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Malcolm Bruce: If the right hon. Lady acknowledges that the powers are draconian, why are they so one-sided? Anyone who challenges them runs the risk of losing 25 per cent. in compensation. He or she will also have to make a payment to the Minister to have an appeal heard. If the Minister is unsuccessful in winning the case, should there not be compensation for having taken the action wrongly?
Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman is in error. There is no question of someone even being considered to lose a part of their compensation because they seek to appeal. That aspect is related solely to issues of biosecurity, to which I shall come in a moment. It is not the case either, as some reports have said, that we are removing in any way the right of appeal against the decision to cull.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about making a charge. I think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State conveyed to the Select Committee that the only purpose of making a chargeit is not a matter of covering the
As I have said, there is no question of taking away the right of appeal against such a decision. A farmer will still be able, as now, to make representations to the local DVM, putting forward reasons why his animals should not be slaughtered. He or she will still be able to seek judicial review or appropriate interim relief from the court if necessary, if that is believed to be justified.
In cases of difficulty where access is needed, whether to test, to vaccinate or perhaps to kill animals, we propose a process that is based on a warrant from a magistrate. Such a warrant would be issued to inspectors only on sworn evidence. The magistrate will need to be satisfied that the conditions set out in the Bill have been complied with.
The House knows that the Government have kept the possibility of vaccination continuously under review during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. We retain an open mind on its possible role in future. As I have reported to the House before, we are co-sponsoring with the Dutch Government an international conference in Brussels in December to examine the issues. If we sought to use any type of vaccination programme in future, we would need to have the necessary full range of powers to carry it out, including what is not now in legislation, which is the possibility of the payment of compensation.
The Dutch Government, who had a small and quickly detected outbreak of foot and mouth disease earlier in the year, used vaccination to reduce pressure on disposal capacity by allowing slaughter to be carried out at a rate that kept pace with disposal. Although this meant that they killed more animals per outbreak than we did, it worked in their particular situation. We are seeking to increase the number of effective options available to us by ensuring that we have the power, should we wish or have the need to do so, to carry out a similar programme in future.
In the Bill, we take a different approach to arrangements for compensation on infected premises. Part of a livestock farmer's responsibilitya fact of which most are extremely consciousis to take precautions, including good biosecurity, to minimise the risk of animal diseases. In the Bill, we propose to reflect that responsibility in compensation arrangements.
I do not dispute that the vast majority of farmers ensure that their animals have the proper high standard of care and that they, the farmers, practice good biosecurity. However, the sad fact remains that a small minority have, through irresponsible actions or an irresponsible approach, either potentially or actually contributed to the spread of disease. I stress that that is undoubtedly a small minority. However, it is to the benefit of good farmers as well as to the public at large to send, as the Bill does, a clear message to the irresponsible minority that if they do not raise their standards to those of the majority, they may not receive full compensation.
The Bill will only affect compensation paid in respect of infected premises. On contiguous premises and others where no infection is found, full compensation at market value will be paid, as before. But on infected premises, the automatic entitlement will only be to 75 per cent. of the market value of the animals slaughtered. An assessment will be carried out at slaughter of compliance with disease control measures and will look at whether the farmer has acted in a way which risked spreading the disease. Biosecurity will clearly be one of the key factors assessed.
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): My right hon. Friend is talking about the actions of the irresponsible minority. What further investigations have there been into allegations that have appeared in newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph? On 30 July, that newspaper alleged:
Margaret Beckett: There have indeed been investigations, as my hon. Friend would expect. Investigations into the example that he cites were inconclusive. There are other cases of concern which may raise issues to be brought before the courts. However, my hon. Friend will appreciate that we cannot refer to that here.
Farmers will be informed in writing whether they are to receive 75 per cent. of the maximum amount, 100 per cent. or something in between. They will then have the right of appeal to an independent person if they wish; that right is set out in the Bill. No responsible farmers should suffer under the new measures. In fact, they will gain if all standards are raised to the best. The detail of what will be in the assessment and how it will be carried out are not in the Bill. We intend to carry out a full consultation on that issue, giving stakeholders sufficient time to comment, because we want to get it right and to take the farming community with us as much as we can.
The Bill also provides powers to extend the new measures on slaughter, compensation and so on to other animal diseases. If, for example, we were unlucky enough to experience another outbreak of classical swine fever next year, we could, if need be, seek similar powers in relation to that disease. Any such extension would be by affirmative resolution, so both Houses would have the opportunity to debate the proposal. Again, that is about putting the right framework in place now so that it will be available should problems arise in future. The House will recall that a key lesson of the Phillips report was that Government should seek to make preparations in advance to deal with issues of that kind.
It has been a punishing year for rural communities, many of which were already suffering serious harm to their economic prospects, which have worsened as a result of the rampant and unprecedented foot and mouth outbreak. The sheep sector has suffered particularly badly
It is on that basis that we published in September, as required by the Phillips report, a draft contingency plan for tackling the risk of BSE in sheep. The plan describes options which would enable the Government to respond flexibly and quickly to the range of scenarios which might apply if BSE were to be found in our national flock. Those include, at one extreme, slaughter and disposal of the whole flock. At a less dramatic level, the Government could consider deploying the kind of abattoir controls with which we are already familiar in relation to BSE in cattle. I emphasise again that those are only options, the application of which would depend upon emerging knowledge and expert advice. That does not mean that we should avoid taking sensible and effective precautions now to deal with any eventuality.
Mrs. Browning: The right hon. Lady is talking about the theoretical risk of BSE in sheep. Will she share with the House what is clearly new scientific advice to the Government? I noticed that, in a statement on 21 October, Sir John Krebs said that, if BSE in sheep were proven, the Food Standards Agency would advise banning the consumption of all dairy and milk products from sheep and goats. Clearly, there has been transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in bovines, but the idea is that, in a different species, TSE will mean a ban on the milk supply. On what scientific basis was that statement made?