspector asks for assistance from someone who is the occupier of a farm but who has nothing to do with the farm, he falls under this provision. If an inspector asks a farmhouse occupier who is disconnected from agriculture for help with cattle or sheep, under the Bill as it now stands, that person would be committing an offence if he refused. It would be a perfectly fair mitigating circumstance if that person said, "I am only the tenant of the farmhouse; I have nothing to do with the farm; I have never had anything to do with cattle, sheep or pigs, and I am sorry, but go and find someone else to help, because this has nothing to do with me".
The same might apply to premises formerly used as farm workers' houses on a farm holding, of which there are many. It is important to include a provision to let a person off committing an offence if there are mitigating circumstances. I hope that the Minister will accept that.
Lord Carter: Amendment No. 233 refers to "the following persons", so each of them is caught: the occupier, the person in charge of the animals or a person under the direction or control of the occupier or the person in charge.
The Earl of Onslow: I support the amendment. I shall speak from a small amount of private experience. I have a few sheep at home. Because we live in Surrey, I also have some stables, which are rented. Those stables are part of my premises. Is the inspector entitled to ask a 14 or 15 year-old girl to round up sheep for slaughter? If she says no, will she be committing a criminal offence? That is what the Bill appears to say. I think that such a young ladyor her parent or guardian or somebody left in local chargewould have mitigating circumstances for saying no. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, there are many occupiers of agricultural premises who are only indirectly associated with agriculture, or even not associated at all. What about somebody who is staying in a farmhouse on a B&B basis? There are a lot of those, particularly in the Yorkshire Dales, where the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, lives. The Government plead reasonableness to avoid their own affairs being put into the Bill. I do not understand why they will not allow others to use reasonable excuse. That is double standards. It is a great pity and does not do credit to Her Majesty's present advisers, but I suppose there is nothing I can do about that.
Lord Monro of Langholm: I should have thought that the Government would jump at the opportunity of an escape clause. We do not want to make people commit offences when there is a perfectly good reason why they should not be involved. The amendment sensibly suggests that there could be mitigating circumstances. The prosecuting authority would not prosecute if there were mitigating circumstances. They would say that it would be a waste of court time, police time and everybody else's time. The amendment would be a valuable addition to the Bill on the issue of alleged offences.
The comments of my noble friends Lord Jopling and Lord Onslow about people on the land who may have nothing to do with the farm should be followed up. People should not be walking about farms during a foot and mouth epidemic, but nowadays, when there is so much encouragement for people to walk on farms or wherever they want to go, they could be walking across a farm and then be eligible to assist in rounding up cattle under the Bill. It would be ridiculous for them to be involved.
This simple amendment would surely be a valuable escape route for those who are not involved in the farm and should not be prosecuted under the Bill.
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