Muckspreader - Private Eye
6 November 

Virtually unnoticed by the media, the closing days of the last parliamentary session were taken up with a titanic ping-pong match between Lords and Commons over one of the weirdest pieces of legislation ever put before parliament. The animal health bill, aka the 'animal death bill', had arisen from ministers' realisation that during the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic they authorised one of the most flagrant acts of illegality ever perpetrated by a British government. Quite simply, in ordering the 'pre-emptive cull' which led to the mass-slaughter of some 9 million healthy animals, ministers had no legal power to do so.  The animal health act of 1981 specifically authorised the government only to kill animals which were either already infected or which had been directly exposed to disease. But the pre-emptive cull went way beyond this, destroying millions of animals just to provide a 'firewall' which might halt the disease's spread.

When farmers eventually began to challenge the Maffia's right to act in this way, its officials backed down more than 200 times. They were terrified of seeing their policy put to the test of the courts. But no sooner was the epidemic over in the autumn of 2001 than ministers led by Elliot Morley and Lord Whitty rushed to introduce a bill giving them precisely the powers they had claimed they already had. Not only would Defra's officials have the right to kill any animals they wished, without evidence that they had been exposed to infection -it was to become an offence for animal owners not to give officials any help they demanded. Even if a farmer refused to give officials a cup of tea while they were busy destroying his property, this could be regarded as a criminal act.  Thus the bill's real purpose was not just to give officials the blanket power to destroy any animals they wished, without having to give a reason, but to deprive farmers of any right to protest or challenge them.

In the Commons, Labour MPs nodded through this unprecedentedly illiberal piece of legislation without a murmur. But when the bill reached the  Lords earlier this year it began to receive the informed scrutiny it deserved, from a cross-party alliance of peers including farmers, like the Countess of Mar, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Labour's Baroness Mallalieu, several outraged Lib Dems, the great Lord Moran, even Tory front bencher Baroness Byford. Lord Whitty blustered away, describing any attempt to stand in the government's way as "reckless" and "irresponsible". But repeatedly amendments to his bill were voted through. Not all the serried ranks of Blair puppets trotting through the lobby in Whitty's support, such as Lord (Melvyn) Bragg, could save him. Three days before the end of the session, it seemed the government had lost so much of what it wanted that it would have to re-introduce the bill from scratch. But, with hours to go, the Commons reversed the Lords' amendments. Dishonour was saved.
The odd thing is that, since the power to dictate animal health policy has been handed over to Brussels, a new directive may soon require important sections of this bizarre act to be amended. So why were ministers so desperate to get it onto the statute book? Was their real motive simply to obscure how far they had been party to one of the most shameless acts of criminality a British government has ever committed?