HC Deb 06 February 1992 vol 203 cc442-3
6. Mr. Gill

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made in determining the future provision of meat inspection services; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean

The Government are currently considering the findings of the recent review of meat hygiene enforcement and will announce their decision as soon as possible.

Mr. Gill

Does my hon. Friend accept the need to harmonise not only the standards but the costs of meat inspection? Why is Great Britain the only country in the Community to impose full economic cost recovery? So long as that situation continues, the British meat and livestock industry will be placed at a severe competitive disadvantage.

Mr. Maclean

Because of the EC directive on the harmonisation of charges, which Britain, as usual, has implemented fairly and expeditiously, the meat inspection regime is not properly harmonised. That is one of the reasons why British inspection costs impose a higher burden on our producers. We must consider that when we look at an alternative structure for the present arrangements for meat hygiene inspection.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Minister aware that, before I came to this place, I served for many years on a local authority as chairman of the environmental health committee, which had a wonderful section for meat inspection? Because the Government and Conservative Members supported the poll tax, local authority meat inspection is in difficulty. Conservative Members should stop appearing before the cameras attacking the Labour party's policies and, instead, start to do their jobs properly, enabling local authorities to provide proper meat inspection facilities in the interests of the community. They should get off their backsides and let us see what they intend to do about it.

Mr. Maclean

As usual, the hon. Gentleman has made an interesting point. However, there is one wee flaw that I shall draw to his attention—all local authorities have full cost recovery on their meat inspection systems. The Government have taken no action to limit the authorities' scope for charging. That is the problem of which my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) spoke; many Labour-controlled local authorities charge way over the oddds.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Is my hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow has raised an urgent and important issue? We have been struggling for years with an inadequate meat hygiene inspection system and we need, as soon as possible, to replace it with a centralised system that will guarantee high standards and uniform costs. I hope that my hon. Friend will give the House a commitment on the timing of that replacement. That change would be in the best interests of the meat industry, the consumer and animal welfare.

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend has made a good point. I would defend the system by saying that it is not inadequate in that it certainly guarantees quality and safety in this country, but it leaves much to be desired in that it is diverse and scattered throughout hundreds of different local authorities. The changing EC directives have placed responsibilities on the Government. We are currently considering all viewpoints, and I can assure my hon. Friend that when we are in a position to announce our final decision, we shall do so as speedily as possible.