Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. The magistrate has to apply a test of reasonableness.
  (Mr Morley) Yes and there is guidance in the Bill.

  61. And the reasonableness is whether there is a reasonable case for entry which is apparently a judgment on the case for slaughter. It is no good saying that it is about whether it is reasonable to enter, it is to enter for one purpose only so he is bound to make a judgment on that. If he says "yes", presumably you have someone outside in a fast four-wheel drive waiting who will telephone the vet to say, "Go and get on with it, we have our warrant."
  (Mr Morley) Yes.

  62. How do you then go to judicial review in those circumstances?
  (Mr Morley) I want to make that point because there has been some speculation in some press articles that the right of judicial review is taken away by this Bill and that is not the case. In fact, I think Christopher Booker suggested it would be a legal offence to refuse to make a cup of tea for DEFRA officials, which I can assure you is not within the Bill either. It is fair to say that, under that procedure, the whole point of this is to move quickly and to cull quickly to stop the spread of disease, so the animals will be dead, that is true, but the right of judicial appeal as to whether or not the decision was taken properly can still be carried out.

  63. So you cannot appeal against the cull?
  (Mr Morley) No.

  64. But you can subsequently appeal —
  (Mr Morley) Whether it was done right and whether it was justified, yes.

  65. You are going to get the same amount of compensation, provided that you have not helped infect, as it were.
  (Mr Morley) Yes.

  66. So it is going to be a very retrospective satisfaction, is it not?
  (Mr Morley) Yes.

  67. I just wanted you to clarify that.
  (Mr Morley) As it is at the moment as my legal adviser tells me.

Mr Borrow

  68. I just want to come back to the question of the extent of expertise that the magistrates have. I would not normally have a problem with that but I would see it as the job of the DEFRA official to put a sufficiently strong case to convince the magistrate and explain to the magistrate in lay terms what the issue was but, if I read the Bill correctly, the only information that would be fed to the magistrate is from the DEFRA official and there is no opportunity for that to be challenged by the farmer. I have considerable years' experience in situations where disputes are settled by lay people, but they are settled by lay people who have heard evidence both from the government department and from the individual citizen and I find it extraordinary that we are advocating here on a very technical issue to have input only from the Government official with no opportunity for the citizen to question or counteract any of the evidence from the Government.
  (Mr Morley) But there is the issue, as I repeat, that the farmer can appeal to the DVM if he disagrees with the decision on the cull. The whole point of this Bill is because the present situation is that the court appeal process is a very, very lengthy one and the risks of delay are very great and I would like to draw to the Committee's attention, because we also have to think of the future as well as the present time, that I have here a pack which was sent to every farm in Thirsk. I do not know who was responsible for this particular pack but this encourages farmers to block their drives and to not allow officials on and it gives a whole range of advice basically to resist a contiguous cull. You have the risk here of widespread non-cooperation on people being given misguided information and therefore causing catastrophic delays to a programme designed to deal with disease and, in the end, I come back to the point that these are national issues. This is an outbreak that is going to cost the state, the taxpayer, at least £2 billion with all the damage that goes with it and we really do have to deal with these outbreaks as quickly as possible and that does mean taking measures like this in order that we do get a swift outcome and, I must emphasise, reduce the amount of culling because we want to reduce spread and reduce the disease and bring it under control as quickly as possible. That is the whole point of these measures.

Mr Martlew

  69. I will come onto vaccination in a moment because there would not have been the need for this Bill if we had a policy on vaccination. If we come to Cumbria, we did have a fire-break in Cumbria with regards to sheep in the north of the county. Are you really saying that you did not really have the powers and did not really have the legal powers to carry out that fire break—I was involved in a number of the meetings—and that really it was a question of goodwill and bluff that allowed that fire break to take place? The Bill that we are getting today is based on the problems that were encountered during this last epidemic.
  (Mr Morley) The wording of the current 1981 Animal Health Act is absolutely crucial because of course this is where the legal disputes have come about. We are absolutely confident that the culling that has been carried out in the course of the epidemic has been absolutely legal and we have not had a court ruling that has challenged that throughout it, but what this Bill does, because the crucial wording is animals affected with foot and mouth or suspected of being so affected or exposed to infection and it gives you permission to actually pay compensation for the animals being slaughtered, so it is the wording that has led to the legal challenges and the idea of this Bill is to make the wording absolutely clear so that there is no doubt. That is what makes the difference in relation to fire break culls.

  70. You have mentioned it briefly but I would like to come back to the question of animal sanctuaries and pets. I think some of the most disturbing high profile cases are people's pet sheep or goat or animal sanctuaries being infected. Is there any protection in this Bill to stop that situation?
  (Mr Morley) There is provision under the DVM procedures to make exemptions for pets and special cases. I must point out in all fairness that pet sheep can get the disease, so you cannot say that in no circumstances could you exempt pets no matter what, you cannot do that, but I do accept that you do have to apply this with some sensitivity. Pets tend to be kept in lower densities and they tend to be kept away from other animals generally, but there are always exceptions to all this and it does depend on the situation. I would expect that divisional veterinary managers would make every effort to exempt the culling of pets in special cases wherever it was possible to do so.

  71. If we can come onto the finances, surely a fairer system would be for those farmers or whatever who objected and did not allow their animals to be culled to forfeit the right to compensation and then that would be a judgment they made and, if the animals did become infected, then it would be their fault that they did not agree to the cull. Do you think we could work that into the Bill?
  (Mr Morley) I think that is something for the lessons learned report to look at whether that is an alternative in relation to dealing with the disease. I think that is fair point but the only problem is that it does not stop the disease spread with all the consequences that go with it.

  72. I will come onto vaccination and I think the Minister is well aware of my views on vaccination. I think we have heard from the chief vet who said there was a time when the decision was taken to vaccinate the cattle in Cumbria; I think that was actually when they were coming onto the grass after the winter. Why did the Government not go ahead with it?
  (Mr Morley) They did not go ahead with it because there was majority farmer opposition, there were also severe concerns expressed by the food industry at the time. I think that the real issue is that there is not a history in this country for using vaccination in controlling outbreak of this kind. There were clearly strong views both for and against, I have to say, and I think that it is very difficult to try and reassure people and to try and deal with some of these issues at the height of an epidemic. I think that what we need to do is to have some calm reflection, now that the epidemic is hopefully or certainly coming to an end, where we can try and deal with these objections. The Government were persuaded that there was a case for vaccination of cattle in Cumbria and probably Devon and I was certainly persuaded myself as well.

  73. What research is going on to find out what the effect would have been on the course of the disease if we had vaccinated?
  (Mr Morley) There will be examinations of the role of vaccination. The work that I have seen so far in relation to predicting whether or not vaccinations would have worked in this disease suggest that it would have had a minimal impact on controlling disease spread, primarily because the disease was so scattered all over the country and it was difficult to predict where it was and also that the nature of its spread as well. In fact, there would have been some benefits in vaccinating cattle in Cumbria as a dampening down effect, but the primary benefits of vaccinating in Cumbria, and we were advocating a `vaccinate and live' policy, would have been saving the large numbers of cattle from being culled and also the expense of problems of disposing of them. I actually think that there is a case for vaccination for that alone.

  74. You almost come onto my next point which is that we are pushing this Bill through—and I do not disagree with that, I think it would be better if we had it on the statute well before the outbreak—but how urgent is the question of vaccination being considered because this is obviously being put in place for the next outbreak—hopefully this one is over? We need to have a government decision on vaccination before that outbreak happens. We cannot go again through what can only be described as dither.
  (Mr Morley) I do not accept that it was dither. The recommendation to us was taken by our chief vets and our chief scientists with the advice of the chief scientist's advisory group. I understand that it was unanimous advice. We therefore recommended the vaccinisation but it was clear that, to do this, you did need majority support and you did need consensus within the farming and the food industry. That consensus was not there at that time. There has been an ongoing debate in the course of that vaccination. I think these are very important issues for the lessons learned report and also the Royal Society investigation to look at. The British Government are sponsoring a major conference next month in Brussels to look at the whole issue of foot and mouth disease and the vaccination issue. My Rt Hon friend the Secretary of State will be speaking at that and I am hoping to participate in that conference as well. If we take this very seriously, I think it will address some of the scientific points. Our research institutions are doing a lot of work at the present time on some key issues of vaccinations such as a test that will be able to distinguish the antibodies between antibodies from disease and antibodies from vaccines. It is a very important thing to have in relation to a vaccination policy. So there is a great deal of technical work that is being done being supported by government and a lot of consideration in relation to the whole issue of vaccination, but there is a `hearts and minds' campaign in relation to vaccination within the farming community and some nervousness in the food industry as well which needs to be resolved.

  75. Finally, are you satisfied that the Bill as it is presented to us and will be presented to the House next week will give you all the power you need to vaccinate if that is the decision of government?
  (Mr Morley) I am absolutely satisfied that the Bill gives us the powers we need to vaccinate. I emphasise again that this a bill which extends our options. You need a wider range of options with any disease outbreak. This is a bill which is not tying us down to any one option. Because it speeds up culls does not necessarily mean that we believe that culling is the only solution to disease control but it does speed up our options and, in terms of vaccination, it does give us powers to enter land to vaccinate should there be resistance. In any situation, there is always a minority of people who will not co-operate for whatever reason.


  76. I am sure that the members of the Select Committee would welcome any information as to whether it would be possible for colleagues to attend.
  (Mr Morley) I understand that it is very heavily subscribed but I will certainly inquire on your behalf to see whether that can be done.

  77. I think if you were to conclude that it was too heavily subscribed for the members of the Select Committee to go, I think the Select Committee would get rather brassed off!
  (Mr Morley) Chairman, what you have to bear in mind is that we do not control all the places in the conference. It is jointly sponsored and financed by the Dutch Government, the British Government and the Belgian Government, so therefore we do not control all the places. However, I will give you an undertaking that I will take this away and see what I can do about it.

  78. I think this is where a little tact would be enormously beneficial.
  (Mr Morley) I want to be honest with you Chairman: we only have an allocation of 12 places to DEFRA. There may well be other places allocated —

  79. It is a very small conference then.
  (Mr Morley) Yes, that is right, but there are different categories of places. There is an enormous interest in this conference as you would expect.

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