§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nicholas Soames)
My right hon. Friend and I have considered carefully the representations that we have received on the regulations. We have taken particular 'care to implement the EC requirements in a way that achieves the necessary improvements in hygiene standards without imposing unnecessary burdens on the industry.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Gentleman should understand that we are working hard to achieve a level playing field. We have always adopted this method of charging in the United Kingdom. What is a perfectly true and fair point is that the charges were too high. We have taken considerable steps and made a great effort to get those charges down, and we are happy that they are moving in the right direction.
§ Mr. Rathbone
What success has my hon. Friend had in making more of an equal qualification requirement among those veterinary surgeons who are duty bound to do their business in abattoirs but who are better trained and therefore much more expensive than their European counterparts?
§ Mr. Soames
My hon. Friend, unusually, is incorrect in his supposition. Continental European vets are trained to exactly the same standard as British vets. The difference in the system is that in continental Europe ante-mortem inspection and the use of vets for meat hygiene work has always been the norm while in the United Kingdom it is a relatively new involvement and is therefore taking some time to settle down. It should be emphasised to the House that all vets across Europe must achieve the same qualifications, and it takes exactly the same length of time to qualify.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall
Does the Minister recall that I wrote to him recently on behalf of W and J Parker Ltd., a slaughterhouse company in Leicester, which faced a potential investment of £9 million to £10 million to comply with the new European Community regulations? As a consequence of that investment, the company closed its slaughterhouse in Leicester with the loss of 300 jobs. It subsequently bought a minority holding in a company in Buckinghamshire, but the jobs in Leicester were still lost. Does he accept that it would be grossly unfair to that company and to the 300 people who lost their jobs in 1135 Leicester—including my son—if the regulations were weakened for smaller slaughterhouses throughout the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and I am distressed and sorry about the news of the job losses in Leicester. He is correct that we have tried, through the regulations, to achieve a high standard of uniform meat hygiene throughout the country. While we wish to be as sympathetic as we can, we feel that the great importance of the regulations is that they will take us from a dual standard to a single standard, and we shall not resile from that.