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15th May 2002


Jean Dixon reports

I drove down to London overnight on Tuesday 14 May, to attend the Lords debate on the Statutory Instrument but unfortunately due to falling over my dog -- an accident which had badly bruised my ribs -- I was unable to take the demo bus and as time was short and my supporters were unable to get to London, I did not demonstrate as usual.

I did however, collect those signatures against the culling of healthy animals that I had, and I took another thousand to Number 10.

Despite, Wednesday night's eventually disappointment, this petition stills seems relevant, because I have now added a section demanding a public enquiry. There were 155 people to add to the others that I have already taken.

I sent Blair a poem to say how morally wrong the culling of healthy animals was, and I pointed out that unless we teach our children to respect animals then our society will continue to be violent.

I also enclosed a book Life Extinguished that had been returned by his office and I said that I hoped that he would read how the children had been affected, even here in an area where no burning took place -- although the children in Cumbria and other places were a lot more severely traumatised.

I also managed to get to the final meeting of The Select Committee on the Future of Farming after Subsides, and when I spoke to Mr David Curry at his surgery on Friday he tells me that he is hopeful that this report will be ready for when Government recesses. I await with interest.

And so, to the great disappointment of the day, the Lords debate on the Statutory Instrument.

What is this Statutory Instrument? As Joyce Ross has explained:

"The Animal 'Death' Bill has been resurrected in the middle of a 200 odd page of a document, the Statutory Instrument 843.

"Hidden amongst information and regulations about mammalian meat and bone meal, are the following powers:
An Inspector can get a warrant from a JP and break into your premises with 'reasonable force' to slaughter just the same as in the Animal Death Bill. An inspector may make enquiries and carry out such investigations as he considers necessary. The owner or a vet is under obligation to inform the DVM of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) susceptible animals. The government may slaughter any TSE susceptible animal.

"So, the government has sought to re-introduce the worst parts of that bill HIDDEN within a Statutory Instrument (SI843), i.e. a straightforward, innocuous looking legal statute which does not even need debating by Commons or Lords.

"'The government may slaughter any TSE susceptible animal.'" No scientific PROOF exists that SE's are transmissible other than by injecting material into brains and blood streams of other creatures in the laboratory. Why is there no funded research into anything other than the 'infective prion' theory? Is it too close for comfort to the pharmaceutical companies?"

I met Hilary Paters in the Strangers Gallery and listened with growing concern to the speeches of the Lords, and with great cynicism to the arguments put forward by Lord Whitty in his schoolmasterish, clipped tones. He sounds as if what he is saying is fact, however, when you try to work out what he has said, exactly, you have great difficulty!

He virtually held a gun to the heads of those Lords who would have supported the Countess of Mar's prayer by saying that those who voted with her would be putting the health of the nation at risk, as no legislation would be in place to prevent nvCJD. Such were his "arguments".

There were many abstentions from mainly Conservative and some Lib-Dems. It would not have mattered though, as he had brought many Labour supporters with him, who knew little and cared less, and some seemed rather displeased that they had to sit through two and a half hours of debate until voting took place around 11pm.

As Hilary Paters said, "It was a salutary lesson in the misuse of democracy. The New Labour back benches were deliberately packed with peers who have no interest in farming. Two women were especially good at spreading fear of unknown encepalopathies. TSB's were not even defined, but the fear of them and the fact that it was all or nothing. ie if the whole SI did not go through, we would be left without any legislation against BSE, carried the day. I believe that almost no one in that house understood the whole picture. But the fate of millions of animals was decided on a trick of parliamentary procedure. That's democracy for you."

I got a little sleep in the car and headed back home in the early hours of Thursday morning. After speaking to both Sue Burton from Remus Horse Sanctuary, and David Oakes who couldn't wait to hear the result and who had both left messages on my voicemail with varying degrees of despondency. We agreed to let the decision sink in and gather as much information as possible, then we would have a meeting to decide on the way forward.

Although the Statutory Instrument does not include culling powers for Foot and Mouth, now that they have this killing ability on the statute books, it will be easier to extend it.

I asked my MP David Curry, on Friday at his surgery where the Animal "Health" Bill stood now, and his perception was that it was basically shelved. The Lords had agreed not to debate it until reports were ready. As these would not be ready before the recess, then the AHB would not be debated, and as any Bill must pass through the House in the session that it is introduced, then that is the end of it.

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