Animal Health Bill

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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I should like to speak to the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed). I thank the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) for his encouraging words about it. The amendment would require a disease risk assessment to consider whether a disease was infectious or contagious, where the animals were kept, how secure they were from wild animals and how near or far they were from other animals that might be susceptible to the infection. The words in amendment No. 118 cover all the issues that have been raised by the hon. Member for Leominster and I commend it to the Committee.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): I, too, shall be brief and supportive of the two contributions that have already been heard on this group of amendments. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the clarification that has been sought, because we need to know on what grounds he would take those powers to himself.

Two vital issues are at stake. First, slaughter should be made less of a blunt instrument to allow for exceptions where it is warranted, for example in respect of animals that have been neither in contact with, nor exposed to, the disease and are therefore unable to spread it.

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Secondly, a full risk assessment should take place to help the Minister to decide whether a policy of slaughter is the best course of action. That raises questions about who should undertake the assessment and the right to appeal in cases where the policy is followed.

Mr. Morley: I accept that the amendments are well meaning, but they are unnecessary, partly because they can be dealt with under the guidelines on acting on these measures and partly for technical reasons.

The technical reasons relate to the comments of the hon. Member for Leominster. Amendment No. 12 would insert the word ``contagious''--that is, spread only via direct contact. We cannot accept that, because some animal diseases are not spread by direct contact--that is, they are not contagious. Two examples of that are African horse sickness and blue tongue, where the vector is biting insects. The amendment would restrict the number of diseases that can be dealt with under the Bill.

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister's wording appears to be rather different from mine. The amendment does not say, ``due to contact'', but merely ``contagious''.

Mr. Morley: Yes, but the definition of ``contagious'' is ``due to contact'', or certainly ``due to local spread'', and some disease vectors are not spread in that way. Incidentally, I do not want to give the impression that African horse sickness and blue tongue necessitate the culling option.

The amendment is unacceptable because it would remove the opportunity for limited slaughter to remove reservoirs of infection if it was decided that that was an option. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this part of the Bill covers only foot and mouth disease. If its powers were to be extended to other diseases, it would have to be by the affirmative resolution procedure. That is a safeguard in that it gives Parliament an opportunity to scrutinise and debate any decisions before they are enforced.

Mrs. Winterton: As the Minister knows, TB in cattle is a very serious problem, and it is spreading like wildfire up the west coast. Will he comment on how it could be contained--[Interruption.] It is a serious matter, and the amendments could have an impact on its control. Can the Minister give us the benefit of his wisdom?

Mr. Morley: Bovine TB is indeed a very serious disease, and we treat it as such. For example, we are implementing the Krebs trial. I shall say no more, Mr. Conway, because you would call me to order if I was diverted from concentrating on the Bill.

Amendment No. 87 would exempt animals from wider slaughter powers relating to diseases other than foot and mouth if they have been kept indoors since before the start of the outbreak. I understand the principle behind that, but the problem is that ``indoors'' could be very difficult to define. The consultation, and the guidelines and protocols that we will issue to our vets, will take into account the way in which animals are kept and the balance of risk. As has been said, risk assessment is perfectly reasonable, but we have not included such a provision in the Bill because there would be all sorts of wrangles about what is meant by ``indoors''.

We were somewhat surprised by the spread of disease to cattle that were still in sheds during the winter months. We thought that cattle in sheds would be secure from the disease, although it may have been spread by the movement of people. We need to examine such issues.

Under amendment No. 118, any decision to use the powers to prevent the spread of disease would need to be based on sound veterinary judgment. I agree entirely, but that principle is taken as read. We shall consult on the criteria so that farmers can understand why those decisions are taken. If the Bill were to include provisions such as a full disease risk assessment, it would be enormous. None the less, I understand and accept the principles behind the amendment.

Amendment No. 4 would limit the diseases to which powers could be extended. That would be very constraining and in many respects illogical, as the list does not include TSE or BSE. A key lesson from the Phillips inquiry was that contingency legislation should not be constrained by current circumstance. That we must try to think ahead is one principle behind the Bill. Indeed, the Department is following post-Phillips guidelines by preparing for all eventualities. The Bill does not specify diseases that would not be controlled through a slaughter policy, such as African horse sickness.

I appreciate the intention behind the amendment and I assure the Committee that we will take into account the principles that underpin it. Nevertheless, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for the useful information on bluetongue--it is perhaps an improvement on silver tongue, which I was rather hoping I might catch one day. [Laughter.]

I recognise that Committee members are working far more closely together in an effort to make constructive progress, but I still have grave reservations about this wide-ranging provision. I am grateful to the Minister for explaining his reservations, and for his answers to some of my questions. I am disappointed that he avoided badgers. None the less, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 5, page 2, line 6, after `compensation', insert `at full market value'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 25, in page 2, line 7, at end insert

    `pursuant to section 36(3) of this Act.'.

No. 38, in page 2, line 14, at end insert--

    `(2A) The Minister shall for animals slaughtered under this section pay compensation, which shall be the value of the animal immediately before it was slaughtered.'.

No. 39, in clause 4, page 2, line 39, leave out from `compensation' to end and insert--

    `which shall be the value of the animal immediately before it was slaughtered.'.

No. 132, in schedule 2, page 19, line 27, leave out from `compensation' to end of line 28 and insert--

    `to the full value of the animal immediately before slaughter'.

Mrs. Winterton: The amendments relate to the important issue of compensation. Amendment No. 25 refers to the 1981 Act, section 36(3) of which states:

    ``The compensation payable under subsection (1) or subsection (2) above for anything seized shall be its value at the time of seizure.''

Amendments Nos. 5 and 38 reinforce that point. Amendment No. 5 would require that compensation was paid at full market value. Self-evidently, it would ensure that farmers' rights were protected and that orders could not limit compensation.

Amendment No. 38 would reinforce that point by inserting:

    ``The Minister shall for animals slaughtered under this section pay compensation, which shall be the value of the animal immediately before it was slaughtered.''

The important point is that full compensation should be paid. I would like reassurance from the Minister on those points.

Mrs. Browning: I shall briefly add to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton).

EU Governments usually agree the matter of compensation. What discussions has the Minister had with the Commission and other EU partners about compensation levels? Will he outline why he felt it necessary to introduce compensation into the Bill in this way? He clearly has the right to pay compensation when animals are slaughtered. That is not being questioned, but the Bill defines how compensation may be paid in certain circumstances. What discussions has he had within the EU about compensation when there is an outbreak of foot and mouth? How does our compensation for foot and mouth compare with that of our EU partners, if I may use that phrase?

Mr. Morley: I shall take the last point first while it is still in my mind. Compensation arrangements vary among member states, and they vary in this country depending on the disease. I shall explain why in a moment. Although I do not know the details of every EU country, I know the Dutch details because I had a long discussion with the Dutch chief veterinary officer about Holland's experiences of foot and mouth disease control. The Dutch told us about their laws on compensation and how it relates to biosecurity. Their laws go much further than the measures in the Bill. In Holland, much of the compensation for foot and mouth comes from a levy on farmers, which means that the state does not pay 100 per cent.

As the hon. Member for Congleton rightly stated, the Bill will give us powers to pay compensation for any disease, and we can pay up to 100 per cent. of market value, which is appropriate in many cases. We discussed that issue with farmers' representatives such as the NFU, which does a good job of negotiating on behalf of its members.

The reason why 100 per cent. compensation is not specified in the Bill is that it acts as an incentive in the case of diseases such as classical swine fever. The current arrangement is that, where animals are affected, compensation is paid at 50 per cent.; where they are unaffected, it is paid at 100 per cent. It is important for people to report such a disease as quickly as possible to prevent its spread. The mechanism is designed to encourage early reporting, and there is a major incentive for farmers to report the disease before it spreads to their herd. Pigs that are not affected attract 100 per cent. compensation.

That is just one example. The Bill contains powers for 100 per cent. compensation, but there should be some flexibility to adjust compensation rates when that is felt appropriate, and to recognise the present regime. The amendments do not recognise that there are differences now.

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There is nothing sinister here. In many cases, market value is not an unreasonable aspiration for farmers, but any responsible Government would want some flexibility to design a compensation scheme with an element of incentive.

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Prepared 29 November 2001