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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Does he not agree that we have often in the past set a good example to Europe and have paved the way by producing our own legislation? Does he remember that as long ago as 1992 the Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended that maximum stocking densities should be statutory? When I introduced a Bill to that effect in 1996, the then Labour Party Front-Bench spokesman was very sympathetic to the idea.
Lord Carter: Yes, my Lords; I remember that very well indeed. Unfortunately, the Bill did not get very far. The noble Lord is correct that there was an excellent report from the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1992 which led to research and to the broiler welfare code. I understand that additional research is
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, if the regulations are introduced in this country or in the European Union, how will this Government or European governments enforce the same standards on imported chickens and chicken products from countries where the same standards may not apply?
Lord Carter: My Lords, that is a perfectly fair question. There are strict rules on the importation of poultry meat from third countries outside the EU. They must originate from a third country that is approved by the Commission; they must originate from premises that are approved by the Commission; and they must be accompanied by a health certificate completed by an official, a veterinary in the country of origin. Under EU rules, all consignments of poultry meat imported from third countries are subject to veterinary inspection. Therefore, there is a wide-ranging area of inspection and regulation with regard to imports. It is true that standards are lower in some countries than in others. However, the rules are there, and if they are complied with, the poultry meat is perfectly safe.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, do the Government agree that the key to this matter is labelling so that consumers know whether or not they are buying a chicken that is produced to high animal welfare standards? In the pig industry, labelling on pig meat products is still inadequate. What progress has there been on the Government's better labelling initiative which the Minister launched with the statement that it would contain information about how foods were produced? We have yet to see the effect of that initiative on the supermarket shelves.
Lord Carter: My Lords, the labelling proposals are going forward. They require agreement from the Commission. Of equal importance are the new assurance schemes that are being implemented. A chicken assurance scheme will be part of the British farm standard. If one adds to that the high standards demanded by supermarkets of their suppliers and the work that we are carrying out on labelling, consumers can be satisfied that poultry meat is safe.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, can the Minister give an indication of the possible cost implications to the British poultry industry of implementing the EU regulations as opposed to those that we have at present?
Lord Carter: My Lords, we have not even seen the regulations. At some stage, the report will lead to a draft directive. We shall then know what the regulations are and the cost of them. I believe that every farmer now realises that the safety of the product and the satisfaction of the consumer is well worth paying for.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the industry in this country is already at risk of being uncompetitive due to the hundred-plus pieces of legislation emanating from the United Kingdom and the EU? Does he also agree that any further legislation will put businesses in this country at risk and open the door for further imports from countries that are far less regulated, particularly those in the Far East?
Lord Carter: Yes, my Lords; the noble Lord is correct. The Government are concerned to raise the standards of broiler welfare in this country. As I have said, any changes are best achieved on a Europe-wide basis to maintain our competitive position. National legislation, however well intentioned, has a real risk, referred to already, of simply exporting the welfare problems of the home market to products produced elsewhere to lower welfare standards.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, a number of electoral innovations were tried out for the first time in the Greater London elections. I am unsure whether the Question of the noble Lord refers to the constitutional arrangements, the voting system, the communications with electors, the new voting arrangements, the turnout, the count, or indeed the result. While there are many grounds for satisfaction on all of those, it would be true to say that the Government are not entirely satisfied on many aspects.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that almost honest Answer. Is it fair to say, on a non-party political basis--the Mayor of London is now an independent--that the shambles was probably the worst since Admiral Byng was shot
Does the Minister agree that the result is probably the worst possible for London as the Prime Minister is on record as constantly saying that he neither has any trust in Mr Livingstone nor does he believe that he will be a good mayor? Despite all the hoo-ha, only one-third of the electorate voted. Do the Government seriously intend to proceed with elected mayors for every unitary authority in the country? What other constitutional changes does the Pied Piper of Downing Street have in mind? Surely, the British people have a right to know.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, on the situation in London, we should do what the new Mayor has said. We should draw a line under the electoral period and, in effect, all parties should try to make the new structure of our capital city work. To that end, the Government will be supportive of the Mayor and the Assembly. There will be difficult tasks for the Mayor and the Assembly. This is a big extension of democracy in London. Clearly, I regret that the turnout was not as high as anticipated. However, it was significantly higher than in many previous local elections. I believe that the people of London gave a fairly clear indication that they wished to see the authority work.
With regard to the rest of the country, the proposals that have been debated at great length in this House under the Local Government Bill give the option for other local authorities to go for directly elected mayors. Whether they do so or not will not be decided in Downing Street or by this House; it will be decided by the people in the localities, as should happen.
Lord Lang of Monkton: My Lords, with the new constitutional arrangements for London now in place, will Her Majesty's Government decline to answer for London issues in this House, as they now do for almost everything affecting Scotland and Wales? If English regional assemblies are set up, will we, in this House, end up with more and more new Labour Peers who will have less and less to do?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there are a few new Labour Peers who wish that they had a little less to do. As always, the demands of this House are quite substantial for Front Benchers and Back Benchers. The position must be that the Government will take responsibility for that which is within the powers of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is responsible for local government and that includes Greater London. On areas of competence, the situation is not equivalent to that of the Assembly in Wales or the Parliament in Scotland. Nevertheless, the Government have never sought to defend every single decision of any local authority. I suspect the same will be true of the Greater London Authority.
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