TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
Mr David Curry, in the Chair
MR ELLIOT MORLEY, a Member of the House, (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State), MR BRIAN DICKINSON, Legal Adviser on the Animal Health Bill team, examined.
(Mr Morley) I can certainly answer that one! May I begin by saying that Brian Dickinson from our legal department is sitting next to me and he may want to comment on some of the legal aspects if you wish to raise that. May I also begin by saying that I want to make it very clear to the Committee that the Committee should not read into this Bill anything which might suggest that the Government are taking a definitive position on any method of disease control. What we are looking for is maximum flexibility in terms of the range of options that can be applied in different circumstances at different times. I, for one, certainly believe that, in relation to the scale of this outbreak, there might be a case for reviewing that and of course -
(Mr Morley) I think we would have power to slaughter the vaccinated animals but what we did not have is the power to pay compensation. Chairman, you can obtain power to do that by going to the Scientific and Veterinary Committee of the European Union and you get emergency orders through the European Union. We would however prefer to have these powers ourselves so that it is very clear about what we can and what we cannot do. Of course, vaccination was considered on a number of occasions in relation to this outbreak. However, the scientific advice that we had was that it was not effective in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. These are all issues that we are going to have to look at and I am sure you will look at them.
(Mr Morley) I very much welcome that.
(Mr Morley) It does. Incidentally, it also deals with problems of people who are resisting teams to come onto farms to do vaccinations. We have power to vaccinate but this Bill, as you know, also deals with obstruction and access. Of course, we were not vaccinating in this outbreak but we did have obstruction and delay on such things as serology which did cause, for example, a 14 day delay in Devon and other parts of the country.
(Mr Morley) Do you mean what species or in what circumstances?
(Mr Morley) No, it would not, Chairman. In fact, I noticed that there was some press commentary that, under this Bill, we were going to slaughter hamsters, goldfish, budgies, dogs, cats and rabbits, and I want to make it absolutely clear that this Bill only relates to farm animals and susceptible animals and it relates to the actual wording of the Act. It relates to animals defined in section 87 of the Animal Health Act 1981 and, unless the context requires otherwise, animals means cattle, sheep and goats and all other ruminating animals and swine, so other species are not covered by these wide incoming powers and I want to make that point clear now.
(Mr Morley) That is right.
(Mr Morley) Not other species. What I think this refers to is if veterinary advice was for a fire break cull, for example. At the present time, we do not have powers for a fire break cull. There was the three kilometre cull in Cumbria but that was a voluntary cull and people were invited to participate in that. Basically, if there were a situation where it was recommended that a fire break cull would be desirable, then it gives you powers to do that.
(Mr Morley) I think it is very difficult to put an exact number on the cases, Chairman. I can give you some idea of the kind of issues. We are aware of 103 cases where there was legal involvement or certainly appeals against culling. Of those 103 cases, 36 accepted the case and were slaughtered as planned, 42 were looked at by our divisional veterinary manager and they were accepted, 18 ran out of time -
(Mr Morley) The cases were accepted not to cull by the divisional veterinary manager, which incidentally is still the situation within this Bill. Eighteen ran out of time, the time went on so long that, as the animals had not gone down, it was pointless to actually cull them in those circumstances; seven went on to become infected premises. There were three High Court cases and the Department won two and lost one and the one that was lost in Devon went on to become an infected premise itself. As time went on, there was much more attention to this and there was greater concern about the effect of the appeals and our vets on the ground in Thursk felt that the appeals were a very real risk in terms of disease spread because they were very concerned about it getting into the pig centre and, in Thursk, there were 55 local appeals dealt with by the veterinary manager - they did not go to court - and, of those, 29 were upheld by the divisional veterinary manager. Even then, nine of those which were actually agreed by our own divisional vets went down as IPS; there were two that were rejected that also went down as IPS. With each of those that went down - and I accept that the latter situation was one where our own vets accepted the case and that would not change - you are taking a risk. Many of the cases which were appealed as contiguous culling did go down; it is a significant number.
(Mr Morley) Yes, that is England.
(Mr Morley) Yes, they became IPS.
(Mr Morley) Of those 103, 36 were slaughtered.
(Mr Morley) I am not sure that blood tests were done on all of them; I do not have that information.
(Mr Morley) Not in all circumstances, no, I do not think so.
(Mr Morley) I am not sure where that figure of 200 comes from unless they were appeals to our divisional veterinary manager. There were exemptions made in relation to the contiguous culls: there were exemptions made for rare breeds; there were exemptions made where there was a case made that the animals were not infected and had not been in contact; there were cases made for cattle. Of course, many of those 200 would have been within those categories and there is nothing wrong with that. We are not looking to maximise the slaughter of animals, we want to reduce the slaughter of animals. One of the principles behind this Bill, Chairman, is to actually make sure that if you have a contiguous slaughter policy - and I emphasise again that you should not read into this Bill that we are committing ourselves to any one particular policy - then it needs to be done quickly and efficiently and I accept that appeal is only one aspect of this, there is the issue of logistics as well which is a departmental matter. I have spoken to our vets on the ground and in the Thursk area in particular where I took particular attention because of the blue box scheme and the kind of new ideas that were there -
(Mr Morley) I am sure you did, Chairman. They were adamant there that the appeals and delays were stopping them getting on top of the disease. They were adamant about that.
(Mr Morley) That is absolutely right and it does not preempt the three inquiries and the scientific inquiry.
(Mr Morley) Certainly. I do have figures but I will try and make them a little clearer for you.
(Mr Morley) It was drafted in late August through to late September. The reason why we are bringing it forward now is that, as the outbreak proceeded, of course with the experience of handling the outbreak, we do learn lessons and of course we changed what we were doing throughout the outbreak in relation to the lessons learned and it became clear that some of these measures would be useful in relation to dealing with the outbreak. As far as the outbreak is concerned, it is true that we have not had any cases for over a month now and I am very glad about that, but what I must point out to the Committee as I suspect you are aware is that, in 1967, there was a similar long period with no cases and then the outbreak started again and continued for three months. I hope we do not get into that situation but we are not complacent about where we are. The risks of recurrence remain very high at the present time, particularly with the animal movements. Also, the other part of the Bill is dealing with sheep TSEs. You will be aware that the Food Standards Agency have asked us to accelerate the national screening plan and that is contained within this Bill. The other issue is that, there are three full Ministers on your Committee and, as full Ministers, you will know that slots for legislation are not easy to come across and that when there is the possibility of doing that and when you have issues which I think are important in relation to the range of options, that we have a disease control, if you have the chance of legislation, then of course it is important that you take that chance if you have a bill that is ready to go. I appreciate that that compacts it and that it is not the ideal situation, I would much rather have the detailed scrutiny and I very much welcome coming before the Committee today to talk about this and explain it, but the fact is that even moving forward with the Bill now, it will be in the early part of 2002 before this becomes law. It is a time consuming process and some of these measures are very important and I would really like to have them available as quickly as possible.
(Mr Morley) No.
(Mr Morley) This would have come up on numerous occasions. There were weekly meetings of the CoBRA Committee throughout the outbreak discussing the issues of handling and report backs from our senior vets and reports from our vets on the ground that, throughout the outbreak, it became obvious that there were these kind of problems arising. They were brought to our department by our field vets in relation to the difficulties they were faced. So, that happened throughout the outbreak in relation to discussions about what the difficulties were and the reasons for delays. Our objective was to meet the target in relation to the 24 hour/48 hour cull and there are details for the Committee which show on three graphs about how important it was to actually follow those targets and the three graphs demonstrate that, on the worst case scenario which would have been if we had just applied a culling programme, then it would have been a catastrophic, even worse situation than we have now. I think that 50 per cent of all the farm animals in this country would have been affected. There is no doubt from the independent scientific advice that the contiguous cull has made a big difference and there is also the experience on the ground in relation to the Brecon Beacons, for example, where the original decision was taken - and I am not particularly objecting to this because I think it was worth trying - that, rather than go for a contiguous cull, which was opposed by the Commons, there would be blood testing of the contiguous flocks. That did not work and my colleagues in Wales could not get on top of the disease; they were behind the disease all the time and they did not get on top of the disease in the Brecon Beacons until they started to implement the contiguous cull policy. That is just an example, a practical example, it almost like an experiment if you like, about how the contiguous cull policy did work in terms of bringing the disease under control faster.
(Mr Morley) With the Bill?
(Mr Morley) No country has experienced an outbreak on this scale. This is the world's biggest outbreak of foot and mouth disease. If we had had this Bill at the beginning, it would have been helpful and I do not deny that, but of course the reasons for the Bill have come from the experience of an outbreak of this type and this scale.
(Mr Morley) Certainly I did discuss this with the stakeholder group we have from the industry which meets regularly bi-weekly and, at the meeting this Friday, we will talking in some detail about this Bill, but I would like to emphasise that the sheep TSE side of this Bill has been consulted in some detail, so there has been consultation on that. In the consultation, it was always stated that it was our intention to make it compulsory at some stage. There is nothing new about that. As far as the NSA are concerned, we can meet their requirements because we are not going to rush out in relation to the compulsory elements of the sheep TSEs right away. We will be sitting down with the NSA and other industry stakeholders to talk about the timescale and we will do that in consultation with them. There are other aspects of this Bill which are key aspects. For example, the details in relation to the bio-security and the penalties. What we will have to do on that is agree a checklist, a kind of procedure, about how we apply that. We will sit down with the industry and involve them in how we do that, so there is still a fair amount of consultation to do on this Bill and we can do that with the industry and we will do that with the industry.
(Mr Morley) That is correct.
(Mr Morley) Can I also say that one of the other reasons for bringing forward the Bill is that we are in a post-Phillips environment and Phillips does say to us that we need to act on lessons learned and to prepare contingencies and take opportunities to do that. So, we are doing that, and, as I say, there is still quite a lot of consultation to do in relation to how these measures are going to work. We are not going to rush into this, we will do it properly and thoroughly with the industry and I can say that some of the measures come in by order and there will be full scrutiny of developments.
(Mr Morley) I am not so sure. That is a serious issue and we do take it seriously.
(Mr Morley) The legal imports were never responsible for this outbreak. We do not really know what has been responsible for the outbreak, but it was probably some form of illegal import. You can step up and tighten your procedures at ports and indeed there is a case to look at our procedures and I absolutely accept that but, if you are dealing with illegal activity, whatever it is, you cannot guarantee that you can stop that completely, no matter how much you spend and no matter what you do. So, in that respect, although that is important, I think the most important question to be learned - and perhaps I should not prejudge the inquiries - is the rate of spread and notice and how we can make sure that, if we do get outbreaks of virus in this country, we can limit rates of spread.
(Mr Morley) We are not ignoring the question of imports, far from it, Chairman. In fact, there has been action to tackle this and we are looking at ways we can do this but of course it is a matter for Customs & Excise, Trading Standards and a range of other organisations and involvements. We are actually doing that at the present time and of course we are taking immediate action -
(Mr Morley) I am not sure in this case because this is not necessarily a DEFRA issue, so I am not sure whether they would require legislation or not. I would remind the Committee that we took immediate action to ban swill, for example, because it is clear that while we do not know how the virus got into the country, we certainly know where it started and the farm in question is subject to legal action at the present time and I cannot say any more about that at this stage. Yes, imports are an issue and we take them seriously, but to actually say that it is the most important issue in this outbreak and therefore everything should be concentrated on it I think would be a mistake. I think there is a range of important issues.
(Mr Morley) But there are some people who do say that and there is always a tendency by some sections to look for scapegoats and to look for blame and this is a complicated outbreak and there are a variety of issues that we want to look at and I for one am not looking to 'scapegoat' people or blame people.
(Mr Morley) I am sure that could be arranged for you, Chairman.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) Ideally.
(Mr Morley) No, absolutely not. As I emphasised from the very beginning, people should not take what this Bill is saying as our definite response to foot and mouth or indeed any other disease outbreak because this Bill does cover all animal diseases. What I would like to stress again is that it does not preempt the findings of the inquiries because what we are doing here is putting in place options and I am quite sure that those inquiries, the legislative inquiry and the scientific inquiry, may well come up with a series of recommendations in terms of handling strategy and in terms of options and of course there is a great deal more that we need to do, a great deal more research that we need to do. We have a conference next month on vaccination; there is a great deal more work that we are doing in relation to better tests in relation to a disease; all these developments can of course influence with the various ways that you deal with outbreaks, so all this does is deal with a range of issues in relation to options that we might want to apply but I think that in any kind of disease outbreak, certainly in future foot and mouth outbreaks, it is inevitable that there would be an element of cull. I think it would be very difficult to get away from that. I come back to the point that we want to cull the minimum number of animals that we possibly can and, if we are going to do it, we want to do it as quickly as we possibly can and these measures help us do that.
(Mr Morley) I think, talking hypothetically, that if the various inquiries come up with different strategies, suggestions or new ideas, hopefully we will not be in the midst of an epidemic. We are not in an epidemic now but I do stress that we are not complacent about it. We think that the risks for a further outbreak remain high, very high, so therefore we are not at all complacent, but that will be a situation where there will be more time to consider these things and of course consult on them.
(Mr Morley) They are people who refused to accept that the contiguous cull has had any role to play within this outbreak. I have demonstrated to you in terms of independent epidemiological advice that a contiguous cull was essential in terms of bringing this disease under control and therefore if you have large numbers of people who are resisting contiguous cull, you will have more outbreaks, you will have more spread and more animals will need to be called.
(Mr Morley) What I have been saying in relation to some of the complaints by the Devon NFU is that you should not look at this Bill from a parochial point of view. This is a national policy. It is dealing with a national disease outbreak and a national crisis and it does not take away the right of appeal in relation to the divisional veterinary manager and in fact I would like to see that clarified with perhaps a new protocol dealing with things like pets, dealing with things like sanctuaries, rare breeds and cattle. That can be done; that can be put in place so that an appeal and a handling procedure can be installed alongside the measures in this Bill, so it would be wrong to say that there would never be any consideration or never any kind of appeal in that respect. I have already given you the example of the Brecons. My Welsh colleagues were extremely fearful that the Brecon situation was going to spread south into other sheep flocks. They felt that while they were not doing a contiguous cull and of course they had the threat of legal action initially about that, that they were running behind the disease and that it was in danger of spreading out of control and of course they had to kill an awful lot of sheep on the Brecons. That could have been reduced if they had implemented contiguous cull from the very beginning. So it is not right to say that appealing against the contiguous culls actually meant that fewer animals were killed, there was no evidence for that. I am not aware of 200 legal cases in Devon; I suspect that they are mainly appeals to our divisional veterinary manager and that situation remains the same. There will be appeal procedures within the Bill and we do not have to kill every animal, we do not have to kill every contiguous farm, it depends on the veterinary situation on the ground.
(Mr Morley) Absolutely and we can demonstrate that. There are two detailed independent studies in relation to contiguous cull. One of them suggests that the delays that we did have, for a variety of reasons, meant that an additional one million animals had to be culled because we were not fast enough in relation to putting it in place. The other one makes it absolutely clear that, if we had not applied the contiguous cull, we could have been facing between 3,000 and 6,000 cases - we have had 2,030 - and we would still now be in the midst of an outbreak and I think that it was a very high number certainly in relation to some of these scenarios today. The evidence from independent experts is that contiguous cull made a big difference and indeed I should point out to the Committee - and it is not often said - that even though this was the worst outbreak in the world, much worse than in 1967, it has been brought under control faster than in 1967 with less number of outbreaks although I accept that it is not an absolutely fair comparison because they were smaller farms in 1967, but that is no mean achievement. That has been done at great cost - emotional, financial, damage to the rural economy and tourism. All these things have come into that and of course we will have to take that into account in the future, but all the evidence is that a contiguous cull was an essential part of that whether you like culling or you do not and the Brecon Beacons is the kind of practical experiment and practical evidence that contiguous cull was essentially there for. So, all the evidence is that the contiguous cull works and I have seen no evidence that it has not.
Chairman: We have the chief government scientist making a cameo appearance tomorrow, Professor Roy Anderson, so we will no doubt wish to pursue these epidemiological matters with him.
(Mr Morley) Can I be very clear in legal terms because we always have to be very clear in legal terms. It is an informal appeals mechanism through the divisional veterinary manager, but that is the situation now and it is a situation that we can have in the future and there is a procedure for this which I can spell out in detail or I can write to you with it if you would wish. Do you want me to send you the details of the appeal procedure?
Mrs Shephard: It would be very useful for the Committee to have the detail because you must realise that the impression is that the Bill abolishes appeals procedures and that can partly explain why the publication of the Bill has been received in a rather hostile way in a number of quarters. I think there is a strong feeling in the countryside that this Bill is proposing a new legal system, but just for farmers, with powers of investigation, with powers to make charges, powers to act as judge and jury and then to impose penalties apparently without appeal. That is one of the problems in the countryside in the farming community and the Minister has given some sort of reply about consultation but he should realise that he will need to do a very great deal more to make people feel that this legislation is actually designed to help the situation in rural communities and to help farmers rather than to hinder them and to pick them out. That is the problem. What does the Minister intend to do about that?
(Mr Morley) Can I say that obviously this part of the Bill is the most controversial. I think that other parts are not really controversial; in fact, most people welcome them and recognise the sense in them. In terms of the present time on contiguous culls, the detail now is that on hearing, normally by telephone, that animals are to be culled, the farmer can ask the divisional veterinary manager to review the case. That will not change. The DVM makes a rapid assessment of the case. Normally, the point of issue is whether the animals have been exposed to FMD because of course that is the issue. There is no change in that, but of course the vets do also consider whether slaughtering animals will prevent the spread of FMD. That has to be a consideration taken into account. The DVM gives a ruling. If the decision is that the cull is to go ahead, the farmer indicates that he is not prepared to let the DEFRA staff onto his land and, at the present time, DEFRA has to go to the High Court to obtain an injunction and that is a very time-consuming process. The change with the Bill is that,.instead of going to the High Court, DEFRA will go a justice of the peace and obtain a warrant. I might add that the justice of the peace is legally obliged to consider whether or not the request is reasonable, so there is a test of reasonableness in relation to applying for the warrant. In terms of the point that was made that we are somehow singling farmers out, I might point out that the procedure we are proposing is exactly the same as some procedures that were introduced under the honourable lady's time in government. The Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 has power for an officer to obtain a warrant from a justice of the peace to authorise the officer to enter into a dwelling and power for an officer to use reasonable force in the performance of the officer's functions. The Food Safety Act 1990 has the same powers. The Breeding of Dogs Act 1991 has the same powers. The Postal Services Act 2000, section 49, has the same powers. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, section 125, has the same powers. So, it is not unique and it is not singling farmers out in any way. There is a range of measures on the statue book exactly the same.
(Mr Morley) I would not want to presume on the training that magistrates have but I do not think they just pull anyone off the street and put them on the bench without giving them some guidance in that respect.
(Mr Morley) I think that magistrates are resoursed and, in my experience, they do have professional guidance and they also have quite regular training and discussion as well.
(Mr Morley) Magistrates will be informed of all new measures and the implications of them, but you cannot expect magistrates to be vets in the same way that they could be public health experts or experts for the range of issues and warrants that they already have.
(Mr Morley) It has of course been given to our lawyers and we have received the usual legal advice and the advice is that it is compatible with the European human rights legislation.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) I think that magistrates face all sorts of heavy responsibilities and difficult decisions when they are in the community; I do not think there is any change about that. Of course, they will have the veterinary advice from the divisional vet. Of course, the powers of slaughter are already laid down in the Animal Health Acts. What the warrant will relate to is not the decision on slaughter but the decision on entering in order to carry out the duties. That is the difference in relation to the magistrate.
(Mr Morley) That is right.
(Mr Morley) The conditions are laid down here in terms of both the written submission from the divisional veterinary manager and also whether or not there is a need for a warrant and that should be fairly familiar because of course that is what magistrates will have more experience with in terms of the warrant but rather than ask my legal adviser, I wonder if it is all right if he talks to the Committee rather than talk to me and then I talk to the Committee because I am the middle -man.
(Mr Morley) Yes, they would.
(Mr Dickinson) As you have rightly pointed out, the conditions to obtain a warrant are set out in the Bill in respect of each of the provisions where new rights of entry are granted and the magistrate, a single magistrate, with advice from the clerk will have to be satisfied that the conditions as provided in the Bill are made out. The overall test of reasonableness is that the magistrate will have to be satisfied that the evidence put before the magistrate by the officials on behalf of DEFRA stack up, not only that the conditions as laid out in the Bill are proved but that overall it is reasonable in the circumstances of the facts and any veterinary or other relevant evidence before the magistrate that a warrant should be granted.
(Mr Dickinson) The decision is the decision of a single justice of the peace, it is not a decision of a full sitting of a magistrates' court as such. The decision of the justice of the peace whether to grant a warrant or not to grant a warrant is amenable to judicial review, so that if a farmer concerned or any other representative of an interested party who has sufficient connection with the case thinks that the decision is wrong as a matter of law, then it would be open to them as with any decision, to take judicial review.
(Mr Dickinson) It would be a hearing before the magistrate. It would not normally be anything other than the DEFRA officials who would inform the magistrate concerned at a time between the clerk and the magistrate and the magistrate and DEFRA.
(Mr Dickinson) Not necessarily.
(Mr Dickinson) There are the general provisions of the Magistrates' Court Act 1980 which apply to hearings such as this but judicial review would be the normal mechanism whereby the decision of a magistrate to grant a warrant would be by review.
(Mr Dickinson) Not necessarily if there were circumstances which -
(Mr Dickinson) It depends on the circumstances whether expedition would be appropriate.
(Mr Morley) That is correct.
(Mr Morley) Yes and there is guidance in the Bill.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(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.
(Mr Morley) No.
(Mr Morley) Whether it was done right and whether it was justified, yes.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) As it is at the moment as my legal adviser tells me.
(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 Thursk. 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 Morley) The wording of the current 1991 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 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Morley) There will be examinations of the roll-over 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 it spread as well. In fact, there would have been some benefits in vaccination 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 with them. I actually think that there is a case for vaccination for that alone.
(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 scientists 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.
(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 options. 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.
(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.
(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.
(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 -
(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.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) That is correct.
(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.
(Mr Morley) That is right.
(Mr Morley) Yes. I think on the pre-cull appeals in Thursk, 29 were accepted by the divisional veterinary manager and, of those 29, nine became infected premises.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Morley) It was the area that was drawn around Thursk, 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.
(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.
(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.
(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 was 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 roads - a big problem in Thursk - and 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.
(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.
(Mr Morley) In what respect?
(Mr Morley) Is this in Penrith?
(Mr Morley) Trading Standards have issued the prosecutions.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(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 cent - you 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) Yes, it is 21 days from the visit of our official.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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 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.
(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.
(Mr Morley) I see no reason why not. That is right.
(Mr Morley) Not within the Bill. We do try to pay within a certain timescale.
(Mr Morley) The person involved has 14 days to make an appeal.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Morley) No. I am sorry. The assessment is made right away and I think they can get 100 per cent right away, if they pass the assessment. It only applies to infected premises for a start. Therefore, if you are a contiguous premises you get 100 per cent.
(Mr Morley) I think in practice, bearing in mind that the assessment is made as soon as our people go on to the premises, as soon as they go on they will make the assessment immediately.
(Mr Morley) Yes, absolutely. That is how I would interpret this.
(Mr Morley) My understanding of this - and I am going to be corrected at any moment if I am wrong - is that the assessment is made by our people who go on to the farms. That assessment is immediate. If the assessment is that everything is fine, there is not a problem, then you are within exactly the same timescale for paying the compensation, so therefore the 100 per cent compensation should go ahead. If the person concerned fails the assessment, the 75 per cent payment goes ahead and then there will be a decision on how much to withhold, up to a maximum of 25 per cent.
(Mr Morley) I do not accept that, actually. What we want to do is to have this assessment, which is made by our people going on to the farm, on the first visit. They are going on anyway as part of the inspections, or, indeed, to check the animals or because the vet has gone to see whether they have been reported as having suspicious symptoms. Therefore, that is done right away. I really do not see, myself, why there should be a delay.
(Mr Morley) If there is a suspicion that there has been a breach of bio-security. I would have thought that those assessments could be made fairly quickly.
(Mr Morley) No, if there is some doubt about the bio-security and if there is an investigation, the 75 per cent can go out straightaway - that is not a problem. There is also an issue that, of course, if there is money withheld in relation to whatever it is of the 25 per cent, there is likely to be a delay in that to give the farmers a 14-day period to appeal, if they want to.
(Mr Morley) That is my interpretation, yes.
(Mr Morley) How does he know it is there then?
Mr Jack: You are in the middle of a disease, it is happening around you. He does not know the problem has come on to his farm because he had poor bio-security. Then he thinks "I had better do something about this just in case it arrives". So when the inspector arrives it all looks wonderful because he has got his disinfectant there, but the actual admission of the disease to his premises in the first instance came because he did not have good bio-security. So he still - if I understood you correctly - gets his 100 per cent because the inspector walks on and says "Wonderful bio-security, Mr Smith, it looks fantastic" but, in actual fact, it was lousy because he got the disease in the first place.
(Mr Morley) That is correct. Yes, theoretically, that is possible if people do something wrong and then try and cover it up. That is always a possibility and I do not dispute that, because no system - whatever it is - is going to be perfect. What I would say in practice is that if you have disease running in an area then there are regular visits to adjacent farms by our own staff, control visits and veterinary visits, so therefore they will be getting visits quite quickly as soon as the disease is in the area.
(Mr Morley) Ideally, yes, Chairman, but again I think we have to be realistic, in that for many people who try to maintain good bio-security it is quite a burden on them: steam-cleaning vehicles all the time, making sure that people are careful. I am just talking about the practicalities of this. There are different levels of bio-security and different levels of risk. There is a serious point you are making and I think it is quite significant that this disease did not really get into the pig pens in this country. The bio-security in pig units is traditionally very good, and the pig sector have long applied quite high standards of bio-security. So there is a serious point to make, in that there ought to be regular routine application of bio-security, but you have to be reasonable about this.
(Mr Morley) There are no procedures for taking action against someone who deliberately infects an animal with foot and mouth. There are some measures for certain pathogens. One of them is anthrax, Chairman, in that you cannot take action against people who deliberately infect animals with anthrax. However, it is limited to certain pathogens at the present time and there are no measures that cover foot and mouth. You will be aware, Chairman, as I am sure you all are, that there have been all sorts of stories and allegations about deliberate infections. We have investigated cases that have been brought to our attention, but we have not yet been able to prove that there has been deliberate infection. However, if we had been able to prove it there was nothing we could have done about it. The Bill gives us measures to take action on that.
(Mr Morley) It does not really give us a greater ability to prove it, Chairman, but it does do something about it. Hopefully, now we have these measures it acts as a deterrent to people who might be thinking about it.
(Mr Morley) This does not put any burdens on anybody, it does not make any allegations about anybody, all it does do, Chairman, is that if it ever was proved it would allow us to do something about it. I think it is a bit pointless investigating these allegations if there is nothing we can do about it if we actually prove it.
(Mr Morley) We have not been able to prove deliberate infection, but that does not get away from the point that if it ever happened at the moment there is no penalty for that. That is something I was not aware of myself, and now there is a penalty for it if it was ever proved.
(Mr Morley) There were all sorts of allegations, and Section 11 does give the detail of this. Basically it says "A person commits an offence if without lawful authority or excuse (proof of which shall lie on him) he knowingly does anything which causes or is intended to cause an animal to be infected with a disease specified in Schedule 2A." It is crystal clear to my legal friends, of course, what that actually means. Basically, we have had allegations of people throwing infected samples into fields - you will all have heard them. In fact, we have found animal body parts lying around and they have been tested, but the ones that have been brought to our attention have tested negative.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) That is absolutely right, Chairman, which I think makes a very good case for having this in the Bill.
(Mr Morley) This covers anybody, it is not just farmers.
(Mr Morley) On summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both. On conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine or both. Basically, it is a maximum of two years for anyone who is convicted.
(Mr Morley) The farmer concerned you mean? The farmer would get his 75 per cent. Yes, he would.
(Mr Morley) Yes. So it is an improvement.
(Mr Morley) I think I am going to have to clarify this, but I have a feeling that this is to do with Human Rights, and the fact that even if someone is guilty of this offence and the state kills his animals, I still think there is a Human Rights issue here. I will clarify that for you, Chairman, and I will make sure you have written information.
(Mr Morley) I am not quite sure in what different way you would pursue it because there would be police involvement (as this is now a criminal offence) in terms of any investigation. The kind of allegations that were made - people ringing up and offering to sell infected sheep and meeting them at places - these are the kinds of thing that can be checked out and investigated. So I think the procedures are fairly straightforward. The important thing is that there are penalties, and there were no penalties before. In fact, you mention the fact that farmers can get the money if they are found responsible, but I think the powers also mean they are banned from keeping animals in the future. That is quite a severe penalty in relation to this.
(Mr Morley) That is right. Apart from certain pathogens. There is also a welfare issue. If you deliberately infect an animal it is a welfare offence and you can probably prosecute them under welfare legislation.
(Mr Morley) I think we can talk to trading standards about whether they feel they need that kind of specialist back-up. I am sure those are issues that we can address. I know that (going back to this point) so far there has been a lack of proof, but if this ever happened it would be a very serious offence. I think the seriousness of such an offence does warrant provision to deal with it if it ever arose.
(Mr Morley) Not to my knowledge, Chairman. I am sure there will be briefings provided for all sorts of things, but not writing the text for the Prime Minister's official spokesman.
(Mr Morley) There will be a briefing, yes.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) Yes.
(Mr Morley) Because we still face the very real, serious prospect of another outbreak. It is very serious. The risks are high. If there was an outbreak, particularly at this stage in the outbreak, we would want to snuff that out as quickly as possible, and speed is essential. Of course, there is a logistical issue in relation to how fast we can do this. With the "no current outbreaks" we can get logistics on site very quickly in terms of our departments and the teams we need, such as vets, but we could still be held up by people going to court. In fact, if you look at the nature of this outbreak, where there has been the so-called "sparks" which are isolated cases outside the main epicentres of disease, we have been very successful in snuffing those out quickly, but there is always a constant risk that you will get people who will want to object, and you have the situation where farmers are being actively encouraged to object. It is not a hypothetical issue here, people are being encouraged to object to the contiguous cull, and the risks of that, in relation to disease control, are very great indeed.
(Mr Morley) I do not know.
(Mr Morley) I have, and I can provide you with the so-called "pack" that was circulated in Thursk. Looking at it myself, I cannot actually see a name and address of who is behind it. It gives all sorts of contact numbers of law firms, but it is not necessarily these particular law firms who are doing it. There is no identification on this.
(Mr Morley) The timetable is that Second reading is next Monday, and it goes into Committee the following week. I think that we would certainly like to have Royal Assent for it as early as we can in the new year, 2002.
(Mr Morley) Officially, Chairman, the outbreak will be over when there has been a three-month gap between the last case. That is the kind of timescale we would be looking at. We have had a number of cases of suspected animals. I might just tell the Committee that the information we have on the most recent one at Hexham is negative - which we have just heard today. We have been picking up antibodies, as part of our serology programmes, which demonstrates that there are animals which have had the disease or been in contact with disease and been missed. So, therefore, the chances of there still being latent disease out there somewhere are currently high. However, of course, this measure is beneficial because, as I was saying to the Committee, it extends our range of options. We also are responding to the Food Standards Agency in relation to TSEs. We need primary legislation to extend this to being compulsory, in relation to the National Scrapie Plan. That is in line with what we have already said and consulted on. As you are having the Bill, then this is an opportunity for dealing with some of these measures, as I am sure you will appreciate. So we are taking that opportunity now, and it means that we will have this at the earliest opportunity - which, in fact, will not be that early - at the beginning of 2002. Sadly, no one at the moment can put their hand on their heart and say there will not be an outbreak between now and then. I very much hope there will not be, and no one will be more happy than me if we never have to use the provisions within this Bill.
Chairman: We do not want to let scrapie escape our attention.
(Mr Morley) It is essential that we have these powers, although I do want to put on record that we have had excellent co-operation from the sheep sector with the National Scrapie Plan, in helping us set it up and helping us give information in relation to our database. In particular, I want to pay tribute to John Thorley from the National Sheep Association who joined me at the launch of the National Scrapie Plan and who has done an awful lot of work on this. I want to emphasise again, Chairman, we are not planning to go rushing in with compulsory measures to the sheep sector. We are looking to shorten the time to eradicate scrapie, which under the present timescale is predicted at between 10 and 15 years - probably more like the 15 at the current rate of uptake. We think that is too long. The Food Standards Agency certainly thinks that is too long. So we certainly want to reduce that. We will talk about the timescale for doing that with the industry. There are also one or two specialist concerns about rare breeds and specialist blood lines. We have the provision within this Bill to make exceptions.
(Mr Morley) That is right. The fact is that the situation remains the same, that there is a theoretical risk of BSE in sheep. We have not been able to identify it. We are actually increasing the number of scrapie brains that we are monitoring and there are new bio-molecular tests coming out, which will make a big difference in terms of the speed at which we can do the testing. That is quite a big breakthrough. Of course, if we breed scrapie out of the national flock, not only do we remove with it the theoretical risk of BSE because we have got TSE-resistant sheep, but we also improve the quality of the flock. I happen to think that there is a very good future for the sheep sector in this country and I think there are good market opportunities. Concentrating on these quality issues will give dividends in relation to the future prospects in terms of sales and exports. I think this is a good thing for the industry. Of course it is a reassurance to the consumer as well. We are committing quite a lot of money from the Government in relation to the database and setting this up, and we would expect that the majority of people in the sheep sector will think this is a sensible way forward.
(Mr Morley) They are done by blood testing, and we get a result from that. We can identify those which are severely resistant, those which are partially scrapie-resistant and those which are susceptible. We do not have great accuracy in relation to the current flock, but we know that there are 15 known genotypes which determine the level of susceptibility and their resistance to scrapie. We have not got reliable statistics about what proportion of the flock are carrying these. There is an estimate, and it is only a rough estimate at the present time, that round about 25 per cent of brands carry the scrapie-resistant gene and about two-thirds of the national flock are at least partially scrapie-resistant. It is fairly well-understood how we can advance this programme.
(Mr Morley) It is a question of identifying them. We have already done this in the pedigree sector. All the pedigree brands have been identified and are logged on the database. They are micro-chipped as well, as part of that.
(Mr Morley) I am not aware of that. When I opened the programme it was a computerised database.
(Mr Morley) On the eradication programme. I have got a feeling that what this person is talking about is that at the present time for the whole national flock in relation to traceability, there is not a computerised database. That is certainly something, Chairman, I think we are going to have to look at, and we are going to have to look at things like electronic tagging. That is to come, really. It might have interest for the Committee.
(Mr Morley) No.
(Mr Morley) This system will be computerised. Because it is very much focussed on the rams, it is the rams that are micro-chipped and the rams which are on the computer database. What people do is log on the database in order to get a ram. We will extend that gradually in terms of looking at the range of animals which are resistant and susceptible, but we need to discuss the timescale for that with the industry.
(Mr Morley) We are looking at years because we cannot do this overnight. What we are trying to do is to reduce substantially the current projection of 10 to 15 years. We want to reduce that quite a lot.
(Mr Morley) There is no need to do that at the present time because the situation remains, as I was saying, Chairman, that we have no evidence that scrapie presents a risk to people. It has been around for hundreds of years, so therefore there is no reason to prevent animals from going into the food chain. As a precaution, as you know, for animals over 12 months the head and spinal column is removed as a belt and braces precautionary measure. We are not looking, at this stage, to preventing scrapie animals going into the food chain.
(Mr Morley) I do back that approach, but the fact is that we made it very clear as part of the extensive consultation with the sheep industry that at some stage we would make this compulsory, and that is what we are doing in line with the consultation. There was not an adverse reaction to that stated long-term aim. I absolutely accept that what he is saying is that there are issues about timescale to talk to the industry about, and we shall do that. As to the role of embryo transfer, we will also have a look at that.
(Mr Morley) What he is saying there is that he wants time to talk about how we can extend that and take it forward. Again, I do not disagree with that. What I would say, Chairman, is that the take-up has been a bit lower than we expected, and that is on a projected 10 to 15 year period. We feel that is too long.
(Mr Morley) I believe that we can speed that up and we will involve the sheep industry fully in the way that we do that.
(Mr Morley) There are some breeds which are very resistant to scrapie. One of the interesting things, of course, is that scrapie does not exist in New Zealand or Australia, yet those sheep would probably have originally come from this country. The belief is that the particular breeds that were taken to New Zealand and Australia were breeds that were very resistant. In fact, we have imported some live New Zealand sheep as part of the studies which are being carried out by the Institute of Animal Health in relation to the understanding of scrapie. There are likely to be some primitive and rare breeds which do not have those genes. As I say, Chairman, there is provision within the Bill to take measures to deal with those, because we do not want to eradicate particular blood lines.
(Mr Morley) That is right, because of certain specialist breeds. There are certain blood line issues and I think they can be resolved in relation to certain breeding programmes. There are certain rare breeds that we may have to exempt. There are one or two very rare breeds that do not go into the food chain, so it is not a problem in that respect. We need to look at the different circumstances. What I want to say is that we understand some of the points that were raised in the consultation with the industry, and the measures reflect that.
(Mr Morley) Yes, I believe that.
(Mr Morley) I can certainly say there has been no shortage of conspiracy theories in the course of this outbreak, Chairman.
(Mr Morley) This is about scrapie, I know. There is no contradiction in terms of debate on what is the optimum size of the national flock. There are issues in relation to the size of the national flock and in terms of what the market demand is - good quality, upland management. These are all perfectly reasonable issues. There is no contradiction in saying that I think the sheep sector has got a good future and Lord Haskins saying there is an issue in relation to the stocking levels and what should be the most appropriate stocking levels.
(Mr Morley) No, not necessarily. This is not necessarily going to result in a reduction in the sheep flock, because it is about scrapie eradication and not in terms of controlling numbers. It does not come into that at all. What I think should be the guiding level for the national sheep flock is the market, in terms of market demand. If you produce too many sheep then, of course, you will collapse prices, and that has happened in this country. It has happened in Cumbria, which is what Lord Haskins was looking at. There are certain parts of the country where there is a grazing issue which needs to be taken into account. I actually think we can address some of these issues through our agri-environment programme. We can design programmes to help some of our more vulnerable upland sheep farmers in relation to management, and the way to do that, of course, as we have said many, many times, is to move away from the production subsidy route and to give us more flexibility in relation to the rural development programme. That is the way we want to address the sheep industry.
(Mr Morley) I suspect the principal reason for what Lord Haskins was saying is that traditionally within the sheep industry when prices are down there has been a tendency to increase the output, to make up for the fall in prices, which of course get the industry locked into a vicious circle. There are the environmental consequences of that. There are a number of factors in relation to the size of the sheep flock, and it is a serious issue that needs to be thought about very carefully.
(Mr Morley) We do not think that there is an implication (?) for any country which would want to put any kind of restrictions on sheepmeat exports, and we do not believe that will happen. I know it is not quite allied to what you were saying, but you will be aware that we did make public our contingency plan should BSE ever be identified in sheep. I have to say, Chairman, having made that plan public, most people who looked at it simply went straight to the worst case scenario and did not look at the fact that the contingency plan contained a level of steps that you would take in relation to what the Food Standards Agency might recommend on level of risk if it was identified. I might say, Chairman, even if the experiments from the Institute of Animal Health had not been shown to be seriously flawed in terms of bovine material (although we have not had the full study of that yet) I do not believe that the FSA would have recommended the slaughter of the whole national flock. I just do not believe it. It is a disproportionate response. It is quite wrong for people to jump to conclusions all the time that if there was any identification of BSE the whole national flock would be slaughtered. That is not the case, and the contingency plan does not say that. I just want to get that off my chest, Chairman.
(Mr Morley) I agree, Chairman.
(Mr Morley) Thank you, Chairman.