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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  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 seriously.

  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 the assessments.

  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.

Patrick Hall

  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 official.

  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 up—21 days or more—and 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 that compensation.
  (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 balance.

  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.

Mrs Shephard

  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 yet—no, 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 for scrutiny.

  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 for consultation.


  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.

Mr Jack

  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.

Mr Todd

  115. What time-frames are built into this between the various decisions? You get your 75 per cent straight away—well, 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 an appeal.

  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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 November 2001