That the holocaust happened is a stain on human history, and that the Rwandan genocide happened subsequently is the most compelling reason for combining the holocaust memorial movement with highlighting the detail of the Rwandan genocide. Of course, that is

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what is happening through groups such as the all-party group for the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, and that work is being carried forward. I attended a Holocaust memorial day event at which a Rwandan survivor gave an account of what had happened in Rwanda, which was very powerful. I commend people from Rwanda and holocaust survivors for working together in that way and getting across the message that this is something that happened twice, as well as on other occasions that we know about in recent history.

It is against the backdrop of the dreadful events described by the hon. Member for Braintree at the beginning of this debate that we see the present state of Rwanda. Extraordinary progress has been made and that is hugely impressive. An understanding of what happened in the genocide is an essential precondition to understanding Rwanda today. There is a real determination in the country to build a Rwandan identity to overcome the past. Rwanda’s admission to the Commonwealth, in November 2009, is expressive of its wish to build a democratic future where human rights are respected. We know from our own history that this is not a straightforward path and that each individual country will follow it in its own way. The role of the Commonwealth, with the United Kingdom playing its part, should be to help any Commonwealth country that wants to follow that road.

There has been extraordinary progress in the 20 years since the genocide. Led by President Kagame, the Government in Rwanda have made enormous strides. One cannot help but be struck by the impressive roads and communications, the cleanliness and the enormous steps that have been made to reduce poverty. We see the importance placed on education, referred to in the debate, which is the route to a more positive future for any country.

On my visit to Rwanda, I was impressed by the country’s functional capacity and cohesion. I saw the land registration project mentioned by the hon. Member for Stafford. Distribution and ownership of land is an essential precondition of a functioning economy. It is a fundamental way of building an economy. That has been aided by DFID. A great deal of positive work has been done by the United Kingdom and UK aid. The role of women is strongly supported by the UK. That is a very important part of the positive path that Rwanda is currently taking.

I have spoken to private sector investors who are massively impressed by Rwanda because of its lack of corruption. They will not invest anywhere else in Africa, because of their perception of the lack of corruption in Rwanda. Rwanda’s progress has led to massive support for President Kagame at the ballot box, but the impact of an effective opposition is yet to be seen in the country. Striking the delicate balance between building a cohesive society, given the horrific genocide, and encouraging a multiplicity of political views, is a challenge that continues.

Members referred to the responsibility to protect doctrine. It is a difficult doctrine, which countries and Governments must continue to work on to address the problems we face across the globe. It is difficult, but essential. We have talked about the impact of conflict around the world. The Rwandan genocide of 20 years ago is a reminder that these events can happen and have happened more than once. We need to forge an international

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response, so we have in place measures to ensure that our responsibilities and common humanity always trump our individual national interests.

4.49 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Hugh Robertson): This has been a moving, powerful and constructive couple of hours. At the outset, it is appropriate to join other Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) on securing this important debate. I wish him a very happy birthday on behalf of us all. I thank all Members who have participated. I thought that this might be one of those afternoons when the House was at its best, but it has exceeded itself. It has been fascinating for me to listen to the strong support for Rwanda.

Everyone would acknowledge that Rwanda is a country that can divide opinion, but the support for it has been clear today, from people who know a lot about the country and have visited it. I was struck by the quality of the contributions and the excellent point made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) when he said that Rwanda is now in the Commonwealth.

Perhaps I should apologise for not being the Minister with responsibility for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), who, with the Foreign Secretary, attended the commemorations in Rwanda and is on the continent at the moment, but this does have a personal resonance for me, as in 1994 I was serving in Bosnia. I was on loan to the Foreign Office from the Army and I was looking after the British detachment in Sarajevo that was responsible for trying to secure the aid that flew into the city when it was under siege. Many Members have made the point that the world reacted a little late to the situation in Rwanda—we would all agree with that—and I suspect that part of the problem may have been that the world’s attention was focused on the Balkans and not on Africa.

Let me deal with some of the contributions, starting with the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree, who did a good job at the top of the debate of reminding us of the chilling events of 20 years ago and then drawing the lessons out in respect of the importance of R2P. Let me join others in wishing him well with his charity, thanking him for setting it up and congratulating him on that excellent initiative.

The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) spoke movingly about the special relationship between Rwanda and the UK, giving us some valuable insights on the basis of his visit. I was struck by the positive impression he gave of the country, as others have done, and of its achievements since that awful process 20 years ago.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) also gave us some personal impressions of the memorial site and talked about the events leading up to the genocide, the mass nature of it, the speed with which it happened and international inaction. He rightly draws lessons from that, but I fear that they are pretty regular lessons from conflicts of that sort right the way around the world. Indeed, one could have said many of the same things about the conflict in which I was involved in Bosnia. I agree with him that 20 years on is a very good time to encourage Rwandan society to use that experience to develop civil society.

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It is always a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) speak and I would like to join him in praising the work of the Aegis Trust, as many others have done. He asked a question about the veto power; it is a good question and it is central to what might happen. That French proposal is part of a wider package and the wider debate on Security Council reform. He will doubtless be pleased to hear that I can assure him that the UK wholeheartedly supports the principle that the Security Council must act to stop mass atrocities and crimes against humanity. I am happy to put on the record the fact that I cannot envisage any set of circumstances—I have been thinking about this over the past hour—in which we would use a British veto to stop such an action. In a sense, the difficulty with the proposal was set out in the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree: the problem with reforming the United Nations is always getting the agreement of the five permanent members of the Security Council and agreement more generally. As we have seen on Syria, the likelihood is that any such initiative—clearly we have not yet put it to a vote—would attract a veto from other powers, but the principle is certainly correct.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) in paying tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who really did introduce Rwanda to many of us. She made some excellent points about the development of its economy, and I loved the term “villagisation” and what she said about encouraging exports. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who has been widely praised for his command of Swahili, made a good point about the BBC World Service, the impartial reporting by the BBC and the role the BBC played in bringing this conflict to the world’s attention. He is absolutely right about not forgetting the survivors and about the benefits of early intervention, and I thank him very much for the work he is undertaking with Project Umubano.

I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) on his work teaching business skills, because if we look at the economic figures in Rwanda, we see that he is clearly having a considerable effect very early on—the benefits of early intervention. He rightly talked about the importance of community engagement.

The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) is entirely right about the lessons of 1994 and early engagement. I should love to be able to tell her confidently that the lesson has been learnt and the mistake will never be repeated, but, given the way in which the world works, I suspect that that would be over-confident. It could be argued, however, that the key driver in the intervention in the Libyan conflict was the threat of a massacre. She can take some comfort from the fact that people are now thinking in such terms, and that the work of R2P, and other work that is taking place, has made the international community much more focused on the issue than it was 20 years ago. I do not pretend that this is a perfect world, but I think that progress has been made.

I thank the hon. Member for Wrexham for a very elegant summary, and for making the point about the

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Commonwealth. I agreed with everything he said, and I thank him not only for what he said, but for the way in which he said it.

The events of 20 years ago were sufficiently important to this country for us to send both the Foreign Secretary and the Minister with responsibility for Africa to attend the genocide commemorations in Kigali on 7 April, to pay tribute to the victims and to demonstrate our commitment to Rwanda. I am delighted that so many members of the all-party group were there as well.

In the past 20 years, Rwanda has made astonishing progress, and I use that word advisedly. Poverty levels have been lowered, the Rwandan economy continues to grow, and more and more Rwandans are finding work. Access to education has increased substantially, and girls are given the same access as boys.

It should be a matter of some pride to us that this country has been Rwanda’s long-standing friend. We have been one of its development partners for many years, and we will continue to be a close partner. However, as many have acknowledged, there is much left to do. We will continue to urge the Rwandan Government to address human rights concerns such as freedom of expression, and to ensure that political space is opened. It is important for Rwanda to use its growing confidence to be a force for good in the region and on the international stage. We would have an extraordinarily positive legacy if it were to do that against the backdrop of the dreadful events of 20 years ago.

4.57 pm

Mr Newmark: I thank the Backbench Business Committee, and indeed the Leader of the House, for their support in enabling this important debate to take place in the main Chamber. I also thank Members in all parts of the House for their excellent contributions, and for sharing their respective experiences. I congratulate this Government and the last Government, especially the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, on their commitment to helping Rwanda on its path to recovery, and—this point was made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas)—on welcoming Rwanda to the Commonwealth of Nations.

As for those who died in 1994, we will remember them, and honour them, by reaffirming in the House today the words “Never again.”

Question put and agreed to.


That this House commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, when over the course of a 100-day period in 1994 at least 800,000 Rwandans were murdered; and calls on the Government to reinforce its commitment to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine and to working within the UN to promote international justice and to avoid mass atrocities which are still committed across the globe today.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation (Committees)


That the Measure passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, entitled Church of England, (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, HC 1273, which was laid before this House on 7 May, be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee.—(Harriett Baldwin.)

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Mango Import Ban

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Harriett Baldwin.)

4.58 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I am most grateful to the House for giving me the opportunity to raise the important matter of European Union’s ban on the importation of Indian Alphonso mangos. I am very pleased to see so many Members in the Chamber, including my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), my hon. Friends the Members for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), and the hon. Members for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), for Reading West (Alok Sharma) and for High Peak (Andrew Bingham). I think that that shows how much interest there is in the debate. I am also very pleased to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) is present. Although the title of this debate on the Order Paper is the “proposed” ban on EU imports, the ban has, in fact, already begun. It came into effect on 1 May 2014. The ban took place after I applied for this debate. The two events are not connected.

The banning of the king of mangos was an unnecessary step and has caused huge anxiety for my constituents in Leicester, and it will also mean financial losses to British citizens, devastation to the livelihoods of Indian citizens and damage to our special relationship with India. It also raises constitutional issues about the relationship between this House and the European Commission.

Discovered in India in about 1500, Alphonso mangos are unique. Not only are they produced in just one part of the world— India, and more particularly Maharashtra and Goa—but they have distinctive qualities. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’s view that these mangos can simply be replaced by another import is wrong. The extra-sweet taste makes this versatile fruit a key component in a wide range of dishes, including mango pulp, chutney, lassi, fruit salads, juices, smoothies, ice cream, mango birfi and many others. I must declare an interest at this point: I am a mango eater even though I have type 2 diabetes.

Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I would just like to add my support to the campaign and congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate. I have just returned from Goa where I sampled the mangos first-hand.

Keith Vaz: I am delighted to hear that, and my hon. Friend did the right thing in eating mangos before she landed, or else she might have been arrested for eating them here.

The United Kingdom is the mango’s true home in the EU as we are the largest importer of the fruit. In 2013 we consumed well over 56,000 tonnes of mangos, 4,800 tonnes of which came from India. That is 12 million mangos, which is equivalent in weight to 800 elephants.

The ban will have a hugely damaging impact on our food industry with many businesses set to lose millions of pounds a year. Indeed the cost has been put as high

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as £10 million, and some have put it much higher. It will be particularly detrimental to the 1.4 million British Indians living in the UK.

Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): Members in all parties want this issue to be addressed and resolved, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in doing so we need to safeguard industries, such as the salad crop industry in the UK, and make sure there is no adverse effect on them?

Keith Vaz: There are many salad crop growers in urban Reading, and I know that the hon. Gentleman would be keen to protect them. I can assure him that, as I will say in my speech, this has already been done.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Does he think this is another example of European Union bureaucracy and regulation going too far?

Keith Vaz: Yes.

Leicester is the mango capital of Britain. Last year it hosted the first-ever mango festival in Cossington park in Belgrave in my constituency: four giant elephants dominated the scene and many hundreds of boxes of mangos were consumed. Retailers in Leicester have told me that they will face critical losses as a result of this decision and the situation will be repeated in other cities and towns in Britain, such as Manchester, Birmingham, and Southall, Tower Hamlets and Feltham in London.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate—and I think there will be competition with Hounslow in the future as to what is the mango capital of the UK. Last week, I met a number of businesses in my constituency at Western international market, including Fruity Fresh Ltd. They have raised with me great concerns about the effect this step will have on their incomes and stressed how much the mango crop contributes to their annual revenues. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a speedy response to this issue and that we must not just leave it until the end of next year? Does he also agree about the impact this could have on mango growers in India?

Keith Vaz: I agree, and I will set out an action plan to address the issue, which I hope the Government will follow.

I raised this issue with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and in his response he stated that the reason for the ban was that plant pests and diseases, such as those intercepted in produce from India in recent years, could cause damage to recent salad crops, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). These pests included the tobacco whitefly.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has secured this debate and grateful that he has given way. He is right that Leicester is the mango capital, but may I say how disappointed I was last Friday and Saturday when I failed to find a mango on Evington road in my constituency? All the mangos had been snapped up. I know that many

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of my Leicester constituents are disappointed that they are going to miss out on mangos this season. Like me, does he hope that the Minister will take up this issue seriously and quickly, because the mango season lasts only 10 weeks?

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is right to suggest that it will not be a proper summer without mangos in Leicester. This is a serious issue that will affect many of our constituents.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): As ever, the right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case. Does he not agree that one of the key issues is that discussions have taken place between the EU and India to ensure that our food imported from India is safe? There is an alternative route to ensuring that mangos are protected, that the right sort of products are imported and that everyone can feel confident that we will not get an invasion of fruit flies.

Keith Vaz: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is an assiduous worker in his constituency, and I know how strongly he feels about this issue. I will set out what the Indian Government have done, which will include fresh information that arrived from India today.

Let me go back to what the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said. He was talking about pests, and said that they had been found in 207 consignments of fruit and vegetables from India imported into the EU in 2013. He went on to say that officials of the EU—this is pertinent to the point made by the hon. Member for Northampton North—voted unanimously at the end of March for a temporary ban on mangos, which is due to last until December 2015. The House should note that this was decided not by Ministers in this Government but by officials. I also heard from the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, Shan Morgan, that the European Commission’s case is that this issue has been ongoing for four years and that India had repeatedly failed to make changes.

Let us look at India’s case. Indian growers and importers will face closure, and for many Indian mango farmers, the ban will be devastating. The season in which mangos can be harvested is merely six weeks long. The ban came into force during the second week of this season, which is the peak time for growers and exporters in India, and it means millions of mangos may be left to rot. Today, exactly one week after the start of the ban, we can already see the repercussions of it, with mango prices plummeting in India to nearly half their usual sale price, because of the huge supply that can no longer be exported. That has a knock-on effect on the price of other mangos, and affects customer confidence in the products, which can have a continuous impact on sales, long after the end of the ban.

Yesterday, I had a meeting with Sharad Pawar, the outgoing and distinguished Minister of Agriculture and Food Processing Industries in India, and he told me that the ban came as a shock to him because the EU delegation came to India on 1 April, looked at the fields and seemed satisfied with what it found. There was absolutely no indication of any problem. It then made a sudden announcement that the ban would come into force. I heard from him first hand about the effects on the people of Maharashtra, his home state.

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India has already used the techniques of vapour heat treatment or hot water dipping treatment on its exports to Australia, Japan and the US, where this product is not banned, so to do it for EU imports is a completely achievable feat. Today, I received a letter from the Department of Agriculture in India, following my meeting with the Minister yesterday. I was informed in great detail of the steps that India had taken following the audit report of the European Commission in April 2013. The report advised India of the need to take necessary measures to eliminate the potentially harmful organisms found in the crop. Virander Paul, the Indian deputy high commissioner, informed me of a letter sent from Anand Sharma, the Indian Minister for Commerce, Industry and Textiles, to EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht explaining how India has taken necessary steps and describing the ban as “surprising”. The Indian Department of Agriculture further informed me that not only had its systems, procedures and infrastructures improved, but it had increased the number of technical personnel in high risk areas. It had also introduced approved pack houses to ensure comprehensive inspection and certification.

I was informed that there were some stray incidences of phytosanitary non-compliance, the number of which dropped by more than half since April last year and is steadily decreasing. The Indian authorities were even assured by officials in the Commission, in a report dated October last year, that their steps to improve phytosanitary controls were satisfactory. I must tell the House that I have heard anecdotally that this might be part of a wider EU plan for India to open its borders to further EU imports. When a delegation of Indian officials visited Brussels recently, they were told over lunch that if the EU can sort out the export of chocolate, cheese and whisky to India, they can definitely work out a solution for mangos. If that is the case, it is a plot that could easily feature in “House of Cards”. Incidentally, I have noted the Minister’s particular interest in cheese as a former chairman of the all-party group on cheese, and he has also championed his constituents in Cornwall on the issue of cheese, so he knows how important such food products are to local areas.

The campaign to end the ban has come from the grassroots, and I want to pay tribute to those people in my constituency and beyond. A lot of excellent work is being done to overturn the ban and I commend the work of local people in my constituency, including Hasmukh Pabari; Darmesh Lakhani, president of the Belgrave residents and traders association; Joga Sandhu; Shahidullah Khan, the chairman of the Bangladeshi association); and Ratilal Patel. I would also like to mention Monica Bhandari from Fruity Fresh, who has worked hard petitioning and raising awareness of the issue. The online petition, which I hope the Minister has seen, has received well over 2,100 signatures in a short space of time, a figure that is increasing daily.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman pays tribute to many of his constituents who have raised this matter with him. Earlier in his speech, he listed the variety of uses for mangos that people take as read throughout their normal day-to-day lives. Does he, like me, think that many people are unaware of this issue because they do not know the impact it will have on the food they eat? By securing this

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debate today, on which I congratulate him, he is giving the subject the oxygen of publicity, which will mean that more people will realise the threat that we face.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I know that he is a great champion of South Asian food in his constituency. When he goes to his local Bangladeshi or Indian restaurant this weekend, he will see a pot of mango chutney that is diminishing and that will not be able to be replaced if the ban continues. He is right to raise the issue.

I, along with representatives of retailers and importers of mangos—Monica Bhandari and Neil Chowdhry and Jagroop More and Sakivir More from Morfoods Ltd—delivered a tray of mangos to Downing street. I know that the hon. Member for Northampton North was lamenting the fact that he did not receive one—and no, Madam Deputy Speaker, you did not receive one either—but the fact was that we were getting near the ban and we had to get it to the Prime Minister so that he would have a proper understanding of the importance of the mangos.

Fellow parliamentarians, some of whom are here today—this is a huge turnout for an Adjournment debate—have signed the early-day motion. Some have telephoned my office, some asking to support the campaign and some to ask where to buy mangos. I have written to the European Commission as part of the campaign and will be taking a delegation to Brussels soon to speak to the Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg. When one rings Brussels, one finds that quite a lot of the commissioners are on annual leave or away—they are out of station—so I have not been able to talk to any of them, but we will seek them, find them and talk to them about this. I have also contacted India and have been told that the timing of the ban is problematic not only because it has come into force two weeks into the season, but because India is in the middle of a general election.

This calamitous series of events endangers our special relationship with India. The UK is one of India’s largest trading partners, with India’s exports to Britain worth around $4.1 billion annually—the eighth largest amount exported to a single country. Banning imports of mangos, a significant industry for India, may affect the UK’s wider relationship with India. Our Prime Minister, like successive Prime Ministers, is the champion of the UK’s special relationship. The Prime Minister has visited India four times during his term—more than any other Prime Minister in a similar period—and before that he visited on many occasions. Yesterday in the House I reminded him that next week the election will be over, and he will be speaking to the new Indian Prime Minister. It is essential that we are able to offer the incoming administration an action plan to get the ban reversed. I am glad to say that the Prime Minister understands the issue, and I hope the conversation next week proves fruitful; but the issue is, does DEFRA understand, and will it be prepared to follow the action plan?

The ban affects every constituency in the UK. The vast majority of hon. Members will have in their constituency a retailer of mangos in some form or another, who will have their livelihood affected, and absolutely all of us, including in Epping Forest, will have constituents who like mangos. The Brussels sprouts have decided to take on the mighty mango. I know whose side I am on.

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We need an immediate action plan from DEFRA that will reverse this painful and unnecessary decision. The EU has treated an important trading ally, which represents a sixth of the population of the globe, with disrespect. Britain is India’s best friend in the EU and we need to do much more. It was a British presidency that initiated the first ever EU-India summit in June 2000. I was privileged, as the then Minister for Europe, to be involved in a very small way. We have a responsibility, as a Government, to make sure that the ban is resolved, and as a Parliament to scrutinise the decisions—the wrong decisions—of the EU. If we do not act now, in my view we will regret this for ever.

5.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Rogerson): I join others in congratulating the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) on securing this debate on what I know is an issue of great importance to him and his constituents. I thank him for consistently raising that important issue in every way possible over the past few weeks. We are talking, of course, of the ban on the import of five fruit and vegetable species from India into the European Union, but of mangos in particular.

Let me start by reminding the House that this Government have made safeguarding plant health one of DEFRA’s top priorities. Plants are an essential economic, environmental and social resource for our rural economy, heritage and well-being. The total value of UK crop output in 2010 was £7.54 billion and the annual value of the glasshouse sector, which I shall come to later, is more than £320 million. Of course, the protection of trees and other plants in the wider environment is vital to our continued well-being.

We are all aware of the damage that continues to be caused by the arrival in the UK in 2012 of Chalara fraxinea, the organism that causes ash dieback. That disease and the Government’s response to it prompted a review of our approach to plant health and to the risk posed by pests and diseases to our agriculture, forestry and the wider environment. The review made various recommendations, including the appointment of a new chief plant health officer and the creation and implementation of a prioritised risk register. As part of the increased focus on plant health we have just published a new plant biosecurity strategy. That has been developed in consultation with interested parties in the industry, conservation bodies and others and will help to drive our work on plant health in the years to come. The strategy stresses the importance of preventing the introduction of new pests and diseases—by tackling pests at the border through import inspections, for example, and by working proactively with overseas exporters. Phase 1 of the risk register, which includes around 700 pests and diseases, is already in place.

Let me be clear. We understand and regret the impact of the ban on businesses importing mangos and other products from India. Mangos are one of five fruit and vegetable species banned by the European Commission from import. The others are aubergines, momordica or bitter gourd, snake gourd and patra leaves. Those five species are those on which the highest number of insect pests was recorded in import inspections by EU member states.

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Most of the interceptions were made by the Food and Environment Research Agency’s plant health and seeds inspectors, many at London’s Heathrow airport. For the past couple of years, India has topped the list of countries from where consignments with pests present have been intercepted during such inspections. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, because most EU imports from India come to the United Kingdom, our inspectors have inevitably found the most pests from India.

The pests found on these fruit and vegetables pose a threat to glasshouse production in the UK and across the EU. Bitter gourds carry Thrips palmi, and patra leaves carry tobacco whitefly. These pests carry more than 100 viruses which could threaten production of UK salad crops. Were the fruit flies found with the mangos even temporarily to establish, they could undermine the UK’s pest status for our own exports.

The European Commission’s auditors, the Food and Veterinary Office, visited India, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, in both 2010 and 2013 to find out why there were so many findings of pests and diseases in produce coming into the EU, and into Britain in particular. The auditors identified major shortcomings with the export certification system. Their comments after the second visit concluded that

“at present, the system of export controls for plant health in India, and, in particular at the main point of exit for fresh produce exported to the EU (Mumbai airport), offers no assurance with regard to the pest status of consignments or compliance with the EU import requirements, or relevant international standards. Unless the significant shortcomings are addressed the risk of introduction of harmful organisms on plant products exported from India to the EU remains high.”

Keith Vaz: Will the Minister give way?

Dan Rogerson: Happily. This is an important point.

Keith Vaz: I thank the Minister for his introduction. Prior to this debate did he, as Minister at the Department responsible for this matter, see the memorandum that was prepared by the Indian Government, which I referred to today, or see any information from the Indian Government about what they have done? He has quoted from the EU, but the Indian Government are very clear that they have acted to deal with all these issues. Did he see any of that information before the ban was imposed?

Dan Rogerson: Direct ministerial responsibility belongs to my noble Friend Lord de Mauley, who takes the lead on these issues. As he clearly cannot reply to a debate in this House, I am doing so today. The point that I was seeking to make with that quote was in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s contention that the Government of India saw the process as a surprise. They should not have done, because the information was clear.

Keith Vaz: I accept that the Minister is in the other place, but the hon. Gentleman has prepared for this debate. Did Ministers see the submission from the Indian Government before the vote of officials on 28 March in Brussels? Parliament was not told about this and there seems to be no communications strategy coming out of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It is rather like the floods, which seemed suddenly to have arrived on DEFRA’s doorstep. If the Minister

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does not know the answer today, will he write to me and tell me whether any Minister saw the submission from the Indian Government before the ban took place?

Dan Rogerson: I am happy to undertake to respond to the right hon. Gentleman in writing on that specific point. The issue is not just what steps the Indian Government have been taking to deal with matters at source; it is also whether the trend in interceptions was declining or increasing. In April this year there were seven interceptions, two of which were of mangos. There were eight instances of missing or incomplete phytosanitary certificates, which is highly significant if we are to have confidence in the system, as I know the right hon. Gentleman would want, and there were 11 instances of wood packing material not complying with requirements. The right hon. Gentleman’s contention earlier was that the Government in India have a handle on this issue and therefore we are seeing a steep decline. That is not the experience immediately prior to the decision being taken, and that is what informed the vote. It is that evidence that was used at that point.

Michael Ellis: Is it right that Brussels bureaucrats made the decision, or were Ministers of the Crown seized of the matter?

Dan Rogerson: Representatives of all member Governments of the European Union would have input into that decision, and the UK Government strongly supported tight security in this area, for the reasons that I established a short time ago.

Despite that conclusion, the Indian authorities’ recognition of the problems and their undertaking to address them, the number of pests found in produce imports continued to rise during 2013. There have been 20 interceptions of pests in Indian produce coming into the UK in 2014 alone. When the situation was explained to the EU Plant Health Standing Committee, which is chaired by the European Commission and attended by all member states, there appeared little option, if further introductions of pests were to be prevented, but to send a strong signal by banning the import of the products presenting the greatest risk.

India is not being singled out. The Commission has taken similar action in the past, for example in respect of potatoes from Egypt and, more recently, citrus from South Africa—a significant crop in that country’s exports. Other countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam, have introduced voluntary export bans when confronted with the possibility of an EU ban. That approach has been successful, because the number of pests found from those countries has been much lower after trade has opened up again.

Bob Blackman: Will the Minister give way?

Dan Rogerson: I am afraid that I need to make some progress.

Hon. Members will be aware that the EU’s plant health law is currently being reviewed. That is due to recognition that the existing law has proved an inadequate tool in the face of increasing international trade and the thousands of pests and diseases that have the potential to be introduced into Europe, threatening our cultivated and wild plants. Negotiations on the revision of the plant health law are now under way and the resulting legislation is likely to include a greater focus on excluding

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trades that are shown to be pathways for pests and diseases. It is those threats that have prompted the European Commission, with the support of member states—that is the crucial point—to take a more pro-active role in challenging third countries that consistently send pests with the goods they export into the European Union. That pro-active approach with India has prompted the temporary import ban.

I must also mention the international situation. The UK, along with 180 other countries, including India, is a signatory to the international plant protection convention. The point of the IPPC is to prevent pests and diseases of plants from moving around the world, particularly as a result of trade, because of the impact they have when they arrive in a new country. All member countries have responsibilities to prevent pests and diseases moving in trade and so agree to respect other countries’ import requirements. For plants and plant products, that is achieved by issuing a phytosanitary certificate in which the national authority declares that the plants or plant products being sent conform to the importing country’s requirements. The fact that there are numerous instances of pests being found in the Indian products in question shows that the UK and EU’s import requirements are not being met.

I stress that the ban agreed is not permanent. India has had long-term bans on its mango exports to the USA and Japan. By requiring exports to be treated, either by irradiation or by vapour heat treatment, it has managed to overturn those bans. New Zealand also accepts mangos from India that have been subject to vapour heat treatment. If India can take such action in respect of exports to the EU and demonstrate to the Commission and the Governments of EU member states that pest-free trade is possible, I hope that an early reconsideration of the import ban is possible.

Jonathan Ashworth: The Minister has admitted that the Government support the ban for the scientific reasons he has outlined. Given that many businesses in Leicester and in the constituencies represented in the Chamber today will be adversely affected financially, are the

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Government prepared to consider any support for those businesses that will lose out this summer?

Dan Rogerson: Clearly the Government’s responsibility, as part of the European Union, is to ensure that we protect our borders from imports that could threaten domestic production. We want to support everyone in overturning the ban as soon as we are confident that the export standards are being met. The right hon. Member for Leicester East is keen to see the Government take action. Clearly the key action resides with the exporters, in their ability to demonstrate that what they are exporting meets the criteria that we need to have confidence in. As soon as we have a clear message that things are improving, I and my ministerial colleagues will be happy to press the European Union to have an early re-inspection so that we can get the ban overturned. We know how important mangos, and indeed other species, are for cultural and economic reasons, as has been pointed out. We want to see them back, but we have to do that in the proper way.

Keith Vaz: The Minister is being generous with his time. I am pleased by what he said about early inspection, so will he confirm that the Government, as the best friend of India in the EU, will push for an early inspection?

Dan Rogerson: Clearly we want to build on our very strong relationship with India. We want to ensure that the inspection takes place when progress has been made. The last thing we want is for a lack of progress to lead to the ban being extended unnecessarily. We want to see action from the industry to reassure the Commission and all member states that progress has been made, and I am sure that officials and Ministers from this Government will then work closely to secure a re-inspection and have the ban overturned, so that everyone can enjoy the produce from India that they love and that the right hon. Gentleman, regardless of his particular health situation, is clearly missing a great deal.

Question put and agreed to.

5.29 pm

House adjourned.