HC Deb 22 January 1998 vol 304 cc1138-9
12. Mr. Walter

If he will make a statement on beef imports from the European Union. [22313]

Mr. Rooker

Imports of beef from other member states will continue to be permitted provided that the beef has been produced in accordance with harmonised European Community rules on the production and marketing of fresh meat and complies with United Kingdom rules that require that specified risk materials be removed before import.

Mr. Walter

In answer to an earlier question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), the Minister pointed out that we could make only spot checks on beef imports from the European Union. He did not quantify those checks. How many Ministry officials are involved in that procedure, how many spot checks have been made and how much material has been rejected?

Mr. Rooker

I cannot give precise answers to those detailed questions, but I shall ensure that I write to the hon. Gentleman—I hope before close of play today. We have taken measures within the Department, in advance of the Europewide ban on specified risk materials that will come into effect from 1 April, to ensure that we can—if you like—beef up our checks at the ports of entry. In that way, we shall have better surveillance of the paperwork involved and more random checks on incoming loads.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Minister aware that, if there is no country-of-origin marking and no efficient enforcement, checking on the paperwork will not ensure anything as the European Union has a long and hallowed tradition of cheating in its paperwork first, last and always? Will the Minister please ask for the immediate return of country-of-origin marking to the statute book so that people may know what they are buying?

Mr. Rooker

My hon. Friend is partly right. The beef labelling scheme will be introduced in this country from spring this year on a voluntary basis. It will become compulsory from 2000. In answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, random checks on beef supplies as well as on the paperwork will take place.