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Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister knows that for many years we have been pressing the Government to conduct research on the level of minimum income necessary for good health. That would provide a base line. The Government seem to be extremely reluctant to supply it. In that circumstance, I wonder how the Minister can know what she has just told me.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, one of the reasons for not going down this paththis is not a debate that I would normally entertainis that 50 per cent of lone parents smoke; they smoke because they are poor; they are poor because they smoke; and there is a heavy correlation between what they do as a result
What does the noble Earl suggest that we do about that? We do not normally shout about it or stigmatise people because of it. We try to raise levels of aspiration. We can introduce lone parents to nicotine help if that is what they seek and we hope that as a result their health and the health of their children will improve. If there is a sanction, how much of that is due to their smoking and how much of it is due to being denied a small element of their benefit? It is probably less than they spend on smoking each week. The average lone parent spends about £15 a week on cigarettes and the sanction is £10.
I do not know how we could conduct the research that the noble Earl suggests. I do not believe that it is technically possible. The noble Earl has an honourable record in challenging sanctions and he is absolutely right to press us on what we believe we are doing and on the implications. Without a sanction, all benefit conditions become voluntary. Why should anyone seek workthey could stay in bed, play the guitar, or whateverif there is no sanction? They do not receive their JSA unless they are actively seeking work. Are we saying that all requirements associated with benefits should be voluntary?
Earl Russell: My Lords, I believe that the Minister knows perfectly well that I am not saying that. I have always said that I am prepared to have a sanction that is compatible with the continued good health of the claimant. I would like to know at what level that should be fixed, but that involves research that the Government have not yet carried out.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I had hoped that the noble Lord had accepted my argument for a sanction representing 4 to 5 per cent of income, which is rather less than someone spends on cigarettes per week. How on earth can we determine what element of their poor health may be due to the sanctions and what element is due to their existing smoking? There is absolutely no way of telling. I am puzzled that the noble Earl does not accept my argument on this. Ultimately, I believe that these sanctions are modest.
We are asking partners of claimants to take seriously the obligation to attend a work-focused interview which I believe is an opportunity not a threat; it is about empowerment and choice. As I have seen with lone parents in the past, if we do not have a sanction, and people believe that it is voluntary, people will not attend. They prefer not to bother. That is one of the problems that we often face with lone parents and their children. Once they come in to do the work-focused interview and come into the New Deal their aspirations rise and their children benefit as well.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, it has been apparent that the noble Baroness has changed her mind on some issues that we have debated in the past. Did the sanctions apply during the period of the pilot? I am puzzled by the study that says that only 17 per cent of lone parents received an invitation for an interview and only 14 per cent actually attended an interview. Were the sanctions in action during that pilot scheme?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, in some cases sanctions were in action. But let me write to the noble Lord, because this order is about the New Deal for partners not the New Deal for lone parents. If he wants me to follow up the detail about what happened to some of those pilot schemeshow many people were sanctioned, how many of those were accepted as good cause, and what happened thenI will be very happy to write to him. I think that is the best way rather than trying to bounce the statistics around tonight.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order extends to avian influenza and Newcastle disease powers introduced by the Animal Health Act 2002 in relation to foot and mouth disease. I am sure I do not need to remind anyone of the foot and mouth outbreak. We learnt lessons. We must be properly prepared for any future outbreak, whether it is foot and mouth or any other disease.
Although the Animal Health Act was somewhat contentious in this House, we introduced it in order to bolster our powers and introduce new powers for foot and mouth which allowed powers to be extended to other diseases by order approved by a resolution of both Houses. That is the background to the draft order.
Your Lordships will be aware of the outbreak of avian influenza on the Continent this year. There were 250 confirmed cases, mainly in the Netherlands, and over 31 million birds had to be slaughtered. The outbreak, occurring as it did so near to the UK and spreading to Belgium and Germany, naturally heightened concerns here. As a result of the outbreak, the Dutch authorities have shared their experience
We have considered the need for the possibility of a preventive cull here, should an outbreak occur. In the Netherlands, where the structure of the industry is slightly different, there was a very high density of poultry holdings in the areas affected, but these were small farms with shared labour. Our industry tends to be more concentrated in that we have fewer locations but with more birds in them. The veterinary advice being given to me and my colleagues is that the need for a preventive cull in the United Kingdom is unlikely. Nevertheless, in the light of the Netherlands experience and the strong advice from the Dutch authorities, the need for such a cull is not ruled out. Having the powers would be essential to our armoury.
Your Lordships will recall that during the debate on the Animal Health Act there was much concern that we should use vaccination wherever possible as an alternative to a cull in relation to preventive culls. Vaccination, however, is not practical for avian influenza, at least with the current technologies. Birds would have to be dosed individually by injection, and immunity can take up to three weeks. Some poultry require two doses. Vaccination, moreover, does not prevent birds becoming infected and shedding virus, mainly via faeces. Thus we do not see vaccination as an alternative effective tool in this context.
If we were ever to use these powers there would need to be a disease control slaughter protocol. This describes the purpose, factors and procedures behind the use of a preventive cull. We have one in place for foot and mouth diseaseit is incorporated in the FMD contingency plan. We intend to produce a separate one for avian influenza and for Newcastle disease.
The 2002 Act allows two further measures to be introduced by affirmative order. They involve the provision to slaughter vaccinated animals and the power of entry for testing and sampling. I have already said that given current technology it is unlikely that we would vaccinate, and therefore the first measure does not apply. As far as powers of entry for the purpose of slaughter or vaccination are concerned, they apply automatically under the 2002 Act. It is only powers of entry for the purposes of testing and sampling which need to be extended by this affirmative order. In the event of an outbreak, delays in our ability to test poultry for virus or disease control could lead to the spread of disease and prolongation of an outbreak. Hence, these powers of access for testing are needed.
The advice given to Ministers is that we are as much at risk of an outbreak of Newcastle disease as we are of avian influenza. It would therefore be deficient of us to prepare for an outbreak of avian influenza without