HC Deb 24 March 1994 vol 240 cc406-7
3. Mr. Gordon Prentice

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make a statement on how she expects deregulation to improve animal health.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nicholas Soames)

Deregulation, prudently and carefully applied, will improve the position of the livestock industry while protecting animal health and welfare.

Mr. Prentice

Does the Minister accept that BSE, with all its appalling consequences, would never have happened were it not for deregulation of the meat rendering industry? Does he agree that there is a close connection between deregulation and threats to animal and, indeed, human health?

Mr. Soames

No, on neither of those two points do I agree. The purpose of the deregulation initiative is to question, rightly, the justification for every regulation. The Government's intention at all times is to protect human and animal health, to protect animal welfare and to safeguard taxpayers' money. We will do nothing to compromise either human health or animal welfare.

Mr. John Townend

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the regulation of pig farmers, which will result in the phasing out of tethers and dry sow stalls, will put them at a commercial disadvantage compared with their com-petitors on the continent? Will his Department consider ways of helping them when they are faced with significant reinvestment? If there is no aid, we will see a decline in the British pig market and an increase in the importation of pigmeat.

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend speaks from a position of considerable knowledge, having more pig farmers in his constituency than any other hon. Member, so we treat what he says with considerable respect. As he knows, aid will not be available for the transition period. However, I can assure him that animal welfare remains extremely important in this country, as he will realise; it adds greatly to the selling power of British goods, and it is wrong to think otherwise. The people of Britain attach great importance to it. I assure my hon. Friend that we will not introduce unilaterally any new measures that would be to the economic detriment of our producers.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the Minister agree that the greatest contribution that could be made to the welfare of sheep in this country would be the reintroduction of compulsory sheep dipping? Is he aware that there is a terrible incidence of sheep scab affecting potentially about 1 million sheep in my constituency as a result of the absence of compulsory dipping?

Mr. Soames

The hon. and learned Gentleman is at odds in his argument. When there were compulsory controls, sheep scab was never properly under control. Now that the regulations have been abandoned, there is still exactly the same remedy as there always was for controlling sheep scab, which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well, is to dip his sheep, and farmers should do so.