PETER AINSWORTH MP, House of Commons meeting
29 Nov 2001


Peter Ainsworth MP, Conservative spokesman on Environment Farming and Rural Affairs, explains that the Bill accuses farmers of incompetence; places unreasonable burdens on those who have animal welfare at their heart; gives inadequate right of appeal; has been hastily prepared with no consultation, fails to address import controls and has been hastily rushed through in the absence of any input from a proper public enquiry.

Mary Critchley: I'd like to ask Peter Ainsworth MP to start the proceedings.

Peter Ainsworth: First of all, can I thank you Mary, very much indeed and congratulate you too, for your immensely hard work. The air has been thick with e-mails as a result of all your efforts, and you really are to be most warmly congratulated. Because what you've done is you've brought together people who really know their business, but you've also acted as a focus for the anger and pain across Britain whether they live in the countryside or in the towns and cities, feel about this particular legislation.

It's good to see a gathering here. It's particularly good to see some of my colleagues, sitting here and there, Peter Simpson, who is part of our shadow DEFRA team. On the left Tim Boswell, Adrian Brook. So there is a good smattering of MP's here as well.

We very strongly object to this bill on a number of grounds.

First of all, we think that it is unreasonable to introduce measures for coping with this in the absence either of the government's own inquiries, limited inquiries though they be, or in the absence of a full independent public inquiry, which is what we have consistently argued for, and the government continues to deny.

In the absence of evidence from an inquiry such as that, there seems to be very little justification for a bill with measures for swindling as they pertain to the Animal Health Bill. A Bill which has been dubbed by some, the Animal Death Bill: Not entirely without justification.

We also object, because written into the very heart of this legislation is the notion that it is somehow farmers who are to blame for what happened this year and for foot and mouth getting out of control, for the horrendous scenes we have had to witness, either personally, because we were unfortunate enough to be involved in foot and mouth in the countryside or on our television screens.

It wasn't farmers who were to blame and we know that there's growing evidence from the Devon inquiry but also from the scientists, that had the government itself taken action on a timely basis, as soon as the outbreak became apparent, the number of deaths amongst the animal stock could have been very sharply reduced. The government wishes to avoid taking the blame for failing to grip the disease in the early stages. We believe that this bill is unreasonable; that it confers on ministers and officials, powers that are quite out of proportion to the disease and to the problems which they are seeking to address. For example; there is a part, clause one of the bill, which says that it is entirely immaterial as to whether or not animals have been infected by, or exposed to, in any way, foot and mouth or other diseases.

Ministers effectively have given the power to order mass culls at will. Effectively, that is what this bill does. And I have to say that if the answers to foot and mouth are more culling and slaughter, then the government is probably asking the wrong questions.

We think that there are insufficient rights of appeal, for farmers who are put in this situation. We believe that the compensation arrangements enshrined in the bill are unfair, and that it is not right for farmers to be put in a position where, if they object to what ministers want to do on their property, they are liable to lose 25 per cent of their compensation. We believe that it places an unreasonable burden on magistrates, who will be asked very shortly to make vital decisions affecting not only the livestock, and potentially millions of animals, but also the future lives of farmers; and the livelihood of businesses.

We needed the bill to be introduced after consultation, no one was consulted about this legislation before the government came forward with it. And it fails to deal with the issue of lax import controls.

So in short, this is an unjust bill, a disproportionate bill, it's an unfair bill, it's a bill that defers more powers, unreasonable powers, on people who themselves have been found wanting, guilty of incompetence, guilty of insensitivity, and guilty of dealing with animals cruelly. Iím opposing it in this house, I expect it to clear the Commons on the 13 December, and then on to the house of Lords, sometime relatively early in the new year.

With the parliamentary majority here It's fairly difficult for us to persuade the government to change it's mind on fairly obvious issues. The parliamentary situation in the Lords is entirely a better opportunity for the sort of measures and the sort of proportionate response, which I know that the vast majority of people in rural Britain and elsewhere have been demanding.

Mary Critchley: Peter, thank you very much indeed. For people who have come to this a bit late, don't worry. What Peter Ainsworth was just saying is this bill is unfair. As far as it accuses farmers of being responsible, it's a sham.

It accuses farmers of incompetence, and it places unreasonable burdens on those who have animal welfare at their heart. It gives inadequate right of appeal, it has been hastily prepared with no consultation, and it fails to address import controls. It has been hastily rushed through in the absence of any input from a proper public enquiry.

Thank you very much indeed Mr Ainsworth.

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