|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I was very struck by the speech of the right reverend Prelate. I had a similar experience the day before yesterday. I found myself on Saturday in the airport at Atlanta, Georgia. As my wife and I were mooching through the duty free shop, she picked up a sealed package of smoked ham and said to me, "Look, this is that very good smoked ham we had two or three days ago". I was about to say to her, "I hope you're not thinking of taking it back home", but, before I could do so, she said to me, "Oh my God! We should find ourselves on the front page of the newspapers if we took this home". With that in both our minds, when we came back into Gatwick yesterday, I, like the right reverend Prelate, looked very carefully to see what steps were being taken to warn passengers arriving by air that the importation of meat is illegal. At least I believe that it is illegal. I saw absolutely no signs of any sort.
I very much welcome the Government's announcement. In his Statement, the noble Lord said that he intends to table an amendment providing for the Government to report annually on actions to prevent the illegal import of animal products. We are all grateful for a copy of the Statement, which we have now received.
I strongly support the new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the Government might have to tidy up the new clause. We all understand that because careful drafting is needed. When the Government consider doing so, I hope that they will be prepared to add a new provision strengthening paragraph (a). I want a sub-paragraph to be addedI speak in broad termsthat will explain what steps have been taken at airports and seaports, as well as in relation to the Channel Tunnel, to warn people entering this country that it is illegal to import meat, that those doing so will be subject to very heavy fines and that anyone who did not know and who finds himself importing meat illegally should give it up before leaving the airport. That helpful step should be highlighted in the new clause.
Like other noble Lords, I am most concerned about the fact that the Government have just come round at this late stage18 months after the outbreak last yearto the fact that something needs to be done about imported meat. We have all been saying for months and months that this is a major hole in our arrangements and that it causes great dangers of a new outbreak. The Government's incompetence in handling the outbreak is not in the past; it is still going on. They are still not addressing that problem sufficiently urgently.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us whether he will amend the new clause to ensure that each year the report will explain exactly what has been done to warn people entering this country of the illegality and folly of their actions if they have illegal meat with them.
Lord Plumb: Before the Minister responds to the many questions and comments, I add my voice to those who have spoken of their concern about this issue. You, Minister, are well aware of the many farmers around this country who have expressed their concern: this matter is their priority. We are concerned that there should not be another outbreak. We are also concerned that regulations should be in place so that, in the event of something happening, we are able to cope with it and the Government are very much in control.
But are we doing enough on the import front? It is appropriate that this matter should be raised before anything else in the debate, although it is taking a little time. However, it is appropriate that it is raised and that it is raised in this way. It is hoped that imports will appear as the first item in the Bill in terms of what the Government will do by way of control. Therefore, I support the proposal tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for an annual review of the activities of all departments to identify the nature and origin of imported products.
The Minister said clearly that he accepts the amendment, and we welcome that. Therefore, why are we spending time on it? We are doing so becausethis very simple point has just been raised by my noble friend Lord Joplingwe need an answer. I am well aware that some time ago the Minister launched a publicity campaign aimed at raising public awareness of import rules and the reasons for them. What has that achieved? As was said by the right reverend Prelateother noble Lords have supported his comment and I can, tooit has done absolutely nothing. Among the 10,000 people consulted on what was called "Holiday Watch", only 4 per cent said that they had noticed anything and 96 per cent said that they knew nothing.
As I came though an airport only last week, I asked what precautions were being taken or what advice was being given to people passing through the airport. The girl looked at me and said, "My dear, it's all over. You don't have to worry any more. Foot and mouth disease has finished". Something far stronger than that type of answer needs to be given to passengers. Surely consumers, producers and taxpayers would feel far
I was not able to take part in the earlier debate but I have seen the report from Europe, as, I am sure, has the Minister. In it he will see that the question of regionalisation is raised, together with the difficulties relating to imports. Undoubtedly he will speak about that now. At the same time, that report contains the toughest measures on import controls that I have yet seen. Therefore, having seen the measures proposed, I hope that the Minister will incorporate them in the final report.
The Countess of Mar: I, too, support all those who have expressed concerns about imports and the lack of controls that exist at present. Over and over again at Question Time, the Minister has been asked what is being done about import controls. He says that we are having meetings with this and that person and with this and that group and that everyone is being consulted. But at the end of the summer, 18 months after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, all we have is two sniffer dogs.
When introducing the Bill at Second Reading, the Minister said how urgent and important the Bill was and how badly needed it was. He hasMinisters generally havethe power to stop imports coming into the country. I see the Minister shaking his head, but they do. Section 10 of the Animal Health Act 1981 states:
I wonder whether Ministers have carried out a cost-benefit exercise on providing sniffer dogs and environmental health officers to inspect loads and baggage entering the country and the cost of the last foot and mouth outbreak. The benefits of import preventions and even posters on the walls at airports and ports would be enormous compared with doing nothing except having meetings. Frankly, I am appalled by the lack of action in these circumstances when something could have been done very much sooner.
Lord Whitty: If the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will forgive methis is his amendmentI believe that I should respond to one or two of the points raised, although I am not sure that many of them are apposite to the content of the Bill.
The regulation of imports from third countries into this country is governed by European legislation. The Government have recently been very successful in getting the EUCommissioner Byrneto agree that the one-kilogram exemption, which currently might have allowed Lady Jopling to bring in her smoked ham, assuming that it was not too large, should effectively be reduced to zero, with a number of exemptions. Nevertheless, the EU has moved very much in the way that we have advocated it should. That is the legislative structure.
With regard to the enforcement structure, noble Lords are right that more could be done. More has been, and will be, done. There will be additional personnel, and we have initiated a number of pilot schemes. The scheme involving sniffer dogs is a pilot; it is not intended that there should be only two dogs. If it works, clearly the scheme will be extended substantially. A number of spot checks are, and will be, based on far better sharing of intelligence. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that, although we cannot discriminate, we base our spot checks on intelligence.
There is more that can be done on that front, including in relation to information. Despite the fact that no noble Lord seems to have seen them, a significant number of posters have now been mounted in airports for those entering the country on long-haul flights. Unlike America, the bulk of our passengers arrive from the European Community, and that is a single market. We are now taking steps to ensure that more people are informed both at the point of departure and on the airline. However, in order to be effective in that regard, we require the co-operation of the airlines and airports abroad. We have made a breakthrough on that front.
As regards the longer-term deployment of resources, we shall shortly receive the outcome of a risk assessment as to how disease might enter this country. That assessment will cover not only the legal and illegal paths of entry into this country but also the question of how disease might enter the food chain thereafter. It is important that Members of the Committee recognise that, however draconian the measures, one cannot be absolutely certain of keeping out diseased or illegal meat. In practice, tonnes and tonnes of illegal meat enter the United States and even Australia. Therefore, we need to combine internal controls with minimising the threat from outside.
As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and others who made this point, there is an overlap of jurisdictions of agencies. We are currently in the process of examining that overlap to see whether some rationalisation and enhancement would be helpful.
I believe that that deals with the points of regulation enforcement, information and jurisdiction. No doubt Members of the Committee would like to have more details and, once we have received the review of the operation of the various authorities, I shall let noble Lords who have taken part in this debate know the outcome of that review.
However, today we are debating the issue of an annual report covering all those actions. I believe that paragraph (a) of the new clause proposed in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, covers most of the areas. If it is necessary for it to be more explicit, no doubt we can consider that. But I support the noble Lord's amendment and ask the Committee to do so.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page