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  Animal Health Bill,
House of Lords Amendments

This speech was given in the chamber of the House of Commons as part of the debate on the Animal Health Bill, on 7 November 2002

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Following the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), far be it from me to be anything other than gracious. However, I want to consider two or three points briefly.

The Minister said that Conservative Members appear to be obsessed with culling. That is not the case. We all recognise that the Bill is about many different issues. However, I merely point out that part 1 is entitled "Slaughter", so the issue is at the heart of the Bill. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to want to discuss that point in relation to the powers of entry, the misuse of which caused so much concern to farmers.

My second point is about whether the warrants would entail a novel legal principle. A moment ago, I was reading Hansard and the Minister's response to my second intervention when I said that it would surely be possible to distinguish between different kinds of warrants issued for different purposes. His only answer was:

"I am not a legal expert". [Official Report, 6 November 2002; Vol. 392, c. 384.]

Therefore, everything will depend on the quality of the legal advice that he receives from his departmental lawyers.

Mr. Morley: It is first class.

Mr. Bacon: I am sure that it is first class, but the Ministry went around merrily slaughtering perfectly healthy animals without either a legal or scientific basis for doing so until the case of MAFF v. Upton. At that point, the court had the full scientific information before it and MAFF stopped doing what it was doing and did not contest the action any further. That suggested that it had been wrong all along. The Minister did not address that point yesterday.

That brings me to my next point. The Minister is determined to avoid the creation of novel legal principles, but the creation of a situation in which the Government go into a magistrates court and effectively bat for both sides - they make the case for a warrant while carrying statements from the farmer saying why there should not be a warrant - will be nothing other than a novel legal principle. The Government will bat for both sides, but the farmer will not be allowed to act in his own interest or have a solicitor acting for him. That seems to be a novel principle.

However, it would be wrong to be graceless. My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings assures me that we have achieved a valuable victory, and if he is right, that can be due only to the work of the fine and noble Baroness Byford who is probably the heroine of the hour.