"16A NATIONAL ACTION PLAN FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASES
Ministers shall make a national plan covering the measures applicable for the eradication and prevention of such specified disease and for addressing related matters—
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 99 relates to creating a national action plan for infectious diseases in Part A1 on control in the Animal Health Act 1981 which this Bill amends. The clause is inserted after Section 16 which will become Section 16A on a national action plan for infectious diseases.
§ The Countess of Mar
Is the position that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, is speaking to all the amendments in the group, Amendments Nos. 99, 100, 101 and 103?
§ Lord Carter
The noble Lord is moving Amendment No. 99 but it is grouped with other amendments, so the discussion now is on Amendments Nos. 99 to 103. I was anxious that we did not discuss each one individually.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I suggest that we should reappoint the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as Chief Whip so that the proceedings may be better organised. I note that he is nodding with glee. Perhaps that can be appreciated on all sides of the Committee.
§ Lord Livsey of Talgarth
I shall now comment on the other amendments and I apologise for not doing so earlier. Amendment No. 100 relates to disease prevention in Part B1 on consultation and inserts the words:following consultation with the relevant local authority or authorities".I believe that that is extremely important because we all know that local authorities have a massive part to play in ensuring that a national action plan is effective and that disease is controlled at a local level. I congratulate many local authorities on their activities when they are confronted by such a situation.
52 Amendment No. 101 relates to management practices. It states:The Minister shall make orders—(a) creating an institute dedicated to the study and analysis of stock management practices.That is important because the management of stock in particular—and certainly in my lifetime—has changed radically. That is one of the findings of the independent reports. It is a good idea to incorporate a best practice and for that to be disseminated among livestock keepers. The encouragement of a health plan for stock, which is arranged with a named private veterinary surgeon, would be a big leap forward in improving practices and in ensuring that we have the situation fully under control, or at least as under control as we can in often difficult circumstances.
Amendment No. 102 classifies the definition of premises considered at risk of disease, subject to affirmation by Parliament. That is a controversial matter at the time of outbreaks of, for example, foot and mouth disease. I am sure that other Members of the Committee will want to make points on that subject.
Finally, Amendment No. 103 refers to reports. It seeks insertions into the 1981 Act. It seeks to elicit the number of established veterinary personnel, which is a vexatious problem. We all know that the State Veterinary Service has seen a massive reduction in veterinary personnel. We could argue about whether they have gone sideways into some other activity. However, I should like to congratulate the State Veterinary Service on its excellent work. I believe that more veterinary personnel in strategic positions in the field would be a good improvement. The amendment refers to measures and practices on conduct to eradicate and prevent disease and risk scenarios. There is also reference to a report to Parliament.
Those are my comments on these amendments. I note that Amendment No. 103A is being taken separately. I beg to move.
§ Lord Whitty
This group of amendments covers a number of issues. Most would be covered in the Government's commitment to produce and lay before Parliament a contingency plan, which would deal with issues of a risk assessment of the kind of disease control mechanisms that are required of the structure of the veterinary service, and so on.
I have indicated in my Statement and in my letter to Members of the Committee that I propose to bring forward an amendment relating to contingency planning. Most of these issues could be dealt with in that context. The noble Lord will no doubt be disappointed that, although I say it can be laid before Parliament, my amendment is unlikely to include the affirmative procedure. Nevertheless, perhaps we should discuss that when we have my amendment before us. If we took each amendment separately there would be some difficulty with each. But the requirements and how far we want parliamentary involvement in a contingency plan, which is covered by the next amendment of the noble Baroness, are best dealt with at a later stage. No doubt Members of the 53 Committee will want to comment both on these and other amendments. I therefore ask for the Committee's indulgence and ask it to consider them at that stage.
§ The Countess of Mar
While the noble Lord is considering matters to bring forward on Report, perhaps I may ask him to bear this point in mind. A number of private vets are contracted to DEFRA for specific purposes—for TB, brucellosis testing and that kind of thing, and in the markets for inspecting animals. When I first started in farming I remember that our vet used regularly to carry out a whole farm assessment for us. With the narrowing of profits in farming such assessments have dropped off. In particular, large animal vets have noticed the fall in their incomes because farmers are no longer employing them to carry out such assessments. I recognise the importance of having a vet on one's property to look at one's animals periodically. Can the Minister consider how this practice might be reconstituted in some way or another?
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
Can the Minister confirm where his contingency plan will appear in the Bill? The shape of this piece of legislation is important. It is quite offensive as it stands because Clause 1 immediately goes into slaughter. We recognise that there will be cases where action has to be taken. The Bill would be more user-friendly and more likely to be welcomed by the farming community if this kind of action in extreme circumstances were set in the context of an overall plan which comes first. Therefore, can the noble Lord tell us where he expects to put his contingency plan and whether there should be some kind of pre-amble before we get to the detail of killing animals or—I hope—Vaccinating rather than killing them? My concern is how the Bill is presented and the priority with which these matters are addressed. Can the Minister give us some reassurance about that?
§ Lord Plumb
Before we have the reassurance, I share equally the views of the right reverend Prelate: I do not know where this will fit into the Bill. I was pleased with the Minister's comment that this is something that we ought to take into account, to consider and to think of.
I turn to Amendment No. 101, the proposed new clause on management. I fully understand what it says. It states:The Minister shall make orders—(a)creating an institute dedicated to the study and analysis of stock management practices".That is fine. However, we have more consultants in this country now than we have farmers. We can set up another institute, but who will be on it, how will it advise farmers, and what kind of recognition will the farmers give to that advice? There are ways and means—perhaps this again is a matter that we should discuss outside the Bill—that can help and perhaps improve the relationship with the veterinary practice. We recognise that those involved with large animals 54 are becoming fewer in number. In that sense I believe that it is a question of finding ways and means of improving the relationship between all parties.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I wish to raise another point on this issue. I declare an interest as I have quite a few sheep. We had one or two which were turning their toes up in the air. So the vet had to come out. The vet's bill was about £250. The value of a sheep in the market at the moment is about £45 to £50. So the economics of getting veterinary assistance to farm animals is very different from what it was even 10 or 20 years ago. That matter should be borne in mind. The vets buy Mercedes and the farmers go bust.
§ Lord Whitty
In relation to veterinary surveillance, there are recommendations in the Royal Society report which lead us to assess the situation as regards the State Veterinary Service and relations with the private veterinary service. The response to those reports will deal with that issue. It is not really a matter of legislation.
The commitment to produce a clause dealing with contingency planning will not go into full details because a contingency plan is necessarily a living document and one which will feed on experience around the world in dealing with animal diseases, and foot and mouth in particular. But the commitment will be to ensure that we do draw up a contingency plan and that it is laid before Parliament. As to where that will be, to answer the question posed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, it will be pretty early in the Bill, because it will deal with many other issues in the Bill. When the Committee reads the amendment, it will find that it is prior to any of the more contentious issues with which we have been dealing today.
§ Lord Livsey of Talgarth
Before I withdraw the amendment, I should like to respond to one or two of the Minister's remarks. I point out that the contingency plan available resulted from the 1967 foot and mouth disease outbreak, but applies to all such diseases. It appeared at the beginning of the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak that the only source of information was the excellent Northumberland report, which came to conclusions. Where that fitted into the Government's contingency plan to deal with the disease was not clear, and there are many lessons to be learned. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will address the point, but everyone should know what procedures are contained in the national contingency plan and exactly what is the plan, so that from the first minute of the known outbreak of an infectious disease, we can pursue that course of action as fast as possible. Indeed, we can then measure how effective we have been in tackling such an outbreak. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford is right to ask where that will feature in the Bill and in what order. I am glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, say that it will appear early on. That is right; we need to know exactly where we are.
55 I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Plumb said about relationships and instituting best practice. When I lectured in agricultural colleges, we always tried to let students know what was best practice. I believe that there is a much more effective system for disseminating information in the Scottish colleges. The advisory service in Scotland adjoins, and is a part of, the colleges and there seems to be a better communication system there to farmers on the ground, now that ADAS has become rather expensive for some smaller farmers. That whole area needs to be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, is right to say that that requires considerable discussion outside the Bill.
So, given the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that he will table his own contingency plan amendment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 100 to 103 not moved.]
§ 5.45 p.m.
Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 103A:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—