|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, on the costs of the meat hygiene inspectors, is the noble Lord aware that in many rural parts of this country abattoirs will cease to exist? On a recent visit to Stornoway it
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that small abattoirs have an important function, especially in the more remote parts of the United Kingdom. That is why we are looking at whatever ways we can to protect and preserve them. However, as I am sure he is aware, this is against a background in which there is an oversupply of abattoirs and in which profit margins are extremely tight. We cannot wholly prevent the workings of the free market.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister tell us who or which body he thinks should pay for this increased enforcement? Does the noble Lord think that the beef farmers are so rich that they can pay for it; or does he think that the distributors and the retailers are better able to do so?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the closing of small abattoirs up and down the country is not only bad for them and their owners but for the animals, which will have to travel greater distances to slaughter? Will my noble friend give that matter a good deal of consideration, because if he does not many animal lovers in the country will not be happy with his performance?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that as regards animal welfare it is helpful if there is an abattoir, small or otherwise, in close access. Small abattoirs often perform a service for the small producer who needs access to a nearby abattoir which will take only a few animals. I wholly agree that small abattoirs perform a very importance service.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, the Minister said that other countries will establish broadly the same service. Is there an indication that the EU will apply the same standards to Portugal, which has only five inspectors to cover its 200 abattoirs?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, that matter has given us considerable concern. The department has made inquiries into practices on the Continent of Europe and the Meat Livestock Commission is in the process of doing so. The bulk of the information does not meet the anecdotal belief that on the Continent they do not apply these rules. I do not have information with me on Portugal, but if we have it I shall write to the noble Baroness.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, there have been no prosecutions to date under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. The difficulties in obtaining enough evidence to support a conviction are considerable. The Government fund a range of educational projects in Britain, where strong links have been formed with Forward, the leading voluntary organisation in the field, and abroad working alongside and within these communities. We believe that that is the best way to ensure that this most harmful practice is stamped out.
Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that most helpful reply. Does she agree that a policy of encouraging young Somali graduates to become social workers and health professionals might be a wise course as people more readily accept advice from members of their own ethnic group?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, my noble friend is right. We need to have educational and social services which reflect the communities they serve. They would be effective in this area if we gained the trust of those communities and worked within them. For that reason, we have funded a range of projects to help professionals both from those communities and those who work within them to develop sensitive educational materials to take forward the work. We have also funded a project specifically to investigate the dynamics of the continuation of female genital mutilation among young Somalis living in London.
Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a successful and popular programme of education in this field is PLA, participatory learning in action? How much support are the Government giving to that?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am afraid that I was not aware of that programme, but I shall certainly look into it to see whether it can be applied. Undoubtedly, we need to use whatever avenues are effective because the problem is difficult to tackle.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I believe that where there is evidence that the practice takes place and where we could successfully prosecute, we ought to do so. It is right that we made the practice a criminal offence. However, there is no evidence that the police or the Crown Prosecution Service are holding back on such prosecutions. For reasons which my noble friend will understand, it is very difficult to obtain appropriate evidence. That is why the education effort is particularly worth while. When offences are committed, we should prosecute in order to protect children. However, we can take other measures through the Children Act in order to safeguard children who are at risk.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, does the Minister accept that any doctor on the UK register found to have performed the operation would, under law, be referred to the General Medical Council with an issue of serious professional misconduct arising? However, there is no law in this country which prevents anyone, however unqualified, carrying out surgery. Under the law, people are not allowed to be called "registered medical practitioners" if they are not. Is it not right that those unqualified individuals, few in number, who are carrying out this operation, resulting in great mutilation, should be pursued as vigorously as possible?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. The General Medical Council has acted in an exemplary fashion in cases where there has been evidence of people willing to undertake the work. All professional groups in this country have done what they can to educate their own members about the importance of being on the lookout for the practice. Perhaps I may reiterate that where there is evidence, the possibility of prosecution will be looked at most seriously by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.