HC Deb 05 May 1994 vol 242 cc834-5
12. Mr. Heppell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations she has received about difficulties experienced in the industry with livestock identification systems.

Mr. Soames

A lengthy consultation exercise was held last year on the proposals to implement EC directive 92/102 on the identification and registration of livestock. There were 60 responses to the consultation document, and many meetings with interested organisations. Their views have been taken into consideration.

Mr. Heppell

Have not the present arrangements for tracing animals to control fraud and outbreaks of disease proved to be inadequate? Has not the Government's mishandling of the new system caused a delay, with the result that the new arrangements will be implemented not on 1 July but on 1 November, four months later than expected?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman is right in one respect only: plainly, the scheme is important not only for the prevention of fraud but for the control of disease. Following the consultation exercise with the industry, we have been in close and regular contact with the industry organisations on the detailed arrangements. Our aim is to achieve a smooth transition to the new arrangements. To that end, we have decided to allow an extra three months, between 1 July and 30 September this year, during which calves may be marked with either new or old-style ear tags. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to describe that arrangement as having been a muddle. It has been carried out in an orderly, sensible and proper fashion, allowing people the right amount of time to get organised.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I welcome the news that EC directive 92/102 is being given more time to be considered, but would point out that it is one of a series of alterations to cattle identification that have taken place in the past few years. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that it will be the last alteration for some time and that the system will be clear when it is altered?

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend will agree that the position will be perfectly clear when that regime comes into play. I can reassure him that we take seriously the point that he makes, which is consistent with the fact that, to protect the consumer and prevent fraud, the correct identification of cattle throughout the European Union is a matter of cardinal importance.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Is there evidence to indicate that cattle from English farms are going through the Province of Northern Ireland into the Republic and then being transported to other parts of the European Union?

Mr. Soames

I have read the reports to which the hon. Gentleman alludes and I think that it is inherently unlikely that anything so complicated could be dreamed up.

Mr. David Nicholson

Will my hon. Friend confirm that something along the lines of this particular scheme, together with the burdensome but necessary integrated administration and control system, is vital to control fraud and assure proper allocation of Community money, as referred to in an earlier question? As a member of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, which has occasionally delivered the odd brickbat against my hon. Friend's Department, may I say how much farmers in my constituency and elsewhere appreciate the help that they received last year and, we hope, will receive this year, from departmental officials in responding to those complex schemes for the evasion of fraud?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to pay tribute to the work of the regional offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the marvellous staff, who do a tremendous job in assisting farmers with those schemes, which are—as he knows because he has been in close touch with us on those matters —more complicated than we would wish. The schemes are essential and it is our intention to ensure that they are pragmatically, efficiently and sensibly handled. To that end, I am glad to have my hon. Friend's endorsement of the steps that we have taken to introduce the animal identification scheme in a sensible and orderly manner.