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Finally, bluetongue is a very serious disease for agriculture. I make a plea to the Minister that he resists the extension of the bluetongue zones except for those circumstances affecting abattoirs, which need to be addressed. Unless there is another outbreak outside the zone, clearly that should be the only circumstances where the zone is affected because most of the cattle and sheep are in the west and the north of the United Kingdom.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I shall take the last point first because it hinges on the answer that I gave to the noble Baroness. Even looking cursorily at the zone changes, you cannot bring in an abattoir and a market without bringing in some farms. There is a balance to be struck here and it is not easy. The noble Lord talked about a nightmare for Defra Ministers but I have to say that it has not been a nightmare for Defra Ministers. I am extremely proud to be a Defra Minister during this period. Staff cancelled their holidays and came in the following day because they knew what would happen. Literally hundreds are involved in this 24/7 operation, both at the foot and mouth local disease control centre in Guildford and at the bluetongue centre in Bury St Edmunds. It has not been a nightmare.
A plan was published that drew on the lessons learnt from the previous outbreak, and that plan has been meticulously followed. We are having that reviewed by the person who reviewed the first outbreak. We have learnt lessons. One lesson that we have learnt, which was not in the plan, is that if you start culling in the field, you must immediately put an air control zone around it. Press helicopters were our biggest single problem; they disturbed the animals and the vets could not do their job. We had to introduce air exclusion zones but we did not do so to start with because it did not cross our mind that helicopters would be used and would create serious problems for us.
As regards Pirbright being a joint site, noble Lords are quite right that in the past the reason for that was probably to create a marketing synergy. Although this was not part of the discussions that we had leading to the publication of the report, I am told that there is no good scientific reason why they should be co-located. There are two private sector operationsa very small one as well as the large one. The viruses were not supposed to be put into the drains live; that is the whole point of the exercise. There was a two-stage process and they should have been completely dealt with by the time they got to the point where they escaped. Work is going on there to deal with this issue in terms of heat treatment and everything else, but the
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Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I declare an interest as I have rare breed breeding sheep going to Murton market on Saturday and Skipton market on Sunday. Does the Minister agree with me that market staff, as well as the farming community, have also had very many difficulties? Would it not be safer to have the animal research laboratories on town sites rather than near farms? As regards bluetongue, does the female midge spread the disease as the female mosquito spreads malaria?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, on the latter point, I am afraid that I do not know the sex of the midges, but I know that our midgesBritish midgeshave now caused this, hence our announcement after a few days that we had bluetongue. That is why the first few cases did not amount to a bluetongue outbreak. We had to know that transmission was being caused by our midges biting our cattle and that they were giving it to other cattle or to sheep. I freely admit that there has been pressure all round on the industry in respect of the markets. That applies, of course, to those animals that go to market. Not all sheep and cattle go to market. Some people will not have anything to do with markets; they want to go straight from farm to slaughter. Pigs are not dealt with in that way. However, the fact is that the whole of the food chain has been disturbed at that level. As regards whether there has been profiteering, time will tell. People are looking into the issues raised by the noble Lord, which I did not address. I am in no position to do that. Clearly, there has been a drop in the price at the supplier level which has not been reflected in the price in the retail sector. That indicates that someone is taking a larger cut somewhere in the chain.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister not realise that for the breeding people this is the crucial time when the tups are put in with the ewes? It is a question of breeding, not just slaughter.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, even if foot and mouth and bluetongue were put to bed today, this will affect us for months. It will affect us well into next year because it is affecting the cycle of production, and we appreciate that.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, I declare an interest as a farmer in West Sussex, which, as everybody knows, is the county next door to Surrey. Therefore, I am concerned about foot and mouth. I am not affected by it at the moment but my family firm had diversified. We no longer have any animals. We were encouraged by the Government to diversify and we are doing so. That means that a lot of people come on to our farm. Therefore, I am much concerned by the fact that the
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Lord Rooker: My Lords, on the last point, external lawyers and representatives are looking at these reports. Everything will be published. Nothing will be unpublished. We have published an enormous amount. We published Professor Spratts report and the HSE report a few days before what turned out to be the second outbreak that we found, so there was a gap.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for raising the issue of diversification because it gives me a chance to make a further point. I met the three farmers concerned with the first three casesone of whose cattle did not have foot and mouth but were slaughteredMr Pride, Mr Gunner and Mr Emerson. They were the three farmers who had first discovered the disease. All of them are model farmers. They had diversified into all sorts of businesses, which I shall not recite. When I had a brief discussion with them on neutral territory in a farm shop, which was the first time they had all met, I raised the thorny issue of insurance. Mr Pride told me that he was insured. He said that he had his farm shop insured for fire, burglary and all the kinds of risk that you insure a business for. He had even paid an extra premium to cover interruption of business. I never asked him whom he was insured with and I do not know to this day. However, the small print in the insurance stated that anything related to foot and mouth was not covered. I certainly intend to follow this up with the financial institutions and the banks. Mr Pride was sold an insurance policy to cover interruption to business. I do not refer to his farm business. His farm shop was covered for interruption to business. However, he is caught out in the small print. As a Minister I cannot talk about cost sharing and responsibility policy on disease control and animals when people are left in that position. I understand that there is a difficulty with insuring crops in the ground and other issues and with the cost of some of these exotic diseases, but that kind of short-changing is a serious business that must be pursued.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, if I may add to what I said, it is very difficult indeed to get insurance for these things. I have insurance for avian fluthat was last years disease. I got it last year with great difficulty. I am not insured for the other things.
Lord Plumb: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Statement. He will be aware, of course, that farmers will be relieved that there is a package of compensation,
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The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said that the price of sheep is down as much as £10 a head. I can tell him that even in Wales this morning lambs were being sold at £10 a head. That situation is very grave indeed, because that is the livelihood of those farmers who have lambs on the hills and have just got to sell them. They have no alternative; the lambs cannot be left, because then there would be a massive welfare problem.
I speak as a farmer, but I am grateful that the Statement said that £1 million will be sent to the Addington Fund and, I hope, to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, of which I happen to be presidentI declare an interest. The requests that have been made during the past month have been exceptional and we have had to take on people to deal with the problems that have been coming forward. Those problems may seem small, but they are there, and people need to be helped. Farmers will be grateful. The Minister said that the money will be paid to those in greatest need. That may be a problem, because those who will be in greatest need have not yet fully met the problem. That will want a bit of analysis in paying out the money.
I have two points. On bluetongue, the message that I have received from farmers in other parts of Europe where the problem has been growing extensively in recent times is that stopping animal movements is not necessarily a solution. We will probably experience that. Stopping the midges is a solution, but that is much more difficult. I understand that progress is being made on the production of vaccine, and I hope that every support can be given to speed that up. On the other points, those who are suffering are those in marginal areas who are being forced to sell. Sheep migration is necessary, and one realises in that sense that movement must continue. I hope therefore that all relief can be given so that that can happen as quickly as possible.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have to be brief, because we are nearly at the time limit. I hope that I have covered the central issues that the noble Lord raised on finance, and I have shown that there is a degree of understanding about the pressure on the business. Bluetongue is difficult. It is a new disease, but we are not the first to have it. We have been expecting it. It is almost impossible to deal with because of the way in which it is transmitted. Therefore, the vaccine would be a route and I understand that it is not far away. One of the issues about the vaccine is that, where there is a need, there is a market, and it will be supplied. Therefore it is clear now that, where there was not before, there is probably going to be a market in the northern parts of Europe for a bluetongue vaccine.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 17 and 28 are designed to put greater flexibility into this part of the Bill by allowing local authorities to send back, in response to a request or a designation, an opinion of their own, and to permit greater time for them to do so. This would be too late for people who are already well down the line on this and whose fate has been sealed, unless the Government hold up some of the procedures that have been started. This amendment does something that the Bill does not; it makes a real allowance for the voice of local people.
It is instructive to read what has happened in both Durham and Cornwall with the proposals that have been forced out. I will quote only the Cornwall response, where on average over 80 per cent of the electorate in the district decided that they did not want a unitary county. What a surprise. I get an appalling sense of déjÃ vu. In about my third year of involvement in local government, there was a royal commission. It became known as the Maud report on the structure of local government. Maud looked at the structure as it existed objectively, and he came up with a proposal for unitary local government across the country based on what was essentially a county structure.
Of course, small counties became larger and the large counties became smaller and the districts across the country were opposed anyway. The districts, remarkably, were much more likely to be contiguous with constituencies. Not particularly unsurprisingly, the Maud report disappeared into a very deep pigeonhole. With the benefit of a great deal of hindsight, sometimes I think it is a pity that the Maud report was not implemented, because we would not have had some 50 years of destabilisation. There has been constant irritation and movement, which has been largely inspired centrally supposedly to rationalise the structure of local government. I have regarded that as not particularly helpful when one comes to consider properly what local government is about. It is about the services that are provided to local people.
The amendments are small, but they are important. I hope that the Minister might give us some hope that it is worthwhile considering at this stageshe still has time to consider itand that the amendments might be worthy of introduction; or that greater flexibility in some form might be worthy of introduction on Third Reading, if she is not prepared to accept the amendments now. This is a small matter, which does not affect the substance of the Bill. It would ease some of the
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, I wish I could give the noble Lord some comfort, especially because of the reasonable way in which he introduced the amendments. I cannot do that, or accept the amendments. I will run over some of the reasons why we think that the amendments raise interesting but problematic questions, particularly Amendment No. 17. It relates to the consultation that must be carried out by local authorities on their proposals, with the opportunity to make representations to the Secretary of State on an alternative proposal by the Boundary Committee. Amendment No. 17 would have the effect of allowing the council, when responding to an invitation, to make a proposal reflecting the results of the consultation with its electorate.
I understand the motives behind that. Regarding the consultation process as a whole, perhaps I may briefly comment on the process of involving local people. The whole approach to the restructuring process was to enable local authorities, as democratically elected bodies, to decide whether to seek unitary status. One of the key tests that we set out clearly was that the proposals brought forward in the invitation must have support from a range of key partners, stakeholders, service users and citizens. It was a deliberate form of words, because we wanted there to be a formative consultation process, particularly to ensure that local partners and key agencies could respond and contribute to proposals, because they were the people most affected by them. It was also to ensure that local authorities sought the views of local people in the way that they thought best. Among the key consultees have been primary care trusts, strategic health authorities, police authorities, learning and skills councils, universities and a host of others that I could not begin to list.
Within that notion of broad support is the principle that local authorities must show that they have involved local people in whatever way is seen as most effective. Councils have adopted a variety of ways of doing thatpublic opinion polls, local referendums in some cases, citizens juries, citizens panels and surveys. I am not saying that any method was better than the others. The noble Lord quoted Cornwall, but in Cheshire, for example, the county council commissioned BMG to undertake face-to-face interviews, complemented by a series of focus groups across Cheshire. The county carried out a random telephone survey of 1,200 households and the district commissioned an Ipsos MORI survey of residents opinions throughout Cheshire. A ballot of Crewe and Nantwich residents was conducted by the Electoral Commission and there was a survey of opinion among members of the Crewe and Nantwich citizens panels. I could list all the methods that the nine successful local authorities used. Some of them took place before the proposals were initially submitted and provided key evidence about how they stacked up.
We have certainly met the principle of consultation. I was struck when the noble Lord quoted the case of Cornwall. The district councils commissioned that survey, and districts have often commissioned surveys that have come to different conclusions. We have seen that throughout this process. From the outset we have made it clear what we would be looking for in proposals from democratically elected councilsand that was accepted by them. In particular, we wanted to be able to see a range and depth of support that would show that the criteria for viability could be metthat the proposals would enhance leadership and that they would lead to greater local engagement and better services. There was support for that view and, therefore, viability. It was also clear that, while we expected local councils to seek the opinion of local people, it could not be the decisive factor. It was not the decisive factor in 1992. We made it clear that no group of people or stakeholders would have a veto over the proposal. From the beginning we were clear that the proposal could not be determined by a separate popular mandate. The local representative council making the decision has always been uppermost in our mind.
It has been interesting to look in detail at the results of all local polls and inquiries in all the affected areas and to see the variety of opinion expressed and the many different ways that have been employed to seek it. The Secretary of State rightly made it clear that results should be treated with a degree of caution in relation to the balance of opinion, not least because, depending on who asks the question, the districts and counties have come up with different responses to their surveysas the noble Lord exemplified. It interesting that in Shropshire a review by Professors Rallings and Thrasher, who studied the outcomes, concluded that the process was not flawed but contained inevitable problems. Therefore, we took a series of decisions that were both principled and sensible. We had to make it clear that there was a broad range of support.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps she might say a word or two about how the process that has been carried out and that which is envisaged take account of the views of areas that might not be affected by an immediate restructuring but will be affected by future processes. For example, in Bedford, which we discussed earlier, people and organisations within surrounding authority might not want a unitary authority, but they may be forced to have one because the urban centre of Bedford has achieved its goal of becoming a unitary authority. In my area in Suffolk, people living in Lowestoft may not have commented on proposals for a unitary Ipswich because they may not have realised that a possible consequence of a unitary Ipswich would be a reorganisation of the districts around it.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, all that I can say at the moment is that it will depend on the nature of the invitation made to the residual area in south and mid
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Amendment No. 28 seeks to alter our process for restructuring by increasing from four weeks to two months the time available for individuals to make representations to the Secretary of State on an alternative proposal made by the Boundary Committee. We had this debate in Committee and I am afraid that our position has not moved, because the existing process of consultation is pretty long and fairly adequate. We are not convinced that this amendment is necessary. It would increase the period for representations to ensure that individuals have sufficient opportunities, but there are numerous opportunities for communities and stakeholders to make their views known.
Perhaps I may explain. Where the Boundary Committee is minded to make an alternative proposal, it must first publish a draft and take such steps as it considers sufficient to secure that persons who may be interested are informed of that proposal and of the time in which they can make representations. It is a 12-week consultation. Subsequently the Boundary Committee must take these representations into account and if it decides to make the proposal to the Secretary of State, it must inform anyone who previously made representations on a particular proposal that it has made a proposal to the Secretary of State. The committee must also inform those people that they will have four weeks to make representations to the Secretary of State. If we were to extend this window for representations it would only increase the period of uncertainty and disruption and would not be beneficial for anyone involved.
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