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Lord Elton: My Lords, surely this House and another place should have a voice before legislation is tabled. Once a Bill is on the table, there is a narrow corridor down which you have to go. Unless you kill the Bill, you finish up with some variety of what has been put there by the Government. Parliament is here to control the Government, not to be steered by them.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, both Houses of Parliament will obviously have a view and a voice in relation to what happens. It is a matter for the usual channels to determine what debates should take place. But the process has so far involved stage one reform--which was accompanied by a large number of debates in both Houses about stage two reform; then there was a Royal Commission; a Joint Committee will follow; then there will be a national debate, and then legislation.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, food inspection services at ports are the responsibility of the relevant local authorities. It is incumbent on these authorities to ensure that they have the resources and facilities in place to carry out their statutory duties in relation to imported foods.
Lord Luke: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. My Question was tied to the deplorable importation of contaminated meat from Germany, which has occurred five times over the past months. The imports included spinal cord, which is one of several specified risk materials and which has been very visible in these cases. Is it possible, however, that more specified risk materials may have slipped through into this country? According to a report in the Sunday Express, the Food Standards Agency is said to be furious. So it should be. What action have the Government recommended in regard to the importation of contaminated meat, and what action will they now take?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point to the seriousness of these matters. However, the very fact that the Meat Hygiene Service was able, through sample inspections, to detect what had happened indicates that the system is working well in this country. But we cannot be complacent. As a result, with effect from 30th January, the official veterinary service has been instructed by the Meat Hygiene Service, when carrying out its next routine visits to a cutting plant or a cold store, to perform a specified risk material inspection of all beef carcasses imported from Germany. In addition, the Food Standards Agency has written to all local authorities advising them that all premises likely to receive consignments of German beef should be subject to further random checks, and that any beef imported from Germany should be inspected during these visits. At the same time, we have vigorously taken up with the European Union the issue of whether the German Government are enforcing the rules and regulations effectively in Germany as regards this matter.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, would the problem be avoided if we were allowed to stamp meat as being imported from Germany; or are we prevented from doing so? Why, as was reported in the newspapers last Sunday, has the research into the BSE prion been delayed for two years? Surely it is important that this should be resumed immediately?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as regards research and the general issues regarding BSE, the Government's response to the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, will be published very shortly.
As regards the labelling of beef, there is no issue as regards the source of the beef which was the subject of concerns identified by the Meat Hygiene Service. The issue is that elements of specified risk material were
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is it possible for German beef to be processed in this country, for example, to be minced, and then sold packaged without it being plain to the consumer that it is German beef? Is it in the British national interest, given the present state of agriculture in this country, that we should import foreign beef?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we import little beef from Germany or, indeed, France. I certainly believe that British beef should be enjoyed and bought with vigour by people in this country. But I do not believe that we should put in place arbitrary restrictions on imports that go beyond the EU rules and regulations. As regards French imports, for example, other countries sought to stop them and the issue is now the subject of proceedings by the European Union. The best procedure is to be vigorous, as the Meat Hygiene Service is, to ensure that where we discover problems we pursue them vigorously through the European Union. That is what we are doing.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend share my surprise that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who lectured this country for years when Secretary of State about the virtues of a market economy, seems to have changed his mind? Is not the real issue that we need to press not only the German authorities to adopt the same standards that exist in our abattoirs, but that all European Union countries should adopt those standards immediately?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, certainly we can be proud of the way in which abattoirs in this country are managed and inspected. I hope that the rigour with which this country pursues those inspections will be followed by other countries within the European Union. That is why we are pressing as determinedly as we can for action to be taken by the European Union in relation to Germany where clearly things have gone wrong in the past few months. As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, he is right that products containing beef are not subject to the labelling requirements of the EU beef labelling system, but they, like other foods, are subject to the place of origin requirements of the food labelling regulations 1996. In relation to labelling, we continue to press for much clearer information for all products.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Government are committed to doing whatever is necessary to help the police to tackle intimidation. Tough laws exist to protect businesses and individuals from violent or threatening protests, but we intend to strengthen these further to give the police additional powers to ensure that businesses and individuals can go about their business without fear of violence or intimidation. The measures we are proposing will allow the police to take action to prevent extremists protesting outside people's homes and will also strengthen the law against the sending of malicious communications.
Arson and criminal damage are serious criminal offences and perpetrators are liable to arrest and prosecution. The Government are consulting closely with the police service, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to achieve an effective and consistent approach to enforcement of the law, focusing particularly on animal rights extremists.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that intimidation has gone quite beyond animal rights terrorism to include such things as last year's fuel protest, numerous attacks on synagogues and mosques in recent months and some intimidation of witnesses? Will the Government seek to mobilise public opinion as well as the police against this kind of behaviour and in protection of public safety and the Queen's peace?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, sadly, the various forms of intimidation to which the noble Lord referred have been a feature of modern life for some time. The police do an excellent job in balancing the legitimate rights of peaceful protest with effective enforcement action. Our Government stand firm against intimidation, as we demonstrated clearly last year when the fuel protestors acted in the way they did in certain circumstances. We stand firm against intimidation wherever it comes from. That is our avowed course and intent.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, will the noble Lord tell the House whether any arrests have been made in recent months arising from personal injury or damage to personal property committed by those who claim to represent animal rights?
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