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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I express my profound gratitude to the Minister for coming this far to meet us, albeit a little late, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said. Will he undertake to consult us when drafting the amendment and not send us a letter at the very last minute to say what he has done. That would be much appreciated, and at this late stage it would help to get it right. If given that undertaking, I would be very willing to withdraw Amendment No. 39.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, am I allowed to speak now? I do not want a reprimand from my noble friend Lady Farrington. I think I can give an undertaking as far as is feasible. We are only talking about between now and Monday. I shall endeavour to get it to the noble Baroness and others who have spoken in the debate.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 40B, C and D. The amendments are all part of a single argument that the Bill sets too high a minimum punishment for failing to observe full biosecurity routines. Your Lordships may think it strange that I put that forward, but we need to look at the 1981 Act and the proposals in the Bill. If anyone were caught deliberately not doing what they should do, I would be the first to say that they were in the wrong. If noble Lords will bear with me, I shall explain where I am coming from.
We are not talking about people who intend to spread infection. We are concerned with those who fail to do what they ought to do for any one of a number of reasons connected with human nature. It is possible to conjure up a number of hypothetical questions or situations in which farmers or officials might break the rules for reasons that are acceptable to them, but not to a court. Here is one example. Anderson put the issue well on page 74 of his report:
We are concerned that some of those caught by the provision may well be farmers reliant for their livelihood on the keeping of animals. We therefore feel that it should be possible to apply to the court at intervals of less than a year to have the ban lifted. In Committee I was rightly taken apart by one or two Members who did not share that view. Any livestock farmer banned from keeping animals loses his job and, by the nature of agricultural cycles, risks being unable to restart for much longer than a year unless he can apply within that time.
We are also concerned that a farm is not like a normal home. It is quite likely that junior members of the family will start small with one or two animals of their own. Moves currently afoot elsewhere will stop any person under 16 owning an animal. This means that many farming children will look after animals that are still officially the property of the farmer. This could apply to other animals such as dogs, cats and horses just as it does to sheep, cattle and pigs.
Having thought about the issue since Committee, we do not think it right that a farmer's children should be made to suffer in such circumstances for a lapse in biosecurity by a parent. Nor do we think it right that a wife or husband should be unable to continue with farming because their spouse, the joint owner of the livestock, may have been banned.
The 1981 Act makes clear that "an animal" is anything, other than a human, that the Minister decides. I can get my papers and come back with the reference. It was originally argued in Committee that the provision would apply only to infected animals, but under the 1981 Act the Minister has the right to decide that it applies to any animal other than the two I have specified. That is only a small point, but it is why I beg to move the amendment.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, I am glad to follow my noble friend. At col. 1315 on the first day of Report, a week ago today, I raised a problem that seemed to me to occur with the provision in the Bill that covered
The Minister tries to tell us that we are dealing with only certain types of animals or certain types of disease, but the parent Act clearly allows the Minister of the day to include and embrace any sort of animal under the zoological definition of animal, as well as any disease known to veterinary science. We are entitled to a definition from the Minister of exactly what is the Government's understanding of "animal", which is the issue at the centre of the lead amendment.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister about animals owned by children, which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, mentioned, and specifically about goats. As a child in the war I owned goats and I milked them. They were not in the noble Baroness's list.
I should also like some clarification of the six-month period. Anyone who knowingly and deliberately seeks to infect animals clearly deserves a summary sentence. However, there may be extenuating circumstances which result in a marginal decision by the court. During the most recent outbreak, for example, some people living on one farm worked on another farm, as they did almost every day of their working lives, and they were not properly cognisant of the fact that they should not have been travelling. Although such circumstances may be considered by the court, it is also important to recognise that those who keep animals depend on the breeding cycle. A one-year disqualification could preclude them from operating
Throughout our discussion of the Bill, there has been real and understandable concern about the farmers affected by these provisions. However, we must also remember the tens of thousands of farmers whom the department intends to protect by these actions. We should be thinking about them, too. Do we want to be seen to be falling over backwards to be lenient to those who deliberately infect animals with disease? We are talking about those sorts of people. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has given various examples, but, if she reads the Bill, I think that she will see that the courts will have the power to vary an order to leave out pets if necessary. Nevertheless, we should remember that these people, if convicted, are guilty of the cruellest and possibly most serious offence imaginable to farmers. Why should we appear to fall over backwards to be lenient to them?
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