Animal Health Bill

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Mr. Morley: I assure the hon. Lady that the wording refers to the definition of animals in the 1981 Act, which is not being changed. The wording applies only to susceptible animals. We are considering the matter in terms of foot and mouth disease. The Bill and the 1981 Act apply to all diseases, but I cannot think, in terms of disease control, which other species would be involved apart from farm animals and susceptible animals. In relation to foot and mouth disease, it would not apply to horses and dogs because they are not susceptible. They can spread the disease in the same way in which people spread and move viruses, but that does not justify a culling policy. That is not what we are considering, and it is not within the Bill. ``Any animals'' is included only within the definition in the 1981 Act.

Diana Organ (Forest of Dean): Will the Minister be a little clearer about one particular point? He mentioned that he is concerned only with the control of foot and mouth disease and animals that could spread it. What is his view on deer? Deer can spread the disease, and on some estates they could be called a farm animal because they are farmed, not wild.

Mr. Morley: I regret to say that deer are susceptible and therefore come within the powers of the 1981 Act. Farm deer can get foot and mouth disease in the same way as cattle, sheep and pigs. Wild deer can also get foot and mouth, although we have no evidence that it is in the wild deer population. Of course, if that were the case we would have powers to deal with it. Currently, we regard the risks in the wild deer population to be low, but we cannot rule that out at this stage of the disease, which is active and at high levels in certain parts of the country. Deer are susceptible, and if they have caught the disease they come within the 1981 Act.

Mrs. Browning: I should be most grateful if the Minister gave me an example of a species that is not currently covered by the 1981 Act. I assume that the question that he has just answered about deer is covered by section 87(1)(b) of the 1981 Act, which refers to ``all other ruminating animals''.

However, the explanatory notes to the Bill state:

    ``This adds to the categories of animals which may be slaughtered because of FMD any animal which the Minister thinks should be slaughtered''.

Other than those categories defined in the 1981 Act, of which categories is the Minister thinking?

Mr. Morley: That is the way in which the measure has been drafted in relation to the 1981 Act, which may be applied to the range of species that are regarded as susceptible. The range of species in the 1981 Act can be changed, but only by order. If there were a requirement to change the 1981 Act in relation to species—I cannot think of circumstances in which that would happen, but who knows in relation to diseases?—it would be by order, and there would be an opportunity to discuss it in Parliament.

Mrs. Browning: This is FMD-specific. The explanatory notes to clause 1 state that it

    ``extends the range of animals which . . . may . . . be slaughtered in relation to FMD.''

We are not discussing swine fever. I am still not sure what the Minister is trying to do in extending the category. I have not heard him name a species that is not already covered in the 1981 Act, other than those sub-species subject to order. Those sub-species extend the definition of animal, and include a range of other creatures that are mainly wild, as opposed to farmed or domestic, animals. Will the Minister give me one example of why he is taking this power, because I cannot see a category that is not already covered that would be susceptible to foot and mouth disease?

Mr. Morley: I can explain the matter: as I suspected, it is a legal drafting point. The hon. Lady is mistaken in thinking in terms of a range of species. The measure refers to categories such as exposure to contact, not necessarily categories of animals.

Mrs. Browning: In that case, would it not be unreasonable to refuse to include amendment No. 36? As the Minister will be aware, it states:

    ``notwithstanding the power in section 87 of this Act . . . no animals shall be slaughtered by virtue of this paragraph, which are not susceptible to infection of foot and mouth disease.''

That seems reasonable to me.

Mr. Morley: It does seem reasonable, but it is not required because it does not apply in the way in which the hon. Lady thinks it does. It is therefore unnecessary.

Mr. Bacon: Does my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton agree that the Bill gives the Minister the power to slaughter any animal, at any time, for any reason?

Mrs. Browning: I agree with my hon. Friend. [Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position, ``That is wrong.'' However, we are seeking definition. The power is FMD-specific. He feels that he has to take such a power, but will not agree to an amendment that is FMD-specific. He agreed that the amendment seemed reasonable. If we were giving him a general power that covered a range of animal diseases, which might include other species of animal, I could understand him pressing the point, but we are not. Clearly, if one is looking to control foot and mouth disease by extending one's powers, it is reasonable to say that those powers should be related to the species that we know carry the infection. If it were discovered that birds could spread foot and mouth disease, the Minister would come back with an order and amend the legislation.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Lady may be right on the last point. There have been allegations that birds have spread foot and mouth disease, but the evidence is not there for it to be a major issue. Nevertheless, all such matters are considered, and I am sure that matter will be considered by the inquiries.

I return to my point. FMD-specific powers relate to any animals—in plural. The animals are listed by species, but they are listed in terms of susceptible animals, and they are limited by the 1981 Act. All species in the Bill would apply only by amending the 1981 Act by order.

The Chairman: Does the hon. Lady wish to press the amendment to a vote?

Mrs. Browning: Yes.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Division No. 2]

AYES
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Wiggin, Mr. Bill
Winterton, Mrs. Ann

NOES
Atkins, Charlotte
Drew, Mr. David
Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Organ, Diana
Owen, Albert
Reed, Mr. Andy
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry

Question accordingly negatived.

Mrs. Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 86, in page 1, leave out lines 12 to 20 and insert—

    `(1A) In applying subparagraph (1)(c) above the Minister will exclude animals not affected, nor having been in contact with affected animals, nor exposed to the infection of FMD, which have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement by any Government Department of an outbreak.'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments:

No. 117, in page 1, line 12, leave out `is immaterial' and insert

    `must be taken account of and subject to judicial review'.

No. 1, in page 1, line 12, leave out `immaterial' and insert `material'.

No. 2, in page 1, line 14, leave out from `disease' to end of line 15.

No. 9, in page 1, line 14, leave out `suspected of being' and insert `reasonably believed to be'.

No. 3, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—

    `(ba) are or have been in contact with a person who has been in contact with, or is suspected of having been in contact with, animals affected with foot-and-mouth disease'.

No. 10, in page 1, line 17, leave out sub-sub-paragraph (c).

No. 21, in page 1, line 20, at end insert—

    `(a) could be vaccinated against foot-and-mouth.'.

No. 37, in page 1, line 20, at end insert—

    `(1B) Where none of sub-paragraphs (1A)(a) to (d) above apply to the animals in question, the Minister shall serve on the owner of the animals (or in default of the owner being traceable the keeper of the animals) a notice containing a reasoned justification for his decision to require the slaughter of the animals, and no slaughter shall take place until at least 48 hours have elapsed from the serving of the notice.'.

Mrs. Winterton: This is another group of amendments that seeks to improve legislation proposed by the Government. Amendment No. 86 states that in applying subparagraph (1)(c),

    `the Minister will exclude animals not affected, nor having been in contact with affected animals, nor exposed to the infection of FMD, which have been kept indoors constantly since the day before the first announcement by any Government Department of an outbreak.'.

Although that is a modest proposal, many examples that have already been referred to fall into that category. For example, there are animals that, because of the topography, time of year or nature of the farming, have a minimal chance of becoming infected. According to some of the Government's past plans, such animals would be slaughtered.

I shall not detail the many relevant examples that exist because to do so would hold up the Committee, but I shall certainly mention one. It will be apparent to the Minister and to the Committee that consideration should be given to dairy herds that have been kept throughout the winter in buildings on the far side of the farm, far further than 3 km away from the outbreak, excluded from nose-to-nose contact and kept in good biosecurity conditions. Such an example is one reason why we mentioned in previous debates the importance of knowledge of local farming practices when deciding how to implement Government policy.

Where animals have been kept away from infection prior to the first announcement of an outbreak by a Government Department, the matter would seem cut-and-dried, in that they have been kept as securely as possible. Will the Minister give serious consideration to that problem, which the amendment seeks to deal with? It would not be difficult to exclude such animals in future, given better testing and more research. We all hope that tests that can diagnose the virus before the disease shows itself will be developed and introduced in due course. That will help to control the disease and to prevent the kind of epidemic that we have just experienced.

Many culled animals had not been in any contact with infected animals or exposed in any way whatsoever. One reason why so many farmers questioned the contiguous cull was that they felt that their own circumstances were totally different and did not merit it. They understood the policy and agreed that if there were disease, or, sometimes, any danger of disease, there should be instant slaughter, but in certain cases they felt that it was unjust.

11.15 am

I want to flesh out the point about situations where the disease is suspected. Amendment No. 9 would insert the phrase, ``reasonably believed to be''. In other words, there must be a greater burden of proof that disease is apparent in the flock—it will usually be a flock, because it is self-evident in a herd and is much easier to diagnose. I accept the Minister's assertion that instant slaughter is vital in order to contain the disease, but he says that with the benefit of hindsight following the recent outbreak, and we hope that in future such matters will be handled differently. Amendment No. 9 would allow certain exceptions to be made that would not create the danger of further spread of the disease.

Another issue has come to light more forcefully of late with the publication in lower Cheshire of information about the right to roam legislation. Having had a brief glance at the map, I see that it includes not only heath and moorland, but pastures and farms where animals are out. It could cause problems if people gain access to such land, quite legitimately, by walking down footpaths.

There is another danger, of which I shall give an example. I recently spoke to a farmer in north Yorkshire who said that one of their fields was right on the road, and someone had thrown a cow's tail into the herd. They did not know whether it was someone making mischief, or whether the tail had had contact with foot and mouth disease. It was immediately sent off for testing and when I last spoke to them they were still awaiting the results. It appeared to be a mystery.

People walking or driving along a road trying to make mischief could have a devastating effect. Equally, people who have been in contact with foot and mouth are able to walk through farmland, where they may, perhaps not deliberately, cause the infection to be spread. The Minister should consider that because it raises the problem of access to farmland. In the previous debate, we spoke about the lists of animals that do not contract foot and mouth but that may play a part in its spread. Horses are one such species, but dogs are also a likely risk. Although dogs should be kept on a lead, often they are not. I have a public footpath running through my property and, more often than not, I have to ask people to put their dogs on leads. That is a risk that should be considered.

Amendment No. 37 would provide for a notice to be given to an owner. It states that

    ``the Minister shall serve on the owner of the animals . . . a notice''—

or, if the owner is not available or present, it shall be served on the person keeping the animals. A case in point concerns extensification in the sheep industry where sheep are sent to winter off on different parcels of land. One of the differences between intensification and extensification is that in intensive situations the fodder is brought to the animals, while in extensification animals are taken to the fodder. That means that many flocks are on different parcels of land, where the owner is not present, and are looked after by others on behalf of the owner. The amendment tries to ensure that the notice giving justification for the Minister's decision to require the slaughter of animals should be given to the person looking after the animals and that

    ``no slaughter shall take place until at least 48 hours have elapsed from the serving of the notice.''

I am sure that the Minister will advance arguments that he gave in previous debates and I understand that this is one of the issues surrounding the firebreak cull. However, requiring the Minister to serve such a notification on farmers or animal keepers, and delaying slaughter for 48 hours would not be prejudicial. It is important that the Minister justifies why he should be able to slaughter any animals without advance notification to the farmers concerned. I know that many colleagues will want to comment on the amendments. They are important and weighty and I hope that the Minister will give them full consideration.

 
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