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Baroness Byford: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many abattoirs are operational now compared with five years ago? I should like to know how many are closed but keep their licence. It is necessary that there should be sufficient abattoirs up and running at this time.
Lord Carter: My Lords, there are 640 licensed abattoirs. In addition there are just over 900 other licensed premises such as cold stores, cutting rooms, and so on. We do not know the number--it is very small--of those which have closed but still retain their licences. As soon as the authorities are aware of closure, they attempt to revoke the licence.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, can the Minister say whether he believes that the Meat Hygiene Service is doing its job? Originally we were worried about BSE and E.coli. I understand that the incidence of E.coli is increasing exponentially. I sincerely believe that most abattoir owners seek to co-operate with the Meat Hygiene Service. However, they find that extremely difficult when, the Meat Hygiene Service operators having said, for example, "I found a piece of stainless steel that you have not washed", and having been asked, "Where?", they receive the reply from the inspector, "You can find it". Is that the atmosphere in which these people should be asked to work?
Lord Carter: My Lords, I am always wary of anecdotal evidence. However, the protection of consumers is the Government's first priority. We are determined to ensure that meat produced for human consumption is produced to high standards. The MHS has been instructed to take rigorous actions where necessary to ensure compliance with the requirements
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is it government policy further to reduce the number of slaughterhouses, given that those are often sources of useful employment and local activity in rural areas? Alternatively, as part of its rural policy, does the Ministry include keeping open as many slaughterhouses as possible, and indeed encouraging some to reopen in remote areas which are major meat producers?
Lord Carter: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a fair point about the balance between the rural economy and the fact that there is substantial over-capacity in the red meat slaughtering sector and in particular in respect of abattoirs which slaughter cattle and sheep. There is intense competition between slaughterhouses for throughput and for customers. We know that the profit margins are low.
As a result of that over-capacity, it is inevitable that some will have to close. Abattoir numbers have been declining year on year for more than 20 years in response to commercial pressures and demand in specific areas.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the same strict standards to which he himself has referred in his answers are being applied inside the European Community, in particular in France?
Lord Carter: My Lords, harmonised EC meat hygiene rules--I am sure my noble friend will be delighted to know that they apply equally in all EU member states--lay down detailed and specific requirements for the supervision of licensed abattoirs by official vets; that is, the fully qualified veterinary surgeons. The rules specify the duties and the responsibilities of such official veterinarians in respect of ante mortem and post mortem veterinary inspections.
However, the CAA is aware of the interest to residents of helicopters wishing to overfly London and therefore attach extra conditions to the permission to fly. These can include restricting the operations and the movement of the helicopters. The local authority also has an interest in respect of planning permission.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he confirm that he is aware of the great concern of those people living in the vicinity--I am talking of course about the Harrods' helicopter--where new helicopter landings are proposed on top of tall buildings in London residential areas? Does the noble Lord agree that residents have legitimate cause for worry due to loss of amenity through high levels of intrusive noise, wind turbulence on landing, pollution, and aspects of safety? Do not the divisions of responsibility between the CAA, the local authority and the DETR leave possible gaps in control and as regards consultation with local people?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the CAA's prime responsibility in these circumstances is safety. I understand that with regard to the specific site which underlies the noble Baroness's question, a permission was granted last December to operate a maximum of 10 flights per week for a year. That permission was based on safety standards and the frequency stipulated. As far as the CAA is aware, that has not been exerted apart from testing flights and therefore the CAA has not received any representations. Matters of noise and disturbance are primarily matters for the local authority, as in other noise situations.
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that those of us who live in central London have to suffer helicopters hovering overhead, sometimes for hours on end. While those may be necessary, perhaps for police purposes, will my noble friend confirm that they will not be used, on any account, for tourist flights and other such frivolous purposes?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is a heliport in London and there are routes to the heliport in Wandsworth. However, the majority of flights in the neighbourhood of this Palace, and, indeed, my noble friend's residence, relate to police and military movements. There are very few building-top sites with permission in central London.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have letters here from Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council which make it clear that Harrods has made an application for a certificate of lawful proposed use which has been refused? Harrods
Lord Whitty: My Lords, my understanding is slightly different from that of the noble Earl. I understand that Kensington and Chelsea Council has received an informal approach about planning permission. If planning permission is required and Harrods goes ahead with seeking that, then obviously the views of residents will be taken fully into account in that and in any appeal to the Secretary of State.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, am I to understand from my noble friend that, unlike the situation at airports in London where consultative committees operate with representatives of local authorities and residents who are most affected, heliports are not served by such consultative committees in the capital? If not, why not?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is a different arrangement in relation to the Wandsworth heliport. We were discussing private helipads on the top of buildings and clearly such arrangements would not be appropriate in those circumstances.
Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I declare a non-financial interest as the chairman of the British Helicopter Advisory Board. Does the Minister agree that in addition to Battersea--and this matter has been discussed over many years--properly approved, licensed and regulated facilities for landing helicopters in London might reduce the number of ad hoc sites such as the one about which my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes is concerned which are allowed to operate under existing planning legislation? Do the Government intend to take forward some of the work which was conducted several years ago in the London Heliport Study which looked into that particular issue?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I shall write to the noble Lord on that matter. That is not planned in immediate terms. But that will clearly be a matter to be considered when we look at integrated transport provision within London to be undertaken both by the Government and, eventually, subject to Parliament's view, the mayor of London.
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