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Lord Garden: I am not terribly satisfied with the Minister's answer. We are talking about new
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arrangements for new emergencies rather than the same old system. I shall not score cheap debating points over whether the firemen's strike, the fuel tanker strike or foot and mouth needed the Army to sort them outwe all know that they did. But those were different. We are talking about the possibilities of a large-scale terrorist attack within these emergencies.
It is quite clear from reading its publications that the Ministry of Defence does not see that as one of its leading or even important tasks. It has made two sets of provisions. One is the civil contingency reserve force which, as we have said, is incomplete and has some problem in responding rapidly. The other is the standby of air defence aircraft against a possible hostile incoming commercial airliner, which is important.
We have a unique resource in the military which could provide capabilities against these contingencies, the assessment of which is that the risk is low but the consequences are high. I am seeking to have a duty put on the Ministry of Defence to provide some capability that could be used. Although I shall not press the amendment today, I shall come back to this issue later.
Lord Lucas: I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, about the position which the Government are asking us to accept. It is not an adequate response to the challenges that face us. I do not draw much comfort either from the Minister's response to me. Although I see that nothing is to be gained by going straight ahead on this matter, the comfort that he offered by undertaking to look at how Parliament would be given some input was extremely thin.
Would the Minister's department be prepared to look constructively on the suggestion that an annual report be made to Parliament on these matters? We really need to know how well the Government are rehearsed and how seriously they are taking these issues. An unrehearsed government department, however full it is of expertise, is absolutely useless. As we saw in the foot and mouth outbreak, it did not know what to do at the beginning. When it finally got around to doing something, it was far too late. If it and other government departments had been rehearsing, they would have known what the Army's capabilities were and they would have known to bring them in earlier. The whole outbreak would have involved much less death and disruption than it did.
Lord Elton: Parliament has a duty to see that these defences are in working order. One way of doing that is by putting that duty into statute. That would save an awful lot of parliamentary time, because, otherwise, Parliament will have to monitor the risks year by year, either by some formal process, such as my noble friend has just suggested, or by some even less adequate system that is dreamt up on the hoof when one Member of this House or the other decides that it is
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time to have another look. We are discussing the lifeblood of the nation. It has to be protected; we are the people to see that it is done. We are asking the Government to convince us that the machinery is in place to see that it is done without our constantly looking at it.
Lord Lucas: I should like to know before Report what information the Government envisage will be routinely available to Members of Parliament and the public about the operation of this process within central government. The other consequence of not including this kind of clause in the Bill is that it is unclear what rights local authorities and others have when they wish to tie in government departments to their rehearsals.
Let us suppose that a local authority is rehearsing an outbreak of some new and virulent disease of wheat and it decides that it needs to destroy 10 square miles of crops. Who does it ring up? What does it ask for? One obviously has to rehearse that. Understanding what one has to do involves the entire approval mechanism set out in Part 2. One must have the right, if that is what one decides to rehearse, to require central government to play a part in that rehearsal. It is not enough for Defra, for instance, to say, "No, we can't be bothered to help you. Look at the letter we sent to some other council 15 months ago giving them a rough idea of what we might do if we are ever asked about something like that". A duty has to be placed on central government to play a part. Many emergencies will involve their information resources, especially if that emergency requires a Part 2 response. One of the reasons why Part 2 is so widely drawn is that it provides a rapid response to all kinds of situations.
Every local authority will have to know how to use Part 2; that is, in which circumstances it applies; to whom it should apply; what information it needs to provide in support; how the whole thing works. To provide an effective response to that kind of application, central government have to rehearse. Unless a clear duty is placed on government to play their part in rehearsals, how will a local authority get them to participate when it needs them to do it?
If the Minister cannot respond now, I should like him to write to me before Report. On the question whether the Bill will have the time that it needs, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Jopling, can the Minister confirm that, if requiredbecause the Bill has the rightthe Government will apply to carry over?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I will not speculate about carry-over, but we are committed to ensuring that your Lordships' House has more than adequate time for active consideration of the Bill and those discussions continue through the usual channels. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has moved on from duties to a discussion about accountability, reporting and informing. I respect his concerns. That is an important debate on its own. I shall certainly reflect on his suggestion about the reporting mechanism and whether some system of
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annual reporting on preparedness should be established. We shall reflect on that issue between now and Report.
"Allegedly, we have spent the last three years absorbing the lessons learned during the catastrophic foot and mouth disease. However, I am very concerned that, come the next serious assault, we'll be little better prepared or equipped to defend against it; in fact, we may be significantly worse off".
Many of us have been critical of the Government over the past three years. The foot and mouth outbreak cost a lot of money and caused a great deal of misery to humans and animals. We have continually questioned the Government's readiness to cope with future outbreaks. We believe that their approach is complacent and, as Tim Greet put it,
The Veterinary Laboratories Agency, using seizure data from April 2001 to the end of September 2003, estimates that annual illegal meat imports are running at between 4,400 and 28,600 tonnes. That estimate is 60 per cent higher than the previous one and reflects the level of seizures from January to September 2003. Have there been any rapid increases since then?
The prevention of such imports and the firm control of aircraft and shipping waste are vital to any bio-security programme. The Government's failure to recognise that and to discharge their responsibilities is reprehensible.
Figures that were quoted in another place on 29 April showed that the UK will be guarded by six sniffer dogs, operating in shifts from Heathrow. Can the Minister give us any news of plans to train more dogs to provide better cover? What happens at the other 106 ports of entry? Have the Government commissioned any trials on electronic surveillance systems such as those that the Minister saw at the Royal Show?
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I turn to the direct prevention and control of disease. During the passage of the Animal Health Bill through this House, we strongly urged that vaccination should be a major plank of any policy. Will the Minister tell us what the present position is? Do the Government have plans to support vaccination against some of the new diseases, which will be threatening? I understand that Defra Minister Ben Bradshaw indicated at the Labour Party conference that a reliable test for badgers is very close. Can the Minister make a firm statement on that?
We are facing an ever increasing threat from bovine TB. The Godfray report of March 2004 recommended that badgers be treated as a wildlife reservoir of the disease. Could any other animal that regularly accesses pasture and farm buildings be such a reservoir and have any animals been proven not to carry the disease?
What action are the Government taking in the West Country, where one in 10 cattle herds in Devon and Cornwall was subjected to TB restrictions during the first six months of this year? What hope can the Minister give to people such as Tony Yewdall who has lost 89 cows in his herd of 235?
Last year, the Defra Select Committee also predicted that there was going to be a shortage of large-animal vets. It calculated that less than 10 per cent of vets do large-animal work, and that those who do spend a mere 15 per cent of their time on the farms in a position to see what is happening. The marked real-terms decline in agricultural incomes has resulted in farmers "saving" on their use of vets. The intervention of the Competition Commission to allow dispensers to make up prescription medicines will result in further income decreases for the veterinary profession.
Human medicines are now being dispensed by supermarkets which apparently make no secret of their plans to use the service as a loss leader to attract custom. Already, small pharmacies are closing. I fear that similar practices in veterinary dispensing will have a similar effect on both large and small animal practices. Will the Minister commit the Government to re-examining the commission's findings?
The UK Government can seize illegal meat and support vaccine development, but bans on the importation of legal goods have to be imposed by the EU or with its approval. In 2004, chicken imports were stopped from 12 countries including Thailand, Canada and the United States of America. That has been done in response to outbreaks of avian flu, but it is not enough.
I have more than once drawn the House's attention to the EU's appalling record on inspecting third-country animal husbandry once the supply contracts have been signed. Is it really satisfactory to leave to the EU the monitoring of imports to this country? Does the Minister agree that this position cannot continue?
The correct disposal of fallen stock must be central to any biosecurity policy. Farming representatives have put the annual disposal requirement at 1.3 million fully
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grown animals, 2.6 million youngsters and 36 million birds. Traditionally, hunt kennels, knackers' yards and renderers have collected the bulk of that, but small quantities have been dealt with in a variety of different ways including incinerators.
The Government "oversight" during the EU negotiations on incineration has resulted in industrial standards being applied to farm incinerators. The pig industry and many of the rest of us had understood that the existing installations would retain their approvals until the end of this year. It appears now that unless an application for a replacement or updated system was received by Defra by 1 June, the old approvals would no longer apply. That is, they will no longer apply unless Defra has failed to process the application for the new one.
Will the Minister ensure that all the old approvals will be extended to the end of the year? Will he also tell us the reasons for the further delay to the fallen stock scheme, the cause of the postponement and the new start date?
I turn now to another important aspect of farming: horticulture. The horticulture sector encompasses a wide range of crops and associated pest and disease threats. A large number of these crop species are subject to specific European Union legislation and quarantine inspection aimed at controlling the spread of notifiable pests and diseases into and within EU regions. In England and Wales, Defra relies on the co-operation of the individual affected horticultural businesses to arrest the spread of pests and disease to other parts of the industry and the environment, enabling the national government to meet their EU plant health obligations.
While Defra relies on the co-operation of these individual businesses, current plant health policy does not work in the interests of those affected by escapes of introduced notifiable pests and diseases. In this regard I am thinking particularly of potatoes and ring rot. Businesses directly affected by Defra's eradication activity are in fact penalised through the burdens of loss of stock, disruption, the costs associated with disposal and the lack of compensation. It is an unsatisfactory situation. There is talk of a compensation scheme, but in return growers would need a compensation scheme put in place to protect individuals who are currently expected to sacrifice their business for government and for the rest of their sector. I understand that Ministers have indicated that support could be made available for risk-sharing proposals to help the horticultural industries to protect themselves and develop their own compensation mechanisms. I should be very grateful if the Minister will refer to that in his winding up.
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