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Mr. Speaker: As I have stated, I have no powers to make the Home Secretary come to the House. As for asking him to do so, there is nothing to stop the hon. Gentleman asking him.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The climate change talks in Marrakech concluded over the weekend, and I understand that progress was made on agreements between countries on fighting climate change, but the United States still remains

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outside the Kyoto treaty. Have you had any indication from any member of the Cabinet that they wish to come to the House to make a statement on climate change talks, which will have an immense effect on this country in future?

Mr. Speaker: I have had no contact from the Minister concerned.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have frequently criticised Ministers who have made statements outside the House before the House has been informed. You will be aware that, over the weekend, there were leaks in all the papers about the changes to human rights legislation and about the introduction of internment without trial. However, even now, after that leak to the press, there is to be no announcement to the House. Could you unequivocally condemn that, Mr. Speaker, and ensure that it never happens again and that statements are made to the House, not just to the newspapers?

Mr. Speaker: A debate will be held next Monday and the right hon. Gentleman can make those points then.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to trouble you, but the Home Secretary has spoken of a public emergency. Are there no rules of the House that insist that, when there is a public emergency of such extraordinary dimensions as to require legislation and an instrument of this nature, the Home Secretary should come to the House?

Mr. Speaker: There are no rules.

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Orders of the Day

Animal Health Bill

[Relevant document: The Minutes of Evidence taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 6th November 2001, HC 339–i, on the Animal Health Bill.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I would point out to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.36 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Today's Second Reading debate takes forward our contingency planning in the area of animal disease control. I shall try to cover what the Bill does, why the Government have concluded that we need to take these powers and, of course, why we are bringing the Bill forward now.

The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that we have the powers that we believe we need and that we tidy up some of the anomalies in existing powers, and to set up a consistent structure and regime for the handling of animal disease. Hon. Members will have seen that the Bill focuses on two high-profile diseases, foot and mouth and scrapie, but that the powers in it will be extendable to other animal diseases. So, specifically, the Bill should ensure that we have all the powers that we might need to deal swiftly and effectively with any new cases of foot and mouth disease, and will enable us to accelerate the eradication of scrapie from the national sheep flock.

Obviously, we all hope that we are near the end of the foot and mouth disease outbreak. The signs are encouraging; there have been no new cases for about six weeks, but we cannot rule out the possibility of further sparks of disease. That is why we continue to take every opportunity to stress the importance of vigilance and high standards of biosecurity, especially given the large number of animal movements currently taking place. If we do not need these powers in relation to the current outbreak, we shall of course be delighted. However, we need to plan ahead, whether on foot and mouth disease or on other diseases.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett: If the hon. Lady will allow me to make a little more progress, I shall of course give way to her if she still wants to intervene.

We would normally have consulted the industry and all our other stakeholders before introducing legislation but it became clear during the summer that it was sometimes touch and go whether we stayed on top of the disease, not least because it was touch and go whether we could maintain the 24 or 48-hour slaughter deadline. It also became clear that in some instances we lacked the appropriate powers to deal with the disease as quickly as necessary. So the Government decided—albeit with considerable reluctance—that we needed to prepare to

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take steps now, and swiftly, in order to prepare either for any resumption or for a fresh outbreak of that or another disease. In consequence, there has simply not been time to conduct the dialogue that we would normally seek. Of course, during the coming weeks and months, we will still be able to consult widely on key elements, as I shall explain. We were grateful that the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was able to take evidence on the Bill last week from my hon. Friend the Under–Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Miss McIntosh: The right hon. Lady will be aware that the outbreak came very late in the day to the Vale of York, and that she received from me, on behalf of farmers, several serious representations that departmental officials, Army officials and, indeed, vets had come on to Mr. Bosomworth's farm and most likely introduced foot and mouth. Why is the Bill silent on the failure of the right hon. Lady's Department's officials to observe the Department's own biosecurity?

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Lady is straying into what happened during the handling of the disease and into the various allegations that have been made. I am not sure what she would have the law say in this regard, but the law makes it clear that it is important that biosecurity observed. Whether breaches were committed by people whom the Department used to implement its policies is no doubt something that the inquiries will examine.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): A point that my right hon. Friend has made concerns me. The Bill will have an enormous impact and may introduce urgent changes, so many people will wish to give evidence on it. Since the Bill is subject to a programme motion, it is clear that it will go through the House quite quickly. Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing more time for its consideration, rather than proceeding on the basis of what appears on the Order Paper today?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend knows better than anyone that, on Second Reading, we deal with the principles of the issue. Much of what I suspect concerns those who have anxieties about the Bill is likely to be a matter of detail, and there will be an opportunity for much more measured consultation of that detail and of any orders that might be introduced. The question of the time scale has been examined and agreed, but I assure my hon. Friend that we hope and believe that it will be possible for it to be given adequate scrutiny. The Government will of course continue to address that issue as the Bill goes through its stages.

The Bill emphasises our precautionary approach to disease control per se. It will give us a wide range of options, ensuring that we have maximum flexibility to tailor our strategy to whatever might be the prevailing circumstances. I want to stress that the Bill is related not just to foot and mouth disease and that, in particular, it does not prejudge what policy on the disease in the longer term should be. The measures that it contains would also be needed if we were effectively to implement any kind of vaccination programme.

We remain of an open mind as to what our long-term policy for controlling foot and mouth and other animal diseases should be. It remains the case that we will be

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guided by the independent inquiries when they report next year and we will consider carefully any alternative options for disease control, such as vaccination, that the inquiries may put forward.

I wish to explain in more detail what the Bill does and why.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The right hon. Lady mentioned the independent inquiries but, as she knows, the "lessons learned" inquiry will not begin until the epidemic is deemed to have finished. Will the ministerial papers, including the advice from scientists, on those episodes in which vaccination was considered be made available to the inquiry and will they be made public?

Margaret Beckett: When the inquiry begins is partly a matter for Dr. Anderson, although if it appears that the commencement of the inquiry will not interfere with the tail end of handling the disease, it is possible that the inquiry may begin a little earlier. That is a matter for Dr. Anderson. Whatever papers he seeks will obviously be provided and, equally, as I understand it, what is published will be a matter for him. There is certainly no wish to keep hidden matters that ought properly to be considered in the inquiry.

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