The Countess of Mar: ...... The noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, said that the Minister apparently told the European Parliament's FMD inquiry that a contiguous cull had been carried out with the approval of the European Union and that its legality had been tested in the courts. If that is correct, can the Minister kindly give the House the exact reference to European approvals, as the relevant directives make no mention of the slaughter of animals not exposed to disease? Will he also tell us which are the relevant court cases?
...........I fully understand that the Minister was a trifle upset at the result of the Division on the Animal Health Bill. As a hereditary Cross..Bench Peer who does not vote often and has had next to nothing to do with the hunting debate, I was a little disturbed by the incontinence of the Minister's remarks to the media on the day following the debate about my motives for voting as I did. As a Cross..Bencher, I am not whipped; nor am I Lobby fodder. As noble Lords know, I take my duties in the House seriously. I vote when I have listened to a debate and have been able to make up my mind or when I already have a firm opinion on the subject on which the House wishes to divide. I am sure that my colleagues do likewise. "
The Earl of Onslow: It is pointless to think that we can learn the lessons for the future of the livestock industry unless we have a proper, deep, full public inquiry into the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. When he is asked about that, the Minister tends to get cross. I get cross, too. I am reminded of what de Gaulle said about Churchill:
"When I am right, I get cross. Churchill gets cross when he is wrong. We are cross at each other much of the time".
That is the Minister's attitude to the public inquiry.
........In the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the Minister made two claims about the contiguous cull. First, he claimed that the cull was legal and had been tested in the courts. Secondly, he claimed that the policy had been approved by the European Union. I believe that there was only one operative court case, which included a wretched pig called Grunty. Mr Justice Harrison ruled that DEFRA was not entitled to apply a blanket slaughter policy and had to take specific circumstances into account. He ruled that the animals had shown no signs of disease and that it was sufficient that they were monitored and tested. Mr Justice Harrison refused DEFRA leave to appeal and awarded costs of £40,000 against the Government.
Although that case applied to what DEFRA considered to be a dangerous contact, rather than a contiguous cull, the key element of the judgment was that the Minister had no power to order a blanket policy of slaughter and had to take specific circumstances into account. In this context, where Schedule 3 to the Animal Health Act 1981 authorises slaughter "in any case", the wording of the Act seems to support the contention, to the effect that, if the power relates to "any case", a judgment must be made in respect of every case.
.........There would seem to be no power for a blanket contiguous cull policy. ........
... The indications are, therefore, that there has been no legal challenge that supports the Minister's contention that the contiguous cull was legal. I echo the words of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and ask for details of the cases to which the Minister referred that support his contention and for details of the judgments in those cases. ......On the face of it, the directive appears to authorise only testing and examination....
the article goes on to state..this is the vital point........that the Commission shall, in accordance with the procedure provided for in Article 41 of 90/424, define their nature. That requires an application to the Standing Veterinary Committee and approval by the Commission by way of a decision. Of the many decisions promulgated by the Commission during the foot and mouth epidemic, all of which have been published, none appears to apply to the UK's contiguous cull policy.
....My speech has been detailed and, possibly, I have been more boring than I would normally be. There have been too many slashes. However, I ask when and under what terms did the EU approve the UK's contiguous cull policy? What documents attest to that approval? Can the Minister make those documents available to the House?
Lord Carlile of Berriew: .... in my view it remains regrettable that, welcome as diverse inquiries from different viewpoints are, there is not to be one comprehensive inquiry..informed by those other inquiries, by academic and by international expertise..to devise an action plan for critical events in the future. It will be inexcusable if, or perhaps when, we suffer another crisis of this kind, but there is no ready action plan available. There must be better ways of tackling outbreaks of foot and mouth disease than those used over the past year or two. As my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie pointed out, estimates of the cost of that outbreak have been put as high as £9 billion. Surely we can do better than that. ....
Baroness Byford:... Let us not forget, nor ignore, that the recent foot and mouth outbreak, about which we have spoken many times in the House, hit hard not only those whose farms were infected and culled out, but also those who were not culled out but who could not move their animals; who could not make sales; who could not have animal pregnancies, and who received no compensation. Much of their subsidiary income disappeared. There was no renting out of their grazing land; no farmhouse bed and breakfast; no local produce sold to bed..and..breakfast businesses......
.....Some 439 European regulations relating to agriculture were promulgated in 2001..not quite so bad as the 615 in 1997, or the 617 in 1998. There were also some 25 directives in 2001, most of them still requiring legislation in the UK. Is it any wonder that our business is on its knees? As we have heard from other speakers, farming incomes are on the floor. Yet more and more regulations are being piled on to producers.
.......Finally, with all these things left undone and with the challenges that lie ahead, is it inappropriate for the Government to answer to a public inquiry abroad, and yet to fail to hold a full public inquiry in this country? Why is it important to do that overseas, when there is a refusal to do it here?
Lord Whitty..... I do not really want to go into the public inquiry issue now; the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, correctly said that I get slightly irritable on that point. However, we have an inquiry into the science, an inquiry into the organisation and the logistics, and an inquiry into the finances. We have answered to the Select Committees of the UK Parliament. We have answered to the Temporary Committee in the European Parliament. We also answer questions time and again in your Lordships' House. We could not be more open, nor could we have a system that will deliver anything closer to the truth.
The proof of the pudding..for those who are still highly sceptical, which I appreciate includes a number of noble Lords..will be in the quality of the reports from the Royal Society in June/July and over the summer .............
Various issues were raised in the debate, the most acute of which was the legality of the cull. I shall cite just two cases: MAFF v Winslade, which we won in the English courts; and Westerhall Farms v Scottish Ministers, which we won in the Scottish courts. The British courts' and the EU endorsement therefore fully support the comments that I made in Strasbourg and have repeated today. The legality of the cull is not in doubt......My Lords, the contiguous cull was legal. However, it was inhibited and ineffective because we were unable to enter certain premises due to resistance based on the current legal position.