Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:15 pm, 7th October 2002

If the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will forgive me—this is his amendment—I believe that I should respond to one or two of the points raised, although I am not sure that many of them are apposite to the content of the Bill.

The regulation of imports from third countries into this country is governed by European legislation. The Government have recently been very successful in getting the EU—Commissioner Byrne—to agree that the one-kilogram exemption, which currently might have allowed Lady Jopling to bring in her smoked ham, assuming that it was not too large, should effectively be reduced to zero, with a number of exemptions. Nevertheless, the EU has moved very much in the way that we have advocated it should. That is the legislative structure.

With regard to the enforcement structure, noble Lords are right that more could be done. More has been, and will be, done. There will be additional personnel, and we have initiated a number of pilot schemes. The scheme involving sniffer dogs is a pilot; it is not intended that there should be only two dogs. If it works, clearly the scheme will be extended substantially. A number of spot checks are, and will be, based on far better sharing of intelligence. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that, although we cannot discriminate, we base our spot checks on intelligence.

There is more that can be done on that front, including in relation to information. Despite the fact that no noble Lord seems to have seen them, a significant number of posters have now been mounted in airports for those entering the country on long-haul flights. Unlike America, the bulk of our passengers arrive from the European Community, and that is a single market. We are now taking steps to ensure that more people are informed both at the point of departure and on the airline. However, in order to be effective in that regard, we require the co-operation of the airlines and airports abroad. We have made a breakthrough on that front.

As regards the longer-term deployment of resources, we shall shortly receive the outcome of a risk assessment as to how disease might enter this country. That assessment will cover not only the legal and illegal paths of entry into this country but also the question of how disease might enter the food chain thereafter. It is important that Members of the Committee recognise that, however draconian the measures, one cannot be absolutely certain of keeping out diseased or illegal meat. In practice, tonnes and tonnes of illegal meat enter the United States and even Australia. Therefore, we need to combine internal controls with minimising the threat from outside.

As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and others who made this point, there is an overlap of jurisdictions of agencies. We are currently in the process of examining that overlap to see whether some rationalisation and enhancement would be helpful.

I believe that that deals with the points of regulation enforcement, information and jurisdiction. No doubt Members of the Committee would like to have more details and, once we have received the review of the operation of the various authorities, I shall let noble Lords who have taken part in this debate know the outcome of that review.

However, today we are debating the issue of an annual report covering all those actions. I believe that paragraph (a) of the new clause proposed in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, covers most of the areas. If it is necessary for it to be more explicit, no doubt we can consider that. But I support the noble Lord's amendment and ask the Committee to do so.