Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: It may be for the benefit of the Committee if I make it clear that, as has already been said, I am prepared to accept the amendment. Some marginal tidying up may be needed, but I accept the principle of what the noble Lord says.

The Government are already engaged on the other matters of enforcement of import controls, including looking at the jurisdiction of the various authorities involved. However, that is not a matter for legislation, most of which is European. The requirement here is to report to this House, to another place and to the National Assembly for Wales. We fully accept that.

Lord Monro of Langholm: The Minister should not expect to escape quite as easily as that. However, I am glad that he has agreed to accept the amendment in principle. I declare an interest—as I have many times in foot and mouth debates—as one who was deeply involved and who lost his stock. I feel very personally about some of the issues in the Bill.

7 Oct 2002 : Column 42

It is quite right that we should have this type of detailed report from the Government each year. Had we had one over the past few years, I am sure that the country would have picked up the fact that the Government's contingency plans were totally inadequate. That, as it turned out, was indeed the fact. The three reports we have had have been a devastating criticism of the Government's handling of the foot and mouth epidemic. It would therefore be useful if the Government annually had an opportunity to show that none of the defects will recur and that they will be much nearer the ball in dealing with any future case of foot and mouth.

In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, rightly pointed out the agriculture industry's grave concern about imports. I have raised the issue on various occasions in the past 18 months, but I have received pretty unsatisfactory replies. Today, the Minister has a chance to give more detail about what the Government have achieved in import control. We keep hearing that there will be more inspectors here and there, but what has happened on the ground? How many cases of illegal import have inspectors discovered? How many prosecutions have we had?

What is being done to deal with countries such as Argentina and South Africa where foot and mouth is endemic? Are those countries still sending unlimited quantities of beef to this country? As we know, there is currently complete turmoil in Argentina. Are we confident that the government services are operating effectively in the various designated areas which are supposed to be free of foot and mouth? Or is beef being shipped willy-nilly from that country, where foot and mouth is endemic, and are we picking it up in this country?

I am very concerned that we have not taken adequate steps since the foot and mouth outbreak to prevent the import of all sorts of meat into this country. I think that the majority of the farming community believes that the outbreak began in the Newcastle area from imported meat. Had we had strict controls, with luck, the whole issue of foot and mouth over the past two years would not have arisen. I ask the Minister to tell us now, in detail, the action that he has taken. That is the point of this amendment. It proposes an annual report to set out in detail the action being taken on import controls.

I should like to raise with the Minister one other important point—liaison between England, Wales and Scotland. Foot and mouth knows no boundaries; it crossed the border thousands of time during the epidemic. The Scottish Executive says it has taken action and introduced legislation and that all is well, and the Government are implying that this Bill will ensure that sufficient resources are available to deal with another outbreak, but I should like to think that there is genuine liaison between England, Scotland and Wales in relation to foot and mouth. I feel that the countries are currently going in slightly different directions and wonder whether, whatever action the Government take to prevent outbreaks, because of devolution and Scotland's legislative independence the

7 Oct 2002 : Column 43

link-up between countries is adequate to deal with cross-border problems such as foot and mouth, brucellosis and even scrapie.

I therefore believe that this amendment, which the Government have accepted in principle, will give them a chance to set out in detail each year the steps that they are taking to raise the standard of foot and mouth prevention in this country. I believe that the Government would have been defeated in the Lobby had they not accepted the amendment. It proposes an important way of ensuring that prevention and contingency planning remain a high priority within the Government. I certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, in his amendment.

Lord Moran: I very strongly support the amendment; it is absolutely right that we should have an annual review of import controls. I also agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Monro, said. However, I am also struck by the fact that we have raised this issue every time the subject has been discussed, ever since January, and practically nothing has been done. The right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Hereford, pointed out that he has twice recently come into this country but that no one asked or showed him anything in relation to meat imports.

Some noble Lords may have watched last night's "Panorama" programme about corruption in racing. Time and again during the programme, the representative of the Jockey Club was asked why it had done nothing. He said that the issue was all very difficult and that there was not enough evidence and so on. The comments seemed utterly futile and reminded me very much of the line that the Government have taken about the import of animal meat, which everyone agrees is probably the cause of last year's outbreak. Apart from reporting to the House annually, the Government should deal with this matter firmly and now.

Earl Peel: Like the Minister, who I am absolutely sure has visited many farms and spoken to farmers and representatives of the industry over the summer, I have met my fair share of farmers. If one issue comes out more strongly than any other, it is the import of illegal meat products. I cannot stress powerfully enough how strongly the farming fraternity feels about the need for the Government to take urgent action to curtail this illegal trade.

The difficulties arise in two channels. The first is the conventional channel where the level of testing is simply not sufficiently rigorous. The second is the import by ordinary passengers in their suitcases of illegal meat products such as bushmeat which commands a very high price on the black market. I am very well aware that the Minister himself is deeply concerned about this issue; I have heard him speak about it on Radio 4 and have read his remarks in the newspapers. Concern and action, however, are two very different things.

Like my noble friend Lord Monro, I look forward to hearing in some detail the Government's plan to deal with the problem. One of the difficulties is that

7 Oct 2002 : Column 44

various agencies have responsibility for dealing with it. Perhaps the Government intend to introduce legislation to establish one agency to deal with it; the Minister may be able to expand on that possibility. I have no doubt, however, that Amendment No. 96 will go some way in helping us to learn what the Government are doing about the issue.

I suspect that the only way in which the difficulty can really be dealt with is to increase considerably both the level of commitment and the level of investment in personnel and surveillance equipment. Such equipment is already available and being used in Australia and America. Indeed, anyone who has visited America will know only too well how vigilant it is in these matters. Why we cannot emulate such countries, particularly in view of the fact that we are an island, I simply do not know.

I hope that the Minister will take this matter much more seriously than has so far appeared to be the case. Frankly, we would save ourselves a huge amount of money in future if we got the whole question of illegal importation sorted. The chances of reducing a future outbreak of foot and mouth or any other such disease would be greatly enhanced. I looked forward to the Minister's response.

5 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: I say to the Minister how pleased I am that the Government are to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey.

I have a question about the use of dogs. During the Recess, I heard that two trained dogs would be used in relation to illegal meat. Some time ago, with the Drugs Misuse Group, I visited the hangars at Heathrow to watch dogs working in relation to drugs. The hangars are absolutely vast. Two dogs are just a drop in a tiny ocean. The problem is a huge ocean and at least 200 dogs are needed. In the report, will we be told how the whole thing works and what is being done? As the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, the import of illegal bushmeat is very worrying. Monkeys, gorillas and all sorts of tropical animals are coming in and being eaten.

I heard during the previous Session that the veterinary school for tropical diseases in Edinburgh will close. That is absolutely mad. We need it. It could help to provide aid to developing countries. Many of their veterinary officers have died of AIDS and other trained people are needed to replace them. If we really take this matter seriously, we have to consider many ways of preventing disease coming in.

Lord Marlesford: I back up the comments of the noble Baroness.

The Minister may be aware that I have asked a number of Questions on this subject in recent months. He should be aware of that because he signed a good many of the Answers. In one Answer, he said that enforcement was not a matter for legislation; but—my gosh—it is a matter of concern: deep, deep concern. At the moment, the concern does not begin to be allayed.

7 Oct 2002 : Column 45

The noble Baroness referred to the issue of two dogs. Let the Minister at least tell us the current and projected strength of the canine defence force of this country.

One of my Questions was about whether it was possible to discriminate, in terms of investigation and surveillance, at an airport between passengers arriving from different destinations. There are obviously limited resources; we should focus them where they are needed. The Answer that I got was that it was not appropriate to discriminate between passengers coming from different places. Is that really true? None of this gives one any confidence that anything is going to be done or is being done. I totally support the amendment of the noble Lord on the Liberal Front Bench; of course we support it. However, it is action that is needed, not just words. Frankly, to say that this is not a matter for legislation is not good enough.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page