HC Deb 25 November 1999 vol 339 cc745-6
9. Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

What measures he is taking to ensure that controls on specified risk materials do not place additional burdens on the livestock industry. [98845]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown)

The Government have further deferred plans to charge industry for the cost of specified risk material enforcement until 2002–03 at the earliest. In addition, the meat industry red tape working group is examining the impact of the SRM controls in the industry. I expect its report shortly.

Mr. Marsden

Hard-pressed farmers in Shropshire will welcome the waiving of SRM charges and the fact that the working group is reviewing farming regulations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government seek to reduce red tape for farmers, unlike the last Tory Government who, while they scrapped 77 MAFF regulations, introduced 331 new ones? Do not the Tories say one thing and do another?

Mr. Brown

And they then change their minds and say something else—we are all familiar with the scenario. During my stewardship of this office, I am determined to bear down on the regulatory burden on the industry and to make certain that regulations are proportionate and justifiable.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

The Minister will be well aware of the consequences of the regulations imposed on the beef industry, as they affect the pig industry—the pig industry has been the innocent victim of controls imposed on the beef industry. He has been given a long period of notice. If he would authorise the dedication of pig-rendering offal plants, it would help the industry financially and would mean no extra cost to the taxpayer. However, at least 18 months after this suggestion was first made, there has been no progress. Does he recognise that by the time there is any progress, a lot of the pig farmers to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) referred will have gone out of business? This inaction by the Government is not acceptable.

Mr. Brown

It is important to point out to the House that the regulations that the hon. Gentleman denounces were introduced in 1996 under the Conservative Government. Nevertheless, as he knows, I think he is on to a good point, but it is not fair to say that the Government have done nothing. I have already approached SEAC—the Government's advisory committee—once on the issue to see whether the rules could be relaxed, so that some commercial value could be returned to the sector for the pig farmers. SEAC said no, so I have gone back to it, together with the Meat and Livestock Commission, to try to find some way to get trade back in a way that is acceptable to the Government's scientific advisers. The report that I have submitted with the MLC will be considered by SEAC at its meeting this month—by which I mean November.