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6 Nov 2002 : Column 340—continued

Mr. Drew : I concur with the hon. Gentleman. In answer to a written question, I was told that trading standards authorities have identified almost 2,000 cases of abuse. Of course, those involved in trading standards are themselves under pressure, so I suspect that there are more such cases. The crux of the matter is the need to separate the work of farmers from that of dealers. I have asked for that to happen throughout; if only it could be done. I know that some farmers are dealers, but not all dealers are farmers. Let us deal with the real problem. That is where the industry is at fault: it has failed to realise that the fault lay with those dealers who drove animals around the system spreading the disease and would do the same again, unless we do something about it. What does he have to say about that problem?

Mr. Hayes: I am reminded of the comments made by Countess Mar in the other place, where she made a similar suggestion to that of the hon. Gentleman. I think that she used the phrase Xwheeler dealers" in referring to people with small pockets of land all over the place,

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whose regard for biosecurity is at best limited. He is right that we must recognise that, as well as the vast majority of dealers and farmers who are responsible, straightforward and honourable business men, there are always people who will try to get around the law and breach it to their advantage. We need to be mindful of that, as any responsible Government would be.

When I speak of breaking the 20-day rule, however, I am speaking not especially about that minority, but about the perfectly reasonable and sensible farmers who are now obliged against their instincts and judgment to face up to either going out of business or breaking that rule. That is a matter of profound concern. Countess Mar—I remind the House that she is a Cross Bencher and not a Conservative peer—also said:

I say to the Minister that, when that proper, independent study on cost benefit and risk assessment has been published, the resulting Government action must be based on those three factors; it must be reasonable, workable and enforceable. It must be bought by the industry.

It is perhaps worth saying at this juncture that this whole debate has to be founded on the basis of a partnership between the industry and the Government. If we do not have such partnership when something as catastrophic as foot and mouth disease occurs, our job in controlling, containing and dealing with it will be all the more difficult. The Americans formed a national strategy—we will debate this matter later, so I will not test your patience too much, Mr. Deputy Speaker—to deal with such problems that is very much rooted in the sort of partnership-based and collaborative approach to which I referred. In a sense, the 20-day rule is relevant to those matters, as it is emblematic of the tensions that they involve.

The Minister always speaks with authority, knowledge and conviction about these matters, but I disagree with him that we are examining an aspect of the Lords' consideration that is somehow exceptional. The 20-day rule is intrinsically linked to biosecurity, which we will debate in due course. However, I think that the separation of the 20-day rule and movement from biosecurity is rather artificial. I shall put it no more strongly than that. The issue needs to be seen as part of an integrated strategy to deal with the problems. If we had had a more cohesive and integrated strategy, it may well be that we could have handled foot and mouth more effectively. While Anderson certainly makes the point to which the Minister drew attention in respect of the 20-day rule, he also rightly expresses significant concern about the cohesiveness, coherence and integration of the strategy. Ministers should now acknowledge those concerns and I hope that they will bear them in mind in developing their national strategy.

For me, that issue is at the very heart of the tension that I believe underlies the matters before us. The Lords have got it right in wanting to be more flexible in respect of the 20-day rule. In that respect, I draw the attention of the House to the situation in Scotland. Hon. Members will know that, as my right hon. Friend the

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Member for Skipton and Ripon pointed out about a week ago when we debated agricultural matters, the 20-day rule is applied much more flexibly in Scotland.

Mr. Morley: It is the same.

Mr. Hayes: The process by which one can obtain an exception in Scotland is more flexible. Incidentally, the Minister will be aware of the worry that, when we draw up a national contingency plan, there may be some need to make the Scottish experience rather less flexible in order to deliver a degree of consistency. Clearly, cross-border trade has to be taken into account in that regard. The border does not necessarily prevent animals from being moved across from England to Scotland, so there are issues of consistency involved in the traffic of livestock.

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The important thing is that the Scottish experience shows that exceptions can be implemented without significant risk. There is not much evidence that those risks have caused problems. The question must therefore be asked: if that can be done in Scotland, why can it not be done in England? Lord Plumb made that point when these matters were debated in the other place.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): My family farms in the borders of Scotland, and all our cattle go over the border to Berwick-upon-Tweed. We now find that much more difficult to arrange because of the difference between the two countries. We are only four miles over an open border. In fact, our land runs up to the border, so if the cattle get through the fence, they go into England. The whole position is, therefore, ambiguous, because if we want to get them back, we have to go through another system. Does that help my hon. Friend?

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend speaks with the perspicacity and incisiveness for which he has become well known in the time that he has been here. He makes precisely the point that I was making about the need for a consistent policy across the two countries, given that normal business practice means that livestock will be transported between the two.

It is worth saying a bit about the Scottish experience, because it is relevant to the amendments. Subject to the agreement of the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Department, farmers can get a separation authorisation for any animal. Their premises are not checked when the licence is issued, but there are spot checks, which represent a significant deterrent to those who might not be following the rules as carefully as they should be. The separation authorisation means that when brought-on animals are held separately from other animals on the farm, the 20-day standstill will apply only to those animals and not to any others. Additionally, when a farmer identifies animals to be moved off his farm and holds them separately from animals that have been brought on and mixed with other animals, those animals to be moved off will not be subject to the 20-day standstill.

Those are important differences between Scotland and England, because they afford the flexibility that allows trading and dealing. Although I acknowledge the

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point made by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) that not all dealers are farmers, many farmers are dealers. I was in conversation with one such person in Nottinghamshire last week, who did precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) does, in moving animals between Scotland and England. He emphasised the difficulties that the inconsistency and the inflexibility of the 20-day rule caused for his business.

It is important for us to learn from that experience. The Minister will know that, in England, it is possible to get such an exception only for individually identified breeding rams and bulls bought at market, or sale bulls and rams returning unsold from a market or sale, which are isolated. There is room for manoeuvre here by the Government. The House of Lords has identified that fact, in looking studiously and carefully at the matter. Some flexibility in the application of the quite proper restrictions on movement that the Minister has identified—the need for which responsible Members will acknowledge in the light of the crisis—needs to be taken into consideration. For that reason, I am sympathetic with the Lords, and—I know that this will come as a great blow to him—less sympathetic with the Minister.

Mr. Drew: I do not want to speak for long on this matter, but this is the crux of how we proceed with the Bill. As someone who suffered, along with others, on the Bill when it was going through the Commons, I wonder whether I am experiencing déjà-vu, given that we started a year ago. Never let it be said that legislation is rapid in this place. Sometimes it is helpful to have the benefit of hindsight, and we now have the benefit of the hindsight of the Follett and Anderson reports. It needs to be put on record that those reports were, to a large extent, supportive of much of what the Government were trying to do.

I think that there is room for compromise here, although my hon. Friend the Minister has said that, until we get the results of the cost-benefit analysis, the 20-day rule will remain in place. Inevitably, that will need to be reconsidered regularly. We can look at the causes of the foot and mouth outbreak and at who was to blame, but what made it such a major outbreak was that the animal movements had an effect similar to pouring petrol on a fire. They completely took away any ability to control the disease.

My worry is that, unless we acknowledge two fundamental features of what went wrong and do something about them, that could happen again. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) said, it might not be foot and mouth next time; it could be blue tongue. Questions have also been asked about bovine tuberculosis. We face an epidemic of that in my part of the world, and I want to make a connection between those diseases, because the issues are not completely separate.

There are two matters to which I want to draw the attention of the House. First, there were people who were either acting illegally or, at best, recklessly—as they had been doing day in, day out—because of the way in which the process encouraged them to perform their duties. I referred to dealers earlier. I used that as a fairly pejorative term, but I would not insult everyone by

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using it. What went wrong in relation to animal movements was that the dealers were driving the process rather than responding to it. I am not talking about a person who deals with 20 or 30 animals; I am talking about people who deal with thousands of animals.

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