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 Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative 4:45 pm, 7th October 2002

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 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.