Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Bradshaw: It is important that we draw attention to our successes, which is partly what I am trying to do,
29 Apr 2004 : Column 1064
but there are also genuine concerns about the other side of these matters, including the illegal smuggling mentioned by the hon. Member for Maidenhead, to which I shall refer in a moment.

There are similar import restrictions in relation to plant health. Where there is a plant health risk, all plants and some plant products must have an official phytosanitary certificate guaranteeing their health status, and some are prohibited altogether. All consignments are liable to inspection on arrival either at the port of entry or at an inland inspection point, whether or not a certificate is required. UK checks are targeted at trades and consignments deemed to represent the highest risk. For intra-Community movements, the onus is again on control in the member state of origin, through a system of plant passporting backed up by a comprehensive system of monitoring and trace-back arrangements in the event of a problem being identified.

Following the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, the Government have made significant strides to improve our ability to detect and prevent illegal imports of animal products from third countries. We have provided new money amounting to £25 million over three years to enhance controls. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise took over responsibility for border controls targeted against smuggled imports in 2003. A range of new measures have been introduced, including additional staff, better intelligence gathering behind the scenes and teams of detector dogs, of which there will shortly be 10. There has also been a significant increase in publicity material, and new posters and leaflets are now available to increase public awareness.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): In a written answer on 23 February, the Economic Secretary referred to last year's trials of X-ray technology, which has not been put into practice. Will the Minister tell us the result of the trials and whether X-ray technology will be used?

Mr. Bradshaw: I will write to the hon. Gentleman on his specific question about X-ray technology. As a result of the measures that are in place, seizures of illegally imported meat have increased massively, and I shall give him some figures later in my speech.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): The Minister is talking about measures that the Government have taken. Does he agree with the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner), who has great independence of mind, that

What has he got to say about those comments from a fellow Minister about the Government's regime?

Mr. Bradshaw: I hesitate to comment on quotes provided by Opposition Members that I have not read before, which may be out of context, but I will check up on that point. Yes, the threats are serious. Extra challenges arise as trade, from which we all benefit, increases, but I argue that the Government are meeting those challenges. The hon. Gentleman is right that, not
29 Apr 2004 : Column 1065
least in the hands of terrorist organisations, zoonotic diseases could be a serious threat not only to the UK but to countries throughout the world, which is why we are implementing our measures.

In my reply to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), I said that seizures have risen significantly. There were 2,053 seizures in 2001–02, and that figure increased almost fourfold to 7,819 in 2002–03. The latest indications are that that upward trend has continued, and the figures for 2003–04 will be published in June in our annual review of controls on imports of animal products.

I have indicated that we can never achieve 100 per cent. protection against disease entering the country. One factor that can reduce or increase the spread of livestock disease is the quality of biosecurity within the UK. Biosecurity includes the extent to which livestock are moved around the country, and standards in markets, which is contrary to the contribution from the shadow Chief Whip, who indicated that livestock markets play no role and that biosecurity at livestock markets is not important. A high level of biosecurity is vital in helping to prevent the spread of disease.

Back in 2001, livestock movements in this country were virtually unrestricted except for pigs, but foot and mouth taught us that we could not continue like that. Farmers and others in agriculture obviously want to trade when and where economic conditions encourage it, but equally, the Government have a responsibility for the protection not only of the public interest but of animal health, and we have tried to find the appropriate balance between those two potentially conflicting points of view.

Initially, we extended to all species the 20-day standstill for pigs, but we also commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of various movement standstill regimes. We concluded that the 20-day standstill should remain for pigs, but for other species we should not revert to the pre-2001 laissez-faire approach but should instead introduce a six-day standstill, which we introduced in August 2003, with the involvement and overwhelming support of stakeholders in the livestock industry.

We have made it clear that if disease threatens, we will revert to a 20-day standstill, and that if disease returns, a complete movement ban will be imposed initially. The same approach has been taken to developing controls in markets and elsewhere. Biosecurity proved paramount in the eradication of foot and mouth disease in 2001. We have learned that the livestock industry must observe higher standards than in the past in order to reduce the risk of livestock disease spreading, and that we must improve detection of those who fail to comply.

Markets and livestock shows now have to be licensed to make sure they maintain biosecurity, as the mixing of a large number of animals from different origins could allow disease to spread very quickly. The cleansing and disinfection of livestock vehicles is also key to preventing the spread of disease. Strict rules were in place for some time, but we learned from the foot and mouth disease outbreak and improved the rules so that they can be better enforced.

With regard to the measures that are being put in place to deal with any future outbreaks of exotic animal disease, contingency plans that fit within the framework of EU-approved contingency plans have been and
29 Apr 2004 : Column 1066
continue to be developed. The latest version of DEFRA's foot and mouth disease contingency plan, which provides the structures, roles and responsibilities to ensure a robust framework for the response to a future exotic animal disease, was laid before Parliament at the end of March 2004.

Let me comment on what the hon. Member for Maidenhead and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said about the foot and mouth outbreak and the role of the state vet, Mr. Jim Dring. I accept, as do my ministerial colleagues, that it was a mistake not to pass Jim Dring's testimony—or whatever one wants to call it—on to the Anderson inquiry. We have also made it clear that, as the hon. Member for Maidenhead said, the decision was made on understandable legal advice about the possibility that it might prejudice the forthcoming trial of the Waughs. As soon as Jim Dring's testimony was drawn to my attention, I asked for it to be published and placed not only in the Library but on DEFRA's website.

I am afraid that the hon. Member for Maidenhead did what some in the media have done in quoting selectively and tendentiously from Jim Dring's very long testimony, to suggest that during the inspections immediately prior to the foot and mouth outbreak he complained about a lack of resources. He did not. The only reference that he made to the service being stretched was in connection with an earlier outbreak during the previous year. It is best to read Mr. Dring's report in full. He has said that there was no knowledge that he possessed at the time that was not passed on to the Anderson inquiry. Professor Anderson, whom I asked to read Jim Dring's report in full, has also said that nothing contained in it would have made any difference to his recommendations.

I have to tell the House that Mr. Dring is furious about the misrepresentations made in some media reports, which I am afraid were repeated by the hon. Member for Maidenhead and which seem to try to divert blame for the foot and mouth outbreak from those who were responsible on to a conscientious and hard-working vet.

Andrew George: In questioning this matter there is no attempt, certainly on my part, to put the blame on Mr. Dring. I raised the issue in the House on 11 March and wrote to the Secretary of State, who originally said that the Dring report consisted merely of "musings". When the report came out, the Minister failed to publish the covering note making it clear that it was intended for Dr. Anderson's inquiry. Does not the Minister understand that we are questioning the integrity not of the vet but of the Ministers from whom we had to drag this information out bit by bit?

Next Section IndexHome Page