Animal Health Bill


Column Number: 169

Standing Committee E

Tuesday 4 December 2001


[Mr. Derek Conway in the Chair]

Animal Health Bill

Schedule 1

Adjusted compensation

Question proposed [29 November], That this schedule be the First schedule to the Bill.

10.30 am

Question again proposed.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): Too many sleepless nights-[Hon. Members: ''Oh.'']-have made me slow on my feet this morning. There is no question of ''oh'' or ''ah''; it is only work, I am afraid.

This is an extremely important part of the Bill, and some interesting points have been made in the debates on the amendments. The Minister has been patient and has made one or two small concessions, which are to be welcomed, and we look forward to seeing them written in tablets of stone on Report.

We began the debate with an amendment to ensure that farmers were not left uncertain for longer than 28 days after their stock had been slaughtered about the level of compensation that they would receive. We withdrew the amendment after the Minister's assurance that 28 days would be the maximum period, and we are grateful to him for that.

We moved on to the vexed question whether compensation should be paid fully from the word go, which would mean 100 per cent. compensation rather than 75 per cent. of full market value. Bearing in mind that the Minister and others have said that the number of farmers who did not implement good biosecurity measures was minimal, the presumption that farmers should receive only 75 per cent. compensation immediately, and then be judged by inspectors as to whether they would qualify for the further 25 per cent. to make up a full 100 per cent., was thoroughly debated. The disease risk assessment to ensure farmers' entitlement to the final 25 per cent. of compensation was also discussed. Valid points were made about ensuring that every farmer would understand what was required on that person's farm, and that that advice should be given by people, whom the Minister would appoint, other than the inspectors. However, that line of argument fell by the wayside.

It is essential that biosecurity plans are farm specific because different topographies mean that biosecurity risks can be greater in some areas than others. We argued that a disease risk assessment must take place within seven days of the Minister having reason to believe that such an assessment was necessary, and that it should occur at a convenient time when the

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occupier could be present. We also pressed for independent veterinary surgeons or practitioners to be used in the process.

The farming community has had a terrible experience with the foot and mouth epidemic, and the Minister recognises that. As a result of the epidemic getting completely out of control, the measures that had to be undertaken to try to halt the disease have resulted in a grave lack of trust among the rural and farming communities towards the Government and the centralisation of the powers of government. A great deal of work must be done to put back the confidence and trust that have been devastated by events. The schedule, and the issues that were raised during the debates on it, has not achieved what is required in the present circumstances. Opposition Members and I believe that the schedule is regrettable, and I hope that we shall return to it on Report.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): On schedule 1, we debated the key principles that underpin the Bill in relation to slaughter powers and compensation. I have undertaken to consult widely on those issues, and the Committee has seen the printed copy of my speaking notes on that matter. Those consultations will take place as soon as possible in the new year, and will provide an opportunity to address a range of issues that have been raised in Committee by Opposition and Government Members. We intend to involve people in public consultation and make the guidelines that we intend to bring forward-in particular, protocols relating to vets, slaughter policy and appeals policy-publicly available so that the process is open and transparent, and people can see exactly what is intended. The point of the Bill is to ensure that if culling forms part of future disease control measures, it must be done quickly and efficiently.

I should like to clarify a point about the 55 cases in North Yorkshire, a significant proportion of which later became infected premises, where the divisional veterinary manager upheld appeals. That was described as the Thirsk area because the Thirsk blue box area is used to describe that geographical location. To be clear on this point, there were not 55 cases in the Thirsk area; there were 55 cases in the North Yorkshire area. In the Thirsk area, 10 cases were upheld by the DVM, of which two later became infected premises. That 20 per cent. infection rate fits in with the North Yorkshire average of between 20 and 30 per cent. Although the infection rate was 20 per cent., that is still a significant figure in terms of the spread of a disease, which is another issue that we must take into account.

Motion made, and Question put, That this schedule be the First schedule to the Bill:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 6.

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Division No. 13]

Ainger, Mr. Nick
Atkins, Charlotte
Cunningham, Tony
Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Organ, Diana
Reed, Mr. Andy

Bacon, Mr. Richard
Breed, Mr. Colin
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill
Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Question accordingly agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 4

Slaughter of vaccinated animals

Mrs. Ann Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 127, in page 2, line 34, after 'any', insert 'reasonable'.

Proposed section 16A(3) states:

''The power conferred by this section extends to taking any-

(a) which is required to enable any such animal to be slaughtered, or

(b) which is otherwise required in connection with the slaughter.''

Great concerns have been expressed by the farming community, and others, about the powers that the Minister is taking in the Bill. As for the slaughter of vaccinated animals, we would like some clarification on the powers that are conferred on the person acting on behalf of the Minister. It is only reasonable that there should be some clarification on the kind of action that can be taken. I would welcome the Minister's comments on this probing amendment.

Mr. Morley: As I have assured the Committee before, the Government are under an obligation to be reasonable in the exercise of any powers. That would also apply to those powers in relation to the slaughter of vaccinated animals.

I gave some examples earlier in the debate of where people might want to consider vaccinating animals and then slaughtering them later, primarily as a disposal option which would deal with welfare and the need for orderly disposal. I want to make it clear to the Committee that vaccinate and slaughter is not an option that I personally support, apart from in very specialised cases. If vaccination is to be used, I would much prefer a vaccinate-and-live policy, but there are circumstances in which we might want to consider vaccinate and slaughter. It is all part of the general philosophy of the Bill, which is to provide as wide-ranging powers as possible, to give the maximum flexibility to any disease control approach.

When we considered vaccination and slaughter in the East Yorkshire pig units, we called in the various stakeholders and had detailed consultations with them to explain the options and reasoning. I would envisage that that approach would always be applied when these options are used as a disease control measure.

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I assure the hon. Lady that we do not need to have ''reasonable'' in the Bill, because we are obliged to act in a reasonable way. I would want no other option to be applied.

Mrs. Winterton: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to take new clause 2-Vaccination as alternative to slaughter-

'In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 16.

''16AA Vaccination as alternative to slaughter

The owner or person for the time being in charge of any animal the slaughter of which has been authorised for the purpose of preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease may apply to the Minister for it to be treated with vaccine in place of being slaughtered; and any such application shall be granted.''.'

Mrs. Winterton: This is an important clause, which deals with scrapie. The new clause which we have tabled concerns vaccination, and I will start on the issue of vaccination as an alternative to slaughter.

The clause would ensure that if there were, heaven forbid, to be another foot and mouth epidemic, the option of vaccination would be considered. Frankly, it is likely that the farming community and the public as a whole would simply not put up with another contiguous cull policy, bearing in mind the shockwaves that ran through the country at the time of the epidemic, and the awful scenes that we saw on our television screens. One accepts that, without compliance from the farming community and others, there can be no meaningful disease control. I am sure that the farming community as a whole, if properly consulted about these matters, will comply and be as helpful as it possibly can.

Many people have argued that the decisions on vaccination are political rather than scientific. For example, the NFU was against compensation during the last epidemic, partly because there was no compensation for the 12-month restrictions placed on animals post-vaccination, unlike the slaughter policy. Vaccination would have affected our export markets. Indeed, those who were in the export trade told the Minister, probably in no uncertain terms, that they did not wish to go along with the vaccination policy. One can argue that, if used, vaccination must be used early, which is perhaps another reason to include the new clause.

It is true that the science of vaccination is progressing all the time. Precise dosage levels can be determined, and in tests vaccine can be distinguished from a live infection. Although there is a delay in terms of immunity, vaccination would place much less strain on resources, certainly at the time of an epidemic. As the Minister himself said, the introduction of a policy of vaccination before slaughter would allow the more orderly slaughter of animals and disposal of carcases,

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thereby avoiding the chaotic conditions that prevailed at the time of an epidemic that, we hope, will shortly be at an end.

10.45 am

The scientific community has developed many new tests and newer, smarter vaccines, in which there should be further investment and research. Over the weekend, I spoke to a bright young constituent of mine who managed dairy herds in Saudi Arabia for several years some six or seven years ago. Although his experience is therefore slightly dated, it is still worth mentioning. Even though foot and mouth is endemic in Saudi Arabia, he used to vaccinate and also to explain the vaccination policy for dairy herds. Of course, there is no problem whatsoever with milk from vaccinated dairy herd animals. We accept vaccination for all manner of other conditions, and no one seems to mind about that.

We must return to this issue in future. Many people feel that vaccination could have played a part in the foot and mouth epidemic if the decision had been taken early enough. I certainly feel that the issue is open to further debate, and we need to be fully cognisant of scientific improvements that are being made virtually as we speak. The issue would also have benefited from the full debate of an independent public inquiry. Proponents on both sides of the argument could have been cross-examined, and the public could have been better informed.

The issue of scrapie is huge, and given that other Opposition Members want to contribute to that debate, perhaps I shall return to it a little later.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): New clause 2 provides another opportunity to offer vaccination as an alternative to slaughter. I welcome the Minister's preferring the principle of vaccinate and live to that of vaccinate and slaughter. As I was thinking about that, my eye caught the painting above your head, Mr. Conway. Given the nature of our debate, it is a shame that the painting is not entitled, ''Elliot inciting the British to prevent the landing of imported meat''. I fear, however, that by the end of our deliberations it should probably be entitled, ''Elliot inciting the British to welcome imports from abroad-and he's drawn his sword just in case there are any animals left in the UK that he can slaughter''.

This is an ideal opportunity to introduce a new clause that would prevent the slaughter that we have witnessed by offering the alternative of vaccination. I recognise that the new clause contains a chink, in that inclusion of the phrase

''any such application shall be granted''

might appear to guarantee the alternative of vaccination to every animal owner in every case. However, the new clause is not unreasonable; it is designed to enable people who love animals to protect their stock and prevent the spread of disease. It would be a positive contribution to the Bill and I hope that it will be welcomed. If we miss this opportunity to encourage vaccination, the legislation will be

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retrospective, closing the door after the horse has bolted, rather than adding useful, positive steps for the future.

Mrs. Winterton: Clause 4 gives power to slaughter vaccinated animals, but the Bill does not guarantee that the Minister will pay full compensation, or that the amount will be equal to full market value. Does my hon. Friend agree that nothing less will be adequate, and does he want the Minister to respond to that point?

Mr. Wiggin: Very definitely. My hon. Friend's point is excellent. We are having this discussion because hon. Members on both sides of the Committee feel that the Bill needs amending. I hope that we will later move on to discuss those who take the trouble to vaccinate, but then have their stock slaughtered and are not adequately compensated. We must put that situation right. The Bill was drafted in August in the heat of the moment when the slaughter was continuing and the body count mounting. In the cooler light of winter, we can perhaps add useful measures to it.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I always find it a little disturbing when people talk about vaccination in the round as if it were a solution for everything. It might be a solution sometimes, but can the hon. Gentleman tell me which countries use foot and mouth vaccination as a prophylactic policy?

Mr. Wiggin: I believe that Argentina does, but I have not been there. I encouraged Select Committee members to visit the Welsh-speaking people of Patagonia, but they were not having any of it, so my opportunities to investigate further were sadly headed off.

As we progress, we must look towards a prophylactic vaccination policy. If it does not currently exist, the Ministry might, when it has finished examining cow and sheep brains, find the funds to promote more positive vaccination policies. I hope that the Committee will accept the new clause with its alternative to slaughter, and I look forward to voting for it.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): I have considerable sympathy with the aims of the new clause, but it is a prime example of why we should have waited until some of the expert science in the reports was available. We would then have had a real idea of how vaccination can play a part in dealing with future FMD outbreaks.

The new clause has certain deficiencies, and I have a problem with where it says that

''any such application shall be granted'',

which farmers could utilise to frustrate and delay. Stopping that happening is one purpose behind the Bill. I do not like some of the Bill's terminology and aims, but I recognise that the Government want to ensure that any future cull is done speedily. I do not, therefore, support the new clause.

This subject, however, needs much fuller discussion, undertaken with the benefit of the knowledge of those who are investigating the matter. It is not only the

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farming community but the general public who write to hon. Members who sometimes show confused understanding of what vaccination means and how it can be used. We need a wider debate, which must be led by proper information from scientific and economic sources, while bearing in mind the social background.

The new clause is difficult to support because it says that any farmer can simply apply and ask for such and such to happen. However, the Minister must ensure that when new information is available from inquiries, which I hope will focus on vaccination as an important part of any future disease control mechanism, we have the opportunity to encompass it under legislation. Vaccination must be properly implemented so that it sensibly plays a part in controlling any future outbreak and only the minimum number of animals would need to be slaughtered.

Mr. Morley: I can confirm that the concerns of the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) about the deficiencies in the clause are right. The principle deficiency is that it gives the right to any individuals to vaccinate their animals if they choose.

During the outbreak, people said that there were many downsides to vaccination-we should not forget that. If we moved to having prophylactic vaccinations, unwelcome consequences in terms of how meat would have to be deboned, hung and heat-treated would follow and cause many difficulties. That fact is not lost on farmers and exporters in the debate on vaccination and although that, in itself, is no reason not to consider vaccination, one should not leave individuals to decide, alone, to vaccinate their herd or flock without having an overall strategy for using vaccination.

The new clause would also be against EU directive 85/511, which says that the detail of any vaccination programme must be submitted to the European Commission for scrutiny and approval, and approval cannot be presumed; the Commission cannot give carte blanche to anyone for vaccination. The reason is that, in these days of international global trade and an EU single market, what one member state does may have implications for another. A logical approach must therefore be taken to vaccination. That is why we and the Dutch are sponsoring a major EU conference next week to explore those issues.

We accept that vaccination should be a weapon in our armoury. It was an option open to us during the epidemic and we never closed the door on it. After detailed scientific evaluation, I think that the conclusion will be that vaccination would not have worked because of the scale and spread of the epidemic. Vaccination could not have been used in the classical fashion of being a disease control measure. However, as the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) rightly stated, technology moves on and tests get better. The tests that were available have not yet been internationally validated, and that is an important fact. I am not saying that they will not be validated.

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Mrs. Winterton: Is it not true that the tests are undergoing farm trials? They have not been validated, but they are well on the way and I hope that, in the near future, we will have more information.

The Minister will be aware that the proper use of modern vaccines, if used early enough, could have brought the British epidemic to a halt. They were effectively used in Holland, where action was taken quickly, although it is true that that country took the political decision to have a 10 km cull, which was not based on scientific advice. That decision meant that Holland took out more animals per outbreak than we did.

Mr. Morley: No, I do not agree with that analysis at all. Independent scientific research will demonstrate that that is a fallacy. When the outbreak began, we had no idea where the disease would occur. It affected the length and breadth of the country and it would not have been possible to use ring vaccination, because that would have meant putting a ring around the whole country. Using suppressor vaccination would also have been difficult.

There is no comparison with the situation in Holland, where people were warned by us and had a small and isolated outbreak that they could move in on quickly. If we had been in that position, we could have dealt with it in exactly the same way. The Dutch Government used vaccination primarily as a means of orderly disposal of the animals. That was a controversial decision in Holland at the time, and in that sense one could argue that it was political. We were never at any time given any scientific advice that vaccination would have been effective in bringing the disease to a halt. If we had been, we would have taken it.

11 am

Mrs. Winterton: Will the Minister concede a point that was made to me by one of my dairy farmers early on in the epidemic when it looked as though the disease was spreading rapidly to Cheshire-that vaccination could have been used to protect dairy herds, bearing in mind that it would not have affected in any way the quality of milk for the market?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly confirm that it would not have affected the quality of milk. Vaccinating for foot and mouth disease does not involve any risk to people. We have made that clear on the DEFRA website, where we give all the pros and cons of vaccination. Vaccination is not a panacea and it probably would not eliminate all culling, but it certainly has a role to play. Improved technology-such as the new test that the hon. Lady mentioned, which identifies antibodies from vaccination and from the virus-will be helpful in any disease control measures. However, that test must complete its validation, as must any test, before we can use it on a wide scale.

Mr. Wiggin: When the Minister goes to the conference he may have a chance to research the prophylactic vaccination programme in Uruguay,

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which has been extremely successful, especially in cattle. I hope that he will meet Dr. Paul Sutmoller, who is an expert on the subject, and compare notes with him.

Mr. Morley: We will have discussions with a range of international experts. My information is that prophylactic vaccination in Uruguay failed to eradicate the disease, and it is still endemic. We may discuss the reasons for that, along with many other matters.

We want disease-free status in this country, and I strongly believe that vaccination is a perfectly reasonable tool to consider among a range of options. I do not want to give the impression that we rule out vaccination or that we think that the widespread culling that took place in the recent epidemic is desirable in future epidemics. We need to look for alternatives in a responsible and considered way, and the Bill gives us the range of options to do so.

Mrs. Winterton: I seem to recall that vaccination was used in two outbreaks in eastern Europe, one of which was in Macedonia, and it brought the epidemic to a grinding halt. Has the Minister any knowledge of that?

Will the Minister say something about compensation for animals slaughtered after vaccination? That is an omission about which many people want to be reassured.

Mr. Morley: Yes, I am aware of the Macedonian vaccination programme, but I do not know whether foot and mouth is still endemic there.

I repeat that vaccination is a very important option which we should not rule out, and we do not intend to do so. Indeed, there may be opportunities for new policies in the future. Even then, one would want to use the new clause not in a piecemeal way, but in a controlled way as part of a proper disease control strategy.

The Bill provides the power for compensation for vaccination and slaughter if required. At the moment, we do not have the power to pay compensation. It does not rule out full market compensation, but it may sometimes be necessary to consider a range of options and it is important that the options remain open to the Government. One option might be that for classical swine fever, for which 100 per cent. compensation is not paid in all cases. We need to consider the different circumstances and we do not want to paint ourselves into a corner on any one option. We want the freedom to discuss with the relevant stakeholders the most appropriate way forward.

Mrs. Winterton: Although the Minister is making a sound point from his point of view, his comments will provide no reassurance to the farming community because it knows that at the end of the day the Ministry has the upper hand. Does he not believe that reassurance on compensation should be provided in the Bill? That has been done elsewhere in connection with compulsory purchase and this is not a dissimilar situation.

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Mr. Morley: It very much depends on the circumstances in which a slaughter policy is used. It depends on disease control circumstances and on negotiations that might have taken place with those affected. Nothing in the Bill rules out full market compensation, and it should be negotiated in the circumstances in which such a measure is used. The NFU and other organisations have been very successful in getting a deal for their members and looking after their interests. I am sure that that will continue.

Taking everything into consideration, although vaccination is a respectable tool in disease control and a matter to which we must give further thought as technology and science progress, the new clause is not workable and I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw it.

Mr. Wiggin: Will the Minister consider carefully the research that has been done on vaccination? I am not yet completely convinced that the Dutch policy was started with the understanding that it would continue to slaughter. The Minister alluded to EU intervention. I suspect that that is why the Dutch continued down the slaughter-after-vaccination route.

The situation in Uruguay is not clear and I should be grateful for any research to be made available, perhaps through the Library, so that we can discover how effective vaccination is in Uruguay. My impression is that it is effective and has prevented the disease from becoming endemic. We import meat from Uruguay, so it is essential to ensure that the policy is effective; if it is not, that could be a source of the infection. It is essential that the research is carried out and I hope that it will take place in the near future.

Mrs. Winterton: Despite the Minister's reassurance and clarification, we shall press the new clause to a vote.

The Chairman: The new clause is being discussed with clause 4 stand part, so a Division on the new clause will take place at the end of the Committee's consideration of the clauses in the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 6.

Division No. 14]

Ainger, Mr. Nick
Atkins, Charlotte
Cunningham, Tony
Drew, Mr. David
Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Organ, Diana
Reed, Mr. Andy

Bacon, Mr. Richard
Breed, Mr. Colin
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill
Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

<<179>>Clause 5


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Clause 5 gives effect to schedule 2, which is an addition to the 1981 Act and specifically covers scrapie. Although I support in broad principle the Government's strategy to reduce scrapie more rapidly from the national flock, I have some concerns about that part of the Bill.

According to the DEFRA website, scrapie, which is a notifiable disease in all EU countries, is still prevalent throughout the world. It may be useful to the Committee to know that although it has been compulsory since 1993 to notify scrapie, in recent times it has been reported in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. It is also a notifiable disease in about 50 per cent. of non-EU countries--that is significant, because they include countries that are waiting to join the EU--such as the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Switzerland, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Moldova and Norway. Cases have been reported in Poland and Hungary, which, like the Czech Republic, are waiting to join the EU, and in many other countries.

It is worthy and commendable for us to be engaged in a plan to eliminate scrapie from the national flock, but I have reservations on several counts. We seem to be proceeding apace while there is no suggestion that the Government have sought and obtained similar activity in other EU countries, or addressed the problem that countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary will join the EU shortly. They are big farming countries and the EU should be discussing the problem with them if they are about to become part of the common agricultural policy. Will the Minister give us some information on what discussions he and his colleagues have had with our EU partners about the countries about to join?

As a former agriculture Minister, I recall clearly that in 1996 the suggestion that BSE might have entered the sheep flock was subject to much consideration. There were orders to remove sheep and goat heads and offal; it was thought prudent to exclude those from the human food chain. It was a matter of concern not just in the UK, but in the United States, where research had taken place, albeit on around 20 strains--there are many more than 20 strains of scrapie--and in France, where the Dormont committee, the French equivalent to our Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, advised the French Government to press ahead with measures in the EU. I am not making any complaint about that, but my clear recollection as a Minister was that the issue was seen as an EU-wide problem. I would have expected not just that unilateral action was being taken in the UK, but that the Minister could update us on the science and research in other EU countries and America, which has a keen

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interest in the matter. We know that New Zealand has eliminated scrapie from its national flock. We should examine what has been done there.

I am concerned because this part of the Bill is relevant to farmers, their incomes and their competitiveness. During an earlier sitting, I had a short exchange with the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall. He has, very quietly, just accused me of having a senior moment-just like a young upstart. This, however, is a serious point. The hon. Gentleman clearly said at column 6 of the record of this Committee that he felt it appropriate for the UK to take a lead and go ahead. I have reservations. The NFU note on this part of the Bill says:

''The NFU supports the current voluntary plan for the eradication of scrapie in the sheep flock. The provisions in Schedule 2 are intended to reduce the likely time horizon''.

We all agree with that. The NFU, however, adds caveats, saying that that would mean that

''farmers could have to pay for additional sampling and testing of their animals''.

11.15 am

We all know the problems of the farming community and farm income. The question of compensation is important. It applies especially to those who have paid a lot of money for breeding stock that is a valuable part of their farm assets, only to find that the rams are devalued because they have been identified as genetically susceptible to scrapie. We must consider how much compensation should apply in such cases, because the problem has an impact on farm income.

British farmers would be at a competitive disadvantage if they were not properly compensated or faced additional charges when such procedures were not in place in other countries. If the problem is found to be prevalent and there is a huge reduction in breeding stock, there may be a need to import breeding stock. I am concerned at that, because it may not come from a country that is as vigilant as us in eliminating scrapie from its national herd. I am concerned about several read-acrosses, rather than the general principle incorporated in the Bill, and yet again about how the Government implement their intentions.

Another matter concerns me. I am not saying that the Minister is personally responsible, because it is probably his boss, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who feels the need to put out constant warnings about sheep and human health. I know that the Minister will want to defend her, but I would like to read something from the regulatory impact assessment that applies to the clause. Under the section entitled ''Option 3. Making genotyping compulsory'', the direct beneficiaries of putting compulsory genotyping in place are flagged up. They would include:

''Government in terms of being able to safeguard human health and . . . to safeguard the future of the sheep industry as an integral part of the rural economy.''

Another beneficiary would be:

''Consumers in terms of safety of produce''.

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Again, the Government are taking powers that cannot be described simply as precautionary. Precautionary measures are already in place where sheep carcases and human health are concerned. We have just gone through a three-year experiment that was probably one of the worst cock-ups ever to come out of a Government Department, and have still not had a full explanation of why cattle brains were examined instead of sheep brains. That has set decision making in this area back by several years.

According to the Government, the clause relates not only to the elimination of scrapie but to the read-across into potential BSE in sheep and the implications of that for human health. Of course, there must be a precautionary measure, but in their own document associated with the Bill the Government suggest that the measure should be implemented on the ground of safety of produce for consumers. If that argument is so compelling that the measure needs to go into the Bill, why has the Minister not taken additional measures to remove from the human food chain products about which he has grave reservations, but not the science to back them up? The measure is more than just precautionary but it does not have the backing of science.

That matter is being looked at by scientists not only in this country, but throughout the world. None of the research-not even from the British experiment that went wrong, the Dormont committee, or the American bioassay experimentation-has been brought into the public domain or consulted on by the Minister, yet here he is claiming, and praying in aid, that the measure will safeguard human health.

I am concerned that the measure is about more than removing scrapie from the national flock. It is clearly stated that it is a human health issue. If it is and the Minister genuinely believes that, he has a duty not just to the Committee but to the general public to put into the public domain the information that will explain what he is saying in the documents associated with the Bill.

I fully understand-no one understands more than I do; I was at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1994 to 1997-that when Ministers receive scientific advice, even as a precautionary measure, they have to act on it. That has been the history. We could discuss at the margins of another debate what has happened in the past over BSE, but it is a fact that every piece of advice that SEAC gave the previous Government on what needed to be done for human health was carried out, certainly during the time when I held office at MAFF.

I am having difficulty because I cannot see where the science behind the measure is. Decisions should be based on science. I am the first to admit that science can be flawed, that scientists are not perfect and do not always have the answers and that science develops over years. What was the case five or 10 years ago changes, because scientific work progresses and new techniques and technologies come into play enabling more accurate information to be put into the public domain. However, I cannot see where the science for this measure has come from-nationally or

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internationally. I cannot see how it is in the public interest for the Government to say that the measure has been introduced for consumers' health without backing that up substantively with the science that has led them to believe that.

We could all pluck out of the air 101 pure guesstimates about what might or might not be a dangerous situation. If the Minister is concerned about human health, that is even more reason to include in the Bill measures to prevent imports coming into the country. They are a real risk to human health, which we all can see.

I would like the science that justifies the Minister's wording of the measure and other parts of the Bill that follow on from it. I am not opposed to removing scrapie but, yet again, the Government have not thought through some of their proposals, the consequences for those on the farming community and its competitiveness, or the clear signal that they are now giving consumers about the potential danger of eating sheep meat.

On Second Reading, I raised a query about the wording in the Food Standards Agency's bulletin about the measure and its consequences for milk and milk products from sheep and goats. I am grateful for the detailed letter that the Minister sent me on that, but if he genuinely believes that there is a risk, he should quantify it. It is extraordinary. A Government advisory committee has flagged up that it may wish to ban milk and milk products from sheep and goats, but the precautionary measure does not apply to that, although it applies to scrapie in general.

I should like a lot of information from the Minister on the science behind proposals relating to the consequences of BSE's infecting sheep through scrapie. I should also like him to tell us about scrapie eradication and research findings in other countries. For example, is the Dormont committee still concerned about the problem, and if so what research has convinced it that the problem is on-going? Have the Americans produced any new evidence in the past four or five years to suggest that such an approach is justified? We must have such scientific justification.

However much people criticised the actions of the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under the previous Conservative Administration, and even though we sometimes took flak publicly, I believe that we were right to base ministerial decisions on the best scientific advice available at the time. At the moment, however, we appear to be witnessing not scientific decision making but political decision making. I offer the Minister these words of advice. As soon as one departs from the science, however imperfect, and one starts to take political decisions, it becomes difficult to resist the pressure to do the same in other areas. In making such a departure, one opens a Pandora's box for all future ministerial decisions. Decisions should be based on science, and I should like the Minister to explain the scientific basis for this one.

Mr. Breed: The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), who has considerable experience of ministerial office and life in general, has raised some very important issues.

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Mrs. Browning: Having accused me of tabling the senior amendment, the hon. Gentleman makes a further reference to my age. Although I am flattered to be told that I have a wide experience of life, I am beginning to be reminded of the poem ''You are Old, Father William''. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would be kind enough not to refer to my age or other such matters again.

Mr. Breed: I shall be only too pleased to do as the hon. Lady asks, although it should be noted that today she has reached an age that I shall reach in a few months' time.

We are all in broad agreement on scrapie. However, on consulting the DEFRA website when it was first established, I noted that one of DEFRA's aims was the eradication of scrapie. I wondered then whether that aim was established by the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the light of BSE or some other problem that had been hanging around, or by DEFRA in the light of another event. That is an important issue. Scrapie has been with us for some time without causing major problems, so it is important to ask why this decision has been taken now.

I take the hon. Lady's point about uncompetitiveness. I held the perhaps somewhat naive view that eradicating the disease might persuade consumers that our produce had been improved and was worthy of commanding a premium. However, perhaps the cost of eradication would outweigh any potential premium. We have seen as much in organics, where additional costs are not necessarily reflected in the premium-

Mrs. Ann Winterton: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, in that by making food even purer and more reassuring, one might command a premium price. However, is it not true that, as with organics, many consumers merely pay lip service to that principle? On buying products, they generally turn to the cheapest on the supermarket shelf, and if we adopted such a policy we might price ourselves out of the market.

11.30 am

Mr. Breed: I agree absolutely that that danger exists. We saw how rapidly public opinion on vaccination moved during the foot and mouth crisis. The fear was that supermarkets would not stock vaccinated meat because their consumers would not want to eat it. Consumers sometimes think in irrational ways. Indeed, it is perhaps irrational to be prepared to eat meat from animals that might be infected with scrapie, although consumers have probably done as much for most of their lives. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a sea-change in public perceptions of food safety, and such a change can prove an important factor. The Minister should explain why now is the right time to accelerate progress of the existing voluntary arrangement, because progress is already being made, although perhaps not as quickly as expected.

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A couple of other points were raised on Second Reading, the first of which concerns the loss of specific breeds' potentially beneficial gene pools. If we want to eradicate scrapie, what do we do with the remaining flocks? Is there an argument for living with scrapie on the ground that UK flocks have gene pools that might prove valuable in future? To eradicate those pools through eradicating scrapie might stack up potential problems. We need to strike a balance.

The second point, to which reference has been made, is the question of traceability. We need to push identification and traceability as hard as eradication, if not harder. This is an important issue, and although it would seem prima facie sensible to eradicate scrapie from UK flocks, we need to take a step back and ensure that the time is right. We must be certain that accelerating the eradication process is the sensible way forward, that it will prove economically beneficial, and that we will not lose potentially valuable gene pools.

Mrs. Winterton: I had not realised that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton is celebrating her birthday today. It is appropriate that the Committee mark the event, but I would not dream of initiating a discussion on how long she has been on this earth, except to say that she has been here for a much shorter time than me. In offering my congratulations, I should also say that hers was a tremendous introduction to the issue of scrapie. She has longstanding experience of these matters, and a great interest in them from a constituency point of view.

My hon. Friend rightly said that decisions must be based on sound science, and Ben Gill, leader of the NFU, agrees. In suggesting that it was unnecessary for Britain to adopt the tough measures to control scrapie in sheep that France has proposed, he said:

''We have done far more research than the French.''

Although there was the terrible debacle concerning sheep brains and cow brains, every single test so far for BSE in newer sheep brains has proved negative. It is difficult to prove a negative, but I wish the press would stop hinting that there may be problems with sheep meat. The evidence is not there, and the public are confident of the product's quality.

Although scrapie has been with us for hundreds of years, I accept that the Government want to move on and are consequently introducing a statutory scheme to replace the existing voluntary arrangement. The National Sheep Association has expressed its concerns that the Bill is precipitate:

''The removal of TSE susceptible genes should only be undertaken once an acceptable level of resistance has been bred in.''

That is a sensible view. It suggests that that

''should only be considered when the main part of the breed has reached a figure of 75 per cent. resistance (subject to scientific advice and approval).''

What is the great hurry? The voluntary scheme might be working too slowly, but there may be ways in which we could hurry it up without introducing a statutory scheme.

The National Sheep Association also states that

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''The current goodwill in the industry towards scrapie eradication needs to be fostered. The genotyping technology is new and has received good support. A great deal will be achieved by the adoption of persuasive as opposed to coercive policies. They only need to be in place as a backstop and for final clearance . . . experience of the coercive approach in other countries has not been successful and a careful approach would be more effective. Timing is of the essence.''

Why is there such a huge push on this issue? Is it because the Bill provides an opportunity to introduce new measures on scrapie, or is there a hidden agenda at which we can only guess?

The National Sheep Association makes the point that

''During the recent outbreak a number of flocks, which were already highly resistant to these diseases, were slaughtered. While foot and mouth disease would have passed through the sheep with very little direct problems the loss of quality, high health status genetics will take a long time to get back and in many cases might be irreplaceable. For that reason we would strongly recommend seeking alternative acceptable systems which might allow such stock to be removed from potential danger or maybe encouragement given to storage of semen or embryo and also possibly research done to see if foot and mouth disease is actually carried in such semen or embryos and . . . if it can be cleansed (this can be done for some diseases).''

It would like to see

''scientists and breeders working together to reduce to a minimum the potential loss of important genes in the future and to work together to focus on an optimal level solution for the benefit of all concerned.''

As I said earlier, the Minister is a great supporter of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is concerned about the timing of the measures in clause 5. It supports the identification of sheep that are genetically susceptible to scrapie because the disease is endemic in many parts of the national flock and results in poor health and welfare for animals. It also believes that

''The section in the Bill that puts''

scrapie eradication

''on a more formal footing''

is not subject to a

''time indication in the Bill.''

Will the Minister say a few words on that subject? Will the programme be phased in over several years? Will there be sufficient time for both sides of the argument to work together to ensure that the programme's benefits, rather than its costs, are felt?

The RSPCA states:

''It would be impractical to test every single sheep in the UK within say a year''.

Obviously, that would be extremely difficult and

''the effects of testing and then culling every animal that proved positive would be devastating for the lamb industry.''

Given the tremendous numbers of animals that have already been lost, this would be a devastating and perhaps unnecessary blow.

''The RSPCA would like to see this testing programme phased in over a period of time . . . test all breeding rams and the year's lambs one year and then focus on a third or fourth group over the next years.''

Those are valid points, and I hope that the Minister will have something to say about them.

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Mr. Morley: At this stage in the Committee I cannot deliver a lengthy lecture on the history of scrapie and transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. However, because it is the birthday of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, I should be happy to send her a letter updating her on what other countries are doing on the issue. I am sure that she will find such a letter interesting, and she can take it as a birthday present from the Committee.

The French are proposing measures in relation to their sheep flock that are similar to those proposed in the Bill. As the hon. Member for Congleton rightly said, the French have gone further than us in relation to specified risk material controls on sheep carcasses, which we are not convinced is justified in the light of current scientific knowledge. That demonstrates, however, that the concern is not solely held by the UK, but is an international issue. It would benefit our national flock if it were scrapie free, and there would be commercial advantages, which justifies moving quickly. I must emphasise that the sheep industry has co-operated excellently and has worked with us closely because it shares our aim of eradicating scrapie.

There is nothing that we cannot take into account in the quotes from the National Sheep Association that were read out by the hon. Member for Congleton. I remind the Committee that the national scrapie plan was consulted in detail before the Bill. As part of the consultation, we made it clear that at some stage we intended to make the plan compulsory, which was something that was not in dispute during the consultation period. We propose that this will be a backstop measure. We have already discussed the proposal with the sheep industry, and we know that scrapie eradication must take place over several years.

We must discuss an appropriate time scale with the industry because the current voluntary timetable is estimated at 10 or 15 years, which we consider to be too long-to be fair to the sheep industry, it also thinks that that is too long. We want to move the plan forward by discussing a realistic time scale. Indeed, we shall begin the process on the basis of voluntary agreements, and the measures may be implemented down the road when we reach a certain percentage. The majority in the sheep industry is keen to co-operate with the eradication programme because it is in its interests and those of consumers.

As far as the science is concerned, the request to accelerate the programme came from the Food Standards Agency, which we set up as an independent body to advise us on consumer issues, and we take its opinion seriously. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee has also recommended the eradication programme. I accept the view of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton that the risks are theoretical, but we are in a post-BSE environment and we must learn the lessons of that.

Talking of disasters, there has been no bigger disaster for the agricultural sector than BSE. It has touched just about every sector of farming, and the costs have been absolutely horrendous. I was disappointed to hear today arguments similar to the ones that were put previously, such as that there is no

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absolute proof and that there are economic consequences. We have to follow the recommendations of the Phillips report that we must not rule out the worst-case scenarios and that we must think ahead and not rule anything out.

We know that scrapie is transmitted throughout the sheep's body, in a different way from BSE. It is found in the lymph nodes for example, which means that it is present throughout the meat, and therefore will get into the milk. That is why the FSA has concerns about that and why the implications are really quite severe.


I repeat again that there is no evidence of BSE in the national flock, and the advice of the Food Standards Agency is that there is no reason why people should stop eating sheep meat -and I have made that point every time I have been interviewed on this issue. Nevertheless, there is a theoretical risk that we must take seriously not only that scrapie might be masking BSE within the national flock, but that BSE is believed to be some form of mutated protein prion. There is always the risk of mutations in relation to existing TSEs. So, it would be to everybody's benefit if we had a scrapie-free flock and a TSE-resistant flock. That is the objective of the Government and the sheep industry, so there is no disagreement between us. We will discuss with industry representatives the most realistic and appropriate time scale for achieving this.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: The Committee is reassured by what the Minister said about co-operation with the industry and the timing of the introduction of the scheme. However, there are two important points to take into account. First and foremost, it is important that other European countries undertake the same type of programmes as we do. It is hardly likely that we will import much sheep meat because we produce so much of our own, which is of the highest quality, but we do not act unilaterally in respect of marketing, so what we do here should also apply to other European countries. The Food Standards Agency, which looks into the wholesomeness of food produced in the United Kingdom, cannot look into food that is imported into this country, although I understand that it is trying to widen its remit in that regard.

Mr. Morley: The FSA does have a role in relation to the quality of all food in our country. Of course there are food regulations within the single market, but that does not mean that the FSA cannot comment on any particular issue. As far as other European economies are concerned, I know that the EU Standing Veterinary Committee is looking seriously at TSEs, and may well want to pursue these matters on an EU-wide basis. I strongly support that, but it does not stop us taking action. Historically, we have the biggest problem with BSE in Europe, so we cannot ignore the potential risk that the kind of feed that is believed to be linked with BSE, could have been fed to sheep in the early 1990s.

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A range of experiments is continuing. The reasons for the failure of the Institute of Animal Health experiment are set out in the independent audit, which is in the Library. It explains what went wrong with that particular experiment. We should not be too hard on the Institute of Animal Health, however. Generally speaking, it is a good organisation that does first-class work for the Government. It has an international reputation and it has expressed some doubts about the providence of that particular experiment, given that it involved a brain-pool collected in the early 1990s. Basically, the experiment was conducted on a jar of brain paste. It is probably not so easy to differentiate between a jar of bovine brain paste and a jar of ovine brain paste, although I accept that the independent audit rightly pointed to issues of labelling and traceability, which the independent audits quite rightly pointed out.

In relation to the general principle, I understand the concerns that have been expressed and can reassure Committee members that we want to proceed with scrapie eradication with the co-operation of the sheep industry and we are confident that we can achieve that.

Mrs. Browning: I have two questions for the Minister. First, having decided to proceed at such a pace-I say that not as a criticism-he seems to be rather uncertain about what is happening in the rest of Europe. There must have been discussions with the Agriculture Commissioner and the Commission's veterinary committees. Can he give us more tangible information? Have other EU countries decided to take a different approach? Is that why we are not moving forward together?

Secondly, in the light of the results of the Institute of Animal Health experiment, how do the Government intend to replicate that experimentation? I do not mean that they should necessarily carry out the same tests-things may have moved on-but there is concern about the lack of science in establishing whether or not BSE has entered the sheep population. What will happen next in terms of experimentation?

Mr. Morley: That point goes beyond the scope of the Committee, but I shall be happy to send the hon. Lady details of the five-point action plan on sheep TSEs that I have announced.

With regard to other European countries, I have already said that the French are considering taking exactly the same steps as we are taking. I am not aware of the latest up-to-date situation in all the countries, but I know that they have been discussing the matter, as has the Standing Veterinary Committee, and I will be pleased to update the hon. Lady on the progress that has been made.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful for the Minister's comments, especially in the light of the Meat and Livestock Commission's lamb lunch the week before last. The sheep farmers there shared his sentiments about eradicating scrapie from the national flock and showed a typical bulldog-perhaps I should say sheepdog-spirit in doing so.

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It was incumbent on the Government not to lump such an important measure in with the foot and mouth-preventing legislation. That sends out a damaging signal to people abroad, who may think that the Bill is designed to eradicate not only foot and mouth disease, but scrapie and anything else. That might appear to be a rash marketing move, given the images that people have seen on television of bodies being burned and the huge cost to our countryside and tourist industry. We should try to do everything that we can to encourage people to buy British and not to think that everything here is diseased, which of course it is not. Huge steps have been taken in marketing light lamb. It is a great shame that that was necessary, but in terms of the impact of foot and mouth on our exports it represents one of the minor success stories.

A matter that arises later in the Bill but is relevant here is the electronic identification of scrapie genotype-sensitive sheep. In my limited experience of sheep, they tend to lose almost any identification tag unless it is a bolus injected into them, and even those can be lost. That worries me, given that the Bill generally takes a draconian attitude to people who in any way deviate from the straight and narrow, regardless of whether it is their fault. Owners who have lost electronic tags through no fault of their own may be placed in a difficult position.

In the light of the foot and mouth crisis, it would be difficult for a voluntary scheme for the eradication of scrapie to have been as successful as the Minister might have hoped, especially as at any stage a farmer could expect his animals to be contiguously culled. Eradicating scrapie may have been placed lower down the priority list than it should have been. The overriding commercial advantage of not having scrapie is not being punished for having another disease. I therefore welcome this part of the Bill, but to legislate before consultation and discussion puts people at a disadvantage in respect of speed of progress. I am sorry that the Minister was not more accurate in his predictions of how quickly scrapie will be removed under the Bill.

I am also concerned that, once again, we will be dealing with the dodgy science that gave us the image of a Minister feeding a hamburger to his daughter; perhaps we will see a Minister feeding a kebab to his cat. I hope that significant steps are taken to encourage people to eat lamb that is now scrapie-free and that it is not simply lumped with earlier foot and mouth images. I wonder what steps the Government will take to encourage people to eat more lamb. Perhaps Tim nice-but-dim will appear on television more frequently-he has been advertising how simple it is to cook and eat lamb.

Mr. Breed: We have had a useful debate on the principles behind the Bill and I thank the Minister for his helpful comments.

The terminology and wording of the parts of the Bill that deal with the provisions for scrapie are in stark contrast to the rest of it. The Minister said that the scrapie regulations would be the product of a mixture of consultation and the stick and carrot method and that there would be a backstop element. That is

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reasonable, and the word ''reasonable'' even appears frequently in the Bill. It makes me wonder when that was written compared with the rest of the Bill. The rest is anything but carrot and stick: it is all stick, and a big stick at that. The provisions for scrapie regulations are written in a much more reasonable manner, and are in stark contrast to other provisions.

Mrs. Browning: I do not think that we have received the reassurance that we sought from the Minister on the economic arguments and the impact on farmers. There has been broad approval for the thrust of this part of the Bill, which will speed up the eradication of scrapie from the national flock. I support the clause but I look forward to reading the Minister's bundle of letters that he has now promised me-I hope that they will be tied up with a nice ribbon.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2

Adjusted compensation

Mrs. Ann Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 148, in page 15, line 23, at end insert-

'(e) provide for the Minister to defray any costs of the keeper in respect of the identification and testing of any sheep;'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 43, in page 16, line 42, leave out sub-paragraphs (c) and (d).

Mrs. Winterton: These are small but important amendments. Amendment No. 148 aims to assist owners and establish that those who have their sheep tested for scrapie should not have to meet the costs of any tests, bearing in mind that it would be a statutory scheme and not voluntary. Comments thus far suggest that most hon. Members support moves to hasten the eradication of scrapie in the national flock. However, concerns have been expressed, so we seek clarification on having provisions for the Minister to defray any of the keeper's costs for the identification and testing of sheep.

12 noon

Under new section 36B, regulations can be made to genotype sheep and to keep a record of that. The new section also refers to electronic identification devices, which I assume are the boluses of which my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) spoke. There may be considerable costs, but if the Government and the Department introduce a national scheme, costs should be brought down to the minimum. Nevertheless, the Government should pay for them. I am glad that they will ensure that electronic identification devices are used because tagging is not an option and the new plastic ear tags for cattle have proved extremely difficult to use because they come out so easily. New boluses and technologies should make the scheme much cheaper to run.

New section 36B(2)(d) refers to requiring

''the issuing and keeping of certificates recording the genotypes of sheep.''

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If one uses the new electronic devices, it should be possible to keep the resulting certification and paperwork to a minimum. The farming community are literally going under because of the amount of paperwork that must be dealt with. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when setting up the statutory scheme.

Amendment No. 43 seeks to omit sub-paragraphs (c) and (d) under the appeals structure and refers to the period after an appeal has been granted. The amendment would omit sub-paragraph (c), which requires the appellant to meet reasonable costs of carrying out further samples or tests, and sub-paragraph (d), which refers to the recovery of such costs. It is extraordinary that such a position arises only after a farmer has appealed to an assessor and the assessor has allowed the appeal and directed that a further test should be carried out on the sheep. It is fundamentally unjust that successful farmers should be penalised in such a way, so the two sub-paragraphs should be dropped from the Bill. To bear such costs is a disincentive to the farmer to carry on and I hope that the Minister will look on the amendments favourably.

Mr. Morley: I can give the hon. Lady an assurance on amendment No. 148. The initial sampling and identification of animals by inspectors will be paid for by the Department, as described under the national scrapie plan. The only activities that keepers will have to undertake will be the provision of assistance to inspectors. For example, they may have to round up sheep and retain records of the genotypes of sheep, but those activities are likely to incur minimal cost. We are not contemplating placing a large cost on the industry; the bulk of it will be borne by the Department.

On amendment No. 43, it is true that powers in the Bill could require appellants to meet the reasonable costs of activities connected with further genotyping samples and tests. In appeals of that kind, it is not unreasonable that the Department has the facility to recover some costs if it so chooses, bearing in mind that the initial work is paid for by the Department and the taxpayer.

Mrs. Winterton: I welcome the undertaking that the Minister has given on amendment No. 148 that the Ministry will pay for the identification and testing of sheep, as at present. I think that he made the point that the electronic devices such as boluses will be paid for by the farmer.

Mr. Morley: I did not make that point, but they will be.

Mrs. Winterton: They, and the certification, will be paid for by the farmer. The Minister said that the costs would be minimal. In the introduction of a national statutory scheme, can he give an assurance, given the Government's huge purchasing power, that the costs really will be minimal?

Mr. Morley: I certainly can. I believe that a large-scale electronic identification scheme will considerably reduce the costs of the electronic devices. I am a great

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supporter of electronic identification, which brings the industry a range of benefits. There are various kinds of electronic device including the bolus, carried in the stomach, and electronic ear-tagging. We will want to consult with the industry on what it thinks is the most appropriate. I do not have a fixed view, but I would have thought that the stomach bolus is probably the best method.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful for the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend's question. It emphasises the importance of the amendment, because any industry that is asked what sort of tag it would like to put on its animals is bound to choose the most cost effective. Under the amendment, the Government would have a vested interest in ensuring that the cheapest option and the best option are one and the same. Otherwise, the cost will be borne by the industry. We must ensure that the industry not only has the best tag, but does not end up footing the Bill for the most expensive.

Mrs. Winterton: I think that the Minister has covered most of the points that have been raised, and bearing his reassurances in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Breed: I beg to move amendment No. 92, in page 17, line 34, leave out ''reasonable excuse'' and insert ''reason''.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 93, in page 17, line 40, leave out ''reasonable excuse'' and insert ''reason''.

Mr. Breed: The amendments are minimal, but are intended to plead the case that farmers do not make excuses, but have reasons. I could not remove the word ''excuse'' without also taking out ''reasonable'' and putting in ''reason''. It is a small point, but farmers rightly believe that their reasons are sometimes strong-they pressed this point during the FMD outbreak-and based on local knowledge. They are not excuses, but reasons based on experience, knowledge and the things with which they have become familiar.

We should not perpetuate the idea that farmers are making excuses for what they are trying to do. I entirely accept that they would have to prove their reasons, but if we change the wording to ''reason'', it removes from the Bill the slight tone of treating farmers as if they are whingeing people, trying to make excuses rather than having sincere reasons for, perhaps, objecting, or putting forward their case.

Mr. Morley: The term ''reasonable excuse'' is used because it is a readily understood legal term. It is understood by the courts and is used to determine what is reasonable in the context of the particular circumstances of the charge before the court. The amendment would create confusion about the nature of events, because the provision of a ''reason'' does not necessarily mean a reason that is reasonable in the eyes of the court. The amendments would thus provide for

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an uncertainty in the law. Although I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, they would confuse the issue because the existing terminology is understood.

Mr. Breed: I am happy to accept that assurance from the Minister, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Breed: I beg to move amendment No. 94, in page 18, leave out lines 1 to 3.

Again, this is a simple amendment. It would remove paragraph 4, which is frankly unnecessary and part of the big stick approach. The possibility that anyone could in any way be construed to be obstructing an inspector could have a very wide interpretation. For example, merely parking a car inconveniently could be construed as a direct attempt to obstruct. For that to be counted as an offence is a draconian measure too far. The previous paragraphs are perfectly adequate in terms of dealing with offences. It is the sort of catch-all provision that can sometimes be used inappropriately, and it adds nothing significant in terms of ensuring that the Bill is properly enacted and complied with. It is a paragraph too far, and I should like it to be removed.

Mrs. Browning: The amendment has a read-across to article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which states:

''Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence . . . There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law''.

I suspect that the Minister will pray in aid that the public body or individual would be applying the law as it stood. However, our experience of the foot and mouth crisis provides clear examples of people whose homes were violated by people in authority in a manner that was in excess of what one would expect from such people. There were some extremely distressing situations. I do not deny that when people are emotionally upset they, too, can behave uncharacteristically. However, it happened once too often in the last outbreak for us not to be concerned about how it will be handled in future. If the authority of officials is increased through the Bill, and we see more of the same with their handling of such matters, many of them will be judged by the courts to be in breach of article 8 of the convention.

The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall was right to raise his concerns. We have heard nothing from the Minister about what lessons have been learned or what guidelines will be introduced on another occasion, nor about the whole way in which the matter was dealt with by people who must unfortunately be categorised as officials, although they were not necessarily all from one official body. We saw examples on our television screens of the problems that arose, and I spoke personally to many people in Devon who had had article 8 breached in their own homes. That cannot be right.

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Mr. Morley: I understand the concerns of the hon. Members for South-East Cornwall and for Tiverton and Honiton. Wording such as this is not the way in which one wants to deal with any kind of programme. We have all agreed that the scrapie programme is in the interests of the sheep industry, which supports it. Sadly, however, it is not impossible that a handful of people, perhaps singly, will not co-operate, for whatever reason. The scrapie programme will cost the Government millions of pounds to implement. I accept that the sheep industry will be inconvenienced in the course of the eradication programme but it is for its long-term benefit. It would be quite wrong if everything-the expense, the co-operation, the work and the inconvenience-were then put at risk by a tiny number of people who would not co-operate.

If we do not have this provision within the Bill, we will probably have to go to the courts and get it sorted out. It would be better to have this provision from the very beginning to deal with such eventualities. I hope they will not happen, but we cannot rule out the fact that a small number of people will try to obstruct the progress of this programme. That cannot be tolerated.

12.15 pm

Mr. Wiggin: Surely this provision is irrelevant if the number of people causing problems will be small. The Minister will still have to take them to court, and it will not make a great deal of difference if it is in the Bill, so it is entirely superfluous.

Mr. Morley: It does make a difference, because going to court is time-consuming and potentially expensive. This is a measure that has widespread support. I do not believe that we would have to use the measures that are laid out in the Bill. I very much hope that we will not have to use them, but if we are taking such measures, we need to think about all eventualities.

Mr. Breed: I think it is because it is in this part of the Bill that I take most exception. Other parts of the Bill apply to measures taken over 24 hours or 48 hours, but this part applies to scrapie eradication over a number of years. So to go rushing off to court because a few sheep are not going to be castrated, is not really the point. That is why I think this part of the Bill is unnecessary for this particular aspect of the issue. If scrapie were something whizzing through a flock, and we had to zip off to get things done in a hurry, I might have some sympathy, but, quite frankly, we know that it will take ages.

Yes, there may be some people who will not comply with that provision, but all the other provisions cover that possibility. Parts I to III make it very clear, even if I accept the reference to ''reasonable excuse''. This is just a sledgehammer, which is unnecessary in a restricted timeframe, while talking about scrapie.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman made a reasonable point-

Mr. Breed: It is a reasonable excuse.

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Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that it will take some years to implement this programme. That is absolutely true. I return to the point that we will discuss with, and consult, the industry about the appropriate time scale required to implement the programme. In that respect, we are talking about reserved powers. If there are to be reserved powers, then all possibilities should be considered. This provision should be seen as reserved power, certainly not a power to be used to go rushing in and threatening people. I do not believe that will be necessary, or that such a provision will necessarily be used. If we have reserved powers, then we cover all eventualities and that is what this provision is designed to do.

Mr. Breed: I think that we can put that on to just about every piece of legislation-that at the end of the day, if people do not comply, then of course we will to make certain that they commit an offence eventually.

We need to decide what the threshold of reasonableness is. In respect to the scrapie provision, which is what we are talking about-not the emergency of the foot and mouth outbreak-the schedule is unnecessarily big stick and draconian. The hon. Member from Tiverton and Honiton raised the issue of human rights. We should vote on the amendment because it has connotations for the future.

Question put, That the amendment be made:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9

Division No. 15]

Bacon, Mr. Richard
Breed, Mr. Colin
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill
Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Ainger, Mr. Nick
Atkins, Charlotte
Cunningham, Tony
Drew, Mr. David
Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Organ, Diana
Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 130, in page 18, line 6, leave out ''at all reasonable times'' and insert ''between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.''.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No 131, in page 18, line 11, leave out from ''Subsection (1)'' to ''24'' and insert ''only applies when''.

No 115, in clause 7, page 4, line 16, after ''inspector,'' insert

''having given a minimum of four hours' notice''.

No. 98, in page 4, line 16, after ''any'', insert ''reasonable''.

No. 105, in clause 8, page 5, line 26, after ''premises'', insert ''at any reasonable time''.

Column Number: 196

Mrs. Winterton: We now come to some interesting and constructive amendments relating to power of entry where cases of scrapie are concerned. They suggest the modifying of some of the powers that will be given to the Minister so that when his inspector, or ''a constable''-I assume that that means a police constable-arrives at a farm, safeguards have been built in to ensure that farmers are not placed at too great a disadvantage.

I accept that, in the eradication of scrapie, timing might not be so critical as when inspectors and others arrived at farms during the foot and mouth epidemic. However, farmers co-operating in this eradication programme should have certain courtesies extended to them. Those are contained in the amendments.

Amendment No. 130 would place on the inspector a timeframe in which he could

''enter any premises for the purpose of-

(a) carrying out any function he has under or in pursuance of this Part, or

(b) ascertaining whether any such function should be exercised.''

Although new section 36G states:

''An inspector or a constable may at all reasonable times enter any premises''

for the purposes that I have just described, we believe, as stated in amendment No. 130, that we should stipulate that that should happen within a reasonable working day, for example, nine to five. The farmer would then know that the inspector or constable would turn up between those times, and he could make appropriate arrangements to deal with his other work at other times, and be available during those hours.

Amendment No. 131 would ensure that, when an inspector entered a premises, notice would be given to the occupier. Inspectors and Ministry officials often just turn up at premises to undertake their duties, but in this day and age, a farmer should be given some notice so that he can say whether it is convenient, or can arrange for his staff to be present if he cannot be. This is another modest little amendment to improve the situation.

Under amendment No. 115, an inspector may enter premises to assess animals to see whether they should be slaughtered, only if

''a minimum of four hours' notice''

is given. Farmers have many difficulties these days, and are hard pressed looking after their stock, dealing with paperwork and 101 other things. If an inspector is to turn up to see whether some of a flock should be slaughtered under the scrapie eradication scheme, it is only a matter of courtesy to give the farmer or owner such a period of notice. Four hours is a reasonable timeframe.

Amendment No. 98 would allow an inspector to enter only ''reasonable'' premises. There have been debates and mini debates about the word ''reasonable'' throughout the passage of the Bill. I wonder whether an inspector can insist on going into any kind of premise, any part of a farm and any kind of buildings, including the farmhouse. For the purposes of clarification, ''reasonable'', as far as an inspector's duties are concerned, is an adequate description.

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Amendment No. 105 restricts the time at which an inspector may enter premises, in this case to test for foot and mouth disease antibodies, to ''at any reasonable time''. I am trying to impress on the face of the Bill that any inspector, constable or Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs official must ensure that the farmer is dealt with courteously, that the arrangements are made in advance and that co-operation is requested at all times. These simple amendments address the concerns that have been expressed to us.

Mr. Breed: I support all the points made by the hon. Member for Congleton. We are trying to provide an element of reasonableness into these important powers that are potentially explosive because they cover people coming into one's home or private premises, which returns us to the idea that the Englishman's home is his castle. We must be careful because the powers could be counter-productive, something about which several members of the Committee know from experience. Restricting the hours in which inspectors can call and ensuring that they provide notice would allow people to co-operate. If one does not give notice, it may take longer than two hours to make an inspection. Calling at 6 o'clock in the morning does not guarantee that a farmer will not be on their way to market or travelling to another part of their farm. It would help everybody if there were a notice period, and in a 24 or 48-hour timeframe, four hours does not seem especially problematic.

The amendments would place the onus back on DEFRA and its inspectors. We have had a small debate about reasonable excuses, and perhaps DEFRA inspectors should recognise that they must also have a reasonable excuse to call at 3 o'clock in the morning and demand that people instantaneously jump up. The onus of reasonableness must be a two-way process because inspectors, like farmers, must have a reasonable excuse. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, although that introduces into the debate another animal that could be slaughtered. Because we are dealing with private premises and homes, the Bill could be seen to trespass into people's private domains. Proper notice and reasonable times of day and night ought to be part of the way in which we seek the co-operation of those whose support will be vital. I hope that the Minister will accede to these modest yet helpful amendments.

12.30 pm

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): I join my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton in endorsing this group of amendments. I shall comment on amendment No. 131, which concerns the question of the schedule applying only when notice of intended entry has been given.

Throughout the foot and mouth crisis-I have alluded to this before-farmers' distrust of the Ministry was a problem. That lack of trust was accompanied on many occasions by a lack of communication. The onus is on DEFRA to step up its level of communication and raise its game in

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communicating its plans to farmers. Given that history, it is entirely reasonable that farmers should be given notice of intended entry.

As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall said, we are discussing private property and privacy. I agree with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton in relation to an earlier amendment to article 8, which concerned people's right peaceably to enjoy their homes. I shall not allude to my hon. Friend's age-my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton did that once and got away with it, but I shall not stray further down that path. I shall not trespass on that territory, at least not without giving notice of my intention in advance.

The Ministry failed to engender trust or communication. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall pointed out that although we are discussing scrapie there are cases in relation to foot and mouth where no notice was given and Ministry officials clomped on to people's property in their size 12s without having given adequate notice. People resisted because of that approach, and in many cases they were right. Healthy animals would have been slaughtered if the Ministry had been allowed to act in that way. This morning, I talked to a farmer who explained how he was told that his farm was a dangerous foot and mouth contact and that he was to be inspected every other day for 21 days. Suddenly, without any prior warning or communication, he stopped being subject to inspections every other day and became somebody whose animals were immediately to be culled. Of course, he resisted and barricaded himself in. As a result of his actions, the Ministry saved itself between #1.5 million and #2 million of taxpayers' money because it did not have to compensate him for the capital value of his sheep and cattle, and the Department for Work and Pensions did not have to pay out benefit to the six people whom he would have had to lay off. This was all because he resisted, and he was right to do so.

The schedule will make resistance more difficult. My previous example concerned foot and mouth, but we are discussing only scrapie, which, as the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall pointed out, will take years to eliminate. The provisions in the schedule are unnecessarily draconian, but the amendments are reasonable, and I hope that the Committee will accept them.

Mr. Wiggin: I remind Labour Members of their comments when the Committee met at 8.55 am: they complained how unreasonable it was that we should meet so early without coffee. This heated Room is not a windswept Welsh hillside, and we did not meet to slaughter or castrate our pets or livestock. I refer Labour Members to their complaint that 8.55 am was an unreasonable hour and I urge them seriously to consider whether they should vote against such an important amendment.

As we shall be paying inspectors to go out and visit people, we should be careful not to pay them overtime for visiting outside the hours of nine to five. In a previous amendment, we decided to exclude any elements of reasonable behaviour and make the

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obstruction of an inspector an offence, so it is incumbent on us to ensure that, once catch-all elements are included in the Bill, we provide adequate protection to ensure that people are not offending unnecessarily. That is why the amendment is so crucial.

The valid point was made that, unless people visit at a reasonable time-perhaps between nine and five-there is a very good chance that they might get lost in the more wild and woolly parts of Wales or Herefordshire. It is extremely easy to get lost in such places, and even if an appointment is made for a reasonable time, there is a very good chance that one could start looking for the place in question at nine and not find it by five.

I should also like to tell the Committee about my mother-in-law, who keeps a flock of Hebridean sheep in Oxfordshire. It is incumbent on the Committee to ensure that, if her sheep are inspected for the scrapie genotype, she is not disturbed before nine or after five. It is essential that we protect sheep owners, shepherds and others who might wish to co-operate with the Government's laudable attempt to eradicate scrapie from the national flock, by preventing them from committing an offence-

Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could enlighten me. I am not a farmer, but I thought that most farmers did not restrict their working day to between the hours of nine and five.

Mr. Wiggin: I was talking about my mother-in-law, and with Christmas coming it is essential to remember this important lady. Realistically, we are talking about all people who own sheep. Although we know that farmers get up very early in the morning and perhaps work until late at night, it is not right to assume that they are available all the time.

Mr. Bacon: Does my hon. Friend agree that farmers get up between five and six in the morning-sometimes they get up in the middle of the night-and work until late at night not because they want to accommodate the needs of departmental officials, which are not urgent and could be satisfied through an appointment, but because they are desperately trying to keep their businesses afloat?

Mr. Wiggin: That is absolutely right. Perhaps the Minister will say how much quicker scrapie could be eradicated if officials were able to call earlier in the morning than nine. It is ridiculous to pretend that, in order to cut a 15-year programme down to two years, it is necessary for inspectors to call earlier than nine or later than five. The amendment is not only reasonable but important. It would counter the Bill's draconian nature, and help it to protect the income of sheep owners and the future of their industry.

Mr. Morley: These amendments are far too prescriptive for our own staff and for many farmers. Restricting entry times to between nine and five might not suit many farmers. Many might prefer inspectors to visit before nine or after five-it depends on the

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circumstances. It is right to say that the scrapie eradication programme does not constitute an emergency; it is a phased programme that will take place over some years. In general, it is important to arrange an appointment with the farmer in question, and that is what our staff will do. One does not need to write such things down in a prescriptive fashion.

Amendments Nos. 115, 98 and 105 relate not to scrapie but to FMD, which constitutes a disease control issue. It is unreasonable to ask for four hours' notice when disease control and trying to stop spread are paramount. I cannot support the amendment.

Mrs. Winterton: Is there not always an assumption, especially with the scrapie eradication programme, that the farmer must be available when it is convenient for the official to call? The programme hinges on what the official must do rather than what the farmer must do. There is an assumption that the farmer will be there anyway, so people can turn up to do whatever has to be done and the farmer must drop every other chore. The amendments would put some formality into the system.

Mr. Morley: The amendments are too prescriptive and it is not right to say that the thrust of the scrapie plan is built around the convenience of our own staff and inspectors. Of course we must co-operate with farmers and that might involve rounding up a flock, for example, so of course advance notice would have to be given. However, the amendments are too restrictive; they are unnecessary as far as scrapie is concerned and dangerous as far as FMD is concerned.

Mr. Breed: I want to speak about the four hours' notice. I did not pluck that from the air, so let us consider the practicalities and the amount of time between DEFRA deciding to inspect a farm and arriving on the farm. The decision could be notified by telephone and the inspectors might happen to be adjacent to the farm. In those extraordinary circumstances, they could walk in within three minutes. That is not usually the case, not least because they sometimes go to the wrong holding or cannot find it. However, if the farm is identified from their headquarters, is it impossible at that moment to give some notice? It may be three hours from when they get into the Land Rover until they arrive. Four hours' notice may delay the inspectors a little, but that may happen anyway and it would give the farmer a little extra time. I am sure that some wonderful flow chart shows that without four hours' notice a huge additional number of animals could be culled, but a significant amount of the four hours might be used by the inspectors in travelling to a farm holding. Four hours' notice would not necessarily cause a four-hour delay. The delay might be only half an hour because it might take three and a half hours to get to the holding.

Mrs. Winterton: The hon. Gentleman is making some valid comments. Is it not a fact that during the recent foot and mouth epidemic, four hours would have been considered a very short period, because

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stock were hanging around with the disease for 48 hours, never mind four hours. The amendment seems modest.

Mr. Breed: I entirely agree. It might even be helpful. If the farmer received four hours' notice, he might feel co-operative and start to gather the animals in so that the cull could start almost immediately. Alternatively, the inspectors might arrive at a farm with no notice and have to wait around for two, three or four hours. In terms of the totality of what we are trying to do and introducing sensible restrictions, we should try to balance the need get the disease under control with reasonableness for those who are suffering a traumatic situation anyway. I believe that that could be done without causing significant delays and problems. Problems might arise if inspectors happened to be in the area at the time, but generally that would not be the case, so we should consider that this is a reasonable amendment to the way in which draconian powers are sometimes implemented.

12.45 pm

Mrs. Winterton: I do not want to say much in summing up because the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall and others have supported the amendment. If the Department is trying to build a new relationship with the farming community and ensure that, in the introduction of a statutory scrapie eradication programme, full co-operation is achieved, the amendment does go some way to ensure that farmers are shown the consideration that they deserve. We must therefore press the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9

Division No. 16]

Bacon, Mr. Richard
Breed, Mr. Colin
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill
Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Ainger, Mr. Nick
Atkins, Charlotte
Cunningham, Tony
Drew, Mr. David
Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Organ, Diana
Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Breed: I beg to move amendment No. 95, in page 18, line 18, leave out ''or third''.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 96, in page 18, line 26, leave out ''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 97, in page 18, leave out lines 30 and 34.

No. 156, in page 18, leave out lines 31 to 33.

No. 157, in page 19, leave out lines 3 to 5.

No. 111, in clause 6, page 3, line 26, leave out

''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 112, in clause 6, page 3, leave out lines 30 to 34.

Column Number: 202

No. 133, in clause 6, page 3, line 31, leave out paragraph (a).

No. 134, in clause 6, page 3, line 34, at end insert

''and uncontactable during the 24 hour period from when the warrant was granted.''

No. 135, in clause 6, page 3, at end insert-

''(6A) If animals are mistakenly slaughtered while the occupier is absent, the farmer shall receive compensation at the level of 200 per cent. of market value.''

No. 113, in clause 6, page 4, leave out lines 3 to 5.

No. 40, in clause 6, page 4, line 4, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' and insert

''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.

No. 89, in clause 6, page 4, line 4, after ''reasonably needs'', insert

''and that that person can normally give''.

No. 99, in clause 7, page 4, line 24, leave out ''or third''.

No. 100, in clause 7, page 4, line 31, leave out

''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 101, in clause 7, page 4, leave out lines 35 to 39.

No. 138, in clause 7, page 4, leave out line 38.

No. 149, in clause 7, page 4, line 39, at end insert

''and the inspector can demonstrate that all reasonable efforts to contact the occupier have been made.''

No. 102, in clause 7, page 5, leave out lines 6 to 8.

No. 139, in clause 7, page 5, line 6, leave out ''any person'' and insert

''the owner and any person employed by the owner.''

No. 41, in clause 7, page 5, line 6, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' in line 7 and insert

''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.

No. 73, in clause 7, page 5, line 7, after ''needs'', insert

''and that that person can normally give.''

No. 106, in clause 8, page 6, line 3, leave out ''or third''.

No. 119, in clause 8, page 6, leave out lines 14 to 18.

No. 75, in clause 8, page 6, line 30, after ''needs'', insert

''and that that person can normally give''.

Mr. Breed: I shall begin by referring to the first couple of amendments.

Mr. Patrick Hall: May we have four hours' notice?

Mr. Breed: It may take more than four hours to get through them-I give notice of that now.

Amendment No. 95 and subsequent amendments relate to the reasonableness of trying to make the Bill correct. Some of them address the wording of the third condition and that of the second condition, which refers to the warrants when a justice of the peace is involved. The first condition, which states that

''there are reasonable grounds for a person mentioned in section 36G(1) to enter the premises for the purpose there mentioned''

and the fact that a justice of the peace should be involved, is taken as read. The second condition states that

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

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The subject of one amendment is the phrase ''or a refusal is expected''. That is a subjective statement. The idea that, at some unearthly hour that the JP has picked to give a warrant, one will be persuaded that a recalcitrant person would refuse entry and so ''refusal is expected'' and the warrant can go ahead is a nice catch-all. However, it means that even if one cannot demonstrate that a refusal has already taken place, one could say that one expected a refusal to take place. There seems to be no means of ensuring that there is such evidence to demonstrate that a refusal ''is expected'', but rather that the mere fact that it is expected should be part of the conditions.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is thinking of some of the examples that we saw during the foot and mouth crisis, where the decision and the intention to slaughter was so unreasonable that certain farms attracted the attention of a wide range of people who went to give support to the farmers. In those circumstances, especially if it had been in the papers or on television that, for whatever purpose, those people were collectively supporting the farmer against entry, the anticipation of refusal might almost be self-explanatory. Consequently, where there was a wholly unjustified intention to enter the premises to slaughter animals, the farmer would necessarily be denied the sort of back-up that, rightly, saved many farms during the previous crisis.

Mr. Breed: I agree entirely. The Minister has accepted that the measures are being introduced in the light of everything that occurred last time to ensure that next time every possible obstruction is dealt with, however blunt the instrument in terms of wording, and the legitimate concerns of people at the farm gates can be swept aside on the assumption that a warrant will be issued and anyone who obstructs it will be subject to an offence.

It is one thing to take action on the basis of clear evidence, expressed in writing or in some other way, that a refusal has taken place. Merely to say that a refusal ''is expected'' and to assume that the second condition has thereby been fulfilled is going a bit too far.

The third condition is that

''an application for admission or giving notice of intention to apply for a warrant would defeat the object of entering''.

That is an interesting phrase, which could mean many different things. According to the Bill, it means if

''the case is one of urgency, or . . . the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent.''

That aspect needs to be teased out by the Minister. How does one ensure that the premises are unoccupied?

The premises we are talking about are not a house or a barn, but a farm. I expect that many members of the Committee have visited a farm, knocked on the door, which is open, shouted inside, found that nobody seems to be in, although the fire is going, then spent the next quarter of an hour trying to find

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someone. Nowadays, regrettably, there are so few people working on huge areas of land that they could be almost anywhere. How much time and effort that will be made to find out whether the premises are indeed unoccupied or the occupier is absent? Absent from what? Absent from where one expects him to be? Absent from the farm socially? Perhaps he is on his way to the DEFRA office to try to sort something out. Whatever the situation, it will be assumed that he is absent, so it is perfectly okay to get a warrant to go zooming into his farm.

Mrs. Browning: The farmer could even be lured elsewhere-perhaps to a DEFRA office-to create the certainty that the farm would then be unoccupied.

Mr. Breed: Farmers are often lured to DEFRA in a vain attempt to get some answers to their questions and find out what the hell is going on.

The powers are such that almost anything that could be construed as being the smallest possible hurdle to the intervention of someone coming on to the farm-

Mr. Drew: The powers are extreme, and I accept that they should be used only in the most extreme circumstances. In one case, a dealer-a major dealer in this country-was known to absent himself for the best part of 24 hours so that he could drive up the compensation. I accept that that was a foot and mouth incident and we are now discussing scrapie, procedures for which are more organised, but there have been occasions when, against the wishes of the vast majority of farmers, people have decided that their personal income was more important than everyone else. We must bear such circumstances in mind.

Mr. Breed: I entirely agree that there are always such individual cases. That can happen in the context of almost any piece of legislation. We are trying to formulate measures that are in equity and reasonable. If we tried to address literally every single possible obstruction, the legislation would have to be even more draconian.

The conditions for the warrant should be clear, reasonable and able to be properly understood. The third condition is, I think, a hurdle too far. By removing the subjective nature of ''a refusal is expected'' in condition two, it is still clear that if there has been refusal to enter a premises, a warrant should be issued. I am happy to accept that that is right, but including the subjective ''a refusal is expected'' goes that little bit too far.

It is up to the Minister to demonstrate how the powers are going to be used and that they will be used properly, not in a draconian way. On occasions, yes, they should be used to sort out problems such as those that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) just mentioned, where people deliberately flout procedures. However, we must recognise that the powers are being introduced on the back of very recent, raw experiences. People who are feeling bruised, and who thought that the powers under the Animal Health Act 1981 were draconian enough, are now facing these additional measures. I think that the real impact that the measures might have is slowly

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beginning to leak out into the wider agricultural community and various people are becoming concerned about what the Bill will mean for them if it is passed.

Often, legislation can slip through and people only find out about it when it confronts them. This legislation, however, is beginning to unsettle a considerable number of people. They feel that the Government are going too far too quickly, and that there is no need for such an absolute timetable. We did not have a consultation process, and people feel that they are being bulldozed into accepting things that will substantially restrict their rights in an epidemic or time of disease spread.

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There is much in the amendments, but the aspect relating to warrants, on which we have concentrated, is important. Once the enforcement of a warrant-legal action-starts to take place, all sorts of other things can come about. When we look at the whole issue of whether a premises is unoccupied, or whether a person is away, we can see that no reasonable excuse will make any difference: whack, in the officials will come. That is unacceptable, and I hope that we can modify it.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

Column Number: 207

The following Members attended the Committee:
Conway, Mr. Derek (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Atkins, Charlotte
Bacon, Mr.
Breed, Mr.
Browning, Mrs.
Cunningham, Tony
Drew, Mr.

Column Number: 208

Edwards, Mr.
Gillan, Mrs.
Hall, Mr. Patrick
Morley, Mr.
Organ, Diana
Reed, Mr.
Wiggin, Mr.
Winterton, Mrs. Ann


Animal Health Bill


Standing Committee E

Tuesday 4 December 2001


[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Animal Health Bill

Schedule 2


Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 95, in page 18, line 18, leave out ''or third''.-[Mr. Breed.]

4.30 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 96, in page 18, line 26, leave out

''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 97, in page 18, leave out lines 30 and 34.

No. 156, in page 18, leave out lines 31 to 33.

No. 157, in page 19, leave out lines 3 to 5.

No. 111, in clause 6, page 3, line 26, leave out

''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 112, in page 3, leave out lines 30 to 34.

No. 133, in page 3, line 31, leave out paragraph (a).

No. 134, in page 3, line 34, at end insert

''and uncontactable during the 24 hour period from when the warrant was granted.''

No. 135, in page 3, at end insert-

''(6A) If animals are mistakenly slaughtered while the occupier is absent, the farmer shall receive compensation at the level of 200 per cent. of market value.''

No. 113, in page 4, leave out lines 3 to 5.

No. 40, in page 4, line 4, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' and insert

''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.

No. 89, in page 4, line 4, after ''reasonably needs'', insert

''and that that person can normally give''.

No. 99, in clause 7, page 4, line 24, leave out ''or third''.

No. 100, in page 4, line 31, leave out

''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 101, in page 4, leave out lines 35 to 39.

No. 138, in page 4, leave out line 38.

No. 149, in page 4, line 39, at end insert

''and the inspector can demonstrate that all reasonable efforts to contact the occupier have been made.''

No. 102, in page 5, leave out lines 6 to 8.

No. 139, in page 5, line 6, leave out ''any person'' and insert

''the owner and any person employed by the owner.''

No. 41, in page 5, line 6, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' in line 7 and insert ''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.

No. 73, in page 5, line 7, after ''needs'', insert

''and that that person can normally give.''

No. 106, in clause 8, page 6, line 3, leave out ''or third''.

No. 119, in page 6, leave out lines 14 to 18.

No. 75, in page 6, line 30, after ''needs'', insert

''and that that person can normally give''.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): We come to the vast group of amendments which I have marked in red ink although I do not know whether it is a red-letter day. I shall begin at the beginning with amendment No. 95, which was tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) and Conservative Members. Essentially, it would leave out the third condition in the Bill under proposed new section 36H of the Animal Health Act 1981, which is entitled ''Warrants''. The proposed new section states that

''If a justice of the peace is satisfied on sworn information in writing that the first condition is satisfied and that the second or third condition is satisfied he may issue a warrant authorising a person mentioned in section 36G(1) to enter premises . . . The first condition is that there are reasonable grounds for a person mentioned in section 36G(1) to enter premises for the purpose there mentioned . . . The second condition is that . . . admission to the premises has been refused or a refusal is expected''.

There is another part to the second condition, but the amendment refers to the third condition, which we want to omit. It is that

''an application for admission or giving notice of intention to apply for a warrant would defeat the object of entering, . . . the case is one of urgency, or . . . the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent.''

Other amendments refer to the second condition, which is in proposed new subsection 36H(3). Its paragraph (a) states that

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

Amendment No. 96 would leave out the words

''or a refusal is expected''.

Short of having a crystal ball, I do not know how that phrase could have been included in the provision. When admission to the premises has been refused, the provision will be reasonable and sensible, but I cannot understand what is meant by a refusal being expected. When officials and others call on farmers and find a problem or dispute, people often say things in anger and become extremely worked up. However, that is not fair to insist that even if a refusal were expected, or had been hinted at or threatened, a warrant would be issued under those terms. It seems wrong.

Amendment No. 97 seeks to leave out the whole of the third condition.

I move on to amendments Nos. 111, 112, 133, 134 and 135, and I shall leave the first two and talk about amendment No. 133. It seeks to delete proposed new section 16(6)(a) of the 1981 Act, which is proposed in clause 6 of the Bill under the powers on enforcement. It states that

''an application for admission or giving notice of intention to apply for a warrant would defeat the object of entering''.

I cannot see what that adds, so perhaps the Minister would like to intervene. How would that provision defeat the object of entering premises? We need some clarification.

Amendment No. 134 is rather meaty. It deals with the third condition, under which entry can be gained if

''the land or premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent''.

It is quite wrong that no notice can be given if that is the case, so the amendment adds that the occupier should also be

''uncontactable during the 24 hour period from when the warrant was granted''.

An occupier might be absent for good reasons, and I can think of many examples but I will spare the Minister them.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): There are problems sometimes when farmers cannot get back to their farms as, for biosecurity reasons, they are trapped on someone else's farm. That would be a reason why a farm would not be occupied for a 24-hour period.

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend is right. We discussed such issues earlier in Committee, especially in relation to separate sheep flocks being wintered off or grazing on other land. The problem with extensification is that one has to take animals to where the food is. That provides a perfect example of when the farmer might be away from the premises. The sheep would be on a parcel of land and might be checked now and again to ensure good husbandry, but the occupier would not be present. In that case, so far as scrapie, enforcement and the powers in the Bill are concerned, action could be taken by an official in the absence of the owner or occupier of the land, who would then turn up and find that action had been taken without his knowledge or any attempt having been made to contact him.

As most parcels of land are registered under the integrated administration and control system, and housing is usually nearby if land is rented, one would have thought that reasonable inquiries could be made as to whose flock was on a parcel of land. Reasonable attempts could therefore be made to contact the owner of the flock and discuss with him the action that the inspector would take, so that he was aware of the warrant that was about to be granted.

Amendment No. 135 is also about land or premises that are unoccupied or from which the owner is absent. It provides that if any animals were mistakenly slaughtered while the occupier was absent compensation would be payable at a level of 200 per cent. That follows on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). If for some good reason the occupier is not present, and then comes back to find that the flock has been slaughtered or dealt with without his permission or knowledge and without attempts to contact him, it is reasonable for compensation to be at double the market value of the mistakenly slaughtered stock.

Mrs. Browning: Amendment No. 135 suggests that compensation should be paid at the level of 200 per cent. where animals are mistakenly slaughtered in the owner's absence. Animals that graze on open moorland or uplands might well be mistakenly slaughtered. I hope that it would be some comfort to owners to know that they would be properly reimbursed if that happened.

Mrs. Winterton: Indeed. My hon. Friend makes a good point. A huge number of hefted sheep were slaughtered on moorlands and common land in Cumbria, although I do not know of specific instances where mistakes were made. However, I know that mistakes were made elsewhere in Cumbria, and compensation should be paid at 200 per cent. of market value in such cases.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): Animals may mistakenly be presumed to be owned by the person whose land they are on, and we know of several such cases. They might, therefore, be culled even though they do not belong to the owner in question and should not be killed in any case. Such mistakes can be obviated if people are given proper notice and are on the premises.

Mrs. Winterton: That is another example of what can go wrong. This does not relate to scrapie, but animals were mistakenly slaughtered during the foot and mouth epidemic because people were given the wrong map references and the wrong integrated administration and control system references. It is not beyond the wit of man to imagine such distressing mistakes being made. If farmers must be responsible for their actions-the Bill requires them to be even more responsible-officials should be, too.

Mrs. Browning: I raised the issue of the reliability of the maps with the Minister on Second Reading. He helped me with some cases during the foot and mouth crisis, and we sat in his office with his official, looking at a map of Devon farms. None of us could identify from the map the farm that we were discussing. It is incumbent on the Ministry to put together a definitive map on the computer or wherever. There is a clearly a lack of accurate information that one can rely on to identify farms.

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend reinforces what we have said about the amendments. I was recently in Devon, and many farmers told me that vets and officials visited their farms several times during the foot and mouth epidemic and went over the maps again and again. Those farmers nearly went round the bend because they had already been through the process twice when a third person turned up asking them to mark their fields on the maps. That happened relatively recently and shows the validity of my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): That raises another important point. All sheep may soon be electronically tagged, and Ministry officials will arrive with a bleeper to find out where the sheep are. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be even more sensible to compensate farmers at 200 per cent. of market value if the wrong animals are still slaughtered?

Mrs. Winterton: I do. We rightly put a lot of faith in new technologies and hope that they will improve all the time, but they are by no means 100 per cent. perfect. Added to that is the possibility of human error. For that and many other reasons, the amendments are worth considering.

I turn now to amendments Nos. 100, 101 and 138. Amendment No. 138 would remove proposed new section 62B(4)(b), which states that the third condition is that

''the case is one of urgency''.

The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall spoke to his amendments earlier.

Amendment No. 149 repeats our position on the previous group of amendments and relates to proposed new section 62B(4)(c) which states:

''the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent.''

That relates to the power of entry for the purpose of slaughter. We believe that we should add to that provision the words

''and the inspector can demonstrate that all reasonable efforts to contact the occupier have been made.''

The Bill makes no provision for a reasonable effort to be made to contact the owner of the land or of the flock. That should be a requirement and a responsibility. It is wrong for people to slaughter animals without first making serious efforts to contact the occupier. That should not be allowed.

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Amendments Nos. 41 and 139 relate to proposed new section 62C(3), which states:

''The inspector may require any person on the premises to give him such assistance as he reasonably needs for the purpose mentioned in section 62A.''

Amendment No. 139 would replace the words ''any person'' with the words

''the owner and any person employed by the owner.''

That is surely the way forward. How can an inspector be allowed to turn up at a farm or premises and press-gang anyone present

''to give him such assistance as he reasonably needs''

for the purpose of slaughter? Would the provision include members of the farmer's family or someone who was making a delivery? Could the inspector turn to the delivery man and say: ''I've got a bit of a problem. I can't cope, so you've got to give me a hand to get these animals into position so that I can slaughter them.'' Do the words ''any person'' mean a younger member of the farmer's family? Many farmers' children who are in their teens or a little younger help around the farm, doing odd jobs and learning the business. Would the inspector require someone who was under-age to assist him in the grizzly business of slaughtering stock? The phrase ''any person'' is far too wide and must be focused on what is reasonable.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be interesting to know whether the Minister thought that the words ''any person'' could include members of the police force and the armed services who enter the premises? The Minister should tell us and those who watch our proceedings exactly who was envisaged when the provision was drafted in such a wide and lax fashion.

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend is right that the words ''any person'' must be clarified. She made pertinent points the people who might be involved. The definition is so wide as to be irresponsible.

Mr. Wiggin: Has my hon. Friend considered the possibility that the Minister himself might have to give assistance?

Mrs. Winterton: There is the potential under the provision for the inspector to lean on any person with any reason to be on a farm at any time. If they are unlucky, they could be asked to assist in a process of which they do not approve and in which they do not want to take part. What will happen if they refuse?

Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friend will know that there are some clear recommendations in the preliminary conclusions of the Mercer report for Devon county council. At 1.13, the report states:

''Reports received by the Inquiry of insensitive and even belligerent operatives and bungled culls do little to enhance the professional reputation of all those involved, from Ministers downwards''.

It then goes on to state that,

''training in slaughter management is needed''.

That does not concern solely those licensed to kill animals, but also those who handle animals. There are clear animal welfare problems in relation to the training of those asked to assist in such operations. Some of the most appalling pictures on our television screens showed the results of culls carried out by people who clearly did not have experience of dealing with animals outside a slaughterhouse or in the open air. It is incumbent on the Government to get that aspect right; they should put forward their recommendations on the handling of animals in such circumstances before drafting this sort of detail into a Bill.

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend makes a telling point; one which has been mentioned before and clearly needs to be repeated. What went on previously would not be at all acceptable now; it was not acceptable then, but it did happen. Much thought must be given to the training of those who are to slaughter animals on farms. It is an extremely sensitive issue; the farmer's life's work may be about to be put down before his eyes. His family will be upset and he will have suffered much stress in the run up to the event. Years ago we had an old pony, which had to be put down. People said: ''Let him go away to be put down,'' and I said, ''No, I will have him put down at home,'' and I held him while the deed was done. It upset me greatly at the time, but I knew that he had been handled properly. I had fulfilled my responsibility to an animal that had been a family pony and was by then quite old. In an identical way, farmers are not heartless people. They do not want to see their stock being put down in the way that we saw during the foot and mouth epidemic. They want to ensure that, if slaughter is to take place, it is carried out properly and they must be accorded certain conditions to ensure that those needs are fulfilled.

I turn to proposed new sub-paragraph 62C(3), which states:

''The inspector may require any person''

We have commented that ''any person'' needs positive definition; that it should mean the owner and any person directly employed by the owner. That person is required to give the inspector

''such assistance as he reasonably needs for the purpose mentioned in section 62A''.

Amendment no. 73 seeks to insert, after ''reasonably needs'',

''and that the person can normally give.''.

What does ''reasonably needs'' mean? You have to be an able-bodied person in order to help people who have come in to slaughter a flock of sheep, for example. How does one define what the inspector ''reasonably needs''? Can it be described and quantified so that we know precisely what it means? Or should we look at it from the perspective of the person who is being roped into the proceedings and consider the assistance that that person could normally give under the circumstances? Many people would feel under such circumstances that they could not give the inspector assistance. I do not believe that they should be required to do so. If the inspector needs assistance, he himself should ensure its provision before he visits the farm.

Mrs. Gillan: As my hon. Friend her case on this powerful and lengthy group of amendments, I am becoming increasingly alarmed. Under proposed new section 62C, which relates to the amendments, the inspector is turned into a demigod who has total power over everyone and everything that moves and breathes, without any restriction on his powers when he is in situ. The more I read the drafting and listen to my hon. Friend's comments, the less there seems to be a right of appeal or anyone sitting in judgment on the inspector's actions. The Bill gives him an absolute right to walk over everyone and slaughter everything in sight, without safeguards for farmers or their animals. The proposed new section gives an absolute power that is abhorrent in our country and situation.

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend is right to say that the proposed new section gives inspectors carte blanche. We have used the word ''proportionate'' in previous debates, but we have not used it today. The powers that the new section gives the Minister and his official, the inspector, are simply disproportionate. The farmer, the landowner or the occupier appears to have no rights whatever.

Mrs. Gillan: Once more, would my hon. Friend care to speculate with me? Does she not think that the draftsmen worked in such a hurry that they could not put the fine detail into the Bill? We need much longer to scrutinise such new sections, because they have been drafted in such a hurry, but we are in danger of letting down the farming community because we have no possibility of considering them in real detail in Committee.

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend is right to say that more time is needed. We have kept strictly to debating the amendments and have tried to reflect the concerns of the farming community about the Bill, which, as my hon. Friend says, is being introduced with undue haste. I understand that my hon. Friend wanted some of its stages to be delayed until the new year, but that proved impossible. The Bill will be considered on Report and Third Reading a week on Thursday, as the Government are in a tremendous rush to get the Bill to the House of Lords in the first weeks in January.

It is a shame that, consequently, the Bill will threaten the freedom of farmers and those who own herds or flocks. As we said in previous sittings, the Bill is premature and should have been held back until more information was in the public domain and Government inquiries had published their reports. We should then have been legislating with knowledge rather than reacting to a situation and introducing sweeping and-although I hate to use the word again-draconian powers. They are disproportionate powers that keep the owners of flocks on the back foot. The inspector holds all the cards, and nothing can be done to restrain him.

Mrs. Browning: Before my hon. Friend moves too rapidly through this large group of amendments, I would like to draw her attention to two key situations. The inspector may demand that anyone he chooses should assist him, and if that person does not comply, that person commits an offence under the Bill.

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Let me give my hon. Friend two examples of how that might work on the ground. First, an employee of the farmer or animal owner might be required, at the inspector's request, but against his own better judgment, to take action against his employer which could lead to litigation. I am not a lawyer, but I would have thought that the employee might be challenged over any action that he might take.

My second example actually occurred during the foot and mouth outbreak. A veterinarian might refuse to do what the inspector wanted because, in his or her judgment, what he or she was being asked to do was wrong.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley) indicated dissent.

Mrs. Browning: The Minister shakes his head, but I assure him that if he sends me a bundle of letters, I shall send him one about my constituent, Mr. Julian Heath, a veterinarian who refused to slaughter animals on professional grounds and was sacked by the Minister-[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order.

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend has raised two important points. The relationship between an employer and employee is a personal one, especially in agriculture. It is disgraceful for a third party to interfere in that relationship by insisting that an employee might be charged if he does not conform with the inspector's demands, when that employee knows that his employer-let us imagine that he is absent-would want a certain course of action to be taken but the inspector has instructed him to do exactly the opposite. That defies common sense-how can the potential for such a situation be drafted in legislation?

My hon. Friend also referred to a veterinarian who refused to slaughter animals because his instructions to do so ran contrary to his professional judgment. In such circumstances, could an inspector insist that a third person who was professionally qualified and was asked to take action against his professional judgment, be required to assist the inspector?

Mr. Morley: It may save a lot of time if I outline for the hon. Lady what would be regarded as reasonable assistance. It would include identifying which animals are owned by the farmer, helping to round up those animals and providing information such as movement records. Those are examples of reasonable assistance, beyond which people will not be requested to do anything.

Mrs. Winterton: The Minister seeks to reassure me, but where might the records be kept, for example, to which he referred?

Mr. Morley: It is a legal requirement.

Mrs. Winterton: Of course it is a legal requirement, but let us imagine that the owner of the flock was not on the farm but was away for some perfectly legitimate reason, and that the house was locked up and the records in the farm office. How could anyone be expected to produce records in that situation? It could not be done. Therefore, technically, the employee might be construed as preventing the inspector from undertaking the duties placed on him. After all, some of the duties include slaughter. The Minister says that any persons assisting the inspector would not be involved in slaughtering. However, they would have to gather up the animals and do other things to assist. They would not have the right to say: ''I am sorry, I do not want to do this,'' for any good reason. They would be drafted into doing it, and if they did not give assistance, they might find themselves in hot water later on. The phrasing of this part of the Bill is completely one-sided and is not proportionate.

As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall said earlier, at this time the Government should be seeking to work with the farming community. The farming community will support anything that is reasonable, but unreasonable powers are being vested in people about whose qualification for the position we know very little and who will have tremendous powers of entry and slaughter. They will also have powers to dragoon others into assisting them in what some people may consider to be nefarious purposes.

Mrs. Browning: I want to add to my recent intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) and discuss further the refusal and obstruction of an inspector, not just by the owners of animals but by third parties on whatever grounds. I understand the Minister's remarks, but during the recent foot and mouth outbreak, one of the Ministry's problems was that its plans to slaughter were thwarted when people made reasonable demands for delay while blood tests were carried out and other factors were taken into consideration. There were many reasonable propositions against slaughter, yet the Bill tries to get rid of every extraneous reason why the Ministry cannot proceed at a rate of knots regardless of people's rights and considerations.

I raised with my hon. Friend the question of employees of the owner of the animals, or employees working on the land when the owner may not be present. The Bill states that it is an offence for employees not to co-operate, but surely there are limitations on what one can expect them to do in the absence of the owner of the animals. I do not mean just people who winter animals or run rearing units for pigs, or those who have an arrangement whereby they keep other people's animals on their farms. This has a broad read-across for any person who the inspector thinks might be useful in getting what he wants.

I want to pick up on the question of professional people involved, who could be veterinarians, licensed slaughtermen, or anybody who feels that they are being asked to do something against their professional judgment. I will not make the rather invidious comparison between veterinarians and doctors, but one cannot think of an example of a third party demanding that a doctor do something against their better judgment. However, there is a slight read-across here-the Minister is shaking his head-

Mr. Morley: That is mad.

Mrs. Browning: It is not appropriate for the Minister to say from a sedentary position that I am mad. If I am mad, I must stand in very good company with a lot of other mad people, including most of people in the county of Devon.

Mr. Morley: I would not refer to the hon. Lady as mad on her birthday-that would be very unfair. I was saying that the argument is mad. The hon. Lady's example concerns vets being ordered to do something that they do not want to do. The vets who we use in such situations work for the Ministry. If they do not want to work for the Ministry, they do not have to. We are not dragooning vets against their principles. It is our own staff.

Mrs. Browning: That will not do. Yes, veterinarians were on the payroll of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but the Minister knows that vets from other organisations and in private practice were also working for the Ministry. However, the moral argument remains. Regardless of who pays his wages at the end of the month, if a veterinarian or any other professional person believes that what he is asked to do goes against the ethical code of his training, a code that he has applied throughout his working life, that person's wishes surely cannot be overridden by an inspector.

Tony Cunningham (Workington): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Browning: In a moment; I am answering the Minister. When the Minister was in opposition, he used the moral argument many times on behalf of animals. I do not say that in a disparaging way, but the values that he held then must still apply now that he is a Minister. It cannot be morally right to ask a professional, whoever employs him, to do something that he thinks is wrong.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Lady is arguing that vets would be hanging around on farms doing nothing, and that the Ministry vet would give them instructions when he arrived. The reality is that the vet who is sent will be the one to make the decision-for instance, on whether slaughter is appropriate. We shall not have unfortunate vets being ordered around by Ministry vets who happen to find them on the farm. That is a nonsensical argument.

Mrs. Browning: I am sorry, but it is not nonsensical. The Bill provides that a person commits an offence if he does not carry out the inspector's instructions.

Mr. Morley: It is the owner.

Mrs. Browning: The Bill does not say that. I wish that the Minister would stand up and speak rather than continually making sedentary interventions. He has just said from a sedentary position that it is the owner. That is not what the Bill states. The Bill says nothing about it being the owner. It states ''person''. The Bill states in several places that

''The inspector may take with him such other persons as he thinks necessary to give such assistance as he thinks necessary.''

When he arrives at the farm, the inspector may demand that that ''other person'' does something that that person thinks is morally or ethically wrong or is against his training. That person should have the professional and moral right to say no; instead, saying no will be an offence.

Tony Cunningham: Would not the inspector be a vet?

Mrs. Browning: Not necessarily. The inspector could visit a farm with a veterinarian, and perhaps other staff, to identify what needs to be done. He may leave the vet and the other staff to get on with the job while he goes on to another farm. It is not necessarily the inspector who will carry out all that has to be done there.

Mr. Morley: I think that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton is getting mixed up on that last point. A distinction must be made between DEFRA staff who are going on to farms to do a job and those who work on the farm who may be asked to provide reasonable assistance. The Bill refers to an ''authorised person''. It would not be a child or the person delivering the post, but a farmhand or someone involved with the animals. With great respect, the hon. Lady has gone off the argument.

The granting of a warrant on the grounds that refusal of entry is expected is generally combined with the requirement to notify the owner of the application. In that case, DEFRA staff would not go on to a farm without informing the owner. It is worth saying again that we are dealing with enabling legislation. The vast majority of farmers and others dealing with this epidemic and national emergency were fully co-operative in working with Ministry officials and staff. Many wrote to thank the Ministry for the sensitive way in which it handled a difficult situation and that it dealt well with people's great distress. Those enabling powers would relate only to a minority. I have seen conspiracy theory articles, about the Prime Minister attending a secret European Union meeting and about the Department being under orders to reduce the national livestock. Such an extreme view might deter people from co-operating with any kind of disease-control measure. In those circumstances enabling powers might be needed.

In some cases, sadly, it might be necessary to seek powers of entry without informing the person concerned. Such a case might arise if it had been made clear in conversation with the divisional veterinary manager that, if the appeal failed, the animals would be moved or access would be denied. Although a tiny minority of cases is likely to be involved, the powers would nevertheless be needed.

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Slaughter is not the only reason for the measures. They would also be applicable, for example, to the taking of blood samples or to a vaccination policy if people refused to co-operate. It might be necessary to take powers of entry in those circumstances. It might be necessary to seek assistance in identifying animals, ascertaining the number of animals on the premises or obtaining other information that would normally be required to carry out disease-control measures.

Let us not forget that the outbreak was hugely expensive and very damaging, and had to be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible. I do not believe that such powers are unreasonable in the very few cases in which people refuse to co-operate. They would have to be used proportionately. That has been made clear. A reasonable case would have to be made to a magistrate in connection with a warrant. It is not sufficient to tell the magistrate: ''I want powers to enter someone's property.'' The measures must be carried out in a reasonable and proportionate way.

Mrs. Winterton: They may well be carried out in a reasonable and proportionate way, but the farmer does not have the right to argue his case before the magistrate, as he could in the past. That is why the powers under the Bill are unjust. The Minister said again that the powers are intended to deal with a tiny minority. They are disproportionate if that is so. If only a tiny minority is involved, surely the traditional way, with a meaningful right of appeal, is better. Under the Bill, the farmer would not have that.

Mr. Morley: There is a right of appeal. We are going over old ground, now. I want to improve on the appeal procedure under the Animal Health Act 1981 and I believe that we can do that.

Mrs. Browning: I want to pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton about the rights of minorities. It saddens me to hear a Labour Government being so dismissive about a minority of any kind. If the House is for anything, it is to uphold the rights of minorities. The moment we lose that focus, this place becomes meaningless, with respect to what we have understood by democracy.

Mr. Morley: I see; I had not realised that the Conservative party was now embracing the rights of a minority to spread disease to the majority. That seems a funny minority right to protect-[Interruption.] That is what the hon. Lady is arguing for. We are considering how to deal with a devastating epidemic. The powers are intended, in the light of experience, to enable that to be done as quickly as possible, and, incidentally, to minimise the number of animals affected and therefore culled.

Mrs. Browning: May I take the Minister back to the provisions that worry me? Proposed new section 66A of the 1981 Act is headed:

''Refusal and obstruction of inspector''

and subsection (2) states:

''A person commits an offence if-

(a) he is required to give assistance under section 62C(3), and

(b) he fails to give it.''

Proposed section 62C(3) states:

''The inspector may require any person on the premises to give him such assistance as he reasonably needs for the purpose mentioned in section 62A.''

Proposed new section 62A, under the heading, ''Slaughter: power of entry'', states:

''An inspector may at any time enter any premises for the purpose of . . . ascertaining whether a power conferred by or under this Act to cause an animal to be slaughtered should be exercised, or . . . doing anything in pursuance of the exercise of that power.''

I am sorry; the subject is complicated, but it is important to consider the detail, or one loses track of what the new powers are about. They deal with the right to slaughter under new directions that give inspectors the power to commandeer anyone, and if people refuse they will commit a criminal offence. That must be wrong.

Mr. Morley: If those powers are wrong, I wonder why the then Government introduced the same ones in the Food Safety Act 1990. Let us calm down. The issue is serious and I am trying to tackle the points seriously. Provisions that deal with the insistence on people's co-operation and guilt of an offence are enshrined in the 1990 Act. There is nothing unusual about the provisions in the Bill, as there are precedents in legislation and in how they apply. There is no difference in the principle-the provisions still require co-operation-and the wording is nearly identical to that in the 1990 Act.

Mr. Wiggin: I have a separate concern. Animal owners, by being forced to co-operate under the wording, might go through such traumatic experiences that they might be driven to suicide or other terrible acts. The Bill will not ease the lot of animal owners, so it will not encourage the co-operation that it should. It is deeply flawed. Any responsible animal owner would want to help an inspector and prevent the spread of any disease, even if it were only scrapie, but the Bill is overtly draconian. The impact on the mental state of animal owners has not been considered.

Mr. Morley: Of course there is an impact on the mental state of individuals. We want to minimise that by taking prompt and efficient action, to ensure that many other people are not put in similar positions. Let us not forget that.

Mrs. Gillan: If the requirements are so reasonable, will the Minister outline what will constitute a defence against them? How will someone justify committing an offence under new section 66A(2) of the Animal Health Act 1981, which is proposed in clause 7?

Mr. Morley: That is a strange question. If a farm labourer were asked to produce movement records but he did not know where they were and the relevant building was locked, that would be a reasonable defence. Decisions would have to be made on what was regarded as fair. The definition depends on whether the request was reasonable. If it were not, that would be a defence. I have given an example of the required reasonable requests.

Amendments Nos. 102, 113, 40, 89, 75, 41, 73, 139 and 157 relate to the requirement to give assistance to officials. In nearly all cases, slaughter, vaccination, serological testing and genotyping involve rounding up stock. That can be impossible without the assistance of the farmer or another appropriate person on the premises, which can hinder effective disease control. That is another example of what is regarded as reasonable assistance. In the majority of cases, farmers co-operated fully with officials and provided the vital assistance necessary to carry out slaughter or serological testing. I do not doubt that that will always be the case in scenarios related to disease control.

The provisions cover the minority of cases in which co-operation was not forthcoming. The amendments would change nothing of substance. The Bill already requires inspectors to act reasonably in seeking assistance. Demands that are made on the farmer will not be unreasonable or go beyond what he can be expected to provide. It is important to remember that the provision specifies reasonable assistance. An inspector could not, therefore, make unreasonable demands on a person, particularly one who was not qualified to help.

Mrs. Winterton: I want to take up a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) made a moment ago about proposed new section 66A, which is entitled:

''Refusal and obstruction of inspector''.

Subsection (1) refers to those who commit an offence by refusing assistance

''without lawful authority or excuse (proof of which shall lie on him)''.

The burden of proof will lie not on the inspector, but on a person who might have reasonable grounds for not giving assistance. Surely that is the wrong way round.

Mr. Morley: It is not quite like that. The wording is standard in legislation, and there are precedents for it. The defence lies in the word ''reasonable'', which is a common legal term. It applies to the exercise of powers that are vested in the Government or the Crown. It is for the court to determine the definition of the word ''reasonable'' in any situation, just as it will determine whether someone has acted in a way that is specified in the Bill.

Mrs. Browning: Surely we still accept that people are innocent until proven guilty. Is there not a rather European flavour to the burden of proof in the Bill?

Mr. Morley: I am not sure that it has a European flavour. The form of wording in the Bill is common in a range of legislation, including the Food Safety Act 1990.

It is important to keep the issue in perspective. Sadly, whatever one does to control a disease, someone somewhere will not co-operate. Such people can put many others at risk by spreading the disease and, as we saw during the epidemic, refusing access for the purpose of blood testing. Such behaviour delayed the lifting of the restrictions on the majority of farmers in the area. It is not a reasonable position to take. It is important to protect the rights of minorities, and the law does that. However, it is also important to bear in mind the impact of a disease on the rights of the majority. That is what the Bill is all about.

Mr. Wiggin: This debate is typical of the way in which the Bill is being handled. In every debate, we must listen to the Minister explain that what we read in the Bill will not happen. In every debate, we must take his word that what DEFRA will do will be very different from what it can do under the Bill.

I am reminded of a constituent, Mr. Brodie, whose stock was culled during the foot and mouth crisis. It was a contiguous cull, and he was very reasonable about it. The Ministry valuers came to his farm and valued his stock and the silage that was lost. Unfortunately, after Mr. Brodie agreed the valuation, a Ministry vet turned up and said: ''Actually, we're not going to pay for the silage. We'll only pay for the first two or three feet of the clamp.'' That is extraordinary given the emphasis that the Minister rightly put on biosecurity.

Provisions that are enforced on the ground are clearly a million miles away from the platitudes and calm statements that we hear in Committee. It is extraordinary that we are legislating to chase and prosecute people and to break into their property because they are worried about scrapie genotype and may be hiding a sheep in their attic. That is the kind of legislation that we have put up with.

Technically, an inspector could take the Minister with him to witness what happens on a farm. We have to put up with that sort of nonsense. It is extraordinary that we should take these steps to deal with a few irresponsible people. I know that they exist and that two or three people in Herefordshire refused to let their animals be given blood tests. They held the whole county to ransom for several weeks.

Mrs. Browning: Does my hon. Friend accept that in some cases people refused access to their land for blood testing and so on, because the farming community, most of whom had exercised strict biosecurity measures, did not trust the viability of their farms in letting in other people, including people from DEFRA?

5.30 pm

Mr. Wiggin: The lack of trust in DEFRA grows every day. When one looks at Bills like this one, that is hardly surprising. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is ridiculous legislation. It gets worse and I cannot understand it. In my own area of Herefordshire a couple of people held up the process. We are legislating for two or three people. That is not responsible; it is for this sort of reason that courts exist.

Mrs. Winterton: In many cases, more farmers wanted to resist the Government's policy during the contiguous cull, but they did not because of peer pressure from their neighbours. They were afraid that if they made a mistake and there was the slightest chance of infection, they would be responsible. They agreed to the cull requested by the Minister because they wanted to protect their neighbours.

Mr. Wiggin: That is right. I am grateful to my honourable Friend. It is astonishing that the Minister can quote the powers bestowed on him by the Animal Health Act 1981 and yet he feels it is necessary to pursue the two or three people in Herefordshire or elsewhere who may be causing him minor difficulties. We are not talking about spreading the disease or cutting the speed at which scrapie will be eradicated from the national flock; we are talking about a bizarre, badly-drafted, ill-advised Bill that could cause farmers to lose their stock and be forced to witness the entire procedure-they would have to go through the same experience as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton when she held her pony while it was being put down, but on a massive scale that could leave them damaged beyond reasonable mental strain. The Government are proud to bring this kind of legislation before the House. I think it is appalling. I urge Members opposite to support the amendment.

Mrs. Winterton: I rise briefly to indicate that we wish to press for a vote on this group of amendments. We have argued the case forcibly. The Bill provides sweeping powers. Although the Minister has sought to give reassurance on many points, sadly, due to the wording in the Bill and because he himself admits that only a small minority of people would resist doing the right thing to contain a disease outbreak, we genuinely believe that the proposals fly in the face of natural justice. People should have a meaningful right of appeal. The great majority of the farming community should not be punished by these powers being on the statute book, irrespective of whether they are used.

Mr. Breed: I support that. We can consider only what is written in the Bill. We hope that what the Minister reasonably expects will happen-that there will not be another outbreak and that the powers will be exercised responsibly and reasonably. I understand the difficulties in codifying that wish in legislation, but part of the problem with passing this legislation is that no time has been allotted to ensure that it is drafted in such a way that would enable us to support it. This group of amendments attempts to clarify the provisions, to place restrictions in certain areas and to define matters such as notice. We must put it to a vote to record the fact that we have attempted these amendments, they have been rejected, but we wish these considerations to be included in the clause.

Question put, That the amendment be made:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division No. 17]

Bacon, Mr. Richard Breed, Mr Colin Browning, Mrs. Angela Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill Williams, Mr. Roger Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Ainger, Mr. Nick Atkins, Charlotte Cunningham, Tony Drew, Mr. David Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick Morley, Mr. Elliot Organ, Diana Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford): I beg to move amendment No. 123, in page 18, line 21, at end insert-

'(1A) Any person given notice under subsection (3)(b) below shall be entitled to present sworn information in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant.'.

The Chairman: With which it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 124, in clause 6, page 3, line 22, at end insert-

'(3A) Any person given notice under subsection (5)(b) below shall be entitled to present sworn information in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant.'.

No. 125, in clause 7, page 4, line 27, at end insert-

'(1A) Any person given notice under subsection (3)(b) below shall be entitled to present sworn information in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant.'.

No. 126, in clause 8, page 6, line 6, at end insert-

'(1A) Any person given notice under subsection (3)(b) below shall be entitled to present sworn information in writing to the justice of the peace who is to consider the application for a warrant.'.

Mr. Hall: This group of amendments deals with a situation in which warrants are being sought by Ministry officials from a justice of the peace in order to gain access to premises to enforce a decision to slaughter or to carry out tests or take samples. The Bill replaces the current route available to officials in cases where farmers refuse access to their premises, which is to seek an injunction in the High Court. That process causes delay, as has been proved in the past few months. Delay leads to further problems-more infection and more slaughter-so I understand the need to reduce it and support efforts to do so.

As things stand, however, the justice of the peace will consider the case for the warrant on the basis of submissions from officials only. The farmer will not be permitted to be heard. I am well aware that the procedure for issuing warrants enabling the police to get information and to conduct searches, and other warrants made under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and the Competition Act 1998 do not allow the subject of the warrant to put forward their own point of view. It would be ridiculous and perverse if someone who might have committed a crime were given an opportunity to undermine police or other investigations. However, the Bill is not dealing with criminals. Farmers are not criminals.

In the circumstances to which the amendments apply-certainly with regard to slaughter-the farmer is simply disagreeing with a decision of the district veterinary manager or the veterinary surgeon on site and is seeking to protect his or her livestock and his or her livelihood. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. The circumstances are very difficult and emotional. In that context, everything that happens must be fair, reasonable and transparent and seen and understood to be so.

I want the farmer to have improved means to be heard by, for instance, being permitted to submit a sworn affidavit to the justice of the peace alongside that submitted by Ministry officials. I do not believe that that would undermine the circumstances that rightly apply to the serving of warrants in other circumstances. I do not believe that the amendments would set an unhelpful or dangerous precedent in that regard. Last week in Committee, the Minister very helpfully and reasonably announced moves to ensure that farmers get a fair hearing. A copy of his statement was circulated. I would like the Committee to consider my proposals in the context of that statement.

I understand that under current legislation the clerk's opinion can take precedence over that of the magistrate. I believe that that relates to matters of procedure and law, but I should like my hon. Friend to assure me that, should relevant circumstances arise in matters covered by the Bill, if the clerk made a decision it would be only on matters of procedure and law.

Mr. Wiggin: I welcome the amendment. It is a small voice of reason creeping into the Bill, but a very welcome addition. I reiterate the point that the Bill is not a measure for dealing with hardened criminals. At worst, the people concerned simply love their animals and want to protect their livelihood. Considering the nature of the Bill, they have every reason to fear. Therefore, the amendment would be a constructive addition to the Bill. It would allow people to protect their livelihoods, as the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) says, and would constitute some recognition of the fact that the House is not run solely by one party, and that we can still improve the drafting of a Bill. The amendment would add a welcome element of transparency to the measure. To be allowed to present sworn information to a justice of the peace is a minor entitlement for farmers, but I hope that the amendment will find its way into the Bill quickly. That would be a positive step.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): I support the amendment. It seems entirely reasonable that in such circumstances as might arise under the Bill, a farmer would be given a chance of a hearing. The right to a fair hearing is one of the rules of natural justice. The fact that it is missing from the Bill is an unfortunate omission, which the amendment would put right. I do not want to repeat the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), and will just emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Bedford, that the amendment should be considered in the context of the Bill and of relations between farmers and the Department. The amendment would be helpful, in making it clear that the farmer had the right to be heard and to present his sworn version of events. I hope that the Committee will support the amendment.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I also support the amendment, which would bring balance and proportionality to the Bill. It is an injustice for farmers to be unable to make some representations. I should have preferred an amendment enabling the farmer to appear in person or to be represented by a solicitor or friend who could put his case to the magistrates. I know that the procedures in question will be needed in only a minority of cases, but the amendment would bring the farming community some comfort; its members would know that during a foot and mouth epidemic, which is a time of strain and stress for the community and individuals, they could put their case.

Mrs. Gillan: I want to raise with the Minister an issue that falls appositely within the ambit of this group of amendments. The hon. Member for Bedford spoke to his amendments so well that I hope that the Minister is considering at last agreeing to amend the Bill in some respects. When he responds I shall be watching him optimistically. The Opposition will be ever hopeful.

I want to mention the new section 36H that schedule 2 would insert into the Animal Health Act 1981. Subsection (5) of the new section states:

''A warrant issued under this section remains in force for one month starting with the date of its issue.''

Will the Minister enlighten the Committee? Why was the period of one month necessary, when other parts of the Bill specify days? When dealing with emergencies, one month seems otiose. Why did he choose that arbitrary timing?

5.45 pm

Mrs. Winterton: I, too, would like to reflect on what has been said about the amendments. I commend the hon. Member for Bedford on the way in which he moved them and the thought that he put into drafting them. On Second Reading, and during earlier sittings of the Committee, concerns were expressed about the fact that magistrates would be asked to issue warrants quickly or even overnight. As magistrates usually come from the local community in which the slaughter is to take place, they might feel under pressure. The hon. Gentleman also said that, as often happens, the clerk might have undue influence over whether a warrant should be granted.

The Opposition have tried to express, probably inadequately, our concerns about the lack of balance and the lack of justice in these provisions. The amendments go some way to addressing that problem constructively and positively. I therefore add my support for the amendment to that expressed by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Morley: I quite understand the thinking behind my hon. Friend's amendment, and I am not unsympathetic to the case that he makes. It is perfectly reasonable in disputed cases, and particularly if a contiguous cull is being called for, that the farmer should be allowed to put his side of the argument. There are already provisions for appeals to the divisional veterinary manager. I have already undertaken to establish a protocol-a procedure to ensure that the farmer's views are taken into account in such appeals.

The farmer's first discussion will with the vet who visits the farm; if they do not agree, the farmer can appeal to the DVM. If the DVM rules against the farmer, the Department can apply to a magistrate for a warrant. That is the point at which my hon. Friend asks for the magistrate to be given the farmer's side of the story. Incidentally, I am not averse to a representative of the farmer making his case. I give my hon. Friend an undertaking that that will be considered when we draw up the guidelines, which will be open to public consultation. I have no objection to giving people the opportunity to have someone make representations on their behalf.

We return to the question of balance; it is about speed in relation to disease control, and the need to balance that against other legitimate concerns. Whatever else we do, I want to give people as much opportunity as I can to make their case and if necessary to disagree with the decisions of the local veterinary inspector. I am not aware of any legislative precedent for representations to be allowed on applications for warrants, but that is a legal problem.

I am sympathetic to the arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford. At the very least, I believe that we take that into account in the proposed guidelines, on which we intend to consult and which the DVM will have to follow, without unduly delaying the process. I shall have to get more advice on that. I do not disagree with the case made by my hon. Friend. I want to accommodate his proposals as far as I can, but I shall have to take advice on the way in which representations are made to the magistrate. I cannot accept his amendment without further discussion.

Mr. Patrick Hall: Hon. Members' concerns were not raised for the first time today. They were also raised on Second Reading and in Committee over the past week when the amendments were tabled. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary responded to the concern that the right to be properly heard should be included in the Bill, and he has usefully elaborated on that today. It is important that the farmer be heard as fully and fairly as possible. There must, of course, be a balance between undue delay and people feeling that their points of view are taken on board. It is not good enough simply to push for maximum speed and diminish the benefits of supporting, understanding and respecting a system, even in difficult and emotional circumstances.

The Under-Secretary has responded well to our concerns, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division No. 18]

Bacon, Mr. Richard Breed, Mr Colin Browning, Mrs. Angela Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill Williams, Mr. Roger Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Ainger, Mr. Nick Atkins, Charlotte Cunningham, Tony Drew, Mr. David Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick Morley, Mr. Elliot Organ, Diana Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Breed: I beg to move amendment No. 108, in page 19, leave out lines 21 to 23.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 114, in clause 6, page 4, leave out lines 10 to 12.

No. 136, in page 4, line 12, at end add-

'unless there are mitigating circumstances.'.

No. 104, in clause 7, page 5, leave out lines 19 to 21.

No. 141, in page 5, leave out lines 19 to 21.

No. 120, in clause 8, page 6, leave out lines 34 to 36.

No. 145, in page 6, line 36, at end insert-

'unless there are mitigating circumstances'.

Mr. Breed: The amendments relate to offences and what a person does to commit an offence. It is overkill to try to accommodate a wide range of offences that almost anyone who is taken to court can have committed. Amendment No. 108 would remove subsection (2) from proposed new section 36J. Proposed new section 36J(1) states:

''A person commits an offence if without lawful authority or excuse . . . he-

(a) refuses admission . . .

(b) obstructs or impedes him . . .

(c) assists in any such obstruction or impeding.''

We can live with that, but there is the catch all in subsection (2) which a person commits an offence if

''he is required to give assistance under section 36I(3), and . . . he fails to give it.''

That refers to any person on the premises. I have now worked out why there is no opportunity to give notice. If notice were given, people would get themselves off the premises because, if they are not on the premises, they cannot be caught within the offence. It is like the sheriff riding into town and deputising people in sight to carry out work within him, whether they like it or not. One reason why there were objections to giving any notice was to ensure that those measures were not frustrated

The proposed new subsection covers anyone on the premises, as has been teased out by other Opposition Members. The Minister said that such people are likely to be farmers or people working with them and that it is reasonable to request help from them. However, that gets us into definitions. Many people who could be found on the premises are not directly concerned with the business or agriculture in general. They may be family members or children. Indeed, we could easily imagine a situation in which young people would be loath to assist anyone with the destruction of their pets. It is possible that neighbours, friends or, indeed, professional advisers might be visiting. It might be the day that the bank manager, accountant, refuse collector or anyone else is round.

We are including unnecessary measures and we should just stick to proposed new section 36J(1). We do not need subsection (2) because subsection (1) clearly defines the three major reasons for committing an offence: refusing admission to someone, obstructing or impeding someone doing the job, and assisting in such obstruction. That could include all the actions that the Minister mentioned; someone who failed to find the records would be impeding or obstructing. That is defined already, and we do not need to include the other aspects. Once again, we are asking the Minister to consider restricting what are wide-ranging powers so that the Government will not only be acting reasonably, but be seen to be acting reasonably. They would do that by defining the people who could be obstructing or impeding scrapie testing or sampling. It is important to remember that we are discussing only that, not the spread of foot and mouth.

That is another problem. There are different circumstances and time scales in testing and sampling scrapie than in controlling spread. We have heard that point often in debating such amendments. The Bill is trying to tackle three different situations with different time scales and potential consequences. We are in danger of saying that, because we must move quickly and in a draconian fashion to control foot and mouth, we should extend that approach into scrapie testing and sampling, even if the same strictures do not necessarily apply. The amendments would show that, in scrapie testing and sampling, we could reduce the draconian aspect of the measures to a more sensible level and ensure that they can be accepted.

We must recognise the potential for civil disobedience. At the start, people who destroyed genetically modified crops were considered crazy, but in recent court cases, such people have not been convicted, as many thought would happen. In fact, the courts have been entirely sympathetic to their views. Those people had clearly committed an offence in destroying crops, but the public felt that they had a legitimate reason to do that.

Some-if not a considerable number-of these measures will be treated similarly. Public opinion will be that people felt very strongly and were acting properly, even if that amounted to civil disobedience. As a result, if the measures were enforced as they could be, the court outcome might not be as successful as the Minister might expect.

6 pm

Mr. Bacon: I, too, should like to examine the circumstances in which one is found to have committed an offence, because that subject greatly interests me. In particular, I shall consider the case of Mr. Guy Thomas-Everard, a farmer who acted in a way that I regard as wholly responsible, but who could easily have been found to have committed an offence under the Bill. His farm is at Dulverton in Somerset, on the Devon border.

Mr. Thomas-Everard was classified as a dangerous contact. On Wednesday 2 May, a senior MAFF state veterinary service vet, Mr. Malcolm Wigglesworth, served a form D notice on him, which prohibits livestock movement and usually implies recurring visits from the Ministry. In doing so, Mr. Wigglesworth advised Mr. Thomas-Everard that he did not think that the farmer had much to worry about, given that six days had passed since the contact with the contractor whom the Ministry suspected of having spread foot and mouth. In fact, as Mr. Thomas-Everard contended all along, the contractor was not the cause of the spread.

Mr. Wigglesworth said to Mr. Thomas-Everard that

''as we had reached Day 6 we could breathe again, when we reached Day 10 we could sleep again at night''.

However, he went on to say that

''for certainty our stock would be regularly inspected by a MAFF appointed 'clean' vet until 3 weeks had passed''

since the contractor's visit.

On Thursday 3 May, Mr. Wigglesworth telephoned Mr. Thomas-Everard to say that a clean vet from a private practice would inspect the cattle on Friday. Mr. Thomas-Everard spent the whole of Friday waiting for that vet to appear. Indeed, he telephoned the MAFF office in Taunton a number of times to find out when he would appear. At 4.30 pm, Mr. Thomas-Everard's father rang and was told that a vet would ring back, although none did.

At 5 pm, Mr. Thomas-Everard received a deluge of calls from friends and the press saying that MAFF had held a press conference saying that his stock was to be slaughtered. As a result, he telephoned the Ministry's office in Taunton and spoke to the state veterinary service disease control manager, Mr. Jonathan Milree. He responded that as far as he knew, London was still deliberating on the matter. At that stage, the Ministry had not contacted Mr. Thomas-Everard directly. I am talking about what others said to him on the basis of what MAFF had said to the press. Nothing direct was said to the farmer who was so concerned-so much for a fair hearing or the chance for consultation.

On Saturday 5 May, Mr. Thomas-Everard's father sent a letter to the divisional veterinary manager, Mr. David Bowman. That evening, Mr. Thomas-Everard's father received a telephone call from Mr. Bowman, who said that his son's cattle would be slaughtered. During that conversation, Mr. Thomas-Everard's father asked Mr. Bowman how he should go about appealing against the slaughter decision, if that is what he wished to do. Mr. Bowman replied that there was no right of appeal. In his witness statement, Mr. Thomas Everard says that that was not true, and he believes that Mr. Bowman was aware that it was not true when he made that statement.

At 8.45 pm that Saturday, a MAFF state veterinary service vet, Miss Sue Waterman, arrived with a Somerset county council trading standards officer at the Broford farm gate, which is more than half a mile from the buildings and the cattle. Miss Waterman wanted to go on to the farm to value the cattle, which seemed rather impractical considering that it was getting dark by that time and there are no lights in six of the eight cattle buildings. Mr. Thomas-Everard's parents refused Miss Waterman permission to enter the farm to value the cattle, but repeatedly invited her to send any clean vet to inspect the cattle that remained free of foot and mouth.

Miss Waterman admitted, after persistent questioning, that she had in fact been on a holding where foot and mouth was suspected, in a foot and mouth infected area near Okehampton, within the previous three days; in other words, she fitted the Ministry's definition of a dirty vet. Miss Waterman and the trading standards officer argued until 11.30 pm with Mr. Thomas-Everard's parents about the need for her to value the cattle that night. Mr. Thomas-Everard states:

''We were aware that if a farmer agrees to allow a valuation he waives all rights to appeal against a slaughter notice. My parents realised that was the reason for the determination on the part of Miss Waterman to come in and ''value'' the stock even though it was dark. My father suspected that if he refused entry to Miss Waterman to inspect our cattle as a vet, that refusal would give MAFF justification to obtain a Court Order to enter and slaughter all my animals.''

However, the family had been told that a clean vet would be sent to them, and Miss Waterman had admitted, after persistent questioning, that she was a dirty vet. Mr. Thomas-Everard continued:

''My father was therefore particularly careful to repeatedly invite an inspection by a 'clean' vet but to refuse a one-sided valuation by a potentially infected person who was not a professional valuer.''

Mr. Thomas-Everard's father also insisted that the trading standards officer should record, first, that there had been an invitation to inspect the cattle, secondly, that Miss Waterman was not a clean vet and, thirdly, that his father had not agreed to allow a valuation.

At about 11 am on Sunday 6 May, Mr. Thomas-Everard received a call from MAFF to say that a vet would be with him shortly to carry out a further inspection of the stock and at midday, a MAFF state veterinary service vet, Mr. Malcolm Bruce, arrived, with a trading standards officer, at the farm gate. All the cattle on Broford and Week farms were inspected. Mr. Bruce clinically examined the feet and mouths of all the at-risk calves, and he could see no signs of foot and mouth.

At 5 pm that Sunday, Mr. Bruce telephoned the Ministry to say that all the cattle were in good health. Despite that information, the Ministry official to whom Mr. Bruce was talking instructed him to serve a form A notice on the farms. At that point in the telephone conversation, according to Mr. Thomas-Everard:

''Mr. Bruce's demeanour changed and he was clearly angered by this instruction. He did however complete and serve a Form A notice.''

The following day, on Monday 7 May, the Ministry held a stakeholder's meeting. Mr. Thomas-Everard said:

''I was not invited to attend or send a representative to this meeting, which surprised me, as I was surely someone with a stake in this matter.''

At the meeting, Ministry officials persuaded those present that Mr. Thomas-Everard's stock should be slaughtered rather than monitored because they were deemed to pose a very significant risk to Exmoor. After the meeting, the Ministry informed the press that it would obtain a court order to allow its representatives on to the farm to carry out the slaughter.

It was reported on the 6 o'clock news on the evening of Tuesday 8 May that the Ministry was reconsidering its position in the light of new evidence that had been brought to its attention by Mr. Thomas-Everard. He received no direct notification from the Ministry that that was going to happen, hearing of it merely through the media. The new information concerned the contractor's movements and the circumstances of those movements. The Ministry had in fact known that for four days when it made its announcement. Mr. Thomas-Everard's statement goes on:

''I have experienced many problems as a result of MAFF's handling of the FMD crisis and like many other farmers want to see a public inquiry so that someone is accountable for the bad handling. These problems are primarily in connection with their insistence that my cattle by slaughtered despite the fact that a vet had undertaken a thorough inspection of my cattle and confirmed they showed no signs of FMD. MAFF continued to instruct the same vet to serve a Form A notice. This was 10 days after any possible link with FMD. Further, MAFF sought to imply on 10th May that new evidence had come to light which caused them to reprieve my cattle. The truth in fact is that MAFF had had this information for some but appeared to be desperate to try and find an alternative reason that still justified their slaughtering my cattle.

Despite requests MAFF would not provide a copy of their report to the central veterinary office detailing their assessment of the need to slaughter my cattle.

When the Form D was served on me on 2nd May no blood tests were taken of my cattle. Even after a written request for such MAFF still refused.''

So much for farmers refusing to have blood tests done. That farmer begged for a blood test and wrote to the Ministry to ask that his cattle be tested. The Ministry refused.

Mr. Thomas-Everard's statement continues:

''Not only might a test have reprieved my cattle from slaughter sooner, but if my cattle had been slaughtered it would have shown that they did not have the disease and therefore there was no need for an expensive clean-up procedure.''

The point surely is that by resisting the Ministry, Mr. Thomas-Everard saved the Ministry and the taxpayer a considerable amount of money on compensation that would, he tells me, have been was somewhere in the region of #1.5 to #2 million. That money was saved and employees who would have been out of a job continued to be employed.

That man did nothing more than protecting his business and his animals against the actions of an irresponsible vet who had to be pressured into admitting that she was in fact a dirty vet. Yet under the Bill, that responsible farmer would be committing an offence. Proposed new section 36J(2) quite clearly states:

''A person commits an offence If-

(a) he is required to give assistance under section 36I(3), and

(b) he fails to give it.''

I concur with amendment No.114, tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, that the best thing to do is to strike out the clause. Failing that, I would support amendment No. 136, which says that any person will be committing an offence if he fails to give assistance

''unless there are mitigating circumstances''.

The case that I have just outlined would surely provide supremely good mitigating circumstances, and I hope, in the absence of any other such balancing measure, that the Committee will consider accepting either amendment. They would bring some balance to the circumstances in which someone might or might not have committed an offence. We should not be willing to penalise people who are trying to do the right thing.

6.15 pm

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk has done the Committee a great service in outlining the precise circumstances in which Mr. Thomas-Everard found himself. If the Bill had been on the statute book, Mr. Thomas-Everard would have been guilty of an offence because he would have been required to give assistance and he failed to give it. Many other cases have been reported to me and other hon. Members over the months since the height of the foot and mouth epidemic. It fills me with fear and dread about what may happen to innocent people, who would have committed an offence although they had done what they did in good faith.

In amendment No. 114, the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall seeks to omit the provision that a person would commit an offence if he failed to give assistance when required to do so under subsection (9). That would be the best solution to the problem, and I hope that the Minister will consider it favourably.

The fallback position is contained in amendment No. 136, which would include a point about mitigating circumstances. That would provide greater balance, and the person who was accused of committing an offence would explain the mitigating circumstances that had made him refuse to give assistance when requested to do so. That point takes us back to the ''any persons'' argument, which relates to the kind of people who may be required to give assistance, the circumstances in which they find themselves and valid reasons that they may wish to give for not providing the assistance that the Bill would require them to give.

I hope that the Minister will consider including some balance in the Bill and accept the amendments.

Mr. Morley: The point before us is balance, but I am not sure that individual cases can be dealt with in the way done by the hon. Member for South Norfolk. I do not know the other side to that story and, from what little I know about the Thomas-Everard case, I understand that our officials had great difficulty in obtaining accurate information, particularly in relation to the movements of the contractor who was linked with a disease outbreak.

I cannot comment on that particular case. However, in general terms, the amendments discuss appropriate and proportionate powers in relation to co-operation. I am not sure that the example given by the hon. Member for South Norfolk is relevant.

Mr. Bacon: My example is utterly germane. The amendments deal with the provisions, as exemplified in, for example, new section 36J in schedule 2, and in clause 6(12). Those provisions deal with circumstances in which someone has committed an offence. If the example that I have discussed is not relevant to the circumstances in which one is, or is not, committing an offence, I am at a loss to understand what would be relevant.

As to the Minister's comment that have I cited an individual case while we are talking about the general point, I must say that I was referring by way of illustration to a specific case, but there are many others. I have just been handed a note, which I imagine is from someone sitting in the Committee-

The Chairman: Briefly.

Mr. Bacon: I shall be brief. The note says:

''I had to deal with a similar problem to Guy Thomas-Everard's with the Ministry and we ended up resisting an attempt to obtain an injunction against us . . . We won that case and had our costs awarded. We also offered to have all our animals blood tested, and Judge Harrison in the High Court agreed that this was the right action.''

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is far too long.

Mr. Morley: We cannot use individual examples; there are equal examples of people who did not co-operate. I know of at least one case in which people would not co-operate even though the animals were infected and had the virus. The issues must be dealt with on a general basis without taking individual stories into account.

It is possible that there will in future be greater facilities for blood testing, which should mean that that option could be applied. It certainly could not have been applied at the height of the outbreak, however, because there was not the capacity for blood testing. Circumstances during the outbreak were very different from the situation now, when we are using blood testing. One or two doubtful cases have come to light since 3 September, and blood testing is a way of checking what is going on. We must be proportionate about the circumstances that apply. The amendments change nothing of substance in the Bill, which requires inspectors to act reasonably in seeking any assistance that they need.

Mrs. Winterton: The Minister said that he knows of one case in which a farmer had refused to co-operate when he had disease on the farm. That is an exceptional situation, but there are many other cases in which good evidence could be produced that people would have been caught by the Bill. Is it proportionate and just that one should legislate for the odd case of someone whom we would all condemn, who must be insane, mad or irresponsible, when the greater majority of people only wish to do the right thing? Under the Bill, the would have committed a criminal offence if, even for good reasons, they did not wish to give assistance to the inspector. The balance is not right and we will therefore press the amendments to a Division.

The Chairman: Does the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall intend to press the amendment to a vote?

Mr. Breed: Yes, very much so. It is important that we place on record our opposition to the clauses, as we are considering offences that people may commit, wittingly or unwittingly, which might have serious consequences in respect of how they could be treated.

Question put, That the amendment be made:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division No. 19]

Bacon, Mr. Richard Breed, Mr Colin Browning, Mrs. Angela Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill Williams, Mr. Roger Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Ainger, Mr. Nick Atkins, Charlotte Cunningham, Tony Drew, Mr. David Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick Morley, Mr. Elliot Organ, Diana Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

Mrs. Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 44, in page 19, line 26, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

This simple amendment would right a wrong with respect to compensation arrangements for scrapie. Under proposed new section 36K:

''The Minister may make regulations providing for the payment by him of compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred as a result of the exercise of a power conferred by or under this Part.''

We propose to substitute the word ''shall'' for ''may'' for obvious reasons. The scheme is statutory, not voluntary, so it is right and proper that the Ministry ''shall'' make regulations

''providing for the payment . . . of compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred''.

I do not understand why ''may'' appears in this part of the Bill. It gives the Minister a discretion, which doubtless the Treasury will appreciate in due course, but my hon. Friends and I do not believe that it is just. If a statutory scheme is introduced, the Ministry should defray the costs incurred through the exercise of the powers. For those reasons, and others that may be proposed by members of the Committee, we ask the Minister to accept the amendment.

Mr. Wiggin: Suppose that we view the amendment in a different light and suggest that the Minister ''may not'' instead of must make regulations about payment. My understanding is that taking something from someone without paying compensation is theft-or, at best, borrowing. The amendment would ensure that under no circumstances could the Minister borrow people's stock without making compensation. That is entirely right and proper. Under the Bill of Rights of 1688, no fines or forfeitures before conviction can be binding. That is the basis of what we all believe in-property, liberty and the right to life. In suggesting that compensation should not be paid, the Government are out of order. What better way of triggering the vigilantism, lawlessness and civil disobedience that some have warned might follow from the draconian nature of the Bill than the withdrawal of compensation? It is a mild form of theft, but theft it is, so the amendment is essential.

People delivering a Liberal Democrat leaflet or passing a farm for some other reason may be put in prison for six months. That would be all right if it were for delivering a Liberal Democrat leaflet, but not for something more serious, such as a visit of a Member of Parliament. That is the nature of the Bill and the reason why we must fight every inch of the way to prevent this draconian measure becoming law.

The amendment is vital. The Minister must make regulations to provide for the payment of

''compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred as a result of the exercise of a power''.

If not, we will be forced back to the Bill of Rights and the basic freedoms that we all enjoy in this country. I urge Government Members to consider the oath of allegiance that they took when they were elected. They must protect people on the basis of common law, which is about taking something and ensuring that it is paid for.

6.30 pm

Mr. Breed: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman wants to protect me from possible arrest should I deliver leaflets in future. Who knows what the result might have been had we been able to deliver them during the foot and mouth crisis?

The Minister was sympathetic to the fact that farmers should not be over-burdened with costs or made uncompetitive by the scrapie eradication programme. The amendment would change the important word ''may'' to ''shall''. It would not ensure that the Minister paid all the costs, but only that he would make regulations providing for their payment. It does not set out what the payment should be, how or when it should be made, but only that regulations should provide for compensation of farmers in the compulsory eradication of scrapie. The Minister would not want farmers co-operating with the Government in the eradication of scrapie to lose out. This modest amendment should be instantaneously accepted by the Minister as it would give force to his earlier view.

Mr. Bacon: I, too, support the amendment. The Bill's emphasis on farmers' obligations, duties and responsibilities is massive. However, the Minister and his Department are obliged to do very little. Proposed new section 36K states:

''The Minister may make regulations providing for the payment by him of compensation in respect of loss suffered or costs incurred as a result of the exercise of a power conferred by or under this Part.''

If a constituent came to a surgery and explained that he was trying to claim compensation, what could one say if the Minister had chosen not to make the regulations? All one could do is point to the Bill and explain that a claim could have been made had the Minister bothered to make regulations, as he ''may'' choose to do, but that it appeared that he did not consider it worthwhile. That is what the provision boils down to in its present form. It seems reasonable that the Government should be obliged to set down regulations.

I recall the Minister saying, ''The key to this is transparency''. Let us take him at his word. Why does he object to the requirement to make regulations, under the word ''shall''? The amendment is reasonable, and it is about time that the Government realised that if the Bill is to be accepted by the farming community, it should not be a one-way street. The Minister should have duties and obligations, and the requirement to set regulations for compensation is reasonable.

Mr. Morley: People should not get too worked up about the words ''may'' and ''shall''. The important point is that there is provision to make compensation if it is deemed appropriate; that is spelled out. The priority for scrapie is to breed it out of the UK flock. The high percentage turnover of sheep in any one year makes that possible. However, that does not preclude taking other measures-for example, castration of animals that are not scrapie resistant-as we get to the end of the programme, which is some years away. In such circumstances, there may be a case for compensation. I do not dispute that, and it is recognised in the Bill, which makes provision for compensation if it is appropriate.

If a decision were made that compensation was appropriate, the details would be set out in supplementary regulations. There is a need to retain some flexibility about payment of compensation, and factors such as prevailing market conditions must be taken into account. However, the Bill includes a provision to cover developments under the scrapie relegation plan, and the details are open for negotiation with the industry. I would expect industry representatives to make their case at that time.

Mrs. Winterton: The Minister says that there is provision for compensation in the Bill. However, the proposed new section on compensation states that

''The Minister may make regulations''.

There is more than an element of doubt, because the Minister may not make regulations, depending on the circumstances.

The Minister's comments have not reassured me, nor do I think that they will have reassured my hon. Friends. The Minister will need to make regulations; therefore, ''shall'' is a much more positive word. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall correctly said that the amendment is modest. However, it is vital because it shifts the balance away from doubt and the possibility that the Minister may not make regulations to a much more positive situation in which he is required to make regulations.

We are not saying what the regulations will be. We are not trying to specify the payment amount, although many people wish that the Bill set it at the proper market value compensation at the time. We leave those elements to one side. The Minister says that the proposed new section's wording gives him flexibility in respect of compensation. What it actually gives him is a cop-out. That is not acceptable, and we wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division No. 20]

Bacon, Mr. Richard Breed, Mr Colin Browning, Mrs. Angela Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill Williams, Mr. Roger Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Ainger, Mr. Nick Atkins, Charlotte Cunningham, Tony Drew, Mr. David Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick Morley, Mr. Elliot Organ, Diana Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

Tony Cunningham: May I make a point about schedule 2?

The Chairman: No. I must now put the question.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Second schedule to the Bill:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division No. 21]

Ainger, Mr. Nick Atkins, Charlotte Cunningham, Tony Drew, Mr. David Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick Morley, Mr. Elliot Organ, Diana Reed, Mr. Andy

Bacon, Mr. Richard Breed, Mr Colin Browning, Mrs. Angela Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill Williams, Mr. Roger Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Question accordingly agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

The Chairman: Before we move on, it might be helpful if I explained to the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) that, because my co-Chairman allowed a debate on clause 5, it was generally accepted that there would be no stand part debate on schedule 2.

Clause 6

Treatment: power of entry

Mr. Breed: I beg to move amendment No. 109, in page 3, line 15, leave out 'inspector' and insert

'an authorised person of the Minister'.

The changing of ''officer of the Minister'' to ''inspector'' adds confusion rather than helping the situation. It is important to make it clear which person is authorised by the Minister, especially considering the fact that a group of people could turn up, perhaps unannounced. We are always telling our older folk not to let people into their premises to read the gas meter, for example, until they produce some proper authorisation. Indeed, in this case the authorised person should carry authorisation. That is not clear if the Bill uses the term ''inspector'', because it could mean an RSPCA, police or DEFRA inspector. We should identify who is the authorised person of the Minister, especially because, potentially, such a person will be empowered to carry out serious actions. If we change the term to ''an authorised person'', he or she would have to demonstrate the relevant authorisation to everyone concerned.

Mr. Bacon: I support the amendment. The argument of the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall was reasonable. It seems rather odd to replace the term ''officer of the Minister'', which is at least plausibly clear, with ''inspector''. I agree with the proposed new drafting, and using the wording

''an authorised person of the Minister''

would probably help out the Minister. It would enable him to authorise a variety of different people. I suspect that he will say that he cannot do that because he has the word ''inspector'' scrawled across the rest of the Bill in the draconian clauses that we just discussed about the inspector requiring people to do this, that and the other. The departmental lawyers would have kittens if it turned out that we had an inspector dictating to people left, right and centre, but no longer as a representative of the Minister. I am not too hopeful that the Under-Secretary will listen to this sensible amendment. I invite him to give us a pleasant surprise but I do not think that he will, because the whole Bill seems to have been put together in too much of a hurry. It does not make internal coherent sense, and an anomaly is bound to be the result.

6.45 pm

Mrs. Winterton: I, too, support the amendment, which is modest but would improve the Bill. I must admit that I like the phrase ''officer of the Minister'' best. I cannot understand why that phrase was not used elsewhere in the Bill and that we had consistency, rather than the word ''inspector'', which means very little to me.

Whichever people turn up at a farm, it is essential that the person who leads that group and acts is standing as an officer of the Minister. I can therefore understand the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, which would ensure that that person was described as

''an authorised person of the Minister''.

Anything is better than ''inspector'', for the reasons that have been given. I trust that the Minister will look favourably on this modest improvement.

Mr. Morley: I am sympathetic to the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, particularly as we have just heard a new myth about the Bill. It has been suggested that the Bill will result in the killing not only of cats, dogs and horses, but of people delivering Liberal Democrat leaflets, or at least that they will receive six months in jail. Even though their leaflets are not always great, that would be a bit hard.

The amendment is unnecessary, because we are talking about consistency. The Bill relates to the 1981 Act, in which an inspector is defined as a person appointed to be an inspector for the purposes of that Act by the Minister or by a local authority. When used in relation to an officer of the Ministry, the definition includes a veterinary inspector. As the term is in the 1981 Act, this is simply a question of consistency.

Mr. Breed: I thank the Minister for that response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Breed: I beg to move amendment No. 110, in page 3, line 21, leave out from ''premises,'' to end of line 22.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment No. 107, in clause 8, page 6, line 5, leave out

'if necessary using reasonable force'.

Mr. Breed: The amendment is another attempt to remove some words from the Bill. Of course, if the Department were prepared to remove everything that we wanted it to, the Bill would probably be only one page long. The power that we are debating may not be used at all; I know that the Minister will say that he just wants to have that power. However, with regard to the circumstances that are described in this part, the part on scrapie and so on, we need to tease out the differences and establish the position.

One real problem with the Bill relates to the fact that we are talking about three clearly different circumstances. In an emergency situation, it is perhaps-I say only perhaps-right to consider using reasonable force, but we should not make it a general power. Again, these words and powers, even if they are not used, give entirely the wrong impression to people whom we want to co-operate. In fact, active co-operation and participation will be essential, whether to tackle the spread of foot and mouth, to conduct tests and take samples, or to eradicate scrapie. All that will involve co-operation from the farming community.

Holding the threat of reasonable force, if necessary, like a sword of Damocles over the heads of people in that community does not create the right atmosphere in which to seek a co-operative approach. In accordance with amendments Nos. 110 and 107, I should like to see those words removed.

Mrs. Winterton: I rise briefly to support the hon. Gentleman's amendment, which would leave out the phrase,

''if necessary using reasonable force, for the purpose mentioned in subsection (2).''

I agree that our thrust should be to gain the confidence of farmers in future and achieve what needs to be done on scrapie and other problems through co-operation. It is difficult to define ''reasonable force''. If I shut and padlock the farm gates and someone cuts through the padlock and bashes down the gate, does that amount to ''reasonable force''. I honestly do not know what it is, but I do not want any force to be used. Other methods such as co-operation should be encouraged. Including ''reasonable force'' in the Bill is unnecessary.

Mr. Morley: While I understand that entering a farm to cull animals is an emotional issue, the provision deals with powers of entry for tests and samples. We are talking about having the power to enter, if necessary by force, when people refuse to co-operate with blood testing or the vaccination programme.

Mrs. Winterton: Why should they refuse?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Lady asks why should they refuse. That is a fair question, but some people have refused to co-operate with vaccination and blood testing. Some have barricaded themselves in and refused blood testing: it happened in Essex, Devon and the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall provided another example. These things do happen, but forced entry is a last resort. Nobody wants it, but it is, regrettably, necessary in dealing with epidemic control by vaccination and blood testing. In those circumstances, entry is necessary in the national interest. That is why those powers are in the Bill.

Mr. Breed: These are emotive times. It is the combination of different powers that can give the wrong impression. I accept that some people want to prevent-for whatever reason-tests and sampling from taking place, which could jeopardise the results. With some reluctance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 88, in page 4, line 1, after 'persons', insert

'up to a maximum of 10'.

The amendment is straightforward. Proposed new paragraph (8) states:

''The inspector may take with him such other persons as he thinks necessary to give him such assistance as he thinks necessary.''

The amendment would add that persons should be only up to a maximum of 10. That is, to be fair, an arbitrary figure, but it is necessary to limit the number of persons that inspectors-

Mrs. Browning: Are they going to take the Army?

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend takes the words out of my mouth. I was about to suggest that it might be a platoon-

Mrs. Browning: Or a battalion.

Mrs. Winterton: Indeed. We have said many times that the way forward is to work with the farming community and rebuild its trust and confidence. The inspector has a job to do, but the option to take as many people as he wants is totally unnecessary. Vast numbers of people turned up on some farms during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. That is off-putting. It makes people feel even more sensitive in the circumstances, and is neither proportionate nor reasonable.

This modest amendment would limit the number of people in the party that turned up at a farm or premises to 10. Of those 10 people, there would be at least one inspector, one veterinary surgeon, some stockmen, and possibly some policemen in case of trouble. Limiting the number to 10 would more than adequately cover the needs of the inspector in carrying out his duties.

Before I conclude, Mr. Illsley, I would like to thank you and Mr. Conway on behalf of Opposition Members for chairing the Committee so effectively and affably. You have been very tolerant and we are grateful. As I have pointed out to many people, the Chair is a voluntary position and many Chairmen give generously of their time, which we greatly appreciate. I also thank the Clerk for his assistance, and the Doorkeepers and police for ensuring that the Committee could sit without any difficulty.

There are fewer than 10 people in the Room to keep us in order, and therefore a maximum of 10 people would be more than enough to accompany the inspector to a farm. I hope that the Minister will look kindly on this last opportunity to accept the amendment.

Mr. Morley: I also express my thanks to you, Mr. Illsley, and to Mr. Conway. I also thank the Committee and my hon. Friends for their support and excellent contributions. It is a pity that there have been so many unnecessary Divisions, as we could have had more debate. Nevertheless, the hon. Lady is right; 10 is an arbitrary number. There are generally fewer people in teams that go to farms. However, large teams may be needed for large farms, or when large flocks of hefted sheep must be brought down, as in the Brecon Beacons. The teams would contain no more people than necessary, otherwise there would be a waste of important resources.

Mrs. Winterton: I may as well shut up shop, which is not the right attitude, but I want to vote on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division No. 22]

Bacon, Mr. Richard Breed, Mr Colin Browning, Mrs. Angela Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill Williams, Mr. Roger Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Ainger, Mr. Nick Atkins, Charlotte Cunningham, Tony Drew, Mr. David Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick Morley, Mr. Elliot Organ, Diana Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

It being Seven o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [22 November] and the Order of the Committee [19 November], to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Clauses 6 to 18 agreed to.

Question put, That clauses 6 to 18 stand part of the Bill:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division No. 23]

Ainger, Mr. Nick Atkins, Charlotte Cunningham, Tony Drew, Mr. David Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick Morley, Mr. Elliot Organ, Diana Reed, Mr. Andy

Bacon, Mr. Richard Breed, Mr Colin Browning, Mrs. Angela Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill Williams, Mr. Roger Winterton, Mrs. Ann

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at two minutes past Seven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Illsley, Mr. Eric (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Atkins, Charlotte
Bacon, Mr.
Breed, Mr.
Browning, Mrs.
Cunningham, Tony
Drew, Mr.
Edwards, Mr.
Gillan, Mrs.
Hall, Mr. Patrick
Morley, Mr.
Organ, Diana
Owen, Albert
Reed Mr.
Wiggin, Mr.
Williams, Mr. Roger
Winterton, Mrs. Ann