HL Deb 19 February 1975 vol 357 cc369-77

7.23 p.m.

The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge) rose to move, That the Draft Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 21st January, be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1975. The purpose of this Order is to extend the Diseases of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1958 to make provision for the prevention and control of rabies and the control of other diseases communicable from animals to man; and to amend the Act to allow for increased fines and to standardise the time limit within which proceedings may be started for an offence against the Act. The most important part of the Order is the rabies provisions, which are contained in Articles 3 to 8 and which correspond directly to the provisions of the Rabies Act 1974. Like that Act, the Northern Ireland provisions are required to implement a number of the recommendations of the Waterhouse Committee of Inquiry on Rabies which reported in 1971. Among the powers sought is power to include, in an order declaring a rabies infected area, provisions for the destruction of foxes and other wild mammals. Methods of destruction, such as the laying of poisoned bait, which would otherwise be illegal, are authorised for this purpose as is the erection of fences to prevent animals entering or leaving an area where destruction is being carried out.

There is also power to require, in infected areas, notification of the death of animals and the disposal of their carcases, and the vaccination, confinement and control of domestic animals including strays. There is enabling power for the Department of Agriculture to make orders controlling the importation and use of rabies virus and power to require quarantine for animals which may be carriers of rabies. Also included is a requirement that any person, knowing or suspecting that an animal is infected with rabies should report the fact to the police. Powers for dealing with illegally imported animals are strengthened by making provision for the possible destruction of animals landed without a licence and for offences against rabies importation controls to be taken on indictment.

Before moving on to deal with the provisions of Articles 9 and 10, I think I should say a. word or two about the reason for introducing such stringent powers for the control of rabies. The United Kingdom has been virtually free of rabies since 1922, but we cannot afford to be complacent. The disease is advancing across Europe at a rate of approximately 20 to 40 kilometres per year and the French estimate is that it will reach the Channel coast by 1980. The risk of the disease entering this country has therefore never been greater. Remembering that rabies is caused by a virus which attacks the central nervous system and that once it has developed in humans it is almost invariably fatal, I am sure noble Lords will agree that stringent powers for dealing with this disease must be available throughout the United Kingdom.

Turning now to Article 9 which contains provisions of a more general nature for the control of diseases transmissible from animals to man, quaintly called zoonoses, these correspond to powers already available in Great Britain and will enable the Department of Agriculture to designate by order diseases carded in animals or birds which constitute a risk to human health and to apply any of the provisions of the Diseases of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1958 to such diseases. Salmonellosis, which is a form of food poisoning, is a good example of the sort of disease where action could become desirable. The Department will also be empowered to require a person, such as a veterinary surgeon, to report any case where he has reason to believe that an animal or bird may be affected with disease and there is provision for the Department's veterinary inspectors to enter land for the purpose of carrying out tests or taking samples for diagnosis.

The remaining provisions of the Order are designed to improve the effectiveness of the Northern Ireland Diseases of Animals legislation. Article 10(1) provides for an increase in the fines for offences against the Diseases of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1958. In 1967 the maximum fine for an offence was increased from £50 to £200 and this has remained at £200 despite the fact that in Great Britain the corresponding fine under the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 was increased in 1970 from £200 to £400. It is felt that the deterrent value of the Northern Ireland fines should now be restored and the £200 figure is therefore being increased to £500 with subsidiary fines increased accordingly.

The purpose of the amendments in Article 10(2) is to standardise the period within which legal proceedings may be started for an offence against the Act. At the moment proceedings must be started within six months of the date of an offence, except for offences in relation to imports of animals, poultry or eggs. where the limitation is five years or six months from the date when evidence first came to light, or the marking or movement of animals, where the limitation is three years or six months from the date when evidence first came to light. The effect of the amendments will be that, for any offence against the Act, legal proceedings may be started at any time within three years of the date of the offence or within six months of the date when evidence relating to the offence first came to the attention of the Department, whichever expires first. These amendments have been found necessary because of instances that have arisen, for example, in relation to illegal imports of meat, where offences have only come to light more than six months after their commission.

I should say that all the provisions of this Order had already been approved by the Executive and the Consultative Committee on Agriculture before the prorogation of the Assembly.

Finally, I hope that the House will bear with me if I speak in some detail about the Ninth Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, in which the Committee draws this draft Order to the special attention of the House on the grounds that its drafting appears to be defective. If noble Lords have some difficulty in following the rather detailed legal explanation which I shall give, perhaps they will read it tomorrow. It took me two readings before I fully understood it. These comments refer to paragraph (1) of Article 10 of the Order which amends Section 46(1) of the principal Act so as to increase the amount of certain fines. The present level of these fines was fixed by the Schedule to the Increase of Fines Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, and the relevant entries in that Schedule are repealed in the Repeal Schedule to the Order, as being superseded by it. The Committee has expressed the view that there should have been a reference to these repealed provisions in Article 10(1).

To have included such a reference to an earlier amending provision would be contrary to the practice in relation to Northern Ireland, by reason of a special provision contained in the Northern Ireland Interpretation Act (that is to say, Section 11(1) of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954) which provides that any reference to any statutory provision is to be construed as a reference to that provision as amended. There is no corresponding provision in the Interpretation Act 1889, but it is customary in Acts of Parliament to include a provision to the like effect, individually. Accordingly, the practice in relation to the drafting of Statutes, whether in relation to England, Scotland or Northern Ireland, is the same; that is to say, earlier amendments are not cited, save exceptionally.

An exception to the general rule is to be found in cases where the full text of the provision to be amended is to be found in an earlier amendment, and an illustration of this exceptional treatment is to be found in paragraph (2) of Article 10. This paragraph amends subsection (2) of Section 47 of the principal Act (which had no subsection (2) as originally enacted) and accordingly the reader is referred to the place where the text of subsection (2) is to be found. This practice is also in accordance with the practice of the Parliamentary Counsel in relation to the drafting of Statutes for all parts of the United Kingdom.

The Committee refers to this draft Order in Council as being "delegated legislation". In fact, it is not delegated legislation, but original legislation whereby Her Majesty in Council exercises the legislative powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The law which applies to Measures of the Northern Ireland Assembly applies to this Order also, by virtue of paragraph 1(7) of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. These Orders in Council are drafted by the Legislative Draftsmen's Office in Stormont, who previously served the Northern Ireland Assembly and, before that, the Parliament of Northern Ireland; and they follow, as they must, the law and practice relating to Acts of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and Measures of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would not, in any event, feel at liberty, during this temporary period of direct rule, to alter the practice in relation to the drafting of legislation applying only to Northern Ireland, even if the practice were at variance with other parts of the United Kingdom. But, as I have explained, the practice here is not inconsistent with the general practice in relation to England and Scotland. It follows that the Government do not feel able to accept what is proposed in this Report, and I recommend to the House that this draft Order in Council should be approved, as drafted. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 21st January, be approved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of this Order, and I should particularly like to welcome Article 8 which provides that certain offences to be specified in Rabies Importation Orders may be prosecuted on indictment. I think I am right in saying that this corresponds so far as rabies is concerned, with Clause 3 of the Diseases of Animals Bill which has recently been debated in your Lordships' House. I certainly support the increased maximum penalties which are the same both in that Bill and in this Order. There are two questions which I should like to ask the noble Lord. In relation to Article 9, where the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture is empowered to designate by Order diseases carried in animals which constitute a risk to human health, it would be interesting if the noble Lord could either indicate today what the list is or perhaps tell the House where the list will be found.

With regard to Article 3, and this is my second question, there is the provision to be made for the destruction of wild animals and foxes in a rabies infected area. I do not contradict for one moment the need for this, but I really do question the advisability of the Government's current proposal to increase enormously the fee for gun licenses in Northern Ireland, which I think is relevant to this provision; because when the need arises for this work to be done—I hope it will not arise, but it may—it will then be found that there is far less control of wild animals, and therefore much greater need for clearance.

Perhaps, speaking from these Benches, I ought not to talk about the shooting of foxes, but if, as I saw quoted in another place, the licence fee is to be increased five-fold, I seriously consider that in wide rural areas of Northern Ireland the control of wild animals will suffer. I realise that security must always be in the fore-front of the Government's mind in Northern Ireland. But the farmer's gun is really not an Armalite rifle. I should be grateful if the Government could give a little more detail than was given in another place about their thinking on this matter.

We are grateful for the detailed explanation which the noble Lord has given about the criticism of the Statutory Instruments Committee. As I understood that criticism, it was simply that between the principal Act of 1958 and this Order there was some amending legislation and this was not readily discernible—discernable but not readily discernable—to the reader of the Order. If I may say so, I think that the very detailed explanation which the noble Lord gave still misses one point, which I am afraid I have made many times before but I make it again. It is that we do not have the advantage in either House of Parliament at Westminster of being able to read Stormont Hansards or being able readily to look at previous Northern Ireland legislation. Therefore, as the Statutory Instruments Committee have said, it is really necessary for this legislation which is coming before us in the form of Orders to be, to quote their words, "intelligible, especially to those not legally qualified ", and, my goodness, that includes me. I would, therefore, beg the noble Lord, even though the Government feel that they have got the drafting absolutely right, for reasons which we will be able to read in Hansard tomorrow, to consider that the prime consideration in bringing forward these Orders is clarity and helpfulness to those of us who have to try to understand them. With those two questions and with that small note of criticism, I support the passing of this Order.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I put one question of a quite different nature? I was wondering whether in relation to this tightening up of the legislation in regard to rabies, there is any proposal for similar tightening up of legislation in the Republic of Ireland, because unless there is it seems to me that the effectiveness of the legislation in Northern Ireland will not be as great as it otherwise would be. If this has not been considered, would the Government consider making the suggestion to the Government of Eire?


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for accepting this Order. I will deal first with one or two of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. The question of gun licences is entirely irrelevant, though I will answer it. It is irrelevant, because the destruction of animals in the declared areas which have to be cleared is the duty of the veterinary service of the Department of Agriculture. There is no question of farmers being asked to keep down animals in their areas by their shotguns. Having disposed of that, there is no secret about the increase in licence fees. From 1st January 1975 the fee for the grant of a firearms certificate became £10 and, for its renewal, variation or replacement, £5.

The increased level of fees is needed to cover the substantially increased cost of administering the scheme. They have been increased five-fold since they were last adjusted in 1970 from £2.10 to £10 on initial issue and from £105 to £5 on renewal. Renewal is required every three years. So the running cost of keeping a firearm licence is still only £167 per annum, which, in view of the enormous rise in costs, seems perfectly reasonable.

I would rather not discuss at this moment the policy of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State over firearms. It is being dealt with at this very time in discussions with various people in Northern Ireland, and I think something will be said about it before very long. Our general view is the fewer the better, while admitting that farmers, of course, have them. I am sorry that my elaborate explanation did not satisfy the noble Lord, but I have not the slightest doubt that when he gets hold of his legal advisers and reads it he will see no question of either inaccuracy or anything else. It is a question of two different conventions which are exercised in a perfectly normal way, and I think he will find that the explanation I gave him will hold up.

There is no difficulty in getting Hansard from Northern Ireland when there is an Assembly sitting. At the moment, of course, there is not. So far as I know, this is something which can be arranged through the Printed Paper Office when there are normal services. I do not think there is any embargo on Hansard to this House, and if anybody asks for it they will get it. It is as simple as that. I hope that when they do have an Assembly in Northern Ireland there will be many persons asking for their Hansard.

My Lords, the noble Lord asked where we could find out what diseases were zoonoses, where in the list they could be found, and whether they could be transmitted from animal to man. I am informed that the Order listing these will be published in the Statutory Rules of Northern Ireland by the Stationery Office and can be obtained there. It is a fairly long list. Finally, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asked what was the position in the Republic. We agree, of course, with the point made, that this would be a much more effective Order if it were reciprocal in the Republic. Copies of the Order have been sent there and they are considering it. I cannot say more than that. We hope very much, with the noble Lord, that this will be adopted. My Lords, I am grateful for the support for this Order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.