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Meat Imports

9. Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): If she will make a statement on the progress her Department has made in reforming the regulations governing meat imports. [29545]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Controls on the import of meat into the United Kingdom from non-EU countries are covered by EU legislation. In the light of the foot and mouth outbreak, we have strengthened the enforcement powers of local authorities in respect of meat that could not have been imported legally, but is found on sale in the UK. We have also taken a number of steps, working with other Departments involved, to improve our ability to prevent and detect illegal imports. We are continuing to keep all measures under review, and are developing other options for further action.

Alistair Burt: Is the right hon. Lady aware of a case about which I have written to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in the context of his responsibility for Customs, concerning my constituent Sue Parke, who travelled from Gatwick on 14 September, three days after the New York outrage? She observed a man—who had reached the train untroubled by Customs—loading some eight 4 ft-square containers into the passenger carriage. She wrote to me

My constituent asks me, and I ask the right hon. Lady, why—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Secretary of State can answer the question now.

Alistair Burt rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. I told the hon. Gentleman that he had finished asking his question; he must sit down.

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) knows that we are a trading nation. We export and we also allow imports, which must be properly controlled and handled according to the rules. I shall certainly see whether we can discover any information, and should be grateful if he would let us have as much detail as possible about his constituent's case, which seems extraordinary. While we encourage the speedy and effective detection and pursuit of such issues, I must admit that, at first glance, such a case appears inexplicable.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): When I held a joint consultation with the Women's Farming and Food Union, it raised this issue. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) is asking why, when millions

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of us pass in and out of the country, we never see any evidence that the Government think that this is a serious issue.

Margaret Beckett: I share my hon. Friend's view that we do not have sufficiently effective publicity—but there is work in hand—to highlight the issue to people as they land in the UK. British travellers would not come into contact with this, but when people make arrangements to come to the UK, they are given advice and information about what is, and is not, legal by travel agents and, for those who require visas, by consulates and embassies; they are told firmly what they are, and are not, allowed to do by those outlets. I share my hon. Friend's view that more should be done as people arrive at the port of entry, and we are working on that.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): This afternoon, two Ministers have warned that we need to be on our guard against future outbreaks of foot and mouth. Does not the biggest single risk of another outbreak of foot and mouth come from the fact that we could import it again, simply because our import controls are slack?

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) raised a constituency case, but the right hon. Lady should know about recent reports that on one flight arriving at Gatwick airport from Africa, 110 people were found to be carrying illegal imports. That was a spot check. How many imports are coming in that are not found? There are reports of suitcases dripping with blood and covered with maggots or packed with bush rats, antelope meat and monkeys. Who on earth eats that stuff, I cannot imagine. When will the Government begin to take the issue seriously? Is it not the case that as things stand, we could re-import foot and mouth again tomorrow?

Margaret Beckett: It is not the case that our import controls are lax—[Interruption.] Let me remind Opposition Members that we have strengthened the import controls that we inherited from them. Our import control procedures have been in existence for many years. I take the hon. Gentleman's point; all of us are dismayed when we read the stories about the amount of meat that some individuals bring in. However, the reason why he knows about those stories—[Interruption.] He says that there should not be any, but people are allowed to bring in such material under European Union rules.

I have raised the issue with the relevant Commissioner, and pressed him to look again at that aspect of the rules. The reason why the hon. Gentleman can cite such cases is that the meat has been identified, detected and found. Many of the stories that are used to create concern and alarm are evidence of the effectiveness of our import controls.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): The Secretary of State made it clear that she has already strengthened controls, but needs to do more. However, any campaign on import controls could lose an important focus if it does not heed

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the lesson of the foot and mouth crisis that we need strong biosecurity measures in our own country. Any campaign that does not recognise that will fail.

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is correct. We cannot afford to neglect any aspect of preventing such disease or its spread. He is right to identify that point, however the foot and mouth outbreak started; we do not yet know, and perhaps will never be absolutely certain how it began. It could have been caused by an import that had come into the country via another member state, but however it came here, biosecurity issues, farming practices, movement of animals and so on are all matters that must be handled and are part of prevention and control.

Cod Stocks

10. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): If she will make an assessment of the impact of conservation measures for cod stocks in (a) Icelandic and Norwegian waters and (b) waters under the aegis of the EU common fisheries policy. [29546]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): Assessment of cod stocks in Icelandic and Norwegian waters is a matter for those Governments. The package of technical measures for rebuilding certain cod stocks in EU waters that came into operation on 1 January 2002 is designed to make a contribution to bringing stocks back to within safe biological limits, but it will be some time before fisheries scientists will be able to assess the results.

Mr. Wilkinson: Is not the assessment of cod stocks in Icelandic and Norwegian waters essential for proper evaluation of the total potential catch of Atlantic cod? Is it not a fact that the common fisheries policy has been an economic and ecological disaster of the first magnitude? If we were a free independent country and conserved our stocks as well as the Norwegians and Icelanders do, the cod stocks in the north Atlantic would not be under such threat.

Mr. Morley: Both Norway and Iceland have had their problems with fisheries management and indeed with fisheries conservation. I might remind the hon. Gentleman that this country managed to wipe out its herring stocks before it joined the common fisheries policy. Although the CFP of course has its failings and weaknesses, which we want to address from the UK, whatever the arguments about it, we must have a Europe-wide fisheries conservation measure. That is essential. We must also have such co-operation on the international front in relation to fish conservation.

Mr. Speaker: Before I call business questions, may I indicate that I am extremely disappointed that we have reached only Question 10 on the Order Paper? The House can co-operate by making sure that we have only brief questions and, of course, brief replies.

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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): May I ask the Leader of the House for the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I shall be as brief as possible, Mr. Speaker.

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 4 February—Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Failure of the Government to Negotiate a Bilateral Agreement on Asylum with France" followed by a debate entitled "Failures of the Government's Pensions Plans". Both debates will arise on a Government motion, or rather an Opposition one—[Laughter.] We might table a Government amendment, it has to be admitted.

Tuesday 5 February—Progress on remaining stages of the Education Bill.

Wednesday 6 February—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Education Bill.

Thursday 7 February—Remaining stages of the Tax Credits Bill.

Friday 8 February—Debate on Government measures to regenerate disadvantaged areas on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 11 February—Remaining stages of the Land Registration Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 12 February—Remaining stages of the Employment Bill.

Wednesday 13 February—Remaining stages of the British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords].

Thursday 14 February—Debate on Defence Policy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 15 February—The House will not be sitting.

The right hon. Gentleman raised with me last week the future of the St. David's day debate. I am pleased to respond to him and announce that there will be a Welsh debate on 28 February, which is as near as I can get it to St. David's day.

The House will also wish to be reminded that, as the Chancellor has already announced, the Budget will take place on Wednesday 17 April.

On Tuesday 12 February, there will be a debate relating to the fight against fraud in European Standing Committee B, and on Wednesday 13 February, there will be a debate relating to the equal treatment directive in European Standing Committee B.

[Tuesday 12 February 2002:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Union documents: 9208/01, Protecting the Communities' Financial Interests—the fight against fraud; Commission's Twelfth Annual Report 2000; 9207/01, Protecting the Communities' Financial Interests—the fight against fraud; Action Plan for 2001-2003; Unnumbered Document, Court of Auditors' annual Report 2000. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 152-xii, (2001-02).

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Wednesday 13 February:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Union document: 14492/01, Commission Opinion on the European Parliament's amendments to the Council's common position regarding the draft Directive amending the 1976 Equal Treatment Directive. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 152-xii (2001-02).]

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