Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-250)
TUESDAY 2 JULY 2002
240. Have you prepared a rebuttal and response
(Lord Whitty) It is not a rebuttal. We are engaging
in constructive dialogue with the Commission and giving them our
241. Diplomatic language anyway?
(Lord Whitty) Yes. They did not say that there was
any indication that products which would have failed the checks
were actually being let through, which is, in a sense, the important
242. Let me ask you a hypothetical question.
Let us say that the foot and mouth outbreak and the classical
swine fever outbreak all happened in a different country, not
in the UK, that for a generation we had had completely free movement
and very little in the way of checks and we had no problem. The
Prime Minister says to you, "I've just come back from so-and-so
and panic in case it could happen in Britain. I would like you,
Lord Whitty, to go away and come up with a scheme to provide an
effective monitoring of these imports, starting absolutely from
scratch." Do you imagine that the scheme you would recommend
would be anything like the structure which now exists and which
is described in your memorandum?
(Lord Whitty) I think that if the Prime Minister were
to tell me that this is number one border security priority, then
the answer would clearly be no; we would start from, if you like,
the creation of a single agency, making sure that was a top priority
and that their visibility, rather than that of the customs, or
the police or the airport authorities, meant they were the key
people at the ports and airports. But at our borders we face a
lot of threats, you need different agencies to deal with the range
of threats, and some of their responsibilities will inevitably
overlap. I know the Americans are now proposing to create one
huge agency virtually dealing with absolutely every threat to
the homeland that is conceivable and giving it a merging vast
budget, but I do not think that that is the appropriate way forward.
We do have to recognise that there are overlaps of priority, some
of which will be greater at some times than others. I think one
of the complications, for example, of our pursuing this threat
was that in the middle of our assessments September 11 occurred
and there was another whole range of things that we had to deal
with, rightly, at that point and probably continuously, with greater
priority than we might have wished for on the food side. So I
think your hypothetical question is extremely hypothetical. If
this were the only issue, I could devise quite a clear structure
and clear regulations and legal powers, but it is not the only
243. Do you think, then, that your overview
is that there is a case for the Prime Minister saying to somebody,
"Well this isn't the only problem, there's a question of
drugs and there are the other issues. Perhaps we ought to start
looking at a more effective co-ordination, perhaps sharing information
there"? Is there not a danger that we are setting up different
mechanisms all doing the same sort of analogous things in the
(Lord Whitty) Yes, I do think so. That is why, as
I say, the question of co-ordination has to be broader than this
particular objective. It has to be broader to cover all food threats,
and it also has to be broader so that it fits in or certainly
does not undermine the effectiveness of other forms of border
control. One other point I would like to make to the Prime Minister,
were he to present me with such a challenge, would be that we
are a member of the European Union and the Single Market, and
we would need to co-ordinate this with 15 and probably 25 States.
244. I can envisage that we will have a set
of kennels at Heathrowthe kennels for the drugs dogs, the
kennels for the food dogs and the kennels for the firearms dogsand
they will all be fed by different people, on different diets.
Do you think that the British have a particular talent for making
(Lord Whitty) As far as the kennels are concerned,
essentially we already do have that. Customs have kennels at Heathrow,
some of which are for drug sniffers and some of which are for
explosive sniffers. We will have our sniffer dogs there who will
be the meat sniffers. No doubt the kennels will look very similar,
but they will be for different purposes and for all sorts of different
Mr Simpson: Will there be one vet?
245. We are going to stop our sniffing soon,
but before we doyou have been very generous with your timeI
would like to talk to you a little bit about resources. The Department
used the conceptthe Department being the overarching bodythat,
as you acknowledged earlier on, a lot of the enforcement work
is done by other people, particularly local authority Port Health
Authorities. In a sense, I think I am right in saying that they
are funded for legal imports because there is a charging mechanism,
is that right?
(Lord Whitty) Yes.
246. A persistent claim is, "This is an
issue that has a higher political profile. We're doing work on
it and, in effect, we're not funded to do it." Is there some
strength in that argument?
(Lord Whitty) I do not suppose you have many Ministers
before you who say they do not need more resources. Certainly
in this area there is a resource issue. The dimensions of the
resource issue and which agency needs the resources I think will
be better informed once we have completed the exercise both on
the jurisdictional side and the risk assessment side, but my guess
is that we would need more resources to make this fully effective.
We have, as you would expect, raised these issues with the Treasury
in the normal way and are in discussions both with them and with
the other agencies involved in this area.
247. Port Health Authorities are locally funded
by the local council taxpayers. In a sense, these are national
and international issues, and there is an argument to say that
perhaps there ought to be a different funding mechanism to compensate
for that, is there not?
(Lord Whitty) There is. The local authority personnel
are funded partly by the local taxpayers and mainly, as you said
earlier, by the charges on importers. There is an argument for
saying that that would be better funded nationally. Whether to
say it needs better funding nationally means that you then create
a national agency, rather than go through local authorities as
secondary, is a different question and one I am not yet prepared
to comment on. There is a resource issue here and one which we
will learn the dimensions of and the allocation of better by the
248. The implications of this are wider. For
example, if North Yorkshire trading standards officers pursue
a major criminal activity, then that cost falls entirely on the
council taxpayers in North Yorkshire. So the issue is a broader
one than it appears, and it is a broader issue none the less?
(Lord Whitty) It is, and it is one which gets us,
as you know, Mr Curry, right into the heart of local government
finance. I think I had probably better not stray too far down
249. I think you had better not. At one point
I thought we were going to get into a debate on probability theory
which perhaps a Select Committee should never do. Thanks very
much for coming, and thank you to Ms Wordley and to Dr Wooldridge.
You promised us one or two bits of paper. It will be helpful for
our own timetablebecause I do not think there is any secret,
we would like to produce a short report before the recessif
you would let us have it as quickly as possible. Thank you once
(Lord Whitty) Thank you very much. Could I hand in
this booklet which we have just produced, hot off the press, which
will form part of our publicity campaign. This is directed at
trying to make sense of the structure of agencies for the importers.
250. An illegal imports cookbook!
(Lord Whitty) That is coming as well!
Chairman: Thank you very much.