Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
MORLEY, MP AND
100. You mean the Dutch have found a more bureaucratic
way to deal with these problems than we would in the United Kingdom?
I am impressed.
(Mr Morley) The Dutch system is an incredibly complicated
system. But, of course, they do have this mechanism in place in
relation to penalties, not just for bio-security but non-co-operation,
and all sorts of things. This is a simpler system but does, I
believe, give some incentive in relation to taking bio-security
101. The check comes when DEFRA staff visit
the farm because an outbreak has occurred, or some other incident
has happened. However, the actual restrictions relate to the period
of 21 days before that. So, while I accept that if you turn up
on the farm and find they have not got tanks at the gates, which
is a legitimate point to address with the farmer, how do you know
that that was not happening 21 days earlier?
(Mr Morley) It is not just that issue, it is also
the issue such as movements and whether there are proper movement
records or whether they have complied with the movement issues.
The 21 days is to look at the behaviour and to take into account
that previously, rather than just a one-day snapshot on that day,
because, of course, there may have been issues of disease spread
within that 21-day period.
102. There might have been, but this has got
to be extremely difficult to nail down in an objective way, has
it not? I visit farms regularly and spotting what may or may not
have happened on one day against another is going to be very,
very hard. Are you going to penalise someone on the basis of your
observations on the one day you visit? I can understand the point
of some of the things you have raised, and indeed some of them
probably are available in the current law, but on the 21-day preceding
period you will get a view from a farmer as to what he has been
doing, and the records will really only tell you about his movements.
(Mr Morley) There are veterinary records and movement
records, so there are a number of aspects that can be included
within the 21 days. These are all going to be part of the consultation
process. So there are no decisions taken on the mechanism for
103. Will we be requesting evidence, for example,
saying "Did you see people visiting this farm during the
21-day period that should not have been there?" It sounds
like quite a substantial investigation, potentially.
(Mr Morley) We want to make this as simple as we possibly
can so that it is understandable and it is effective. Obviously
we have some ideas on this but at this stage this is one of the
aspects of the Bill where we do not have to rush into this and
this is an opportunity to talk to the industry about the way that
we would apply this and the way we would do it.
104. There are going to be regulations setting
out all this in detail?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
105. On the detail of the 21 days, when does
the clock start, as it were? The outbreak is confirmed and restrictions
on movements introduced. The previous three weeks is a period
before the outbreak was known. At what point can this test be
introduced? Presumably only three weeks after an outbreak is confirmed.
Is that right?
(Mr Morley) Yes, it is 21 days from the visit of our
106. So that could go prior to an outbreak being
confirmed nationally and national restrictions being introduced.
(Mr Morley) It could but you would have a series of
visits if there were outbreaks in the area. So you would have
more than one visit in that respect.
107. The first discoveries of the disease might
be last February, but there would have been a period when this
was building up21 days or moreand nobody knew about
it. So does that 21 days really go before the earliest confirmed
discoveries of disease? It could cause problems in attaching to
(Mr Morley) The relevant period in the Bill is a period
of 21 days ending with the day on which the animal was actually
slaughtered. I understand the point you are making that this could
have been some weeks away, but I think, again, it is a question
of balance and being practical. The 21 days gives a reasonable
window in which it is possible to, for example, get information
from local authority inspection results which may have happened
within that period. We are not restricted to looking back 21 days,
you could find something on the day you actually go along, so
it is just the window in relation to when we can look at people
and see what they have been doing. To go beyond that, you have
got the problems of proof and evidence, and some difficulty. I
understand what you are saying that there may well be some involvement
there, but I think that becomes much more difficult to manage.
So it is a balance, and 21 days was felt to be the appropriate
108. If, on the face of the Bill, we have 21
days, and for the earliest confirmed cases in an epidemic one
applies those 21 days, one could, I think, very reasonably argue
that the entire farming community was in breach of that because,
obviously, in the first 20 days of that period there was not a
national restriction. I am trying to understand how we can get
round this if it is on the face of the Bill.
(Mr Morley) I think if an outbreak has just started
and people were not aware you could hardly hold them responsible
for bio-security. You have to be reasonable about this. You cannot
do that. I come back to the point that the 21 days is a reasonable
window in relation to where we can examine bio-security. It is
on the basis of what we have found as practical in relation to
our field vets in the course of this epidemic.
109. I am rather interested in the suggestion
that independent persons are to be appointed to hear these appeals.
On what sources will the Minister draw and how many independent
people does he think he will need to appoint? Will they be, as
it were, kept on list? Will they receive training? What kind of
structure is he envisaging here?
(Mr Morley) That will come forward under a statutory
instrument and there will be an opportunity to discuss that. I
am not sure they have issued the details yetno, they have
not. That is one of the aspects, again, which is open to consultation,
will come forward by statutory instrument and will be available
110. You must have got an analogy in mind, or
is this an entirely new appellate structure?
(Mr Morley) We do have a range of panels at the present
time within all sorts of issues, as I am sure the Honourable Lady
will be aware. There are all sorts of existing models in relation
to independent persons considering the appeal. We set up something
very recently in relation to the Welfare of Animals in Transport
Order, in relation to licences for hauliers. There is an independent
panel on that. So there are all sorts of different models which
exist that we could apply, and we will bring forward a recommendation
in relation to the statutory instrument that will be available
111. Is it the intention that when an appeal
is heard on the level of compensation, does the Inspector only
have the option of supporting or rejecting the farmer's appeal?
In other words, saying "Yes, you do get full compensation"
or does he have the ability to vary the penalty so that he can
say "Yes, I think 25 per cent is a bit heavy but you will
certainly be penalised 15 per cent"?
(Mr Morley) Your contention is right, Chairman. In
the appeal the person on the panel can vary the compensation,
so that they could reduce the element that has been docked.
112. Can we just probe this question of the
fact that you are going to raise a charge on the farmer who wants
to have an appeal? The National Farmers' Union question whether
this is "a tax on justice". What is going to stop you
wacking on a huge charge to stop somebody, if you like, coming
for an appeal? These are farmers who are under particular difficulty,
as other colleagues on the Committee have indicated? If they sense
injustice they are not exactly financially in a very strong position
to mount this appeal.
(Mr Morley) There is, of course, an issue of the level
of charge, and we would not have a charge that would be a discouragement
to people. I have to say that very clearly. In fact, we would
be open to review if we did because, of course, it would be denying
the whole point of the appeal if we put on a charge that was so
enormous that it would be an impediment to people. Bearing in
mind that we are only talking of these measures applying to a
minority of people, these people will already have been involved
because of poor bio-security. In relation to the charges, I understand
that in exceptional circumstances where people clearly are in
financial difficulty the charges can be exempt.
113. So it is a variable feast, then?
(Mr Morley) Generally speaking, we would expect a
standard administration provision, but if there was real difficulty
with people paying it is not hard and fast and we have the provision
to exempt people from the charge.
114. Are the levels and the way that these charges
are set going to be the subject of consultation with the industry?
(Mr Morley) I see no reason why not. That is right.
115. What time-frames are built into this between
the various decisions? You get your 75 per cent straight awaywell,
as and when the Ministry is able to pay it to the farmer. I assume
there is no obligation built into the Bill to pay up within a
particular timescale by the Government.
(Mr Morley) Not within the Bill. We do try to pay
within a certain timescale.
116. I think farmers might have welcomed that
particular clause. I can imagine that would not have featured
in this particular piece of legislation. What window then determines
the period in which you decide whether the further 25 per cent
is payable or a proportion of it?
(Mr Morley) The person involved has 14 days to make
117. Yes, so 75 per cent is given straight away.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
118. Is, at the same time, a judgment given
to say "Well, yes, we have decided that because you did not
do this, that and the other you are not entitled to the other
25 per cent"?
(Mr Morley) There may be some practical issues in
that. The 75 per cent can be paid right away. There is then the
assessment in relation to bio-security, and of course that assessment
has to be taken into account. That should be done quite quickly
and that will be part of the consultation we will have on the
procedures to do that. There will then be the recommendation that,
if there is to be money withheld, how much is to be withheld,
and the individual then has 14 days to appeal.
119. What is a reasonable period for this process,
bearing in mind we are talking about people who, in many cases,
are not earning any money at the moment and, therefore, quite
when they get their money is a material issue?
(Mr Morley) I accept that. I come back to the point
that it is meant to be a deterrent, but there is no reason why
decisions cannot be made in a matter of days rather than weeks.