by PA News reporters (May 9, 2002)

Peers are furious over a Government move to introduce tough powers to seize and slaughter farm animals against owners' wishes.

Their anger has been fuelled because only last month the House of Lords crushed similar measures in the Animal Health Bill. Now the new powers give Government officials the right to cull any cow, sheep, or goat - whether healthy or not - and impose a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment on any owner who obstructs inspectors.

In the past inspectors had to have a reason to suspect the presence of a transmissible disease like BSE or scrapie. However, the new powers also give inspectors and the police, Army or slaughter officials powers to seize computers or records.

The new regulations were published before Easter by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. But under Commons rules MPs have until the end of next week to debate the legislation, contained in a statutory instrument, before it automatically becomes law.

MPs can debate the regulations through a "prayer" but this does not allow amendments to be tabled and would mean either accepting or rejecting the entire document.

The House of Lords will be able to debate the new regulations next Wednesday, May 15, however.

The Countess of Mar, a farmer who keeps goats and the holder of an ancient Scottish hereditary title, aims to challenge the Government next week.

Lady Mar, a cross bencher, has put down a "prayer" to annul the changes and told PA News: "We are all livid about this. It only came to light because one of my colleagues on a joint committee noticed it ... but basically the regulation allows an inspector the right to go and kill all the animals."

Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Peter Ainsworth said the legislation would give the Government "an inappropriate extension of its powers".

"We are all in favour of measures to eliminate scrapie but very few people are going to be in favour of measures that will allow officials to kill just about any farm animal except the dog."