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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-76)



  60. Do you need another ten officers or another one thousand officers?
  (Mr Jukes) We need it to be incrementally linked to the trade. This is, as I indicated before in my previous answers, a huge business and you need a huge amount of resources to actually deal with it. That could be obtained through import duty-type tariffs.

  61. We do not really know the size of the trade, otherwise we would be able to stop it. By the very nature that it is smuggled we do not know it is coming into the country. Has anybody tried to quantify the number of officers that you need? What is the strength at the present time and the strength you need?
  (Mr Brockway) The first thing you must understand is that seaports and airports these days operate seven days a week, 365 days a year, excluding Christmas. So you need shift patterns to service airports and seaports to do the job properly. Felixstowe has got 22 full-time employments with 2.2 million containers to come through the port—in and out—every year. You do need to try and link the officers to the throughput. I cannot speak for Heathrow but certainly you do need to build in sufficient staff. Everybody wants training, everybody is entitled to leave, so you need sufficient core staff to control this type of operation in ports. The present situation is that we have not got enough staff to implement these new regulations.

  62. What percentage increase do you need over what you have got now?
  (Mr Jukes) I cannot answer that. We can investigate that as we offered to the Chairman earlier and come back to you on that if you are after a crude estimate as to what we believe are the resources required.

  Chairman: That would be helpful, because you have already promised you will give us an idea of the scale of the problem. If you could link that with the additional resource, that would be very helpful.

Mr Martlew

  63. The other issue, which I think has been mentioned a number of times already, is this right to search. You say you do search, as a norm, vegetable products coming in and going out—I think 3 per cent of them, you said. What would be the commercial effect of actually stopping these products—and I was thinking, for example, of flowers or whatever? What would be the commercial problems that your policy would create? What would the industry think of this?
  (Mr Brockway) The industry, generally speaking, would be happy if it is consistently enforced; so they would know that if they brought flowers or apples or cheese into any of the UK ports they would have consistent enforcement policy. Obviously, if a container is delayed then it is a factor for them because there is an on-cost. If the port is only operating five days a week and an importer brings flowers in on a Friday, quite clearly he is going to have to wait until Monday before anybody starts looking. So, again, it comes back to operating proper, comprehensive control systems at the ports that are consistent. Importers want their goods, they want to be treated equally, no matter where they bring in the product, and unless you have guidance from the central authority you cannot get consistent enforcement.


  64. On a slightly different point: the more searches you make the more delays are going to occur. What are food importers or airlines going to say about that?
  (Mr Brockway) Certainly airlines are more sensitive than seaports because at seaports, generally, containers are not discharged for several days, so there is less of an issue there. The airlines would be more sensitive.

Mr Drew

  65. Can I just be clear. What is the maximum penalty that can be imposed on someone who is a recognised illegal trader? Can they, by their very nature of being convicted, then be turned over, or are they basically just able to get away with this time after time?
  (Mr Zar) In the magistrates' court it is a statutory maximum fine of 5,000 and/or three months' imprisonment. If taken to the crown court it is an unlimited fine or two years' imprisonment.
  (Mr Jukes) Regulation 58.[1]

  66. That is it. So if they are dealing in potentially millions, these people could be serial offenders.
  (Mr Zar) It may be somebody else who is paying the penalty—a courier.

Mr Curry

  67. Clearly it is impossible to investigate and check everything coming in. You would argue at the moment that the rate is nowhere near high enough. What would be a hit rate, as it were, of checks on the different categories of imports which would enable you to turn round, let us say, to DEFRA and say "We believe we have now got a sufficient rate to give us reasonable certainty that we are acting as a deterrent to the trade and catching a significant part of it"?
  (Mr Brockway) That is a very difficult question to answer, but I think if you are looking at the vegetable products that are coming in from third countries, it is a question of risk assessing. You do have professional people with many years' experience who are able to give quite detailed knowledge to risk-assessing products coming in — and from where they are coming. Frankly, we do not want to grind all ports and airports to a halt but you need sound risk assessment, internet communication, and the like. We get quite a lot of information from the other Member States as to what is going on there in relation to rejections through e-mails. My in-tray is fairly full of those.
  (Mr Jukes) Chairman, I will come back to you again on that one. I will consult my colleagues. If you are after a guesstimate we will give that to you.

Diana Organ

  68. I wonder if you could just clarify a point. You are saying that the new regulations that were brought into effect on 22 May, yes? I am going from your memorandum to us, dated May 2002, where you said that one of the problems was that the EU Directive is not there. Are all the elements of that EU Directive in those new regulations?
  (Mr Brockway) Yes.

  69. Are those regulations put in place across the EU?
  (Mr Brockway) They have to be.

  70. But you said they are not in Scotland or Wales, at one point.
  (Mr Jukes) Or Northern Ireland. These regulations apply only to England.

  71. So if Scotland, Ireland and Wales do not have them, is there anyone else in the EU that does not have them?
  (Mr Jukes) Most possibly.

Mr Todd

  72. There would not be a lot of point in giving port authorities any more money to deal with the regulations unless you ring-fenced that money because it would be raided pretty rapidly by your authorities for other purposes, unless there were organisational change. Would you agree? You have, presumably, asked for extra money? There seems to be a pretty fundamental problem about getting it.
  (Mr Brockway) Yes.


  73. We are very grateful to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health for coming. You have promised us some further information, and that is most helpful. Can you just clarify this for me, because this is a new thing that has come out of the evidence today: I think what you are telling us, Graham, is that substantial amounts—way above personal limits—are being brought in on a regular and consistent basis and that there are organised networks beyond that to distribute the illegal meat.
  (Mr Jukes) That is what we believe, Chairman.

  74. Thank you. Would the police be able to help?
  (Mr Jukes) The police are helping us, and there is a court case tomorrow on Australian smokies.
  (Mr Zar) Which is goat with skin on, which is smoked and singed. Goat meat. In London restaurants people are actually selling spiced cobra meat, rattlesnakes, zebra meat.

Diana Organ

  75. And that is just Gary Rhodes!
  (Mr Zar) If I can just add to that. I think, so far, the risk assessment is dealing with animal health issues. Nobody has yet touched on the potential time-bomb issue about the public health problem: the ebola virus or monkey pox—that sort of thing. I think human health should be in the remit of that risk assessment.


  76. That is an important point, and before my colleagues start asking for recipes I think we will conclude. Thank you for the evidence you have given us.
  (Mr Jukes) Thank you.


1   Note by witness: Products of Animal Origin (Third Country Imports) (England) Regulations 2002. Back

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