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  Animal Health Bill, 2nd Reading

This speech was given in the chamber of the House of Commons as part of the debate on the Animal Health Bill, on 9 November 2001

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): I shall be brief. I apologise to the House for not being present all afternoon - I was in the Chamber for the opening speeches, but afterwards I had to attend the Public Accounts Committee hearing. I look forward to the National Audit Office inquiry into foot and mouth next year and the PAC hearing that will follow. I hope that we may see the Minister at that time next year.

The Bill shows all the signs of being hurried. I cannot support it on Second Reading because of the wide-ranging and sweeping powers that it confers on Ministers. The Bill states that it is immaterial whether animals are affected with foot and mouth; it is immaterial whether they have been in contact with animals so affected; it is immaterial whether they have been exposed to the infection of foot and mouth; and it is immaterial whether they have been treated with vaccine.

If we were giving the powers to a Department that had the confidence of farmers, I might consider supporting the Bill, but the farmers in my constituency, South Norfolk, have very little confidence in the Department. That is a result of the way in which classical swine fever was handled I am pleased to say that we were able to avoid foot and mouth directly, although we suffered from the indirect effects - the way in which the re-establishment of pig movements was handled, a range of issues relating to pig farrowing, the new regulations being introduced for laying hens, and the mix-up over sheep's brains and cows' brains. My constituents do not have confidence in the Department, so I cannot support the wide-ranging powers.

Furthermore, I cannot support the compensation regime. I know that the Bill is designed to provide additional powers to tackle foot and mouth, but from reading the clause headings, such as "Extension of power to slaughter", "Adjusted compensation" downwards, of course "Treatment: power of entry", "Slaughter: power of entry", "Slaughter: warrants", "Refusal and obstruction of inspector" and "Deliberate infection of animals", one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the outbreak was entirely the farmers' fault. There may be some farmers who behaved improperly, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) that the assumption should be 100 per cent. compensation in the first instance. There should be a prima facie assumption that farmers are entitled to that.

The final reason why I cannot support the Bill is that it ignores the most important issue - it has been mentioned by so many other speakers that I hope the Minister has heard it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), the hon. Members for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who is no longer in his place, and many others spoke about illegal imports. The Minister should speak to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to Mr. Richard Broadbent, the chairman of Customs and Excise, and get that issue sorted out. We have rats, bats, gorillas, monkeys, porcupines and anteaters coming into Heathrow unchecked, and the Government are doing practically nothing about it. It is about time that they did.

The Bill gives far too much power to the Minister, more or less unchecked, the compensation regime is wrong-headed, and the Bill makes no mention of the central problem: illegal imports.