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 The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Crossbench 5:00 pm, 7th October 2002

I, too, support all those who have expressed concerns about imports and the lack of controls that exist at present. Over and over again at Question Time, the Minister has been asked what is being done about import controls. He says that we are having meetings with this and that person and with this and that group and that everyone is being consulted. But at the end of the summer, 18 months after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, all we have is two sniffer dogs.

When introducing the Bill at Second Reading, the Minister said how urgent and important the Bill was and how badly needed it was. He has—Ministers generally have—the power to stop imports coming into the country. I see the Minister shaking his head, but they do. Section 10 of the Animal Health Act 1981 states:

"The Ministers may by orders make such provision as they think fit for the purpose of preventing the introduction or spreading of disease into or within Great Britain through the importation of . . . animals and carcases . . . carcases of poultry and eggs; and . . . other things, whether animate or inanimate, by or by means of which it appears to them that any disease might be carried or transmitted".

The Minister has the powers to make orders to stop people bringing in such items. But what do we have? Two sniffer dogs. And all this talk, talk, talk achieves nothing.

I wonder whether Ministers have carried out a cost-benefit exercise on providing sniffer dogs and environmental health officers to inspect loads and baggage entering the country and the cost of the last foot and mouth outbreak. The benefits of import preventions and even posters on the walls at airports and ports would be enormous compared with doing nothing except having meetings. Frankly, I am appalled by the lack of action in these circumstances when something could have been done very much sooner.