But civil liberties are indivisible. One person's liberties are another person's liberties, and if they are removed from one group of people they diminish the liberties of everyone else. When the state takes powers to deprive people of what they would normally expect to be their personal liberties and personal freedoms--such as the freedom to decide who should come into their homes and to control and look after their property--it is important that these liberties are taken away only for good reasons.

At 11.30 p.m. (25th July) after a gruelling afternoon and evening, Lord Greaves still had the strength to make an impassioned and wholly relevant defence of civil liberties.

We cannot thank him enough.

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 17, line 29, leave out from beginning to end of line 3 on page 18 and insert--

"(1) It shall be an offence knowingly to misrepresent the status of a sheep, or its eggs or semen, as scrapie free.
(2) An inspector may at any time require for inspection any relevant records to establish the movements and breeding history of that sheep."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 67, the Committee may feel that it will be a plus point if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 72, 75, 78, 79, which stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Livsey and are in the next group of amendments. It might speed up matters a little

25 Jul 2002 : Column 652

These are important amendments and, late though it may be, this is an important discussion. In a sense, this is where civil liberties meet the countryside.

I fear that in some quarters the attitude towards and promotion of civil liberties that noble Lords and many other people would wish to see changes when it comes to the countryside and farms.

Some people have a fog in front of their eyes, their brains stop working and they think, "Oh, it is the countryside. It is different".

But civil liberties are indivisible. One person's liberties are another person's liberties, and if they are removed from one group of people they diminish the liberties of everyone else. When the state takes powers to deprive people of what they would normally expect to be their personal liberties and personal freedoms--such as the freedom to decide who should come into their homes and to control and look after their property--it is important that these liberties are taken away only for good reasons.

The powers that the state takes to itself should be both proportionate and necessary in the circumstances. We believe that many of the powers set out in proposed new Sections 36F to 36J are neither proportionate nor necessary. The Government should look at them again in the light of the problem that Schedule 2 seeks to address.

Proposed new Section 36H appears to be identical to the provisions set out earlier in the Bill in relation to foot and mouth disease. But the powers that the state may require to control a highly-infectious, rapidly-spreading outbreak such as foot and mouth disease are not necessarily the same in terms of proportion and necessity as those required to control an entirely different kind of disease. Important though it is to control and attempt to eradicate it, the situation is different, and the powers and the circumstances in which they are exercised should also be different.

We believe that many of the powers are heavy-handed; that they should not be exercised without far greater controls and balances; and that the timescale laid down for many of them is unnecessarily fast--in many cases it is extremely fast--in relation to the need set out. Overall, there is an in-built assumption of guilt--the idea that the animal owners and controllers concerned are guilty, and must therefore be treated as such--in the extent and the nature of these powers which ought not to be there.

One has only to think what would happen if these kinds of powers, for these kinds of purposes, were applied to other businesses. There would be a huge outcry. It is only because farmers and other people who live in the countryside have still not fully recovered from the swingeing blows that they received during the foot and mouth outbreak that the outcry against them is not much greater. A more normal, more leisurely process with built-in checks and balances, such as normally applies when people exercise powers of this nature, ought to apply.

It is late, but this is an important issue. Perhaps I may quickly run through some of the issues that arise. It is our view that the offences set out in new Section 36F are excessive and disproportionate. What the Government want to do could be achieved without

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quite such a heavy-handed and swingeing set of powers. The situation may be very different in the case of foot and mouth, where urgent action is required and where extraordinary powers may be necessary. Indeed, the Government's arguments for the new powers have been that foot and mouth presents an extraordinary situation which has to be tackled with immediacy. That is not so in the case of scrapie.

The power to force entry is set out without even the requirement for a warrant, as set out in new Section 36H. The power of entry in new Section 36G does not require a warrant. It is only when people refuse entry, or "a refusal is expected"--whatever that may mean--that the provisions of new Section 36H appear to come into effect and a warrant is required. That is unusual and abnormal.

If the police believe that a serious offence is being committed in a building, they might well break into the building in order to stop it. But we are not talking about that level of criminality. We are not talking about any serious level of criminality. We are talking about trying to find a reasonable, sensible and proportionate way to deal with an animal disease which, if there is a slight delay, will not cause any huge problems. The disease has been with us for 250 years. Whether it is eradicated in six, seven, eight or 10 years' time is not of the order of importance that justifies this kind of provision.

Normally, people wishing to exercise many of the powers set out in the Bill must first apply to a court. But that is not the case here. The kind of powers that usually require a warrant from a magistrate are exercisable without one. The kind of powers normally exercisable only after application to the court are exercisable with a warrant from a justice of the peace.

Our Amendment No. 78 refers to new Section 36H(3) relating to warrants. The subsection sets out the condition that,

"admission to the premises has been refused or a refusal is expected".

What does that mean? Again, the Government may argue that such a provision is necessary in relation to foot and mouth or to other highly infectious diseases--although we may well wish to challenge that when we debate that part of the Bill. However, to put in the suggestion that a refusal is expected before anyone has found out whether there will be one is excessive. It is another assumption of guilt that ought not to be made in such a situation.

The third condition is that,

"the case is one of urgency".

What urgency is there with scrapie? The only example that the Minister produced earlier was that someone might be using a ram for breeding and the authorities might want to stop that. At the worst, all that does is put off the process for 12 months. We have had the problem for 250 years. The Minister wants to get rid of it, as do we, but the measures must be sensible and proportionate. The provisions set out in the Bill are neither.

I look for support from the Committee and I await what the Minister has to say in justification of what we consider to be his heavy-handed, rather draconian approach. I beg to move.

... (the Minister, Lord Whitty - perhaps even taken aback by the goodness and sense of this - agreed to "think about it")

......I am encouraged by the Minister's response. It is always encouraging to hear a Minister say that he will spend part of his precious summer holidays considering whether legislation might be improved. I look forward to hearing the results of that consideration when we return in the autumn, hopefully more sunburnt than we are now.......