Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Lord Rooker, Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Chairman

  I am writing to let you know that we have today made a technical amendment to the Cattle Identification Regulation 1998, the Cattle Database regulation 1998 and the Egg (Marketing Standards) Regulation 1995.

  These amendments make no procedural changes, and the rules which cattle keepers and egg producers and retailers need to follow will not be changed in any way. They simply update the cross-references to the European Union legislation that the three Regulations implement, following changes to the European legislation.

  The effect of not having updated the cross-references has been challenged in court. I do not want to take any unnecessary risks when it comes to enforcing this legislation, which is designed to protect public health, and so I am now closing that gap and making it absolutely clear what offences are punishable under the legislation. The powers for enforcement of the egg Regulations are subject to the same consideration. It is particularly important that cattle keepers comply with EU law on the identification and movement of cattle if public health is to remain protected. The step change in performance by the British cattle industry has been recognised in the lifting of the export ban, and rigorous enforcement of the rules has been a factor in getting the ban lifted. It is right that the enforcement powers be updated now by these minor amendments.

  These amendments will put future prosecutions on a solid legal foundation. That leaves a question over how sound previous prosecutions have been since the domestic and EU legislation got out of line with each other. I understand that there have been around 250 successful prosecutions during that time under this legislation, in which the courts have interpreted the references to the EU legislation as being references to the updated EU legislation. The legal effect of the mis-match has not been tested until now. It is now for the court to decide what the effect has been and what consequences flow from that decision in respect of those who have already been convicted.

  I must emphasise, however, that these convictions will have been obtained in respect of actions that breached the EU legislation designed to protect public health. I am satisfied that our enforcement procedures have been, and will continue to be, rigorous. Public and animal health has been protected by the work of our inspectors, and will continue to be so.

14 June 2006

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