Animal Health Bill

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Mrs. Winterton: I rise briefly to support the hon. Gentleman's amendment, which would leave out the phrase,

    ''if necessary using reasonable force, for the purpose mentioned in subsection (2).''

I agree that our thrust should be to gain the confidence of farmers in future and achieve what needs to be done on scrapie and other problems through co-operation. It is difficult to define ''reasonable force''. If I shut and padlock the farm gates and someone cuts through the padlock and bashes down the gate, does that amount to ''reasonable force''. I honestly do not know what it is, but I do not want any force to be used. Other methods such as co-operation should be encouraged. Including ''reasonable force'' in the Bill is unnecessary.

Mr. Morley: While I understand that entering a farm to cull animals is an emotional issue, the provision deals with powers of entry for tests and samples. We are talking about having the power to enter, if necessary by force, when people refuse to co-operate with blood testing or the vaccination programme.

Mrs. Winterton: Why should they refuse?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Lady asks why should they refuse. That is a fair question, but some people have refused to co-operate with vaccination and blood testing. Some have barricaded themselves in and refused blood testing: it happened in Essex, Devon and the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall provided another example. These things do happen, but forced entry is a last resort. Nobody wants it, but it is, regrettably, necessary in dealing with epidemic control by vaccination and blood testing. In those circumstances, entry is necessary in the national interest. That is why those powers are in the Bill.

Mr. Breed: These are emotive times. It is the combination of different powers that can give the wrong impression. I accept that some people want to prevent—for whatever reason—tests and sampling from taking place, which could jeopardise the results. With some reluctance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 88, in page 4, line 1, after 'persons', insert

    'up to a maximum of 10'.

The amendment is straightforward. Proposed new paragraph (8) states:

    ''The inspector may take with him such other persons as he thinks necessary to give him such assistance as he thinks necessary.''

The amendment would add that persons should be only up to a maximum of 10. That is, to be fair, an arbitrary figure, but it is necessary to limit the number of persons that inspectors—

Mrs. Browning: Are they going to take the Army?

Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend takes the words out of my mouth. I was about to suggest that it might be a platoon—

Mrs. Browning: Or a battalion.

Mrs. Winterton: Indeed. We have said many times that the way forward is to work with the farming community and rebuild its trust and confidence. The inspector has a job to do, but the option to take as many people as he wants is totally unnecessary. Vast numbers of people turned up on some farms during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. That is off-putting. It makes people feel even more sensitive in the circumstances, and is neither proportionate nor reasonable.

This modest amendment would limit the number of people in the party that turned up at a farm or premises to 10. Of those 10 people, there would be at least one inspector, one veterinary surgeon, some stockmen, and possibly some policemen in case of trouble. Limiting the number to 10 would more than adequately cover the needs of the inspector in carrying out his duties.

Before I conclude, Mr. Illsley, I would like to thank you and Mr. Conway on behalf of Opposition Members for chairing the Committee so effectively and affably. You have been very tolerant and we are grateful. As I have pointed out to many people, the Chair is a voluntary position and many Chairmen give generously of their time, which we greatly appreciate. I also thank the Clerk for his assistance, and the Doorkeepers and police for ensuring that the Committee could sit without any difficulty.

There are fewer than 10 people in the Room to keep us in order, and therefore a maximum of 10 people would be more than enough to accompany the inspector to a farm. I hope that the Minister will look kindly on this last opportunity to accept the amendment.

Mr. Morley: I also express my thanks to you, Mr. Illsley, and to Mr. Conway. I also thank the Committee and my hon. Friends for their support and excellent contributions. It is a pity that there have been so many unnecessary Divisions, as we could have had more debate. Nevertheless, the hon. Lady is right; 10 is an arbitrary number. There are generally fewer people in teams that go to farms. However, large teams may be needed for large farms, or when large flocks of hefted sheep must be brought down, as in the Brecon Beacons. The teams would contain no more people than necessary, otherwise there would be a waste of important resources.

Mrs. Winterton: I may as well shut up shop, which is not the right attitude, but I want to vote on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division No. 22]

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

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.

It being Seven o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [22 November] and the Order of the Committee [19 November], to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Clauses 6 to 18 agreed to.

Question put, That clauses 6 to 18 stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division No. 23]

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

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

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at two minutes past Seven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Illsley, Mr. Eric (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Atkins, Charlotte
Bacon, Mr.
Breed, Mr.
Browning, Mrs.
Cunningham, Tony
Drew, Mr.
Edwards, Mr.
Gillan, Mrs.
Hall, Mr. Patrick
Morley, Mr.
Organ, Diana
Owen, Albert
Reed Mr.
Wiggin, Mr.
Williams, Mr. Roger
Winterton, Mrs. Ann

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Prepared 4 December 2001