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Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman did not make the slightest effort to listen to what I said. I shall deal with his general points first, and then his particular points. He said that it is vital that we have proper controls in abattoirs. I entirely agree, and that is why we introduced the Meat Hygiene Service. It is true that, when practices were controlled by local authorities, they were not as good as we would wish. It is regrettable that the hon. Gentleman voted against the establishment of the Meat Hygiene Service, because it is the instrument for a national approach to the problems.

On many occasions, the hon. Gentleman referred to the document prepared by Mr. Swann in December 1995 as the final document. It was not a final report: it was not a report at all. It was a first draft requested by the editorial board, which comprised people who were all--I think--engaged in the assessment that was being carried out.

When the first draft was presented to the editorial board, the members--the professional peers of Mr. Swann--decided that the report was not satisfactory, for the reasons that they advanced, because they had

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carried out the assessment. They asked him to redraft it. He decided not to do so. I do not blame him, and I am not trying to be critical of any individuals. His peers asked him to revise it, and they thought it needed changing because it was not satisfactory. That he declined to do.

The editorial board then asked another expert, who had already prepared one of the chapters, to do the chapter on red meat. The chapter on red meat represented the considered view of the majority of the veterinary experts engaged in the assessment. That report was extensively circulated around the members of the industry to whom the matter was relevant, because they sat on the Meat Industry Forum. They had copies of the report, and discussed it on many occasions. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary discussed it and related matters on 22 occasions in 14 months.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), if he had wanted to, could have asked for a copy of the report, because it was explicitly referred to on page 18 of the annual report, which he clearly has not read. Before he speaks again on such issues, I suggest that he seriously considers what is said in advance, especially given that he had a copy of my statement in advance.

Sir John Cope (Northavon): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that all the criticisms of hygiene and practices in abattoirs disclosed in the report are, in so far as they are the responsibility of regulators, the responsibility of local authorities, which were the regulators until shortly before the report was compiled? The creation of the Meat Hygiene Service brought the practices under the purview of the national Government, and enabled all the recommendations that my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned to be put into practice to improve the abattoirs, compared to their standards when they were run by the local authorities.

Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend is wholly right about that. There is no doubt that the control of abattoirs and slaughterhouses, when it was conducted by local authorities, was not as uniform in its application as one would have wished. The desire for national, uniform standards was the reason why the Government introduced the Meat Hygiene Service, which was wrongly opposed by the Opposition parties. The final condensed report that was given to the industry was part of the process whereby the Meat Hygiene Service assessed the nature of the problem with a view to driving up standards. That is exactly what is happening. That is a positive tribute to the Meat Hygiene Service and to the Government who set it up, and a positive condemnation of those who opposed its setting up.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): First, I sincerely commiserate with the Minister on his injury. Would he like to take this opportunity to dispel the wicked media rumour that he shot himself in the foot?

Does the Minister agree that the central issue is not whether the report was published in full, but whether its trenchant recommendations have been implemented in full? May I refer him to the particular replies given by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a few moments ago? He said that the recommendations were drawn to the attention of all those who had an "operational need" to be aware of them. He then went on to say that they were drawn to the attention of all those who "needed to take action".

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Why, in those circumstances, did Professor Pennington tell us this morning in terms that he was not aware of the report or its recommendations, and that he had no knowledge that there were any recommendations at all which were relevant to his inquiry into the E. coli outbreak?

Mr. Hogg: Professor Pennington has indeed said that he himself did not see the final report. It is, however, clear from our inquiries that the group was aware of the exercise being undertaken by the Meat Hygiene Service.

With regard to the implementation of the recommendations, a number of activities have gone on in parallel. Perhaps the most important is that, when the meat hygiene advice teams visited each plant, they prepared a plant report which was additional to and different from the other documentation that we have been discussing. Each plant report was discussed, where discussion was necessary, with the plant operators, so it formed the basis of an operation plan within that particular plant. A copy was also sent to the regional managers of the Meat Hygiene Service. Therefore, specific plants were dealt with on a plant-by-plant basis as a result of the assessment.

More general lessons were also learned, and discussed with the industry through the forum, which had the final report in front of it and discussed it on many occasions. Hon. Members have been asking for a national policy to ensure that clean livestock enters abattoirs. That is why we set up the Meat Hygiene Service. It has insisted on that policy through its in-plant controls. This general document, which will be attached to the operators' manual, will be published shortly, and will add to the documentation available.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): Has my right hon. and learned Friend thought about the policy of transporting animals substantial distances to the larger abattoirs, which means that they often arrive much dirtier than when they went to the little local abattoir, when the farmer had already hosed them down? Will he consider the policy of closing all our small abattoirs, because at least outbreaks there do not travel over such a wide geographical area?

Mr. Hogg: I am afraid that I cannot entirely agree with my hon. Friend, because part of the policy of driving up standards in this area has been to ensure that abattoirs and slaughterhouses comply with the rules, and a number of those to which my hon. Friend refers did not comply with the rules, and that is why they were closed down. They did not provide the kind of standards that the Meat Hygiene Service wished to see in our abattoirs and slaughterhouses.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South): Does the Minister understand that there is a difference between Professor Pennington's team knowing that the work was going on--

Hon. Members: Sit down.

Madam Speaker: Order. The Minister has my permission to stand at the Dispatch Box. I hope that he

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will not be kept there too long, and that questions will be short and to the point. I know that he will give short answers.

Dr. Bray: Is the Minister aware that there is a difference between Professor Pennington's team knowing that the work was going on, and his being sent a copy of the final report and recommendations? Is he further aware that Dr. Ahmed, the consultant in public health medicine in charge of the outbreak control team dealing with the E. coli outbreak in my constituency, has widely been giving the advice that it must be assumed that 20 per cent. of the fresh beef sold in Scotland today is contaminated with E. coli? What action has been taken on the report?

Mr. Hogg: It is for the chairman of any inquiry or review team to determine the evidence that the team wants to receive. It is for him to determine the lines of inquiry that he wishes to pursue. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has always been ready to provide any information, evidence or material to the group. Indeed, I think that a specific offer was made by the veterinary service. Moreover, a member of the ownership group of the Meat Hygiene Service is on the Pennington group, so it is clear that the group was perfectly well aware of what was going on--the report and the fact of the review. It is for Professor Pennington to call for material that he deems relevant to his inquiry, and we would be happy to respond.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Is not the issue at stake the following: it is extremely unlikely that, had we not created the Meat Hygiene Service, a report of that nature could ever have been prepared, because there was no mechanism at a national level for local authority-supervised abattoirs to be required to carry out such hygiene checks? As for independence, can the Minister assure me that all meat hygiene inspectors are qualified veterinary surgeons, and are being properly briefed on what needs to be done to ensure that there is no outbreak of E. coli in any of our local abattoirs, where none has taken place thus far?

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