HC Deb 04 June 1998 vol 313 c489
4. Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn)

If he will make a statement on progress of the cattle traceability scheme. [42723]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

We are making good progress in implementing the cattle tracing system, and we are on course to launch it and go live on Monday 28 September.

Mr. Touhig

I thank my hon. Friend for that information; progress in setting up the British cattle movement service is most welcome. Will he assure the House that reports that the system will be so bureaucratic as to require farmers to register the twice-daily movement of cows to the milking parlour are completely false?

Mr. Rooker

The answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes. Reports in one of the Sunday newspapers last week were wholly inaccurate; farmers will not be required to record those daily movements. The cattle movement service is, I admit, a complex operation, but we are very confident that we will be able to make it work and track the estimated 20 million cattle movements a year. That figure compares to, say, the 16 million Visa cards in this country. We shall also issue 3 million cattle passports every year, which is double the number of new pension and child benefit books issued by the Department of Social Security.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Notwithstanding the Minister's statement in the House on 21 May, livestock producers in the west country are still unclear—as are we all—about what will happen to the over-30-months scheme once there is a date-based scheme. Surely the Minister of State understands that beef finishers need to know now whether they will be able to market animals in February next year which are reaching 30 months of age. They are already having to plan their food regimes for the summer and the autumn. Given the continued failure of the Minister to visit the west country to answer questions personally, will the Minister of State take this opportunity to answer them clearly and without equivocation?

Mr. Rooker

I will do my best, although the hon. Gentleman's questions do not relate to the question on the Order Paper. The cattle-tracing system that will go live in September is not connected to the date-based scheme; the two are quite separate and must not be linked—otherwise, success of the date-based scheme will be more difficult to achieve. We have said repeatedly in the House that, for the foreseeable future, the over-30-months scheme will remain in operation. It will definitely remain in operation as long as the advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee is such that it is required to be in operation.

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