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 Plumb Lord Plumb Conservative 5:00 pm, 7th October 2002

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 because—this very simple point has just been raised by my noble friend Lord Jopling—we 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 Prelate—other noble Lords have supported his comment and I can, too—it 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 better if positive action were taken and if the country were able to see that action was being taken in order effectively to bring about import controls.

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.