Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 121:



"( ) In sub-paragraph (1A) above, where none of paragraphs (a) to (d) applies to the animals in question, the Minister shall serve on the owner of the animals (or in default of the owner being traceable, the keeper of the animals) a notice containing a reasoned justification for his decision to require the slaughter of animals, and no slaughter of animals shall take place until at least 24 hours have elapsed from the serving of the notice.""

The noble Baroness said: I apologise for my confusion as regards the order of amendments. I will deal also with Amendments Nos. 131 and 268. In Amendment No. 121, we wish to delete from the start of the published amendment to "question, the Minister" and to insert


    "where the Minister decides to apply sub-paragraph (1A), he".

Given that no diagnosis has been made of foot and mouth disease, and without reasonable cause to suspect that infection has been found, reasons for slaughter are required. Any Minister invoking paragraph (1A) in support of his discretion to slaughter must be required to give alternative reasons. The alternative must be in writing and served in a fashion that incorporates proof of delivery and of receipt. The recipient should have a minimum of 24 hours to assimilate the ministerial argument and to set in train any necessary appeal.

7 Oct 2002 : Column 111

The public perception is that consultation is replacing decision-making at local and intermediate level. The media, the press and members of the Select Committee in another place complain of foregone conclusions and of questionnaires carefully worded to elicit desired responses. They complain of lack of responses from Cabinet members and Ministers. We must not worsen the situation by allowing open-ended powers that would, among other things, render legal personal animosity, group persecution, action as a result of flawed research or of advice from an irrelevant source, or action to cover up errors.

I turn now to Amendment No. 131. Page 108 of the Anderson report states:


    "The issue of disposal and the inadequacy of provision for it had been noted in the Drummond Report in 1999 and further acknowledged by the State Veterinary Service in July 2000. The Dutch experience of disposing of nine million pig carcasses during the outbreak of classical swine fever in 1997 could have served as a warning for other countries to be prepared for a similar eventuality".

Indeed, we had our own swine fever outbreak here. The fact is that nothing was done. We fear that unless the need to prepare is enshrined in law nothing will be done again until it is too late.

Even without the endorsement of the learned professor, we would wish to see something on the face of the Bill setting disposal standards for the Government. The people's horrified reaction to the layers of rotting carcasses has made it abundantly clear that this level of ineptitude must never be repeated. Not only did farmers suffer, because it was their livestock that were killed, but their families were on the receiving end at a highly critical moment. Other rural businesses, especially tourism, suffered dreadfully. The evident public revulsion kept visitors away from affected areas in particular, but also from the countryside in general. As someone said in a radio interview: who wants to come to eat lunch at a country pub half a mile up the road from a heap of manure and maggots? Those same country pubs and rural businesses had no compensation for DEFRA's failure to handle the corpses with alacrity.

Perhaps, from the Government's point of view, the strongest argument for tight standards in carcass disposal is their own recently published strategic review of diffuse water pollution from agriculture in England and the imminent EU draft directive on environmental liability. The Secretary of State explained in a Written Answer published in Hansard on 19th September that,


    "the proposed Directive could have additional positive environmental benefits, by requiring higher standards of remediation and by encouraging operators to take additional precaution".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/9/02; col. 268W.]

I should have thought that several hundred decomposing bodies lying in a field, especially when the weather is warm, would fall well within the remit of that directive.

Similarly, nutrients from the over-application of fertilisers cause diffuse pollution from agriculture. As we saw during the outbreak, the Environment Agency

7 Oct 2002 : Column 112

was greatly concerned over the leakage from burial sites and into streams. Above-ground decomposition is one thing. But equally, or perhaps more, alarming is the pollution that cannot be seen. The strategic review of water pollution incorporates a paper prepared to inform the Government's thinking around objectives. It concludes, among other things, that there is a need for co-ordination of models from the catchment to the national scale, predicting and monitoring the effects of any policy measures. A slaughter policy that does not set standards for burial, removal or treatment will undoubtedly be at odds with the Government's environmental targets.

The criterion for Amendment No. 268 is defined in the Northumberland report and in the disease contingency plan. However, as we have seen all too clearly, the system can become overwhelmed. It would be sensible to have a fallback position, as proposed in the amendments, from the point of view of the animals and of human psychology. Anderson writes on page 108 about the inadequacy of provision for disposal. Page 89 of the NAO report records huge sums spent on disposal. A sizeable proportion of that arose from having to make arrangements in a hurry with no preparation.

Our main concern is to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2001. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: This is a very important amendment. The Minister has started to address some of the problems with the identification of mass burial sites in 2001 and appeared to indicate that perhaps policy was changing on that. There were clearly problems with the preparation of objective geological analysis of sites and consideration of issues such as run-off into river basins. There was a mass burial site at Mynydd Epynt in my former constituency that was very unsuitable geologically. Work was stopped on that site as a result. The road that ran next to the site was opened only last week, having been closed for the past 10 months. That was very inconvenient because—for noble Lords who know the area—it cut off about 20 miles of the road across the Epynt. Although the site has been restored, pollution is still running into the River Towy, and there is evidence that it is running into the River Usk catchment.

I am not talking about the burning of carcasses so much as the burial of carcasses. As the Northumberland report indicated, where possible, carcasses can be buried on farm sites. However, it is difficult for the Environment Agency to find sites that are sufficiently good and do not result in pollution. The issue requires considerable and detailed examination, the result of which should be a procedure that ensures properly buried carcasses at suitable sites sanctioned by the Environment Agency. I am well aware that the recent outbreak was so great that the problem was particularly difficult to deal with. Consequently, the matter requires great forethought.

7 Oct 2002 : Column 113

Suitable sites have to be identified now and not during the middle of a huge outbreak. If that is done properly, I think that some of the problems can be overcome.

Lord Whitty: Amendment No. 121 would impose two requirements: a slaughter notice to be issued, and then no slaughter for 24 hours. On the first point, I agree that it is important that there is transparency in the decision. That is why we have stated our intention to introduce a new policy of issuing slaughter notices to farmers whose animals are to be culled. The whole purpose of the notices is to formalise the process of notifying of the need to slaughter, to provide documentary evidence, and to explain the justification for slaughter to the stockholder. Notices will be served whenever animals are to be slaughtered and not simply under these new powers, which is a distinct improvement on the requirement that existed last year.

I do not, however, think that a 24-hour delay would be appropriate. A fixed delay would be inappropriate even if the slaughter were to be done on preventative rather than exposure or disease grounds. We want to get on with this process as rapidly as possible and building in a 24-hour delay could jeopardise that process. There is, of course, always the possibility of asking for a review by the district veterinary manager. I would not, however, wish to see a 24-hour delay built in.

Amendment No. 131 takes us back to disposal. Although disposal should be carried out as rapidly as possible, it should also be carried out in the best possible way and, as I said, in a way that does not undermine other efforts. We are therefore not happy about including a 48-hour target or about specifying the priority to be given to disposal.

Under the new interim contingency plan, and according to the current policy, we have a disposal hierarchy that is substantially different from that which operated previously. The hierarchy is as follows. The best form of disposal is by rendering; the second by incineration; the third by landfill on approved sites—although this would require the permission of the landfill operator, we are setting up contracts to that effect—the fourth by burning; and the fifth by mass burial or farm burial. The problem with establishing a 48-hour target is that we run the danger of re-arranging the disposal hierarchy. Therefore rendering is best but if one cannot do that within 48 hours, one may resort to mass burial or on-farm burial. Pyres, of course, do not feature in that list; they are excluded.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page