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House of Commons

Thursday 21 November 2002

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Lead Industry

1. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): If she will make a statement on the application of the integrated pollution prevention and control regulations to the lead industry. [81201]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): The regulations apply the requirements of the 1996 directive on integrated pollution prevention and control to many installations at which the production, melting or recovery of lead is carried out. These requirements cover potential pollution risks to air, water and land. Criteria for the application of the requirements are based on the precise nature of the activity.

Mr. Illsley : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The Government have decided that the lead industry will have to comply with the IPPC regulations before 2007, the date set by the EU. That is placing a burden on the industry; companies that have registered under the regulations have encountered considerable delays on behalf of the Environment Agency in obtaining registration. The twin elements of delays and costs are placing burdens on the usually small companies involved in lead processing. Will my right hon. Friend provide some further assistance to those companies in reducing the burdens?

Mr. Meacher: We certainly want to do that, if we can. Phasing in the different sectors in an orderly and sensible way is the only practicable way to meet the target of permitting more than 6,000 installations in England and Wales by October 2007. If we left the permitting to the last possible moment, it would place an enormous burden on regulators and require them to take on large numbers of extra staff for a short time. I am concerned about what my hon. Friend says about registration. There should be no additional delays, but the window for the phasing-in of particular sectors is largely determined by the expected availability of the best available techniques reference documents, which are

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produced by the European Commission with input from member states. I shall look at the matter again and see whether we can give any assistance to the industry.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): The Minister is fond of recycling, but is he aware that one of our largest car battery recycling plants is Endhoven's in Darley Dale, which recycles some 80 per cent. of car batteries in this country? Will he ensure that the regulations do not interfere with that process, so that we can maintain our good recycling record in this sector?

Mr. Meacher: I am keen to encourage the good recycling plants that exist in many parts of the country, and to generate the many more that we will need if we are to meet the doubling and trebling of recycling targets that I have set down. The directive applies to about 6,000 installations, as I said. They have to meet the IPPC requirements, but most already operate in accordance with best available techniques not entailing excessive cost. As they should be meeting those standards, there should be no problem for most existing plants.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the general public will feel that pollution from the lead industry is relatively insignificant compared with the pollution from oil tankers that spill their loads? They blacken the environment and the name of the oil industry, which my right hon. Friend knows I support. How can we get better international regulation of those oil tankers?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Chris Grayling.

Animal Welfare

2. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): If she will make a statement on the long distance transportation of animals. [81203]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Government would prefer a trade in meat to the long-distance transporting of animals for slaughter, and we are encouraging the livestock sector in that direction.

Chris Grayling : I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know of the great concern about this matter felt by people across the country. Although he is keen to stress that any future action must not disadvantage our farmers, does he accept that people feel that the Government have failed to negotiate effective solutions with our European partners, and that they should get a move on and do so?

Mr. Morley: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government consider that, in the normal patterns of the livestock industry, the movement of live animals should be minimised. Of course we must look at our industry's needs when it comes to movements and take into account special cases such as offshore islands, but, generally speaking, we believe that animals should go to the nearest available slaughterhouse. The trade in this

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country should be a carcase trade. The added value accruing to those animals should go to this country and it should not be exported abroad.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): I welcome what my right hon. Friend says, but the live export trade imposes chronic, extreme and high-volume cruelty on hundreds of thousands of sentient beings every year. Should not we go one step further? Should we not ban that trade and replace it with the export of meat and carcases only? Can we not work more effectively within the EU to require animals to be slaughtered as close as possible to the farm of rearing?

Mr. Morley: I agree that a carcase trade is the preference that we should support. However, I emphasise that the live animal trade is legal within the rules of the single market and it has been tested in the courts. Our record on enforcement and management is very good; we want to see the standards of the best being applied to all European countries.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Everyone will agree with the Minister about the desirability of the shortest possible journeys from breeding and upbringing to slaughter, but does he agree that one of the greatest tragedies of the countryside in recent years, which he needs to explain, is that since the Labour Government came to power some 336 local slaughterhouses—40 per cent. of the total—have been forced to close? Does he agree with me and his own rural White Paper that that is a result of gross over-regulation by the Government?

Mr. Morley: No, I do not agree. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a political point, let me tell him that it would be impossible to close as many small slaughterhouses as were closed under the previous Conservative Government because not enough are left in the country. Regulation is not the only reason for closure under this Government—the market, unit costs and the fact that some of the slaughterhouses have got bigger are also issues. Of course we want to support a proper distribution of slaughterhouses, which is why our rural White Paper provided financial support for some of the smaller slaughterhouses in a way that the Conservative Government did not.

Illegal Meat Imports

3. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): If she will make a statement on her Department's progress in preventing illegal meat from entering the United Kingdom. [81204]

9. Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): If she will make a statement on her Department's progress in preventing illegal meat from entering the United Kingdom. [81211]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): We are making excellent progress with implementing our action plan and a number of initiatives are getting results. As I announced in response to the FMD inquiries, following a review of enforcement structures we are to make

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Customs and Excise responsible for anti-smuggling checks. This, we expect, will lead to increased deterrence and seizures of illegal meat.

Mr. Waterson: Is the Secretary of State aware that the Meridian Television programme XFocus", to be broadcast next month, will show hard evidence of a systematic trade in smuggling bush meat into this country and selling it? As if this trade were not vile enough in itself, is she aware of further allegations that there is evidence of human flesh being on sale in this country, possibly as part of black magic rituals?

Margaret Beckett: I was not aware of the television programme nor, indeed, of the horrendous suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman. However, I am aware that there has been growing evidence and concern about the trade in bush meat, which is said to be highly profitable. The Government and the enforcement authorities are giving attention to that.

Mr. Francois : Are the proposed amnesty bins for illegal meat now available at all the points of entry? If not, why not?

Margaret Beckett: No, they are not, because of considerable doubts and worries about how they would operate. We continue to explore that with the relevant authorities, but when responsibility is transferred, as I anticipate it will be in the near future, it will be for Customs and Excise to make judgments between the different forms of detection and enforcement.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the Select Committee's inquiry into the issue, and the Government have begun to take on board a number of its recommendations. Does she agree that, coming as it does on the back of the drugs trade and people trafficking, this trade is quickly becoming a huge international industry? Would it not be a good idea for the Government to take the initiative and call for an international conference to consider how countries can bear down on the trade? It must start there—we cannot keep the trade out any other way.

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He will know of the many expressions of concern in various countries about the trade and that procedures exist to monitor and enforce the rules. Obviously, I will undertake to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has indicated that we are tightening up some of our systems. There is a feeling in the wider country that the Americans, Canadians and Australians have beaten the trade because their controls are very tight, but I believe that considerable smuggling still goes on in those nations. Can my right hon. Friend give us any idea of how much smuggling is still being carried out there?

Margaret Beckett: I am afraid that I do not have that information to hand, but my hon. Friend is certainly right to identify the fact that the relevant authorities in those countries are not by any means complacent about

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the degree of success that they are experiencing. They share the concerns expressed in this country about our success in keeping on top of that trade.

David Burnside (South Antrim): The Secretary of State will remember that I welcomed the increase in expenditure for Customs and Excuse throughout the whole United Kingdom. However, we do not yet have evidence that the extra expenditure for seaports and airports in Great Britain is being allocated in Northern Ireland, where we also have a land border to protect. Will the right hon. Lady give the House a commitment that Northern Ireland, because it has a land border, will receive those extra resources and that the matter will not be passed on to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, but will be borne by Customs and Excise?

Margaret Beckett: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the precise commitment for which he asks, but I can certainly tell him that discussions are continuing about the way in which the extra resources will be allocated over the longer term. Those discussions are focused on the use that Customs and Excise will make of the resources. I undertake to pass his representations to the relevant authorities.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): Does the Secretary of State agree that any measures taken need to be proportionate and based on fact—information and research? She will remember that the action plan on illegal imports called for risk assessments. They were a key part of the plan and were due to be published in September. When will they be published?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right, both that action should be evidence based and that we have been awaiting a risk assessment. It has taken longer than we anticipated, as I think that I have already reported to the House, but some preliminary findings are emerging. They will be subject to quality assurance and peer review and we hope that they will be available before Christmas.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): Does the right hon. Lady recall that her action plan, published nearly eight months ago, stated that the Government would alter the wording on landing cards so that all incoming passengers knew that they were not supposed to bring meat or meat products into the United Kingdom? Can she say when she expects that pledge to be implemented?

Margaret Beckett: Not at this moment, although I share the hon. Gentleman's concern and I am genuinely glad that he asked that question. Since we held the overall meeting to discuss the preliminary action plan, one source of anxiety to me and to the Department has been that although, in principle, everybody shares the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman, it has not been easy to get the airlines, in particular, to agree to take the action that we want them to take, with regard both to landing cards and to the filler videos that we produced to warn people about the precautions they

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should take and the rules that they should observe. It has been difficult to get people to take those up, but we shall continue to maintain the pressure.

Mr. Lidington: Does the right hon. Lady not realise that it is becoming increasingly difficult for anybody in the farming or food industries to take seriously the pledges of a Government who, nearly 14 months after the end of the foot and mouth outbreak and eight months after their own much-vaunted action plan, are still completely incapable of delivering their pledges—whether on amnesty bins or landing cards? It is not enough for the right hon. Lady to express good will and good intent; it is about time that we saw some action from her Department.

Margaret Beckett: That was an interesting little rant but, unfortunately, it was not relevant to the facts. If the hon. Gentleman and his team, and indeed Conservative Back Benchers, would like a briefing about the action that is being taken and about some of the difficulties that are perceived, for example with the use of amnesty bins, I am happy to offer it. It is important that the House is well informed. The Select Committee indicated that the action plan was proceeding reasonably well, and I would not want to stretch its words further than that. The Government are continuing to work on the issues, but it is important that we do what will be effective and not merely what is currently fashionable.

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