Animal Health Bill

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Mrs. Gillan: Does my hon. Friend not agree that we Conservatives will need some cast-iron reassurances from the Minister who, in response to many of our reasonable amendments, has said that he will consult on the amount of money for appeal and on the time, and that he will look at everything very carefully? Sub-paragraph (3) negates everything that he has said in the course of our debate, so we shall be looking for very firm reassurances, perhaps even hoping that he will accede to our request to remove the provision.

Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friend is right. It is extremely disappointing, after one or two more positive responses from the Minister this afternoon, again to encounter a draconian measure. It is indicative of the whole Bill. I hope that he will not tell me that the sub-paragraph is a technical drafting point, because that would be cop-out No. 2--I am sorry, that was probably unparliamentary language, but I am sure that the Committee got the gist. We cannot keep considering matters that are explicit in the Bill, clearly draconian and give this or any future Minister the opportunity to wriggle out of Committee's intention in determining the Bill, only to find that he has included a provision that he will not fulfil other requirements. He has declined to include many issues that would have clarified and given substance to the Bill, yet here is this one in black and white. I want to hear from the Minister--[Hon. Members: ``Sit down.'']. Members should not tempt me. I really want to hear from the Minister why he needs sub-paragraph (3).

Mr. Morley: The hon. Lady has worked herself up a bit on the basis of a misunderstanding. The whole point of the wording of sub-paragraph (3) is to allow consultation before the Bill becomes law. I have already given a number of commitments to the Committee that we shall start consultation as soon as possible--by the beginning of the new year at the latest. The schedule allows us to do that. If we did not have the sub-paragraph, we could not do so. The hon. Lady is arguing against herself. If she removed the provision, we could not consult.

Mrs. Browning: Why has the Minister included at this point in the Bill something that gives him permission to consult before the Bill becomes law? I have scrutinised many Bills on which consultation has started on aspects of them, to lead to orders and secondary legislation, without the need for such a provision. The argument does not apply to other types of consultation that the Minister has mentioned. Why does he need specific permission in the Bill for consultation to do with disease risk assessment? Other aspects of consultation are not treated in the same way.

Mr. Morley: Other Bills probably have similar wording on the way in which consultation operates. We are dealing with legal language. If the provision were not stated, we might be challenged on starting consultation before the Bill becomes law. The point is that this is enabling legislation. I recognise that people have expressed concerns and want reassurances. The whole idea is that we can start the consultation, and that is what this sub-paragraph gives us the power to do.

Mrs. Gillan: Perhaps the Minister would like to share with the Committee what advice he has received on who might object to the consultation starting before the Bill has been enacted. It seems rather strange that anyone would advise the Minister that there would be a challenge; if so, I would like him to lay out that advice, and to tell us what organisations may challenge and on what grounds.

Mr. Morley: Of course I have no idea which organisations might want to challenge, but unless things are clearly stated, someone somewhere will be inclined to make a challenge. That is my experience. I would rather that these things were clear. I reassure hon. Members that there is nothing sinister in the provision. It simply allows us to get on with the consultation before the Bill is enacted.

Mrs. Gillan: The Minister seems to want to have his cake and eat it. However, after what he has just said, I know that he will accept the word ``reasonable''. It will give exactly the reassurance that we need while he hides behind that provision.

Mr. Morley: I always try to be reasonable. The wording is in place so that there is no legal doubt about the legitimacy of the prior consultation. If nothing in the Bill allows consultation but we consult as the Bill is making its way through Parliament, and if that consultation results in orders being made, someone who did not like the outcome could say that it was completely invalid because the consultation was not allowed. The Bill makes it clear that we can consult and start work on the orders and all the other aspects that we have discussed. It is nothing sinister. It is for everyone's benefit. It meets the Opposition's requirement.

Mrs. Browning: Why does the consultation appertaining to the disease risk assessment have to be in the Bill, but the consultation in respect of pet animals mentioned by the Minister does not?

Mr. Morley: The reason is that any legislation will have aspects that require a commitment for consultation. It is not unusual, but that does not stop us from consulting on aspects of the Bill's operation. The undertakings that I have given the Committee are not in the Bill. I shall go out to consultation on the guidelines, the protocol in relation to appeals and the veterinary assessments. It is quite reasonable to consult on the legitimate points that have been raised with me by various organisations and by the Committee. I return to the fact that there is nothing to panic about; it simply makes consultation legitimate.

Mrs. Browning: The Bill was drafted at the back end of the summer. It was introduced on the ground that it was so urgent that no prior consultation could take place. The Minister now tells us that, for some aspects, consultation must be written into the Bill, but that others require consultation--that was flushed out during the early part of our deliberations in Committee--that does not need to be written into the Bill. On one hand, we are asked to take with good will the Minister's word on certain aspects of consultation, but on the other hand we are told that if we do not write consultation into the Bill, the Minister will somehow fall foul of the many people who might otherwise object to the consultation.

During the Government's term of office, I have known much legislation--I cite the School Standards and Framework Act 1998--on which Ministers have commenced consultation while the Committee was still deliberating. I find the Minister's argument for including consultation in the Bill rather strange. He has been unable to identify the sort of focus group or stakeholder who might object to such consultation. The man on the moon might object, but that is no reason to include it in the Bill. The Minister has not thought it through. The Government rushed the Bill through and were determined not to consult at the beginning because they were providing emergency powers. The present provision has been included as a sop. I am not convinced by the Minister's explanation. He seems unable to give examples of who might object to such consultation.

Mrs. Winterton: I intend to sum up quickly, but my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton has revealed the sting in the tail of our proceedings. I certainly agree with many of her points. I find it confusing that although we have found extraordinary things in the Bill, when we try to include things in it, we are patted on the head and told that it really does not matter and that things will be sorted out later by order or indication in consultation. The amendments are very important, and I can do no better than rely on my hon. Friends and tell you, Mr. Conway, that we wish to divide the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division No. 12]

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

Ainger, Mr. Nick Atkins, Charlotte Drew, Mr. David Edwards, Mr. Huw Hall, Patrick
Morley, Mr. Elliot Organ, Diana Owen, Albert Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the First schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Roger Williams: Hon. Members will see from the amendment paper that we tabled an amendment to delete the whole schedule--and we would like to persist with the idea that it be deleted. The Minister could not have proposed a piece of legislation more likely to turn the farming community away from working with him on eliminating foot and mouth. The measure is fundamentally bad, because it introduces penalties in relation to compensation for the first time ever. If the work of eliminating foot and mouth is to be successful, co-operation and collaboration are essential.

Mr. Morley: Let me make this clear: the measure does not introduce a penalty. I reiterate the fact that the Government are not obliged to pay 100 per cent. Therefore, we are setting the level at a guaranteed 75 per cent. with a 25 per cent. top-up for those with biosecurity. That is not a penalty, but an incentive.

Mr. Williams: I have listened to the Minister, but this is the first time that such a procedure has been introduced in this country. I cannot think of another instance in farming and agriculture in which a Government, wishing to encourage farmers to work with them for a particular purpose, introduced such a practice. There is absolutely no incentive--

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman may recall that the compensation arrangements for classical swine fever were very similar. In that case, infected animals attracted only 50 per cent. compensation, and the uninfected animals 100 per cent. The concept is the same--it is an incentive. In that case, there was an incentive to report animals showing signs of the disease as soon as possible. In this case there is an incentive for biosecurity. There is nothing different about the scheme when it is compared with that which has applied to the pig industry for a long time.

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