Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
MORLEY, MP AND
80. I look forward to the promised summary of
appeals that are available and are anticipated will be available,
but I would like to come back to the question of appeals available
to farmers very briefly. My understanding so far of what you have
said is that, under the provisions of the Bill, the situation
available to farmers will be a pre-cull appeal to the district
(Mr Morley) Yes.
81. That exists now and will continue to exist.
(Mr Morley) That is correct.
82. And there will be, as you have said, a post-cull
appeal by judicial review.
(Mr Morley) If the individual wanted to do that, they
could apply for judicial review and in fact they can apply for
judicial review for any action of the department as they can now.
Nothing has changed on that.
83. So, it is not really an appeal, that is
a judicial review which can be applied to all sorts of situations.
(Mr Morley) That is right.
84. Did you not also say that there is evidenceand
I think you quoted Thirsk as being a centre that you have looked
at very carefullythat suggested that even the existence
of the pre-cull appeal to the district veterinary service did
(Mr Morley) Yes. I think on the pre-cull appeals in
Thirsk, 29 were accepted by the divisional veterinary manager
and, of those 29, nine became infected premises.
85. That is not seen as an argument for abolishing
(Mr Morley) No, it is not. I think what that does
illustrate to the Committee is the level of risk with this, in
that it is a risky business in terms of dealing with this and
the idea that all contiguous cull animals are healthy and are
not going to get the disease is completely wrong.
86. If I may take up the issue of compensation.
The Bill envisages a situation where up to one-quarter of compensation
claims could be withheld if it is held that the farmer had not
been doing his or her best in terms of bio-security. What evidence
does the farmer have that this sort of regime would actually make
a difference and improve bio-security?
(Mr Morley) I have some figures here in relation to
the compensation scheme. To give you an idea of the scale of the
problem, we introduced blue boxes in the latter stage of the disease
because of growing concern that a lot of disease spread was by
poor bio-security. I think it is fair to emphasise that, in our
experience, the majority of farmers were very sensible, wanted
to co-operate and took proper action in relation to bio-security,
but unfortunately it does not take very many to help the disease
spread. In the first blue box area where there was special arrangements
in relation to bio-security, there were 400 incidences.
87. Which was your first blue box?
(Mr Morley) It was the area that was drawn around
Thirsk, so in that area there were 400 incidences of suspected
bio-security offences. The majority was also the issuing of general
notes as warnings basically, although I have to say that, by the
time we got to this, there had been endless publicity about the
risk of bio-security and I think that 400 incidences was a very
disappointing figure. The majority were warned but there were
37 formal or informal cautions, 20 cases are still under investigation
for prosecution and five individuals have been taken to court
and were fined. In Penrith, we do not have the full figures at
the present time but, in the figures that we do have, 55 cases
were referred to Trading Standards of which 27 have been put forward
for legal action. Fourteen out of the 15 cases so far have gone
to court and resulted in a guilty verdict and there are 32 cases
which are ongoing at the present time. These are minority figures
overall, I must emphasise that, but they are significant minority
figures and this presents a very real threat in relation to disease
spread by bio-security and it is not fair, Chairman, I am sure
the Committee would agree, that the majority of farmers who are
taking precautions should be put at risk by the actions of a minority,
so this is very important.
88. Do you feel that the minority who were not
following the proper bio-security regime actually realised that
they were putting their own stock and other farmers' stock at
risk or was it pure ignorance?
(Mr Morley) It is very difficult to say; I think it
is a combination of factors in relation to that. I think it was
ignorance in some cases, I think some people just did not care
and I think that, in a tiny, tiny minority it was irresponsibility.
89. How do you appeal to a farmer now who is
stuck at the top of a hill faced with severe moving restrictions
who has to carry on farming who says, "Hell, if I do not
get my bull on my heifers, I will not get a crop next year. If
I am caught, I am fined £5,000. If I do not manage to get
a crop next year, I am £50,000 down and if I do get foot
and mouth disease, I get compensation that I can live with."?
It is very difficult.
(Mr Morley) It is difficult, Chairman, and again I
think this might be something for the lessons learned report because
of course there is an issue of risk sharing and I think there
is not much risk sharing at the present time. For many farmers
who do get the disease, it is of course a terrible emotional issue
for them, but they do get compensation at quite a generous rate
while those who do not get the disease do not get anything but
get the restrictions and all the problems that go with that. That
is a very serious issue and I do accept that point. There is not
a simple answer to it because of course you have to have those
restrictions because, when you have an infected area, the movement
of animals is extremely high risk and what you have to do is try
and stop the disease from spreading. Those are very relevant issues
which are not covered within this Bill, but I think they certainly
need to be considered.
90. I am interested in your idea of what sort
of evidence an inspector would be looking for in terms of making
a decision on whether a farmer received that extra 25 per cent
or part of it and I would also be grateful for clarification because
my colleague mentioned earlier on the appeals in relation to contiguous
premises. Is it possible to envisage a situation where a farmer
who went through the legal processes to try and stop his stock
being culled, lost in court and was then considered to be acting
in a way that could possibly be putting his livestock at risk
and therefore lost some or all of the 25 per cent?
(Mr Morley) On the latter point, I think that is a
little harsh because I do not condemn people who do not want to
see their stock being culled and would rather not have them culled
and have used the law to try and stop that. The problem that we
have is of course the balance of risk and the Bill is all about
risk and risk management, and it is felt that in the present system
there is too great a risk of delays. That is the whole reason
for it. I would not want to condemn individuals or punish them
in any kind of way because I do not really think you can say that
they are being irresponsible in the way that someone would be
who was taking no bio-security measures. I think that is quite
different. The kind of issues that we would want to address and
the kind of issues that have come up in the examination in our
blue box areas are things like failure to provide foot baths at
farm entrances and exits for people and vehicles or of course
failure to keep them filled with disinfectant, failure to prevent
spillage of organic matter on roads around farms, allowing unauthorised
people and vehicles onto farms, dirty farm vehicles picked up
on local roadsa big problem in Thirskand allowing
animals to stray. Those are the kind of issues that we want to
address as a bio-security checklist and, as I was saying earlier
on, Chairman, these are the kind of things that we want to talk
to the farming organisations about so that we can get one which
is easy to understand and people accept and people within the
farming community accept as fair.
91. Have you been able to make any assessment
of the resource implications of being in the system where obviously
some of your officials will need to devote time they have not
in the past in making a judgment as to whether or not an individual
farmer should have part or all of his 25 per cent and how that
assessment is made, so there are resource implications?
(Mr Morley) It should not be a huge resource implication
because the assessments were made when our staff go onto farms
as part of disease control measures but going onto farms anyway,
the idea is that, when they go onto farm, they will make the assessment,
so it is not really a big resource implication.
92. You have listed the warnings and then prosecutions
for breaches of bio-security under the existing law. How does
the checklist of bio-security breaches that you have just given
us correspond to the existing legal basis for prosecution?
(Mr Morley) In what respect?
93. You have listed 14 cases in which you were
(Mr Morley) Is this in Penrith?
(Mr Morley) Trading Standards have issued the prosecutions.
95. Presumably the grounds on which they are
pursuing those prosecutions were breaches of movement restrictions
of some kind.
(Mr Morley) No. In the blue box area, it also includes
things such as having dirty vehicles on the road. It is a range
of issues. It is not just movement restrictions.
96. To what extent does the bio-security checklist
which you have just given us take us beyond the existing legal
obligations which are placed on farmers now?
(Mr Morley) It does not take us much beyond the legal
obligations at all apart from, when we talk about legal obligations,
we have no mechanism for dealing with a farmer who has refused
to take any bio-security measure. There is no penalty apart from
if they go on the roads within the blue box areas.
97. Some of the things you listed were to do
with dirty vehicles, you mentioned that as one of the restrictions
you would expect to see in force through this checklist.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
98. Which actually is something you can be prosecuted
(Mr Morley) Yes.
99. I am not quite clear what more we are getting
at. I suppose you could withhold someone's money on the ground
that they did not provide disinfectant foot baths.
(Mr Morley) I will give you some examples and there
may be others that the industry might want to talk about themselves,
but I think what we are getting at here is that if people have
poor bio-security and they get the disease, they get 100 per cent
compensation. What we are looking for is an incentive to actually
take bio-security seriously for the minority who do not. So what
we have got here is the incentive of withholding 25 per cent of
the compensation or up to 25 per centyou can do it on a
sliding scale. The Dutch have this system. The Dutch have a very
rigorous system in relation to penalties and they actually withhold
100 per cent, but it is a very bureaucratic and complex one; they
can penalise farmers for not having ear-tags. It is really quite
complex. We are trying to introduce a much simpler one.