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Mr. Paice: Of course it was because of foot and mouth. However, we were struck by how seriously Australia took the issue. Accidentally or not, there was no way in which one was able to bring in any food product however small. Until and unless we adopt such policies in this country and throughout Europe, we shall continue to face the dangers associated with the import of foodstuffs.
When I referred to the outbreak of swine fever in East Anglia, the Minister said that his scientists had concluded that it was probablythe case cannot be absolutely provencaused by an illegal import or an import of pigmeat in some form or other, probably a ham sandwich, from a country where the far-eastern strain of classical swine fever is endemic. As we do not allow pigmeat imports from any of those countries, the import of this product would have been illegal.
If the scientists are correctI have no reason to doubt their findingsthe word "probably" becomes terribly important. The precautionary principle applies and I am sure that the Minister, who is a reasonable man, will agree that "probably" is sufficient to justify precautionary measures.
Despite that case, I have seen no evidence that suggests that controls have been improved at our sea ports or airports. I hope that the Minister will tell me that I am wrong and will point to the range of measures that the Government have enforced since the veterinary report into swine fewer was produced to show that significant improvements have been made. I suspect that he will not be able to do that, and that reinforces the case for the publication of an annual report.
The Minister was impressive in his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde. The hon. Gentleman showed that he was open minded and, even if he cannot make a commitment in the next few minutes, I stress to him that we can make further progress on this matter in another place. I hope that he will undertake that this crucial issue will be considered there. No one has spoken in this debate against the proposal in the new clause, and I hope that he will appreciate that.
Mr. Wiggin: I have opposed the Bill since its introduction and the only redeeming feature in it would be the inclusion of new clause 1. The Bill is draconian and remains unamended. It is extremely worrying in every way.
When the Minister was in Brussels yesterday, he will have heard about the new vaccination testing that will allow the tests to differentiate between vaccinated and infected animals. That means that vaccination will become a more effective tool in combating foot and mouth. Although there is no demand for a general
If we adopted new clause 1 and could move away from the concept of slaughter, a huge part of the Bill would become obsolete. If we could focus on preventing the import of disease and not on the 5 million animals that were slaughtered, we would be doing something positive and not concentrating on passing a draconian Bill.
I have examined other parts of the Bill and hoped that science would throw light on them. It did, because one of my constituents was the first to be genotype-tested for scrapie. [Hon. Members: "Not the sheep?"] Mrs. Sue Farquhar will be grateful to hon. Members for pointing out that it was her flock of Shropshire sheep that were genotype-tested. She is from Hansnett farm in Canon Frome and, in an article in Farmers Weekly a few weeks ago, she and her husband advocated that all sheep owners should have their flocks scrapie tested. I am sure that all hon. Members agree that that was a positive suggestion.
Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. If it were accepted, new clause 1 would be the only reason to support the Bill. If it is not accepted, we shall need to consider all the different reasons why the scrapie tests have been invalidated. That is why I may have strayed briefly from the point. However, I feel that if I cannot mention the matter, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will have let down my constituent, but worse than that, I will have let down all livestock owners in the UK
Mr. Wiggin: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall return to the new clause and, in particular, to the point that it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that they do not allow the importation of any new disease. Whether or not they decide to eradicate existing diseases is by the by, as you rightly pointed out, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I shall close, then, with the thought that the Bill's drafting and its draconian elements, and the fact that I have been unable to tell the Minister about scrapie, mean that it is essential that we support new clause 1, and I hope that Labour Members will do so.
Mr. Bacon: I shall start where my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) left offwith the difference between the Government's talk and their action. Just this morning, I was speaking to a leading figure in the pig industry, who said:
This country has been exposed to the risk of many diseases from imported products over the years. We have had foot and mouth from Argentina, swine fever from Denmark and the Netherlands, enzootic bovine leukosis from Canada and maedi visna from Iceland, and I could go on. Indeed, my constituency was heavily affected by classical swine fever. Irrespective of whether new primary legislation is needed, what the Government are doing to co-ordinate the various agencies and to ensure that their powers are being properly used is exceptionally important.
As the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) pointed out, many agencies are involved. Customs and Excise is responsible for controls on the international movement of all goods. Local authorities are responsible for inland checks on illegal food products, including those that have been illegally imported. Port health authorities are responsible for border checks on imported foods. The Meat Hygiene Service is responsible for enforcing hygiene controls on meat imported into licensed UK cutting plants. Again, I could go on. There is a perception, which is borne out by reality, that there is no, or at best insufficient, cohesion between those bodies.
The Government recognise that. I am told that an interdepartmental taskforce is reviewing the co-ordination of responsibilities. On Second Reading, the Minister referred to that, saying that he did not think that there was a need for primary legislation, but that
Such a review should include a fundamental examination of the activity and responsibilities of central government, its agencies and local government in order to ensure coordinated activity and an effective import control regime".
Earlier this week The Daily Telegraph reported that there has been a new outbreak of Ebola in west Africa. That is, of course, a matter for human as well as animal health. Ebola has a fatality rate of about 70 per cent. It is suspected, although no one knows for certain, that it is carried by bats and ground rodents. Returning to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), in the light of such reports it behoves the Government to examine seriously whether the resources devoted to controls at airports and ports of entry are adequate. Customs and Excise rakes in about £100 billion a year on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. It beggars belief that if the risk of a disease entering the country were sufficiently high, it would not be worth spending a considerable proportion of that sum to increase the security and biosecurity of people in this country.
New clause 1 is a modest step in the right direction in that it at least places an onus on the Government to report back to the House on their actions. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will consider what has been said in this debate. On Second Reading, virtually every Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Member who spoke referred to the need for greater controls on imports. It is time that the Government took the issue much more seriously, and they could do so by accepting new clause 1.