Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Tyler: In the debate in Committee, the Minister said:

Is she now saying the figures are 20 per cent. lower than expected?

Mrs. Browning: No, I am saying that, because of the 20 per cent. efficiency gains made by the Meat Hygiene Service, there have been considerable reductions, but they may not apply to every single plant because of the point I have just made about minimum charges. When we set up the Meat Hygiene Service, we knew that there were variations in charges. The hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) gave a constituency example that is a case in point. In some areas, but not all, local authorities subsidised the charges that they levied from taxpayers' money.

That excellent result from the MHS means that some plants have had reduced costs this year compared to what they paid under local authorities. A large red meat plant that paid some £610,000 in 1994-95 will pay around £556,000 in 1995-96--a saving of £54,000.A medium pig slaughterhouse that paid £56,000 in 1994-95 will pay £39,000 in 1995-96--a saving of £16,000. A small abattoir that paid nearly £3,400 in 1994-95 will have a bill of less than £2,900 this year--a saving of just under £500.

As for Mr. Morphet, the constituent of the hon. Member for Knowsley, South, I understand that he has refused to provide the MHS with copies of his local authority invoices. It is therefore difficult to make an accurate assessment of how he has been affected by the MHS, but we believe that in his case the Meat Hygiene Service's charges are likely to be some 20 per cent. lower than he was charged by his local authority in 1994-95. If the hon. Gentleman or his constituent would like to supply me with those invoices so we can make the comparison, we would be very pleased to see them. To date, they have not been forthcoming.

There are also equally impressive savings in the poultry sector. One large plant will save around £75,000 on its 1994-95 bill of nearly £400,000 and another will save nearly £59,000 on a 1994-95 bill of more than £236,000.

We have always acknowledged the fact that, in individual cases, charges could go up under the MHS, because there was a wide disparity in charges under the local authority system. By and large, those who find themselves paying more under the MHS are those who paid well below average before. The industry in total is paying substantially less, and that is a very important point. Also, the charging policy is consistent across the country and the staffing levels on which the charges are based are being adjusted as necessary, following a

31 Jan 1996 : Column 956

thorough audit in each plant. That is the point that I made to the hon. Member for North Cornwall just now.

I hope that the House will recognise the commendable achievement of the MHS. I pay tribute to the chief executive and all his staff--especially the meat inspectors in the plants--for the energy and the commitment that they have shown in tackling their challenges. However, hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I have no intention of allowing the MHS to rest on its laurels. It has done extremely well in its first year of operation, and we shall make sure that next year's targets require the chief executive and his team to keep up that good work.

In practice, the MHS is already delivering in its first year an efficiency gain that we had expected would take more than two years to achieve. It would not be reasonable to expect another 20 per cent. from it next year, but we shall certainly keep pressure up.

Hon. Members have made comparisons between what is done now and what was done by local authorities. As the Minister responsible for dealing with BSE, I have had several meetings in the past year with my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and members of the meat trade. We have discussed some of the problems that we have encountered in slaughterhouses, including staining and disposal of specified bovine offals and the retention of small pieces of spinal cord in the vertebral column. Those problems did not come to light under local authority inspection.

The general public and the meat industry must be reassured that we now have efficient, uniform inspection carried out throughout the country. When we find a problem, we are able to deal with it by bringing forward measures such as those which we have placed before the House in the past few months. I hope that all hon. Members recognise how important it is, especially in BSE controls, that we have that professional, uniform service so that when a problem arises we identify and deal with it quickly.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, South has had much to say in his local press in the past few days, as well as in his contribution to this debate, about non-payment. If the message from new Labour is "Do not pay your bills", we take note of that. That is a rather familiar theme and I thought that it was an old Labour message. Perhaps it has been forgotten. About 90 per cent. of the MHS customer base of 1,800 businesses--that is slaughterhouses, cutting plants and cold stores--are paying their bills. Those who are not paying are giving themselves a nice little advantage over their competitors while the legal arguments are being pursued.

In the Woodspring case, the judge made it clear in his November statement that there was no reason why payment should not be made while the matter was before the European Court of Justice. In other words, some people are working the system to their commercial advantage while others in the meat industry are working to improve our export trade and build up their businesses. Those people will not carry those who have debts and nor will the British taxpayer. I will pursue those debts through the courts rigorously. I hope that the hon. Member for Knowsley, South will consider exactly what he is supporting when he suggests that people who--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We must move on.

31 Jan 1996 : Column 957

Pollution (Bexley)

12.30 pm

Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford): I am pleased to be able to raise the important issue of pollution in Bexley borough in this short debate. Pollution is an issue of increasing importance within our society and, in my borough of Bexley, it is causing growing concern. The borough is an extremely pleasant place in which to live and work, and it is certainly a privilege to represent it in Parliament. However, there are important factors at work which are causing increased levels of pollution locally and putting strains on the local environment.

I must stress that pollution is not an issue that divides people on the grounds of political affiliation. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Woolwich(Mr. Austin-Walker) in his place. Pollution is not restricted to one part of my borough or to that borough in isolation. However, Bexley's problems are greater than in neighbouring London boroughs or in Kent.

Bexley council's environmental agenda document entitled, "A framework for consultation and action" will be debated at a conference on the local environment in Bexley on 10 February. The aim of all in my constituency and across the rest of the borough is--as the document says--

There are many interesting sights in the borough to which people can come, and we welcome visitors from other parts of the country and abroad.

As one of the borough's representatives in Parliament and a resident of Crayford, I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiment contained in that document. I am determined to push hard to ensure that local pollution is reduced. Although education must be a factor, we must look to local and central Government, as well as local industry, to play leading roles. Today I am looking particularly to my friend and colleague the Minister, the hon. Member for West Hertfordshire (Mr. Jones), to take on board my concerns and to ensure that his Department plays its full part in the fight against increasing levels of pollution in my borough. We need more help in the future.

Air quality in Bexley borough has been monitored for the past 10 years. Originally, the late and certainly unlamented Greater London council and the London scientific services maintained a constant monitoring station at Crossness sewage works in the north of Bexley. That unit measured sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and ozone--in other words the major industrial and road transport air pollutants. It produced annual reports.

Bexley London borough has a monitoring station located in my constituency at Slade Green, which measures all the pollutants assessed by the old GLC station, as well as the levels of respirable dust in the air--known as PM10. Bexley's station commenced operation in 1992, and since 1994 has been affiliated to the Department of the Environment's national automatic air monitoring network. Reports are produced daily, quarterly and annually.

In addition, pollution is monitored in Bexley at a station established in Belvedere in August 1995 by Barking Power plc, to measure air pollutants that may be emitted

31 Jan 1996 : Column 958

from the combined cycle gas turbine power station in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham. I am advised that that monitoring station, established in accordance with a planning condition, will be transferred to Bexley council in 1999.

We have considerable monitoring of local air quality, and the results suggest that, although Bexley experiences air quality similar to that of other urban areas, there is an additional problem of air pollution from specific industrial sources in the east Thames valley. Our area appears to have higher levels of pollution.

The results of monitoring show that the local levels of sulphur dioxide pollution exceed reasonable standards. The Department of the Environment's panel on air quality standards has recommended a protective standard of 50 ppb measured over one hour. However, the local measurement has recorded a maximum considerably higher than that for many hours over the past year. Therefore, the level exceeds the Department's recommendation.

The reasons for that lie with the power stations and large industrial processes to the east of Bexley, over which the local council has no control. Bexley can monitor, complain and highlight, but it does not seem to have any power to take action.

It is alleged that particles in the air are responsible for the increasing number of bronchial and asthmatic illnesses in northern Bexley, particularly in Erith, Belvedere and Thamesmead. Local measurements suggest that the guideline of 50 g/m 3 of air, measured as a running 24-hour average, is frequently exceeded. A peak 24-hour running average would be 90 g/m 3 in Bexley. That is probably associated with local road transport and local power stations. In addition, local road transport, particularly the large and heavy lorries, is responsible for high levels of nitrogen dioxide, which may also exceed the guideline for air quality control set by my hon. Friend's Department.

We do not have accurate figures on this and, although I appreciate that there are statistics and statistics, there is a growing feeling within the council, among local residents, and certainly among the borough's Members of Parliament, that there is a problem. The statistics presented to me by Bexley council's environmental health department give me some cause for concern.

I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate from the figures and from my concerns that, although I do not wish to be a scaremonger, I am concerned that the levels of pollution appear to be increasing, and seem to be much higher than they should be under the Department's guidelines. I hope that the Minister will take on board the issues and concerns that I have raised.

Next Section

IndexHome Page