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The Minister used a variety of reassuring words when he described the way in which the powers will be used. He indicated that they will not be used lightly, that they are powers of last resort, that this clause is one tool in the general armoury and it will be used sparingly. He used metaphor on metaphor. But at the end of the day, there is nothing in the clause that gives us any assurance. I am sure that we all believe in the Minister's intentions, but the Bill is designed to last for a considerable period of time. Without the safeguard of a proper definition of "failing" and without some of the steps set out in the amendments in this group, the clause is seriously flawed. It should not remain part of the Bill unless the department can come up with a far more targeted and more exact definition of "failing".
The Minister came up with language to describe when intervention would take place: when a care trust was not delivering to a particular client group, when there was clear evidence, when agencies were not working together, and so on and so forth. He tried to be more specific. Well, let us put that in the primary legislation. That is the way to do it; then, we could have a compulsory provision, although that is not ideal in any circumstances--I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, that voluntary arrangements work best, whereas, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, illustrated, compulsory arrangements start off on completely the wrong foot. It may be necessary to have a fallback, but a fallback of this breadth cannot be acceptable.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Let me say immediately that I share the thoughts of all Members of the Committee as to the desirability of a voluntary arrangement. There is no question about that, particularly if we are talking about two separate cultures, as was mentioned in the debate, coming together and dealing sometimes with intrinsically challenging and difficult problems of pulling services together in a dual accountability arrangement. That is indeed challenging.
Clearly, the great majority of care trusts will be voluntary. I accept that, to be successful, they will need to have a shared vision, trust and a real commitment to making the arrangements work. That is why we are giving as much flexibility as possible in the governance
The point about the clause that we are debating is that situations arise where not only is there not voluntary agreement or a coming together, but where statutory agencies are simply not working well together, and where the result is a poor quality of service, a lack of co-ordination and too many organisational and cultural barriers, and the public are clearly the losers.
The Government have a number of options open to them to try to deal with those problems. We have a number of areas open to us in relation to social services, based on the assessment that the SSI will have done, performance indicators and the performance assessment framework. In the health service we have a rigorous approach to performance management, where again we can identify poor performance--we discussed the "traffic light" system earlier. It may well be that where there is a real problem, where there is a failure in partnership, one potential possibility is to create a care trust which would enable those services to start afresh and would enable people to come together. I have already said that I believe that the number of cases when that will occur will be rare, but it is important for us to have that option if it seems appropriate.
There is one other point I want to make. This is an even-handed power. It is not simply a question of saying to local government, "We want to take part of your service and put it into a care trust". If we have a problem which seems to be on the health authority's side, then in relation to services which come under the partnership arrangements, this clause can also be used to ensure that a particular service could be led by local government under the partnership arrangements.
So this is very much an even-handed approach, recognising that when there is a problem there is very often a failure on both sides but occasionally it can be on one side. This power will not be used extensively. We hope it will be used rarely but I believe, in the sense of wishing to have the strongest possible co-ordination of services across statutory boundaries, that this clause is an essential part of those arrangements.
Baroness Barker: I will not detain your Lordships very long, because I recognise that there is another debate to come. I simply want to say this. At the beginning of our debate this evening I suggested that the whole notion of care trusts was one over which there are many misgivings because of the lack of detail. One of the biggest of those misgivings is that this represents the take-over of social services by the NHS. I have listened to the discussions throughout the debate, and have to say that I have not been
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I really must respond to that. There is no suggestion whatsoever that this is about the taking over by the NHS of a local government service. It is about enhancing co-operation and partnership. That is why I expressly said in relation to Clause 53 that if the direction were used it could be used as much against the NHS to ensure that the service came under a partnership arrangement led by a local authority as it could be about creating a care trust.
Baroness Barker: I hear what the Minister says, but as I said at the beginning of our debate on this matter, I will in time look back on our debate and judge which one of us has proved to have been correct. I will leave it there for the moment.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, before beginning this short debate, I should declare a number of interests: first, as President of the British Pig Association, which is concerned primarily with rare breed pigs; and, secondly, as a small-scale breeder and fattener of rare breed pigs and indeed a seller of their products. Perhaps, although it is less directly relevant, I ought also to declare my chairmanship of the Council of the Royal Veterinary College.
I am particularly grateful to those who will be taking part in this short debate and, above all, to the noble Lord, the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, who will be answering on behalf of the Government. Of course, we are very sorry that the Minister is unable to answer for her department, particularly since I fear I shall have to say one or two disobliging things about it later in my remarks. However, I am consoled by the fact that no one is better qualified than the noble Lord to answer for the Government, because of his unrivalled knowledge and experience of agriculture in general, and of pigs in particular.
The first is the matter of compensation. The House will remember that the Minister announced revised payment arrangements for the pig welfare disposal scheme on the 1st November last. Incidentally, the House will also note that he made that announcement nearly three months after the first outbreak. In the words of a civil servant from the pigs branch of the Ministry:
The Government's part of the scheme, as I understand it, was paid promptly. However, the remainder, up to £25, needed parliamentary approval under the Agriculture Act 1967, and the industry needed to be consulted of course, since the mechanism to be employed was a producer's levy. Such has been the extraordinary haste that the Government have demonstrated over the mechanics of the producer levy that my informants tell me that five months after the announcement and eight months after the initial outbreak not a single penny of the producer levy has yet been paid.
The empressement, if I may use that word, of the Minister of Agriculture and his myrmidons in the face of an appalling crisis overwhelming East Anglian pig producers is, by any standards, in a class of its own. If I may venture to suggest it, this makes the reactions of the bureaucracy of the later Byzantines as rapid as those of Mohammed Ali. But there is at last some action. I understand that the Government have today issued a press release saying that they are now in a position to proceed with a producer levy payment. I hope that that is a tribute to the influence of this House: I would like to believe that it was, but I suppose I must somewhat grudgingly say that it is better late than never.
The second reason for my thinking that it is sensible to raise this matter now is rather more general. The outbreak of classical swine fever may have been confined to East Anglia--not a part of the world that I myself know very well--but it was not there a minor event. I understand that well over 200,000 pigs were killed in containing the attack. Its source appears to have been the illegal imports of meat, which is something that the Agricultural Committee of another place recently confirmed in its sixth report. It is perfectly clear that, in spite of the answer given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to a supplementary question following a Statement, there are still thoroughly inadequate import controls in place. I hope that when he replies the noble Lord will address himself to that matter.
By common consent, the Ministry's response to the crisis was muddled. In the words of one Norfolk MP, the Ministry was "slow and chaotic". It looks as though the Ministry did not devote enough resources to the crisis; it changed the staff dealing with it frequently; and order was followed by counter-order. This is a situation in which anyone more military than me could easily predict would result in disorder. I am told that it took on average 27 days to obtain the results of blood tests, and in the real world outside the cloisters of Whitehall your Lordships can imagine the effects such a delay had on farmers since they were unable to trade but needed to trade and keep stock while awaiting the results. Meanwhile as more and more animals accumulated on farms, their suffering became acute as overcrowding became a serious difficulty. To make matters worse it seems certain, from those who observed it, that the standards of slaughter inevitably declined as pressures mounted.
Am I alone in finding that this litany has a familiar ring when it is recited in the context of current events? It is clear that the Ministry deserves the highest censure for its handling of the outbreak of classical swine fever. It is also clear that any team of Ministers worth their salt would have examined the lessons of the outbreak and revised procedures to ensure that any future crisis would be handled better. I should have thought that in normal times that would have been a standard response. In an era of food scares under governments of both complexions--whether it be salmonella, a crisis which brought Mrs Currie her vindaloo, BSE, e-coli and all the rest--the failure to do so defies description. That the Ministry has failed to do anything of the kind is horribly obvious from the slow response, the muddle and lack of resources that seem to have categorised the Government's handling of the current foot and mouth crisis, just as it categorised the handling of the outbreak of classical swine fever.
I am not alone in thinking this. I refer your Lordships to the Sixth Report of the Agriculture Select Committee in another place. At paragraph 8 on page vii it says of the classical swine fever outbreak:
It seems that the Government were unprepared for classical swine fever in August 2000 and they were still unprepared for foot and mouth disease in February 2001. They were worse than the Bourbons--the Bourbons at least forgot nothing as well as learning nothing. The Minister and the Ministry for which he was responsible have learnt nothing, but they have forgotten everything as well.
I was strongly marked under the last Government by my experience of the handling of BSE. This is not a party political point. My observation, as a result of some years in government, is that some ministries may be quite good at the day-to-day grind of everyday administration. With one glorious exception--the Ministry of Defence--I do not believe that Whitehall
When a ticklish problem had to be addressed for which I had been made responsible and which covered more than one department--and there was never anything of this importance--I thought the way to handle it was to have one Cabinet minister responsible and to have a mixed committee of civil servants, politicians, experts and, if necessary, advisers. Apart from anything else, it made the politicians and civil servants behave better when outsiders were present. I should not be surprised that the same trick has been played on the Government in this crisis as well, with the same devastating results for foot and mouth as for classical swine fever--perhaps the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms can satisfy us on that.
The time has come for the Government to take this outbreak and animal health seriously. At last there is some evidence that that is beginning to happen. Yet again, it seems to have happened far too late and the disease has been let out of its bag more than it should have been. Agriculture is in a bad state already. I fear that it will never forgive the Government for their incompetence in the handling of both outbreaks.
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