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Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: I am sorry, but I will not give way to my hon. Friend.

Better still, the Government should withdraw the Bill altogether and come back with proposals that are proportionate, reasonable and based on considered opinion and recognise the meaning of justice.

6.27 pm

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): It has been a pleasure and an honour to serve on the Standing Committee and to listen to the arguments. I have no doubt that all the Committee's members have experience of representing constituencies where foot and mouth was a serious problem. It certainly was in my constituency of Monmouth, which can be said to be contiguous with the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ) and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), who were also on the Committee. In fact, some farmers in my constituency believe that foot and mouth came from the hon. Gentleman's constituency and that of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch).

The Bill is an important emergency measure. There are times of crisis, such as BSE and foot and mouth, when the Government have to introduce emergency measures. It would have been wrong to wait for one or two years for inquiries to report and to make recommendations before the Government acted. We all hope and pray that there will not be another outbreak of foot and mouth in next few months but, if there were to be one, can one imagine the criticism that would be levelled if the Government had introduced no measures whatever following the outbreak of 2001 and if they did not have the opportunity to vaccinate and to pay compensation for vaccination?

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There has been a strong debate in my constituency, but the local farmers who were most directly affected by foot and mouth believe that the culling policy, though distressing, was necessary. It was necessary to get ahead of the disease. They were frustrated at the delays that took place in other parts of the country. For example, farmers in my area criticised the delays that occurred nearby such as in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean.

Diana Organ: Does my hon. Friend accept that, given the greater good of defeating the disease, the one or two objectors behaved in rather selfish manner in that they probably exacerbated the situation by allowing the disease to spread? We ended up with more animals being culled as a result of their selfishness.

Mr. Edwards: My hon. Friend has represented her constituency very well on this matter. Concern was expressed in my constituency that the culling process was halted for one reason or another, including the delays caused by ministerial officials. Nobody can deny that. It was a catastrophic event that overwhelmed the whole country.

It is absolutely necessary to fill the legal loopholes in the Animal Health Act 1981. It is important that we will now have greater incentives to ensure that biosecurity measures are taken. It is to the great credit of the farming community that there has been no further outbreak for some time now. We were absolutely delighted when Wales was declared free of the disease last week. The meat export trade is resuming, and I hope that it will resume in my part of Wales as soon as possible.

We do not want to be overwhelmed by such an event again, but many lessons have to be learned. We must ensure that livestock travels shorter distances. I listened with interest to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for North–West Leicestershire (David Taylor) about the long distances over which much livestock is transported. In south-east Wales we have no major abattoir facility, and much of the livestock in the area is transported unnecessarily long distances. I wish that the farming infrastructure in my area had received greater investment. We need to reopen and modernise our livestock markets and invest in abattoir capacity.

David Taylor: Does my hon. Friend recall that the running down of this country's abattoirs mostly occurred in the 10 years before the 1997 election? Closures have continued, but at a much slower rate.

Mr. Edwards: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. There has, however, been a further rundown in recent years, and we need to arrest that trend. We need to use bodies such as the Welsh Development Agency to invest in those areas. I wish that we could have objective 1 funding in Monmouthshire to ensure the provision of more abattoir capacity, but we are outside the objective 1 area, so we are unable to invest in the economic development of an industry that has suffered most in recent years. I would be the first to admit that my constituency is relatively affluent, but its farming community has suffered badly in recent years.

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We need greater investment in meat processing facilities, and we need new livestock markets. There is great controversy in my constituency because Monmouth livestock market is fairly run down and does not have as much trade as it should have. Abergavenny market is in need of investment and there is a debate about the creation of a new, modern livestock market that will serve not only Monmouthshire but south-east Wales and beyond, over the border into England.

The Minister has conducted proceedings on the Bill in his usual expert way. Not every farmer in Monmouthshire will agree with his policies, any more than they agree with my approach on every aspect of agriculture, but there is no doubt that he is dedicated to farming. His tremendous expertise is acknowledged on both sides of the House.

May I put one point to my hon. Friend? Recently, I attended a meeting of farmers in my constituency in the Cross Ash area, which was very badly affected by foot and mouth. I thought that they might be a little hostile because of the events of the past few months, but they were quite welcoming and hoped that I would take up a particular cause about which they are concerned—the payment of slaughter premiums. Many were not paid the premium although they believe that they are entitled to it. I shall write to my hon. Friend on behalf of Mr. Probert, Mr. Williams, Mr. Sevenoaks and a number of other farmers in my constituency. I sincerely hope that he will be able to consider their case, which I believe to be very strong. I assure him that I will be very happy to talk about the matter in the Lobby tonight.

6.34 pm

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): We are 26 minutes from the end of the proceedings on the Bill in this House. It is interesting that the Minister has consistently said that plenty of time and thoughtful discussion have been devoted to it, but the Committee debated only six of its clauses in six sittings and returned the Bill to the House completely unamended. It does not look like a Bill that has gone through effective consultation. That is particularly disappointing when one considers that, according to the reports that I have read and the accounts of my hon. Friend the Member for South–East Cornwall (Mr. Breed), the atmosphere in the Committee was constructive and engaging. The Under-Secretary is a constructive and engaging Minister, but the fact remains that he has not accepted a single amendment or undertaken fully to introduce any amendments before the Bill completes its final stages.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman may have missed what I said about that. A number of issues came up in Committee, and I gave undertakings that I would consider the best way forward which, of course, involves taking advice and looking at legal aspects. I said that, if appropriate, certain provisions that we discussed in Committee which, I conceded, I was willing to look at, could be added to the Bill in another place. There is work to be done on that. We have consulted widely with a range of bodies. To be fair to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, although it has not approached me directly, it went to the Department to discuss the issues with the chief veterinary officer. It has not raised objections to the Bill.

Malcolm Bruce: I appreciate the Minister's intervention, which was characteristic of his style and,

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I am sure, is backed by many good intentions. However, at the end of the day, one can only judge the Bill on what it says when it completes its passage through the House. In January, we may be back here with a Bill that has been altered; the Minister will then be able to say, "I have been vindicated." However, until he has said that, he can hardly be surprised if we consistently take the view that the Bill is not acceptable in its present form and should be opposed. If our roles were reversed, I do not think that he would expect any opposition party to behave any differently at this stage and in these circumstances.

The Minister made specific mention of the scrapie provisions and we should be clear that, in fact, the Bill was supposed to deal with scrapie. There was agreement that the voluntary scrapie plan was not working fast enough and that legislation was needed. All parties in the House and all those trying to eliminate scrapie support that. Obviously, there are concerns about rare breeds and questions need to be asked, but that could have been dealt with amicably and constructively in Committee. In reality, reference to scrapie in the Bill consists of one line in the main body of the Bill and one schedule. The rest of the contents have been plucked from the air and that has given rise to contention. The fundamental problem is not the scrapie provisions, but all the other provisions.

The Minister said that he would consult. Here we are on Third Reading, and he is going to consult. We hoped that the consultation would have taken place first and helped to inform the shape and structure of the Bill. That is what consultation ought to do; it should not take place after the event. Although there has been constitutional adjustment in recent years so that Ministers' words in Hansard can be used in the legal interpretation of an Act, as the Minister well knows, the first thing that any court will look at is what the Act itself says; it is difficult to add the qualifications of Ministers unless the court interprets them as effectively part of the legislation. The Minister is reasonable and is behaving in a reasonable way, but his reasons for not accepting amendments may not be persuasive in the courts at the end of the day.

The Minister has not succeeded in persuading me or my colleagues of the emergency nature of the Bill. He kept saying—and it is obviously true—that we are not yet at the end of the foot and mouth outbreak. I would like to think that we are close to that. In Scotland and in Wales, technically, we are; in England we soon will be, we hope. Most of us believe that the possibility of a flare-up at this late stage is the Minister's only justification for forcing through the Bill in the time scale. However, there is not an overwhelmingly convincing argument for doing so. After all, southern Scotland was affected by foot and mouth, yet the Scottish Executive did not take DEFRA's view that emergency legislation was needed. I understand that the Scottish Executive will introduce legislation but, unlike DEFRA, will do so after they have consulted the farmers, not before. They will endeavour to take account of their experience and the views of farmers' organisations in Scotland before they introduce legislation in the Scottish Parliament. That approach is commendable and would have been much more acceptable to the House if it had been adopted by DEFRA.

With the end of the outbreak, we are looking for the re-establishment of export markets. I asked the Minister about that at Question Time today. Farmers in my part of Scotland and sheep farmers in other parts of the United Kingdom would like to think that getting those export

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markets back in the face of obstructive behaviour by France, which is a vital export market, was more important to Ministers than steamrollering the Bill through Parliament. Ministers should devote all their time and energy to a constructive commitment to farmers.

The Government have not amended the Bill at all, in spite of strong arguments well supported from various quarters. Those arguments were not party politically motivated, but motivated by a genuine concern to end confrontation between Government and farmers and to secure co-operation, so that together we can stop diseases occurring and spreading. To do that, the Government need everybody on side, not the threat of powerful criminal legislation and powers which, if executed, most people would find offensive and contrary to civil liberties. I am not convinced by the Government's claim that the Bill does not contravene the European convention on human rights.

On that basis, my colleagues and I will support other hon. Members who find the Bill unacceptable. We will vote against it, and we will not support it until it has been properly amended in another place.


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