HC Deb 20 May 2004 vol 421 cc1084-5
6. Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)

If she will make a statement on the future of the state veterinary service.—[174404]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

The Government believe that the state veterinary service should become an Executive agency from 1 April 2005. A consultation exercise will be launched soon.

Mr. Williams

I thank the Minister for that reply. The announcement was made last October, and it seems that the Minister has already made his mind up, given that the advertisement for the post of chief executive of the next steps executive agency has already appeared. Surely the Minister should have consulted first. Has he consulted the British Veterinary Association, the National Farmers Union or—in particular, so far as I am concerned—the National Assembly for Wales?

Mr. Bradshaw

We have had discussions with those bodies. Indeed, the former president of the British Veterinary Association said on the wireless this morning—on the "Farming Today" programme—that in his view the separation of delivery and policy was a good idea. However, we have not made up our minds. This is a genuine consultation process, and if the results are overwhelmingly hostile we will think again. The advertisement had to be placed then in view of the need to stick to the deadline and of the time it will take to appoint somebody. No firm decisions have been taken, which is why full consultation will take place.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con)

Is the state veterinary service sufficiently organised to cope with the annual 20 per cent. increase in bovine tuberculosis predicted by the Government?

Mr. Bradshaw

Yes. it is, and the hon. Gentleman might be interested in the following figures. Currently, there are the equivalent of 1,445 full-time members of staff in the state veterinary service, compared with only 1,100 in 1995—a 31 per cent. increase since the Conservatives were in government. Moreover, the amount spent on the state veterinary service increased in the same period by 60 per cent.