HC Deb 17 July 1997 vol 298 cc515-7
10. Mr. Tony Colman

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what he estimates to be the costs to date of BSE enforcement. [7284]

Mr. Rooker

The approximate cost of enforcement of BSE measures by the Meat Hygiene Service since its establishment in April 1995 until the end of March this year is a little more than £20 million. Obviously, there are no figures available for the current year. Details of any local authority enforcement costs are not held centrally. I should put the figures in context: BSE is costing the public this year £1.4 billion, and over a four-year period, £3.7 billion—not a penny of which has been planned for.

Mr. Colman

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Perhaps those relatively modest amounts spent on enforcement reflect the failure of the previous Government to deal with the matter and ensure the very highest level of personal and consumer safety.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his actions on Tuesday in stopping operations at two meat plants, thus ensuring that the illegal export of beef cannot take place. Does that reflect a much more hard-hitting approach under the new Labour Government to ensure that consumer safety is at the top of the list?

Mr. Rooker

I agree entirely with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. It is clear that the previous Government were slack in the extreme in enforcing BSE measures. That is why so little has been spent. The activities on Tuesday will be detailed in a further answer. We shall publish before the end of the year the hygiene assessment scores for every abattoir and slaughterhouse in the country. Frankly, anyone who continues to buy from any establishment that has a low score needs his head looking at.

Mr. Greenway

We cannot have it both ways. Earlier, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food joined the hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley) in paying tribute to the Meat Hygiene Service, which is based in York, and I join him in that. The Minister of State, however, appears to be saying that the standards of enforcement were not good. What is the truth? Should we be concerned not about the standards of enforcement in this country but—if the Minister's plan to ban beef imports from other European countries that do not meet the same hygiene standards is to have any meaning—about enforcement in abattoirs in other European countries?

Mr. Rooker

Let us get this clear. Staff in my Department have been carrying out the duties requested of them by previous Ministers. Previous Ministers were the ones who were slack. They deliberately sought not to enforce the regulations. Staff were required to follow those orders, which has left us having to close abattoirs at a few hours' notice. If there are any culprits in the matter, they are sitting on the Opposition Front Bench and the Benches behind. As the costs and consequences of the BSE legacy emerge and become apparent to present Ministers, we can see ever more clearly that the previous Government's handling of BSE amounted to nothing less than economic treason.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

My hon. Friend used the term "slack in the extreme". Will he make a statement, and place it in the Library, of what he found out about BSE when Labour took over the Government? From all reports, it sounds shocking.

Mr. Rooker

I assure my hon. Friend that we asked all the questions that would come immediately to mind. We are still awaiting some of the answers.

Mr. Swinney

In the light of the Minister's statements about the costs of BSE enforcement, it is obvious that there is cross-party enthusiasm to solve the matter as early as possible. Does he recognise the unease of the National Farmers Union for Scotland that the twin-track proposals announced by the Government suggest that one track may move faster than the other? Will he assure us that the twin-track approach will maintain the same pace for each aspect of the certified herds scheme and the date-based scheme?

Mr. Rooker

The hon. Gentleman's question goes somewhat wider than the original question. We are moving as quickly as possible on several fronts to get the ban lifted. It is not just a question of BSE enforcement, because the Florence agreement contains many other impositions and requirements. We hope to make an early announcement on progress on those requirements and we will seek to move forward on a United Kingdom basis wherever possible.

Back to