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Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): On several occasions, the Minister has mentioned page 18, paragraph 4 of the Meat Hygiene Service report. Will he confirm that that survey makes no reference to the report under discussion--either the draft report or the subsequent report--and talks merely about a "national review" taking place? That review could presumably have led to a report later. If that is to be interpreted as a report, why are Opposition Members guilty of not having read the report, when Ministers are held to be innocent for not having seen it or had it presented to them?

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Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman has not done me justice. I said in the statement that the fact--only the fact--of the review was explicitly referred to on page 18 of the annual report.

Mr. Tony Banks: We have all got it.

Mr. Hogg: I am glad that everyone has it. The hon. Gentleman should read it. In case he cannot understand it, I shall read some of it for him. Paragraph 4 on page 18 says:

the point that I made to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)--

    "standards and inspection processes at all licensed premises throughout Great Britain. This national review provided the first comprehensive benchmarking of standards and practices within the fresh meat industry"--

and it goes on. I have never heard of a review that does not generate a document.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): Have there been any prosecutions as a result of the report? I believe that there have. If so, is that not evidence of its great value in driving up standards as my right hon. and learned Friend said, and would not reports of such prosecutions have provided an opportunity for the Opposition and anyone else to pick up information about the report? Should not Professor Pennington have done that also?

Mr. Hogg: The report and the process have indeed driven up standards; that is plain from the report that was discussed by the industry forum. I do not know the number of prosecutions offhand, so I shall write to my hon. Friend. I can tell him, however, that I have told the chief executive of the Meat Hygiene Service that, if the facts justify it, he must not hesitate to prosecute.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): Will the Minister tell us clearly when he read the annual report of the Meat Hygiene Service, a copy of which was placed in the Library before the last summer vacation? Why, when he read it, did he not call for a copy of that damning report? He cannot have it both ways: he cannot argue that Opposition Members should have asked for the report when he himself never asked for it.

Mr. Hogg: I have already made the position plain. Ministers are responsible for policy. In this class of case, the implementation of policy is the responsibility of the Meat Hygiene Service. I am absolutely confident in the quality of that service and in the competence of its chief executive. I am happy to leave to him the responsibility for implementation, which is a role imposed on him by Parliament.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that some people in the west midlands and Staffordshire--the owners of abattoirs that have had to close or have had to have a great deal of money spent on them to bring them up to the standards required by the Meat Hygiene Service--will be pretty sick of this debate? They will know that Her Majesty's inspectors went in and made such closures as

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a result of that review. Is it not further the case that, if it had been left to the Labour party, there would have been no Meat Hygiene Service and no review?

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is true that, if it had been left to the Labour party, we would have had no Meat Hygiene Service, no report, no review, no discussion, and standards would not have been driven up. It is also true--there is a certain irony here--that most of the complaints that I have received are not about low standards and so forth, but about closing small abattoirs because of the higher standards. The plain truth is that we are driving standards up, and, as a consequence, some small abattoirs have been closed.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): The charge, surely, is that the annual report of the Meat Hygiene Service, which was published in June last year, gave no warning--least of all to people who, like me, are interested in the matter--that there was anything so bad in our slaughterhouses. I have read the Swann report, and it makes chilling reading. The Minister said that the purpose of the report was to establish benchmarks in the slaughterhouse industry. How many slaughterhouses were not up to standard in December 1995, and how many in March 1996, when the BSE crisis broke? He should have the figures at his fingertips.

Mr. Hogg: The review process had three purposes: first, to establish benchmarking and to take an overview of the state of the industry, which had previously been in the hands of the local authorities; secondly, to determine the allocation of resources; and thirdly, to drive up standards, both nationally through national practices, and on a plant basis, by on-plant discussion with the plant operator, based on the plant report. There is no doubt that the effect of that process has been greatly to improve standards.

If the Labour party had had its way, this business would still be in the hands of the local authorities; we would not be having this discussion; standards would be as they were when they were in the control of local authorities; and we would all be much worse off.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark): Is it not regrettable that some people are willing to use food scares to embarrass the Government, and, in doing so, unnecessarily alarm members of the public? Was there not a typical example of that this afternoon, when the Leader of the Opposition stirred it for all he was worth but did not even stay to hear the facts from my right hon. and learned Friend?

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. The Leader of the Opposition asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister three questions on the report and then walked out, even though he knew that a statement was coming. If he was seriously interested in the matter, and not merely trying to make cheap political capital, he would have listened to the facts. He did not, and the country will judge him accordingly.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Can I tell the Minister that the Leader of the Opposition is one of the few Members who has read the whole report? The Minister has all his Ministers with him. Did any Minister

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or civil servant issue an instruction, write a letter or send a memo to anyone suggesting that this report be given only limited circulation because of the danger of it generating concern among the British public?

Mr. Hogg: I had hoped that, by explaining the process, I would have answered questions such as this. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] Mr. Swann carried out, along with others, assessments of abattoirs. He was asked by the editorial board, which comprised his peers, to produce a first report. That editorial board found, in its professional judgment, that the draft report was unsatisfactory. It asked him to make changes; he declined. At that point, it commissioned another expert, who was also involved in the assessment--he had done the poultry section--to do the red meat section, and that he did. The report that emerged and that was subsequently circulated to the industry represents the majority view of the veterinary experts who carried out the review, and no other.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): May I ask a troubling constituency question? West Lothian council and I endlessly, over three years, wrote to and met Scottish Office officials about the outbreak at Redhouse dairy in Blackburn in my constituency, which was the first E. coli 0157 outbreak in recent times. Are we to understand that neither the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), nor the Earl of Lindsay, the Minister responsible for agriculture, nor the Secretary of State for Scotland was alerted to the report?

When my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) asked, very properly, about the figure of £1 million, the Parliamentary Secretary shook her head. What were the costs of the report, and why was it not brought to the attention of Scottish Office Ministers, who were faced on a day-to-day basis with the entreaties of West Lothian council and others who were affected?

Mr. Hogg: The cost, speaking off the cuff, was not £1 million. I think that it was £454,000, but if I am wrong, I apologise, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman. On the report's availability, the final report--the one that was circulated to the industry--was made available to all concerned, including the Scottish Office.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Am I right in saying that, when the Minister placed the document to which he referred in the House of Commons Library, he assumed that there was another document associated with it? Is he telling the House that that is what the paragraph to which he referred means? Does he ever ask for such documents to be brought to his attention, or has he published a paragraph in that report which he did not understand? Is that not an indictment of him?

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