HC Deb 17 July 1997 vol 298 cc517-8
12. Mrs. Anne Campbell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to prevent illegal beef exports. [7287]

Dr. Jack Cunningham

All allegations are urgently and rigorously investigated. My hon. Friend will be aware that as a result of serious hygiene concerns arising from investigations into such allegations, my Department and I issued notices on 14 July preventing two meat plants in the United Kingdom from trading in beef.

Mrs. Campbell

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that farmers in my area are concerned about any illegal activity, which can only help delay the lifting of the ban on British beef exports? Is he further aware of how welcome his prompt and firm action has been to local farmers?

Dr. Cunningham

Overwhelmingly, farmers and legitimate and responsible meat traders will be infuriated by the allegations that British meat companies have been involved in a European Union-wide fraud, especially as the European Union ban on British beef came into effect in March 1996. I draw the attention of my hon. Friend, her constituents and the House to the fact that by 1 May this year no new legislation had been enacted in the United Kingdom to place the ban on a statutory footing. I intend to introduce new legislation shortly to clarify and strengthen my powers to deal with suspected illegal exports and to enhance the checks that are carried out at ports.

Mr. Gray

Does the Minister accept that the only way to ensure the same high standards in beef imported from continental abattoirs as we have come to expect from our own abattoirs would be to undertake to send our meat hygiene inspectors or our rigorous MAFF vets to inspect the abattoirs on the continent from which we are to import? Will he raise that idea with his ministerial colleagues next week and undertake to say that we will not import European beef unless it comes from abattoirs as demonstrably fine as our own?

Dr. Cunningham

That is an absurd proposition. I have no such powers to send my meat inspectors into meat plants in other countries. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the European Union has its own inspectorate for such purposes.