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9 Jul 1999 : Column WA121

Written Answers

Friday, 9th July 1999.

Meat Hygiene: Questions for Written Answers

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many Questions for Written Answer have been tabled in the House of Lords since the Whitsun Recess on the subject of slaughterhouses or the Meat Hygiene Service; and what has been the cost of answering those Questions.[HL3277]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): In the three weeks following the Whitsun Recess, to 25 June 1999, 224 Written Questions on the subject of slaughterhouses or the Meat Hygiene Service were tabled in the House of Lords. The cost of answering these questions during that period, incurred by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Meat Hygiene Service, was approximately £10,920. The total cost will be substantially higher, since work on these questions will continue well into July.

In addition, the effect of answering these Questions has been to divert officials and Ministers away from other important work. The cost of this cannot be quantified.

Meat Hygiene

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps are taken to ensure that Official Veterinary Surgeons comply with the instructions to them set out in the Meat Hygiene Service operations manual; and what action is taken if it is found that they do not comply with its requirements.[HL2928]

Lord Donoughue: Comprehensive training on all aspects of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) Operations Manual is provided during the Official Veterinary Surgeon (OVS) course.

Once designated, the day-to-day work of an OVS is supervised by a Principal Official Veterinary Surgeon (POVS) who provides guidance and regular appraisals on performance. Appropriate management action is taken where areas for improvement are identified.

Additionally, audits are carried out by the Veterinary Public Health Unit (VPHU) in England, and the State Veterinary Service (SVS) in Wales and Scotland, to determine whether operations, practices and activities of the MHS at supervised abattoirs and cutting plants comply with the requirements specified in the MHS Operations Manual, relevant legislation and Codes of Practice. If any problems are found, they are discussed with the OVS responsible and, in most cases, the POVS. These discussions occur during and immediately after

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the audit so that immediate remedial action can be taken. Once completed, an audit report detailing any identified non-compliances is sent to the OVS and POVS and copied to the appropriate MHS Regional Director.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many hours are dedicated to training non-United Kingdom trained veterinary surgeons during the conversion courses for Official Veterinary Surgeons in British law, British enforcement systems and British enforcement practices.[HL2930]

Lord Donoughue: No differentiation is made during the Official Veterinary Surgeon (OVS) course as to whether a veterinary surgeon was trained in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. All trainees therefore receive exactly the same amount of training in British law, British enforcement systems and British enforcement practices.

It is not possible to state the exact number of hours dedicated during the OVS course to training specifically in these areas. However, virtually the whole course is designed around the contents of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) Operations Manual, of which aspects of British law, British enforcement systems and British enforcement practices form an integral and important part.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, during the conversion course for Official Veterinary Surgeons, the proficiency of veterinary surgeons in implementing the Hygiene Assessment Scheme is assessed; what criteria are used for any such assessment; and what action is taken when candidates fail to show sufficient proficiency.[HL2931]

Lord Donoughue: Both theoretical and practical training in the Hygiene Assessment Scheme (HAS) is undertaken as part of the Official Veterinary Surgeon (OVS) Course.

During practical sessions, trainees are required to carry out HAS scores in a fresh meat, poultry meat and cutting plant. These are done under the supervision of a Principal Official Veterinary Surgeon (POVS), and have to be completed to their satisfaction. These assessments form an integral part of the practical work that trainees have to undertake as part of their training.

Only when a trainee successfully completes all aspects of his theoretical and practical training will he be designated as an OVS.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What time limits are imposed on the Meat Hygiene Service responding to complaints about the conduct of Meat Hygiene Service staff; and[HL3011]

    What arrangements exist for the urgent resolution of complaints about the conduct of Meat Hygiene Service staff where commercial arrangements and income may be affected.[HL3012]

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Lord Donoughue: Any complaints received about the service provided by the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) are dealt with under the MHS's complaints procedure, in which certain time limits for response are specified. These are in accordance with the latest "best practice" principles promoted by the "Service First" unit of the Cabinet Office.

A copy of the MHS Complaints Procedure was sent out to all plant operators in March 1999 and I have today placed a copy of it in the Library of the House.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they have not banned imports of meat products derived from animal husbandry systems which do not match United Kingdom animal welfare standards.[HL3224]

Lord Donoughue: The legal position is quite clear. Neither the Treaty of Rome nor the rules of the World Trade Organisation allow the UK to ban the import of meat products that have not been produced to our own welfare standards.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Donoughue on 16 June (WA 28), whether the Hygiene Assessment Scheme (HAS) falls within the remit of the Fresh Meat Directive 91/497/EEC and the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995; and if not, whether slaughterhouses and cutting plant operators can refuse to co-operate with the HAS and ignore any findings from it if the HAS does not assess their compliance with statutory or non-statutory requirements.[HL3251]

Lord Donoughue: HAS scores are compiled by an Official Veterinary Surgeon (OVS) from observations made while carrying out the duties detailed in Regulation 8 of the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995, as amended. The operator is required by Regulation 20 to provide the OVS with reasonable assistance. An operator can ignore the HAS score, but cannot ignore enforcement action taken under the regulations.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Donoughue on 16 June (WA 27), whether, when they consider whether licensed slaughterhouse or meat cutting plant owners or operators should be prosecuted for alleged offences under the Meat Hygiene and Specified Risk Material Regulations, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials pay specific regard to previous enforcement actions; and in particular, how they assess whether such actions have been adequate and fair.[HL3254]

Lord Donoughue: In deciding whether to refer alleged contravention for investigation with a view to prosecution, officials will consider the history of previous enforcement actions in relation to the potential

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defendant. Members of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's Legal Department will also consider such matters as part of the decision as to whether prosecution is in the public interest. Unless it is a very serious case which requires immediate action, the adequacy and fairness of the actions will be tested primarily on the basis of whether the potential defendant should have known that what he was doing was wrong and had a chance to put matters right.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Official Veterinary Surgeons are permitted to draw conclusions as to the failure of licensed slaughterhouse or cutting plant operators to comply with Meat Hygiene or Specified Risk Material Regulations on the basis of incomplete observations, and on the basis of these observations, make allegations as to the lack of compliance.[HL3300]

Lord Donoughue: Official Veterinary Surgeons have a duty to ensure that the operators of licensed slaughterhouses or cutting plants comply with both the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995 and the Specified Risk Material Regulations 1997. They are therefore required to investigate any incident in which a breach of these rules could have occurred. However, enforcement action would not be taken unless there was satisfactory evidence that an actual breach had taken place.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a Regulatory Impact Assessment has been made by the Cabinet Office Better Regulation Unit on Meat Hygiene Service Charges; if so, whether they will place a copy in the Library of the House; and, if not, why not.[HL3367]

Lord Donoughue: A Regulatory Appraisal on the Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) (Charges) Regulations 1998 was placed in the Library of the House by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 27 August 1998.

A Regulatory Impact Assessment on the Specified Risk Material (Inspection Charges) Regulations 1999 was placed in the Library of the House by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 8 March 1999.


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