TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
Mr David Curry, in the Chair
Mr David Borrow
Mr David Drew
Mr Michael Jack
Mr Eric Martlew
Mr Austin Mitchell
Mrs Gillian Shephard
Mr Mark Todd
MR ELLIOT MORLEY, a Member of the House, (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State), MR BRIAN DICKINSON, Legal Adviser on the Animal Health Bill team, examined.
Minister, we are grateful to you for coming at very short notice to talk about this Bill. I think it was first mooted when the Secretary of State was answering questions in the House only a couple of weeks ago and then it has taken material form very rapidly and, once it did take material form, it appeared to be really rather wider than I had originally thought and it seemed to me that it was therefore the job of this Committee to investigate the reasons behind it and what was in this Bill. I regret that we are going to second reading because it does not enable us to do a proper pre-legislative scrutiny. I do not imagine that there is any way in which the Government are not going to go ahead with it on Monday but at least what you say will go straight onto the Internet so that people will be informed when we come to debate.
Can we start with what is always my favourite piece of paper with any legislation which is the explanatory notes, which I always find of such a density and compression that the Bill itself is easy reading by comparison. Could I draw your attention to paragraph 4, "The Bill supplements existing powers under the Animal Health Act 1981 to slaughter animals to control the spread of FMD by allowing animals to be slaughtered wherever this is necessary for disease control reasons. At present, only animals which are affected or suspected of being affected with the disease, have been in contact with affected animals, or exposed to the disease may be slaughtered." Why on earth might you want to slaughter anything else?
(Mr Morley) I can certainly answer that one! May I begin by saying that Brian Dickinson from our legal department is sitting next to me and he may want to comment on some of the legal aspects if you wish to raise that. May I also begin by saying that I want to make it very clear to the Committee that the Committee should not read into this Bill anything which might suggest that the Government are taking a definitive position on any method of disease control. What we are looking for is maximum flexibility in terms of the range of options that can be applied in different circumstances at different times. I, for one, certainly believe that, in relation to the scale of this outbreak, there might be a case for reviewing that and of course
I am sorry to interrupt but, under your existing powers, had the Government then decided to do a ring vaccination, was it doubtful about whether you would have powers to slaughter a vaccinated animal subsequently?
(Mr Morley) I think we would have power to slaughter the vaccinated animals but what we did not have is the power to pay compensation. Chairman, you can obtain power to do that by going to the Scientific and Veterinary Committee of the European Union and you get emergency orders through the European Union. We would however prefer to have these powers ourselves so that it is very clear about what we can and what we cannot do. Of course, vaccination was considered on a number of occasions in relation to this outbreak. However, the scientific advice that we had was that it was not effective in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. These are all issues that we are going to have to look at and I am sure you will look at them.
We are going to deal with the substantive issue, whether vaccination is a good idea or a bad idea.
(Mr Morley) I very much welcome that.
As far as the Bill is concerned, it enables you then to pay compensation if you go down that route.
(Mr Morley) It does. Incidentally, it also deals with problems of people who are resisting teams to come onto farms to do vaccinations. We have power to vaccinate but this Bill, as you know, also deals with obstruction and access. Of course, we were not vaccinating in this outbreak but we did have obstruction and delay on such things as serology which did cause, for example, a 14 day delay in Devon and other parts of the country.
May I just come back to that question - and I acknowledge that I did interrupt you - when I asked you what animals might you want to slaughter. The Bill actually talks about whichever animal the Secretary of State thinks should be killed. What animals might the Secretary of State think should be killed?
(Mr Morley) Do you mean what species or in what circumstances?
Both. The Bill would enable you to go in and slaughter budgerigars.
(Mr Morley) No, it would not, Chairman. In fact, I noticed that there was some press commentary that, under this Bill, we were going to slaughter hamsters, goldfish, budgies, dogs, cats and rabbits, and I want to make it absolutely clear that this Bill only relates to farm animals and susceptible animals and it relates to the actual wording of the Act. It relates to animals defined in section 87 of the Animal Health Act 1981 and, unless the context requires otherwise, animals means cattle, sheep and goats and all other ruminating animals and swine, so other species are not covered by these wide incoming powers and I want to make that point clear now.
Minister, the phrase that I just read to you was, "At present, only animals which are affected or suspected of being affected with the disease, have been in contact with affected animals, or exposed to the disease may be slaughtered."
(Mr Morley) That is right.
What else might you want to slaughter?
(Mr Morley) Not other species. What I think this refers to is if veterinary advice was for a fire break cull, for example. At the present time, we do not have powers for a fire break cull. There was the three kilometre cull in Cumbria but that was a voluntary cull and people were invited to participate in that. Basically, if there were a situation where it was recommended that a fire break cull would be desirable, then it gives you powers to do that.
My second point is, you have said - in fact you said it just a few seconds ago - that delays which could, or perhaps did, help the spread of the disease were caused by farmers appealing against cull orders. How many cases do you think materially led to the spread of disease?
(Mr Morley) I think it is very difficult to put an exact number on the cases, Chairman. I can give you some idea of the kind of issues. We are aware of 103 cases where there was legal involvement or certainly appeals against culling. Of those 103 cases, 36 accepted the case and were slaughtered as planned, 42 were looked at by our divisional veterinary manager and they were accepted, 18 ran out of time
You say "accepted", but accepted by ...?
(Mr Morley) The cases were accepted not to cull by the divisional veterinary manager, which incidentally is still the situation within this Bill. Eighteen ran out of time, the time went on so long that, as the animals had not gone down, it was pointless to actually cull them in those circumstances; seven went on to become infected premises. There were three High Court cases and the Department won two and lost one and the one that was lost in Devon went on to become an infected premise itself. As time went on, there was much more attention to this and there was greater concern about the effect of the appeals and our vets on the ground in Thursk felt that the appeals were a very real risk in terms of disease spread because they were very concerned about it getting into the pig centre and, in Thursk, there were 55 local appeals dealt with by the veterinary manager - they did not go to court - and, of those, 29 were upheld by the divisional veterinary manager. Even then, nine of those which were actually agreed by our own divisional vets went down as IPS; there were two that were rejected that also went down as IPS. With each of those that went down - and I accept that the latter situation was one where our own vets accepted the case and that would not change - you are taking a risk. Many of the cases which were appealed as contiguous culling did go down; it is a significant number.
I want to tease out those figures. A little while ago, you spoke about 103 cases; is that nationally?
(Mr Morley) Yes, that is England.
Then you said that seven became infected.
(Mr Morley) Yes, they became IPS.
Which means that 96 were not.
(Mr Morley) Of those 103, 36 were slaughtered.
Did you do blood tests on all of them?
(Mr Morley) I am not sure that blood tests were done on all of them; I do not have that information.
The question I am getting at is, in how many of those cases where there had been an appeal ... Iin many cases an appeal is just a letter, they did not reach the point of getting to court.
(Mr Morley) Not in all circumstances, no, I do not think so.
For example, I have been told that in Devon there were 200 "appeals" and none of those premises actually went down.
(Mr Morley) I am not sure where that figure of 200 comes from unless they were appeals to our divisional veterinary manager. There were exemptions made in relation to the contiguous culls: there were exemptions made for rare breeds; there were exemptions made where there was a case made that the animals were not infected and had not been in contact; there were cases made for cattle. Of course, many of those 200 would have been within those categories and there is nothing wrong with that. We are not looking to maximise the slaughter of animals, we want to reduce the slaughter of animals. One of the principles behind this Bill, Chairman, is to actually make sure that if you have a contiguous slaughter policy - and I emphasise again that you should not read into this Bill that we are committing ourselves to any one particular policy - then it needs to be done quickly and efficiently and I accept that appeal is only one aspect of this, there is the issue of logistics as well which is a departmental matter. I have spoken to our vets on the ground and in the Thursk area in particular where I took particular attention because of the blue box scheme and the kind of new ideas that were there
So did I, it was too close to home.
(Mr Morley) I am sure you did, Chairman. They were adamant there that the appeals and delays were stopping them getting on top of the disease. They were adamant about that.
We take your point, we do not draw from this Bill any indications about direction on policy: this is a bill which will enable you to implement a policy should you decide to go down that route.
(Mr Morley) That is absolutely right and it does not preempt the three inquiries and the scientific inquiry.
We need not get ourselves diverted into that. It would be helpful if you were able to produce some figures for us on the number of appeals to help define what they were and what the fate of those premises was subsequently. I am not asking for it now; you obviously do not have that figure but you could have it by the end of the week.
(Mr Morley) Certainly. I do have figures but I will try and make them a little clearer for you.
You mentioned just a second ago that, in some way, this legislation did not preempt the inquiries nor give some indication as to the future, so why now, as foot and mouth thankfully appears to be coming to an end, have you decided to introduce this Bill? When was it drafted?
(Mr Morley) It was drafted in late August through to late September. The reason why we are bringing it forward now is that, as the outbreak proceeded, of course with the experience of handling the outbreak, we do learn lessons and of course we changed what we were doing throughout the outbreak in relation to the lessons learned and it became clear that some of these measures would be useful in relation to dealing with the outbreak. As far as the outbreak is concerned, it is true that we have not had any cases for over a month now and I am very glad about that, but what I must point out to the Committee as I suspect you are aware is that, in 1967, there was a similar long period with no cases and then the outbreak started again and continued for three months. I hope we do not get into that situation but we are not complacent about where we are. The risks of recurrence remain very high at the present time, particularly with the animal movements. Also, the other part of the Bill is dealing with sheep TSEs. You will be aware that the Food Standards Agency have asked us to accelerate the national screening plan and that is contained within this Bill. The other issue is that, there are three full Ministers on your Committee and, as full Ministers, you will know that slots for legislation are not easy to come across and that when there is the possibility of doing that and when you have issues which I think are important in relation to the range of options, that we have a disease control, if you have the chance of legislation, then of course it is important that you take that chance if you have a bill that is ready to go. I appreciate that that compacts it and that it is not the ideal situation, I would much rather have the detailed scrutiny and I very much welcome coming before the Committee today to talk about this and explain it, but the fact is that even moving forward with the Bill now, it will be in the early part of 2002 before this becomes law. It is a time consuming process and some of these measures are very important and I would really like to have them available as quickly as possible.
Do you not think that it is a bit of a slap in the face to Dr Anderson's work that, all of a sudden, this Bill is parachuted in before there has been some opportunity to have a comprehensive overview of the way in which the foot and mouth disease outbreak was handled and that the lessons were learned? You said that this Bill was drafted in legal terms in August; when did you first get the advice from officials recommending this? I presume that you did not wake up one morning and think, we need this?
(Mr Morley) No.
Somebody in your department said, "Minister, we think you should be legislating this." When did the bright spark first come up with the idea?
(Mr Morley) This would have come up on numerous occasions. There were weekly meetings of the CoBRA Committee throughout the outbreak discussing the issues of handling and report backs from our senior vets and reports from our vets on the ground that, throughout the outbreak, it became obvious that there were these kind of problems arising. They were brought to our department by our field vets in relation to the difficulties they were faced. So, that happened throughout the outbreak in relation to discussions about what the difficulties were and the reasons for delays. Our objective was to meet the target in relation to the 24 hour/48 hour cull and there are details for the Committee which show on three graphs about how important it was to actually follow those targets and the three graphs demonstrate that, on the worst case scenario which would have been if we had just applied a culling programme, then it would have been a catastrophic, even worse situation than we have now. I think that 50 per cent of all the farm animals in this country would have been affected. There is no doubt from the independent scientific advice that the contiguous cull has made a big difference and there is also the experience on the ground in relation to the Brecon Beacons, for example, where the original decision was taken - and I am not particularly objecting to this because I think it was worth trying - that, rather than go for a contiguous cull, which was opposed by the Commons, there would be blood testing of the contiguous flocks. That did not work and my colleagues in Wales could not get on top of the disease; they were behind the disease all the time and they did not get on top of the disease in the Brecon Beacons until they started to implement the contiguous cull policy. That is just an example, a practical example, it almost like an experiment if you like, about how the contiguous cull policy did work in terms of bringing the disease under control faster.
You could argue that you are a little late with this.
(Mr Morley) With the Bill?
Yes, closing the stable door after the foot and mouth has well and truly gone.
(Mr Morley) No country has experienced an outbreak on this scale. This is the world's biggest outbreak of foot and mouth disease. If we had had this Bill at the beginning, it would have been helpful and I do not deny that, but of course the reasons for the Bill have come from the experience of an outbreak of this type and this scale.
The beef producers on Farmers' Weekly interactive call for consultation, the National Sheep Association, in respect of their part of the Bill, want more time, they do not seem to be much enamoured. Why did you not bother to consult even for a brief period or did you do it quietly behind closed doors so that they never knew about it?
(Mr Morley) Certainly I did discuss this with the stakeholder group we have from the industry which meets regularly bi-weekly and, at the meeting this Friday, we will talking in some detail about this Bill, but I would like to emphasise that the sheep TSE side of this Bill has been consulted in some detail, so there has been consultation on that. In the consultation, it was always stated that it was our intention to make it compulsory at some stage. There is nothing new about that. As far as the NSA are concerned, we can meet their requirements because we are not going to rush out in relation to the compulsory elements of the sheep TSEs right away. We will be sitting down with the NSA and other industry stakeholders to talk about the timescale and we will do that in consultation with them. There are other aspects of this Bill which are key aspects. For example, the details in relation to the bio-security and the penalties. What we will have to do on that is agree a checklist, a kind of procedure, about how we apply that. We will sit down with the industry and involve them in how we do that, so there is still a fair amount of consultation to do on this Bill and we can do that with the industry and we will do that with the industry.
When we get the orders because this Bill, as is most legislation nowadays is going to be followed by orders, then we will have the opportunity to look in some detail at some of the orders.
(Mr Morley) That is correct.
The devil lies in the detail of many of these things as you will recognise.
(Mr Morley) Can I also say that one of the other reasons for bringing forward the Bill is that we are in a post-Phillips environment and Phillips does say to us that we need to act on lessons learned and to prepare contingencies and take opportunities to do that. So, we are doing that, and, as I say, there is still quite a lot of consultation to do in relation to how these measures are going to work. We are not going to rush into this, we will do it properly and thoroughly with the industry and I can say that some of the measures come in by order and there will be full scrutiny of developments.
If you had to rank the list of possible problems that led to this outbreak in order, would you not regard dealing with the apparent loopholes on importation of suspect meat products into this country as being perhaps of higher significance than some of the issues that appear in this Bill?
(Mr Morley) I am not so sure. That is a serious issue and we do take it seriously.
So seriously that the action to date has been to put up some notices at an airport telling people not to do it.
(Mr Morley) The legal imports were never responsible for this outbreak. We do not really know what has been responsible for the outbreak, but it was probably some form of illegal import. You can step up and tighten your procedures at ports and indeed there is a case to look at our procedures and I absolutely accept that but, if you are dealing with illegal activity, whatever it is, you cannot guarantee that you can stop that completely, no matter how much you spend and no matter what you do. So, in that respect, although that is important, I think the most important question to be learned - and perhaps I should not prejudge the inquiries - is the rate of spread and notice and how we can make sure that, if we do get outbreaks of virus in this country, we can limit rates of spread.
That is certainly true and our discussion last week indicated that there were steps that could have been taken at various points to reduce the rate of spread, but the reason we are focussing on import controls are two: (1) while accepting your point that one can never illuminate risk, you can certainly reduce it and the evidence is that the system is full of holes; (2) to win the confidence of your stakeholders and by pursuing a strategy that emphasises this particular approach while apparently ignoring a matter of concern to them does not seem the best way of proceeding conscientiously.
(Mr Morley) We are not ignoring the question of imports, far from it, Chairman. In fact, there has been action to tackle this and we are looking at ways we can do this but of course it is a matter for Customs & Excise, Trading Standards and a range of other organisations and involvements. We are actually doing that at the present time and of course we are taking immediate action
Some of those would require legislative change.
(Mr Morley) I am not sure in this case because this is not necessarily a DEFRA issue, so I am not sure whether they would require legislation or not. I would remind the Committee that we took immediate action to ban swill, for example, because it is clear that while we do not know how the virus got into the country, we certainly know where it started and the farm in question is subject to legal action at the present time and I cannot say any more about that at this stage. Yes, imports are an issue and we take them seriously, but to actually say that it is the most important issue in this outbreak and therefore everything should be concentrated on it I think would be a mistake. I think there is a range of important issues.
I have not said that.
(Mr Morley) But there are some people who do say that and there is always a tendency by some sections to look for scapegoats and to look for blame and this is a complicated outbreak and there are a variety of issues that we want to look at and I for one am not looking to 'scapegoat' people or blame people.
The Secretary of State is before this Committee in eight days' time and I am sure we would want to pursue this line. If she were able to let us have a note in advance of what has actually happened about imports because everybody talks about something being done but no one actually spells out what it is, that would be very helpful.
(Mr Morley) I am sure that could be arranged for you, Chairman.
Just to be absolutely clear, Minister, you have stated that the Bill is needed now as soon as possible.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
Or the legislation and the orders are needed as soon as possible to deal with the current epidemic.
(Mr Morley) Ideally.
Or the possible tail-end of it if that appears, so that statement is clear, but are you also clear that lessons learned in the Anderson Inquiry and other investigations that have not yet been done may lead to the need for amendment, for further legislation or other change and that none of that process that we do not know about yet but anticipate will in any way be incompatible with what the Government are going ahead with now with regard to the Bill?
(Mr Morley) No, absolutely not. As I emphasised from the very beginning, people should not take what this Bill is saying as our definite response to foot and mouth or indeed any other disease outbreak because this Bill does cover all animal diseases. What I would like to stress again is that it does not preempt the findings of the inquiries because what we are doing here is putting in place options and I am quite sure that those inquiries, the legislative inquiry and the scientific inquiry, may well come up with a series of recommendations in terms of handling strategy and in terms of options and of course there is a great deal more that we need to do, a great deal more research that we need to do. We have a conference next month on vaccination; there is a great deal more work that we are doing in relation to better tests in relation to a disease; all these developments can of course influence with the various ways that you deal with outbreaks, so all this does is deal with a range of issues in relation to options that we might want to apply but I think that in any kind of disease outbreak, certainly in future foot and mouth outbreaks, it is inevitable that there would be an element of cull. I think it would be very difficult to get away from that. I come back to the point that we want to cull the minimum number of animals that we possibly can and, if we are going to do it, we want to do it as quickly as we possibly can and these measures help us do that.
I hope that, when we do hear from these inquiries and the Government consider the possible action that is needed there, perhaps we will have more opportunity to look at the proposals in draft form and scrutinise them a little more thoroughly than we have the opportunity to do so in this particular Bill.
(Mr Morley) I think, talking hypothetically, that if the various inquiries come up with different strategies, suggestions or new ideas, hopefully we will not be in the midst of an epidemic. We are not in an epidemic now but I do stress that we are not complacent about it. We think that the risks for a further outbreak remain high, very high, so therefore we are not at all complacent, but that will be a situation where there will be more time to consider these things and of course consult on them.
Can I follow up the point that resisting culling could have spread the disease, a point made to us by several of our correspondents on e-mail in pretty identical terms. I just have one, Alayne Addy, the Exeter based solicitor "who assisted two hundred farmers to resist the contiguous cull, has confirmed that none of these subsequently developed the disease and that all have since been cleared by" laboratory test. In the submissions of Pat Innocent, "The cases on Burgess Salmon's books were also all negative." A further point made Alan and Rosie Beat that you yourself had alleged on World at One "that farmers resisting the cull had increased the spread of disease and that this had resulted in more slaughter overall" and they said, "We know of no such instance, whereas in contrast, there are literally hundreds of premises where the cull was resisted and whose livestock have remained uninfected, such as those examples given above." Therefore, they argue that to make contiguous cull a compulsion is "unscientific, immoral, cruel to animals and their owners, and highly counter-productive in terms of disease control by diverting resources away from the crucial task of culling infected animals as quickly as possible." How do you answer those?
(Mr Morley) They are people who refused to accept that the contiguous cull has had any role to play within this outbreak. I have demonstrated to you in terms of independent epidemiological advice that a contiguous cull was essential in terms of bringing this disease under control and therefore if you have large numbers of people who are resisting contiguous cull, you will have more outbreaks, you will have more spread and more animals will need to be called.
But in Devon that was not the case.
(Mr Morley) What I have been saying in relation to some of the complaints by the Devon NFU is that you should not look at this Bill from a parochial point of view. This is a national policy. It is dealing with a national disease outbreak and a national crisis and it does not take away the right of appeal in relation to the divisional veterinary manager and in fact I would like to see that clarified with perhaps a new protocol dealing with things like pets, dealing with things like sanctuaries, rare breeds and cattle. That can be done; that can be put in place so that an appeal and a handling procedure can be installed alongside the measures in this Bill, so it would be wrong to say that there would never be any consideration or never any kind of appeal in that respect. I have already given you the example of the Brecons. My Welsh colleagues were extremely fearful that the Brecon situation was going to spread south into other sheep flocks. They felt that while they were not doing a contiguous cull and of course they had the threat of legal action initially about that, that they were running behind the disease and that it was in danger of spreading out of control and of course they had to kill an awful lot of sheep on the Brecons. That could have been reduced if they had implemented contiguous cull from the very beginning. So it is not right to say that appealing against the contiguous culls actually meant that fewer animals were killed, there was no evidence for that. I am not aware of 200 legal cases in Devon; I suspect that they are mainly appeals to our divisional veterinary manager and that situation remains the same. There will be appeal procedures within the Bill and we do not have to kill every animal, we do not have to kill every contiguous farm, it depends on the veterinary situation on the ground.
Their argument is that contiguous cull was unnecessary and you have the burden of proof resting on you to show that it was actually beneficial.
(Mr Morley) Absolutely and we can demonstrate that. There are two detailed independent studies in relation to contiguous cull. One of them suggests that the delays that we did have, for a variety of reasons, meant that an additional one million animals had to be culled because we were not fast enough in relation to putting it in place. The other one makes it absolutely clear that, if we had not applied the contiguous cull, we could have been facing between 3,000 and 6,000 cases - we have had 2,030 - and we would still now be in the midst of an outbreak and I think that it was a very high number certainly in relation to some of these scenarios today. The evidence from independent experts is that contiguous cull made a big difference and indeed I should point out to the Committee - and it is not often said - that even though this was the worst outbreak in the world, much worse than in 1967, it has been brought under control faster than in 1967 with less number of outbreaks although I accept that it is not an absolutely fair comparison because they were smaller farms in 1967, but that is no mean achievement. That has been done at great cost - emotional, financial, damage to the rural economy and tourism. All these things have come into that and of course we will have to take that into account in the future, but all the evidence is that a contiguous cull was an essential part of that whether you like culling or you do not and the Brecon Beacons is the kind of practical experiment and practical evidence that contiguous cull was essentially there for. So, all the evidence is that the contiguous cull works and I have seen no evidence that it has not.
Chairman: We have the chief government scientist making a cameo appearance tomorrow, Professor Roy Anderson, so we will no doubt wish to pursue these epidemiological matters with him.
Returning to the question of appeals. The Minister has promised to give some further information to the Committee by the end of the week about the numbers of appeals and their relationship with source of infection. He also said just now that the Bill does not intend to abolish an appeals mechanism, I think, and that new protocols will be put into place.
(Mr Morley) Can I be very clear in legal terms because we always have to be very clear in legal terms. It is an informal appeals mechanism through the divisional veterinary manager, but that is the situation now and it is a situation that we can have in the future and there is a procedure for this which I can spell out in detail or I can write to you with it if you would wish. Do you want me to send you the details of the appeal procedure?
Mrs Shephard: It would be very useful for the Committee to have the detail because you must realise that the impression is that the Bill abolishes appeals procedures and that can partly explain why the publication of the Bill has been received in a rather hostile way in a number of quarters. I think there is a strong feeling in the countryside that this Bill is proposing a new legal system, but just for farmers, with powers of investigation, with powers to make charges, powers to act as judge and jury and then to impose penalties apparently without appeal. That is one of the problems in the countryside in the farming community and the Minister has given some sort of reply about consultation but he should realise that he will need to do a very great deal more to make people feel that this legislation is actually designed to help the situation in rural communities and to help farmers rather than to hinder them and to pick them out. That is the problem. What does the Minister intend to do about that?
I think it would be helpful to have at least a brief outline of appeals as well as a written note.
(Mr Morley) Can I say that obviously this part of the Bill is the most controversial. I think that other parts are not really controversial; in fact, most people welcome them and recognise the sense in them. In terms of the present time on contiguous culls, the detail now is that on hearing, normally by telephone, that animals are to be culled, the farmer can ask the divisional veterinary manager to review the case. That will not change. The DVM makes a rapid assessment of the case. Normally, the point of issue is whether the animals have been exposed to FMD because of course that is the issue. There is no change in that, but of course the vets do also consider whether slaughtering animals will prevent the spread of FMD. That has to be a consideration taken into account. The DVM gives a ruling. If the decision is that the cull is to go ahead, the farmer indicates that he is not prepared to let the DEFRA staff onto his land and, at the present time, DEFRA has to go to the High Court to obtain an injunction and that is a very time-consuming process. The change with the Bill is that,.instead of going to the High Court, DEFRA will go a justice of the peace and obtain a warrant. I might add that the justice of the peace is legally obliged to consider whether or not the request is reasonable, so there is a test of reasonableness in relation to applying for the warrant. In terms of the point that was made that we are somehow singling farmers out, I might point out that the procedure we are proposing is exactly the same as some procedures that were introduced under the honourable lady's time in government. The Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 has power for an officer to obtain a warrant from a justice of the peace to authorise the officer to enter into a dwelling and power for an officer to use reasonable force in the performance of the officer's functions. The Food Safety Act 1990 has the same powers. The Breeding of Dogs Act 1991 has the same powers. The Postal Services Act 2000, section 49, has the same powers. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, section 125, has the same powers. So, it is not unique and it is not singling farmers out in any way. There is a range of measures on the statue book exactly the same.
That principle of ordering the right to entry which is what you have been describing in other cases of course is not unique, to order the destruction of someone's livelihood is and that is why farmers require reassurance about the kind of appeal mechanisms that will be open to them and may I also ask what training has been given to magistrates for this extension of their powers.
(Mr Morley) I would not want to presume on the training that magistrates have but I do not think they just pull anyone off the street and put them on the bench without giving them some guidance in that respect.
It has resource implications.
(Mr Morley) I think that magistrates are resoursed and, in my experience, they do have professional guidance and they also have quite regular training and discussion as well.
As you have just described it, it is an entirely new duty for magistrates and I would suggest that it does imply some sort of veterinary knowledge and I am sure that you will need to be able to answer questions about this when the Bill goes into committee stage.
(Mr Morley) Magistrates will be informed of all new measures and the implications of them, but you cannot expect magistrates to be vets in the same way that they could be public health experts or experts for the range of issues and warrants that they already have.
There is a difference, as I have already said and I hope that you can perceive the difference, between giving a warrant to a right of entry and giving a warrant for a destruction of the livelihood. I think that is an important distinction which is not lost on farmers. In connection with that, what advice have you received about compatibility of the Bill with European Union law? I see that there is the usual disclaimer for the Secretary of State on the face of the Bill.
(Mr Morley) It has of course been given to our lawyers and we have received the usual legal advice and the advice is that it is compatible with the European human rights legislation.
On the question of magistrates, let us take somewhere like Brecon or the Yorkshire Dales or Cumbria, local magistrates come out of that community.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
They may well be farmers or farmers' wives.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
It is a terrible burden to ask a magistrate to approve a warrant destroying a generation of work by a neighbour. It is not quite the same as granting a licence for the extension of opening hours. It is a heavy responsibility, potentially a very devastating one for the community.
(Mr Morley) I think that magistrates face all sorts of heavy responsibilities and difficult decisions when they are in the community; I do not think there is any change about that. Of course, they will have the veterinary advice from the divisional vet. Of course, the powers of slaughter are already laid down in the Animal Health Acts. What the warrant will relate to is not the decision on slaughter but the decision on entering in order to carry out the duties. That is the difference in relation to the magistrate.
May I just probe the reasonable test which the magistrate is supposed to adjudicate on because I see from the Bill that it says, "If a justice of the peace is satisfied on sworn information in writing that the first condition is satisfied" and then it goes on to deal with other conditions which talk about the way entry will be gained to premises and the reasons for seeking that entry, does the reasonable test apply to the methodology and reasons for going on or is it applied to the evidence in writing which I presume must be some form of veterinary scientific justification?
(Mr Morley) That is right.
Just help me out on this: what happens if the magistrate says, "I am not certain" because it is the clerk to the magistrates in many cases who will be the source of advice to which the magistrates would turn. Certainly some of the appeals that you referred to earlier did require a lot of scientific and veterinary understanding to see where people were coming from. I am not quite certain how it works in reality if there is uncertainty in the mind of the magistrate or the clerk to resolve a veterinary or scientific issue. What bit does reasonable really turn on?
(Mr Morley) The conditions are laid down here in terms of both the written submission from the divisional veterinary manager and also whether or not there is a need for a warrant and that should be fairly familiar because of course that is what magistrates will have more experience with in terms of the warrant but rather than ask my legal adviser, I wonder if it is all right if he talks to the Committee rather than talk to me and then I talk to the Committee because I am the middle -man.
Before Mr Dickinson gives us his views on this, is it intended that the application would be in writing or would a representative of the appropriate part of the DEFRA mechanism be in court to be able to respond to questions from the magistrates?
(Mr Morley) Yes, they would.
(Mr Dickinson) As you have rightly pointed out, the conditions to obtain a warrant are set out in the Bill in respect of each of the provisions where new rights of entry are granted and the magistrate, a single magistrate, with advice from the clerk will have to be satisfied that the conditions as provided in the Bill are made out. The overall test of reasonableness is that the magistrate will have to be satisfied that the evidence put before the magistrate by the officials on behalf of DEFRA stack up, not only that the conditions as laid out in the Bill are proved but that overall it is reasonable in the circumstances of the facts and any veterinary or other relevant evidence before the magistrate that a warrant should be granted.
Can you help just to refresh my memory. If a person who was affected by this was in court and a judge did not think that a reasonable case had been made out, what legal remedy or routes are open to him to challenge that?
(Mr Dickinson) The decision is the decision of a single justice of the peace, it is not a decision of a full sitting of a magistrates' court as such. The decision of the justice of the peace whether to grant a warrant or not to grant a warrant is amenable to judicial review, so that if a farmer concerned or any other representative of an interested party who has sufficient connection with the case thinks that the decision is wrong as a matter of law, then it would be open to them as with any decision, to take judicial review.
And the party who is subject to law would be advised that it was going to the magistrate and they would know all about when it was going to be heard or you say that this is a single magistrate, so could this be a magistrate sitting at home or on the end of a telephone?
(Mr Dickinson) It would be a hearing before the magistrate. It would not normally be anything other than the DEFRA officials who would inform the magistrate concerned at a time between the clerk and the magistrate and the magistrate and DEFRA.
So not necessarily in public open court?
(Mr Dickinson) Not necessarily.
Why judicial review and not appeal?
(Mr Dickinson) There are the general provisions of the Magistrates' Court Act 1980 which apply to hearings such as this but judicial review would be the normal mechanism whereby the decision of a magistrate to grant a warrant would be by review.
That is going to take longer and be more difficult, is it not?
(Mr Dickinson) Not necessarily if there were circumstances which
Not necessarily but probably?
(Mr Dickinson) It depends on the circumstances whether expedition would be appropriate.
Just talk us through it and I am sorry to persist. You go to a magistrates because you want to get onto some premises urgently for slaughter.
(Mr Morley) That is correct.
The magistrate has to apply a test of reasonableness.
(Mr Morley) Yes and there is guidance in the Bill.
And the reasonableness is whether there is a reasonable case for entry which is apparently a judgment on the case for slaughter. It is no good saying that it is about whether it is reasonable to enter, it is to enter for one purpose only so he is bound to make a judgment on that. If he says "yes", presumably you have someone outside in a fast four-wheel drive waiting who will telephone the vet to say, "Go and get on with it, we have our warrant."
(Mr Morley) Yes.
How do you then go to judicial review in those circumstances?
(Mr Morley) I want to make that point because there has been some speculation in some press articles that the right of judicial review is taken away by this Bill and that is not the case. In fact, I think Christopher Booker suggested it would be a legal offence to refuse to make a cup of tea for DEFRA officials, which I can assure you is not within the Bill either. It is fair to say that, under that procedure, the whole point of this is to move quickly and to cull quickly to stop the spread of disease, so the animals will be dead, that is true, but the right of judicial appeal as to whether or not the decision was taken properly can still be carried out.
So you cannot appeal against the cull?
(Mr Morley) No.
But you can subsequently appeal
(Mr Morley) Whether it was done right and whether it was justified, yes.
You are going to get the same amount of compensation, provided that you have not helped infect, as it were.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
So it is going to be a very retrospective satisfaction, is it not?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
I just wanted you to clarify that.
(Mr Morley) As it is at the moment as my legal adviser tells me.
I just want to come back to the question of the extent of expertise that the magistrates have. I would not normally have a problem with that but I would see it as the job of the DEFRA official to put a sufficiently strong case to convince the magistrate and explain to the magistrate in lay terms what the issue was but, if I read the Bill correctly, the only information that would be fed to the magistrate is from the DEFRA official and there is no opportunity for that to be challenged by the farmer. I have considerable years' experience in situations where disputes are settled by lay people, but they are settled by lay people who have heard evidence both from the government department and from the individual citizen and I find it extraordinary that we are advocating here on a very technical issue to have input only from the Government official with no opportunity for the citizen to question or counteract any of the evidence from the Government.
(Mr Morley) But there is the issue, as I repeat, that the farmer can appeal to the DVM if he disagrees with the decision on the cull. The whole point of this Bill is because the present situation is that the court appeal process is a very, very lengthy one and the risks of delay are very great and I would like to draw to the Committee's attention, because we also have to think of the future as well as the present time, that I have here a pack which was sent to every farm in Thursk. I do not know who was responsible for this particular pack but this encourages farmers to block their drives and to not allow officials on and it gives a whole range of advice basically to resist a contiguous cull. You have the risk here of widespread non-cooperation on people being given misguided information and therefore causing catastrophic delays to a programme designed to deal with disease and, in the end, I come back to the point that these are national issues. This is an outbreak that is going to cost the state, the taxpayer, at least #2 billion with all the damage that goes with it and we really do have to deal with these outbreaks as quickly as possible and that does mean taking measures like this in order that we do get a swift outcome and, I must emphasise, reduce the amount of culling because we want to reduce spread and reduce the disease and bring it under control as quickly as possible. That is the whole point of these measures.
I will come onto vaccination in a moment because there would not have been the need for this Bill if we had a policy on vaccination. If we come to Cumbria, we did have a fire-break in Cumbria with regards to sheep in the north of the county. Are you really saying that you did not really have the powers and did not really have the legal powers to carry out that fire break - I was involved in a number of the meetings - and that really it was a question of goodwill and bluff that allowed that fire break to take place? The Bill that we are getting today is based on the problems that were encountered during this last epidemic.
(Mr Morley) The wording of the current 1991 Animal Health Act is absolutely crucial because of course this is where the legal disputes have come about. We are absolutely confident that the culling that has been carried out in the course of the epidemic has been absolutely legal and we have not had a court ruling that has challenged that throughout it, but what this Bill does, because the crucial wording is animals affected with foot and mouth or suspected of being so affected and it gives you permission to actually pay compensation for the animals being slaughtered, so it is the wording that has led to the legal challenges and the idea of this Bill is to make the wording absolutely clear so that there is no doubt. That is what makes the difference in relation to fire break culls.
You have mentioned it briefly but I would like to come back to the question of animal sanctuaries and pets. I think some of the most disturbing high profile cases are people's pet sheep or goat or animal sanctuaries being infected. Is there any protection in this Bill to stop that situation?
(Mr Morley) There is provision under the DVM procedures to make exemptions for pets and special cases. I must point out in all fairness that pet sheep can get the disease, so you cannot say that in no circumstances could you exempt pets no matter what, you cannot do that, but I do accept that you do have to apply this with some sensitivity. Pets tend to be kept in lower densities and they tend to be kept away from other animals generally, but there are always exceptions to all this and it does depend on the situation. I would expect that divisional veterinary managers would make every effort to exempt the culling of pets in special cases wherever it was possible to do so.
If we can come onto the finances, surely a fairer system would be for those farmers or whatever who objected and did not allow their animals to be culled to forfeit the right to compensation and then that would be a judgment they made and, if the animals did become infected, then it would be their fault that they did not agree to the cull. Do you think we could work that into the Bill?
(Mr Morley) I think that is something for the lessons learned report to look at whether that is an alternative in relation to dealing with the disease. I think that is fair point but the only problem is that it does not stop the disease spread with all the consequences that go with it.
I will come onto vaccination and I think the Minister is well aware of my views on vaccination. I think we have heard from the chief vet who said there was a time when the decision was taken to vaccinate the cattle in Cumbria; I think that was actually when they were coming onto the grass after the winter. Why did the Government not go ahead with it?
(Mr Morley) They did not go ahead with it because there was majority farmer opposition, there were also severe concerns expressed by the food industry at the time. I think that the real issue is that there is not a history in this country for using vaccination in controlling outbreak of this kind. There were clearly strong views both for and against, I have to say, and I think that it is very difficult to try and reassure people and to try and deal with some of these issues at the height of an epidemic. I think that what we need to do is to have some calm reflection, now that the epidemic is hopefully or certainly coming to an end, where we can try and deal with these objections. The Government were persuaded that there was a case for vaccination of cattle in Cumbria and probably Devon and I was certainly persuaded myself as well.
What research is going on to find out what the effect would have been on the course of the disease if we had vaccinated?
(Mr Morley) There will be examinations of the roll-over vaccination. The work that I have seen so far in relation to predicting whether or not vaccinations would have worked in this disease suggest that it would have had a minimal impact on controlling disease spread, primarily because the disease was so scattered all over the country and it was difficult to predict where it was and also that the nature of it spread as well. In fact, there would have been some benefits in vaccination cattle in Cumbria as a dampening down effect, but the primary benefits of vaccinating in Cumbria, and we were advocating a 'vaccinate and live' policy, would have been saving the large numbers of cattle from being culled and also the expense of problems of disposing with them. I actually think that there is a case for vaccination for that alone.
You almost come onto my next point which is that we are pushing this Bill through - and I do not disagree with that, I think it would be better if we had it on the statute well before the outbreak - but how urgent is the question of vaccination being considered because this is obviously being put in place for the next outbreak - hopefully this one is over? We need to have a government decision on vaccination before that outbreak happens. We cannot go again through what can only be described as dither.
(Mr Morley) I do not accept that it was dither. The recommendation to us was taken by our chief vets and our chief scientists with the advice of the chief scientists advisory group. I understand that it was unanimous advice. We therefore recommended the vaccinisation but it was clear that, to do this, you did need majority support and you did need consensus within the farming and the food industry. That consensus was not there at that time. There has been an ongoing debate in the course of that vaccination. I think these are very important issues for the lessons learned report and also the Royal Society investigation to look at. The British Government are sponsoring a major conference next month in Brussels to look at the whole issue of foot and mouth disease and the vaccination issue. My Rt Hon friend the Secretary of State will be speaking at that and I am hoping to participate in that conference as well. If we take this very seriously, I think it will address some of the scientific points. Our research institutions are doing a lot of work at the present time on some key issues of vaccinations such as a test that will be able to distinguish the antibodies between antibodies from disease and antibodies from vaccines. It is a very important thing to have in relation to a vaccination policy. So there is a great deal of technical work that is being done being supported by government and a lot of consideration in relation to the whole issue of vaccination, but there is a 'hearts and minds' campaign in relation to vaccination within the farming community and some nervousness in the food industry as well which needs to be resolved.
Finally, are you satisfied that the Bill as it is presented to us and will be presented to the House next week will give you all the power you need to vaccinate if that is the decision of government?
(Mr Morley) I am absolutely satisfied that the Bill gives us the powers we need to vaccinate. I emphasise again that this a bill which extends our options. You need a wider range of options with any disease outbreak. This is a bill which is not tying us down to any one options. Because it speeds up culls does not necessarily mean that we believe that culling is the only solution to disease control but it does speed up our options and, in terms of vaccination, it does give us powers to enter land to vaccinate should there be resistance. In any situation, there is always a minority of people who will not co-operate for whatever reason.
I am sure that the members of the Select Committee would welcome any information as to whether it would be possible for colleagues to attend.
(Mr Morley) I understand that it is very heavily subscribed but I will certainly inquire on your behalf to see whether that can be done.
I think if you were to conclude that it was too heavily subscribed for the members of the Select Committee to go, I think the Select Committee would get rather brassed off!
(Mr Morley) Chairman, what you have to bear in mind is that we do not control all the places in the conference. It is jointly sponsored and financed by the Dutch Government, the British Government and the Belgian Government, so therefore we do not control all the places. However, I will give you an undertaking that I will take this away and see what I can do about it.
I think is where a little tact would be enormously beneficial.
(Mr Morley) I want to be honest with you Chairman: we only have an allocation of 12 places to DEFRA. There may well be other places allocated
It is a very small conference then.
(Mr Morley) Yes, that is right, but there are different categories of places. There is an enormous interest in this conference as you would expect.
I look forward to the promised summary of appeals that are available and are anticipated will be available, but I would like to come back to the question of appeals available to farmers very briefly. My understanding so far of what you have said is that, under the provisions of the Bill, the situation available to farmers will be a pre-cull appeal to the district veterinary service.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
That exists now and will continue to exist.
(Mr Morley) That is correct.
And there will be, as you have said, a post-cull appeal by judicial review.
(Mr Morley) If the individual wanted to do that, they could apply for judicial review and in fact they can apply for judicial review for any action of the department as they can now. Nothing has changed on that.
So, it is not really an appeal, that is a judicial review which can be applied to all sorts of situations.
(Mr Morley) That is right.
Did you not also say that there is evidence - and I think you quoted Thursk as being a centre that you have looked at very carefully - that suggested that even the existence of the pre-cull appeal to the district veterinary service did contain -?
(Mr Morley) Yes. I think on the pre-cull appeals in Thursk, 29 were accepted by the divisional veterinary manager and, of those 29, nine became infected premises.
That is not seen as an argument for abolishing that.
(Mr Morley) No, it is not. I think what that does illustrate to the Committee is the level of risk with this, in that it is a risky business in terms of dealing with this and the idea that all contiguous cull animals are healthy and are not going to get the disease is completely wrong.
If I may take up the issue of compensation. The Bill envisages a situation where up to one-quarter of compensation claims could be withheld if it is held that the farmer had not been doing his or her best in terms of bio-security. What evidence does the farmer have that this sort of regime would actually make a difference and improve bio-security?
(Mr Morley) I have some figures here in relation to the compensation scheme. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, we introduced blue boxes in the latter stage of the disease because of growing concern that a lot of disease spread was by poor bio-security. I think it is fair to emphasise that, in our experience, the majority of farmers were very sensible, wanted to co-operate and took proper action in relation to bio-security, but unfortunately it does not take very many to help the disease spread. In the first blue box area where there was special arrangements in relation to bio-security, there were 400 incidences.
Which was your first blue box?
(Mr Morley) It was the area that was drawn around Thursk, so in that area there were 400 incidences of suspected bio-security offences. The majority was also the issuing of general notes as warnings basically, although I have to say that, by the time we got to this, there had been endless publicity about the risk of bio-security and I think that 400 incidences was a very disappointing figure. The majority were warned but there were 37 formal or informal cautions, 20 cases are still under investigation for prosecution and five individuals have been taken to court and were fined. In Penrith, we do not have the full figures at the present time but, in the figures that we do have, 55 cases were referred to Trading Standards of which 27 have been put forward for legal action. Fourteen out of the 15 cases so far have gone to court and resulted in a guilty verdict and there are 32 cases which are ongoing at the present time. These are minority figures overall, I must emphasise that, but they are significant minority figures and this presents a very real threat in relation to disease spread by bio-security and it is not fair,
Chairman, I am sure the Committee would agree, that the majority of farmers who are taking precautions should be put at risk by the actions of a minority, so this is very important.
Do you feel that the minority who were not following the proper bio-security regime actually realised that they were putting their own stock and other farmers' stock at risk or was it pure ignorance?
(Mr Morley) It is very difficult to say; I think it is a combination of factors in relation to that. I think it was ignorance in some cases, I think some people just did not care and I think that, in a tiny, tiny minority it was irresponsibility.
How do you appeal to a farmer now who is stuck at the top of a hill faced with severe moving restrictions who has to carry on farming who says, "Hell, if I do not get my bull on my heifers, I will not get a crop next year. If I am caught, I am fined #5,000. If I do not manage to get a crop next year, I am #50,000 down and if I do get foot and mouth disease, I get compensation that I can live with." It is very difficult.
(Mr Morley) It is difficult, Chairman, and again I think this might be something for the lessons learned report because of course there is an issue of risk sharing and I think there is not much risk sharing at the present time. For many farmers who do get the disease, it is of course a terrible emotional issue for them, but they do get compensation at quite a generous rate while those who do not get the disease do not get anything but get the restrictions and all the problems that go with that. That is a very serious issue and I do accept that point. There is not a simple answer to it because of course you have to have those restrictions because, when you have an infected area, the movement of animals is extremely high risk and what you have to do is try and stop the disease from spreading. Those are very relevant issues which are not covered within this Bill, but I think they certainly need to be considered.
I am interested in your idea of what sort of evidence an inspector would be looking for in terms of making a decision on whether a farmer received that extra 25 per cent or part of it and I would also be grateful for clarification because my colleague mentioned earlier on the appeals in relation to contiguous premises. Is it possible to envisage a situation where a farmer who went through the legal processes to try and stop his stock being culled, lost in court and was then considered to be acting in a way that could possibly be putting his livestock at risk and therefore lost some or all of the 25 per cent?
(Mr Morley) On the latter point, I think that is a little harsh because I do not condemn people who do not want to see their stock being culled and would rather not have them culled and have used the law to try and stop that. The problem that was have is of course the balance of risk and the Bill is all about risk and risk management, and it is felt that in the present system there is too great a risk of delays. That is the whole reason for it. I would not want to condemn individuals or punish them in any kind of way because I do not really think you can say that they are being irresponsible in the way that someone would be who was taking no bio-security measures. I think that is quite different. The kind of issues that we would want to address and the kind of issues that have come up in the examination in our blue box areas are things like failure to provide foot baths at farm entrances and exits for people and vehicles or of course failure to keep them filled with disinfectant, failure to prevent spillage of organic matter on roads around farms, allowing unauthorised people and vehicles onto farms, dirty farm vehicles picked up on local roads - a big problem in Thursk - and allowing animals to stray. Those are the kind of issues that we want to address as a bio-security checklist and, as I was saying earlier on, Chairman, these are the kind of things that we want to talk to the farming organisations about so that we can get one which is easy to understand and people accept and people within the farming community accept as fair.
Have you been able to make any assessment of the resource implications of being in the system where obviously some of your officials will need to devote time they have not in the past in making a judgment as to whether or not an individual farmer should have part or all of his 25 per cent and how that assessment is made, so there are resource implications?
(Mr Morley) It should not be a huge resource implication because the assessments were made when our staff go onto farms as part of disease control measures but going onto farms anyway, the idea is that, when they go onto farm, they will make the assessment, so it is not really a big resource implication.
You have listed the warnings and then prosecutions for breaches of bio-security under the existing law. How does the checklist of bio-security breaching that you have just given us correspond to the existing legal basis for prosecution?
(Mr Morley) In what respect?
You have listed 14 cases in which you were pursuing prosecutions.
(Mr Morley) Is this in Penrith?
(Mr Morley) Trading Standards have issued the prosecutions.
Presumably the grounds on which they are pursuing those prosecutions were breaches of movement restrictions of some kind.
(Mr Morley) No. In the blue box area, it also includes things such as having dirty vehicles on the road. It is a range of issues. It is not just movement restrictions.
To what extent does the bio-security checklist which you have just given us take us beyond the existing legal obligations which are placed on farmers now?
(Mr Morley) It does not take us much beyond the legal obligations at all apart from, when we talk about legal obligations, we have no mechanism for dealing with a farmer who has refused to take any bio-security measure. There is no penalty apart from if they go on the roads within the blue box areas.
Some of the things you listed were to do with dirty vehicles, you mentioned that as one of the restrictions you would expect to see in force through this checklist.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
Which actually is something you can be prosecuted for now.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
I am not quite clear what more we are getting at. I suppose you could withhold someone's money on the ground that they did not provide disinfectant foot baths.
(Mr Morley) I will give you some examples and there may be others that the industry might want to talk about themselves, but I think what we are getting at here is that if people have poor bio-security and they get the disease, they get 100 per cent compensation. What we are looking for is an incentive to actually take bio-security seriously for the minority who do not. So what we have got here is the incentive of withholding 25 per cent of the compensation or up to 25 per cent - you can do it on a sliding scale. The Dutch have this system. The Dutch have a very rigorous system in relation to penalties and they actually withhold 100 per cent, but it is a very bureaucratic and complex one; they can penalise farmers for not having ear-tags. It is really quite complex. We are trying to introduce a much simpler one.
You mean the Dutch have found a more bureaucratic way to deal with these problems than we would in the United Kingdom? I am impressed.
(Mr Morley) The Dutch system is an incredibly complicated system. But, of course, they do have this mechanism in place in relation to penalties, not just for bio-security but non-co-operation, and all sorts of things. This is a simpler system but does, I believe, give some incentive in relation to taking bio-security seriously.
The check comes when DEFRA staff visit the farm because an outbreak has occurred, or some other incident has happened. However, the actual restrictions relate to the period of 21 days before that. So, while I accept that if you turn up on the farm and find they have not got tags at the gates, which is a legitimate point to address with the farmer, how do you know that that was not happening 21 days earlier?
(Mr Morley) It is not just that issue, it is also the issue such as movements and whether there are proper movement records or whether they have complied with the movement issues. The 21 days is to look at the behaviour and to take into account that previously, rather than just a one-day snapshot on that day, because, of course, there may have been issues of disease spread within that 21-day period.
There might have been, but this has got to be extremely difficult to nail down in an objective way, has it not? I visit farms regularly and spotting what may or may not have happened on one day against another is going to be very, very hard. Are you going to penalise someone on the basis of your observations on the one day you visit? I can understand the point of some of the things you have raised, and indeed some of them probably are available in the current law, but on the 21-day preceding period you will get a view from a farmer as to what he has been doing, and the records will really only tell you about his movements.
(Mr Morley) There are veterinary records and movement records, so there are a number of aspects that can be included within the 21 days. These are all going to be part of the consultation process. So there are no decisions taken on the mechanism for the assessments.
Will we be requesting evidence, for example, saying "Did you see people visiting this farm during the 21-day period that should not have been there?" It sounds like quite a substantial investigation, potentially.
(Mr Morley) We want to make this as simple as we possibly can so that it is understandable and it is effective. Obviously we have some ideas on this but at this stage this is one of the aspects of the Bill where we do not have to rush into this and this is an opportunity to talk to the industry about the way that we would apply this and the way we would do it.
There are going to be regulations setting out all this in detail?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
On the detail of the 21 days, when does the clock start, as it were? The outbreak is confirmed and restrictions on movements introduced. The previous three weeks is a period before the outbreak was known. At what point can this test be introduced? Presumably only three weeks after an outbreak is confirmed. Is that right?
(Mr Morley) Yes, it is 21 days from the visit of our official.
So that could go prior to an outbreak being confirmed nationally and national restrictions being introduced.
(Mr Morley) It could but you would have a series of visits if there were outbreaks in the area. So you would have more than one visit in that respect.
The first discoveries of the disease might be last February, but there would have been a period when this was building up - 21 days or more - and nobody knew about it. So does that 21 days really go before the earliest confirmed discoveries of disease? It could cause problems in attaching to that compensation.
(Mr Morley) The relevant period in the Bill is a period of 21 days ending with the day on which the animal was actually slaughtered. I understand the point you are making that this could have been some weeks away, but I think, again, it is a question of balance and being practical. The 21 days gives a reasonable window in which it is possible to, for example, get information from local authority inspection results which may have happened within that period. We are not restricted to looking back 21 days, you could find something on the day you actually go along, so it is just the window in relation to when we can look at people and see what they have been doing. To go beyond that, you have got the problems of proof and evidence, and some difficulty. I understand what you are saying that there may well be some involvement there, but I think that becomes much more difficult to manage. So it is a balance, and 21 days was felt to be the appropriate balance.
If, on the face of the Bill, we have 21 days, and for the earliest confirmed cases in an epidemic one applies those 21 days, one could, I think, very reasonably argue that the entire farming community was in breach of that because, obviously, in the first 20 days of that period there was not a national restriction. I am trying to understand how we can get round this if it is on the face of the Bill.
(Mr Morley) I think if an outbreak has just started and people were not aware you could hardly hold them responsible for bio-security. You have to be reasonable about this. You cannot do that. I come back to the point that the 21 days is a reasonable window in relation to where we can examine bio-security. It is on the basis of what we have found as practical in relation to our field vets in the course of this epidemic.
I am rather interested in the suggestion that independent persons are to be appointed to hear these appeals. On what sources will the Minister draw and how many independent people does he think he will need to appoint? Will they be, as it were, kept on list? Will they receive training? What kind of structure is he envisaging here?
(Mr Morley) That will come forward under a statutory instrument and there will be an opportunity to discuss that. I am not sure they have issued the details yet - no, they have not. That is one of the aspects, again, which is open to consultation, will come forward by statutory instrument and will be available for scrutiny.
You must have got an analogy in mind, or is this an entirely new appellate structure?
(Mr Morley) We do have a range of panels at the present time within all sorts of issues, as I am sure the Honourable Lady will be aware. There are all sorts of existing models in relation to independent persons considering the appeal. We set up something very recently in relation to the Welfare of Animals in Transport Order, in relation to licences for hauliers. There is an independent panel on that. So there are all sorts of different models which exist that we could apply, and we will bring forward a recommendation in relation to the statutory instrument that will be available for consultation.
Is it the intention that when an appeal is heard on the level of compensation, does the Inspector only have the option of supporting or rejecting the farmer's appeal? In other words, saying "Yes, you do get full compensation" or does he have the ability to vary the penalty so that he can say "Yes, I think 25 per cent is a bit heavy but you will certainly be penalised 15 per cent"?
(Mr Morley) Your contention is right, Chairman. In the appeal the person on the panel can vary the compensation, so that they could reduce the element that has been docked.
Can we just probe this question of the fact that you are going to raise a charge on the farmer who wants to have an appeal? The National Farmers' Union question whether this is "a tax on justice". What is going to stop you whacking on a huge charge to stop somebody, if you like, coming for an appeal? These are farmers who are under particular difficulty, as other colleagues on the Committee have indicated? If they sense injustice they are not exactly financially in a very strong position to mount this appeal.
(Mr Morley) There is, of course, an issue of the level of charge, and we would not have a charge that would be a discouragement to people. I have to say that very clearly. In fact, we would be open to review if we did because, of course, it would be denying the whole point of the appeal if we put on a charge that was so enormous that it would be an impediment to people. Bearing in mind that we are only talking of these measures applying to a minority of people, these people will already have been involved because of poor bio-security. In relation to the charges, I understand that in exceptional circumstances where people clearly are in financial difficulty the charges can be exempt.
So it is a variable feast, then?
(Mr Morley) Generally speaking, we would expect a standard administration provision, but if there was real difficulty with people paying it is not hard and fast and we have the provision to exempt people from the charge.
Are the levels and the way that these charges are set going to be the subject of consultation with the industry?
(Mr Morley) I see no reason why not. That is right.
What time-frames are built into this between the various decisions? You get your 75 per cent straight away - well, as and when the Ministry is able to pay it to the farmer. I assume there is no obligation built into the Bill to pay up within a particular timescale by the Government.
(Mr Morley) Not within the Bill. We do try to pay within a certain timescale.
I think farmers might have welcomed that particular clause. I can imagine that would not have featured in this particular piece of legislation. What window then determines the period in which you decide whether the further 25 per cent is payable or a proportion of it?
(Mr Morley) The person involved has 14 days to make an appeal.
Yes, so 75 per cent is given straight away.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
Is, at the same time, a judgment given to say "Well, yes, we have decided that because you did not do this, that and the other you are not entitled to the other 25 per cent"?
(Mr Morley) There may be some practical issues in that. The 75 per cent can be paid right away. There is then the assessment in relation to bio-security, and of course that assessment has to be taken into account. That should be done quite quickly and that will be part of the consultation we will have on the procedures to do that. There will then be the recommendation that, if there is to be money withheld, how much is to be withheld, and the individual then has 14 days to appeal.
What is a reasonable period for this process, bearing in mind we are talking about people who, in many cases, are not earning any money at the moment and, therefore, quite when they get their money is a material issue?
(Mr Morley) I accept that. I come back to the point that it is meant to be a deterrent, but there is no reason why decisions cannot be made in a matter of days rather than weeks.
So everyone gets only 75 per cent initially, presumably?
(Mr Morley) No. I am sorry. The assessment is made right away and I think they can get 100 per cent right away, if they pass the assessment. It only applies to infected premises for a start. Therefore, if you are a contiguous premises you get 100 per cent.
I am not quite clear as to how long it takes for someone to make a decision as to whether you are entitled to the 25 per cent or not.
(Mr Morley) I think in practice, bearing in mind that the assessment is made as soon as our people go on to the premises, as soon as they go on they will make the assessment immediately.
They will tick a box straight away and say "It looks like he is okay, give him the money".
(Mr Morley) Yes, absolutely. That is how I would interpret this.
Are you saying that for every infected farm the early payment will only be 75 per cent?
(Mr Morley) My understanding of this - and I am going to be corrected at any moment if I am wrong - is that the assessment is made by our people who go on to the farms. That assessment is immediate. If the assessment is that everything is fine, there is not a problem, then you are within exactly the same timescale for paying the compensation, so therefore the 100 per cent compensation should go ahead. If the person concerned fails the assessment, the 75 per cent payment goes ahead and then there will be a decision on how much to withhold, up to a maximum of 25 per cent.
The logic, Minister, is that there will be some delay on the present system by the fact that somebody will be making a judgment.
(Mr Morley) I do not accept that, actually. What we want to do is to have this assessment, which is made by our people going on to the farm, on the first visit. They are going on anyway as part of the inspections, or, indeed, to check the animals or because the vet has gone to see whether they have been reported as having suspicious symptoms. Therefore, that is done right away. I really do not see, myself, why there should be a delay.
Why should there be a 21-day window on that initial assessment? I do not see how you can turn up on the day and say "It looks okay now so we will pay him" when one of the determinants is what they have been doing during the previous 21 days. That must require some questioning. I cannot believe it does not.
(Mr Morley) If there is a suspicion that there has been a breach of bio-security. I would have thought that those assessments could be made fairly quickly.
Let us just be clear: normally, a farmer who you have no reason to suspect has breached any bio-security is culled out and your people will say straightaway "Full compensation paid". The question then is, let us say there is some doubt as to whether or not he has been lax. Are you saying that in those circumstances 75 per cent is paid pending an assessment of how much of the remainder he may or may not be paid, or are you saying that there is an immediate decision to pay something between 75 per cent and 100 per cent?
(Mr Morley) No, if there is some doubt about the bio-security and if there is an investigation, the 75 per cent can go out straightaway - that is not a problem. There is also an issue that, of course, if there is money withheld in relation to whatever it is of the 25 per cent, there is likely to be a delay in that to give the farmers a 14-day period to appeal, if they want to.
So the initial payment will always be either 100 percent or 75 per cent.
(Mr Morley) That is my interpretation, yes.
Just following that on a point of detail: let us imagine a situation where a farmer had no bio-security and the disease gets on to this holding. Then he thinks "Hang on a minute. I had better do something about this." He does not know the disease is there yet because it has not shown in the animal, but it incubates.
(Mr Morley) How does he know it is there then?
Mr Jack: You are in the middle of a disease, it is happening around you. He does not know the problem has come on to his farm because he had poor bio-security. Then he thinks "I had better do something about this just in case it arrives". So when the inspector arrives it all looks wonderful because he has got his disinfectant there, but the actual admission of the disease to his premises in the first instance came because he did not have good bio-security. So he still - if I understood you correctly - gets his 100 per cent because the inspector walks on and says "Wonderful bio-security, Mr Smith, it looks fantastic" but, in actual fact, it was lousy because he got the disease in the first place.
That is the 21 days point.
(Mr Morley) That is correct. Yes, theoretically, that is possible if people do something wrong and then try and cover it up. That is always a possibility and I do not dispute that, because no system - whatever it is - is going to be perfect. What I would say in practice is that if you have disease running in an area then there are regular visits to adjacent farms by our own staff, control visits and veterinary visits, so therefore they will be getting visits quite quickly as soon as the disease is in the area.
Do you think, given what has happened, bio-security should be a built-in part of every farmer's operation 365 days a year every year?
(Mr Morley) Ideally, yes, Chairman, but again I think we have to be realistic, in that for many people who try to maintain good bio-security it is quite a burden on them: steam-cleaning vehicles all the time, making sure that people are careful. I am just talking about the practicalities of this. There are different levels of bio-security and different levels of risk. There is a serious point you are making and I think it is quite significant that this disease did not really get into the pig pens in this country. The bio-security in pig units is traditionally very good, and the pig sector have long applied quite high standards of bio-security. So there is a serious point to make, in that there ought to be regular routine application of bio-security, but you have to be reasonable about this.
The Bill creates an offence of deliberating infecting an animal. I smile because I remember all the sheep jokes that we used to crack. How does that offence of deliberating infecting differ from the current provisions?
(Mr Morley) There are no procedures for taking action against someone who deliberately infects an animal with foot and mouth. There are some measures for certain pathogens. One of them is anthrax, Chairman, in that you cannot take action against people who deliberately infect animals with anthrax. However, it is limited to certain pathogens at the present time and there are no measures that cover foot and mouth. You will be aware, Chairman, as I am sure you all are, that there have been all sorts of stories and allegations about deliberate infections. We have investigated cases that have been brought to our attention, but we have not yet been able to prove that there has been deliberate infection. However, if we had been able to prove it there was nothing we could have done about it. The Bill gives us measures to take action on that.
Will this give you a greater ability to prove it?
(Mr Morley) It does not really give us a greater ability to prove it, Chairman, but it does do something about it. Hopefully, now we have these measures it acts as a deterrent to people who might be thinking about it.
Given the very low level of proof that deliberate infection has actually occurred, is a new offence really necessary?
(Mr Morley) This does not put any burdens on anybody, it does not make any allegations about anybody, all it does do, Chairman, is that if it ever was proved it would allow us to do something about it. I think it is a bit pointless investigating these allegations if there is nothing we can do about it if we actually prove it.
The investigation proved futile, did it not?
(Mr Morley) We have not been able to prove deliberate infection, but that does not get away from the point that if it ever happened at the moment there is no penalty for that. That is something I was not aware of myself, and now there is a penalty for it if it was ever proved.
What will the criteria be for assessing whether or not a farmer has acted deliberately to bring disease to his farm?
(Mr Morley) There were all sorts of allegations, and Section 11 does give the detail of this. Basically it says "A person commits an offence if without lawful authority or excuse (proof of which shall lie on him) he knowingly does anything which causes or is intended to cause an animal to be infected with a disease specified in Schedule 2A." It is crystal clear to my legal friends, of course, what that actually means. Basically, we have had allegations of people throwing infected samples into fields - you will all have heard them. In fact, we have found animal body parts lying around and they have been tested, but the ones that have been brought to our attention have tested negative.
Are you really saying that (and we accept there is no evidence of this) if a farmer deliberately infected his animals, not only would he not have been prosecuted but, under the current law, he would have got 100 per cent compensation?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
So he could have actually deliberately done it and we would have paid him 100 per cent compensation on what was, probably, generous compensation anyhow, and the law of this country would not have been able to stop him?
(Mr Morley) That is absolutely right, Chairman, which I think makes a very good case for having this in the Bill.
The second point is - and obviously we will talk about anthrax - what will the law be for other people who are out to cause problems, who are not going to directly benefit from it but who would just, for the hell of it, spread infection? What sort of sentences will we have for those individuals?
(Mr Morley) This covers anybody, it is not just farmers.
What is the maximum sentence?
(Mr Morley) On summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both. On conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine or both. Basically, it is a maximum of two years for anyone who is convicted.
He does not get his 75 per cent, does he?
(Mr Morley) The farmer concerned you mean? The farmer would get his 75 per cent. Yes, he would.
So under the old legislation you could deliberately infect your animals and get 100 per cent compensation and under this legislation you can deliberately infect your animals, spend two years in jail and get 75 per cent compensation.
(Mr Morley) Yes. So it is an improvement.
If you look at the problems we have had in Cumbria this summer, if somebody had said about deliberately infecting animals with foot and mouth, the maximum they could have got was two years' jail, yet this infection in Cumbria alone will probably have cost the Exchequer #1 billion. It does not really seem a long sentence, does it, Minister?
(Mr Morley) I think I am going to have to clarify this, but I have a feeling that this is to do with Human Rights, and the fact that even if someone is guilty of this offence and the state kills his animals, I still think there is a Human Rights issue here. I will clarify that for you, Chairman, and I will make sure you have written information.
Can I just touch quickly on the process by which you can decide whether an offence is committed or not? You know very well that part of the problem is that you have got different people going out and working in different ways. Much as I am a great fan of local government working with central government, the amount of pressure on trading standards officers (without pointing the finger there) and their lack of knowledge is obviously going to be a problem. This is one of many jobs they do. Is there not a case for looking at a different way in which we would at least pursue cases which are of a suspicious nature?
(Mr Morley) I am not quite sure in what different way you would pursue it because there would be police involvement (as this is now a criminal offence) in terms of any investigation. The kind of allegations that were made - people ringing up and offering to sell infected sheep and meeting them at places - these are the kinds of thing that can be checked out and investigated. So I think the procedures are fairly straightforward. The important thing is that there are penalties, and there were no penalties before. In fact, you mention the fact that farmers can get the money if they are found responsible, but I think the powers also mean they are banned from keeping animals in the future. That is quite a severe penalty in relation to this.
We have hit squads for everything nowadays, but here the police currently cannot do anything.
(Mr Morley) That is right. Apart from certain pathogens. There is also a welfare issue. If you deliberately infect an animal it is a welfare offence and you can probably prosecute them under welfare legislation.
MAFF/DEFRA officers can pursue suspicious places and where they think an offence has been committed, but it is down to trading standards officers to take up the formal offence. This is not, obviously, on the face of the Bill, but in cases where there is a very suspicious set of circumstances, I do think you need expert investigation, and that is not going to happen, with the best will in the world, at county level.
(Mr Morley) I think we can talk to trading standards about whether they feel they need that kind of specialist back-up. I am sure those are issues that we can address. I know that (going back to this point) so far there has been a lack of proof, but if this ever happened it would be a very serious offence. I think the seriousness of such an offence does warrant provision to deal with it if it ever arose.
I wanted to ask you, Minister, does your department provide the words, for example, that the Prime Minister's official spokesman gives at lobby briefings? Does that mechanism still exist?
(Mr Morley) Not to my knowledge, Chairman. I am sure there will be briefings provided for all sorts of things, but not writing the text for the Prime Minister's official spokesman.
I appreciate the actual words that the spokesman uses may not be entirely crafted by yourself, but I just wanted to make certain that there was that sort of reasoned briefing that still goes on.
(Mr Morley) There will be a briefing, yes.
At the lobby briefing when this wonderful spokesperson announced this to the world he said that this Bill " ... would give us new powers to deal with tail-end cases of foot and mouth from this outbreak". Do you agree with that?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
Was that your briefing?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
Just give us a scenario. Have you got any idea of what the effect is going to be? I think it comes back to something we started with, which is why now?
(Mr Morley) Because we still face the very real, serious prospect of another outbreak. It is very serious. The risks are high. If there was an outbreak, particularly at this stage in the outbreak, we would want to snuff that out as quickly as possible, and speed is essential. Of course, there is a logistical issue in relation to how fast we can do this. With the "no current outbreaks" we can get logistics on site very quickly in terms of our departments and the teams we need, such as vets, but we could still be held up by people going to court. In fact, if you look at the nature of this outbreak, where there has been the so-called "sparks" which are isolated cases outside the main epicentres of disease, we have been very successful in snuffing those out quickly, but there is always a constant risk that you will get people who will want to object, and you have the situation where farmers are being actively encouraged to object. It is not a hypothetical issue here, people are being encouraged to object to the contiguous cull, and the risks of that, in relation to disease control, are very great indeed.
Who is encouraging them?
(Mr Morley) I do not know.
You must have some evidence to make a statement like that.
(Mr Morley) I have, and I can provide you with the so-called "pack" that was circulated in Thursk. Looking at it myself, I cannot actually see a name and address of who is behind it. It gives all sorts of contact numbers of law firms, but it is not necessarily these particular law firms who are doing it. There is no identification on this.
What is the timetable for this Bill?
(Mr Morley) The timetable is that Second reading is next Monday, and it goes into Committee the following week. I think that we would certainly like to have Royal Assent for it as early as we can in the new year, 2002.
You see it still as an important potential contributor to fighting the disease to a finish, although the sense I got earlier was that it was more about what might happen if there were suddenly to be another outbreak at some point in the future, but what is the latest estimate as to when you think you might have got on top of this? Or are you not saying?
(Mr Morley) Officially, Chairman, the outbreak will be over when there has been a three-month gap between the last case. That is the kind of timescale we would be looking at. We have had a number of cases of suspected animals. I might just tell the Committee that the information we have on the most recent one at Hexham is negative - which we have just heard today. We have been picking up antibodies, as part of our serology programmes, which demonstrates that there are animals which have had the disease or been in contact with disease and been missed. So, therefore, the chances of there still being latent disease out there somewhere are currently high. However, of course, this measure is beneficial because, as I was saying to the Committee, it extends our range of options. We also are responding to the Food Standards Agency in relation to TSEs. We need primary legislation to extend this to being compulsory, in relation to the National Scrapie Plan. That is in line with what we have already said and consulted on. As you are having the Bill, then this is an opportunity for dealing with some of these measures, as I am sure you will appreciate. So we are taking that opportunity now, and it means that we will have this at the earliest opportunity - which, in fact, will not be that early - at the beginning of 2002. Sadly, no one at the moment can put their hand on their heart and say there will not be an outbreak between now and then. I very much hope there will not be, and no one will be more happy than me if we never have to use the provisions within this Bill.
Chairman: We do not want to let scrapie escape our attention.
This is very topical and I am sure you are looking forward to this, Elliot. Just as a background to this, given that the way in which you can best control this disease is through pathogenesis - breeding it out - how effective is legislation going to be to actually try and find the stock which you want to keep and get rid of the stock you do not want?
(Mr Morley) It is essential that we have these powers, although I do want to put on record that we have had excellent co-operation from the sheep sector with the National Scrapie Plan, in helping us set it up and helping us give information in relation to our database. In particular, I want to pay tribute to John Thorley from the National Sheep Association who joined me at the launch of the National Scrapie Plan and who has done an awful lot of work on this. I want to emphasise again, Chairman, we are not planning to go rushing in with compulsory measures to the sheep sector. We are looking to shorten the time to eradicate scrapie, which under the present timescale is predicted at between 10 and 15 years - probably more like the 15 at the current rate of uptake. We think that is too long. The Food Standards Agency certainly thinks that is too long. So we certainly want to reduce that. We will talk about the timescale for doing that with the industry. There are also one or two specialist concerns about rare breeds and specialist blood lines. We have the provision within this Bill to make exceptions.
This is because you are afraid of what it has been, if you like, masking?
(Mr Morley) That is right. The fact is that the situation remains the same, that there is a theoretical risk of BSE in sheep. We have not been able to identify it. We are actually increasing the number of scrapie brains that we are monitoring and there are new bio-molecular tests coming out, which will make a big difference in terms of the speed at which we can do the testing. That is quite a big breakthrough. Of course, if we breed scrapie out of the national flock, not only do we remove with it the theoretical risk of BSE because we have got TSE-resistant sheep, but we also improve the quality of the flock. I happen to think that there is a very good future for the sheep sector in this country and I think there are good market opportunities. Concentrating on these quality issues will give dividends in relation to the future prospects in terms of sales and exports. I think this is a good thing for the industry. Of course it is a reassurance to the consumer as well. We are committing quite a lot of money from the Government in relation to the database and setting this up, and we would expect that the majority of people in the sheep sector will think this is a sensible way forward.
How do you identify the more susceptible genotypes to TSEs?
(Mr Morley) They are done by blood testing, and we get a result from that. We can identify those which are severely resistant, those which are partially scrapie-resistant and those which are susceptible. We do not have great accuracy in relation to the current flock, but we know that there are 15 known genotypes which determine the level of susceptibility and their resistance to scrapie. We have not got reliable statistics about what proportion of the flock are carrying these. There is an estimate, and it is only a rough estimate at the present time, that round about 25 per cent of brands carry the scrapie-resistant gene and about two-thirds of the national flock are at least partially scrapie-resistant. It is fairly well-understood how we can advance this programme.
These scrapie-resistant "tubs" are going to be worth a bob or two, are they not?
(Mr Morley) It is a question of identifying them. We have already done this in the pedigree sector. All the pedigree brands have been identified and are logged on the database. They are micro-chipped as well, as part of that.
Can I go on to the issue of how you keep records? I was told by one of the interested parties, who say they have got the ability to run quite complex databases, that they were surprised that you had taken the decision initially to have a paper-based record-keeping exercise. Is that true?
(Mr Morley) I am not aware of that.
When I opened the programme it was a computerised database.
So sheep traceability will be completely computerised?
(Mr Morley) On the eradication programme. I have got a feeling that what this person is talking about is that at the present time for the whole national flock in relation to traceability, there is not a computerised database. That is certainly something, Chairman, I think we are going to have to look at, and we are going to have to look at things like electronic tagging. That is to come, really. It might have interest for the Committee.
You are saying it is not there yet?
(Mr Morley) No.
To run this properly you do need that degree of traceability.
(Mr Morley) This system will be computerised. Because it is very much focussed on the rams, it is the rams that are micro-chipped and the rams which are on the computer database. What people do is log on the database in order to get a ram. We will extend that gradually in terms of looking at the range of animals which are resistant and susceptible, but we need to discuss the timescale for that with the industry.
The key issue here is at what stage do you start intervening to make a decision that you are going to stop sheep which are susceptible to TSEs from breeding. Are we talking about now? Are we talking about a year in the future? Are we talking about years in the future?
(Mr Morley) We are looking at years because we cannot do this overnight. What we are trying to do is to reduce substantially the current projection of 10 to 15 years. We want to reduce that quite a lot.
The final question is something which has been raised before, which is the subject of can bovine TSEs in animals that have been taken out still get into the human food chain? Are you going to stop animals that have been prevented from breeding and which are susceptible to scrapie from going into the food chain?
(Mr Morley) There is no need to do that at the present time because the situation remains, as I was saying, Chairman, that we have no evidence that scrapie presents a risk to people. It has been around for hundreds of years, so therefore there is no reason to prevent animals from going into the food chain. As a precaution, as you know, for animals over 12 months the head and spinal column is removed as a belt and braces precautionary measure. We are not looking, at this stage, to preventing scrapie animals going into the food chain.
You rightly and properly paid tribute to John Thorley, and I, too, would salute his efforts. The briefing which the Committee received from the National Sheep Association contains a paragraph which does not exactly sound like a glowing endorsement of what you are saying. Paragraph 7 (and I quote) says: "The whole of the success or failure of this section depends upon the time which is given to each breed to achieve a high standard of resistance. It might be more profitable if greater effort was put in by Government to help breeders to develop resistant genes by using artificial insemination and embryo transfer in carefully controlled programmes. It is vital that breeds are given adequate time." If you salute Mr Thorley, why do you not back his approach, as laid down here?
(Mr Morley) I do back that approach, but the fact is that we made it very clear as part of the extensive consultation with the sheep industry that at some stage we would make this compulsory, and that is what we are doing in line with the consultation. There was not an adverse reaction to that stated long-term aim. I absolutely accept that what he is saying is that there are issues about timescale to talk to the industry about, and we shall do that. As to the role of embryo transfer, we will also have a look at that.
He says here, in another commentary on Powers of Enforcement: "We would make the point that this attempt to force people to go down a route which they were already going down voluntarily needs to be handled with great care. The industry was already moving as fast as possible bearing in mind it has only just been supplied with appropriate technology!" Here you have the industry saying "We are going as quick as we can" and you are saying "You are not going fast enough." Who is right?
(Mr Morley) What he is saying there is that he wants time to talk about how we can extend that and take it forward. Again, I do not disagree with that. What I would say, Chairman, is that the take-up has been a bit lower than we expected, and that is on a projected 10 to 15 year period. We feel that is too long.
What, technologically, gives you the impression you can speed this thing up? The people who know about sheep do not exactly seem to think that you are going down the right route.
(Mr Morley) I believe that we can speed that up and we will involve the sheep industry fully in the way that we do that.
Are some breeds genetically more susceptible to scrapie, so we might see the disappearance of some breeds? Or are you confident that the breeds which we have at the moment can all enhance their resistance to scrapie?
(Mr Morley) There are some breeds which are very resistant to scrapie. One of the interesting things, of course, is that scrapie does not exist in New Zealand or Australia, yet those sheep would probably have originally come from this country. The belief is that the particular breeds that were taken to New Zealand and Australia were breeds that were very resistant. In fact, we have imported some live New Zealand sheep as part of the studies which are being carried out by the Institute of Animal Health in relation to the understanding of scrapie. There are likely to be some primitive and rare breeds which do not have those genes. As I say, Chairman, there is provision within the Bill to take measures to deal with those, because we do not want to eradicate particular blood lines.
When the Bill says that the Minister can, in exceptional circumstances, justify allowing sheep to be used in breeding, the chances are that is because ----
(Mr Morley) That is right, because of certain specialist breeds. There are certain blood line issues and I think they can be resolved in relation to certain breeding programmes. There are certain rare breeds that we may have to exempt. There are one or two very rare breeds that do not go into the food chain, so it is not a problem in that respect. We need to look at the different circumstances. What I want to say is that we understand some of the points that were raised in the consultation with the industry, and the measures reflect that.
If I can just raise one another, rather irreverent, point? You said earlier, Minister - and, again, I personally agree with that - that there is a very good future for the UK sheep industry.
(Mr Morley) Yes, I believe that.
On the other hand, Lord Haskins, in his report on Cumbria, advocates a reduction in the size of the UK sheep flock. Some people with a conspiratorial mind might just look at the powers in this Bill and say "This is rather a good way of getting Lord Haskins' wish to come true", in terms of reducing the size of the sheep flock. Would you care to comment on that?
(Mr Morley) I can certainly say there has been no shortage of conspiracy theories in the course of this outbreak, Chairman.
This is about scrapie.
(Mr Morley) This is about scrapie, I know. There is no contradiction in terms of debate on what is the optimum size of the national flock. There are issues in relation to the size of the national flock and in terms of what the market demand is - good quality, upland management. These are all perfectly reasonable issues. There is no contradiction in saying that I think the sheep sector has got a good future and Lord Haskins saying there is an issue in relation to the stocking levels and what should be the most appropriate stocking levels.
What is your view about Lord Haskins' view? Secondly, can you say for the record whether or not there is a way of achieving a reduction in the sheep flock by this? Is that part of the purpose of this, or not?
(Mr Morley) No, not necessarily. This is not necessarily going to result in a reduction in the sheep flock, because it is about scrapie eradication and not in terms of controlling numbers. It does not come into that at all. What I think should be the guiding level for the national sheep flock is the market, in terms of market demand. If you produce too many sheep then, of course, you will collapse prices, and that has happened in this country. It has happened in Cumbria, which is what Lord Haskins was looking at. There are certain parts of the country where there is a grazing issue which needs to be taken into account. I actually think we can address some of these issues through our agri-environment programme. We can design programmes to help some of our more vulnerable upland sheep farmers in relation to management, and the way to do that, of course, as we have said many, many times, is to move away from the production subsidy route and to give us more flexibility in relation to the rural development programme. That is the way we want to address the sheep industry.
Being a Cumbrian MP, I have met with Lord Haskins on several occasions. The impression that Lord Haskins received, I think, from Cumbria is that the number of sheep on the fell were creating serious problems from over-grazing and no natural regeneration of trees. Could that have been a reason why he would put that in his report?
(Mr Morley) I suspect the principal reason for what Lord Haskins was saying is that traditionally within the sheep industry when prices are down there has been a tendency to increase the output, to make up for the fall in prices, which of course get the industry locked into a vicious circle. There are the environmental consequences of that. There are a number of factors in relation to the size of the sheep flock, and it is a serious issue that needs to be thought about very carefully.
Given the number of sheep that are produced for export, and presumably the rest of the EU principally are concerned about scrapie, have you looked at the contingency that importing nations could set very high standards themselves to try and prevent the importation of scrapie? What would be the implications then for the national flock?
(Mr Morley) We do not think that there is an implication (?) for any country which would want to put any kind of restrictions on sheepmeat exports, and we do not believe that will happen. I know it is not quite allied to what you were saying, but you will be aware that we did make public our contingency plan should BSE ever be identified in sheep. I have to say, Chairman, having made that plan public, most people who looked at it simply went straight to the worst case scenario and did not look at the fact that the contingency plan contained a level of steps that you would take in relation to what the Food Standards Agency might recommend on level of risk if it was identified. I might say, Chairman, even if the experiments from the Institute of Animal Health had not been shown to be seriously flawed in terms of bovine material (although we have not had the full study of that yet) I do not believe that the FSA would have recommended the slaughter of the whole national flock. I just do not believe it. It is a disproportionate response. It is quite wrong for people to jump to conclusions all the time that if there was any identification of BSE the whole national flock would be slaughtered. That is not the case, and the contingency plan does not say that. I just want to get that off my chest, Chairman.
That takes us neatly, as a curtain raiser, to tomorrow's session with Professor King, where it would not surprise me if we were to begin with some questions about brains. Thank you very much indeed for coming today, it has been an extremely useful session and I think it demonstrates that pre-legislative scrutiny can actually help everybody
(Mr Morley) I agree, Chairman.
I regret that we are not going to be able to go a little bit further down that road because of the vacillation of the Bill, but hopefully on future occasions we will do that. We will want to look at the regulations when they start to appear. Thank you for that, and I would invite my colleagues to be in the Boothroyd Room tomorrow where we will be touching on some of these themes again. Thank you very much. I have no doubt we will see you at the Dairy Trades Industry lunch.
(Mr Morley) Thank you, Chairman.