Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative 5:00 pm, 7th October 2002

I begin by declaring an interest as a farmer, although at the moment I have no livestock.

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 added—I speak in broad terms—that 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 stage—18 months after the outbreak last year—to 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.