HC Deb 17 July 1997 vol 298 cc510-1
4. Mr. Bayley

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the future of the Meat Hygiene Service. [7278]

Dr. Jack Cunningham

The Government are looking carefully at the options for the future of the Meat Hygiene Service following the consultation exercise on Professor James's report into the establishment of an independent food standards agency. The report itself recommends that the new agency should take over responsibility for the Meat Hygiene Service.

Mr. Bayley

I thank my right hon. Friend for that useful answer. I, too, think that the Meat Hygiene Service should become part of the agency. My right hon. Friend will be aware that York is not just Britain's but Europe's biggest centre for bioscience and has many agencies from his Department other than the Meat Hygiene Service—for example, the Pesticides Safety Directorate and the Central Science Laboratory. Would he like to come to York to see what they contribute to food safety, and will he give me an assurance that, wherever the headquarters of the new food standards agency is based, the Meat Hygiene Service will remain in York?

Dr. Cunningham

I very much hope that my hon. Friend remains in York, too, as the Member of Parliament. No proposal has been made, by Professor James or anyone else, to relocate the Meat Hygiene Service. I can assure my hon. Friend on that point. In the coming months, I will try hard to visit him and his constituents in York.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does the Minister consider that the food standards agency should adopt the role of regulator of the Meat Hygiene Service, which should remain? Does he also believe that it is in the interests of the public that we have the highest possible standards of hygiene and that the consumer deserves nothing less from products coming in from Europe?

Dr. Cunningham

The food standards agency will subsume the Meat Hygiene Service and its necessary activities. I certainly agree that we must drive up standards of hygiene in food generally and in the meat industries in particular. I hope that my European ministerial colleagues at next week's Council of Ministers vote to implement the same rigorous controls over specified beef risk materials that we have in this country. As I have told the House on more than one occasion, if they do not, I shall table orders in the House to ensure that beef imported to Britain is subject to those rigorous controls.

Mr. David Heath

Is the Minister aware that some of the abattoirs that have worked most closely with the Meat Hygiene Service and offer the best levels of hygiene and welfare facilities have been inexplicably excluded from the over-30-months cull? That is causing enormous difficulties for farmers, agents and hauliers throughout my constituency and, I think, in most of the country. Will he intervene to avoid another agricultural crisis?

Dr. Cunningham

I am not aware of any impending crisis. The scheme, which, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows, is administered by the Intervention Board, is subject to competitive tendering to ensure that we get the best value for the large amounts of taxpayers' money involved, running to hundreds of millions of pounds.