Animal Health Bill

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Mr. Wiggin: I remind Labour Members of their comments when the Committee met at 8.55 am: they complained how unreasonable it was that we should meet so early without coffee. This heated Room is not a windswept Welsh hillside, and we did not meet to slaughter or castrate our pets or livestock. I refer Labour Members to their complaint that 8.55 am was an unreasonable hour and I urge them seriously to consider whether they should vote against such an important amendment.

As we shall be paying inspectors to go out and visit people, we should be careful not to pay them overtime for visiting outside the hours of nine to five. In a previous amendment, we decided to exclude any elements of reasonable behaviour and make the

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obstruction of an inspector an offence, so it is incumbent on us to ensure that, once catch-all elements are included in the Bill, we provide adequate protection to ensure that people are not offending unnecessarily. That is why the amendment is so crucial.

The valid point was made that, unless people visit at a reasonable time—perhaps between nine and five—there is a very good chance that they might get lost in the more wild and woolly parts of Wales or Herefordshire. It is extremely easy to get lost in such places, and even if an appointment is made for a reasonable time, there is a very good chance that one could start looking for the place in question at nine and not find it by five.

I should also like to tell the Committee about my mother-in-law, who keeps a flock of Hebridean sheep in Oxfordshire. It is incumbent on the Committee to ensure that, if her sheep are inspected for the scrapie genotype, she is not disturbed before nine or after five. It is essential that we protect sheep owners, shepherds and others who might wish to co-operate with the Government's laudable attempt to eradicate scrapie from the national flock, by preventing them from committing an offence—

Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could enlighten me. I am not a farmer, but I thought that most farmers did not restrict their working day to between the hours of nine and five.

Mr. Wiggin: I was talking about my mother-in-law, and with Christmas coming it is essential to remember this important lady. Realistically, we are talking about all people who own sheep. Although we know that farmers get up very early in the morning and perhaps work until late at night, it is not right to assume that they are available all the time.

Mr. Bacon: Does my hon. Friend agree that farmers get up between five and six in the morning—sometimes they get up in the middle of the night—and work until late at night not because they want to accommodate the needs of departmental officials, which are not urgent and could be satisfied through an appointment, but because they are desperately trying to keep their businesses afloat?

Mr. Wiggin: That is absolutely right. Perhaps the Minister will say how much quicker scrapie could be eradicated if officials were able to call earlier in the morning than nine. It is ridiculous to pretend that, in order to cut a 15-year programme down to two years, it is necessary for inspectors to call earlier than nine or later than five. The amendment is not only reasonable but important. It would counter the Bill's draconian nature, and help it to protect the income of sheep owners and the future of their industry.

Mr. Morley: These amendments are far too prescriptive for our own staff and for many farmers. Restricting entry times to between nine and five might not suit many farmers. Many might prefer inspectors to visit before nine or after five—it depends on the

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circumstances. It is right to say that the scrapie eradication programme does not constitute an emergency; it is a phased programme that will take place over some years. In general, it is important to arrange an appointment with the farmer in question, and that is what our staff will do. One does not need to write such things down in a prescriptive fashion.

Amendments Nos. 115, 98 and 105 relate not to scrapie but to FMD, which constitutes a disease control issue. It is unreasonable to ask for four hours' notice when disease control and trying to stop spread are paramount. I cannot support the amendment.

Mrs. Winterton: Is there not always an assumption, especially with the scrapie eradication programme, that the farmer must be available when it is convenient for the official to call? The programme hinges on what the official must do rather than what the farmer must do. There is an assumption that the farmer will be there anyway, so people can turn up to do whatever has to be done and the farmer must drop every other chore. The amendments would put some formality into the system.

Mr. Morley: The amendments are too prescriptive and it is not right to say that the thrust of the scrapie plan is built around the convenience of our own staff and inspectors. Of course we must co-operate with farmers and that might involve rounding up a flock, for example, so of course advance notice would have to be given. However, the amendments are too restrictive; they are unnecessary as far as scrapie is concerned and dangerous as far as FMD is concerned.

Mr. Breed: I want to speak about the four hours' notice. I did not pluck that from the air, so let us consider the practicalities and the amount of time between DEFRA deciding to inspect a farm and arriving on the farm. The decision could be notified by telephone and the inspectors might happen to be adjacent to the farm. In those extraordinary circumstances, they could walk in within three minutes. That is not usually the case, not least because they sometimes go to the wrong holding or cannot find it. However, if the farm is identified from their headquarters, is it impossible at that moment to give some notice? It may be three hours from when they get into the Land Rover until they arrive. Four hours' notice may delay the inspectors a little, but that may happen anyway and it would give the farmer a little extra time. I am sure that some wonderful flow chart shows that without four hours' notice a huge additional number of animals could be culled, but a significant amount of the four hours might be used by the inspectors in travelling to a farm holding. Four hours' notice would not necessarily cause a four-hour delay. The delay might be only half an hour because it might take three and a half hours to get to the holding.

Mrs. Winterton: The hon. Gentleman is making some valid comments. Is it not a fact that during the recent foot and mouth epidemic, four hours would have been considered a very short period, because

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stock were hanging around with the disease for 48 hours, never mind four hours. The amendment seems modest.

Mr. Breed: I entirely agree. It might even be helpful. If the farmer received four hours' notice, he might feel co-operative and start to gather the animals in so that the cull could start almost immediately. Alternatively, the inspectors might arrive at a farm with no notice and have to wait around for two, three or four hours. In terms of the totality of what we are trying to do and introducing sensible restrictions, we should try to balance the need get the disease under control with reasonableness for those who are suffering a traumatic situation anyway. I believe that that could be done without causing significant delays and problems. Problems might arise if inspectors happened to be in the area at the time, but generally that would not be the case, so we should consider that this is a reasonable amendment to the way in which draconian powers are sometimes implemented.

12.45 pm

Mrs. Winterton: I do not want to say much in summing up because the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall and others have supported the amendment. If the Department is trying to build a new relationship with the farming community and ensure that, in the introduction of a statutory scrapie eradication programme, full co-operation is achieved, the amendment does go some way to ensure that farmers are shown the consideration that they deserve. We must therefore press the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9

Division No. 16]

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

NOES
Ainger, Mr. Nick
Atkins, Charlotte
Cunningham, Tony
Drew, Mr. David
Edwards, Mr. Huw
Hall, Patrick
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Organ, Diana
Reed, Mr. Andy

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Breed: I beg to move amendment No. 95, in page 18, line 18, leave out ''or third''.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 96, in page 18, line 26, leave out ''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 97, in page 18, leave out lines 30 and 34.

No. 156, in page 18, leave out lines 31 to 33.

No. 157, in page 19, leave out lines 3 to 5.

No. 111, in clause 6, page 3, line 26, leave out

    ''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 112, in clause 6, page 3, leave out lines 30 to 34.

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No. 133, in clause 6, page 3, line 31, leave out paragraph (a).

No. 134, in clause 6, page 3, line 34, at end insert

    ''and uncontactable during the 24 hour period from when the warrant was granted.''

No. 135, in clause 6, page 3, at end insert—

    ''(6A) If animals are mistakenly slaughtered while the occupier is absent, the farmer shall receive compensation at the level of 200 per cent. of market value.''

No. 113, in clause 6, page 4, leave out lines 3 to 5.

No. 40, in clause 6, page 4, line 4, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' and insert

    ''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.

No. 89, in clause 6, page 4, line 4, after ''reasonably needs'', insert

    ''and that that person can normally give''.

No. 99, in clause 7, page 4, line 24, leave out ''or third''.

No. 100, in clause 7, page 4, line 31, leave out

    ''or a refusal is expected''.

No. 101, in clause 7, page 4, leave out lines 35 to 39.

No. 138, in clause 7, page 4, leave out line 38.

No. 149, in clause 7, page 4, line 39, at end insert

    ''and the inspector can demonstrate that all reasonable efforts to contact the occupier have been made.''

No. 102, in clause 7, page 5, leave out lines 6 to 8.

No. 139, in clause 7, page 5, line 6, leave out ''any person'' and insert

    ''the owner and any person employed by the owner.''

No. 41, in clause 7, page 5, line 6, leave out ''such'' to ''for'' in line 7 and insert

    ''personal assistance as is reasonably necessary''.

No. 73, in clause 7, page 5, line 7, after ''needs'', insert

    ''and that that person can normally give.''

No. 106, in clause 8, page 6, line 3, leave out ''or third''.

No. 119, in clause 8, page 6, leave out lines 14 to 18.

No. 75, in clause 8, page 6, line 30, after ''needs'', insert

    ''and that that person can normally give''.

 
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Prepared 4 December 2001