Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



Diana Organ

  40. Do other EU Member States allow one kilogram of bush meat to be . . . It is standard? Everybody allows this?
  (Mr Jukes) Yes. That is one of the problems. If you stop it like they do in Australia, New Zealand and the States then you prevent this confusion. You will not prevent the smuggling but you will prevent the confusion that genuine travellers may have, and the people who are bringing in these things may regard themselves as genuine travellers. I do not know.

Mr Todd

  41. In your knowledge of other countries' operations, are there any other countries that choose our model, the typically English model, of engaging a large number of different agencies—public health and port authorities—which are funded according to the will of their local councils to different levels, with a rather sort of higgledy-piggledy approach to this? Does anyone else do it the same way as us?
  (Mr Brockway) As I intimated earlier on, I have little knowledge of what actually goes on.

  42. Not even the organisational framework? I am not questioning how effective they are.
  (Mr Brockway) They tend to be more centralised, I understand, than ours.

  Mr Todd: One might imagine so.

Mr Simpson

  43. In your presentation you very strongly flagged up what you think is the requirement for stop and search. In the Government's action plan they said that more powers would be given, similar to Customs & Excise. Have these powers been delivered yet?
  (Mr Jukes) The legislation is, as my colleague has indicated, on the statute book for England only. That contains new powers which we welcome in relation to search, but they do not include powers to stop. We are concerned that without the power of stop the power of search is considerably weakened.

  44. What has been the response of the Government to, on the one hand, the welcome part of what you want but not the second part? Are they minded to take note of that?
  (Mr Jukes) They have passed the legislation without that power, and we commented, as indeed other authorities commented, at the consultation stage of that going through.

  45. Did they give any reason why they were not going to allow you to do that?
  (Mr Jukes) I think there has been some suggestion of compliance with human rights' legislation, but my knowledge as to why they have not included those stop powers is vague.

  46. You think it is more that than inter-agency rivalry; that other agencies which do have powers of stop and search are not prepared to see you have similar powers?
  (Mr Jukes) I could not possibly comment on that, but I think there may be an issue there in relation to resources, and that if you are going to give these powers to local authorities and to port health authorities to actually do something about the trade that we have described, then you need to have adequate resources applied to it. I suspect there is, as in all government legislation, a clause at the back saying "This legislation is brought in with no impact on the public purse", or whatever. There does not appear to be a concomitant will to actually police and put this legislation into real positive form because of the resource implications for it. Of course, the issue for local authorities, because we can speak outside the local authorities, is that many local authorities will argue for non-ring-fencing of financing, on which we, as a profession, again, have an opposite view; we believe we should ring-fence central Government funds for central Government purposes. We believe port health is one of those issues which should be properly financed, properly resourced—possibly through a tax on individual people coming in to the country. One pound per person coming through to Heathrow Airport would net 64 million a year, which you could apply directly to increased enforcement at the ports. You could share that, if you applied that to Manchester and other parts of the country and to the seaports of entry, and have a significant amount of resource to actually (excuse the pun) "beef up" our activity in relation to illegal imports in this area.

  47. You have flagged up your concerns about the legal path, you have flagged up your concerns about resources. Can I finally say to you—and you may feel it is not your place to comment on this—but as people involved in the front line, do you think that there is a clear machinery with a clear lead government department which allows action to be taken against illegal meat imports, or do you feel—as I do now, having talked to people and having seen the evidence that has been given—that it is chaotic, to say the least?
  (Mr Jukes) Chairman, we have argued in our submission and in my very brief presentation earlier on that we believe there should be a single, central agency to deal with the co-ordination and messaging and the resource allocation of our ports throughout the country. We work very, very closely with the Food Standards Agency. The Food Standards Agency have mechanisms of contact and networking within my profession, within local authorities, within LACORS, within a whole host of different bodies. We believe that they, in partnership, with DEFRA should actually create a separate agency dealing with this particular issue.

Mr Curry

  48. It may be that I am particularly dim under the influence of hay fever, but looking at your dossier here and the article on the first page by Mr Will Hatchett, he says that smuggling can carry fines of up to 5,000 or a prison sentence under the Products of Animal Origin regulations, although it is not an arrestable offence. How do people get fined or go to prison if they have not been arrested? There is clearly a link here which I have not got hold of. Can you talk me through that? It is not an arrestable offence?
  (Mr Zar) It is not. Under the Food Safety Act all of the offences are not arrestable offences.

  49. How do people end up in prison, if they cannot be arrested?
  (Mr Zar) They get tried first. They get charged.

  50. Presumably you have got to be arrested to be charged.
  (Mr Zar) No, you do not have to.

  51. Is this a problem?
  (Mr Zar) That is a problem. Somebody is coming into this country, they are not resident in this country, how do you actually charge them? That is a problem.

  52. Is there a deficiency in the law to be put right here?
  (Mr Zar) The majority of food law is written that way. There is not any power of arrest.


  53. What Mr Curry is getting at is that if a visitor is coming into this country, he is apprehended and not arrested, he is going to "do a runner" as they say round my way. Presumably a lot of people do a runner?
  (Mr Zar) Yes, but there is not an effective deterrent there. I know that in the new legislation the power of imprisonment is only three months, which is less than the Food Safety Act. So if somebody wants to flout the law they will probably flout it under this regulation because they know they are not going to get the maximum sentence.
  (Mr Jukes) Can I suggest, Chairman, that that is probably a better question to ask lawyers and legal advisers than ourselves.

Mr Martlew

  54. I am a little puzzled on various issues. Firstly, you are really saying that once the meat gets in the country then it is lost; none of your inspectors pick it up in the markets, nobody else gets involved, it just disappears?
  (Mr Jukes) Yes, that is what we are saying.

  55. The question then must be why?
  (Mrs Morris) I think it does get picked up occasionally. Shaheen has more experience of this so perhaps I should pass over to him.
  (Mr Zar) We do pick up some of the meat, or bush meat. You have to understand that under the Food Safety legislation food businesses have to register with the local authority and they, consequently, get inspected according to the risk category. However, these people do not register. I think the last time somebody got prosecuted and was imprisoned for selling monkeys etc they were actually operating from a record shop. We know people who have operated from mini-cab shops or from their own homes. So we do not know. They are very, very resourceful people. They tend to actually sell from the places where they know local authority resources are scarce and they (enforcement officers) are not likely to come to the market on Saturdays and Sundays.

Mr Simpson

  56. In all the written evidence that has been produced, both the Government and many of the agencies talk about a risk assessment. Risk assessment is obviously based upon intelligence. Obviously you can have very good intelligence but in some ways you could actually run a fairly cost-effective organisation. We know that with drugs and other areas. Who co-ordinates the intelligence on illegal meat imports? Is there some form of central intelligence agency? This is what, in Norfolk, we call a rhetorical question! Or is it very much a sort of "come as you are" system?
  (Mr Jukes) I think it is getting better. The Food Standards Agency has only been in place for a few years and they are working very hard. In fact, many of my members are senior members of that agency and they are working very hard to try and co-ordinate activities. Another organisation, formerly known as LACOTS, now LACORS, is also assisting in the networking between local authorities on information and information gathering. My own organisation provides information to our members, to local authorities and to the general public on issues, so the networking is getting better. Unfortunately, there is not a central, co-ordinating point that ought to be disseminating that in a cohesive fashion. I think that is the point that I hope you are trying to tease out of me. No, there is not a central body and there should be a central body to assist those people who are actually networking very well at the moment but in a bit of a vacuum.

Mr Martlew

  57. Just following on, to some extent, Mr Simpson's question, we find it impossible to stop the illegal import of drugs—the price of heroin is the lowest it has ever been. What makes you think you can make a major difference without intelligence on the import of illegal meats?
  (Mr Jukes) If I can answer that in a slightly round-about fashion, with narcotics smuggling there is a considerable penalty which makes it difficult and, perhaps, dangerous for drug smugglers to bring their material into the country. However, that is lucrative and they continue to do it. In meat smuggling there are no penalties whatsoever in terms of getting this stuff through and getting it into the market place. There is less danger for the individuals who are carrying out this activity. It seems to us that if you increase both the penalties and the networks that deal with it, in line with the amount of money that is being made in this area,then you would prevent a lot of it coming into this country, because it would then be more difficult for the traffickers to do it.

  58. What further legal powers do you think that your members need to control this? Obviously you are saying you need tougher sentencing, but what else as well?
  (Mr Jukes) As I indicated earlier, we need that central body for co-ordination. We need the legislation that we have currently got to include stop powers. We believe, certainly from the work we have done with our members, that is an important step. We also believe that there need to be appropriate penalties applied in order to put people off. Other than that we believe the legislation is generally workable. As I said before, we welcome it as another piece in the armoury to actually deal with some of this material.
  (Mr Brockway) I think, as the new regulations came out on 22 May and the ports and airports were asked to implement them on 23 May without any guidance, this is a key factor. We do need proper guidance in relation to legislation that we are required to enforce. As I speak today, there will be another meeting this week, a seminar arranged by DEFRA, to enable enforcement officers to know how to enforce the regulations. It does seem to me that we do need proper guidance so that we are consistent in our enforcement in the UK.

  59. Say Parliament gives you the new powers that you need. Is that a solution or will you need more resources?
  (Mr Jukes) You need more resources to put it into place.


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