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3.30 pm

Mr. Morley: We have spent two hours on new clause 1, which, I accept, deals with an important issue. I am not at all complacent and recognise that preventing disease at the point of entry is a key issue, but it is not the only issue. There are three issues in disease control: preventing disease from getting here in the first place, which we have debated; controlling the spread of disease once it appears in the country; and, of course, eradicating the disease and the measures needed to do that. All those criteria are important.

I have differences, not necessarily with Members who have spoken this afternoon, but with people who try to present the issue of import control as the only method of controlling disease in this country. Some of them would be happy to have import control barriers and stop meat coming in from other countries. It is a myth that everything that comes from abroad is substandard; that is not the case, and no one in the House would suggest that. However, some Members have suggested that our import controls are substandard in comparison with other countries. There is no evidence of that; our import controls, procedures and methods are as good as, if not better than, those of any other European country.

Unlike a lot of Members, the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) has been to see one of our border inspection posts, through which all third-country imports have to go. They are well run, efficient and well resourced; some are very modern indeed. That does not mean that we should not look at whether we should make them better and whether there is a case for strengthening border controls and inspections. The Department has been doing that; we have spent more money on publicity at points of entry so that people are aware of controls. We have had a cross-Department review as the issue is a multi-agency one, involving Customs and Excise, port health authorities and local authorities. The Food Standards Agency provides an overview, but it does not exercise regulatory control over the inspections. Our minds are certainly not closed to improvements and, if necessary, strengthened law and regulations. I have doubts about adding the new clauses to the Bill because the powers that we have at present can be changed by order. Parliamentary time is a precious resource; if regulations on import controls need to be changed, that can be done by order, so primary legislation is not necessarily required.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: I am dismayed—[Interruption.] Well, I shall probably be even more dismayed later. The Minister is introducing draconian and sweeping powers to deal with the spread of disease and its eradication, yet the Government have not done anything of any consequence—and he knows that they have not—about

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the importation of disease into the United Kingdom. We can gather from what he has said that nothing done so far has been in the least bit effective. In an intervention, he gave a different view from the one that he is giving now. Will he revert to type and accept the new clause? He could have done something about the problem in the Bill and taken action, but that has not happened.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Lady is again confusing the facts. The Bill deals with animal health, but import regulations deal with a different subject although, of course, if necessary, they can be changed. However, I come back to the point that allegations are just allegations; the evidence is not there. That does not mean that illegal imports are not coming into the country—the fact that we have been seizing them demonstrates that they have been coming in. There have been seizures of illegal commercial imports; the bush meat seizures at Heathrow airport are an example of Customs and Excise applying a risk assessment at points of entry and taking efficient action. Some of the people involved in the organised illegal bush meat trade have been sent to jail. I may be wrong, but that has never happened before, and it shows how seriously the Government treat illegal imports and demonstrates that action has to be taken.

Mr. Bacon: A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that primary legislation was, in his view, almost certainly not necessary. However, the excellent new clause 1, which was tabled by my hon. Friends, and new clause 4, which was tabled by the hon. Members for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), are agnostic on the question of whether or not primary legislation is required; they merely require the Minister to report back to the House.

Mr. Morley: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to get to it, I shall answer his point later. I want to deal first with the myths and put things in perspective.

We are not out of sync with other countries, especially European ones, in the measures that we have taken to protect our consumers as well as animal and public health. I saw an interesting television programme about American border inspections. The Americans take that seriously, and I do not wish to imply otherwise, but the programme showed a guy searching luggage. He found some imported meat, including dead tropical rats, but because he could not find dead tropical rats in his guidebook he said that they must be all right, and allowed them into the country. That does not strike me as wonderful enforcement at the point of entry.

Let us put things in perspective. We need to look at enforcement. At the conference yesterday, I saw the presentation by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which hon. Members have mentioned. The person giving the presentation was also in the European Union foot and mouth disease group. The presentation showed the scale of the spread of foot and mouth and indicated that 2000-01 has been the worst year ever for international outbreaks, not just those in the UK. A survey of risk assessment by the group demonstrated that the UK was last in risk assessment, which proves that one should not be complacent about many of the issues.

We shall have to look at those issues, but they are not the only ones. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) rightly said that the Devon inquiry was

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the first one. As she said, we know that the disease came to Devon via sheep movements in the country but, incredibly, the report did not mention biosecurity measures to stop the spread of disease.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): Nobody participating in our debate or in the Bill's Committee stage has suggested that importation is the only thing that matters, although it is important, as the Minister will acknowledge. It would help to put things in perspective if he told us the total resource or financial commitment that the Government are making available towards preventing the importation of illegal food, and the number of people employed in that role.

Mr. Morley: That is a multi-agency responsibility that goes beyond government, so I do not have the figures immediately to hand, but I am happy to try to get them for the hon. Gentleman, as I believe in being open and transparent. As has been said, having a report is not a bad thing so that people can see what is being done. From the Government's point of view, it is a good idea to demonstrate what is being done by giving the number of prosecutions and seizures. I am not against that principle. In fact, my hon. Friends the Members for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who tabled new clause 4, made a good case; a case was also made for clause 1. My hon. Friends tabled a similar amendment in Committee, so they have been thinking ahead.

To a certain extent, we already conduct a review. Under the Animal Health Act 1981, a report on expenditure incurred, prosecutions under the Act, and the incidence of disease in imported animals is produced every year. Of course, that report deals with imported animals so it is not quite the same as the report proposed in the new clauses. I recognise that, and I do not disagree with the very persuasive arguments advanced by my hon. Friends.

The question is whether it is legally possible to include such a clause in a Bill that does not concentrate on imports. That does not mean that we do not take the new clause seriously; we do. The issue is the nature of the Bill. I will consult the Department's lawyers and other Departments, as it is a cross-Government matter. The principle of an annual report is perfectly reasonable and fair. If a measure along the lines of the new clause can be arranged, whether it is introduced in the Bill or elsewhere, I am willing to press the case.

Mrs. Winterton: I am grateful to the Minister for that response, which warmed up a little towards the end, but having considered the matter and listened to the debate, in which virtually every speaker from both sides of the House supported the principle of an annual report, which the Minister himself accepted, I fear that I cannot accept his undertaking to introduce the measure in another form, for the simple reason that we know that there is tremendous pressure on legislative time.

Unless I can have a cast-iron guarantee that the measure will be introduced in the other place, I must press the motion to a Division. If the Minister can give me a cast-iron guarantee now that the measure will be introduced in the other House during the passage of the Bill, I shall accept what he says.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Lady knows that, because of the wording of both new clauses, I cannot give a cast-iron

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guarantee. I have given the House an undertaking that I am willing to consider ways in which we can advance the principle. That may well involve changes in the Bill, but I shall have to take advice on that, and I shall certainly do so.

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