Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 7th October 2002

It is a privilege to move this amendment, because of the great concerns that have been expressed by informed people in the agriculture industry, the food industry and the veterinary profession, who regard the provisions on the import of animal meat into this country as wholly unsatisfactory. I acknowledge that the Minister has said that he will accept the amendment.

We require an annual review of import controls, with Ministers preparing a report during each financial year to review all activities of government departments that are connected with import controls, including the Food Standards Agency, local authorities, Customs and Excise, police authorities and other relevant public agencies directed to the prevention of the introduction of disease into or within England and Wales through the importation of animal products and matter, whether animate or inanimate, and other things. The amendment would bring together all those departments and any annual report produced would be a composite of their findings.

The report would also identify the nature, origin and quantity of such animal products and matter and state whether the product or matter was destined for personal or commercial consumption. It would assess the making of any order under Section 10 of this Act and the effectiveness of any action taken under such an order. On the basis of advice given to the Ministers by suitably qualified individuals appointed as their scientific advisers, it would also propose such further action as may be required to reduce further the risk of disease being imported. Ministers would lay the report before Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales at the end of each financial year.

The amendment is a comprehensive way of tackling the problem of illegal imports. I have heard various estimates of the problem, the highest being that 6 million containers come in through the ports of this country. Another estimate is 1.7 million. There is no doubt that many containers carry illegal imports. We do not have adequate controls. I welcome the fact that sniffer dogs are now being used at Heathrow, but I was rather dismayed to learn that there were only two and that they were the only ones operating in the country. When I entered Australia from New Zealand last winter, my size 12 shoes were removed immediately and I had quite a job getting them back because I had been on farms in New Zealand. New Zealand farms are pretty clear of disease and there is a fairly pristine environment over there. We have nothing like that sort of control.

We can report on these matters, but the big questions are how effective the measures are going to be and what action will be taken to make import controls of animal products much more effective. On 1st May in the other place, my successor in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency, Roger Williams MP, introduced a Port Protection Authority Bill, which would establish an authority,

"to exercise those powers and responsibilities now exercised by port health authorities, trading standards authorities and HM Customs and Excise; to monitor the legality, quality and integrity of imported goods and to collect any duties upon them; and to report annually to Parliament on its effectiveness in carrying out its duties".

The purpose of that Bill is to strengthen import controls at sea ports and airports by simplifying the structures and making the lines of accountability much more transparent. As I have said, there is a great deal of public concern about the control of imports. Large quantities of drugs, tobacco, alcohol and meat are smuggled into Britain each year. The current system of import control is very complex and involves a number of agencies, including Customs and Excise, which is responsible to the Treasury, trading standards departments, which are local authority functions, and port health authorities, which are local authorities in their own right.

Trying to monitor imports of animal products into this country is a complex process. The annual report suggested in the amendment would be a considerable move forward. Are the Government actively pursuing the streamlining of those bodies to ensure that we have an effective control system, which could be a super-authority covering all departments addressing illegal imports of food, drugs and other things?

The amendment is a milestone on the way to that kind of legislation, but we need immediate legislation to ensure that an annual report is produced. It should be the result of careful gathering of information by all the authorities concerned and should result in effective action by the Government against illegal imports of food, which may bring with them foot and mouth disease and other infectious diseases that cause the kind of mayhem that occurred during 2001 with foot and mouth. We never want to see that again. The amendment is an important part of a control to ensure that we do not. I beg to move.