|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Byford rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 18 June, be annulled (S.I. 2004/1518) [15th Report from the Merits Committee].
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the regulations will have a great impact on farmers who breed sheep or keep goats. Concerns have been expressed to me over the scientific certainty, or lack of it, on which the regulations are based.
The NSA is the leading specialist representative organisation for the United Kingdom sheep sector. Its members come from those involved with every pedigree sheep bred in this country; indeed, from all the sheep breed societies. As the pedigree sector has been the one most affected by the various regulations concerned with the eradication of scrapie so far, we feel that this makes the NSA response particularly significant in the development of the resulting policy. This is in addition to a majority of members of the commercial sheep sector. We can therefore say with
8 Sept 2004 : Column 669
confidence that our views are truly representative of the entire UK sheep sector. I am sure that the Minister will wish to congratulate the NSA on the work it has done to date in the eradication of scrapie.
The NSA appreciates the fact that Defra is consulting on how best to implement the new EU regulation and not the regulation itself. However, it feels that it is important to reiterate that it has grave concerns over the EU regulation that Defra is being obliged to implement. The NSA feels that it is an ill-conceived regulation, in general, with measures and provisions that are draconian in nature and totally disproportionate to the scale of the issue to be dealt with.
Indeed, the regulation is best described by the commonly used phrase "bad law" and, as such, it runs the risk of being regarded as a step too far by the many sectors of the sheep industry that may be affected by its introduction, as outlined in the consultation. The National Sheep Association feels particularly strongly about the measures proposed under the restrictions section. The proposals as outlined are very severe and, for some businesses which are reliant on the sale of store and breeding sheep, it may be that their imposition will result in the collapse of such businesses. In addition, the proposals could seriously affect the asset value of a farm should the farmer wish to sell his property while under restriction.
However, as previously stated, the National Sheep Association appreciates that Defra is obliged to implement the regulation given that it has been agreed within the EU and, as such, cannot legally be ignored. On this point, the NSA will be constructive in its response, as I am sure the Minister will acknowledge that it has been in the past. But this is set against the backdrop of its concerns over the regulation itself.
With this in mind, it is worth mentioning that it is not strictly correct for Defra to sayas it does in the letter sent out with the consultation documentthat key industry representatives are content with the proposals. As the NSA, for one, most definitely is not, I ask the Minister to comment on who Defra is referring to as "key industry representatives" if they do not include the National Sheep Association.
When the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee looked at the regulations it raised two specific points, on which it wrote to Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Under the heading "Adequacy of measures proposed", paragraph 2 of the letter states:
"While the committee accepted the need to ensure implementation of European requirements, we were concerned to establish whether the Regulations and the controls introduced by them are an adequate response to the scale of the problem, given that scrapie has occurred for so many years and so widely in sheep in this country. We would be grateful if you could comment on your assessment of the scale of the occurrence of scrapie in sheep in this country, and on how quickly and effectively the approach being followed in the Regulations will succeed in eliminating the risks posed by scrapie".
The letter then goes on to refer to one or two other matters that I should like to highlight. It pointed out that the RIA of 17 June stated that 20 responses were received to Defra's consultation on the partial RIA and that,
"most thought that Option 2 as set out in the RIA was the best approach; and that a number of concerns were raised about the EU regulation which DEFRA continued to pursue with the European Commission".
"In addition, your Department provided us with a copy of DEFRA's summary of responses to the consultation exercise. We were struck by the difference in tone, if not the substance, of that summary from the statement in the RIA".
The summary referred to a universal feeling that the regulation is draconian and disproportionate in its effect compared with the risk with which it deals. It acknowledges that the science on which it is based is questioned. It states that,
In her response, Margaret Beckett stated that they realised that most scrapie cases are not reported so that the scale of the problem is significantly larger than the 230 cases confirmed in sheep in England in 2003. If this is the case, how many flocks does the department estimate to be infected, or is this still a totally unknown number?
In 1999, SEAC recommended the introduction of a breeding programme to eradicate scrapie from the sheep population in view of the theoretical possibility that sheep could have contracted BSE which was being masked by scrapie. How many projects have begun since 1999 to prove this theoretical possibility, how much has that cost to date and, more importantly, has any evidence been established to confirm this possible theory?
Will the Minister accept that the longer this theoretical possibility continues to be unproven, it is reasonable to conclude that a link is not established. In that case, should we really be approving a regulation which has measures and provisions that are draconian in nature and disproportionate?
This morning the Prime Minister again reinforced his Government's commitment to legislating on the basis of scientific proof. But these regulations are based on scientific uncertainty. Can the Minister explain the discrepancy? Furthermore, when the regulations were considered at drafting stage, were these issues raised, and did Her Majesty's Government agree with the drafting?
I understand that over the past few years, Defra has carried out a large survey of sheep testing. This year, for the first time, the number of animals tested has decreased from 60,000 a year to 10,000. Can the Minister tell me why?
8 Sept 2004 : Column 671
Does the Minister recognise the success of the voluntary scheme established under the voluntary scrapie flocks scheme, which has more than 100 applications already? Does she care that these restrictive regulations may well result in a fall in the number of scrapie cases reported? I understand that the Government will monitor the situation closely and if they find that reporting decreases significantly, they will take it up with the European Commission. Over what time period will that monitoring take place? What response do the Government expect from the commission?
I raise these concerns because this will be very costly for the Government. I noticed that in yesterday's Hansard, a Written Answer in response to my noble friend Lord Marlesford showed that bovine TB has cost the taxpayer some £38 million this year alone. These are huge figures and we need to be very sure of our ground when we are committing ourselves to additional costs. At the moment, we have no idea what the costs might be. What is the estimated cost of slaughter and how much will the implementation, controls and monitoring cost? Is the true cost proportional to the risk when one considers that the Government refuse to ban smoking? That is not a light, throwaway question. It puts into context the whole question of this regulation. I beg to move.
Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 18 June, be annulled (S.I. 2004/1518) [15th Report from the Merits Committee].(Baroness Byford.)
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|