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Mrs. Browning: I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman praying in aid the excellent work of the trading standards officers in Gloucestershire county council. However, I recall that only yesterday, in Westminster Hall, he was advocating abolishing Gloucestershire county council.
Mr. Drew: I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to say that that is why I am calling for unitary authorities. In that way, we might have some real co-ordination, with different officers working in the same way. I am in no way being derogatory about the excellent work they do, but rationalising the services makes sense. These proposals are about improving co-ordination and making sure that people work together.
The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) hit the nail on the head, which he does more often than not. We are not simply talking about the main ports of entry. Not a lot of people know this, but I have in my constituency a port called Sharpness. On a busy week, about 10 ships come in to it. I am loth to remind my hon. Friend the Minister, but we had an immediate rapport about this when I came to this House. My hon. Friend told me that he had managed to negotiate an improvement in the herring quota for my constituency. The only problem was that although I have a port in my constituency, I do not have a herring fleet, and I put him right later on. It appeared in Punch, and is a legitimate source of interest between us.
Sharpness is the epitome of the problem. It is a very small port, although its tonnage is growing. The idea is to have permanent people on the port side looking at every cargo that comes in. We have foodstuffs coming in, but nothing mainstream. New clause 4 puts forward ideas for improving that. Given that unity of purpose, my hon. Friend the Minister would be churlish, to put it mildly, if he did not allow us to consider ways in which to improve the situation. We can talk about that, in this place or the other place, and about how to use the existing legislation more effectively.
There is an issue here concerning our relationship with the European Union. I had the opportunity to speak on this matter about a month ago when we considered the potential of the European food standards agency. In many respects, our Food Standards Agency, introduced by a Labour Government, has set the trend for other countries within Europe and further afield. They regularly draw on the evidence of the Food Standards Agency to see what
If the Food Standards Agency is to be the lead agency, as looks highly likely, I accept that the Food Standards Agency should report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as well as the Department of Health. That is one of the only recommendations that I made when looking at DEFRA's terms of reference. We can have that argument another time. How do we empower the Food Standards Agency, what do we expect it to do, how do we monitor its performance and how do we expect the other Government agencies and Departments to relate to it?
Finally, when we talk about farmers improving their biosecurity, there is a trade-off with the need to know that there is a so-called level playing field. It will be more level if farmers know that there is a regime that not only deals with imports but tells people what it does. Because there are various agencies trying hard to do what they can, it is never completely clear who is taking the lead and what they are doing.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to allay a lot of fears. The debate has been important; I am glad that it has come at the start of the Report stage rather than getting squeezed off the end, as happened before. This is an important point, and we will have done a great deal of good if we make sure that things are tightened up and we all know where we are going.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Perhaps I might tempt the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to save the House further debate on this subject. I should be delighted if he would intervene to tell me whether he agrees or disagrees with the proposal. New clauses 1 and 4 focus centrally on the production of a report, and some cogent arguments have already been put by hon. Members in support of that idea. Would the Minister like to stop me going on for too long by telling me whether he agrees or disagrees with the proposal?
Mr. Morley: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman whoas evergoes straight to the point. Obviously hon. Members want me to respond, but I cannot do so in an intervention. I can only say that I think that the case is being made well and I am very sympathetic in principle to the idea of the report as well as to the general principle of being open and transparent. However, I am not sure whether the Bill is the right vehicle for that, as the issue is one of importsnot animal health. However, I am prepared to take the proposals seriously and to consider whether we can do something along those lines.
Mr. Jack: I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention. When he appeared before the Select Committee and we probed him, as many have done, as to why the measure had been so hastily and speedily introduced, he reminded usincluding those of us who have served in the ministerial area that he occupies with
Westminster Hall offers us more opportunities to debate such reports, which would also enable the Select Committee to go through such matters. By the time the Minister responds to the debate, I hope that he will have resolved his internal struggle as to whether he will sign up to the proposal to produce such a reportwhether enshrined in law, as I should prefer because that would guarantee that it was done, or undertaken outside the provisions of the Bill.
As other new clauses and amendments rightly point out, it is also important to develop a strategic approach towards not only foot and mouth but a range of potentially lethal and infectious diseasesas suggested in schedule 2that threaten us in the United Kingdom. The proposed report would assist in the development of a biosecurity strategy to which all parties could make a contribution.
When the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) spoke to his new clause, he talked about the Food Standards Agency. I do not think that is the right lead body: in essence, the issue relates to animal health and, as many hon. Members have already pointed out, it involves many governmental and non-governmental agencies. DEFRA would offer the best co-ordinating point for all those elements, so that each can make their contribution to the production of the report.
The report could also be developed as an action document for a wider biosecurity network. I have studied the information issued by DEFRA in its briefing: "The Animal Health Billfrequently asked questions". The strategy for dealing with importation covers little more than one A4 page. Most of it describes various forms of publicity. The most far-sighted statement is:
We should not let people forget the foot and mouth outbreak. Although the previous one was in 1967, the cases of swine fever and other diseases show that it may not be long before there is another outbreak. It is better that we are rigorously prepared; the report would make a contribution to that.
Mrs. Browning: The Minister will be aware that, in Committee and during today's debate, I have drawn his attention to the first conclusion of Professor Mercer's inquiry into foot and mouth in Devon. It is an indictment of the Government that, in drawing up primary legislation, on Second Reading and in Committee, they flatly refused to address the urgent need to ensure that action is taken to deal with imports. We must do that if any lesson is to be learned from the recent foot and mouth outbreak.
I support the new clause. However, umpteen glossy Government reports pass through the House, so I hope that, if the Minister is amenable to the suggestions and produces an annual report, he will not see it as a soft option. The report will need to give tangible and quantifiable evidence and to demonstrate year-on-year progress. It must be devoid of any of the usual spin doctor wafflethe matter is important and it deserves better treatment than that. The report will need to be statistically