HL Deb 15 January 1991 vol 524 cc1085-7

2.52 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they intend to announce a decision on the future of the veterinary investigation centres, in particular Bangor, and what will be the criteria for any decision to close a centre.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister will make an announcement shortly. When considering the possible closure of any one veterinary investigation centre, a number of factors would be taken into account.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I have to thank my noble friend for that Answer; but I fear that it will increase the anxiety of those who work in veterinary investigation centres. Before closing a centre, will the extra cost of transporting an animal —in particular the extra cost of fossil fuels—be taken into account, be it a BSE cow, an aborted ewe or, indeed, a cat or a dog? In my case the distance will increase from 30 miles to 210 miles.

Secondly, with regard to Bangor veterinary investigation centre, has my noble friend's department consulted the Department of Education and Science about the effect that the closure of that centre would have on the University College of North Wales? If her department has not done so, will she ask her right honourable friend to speak to her other right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science on this matter?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, with regard to the first part of my noble friend's question, as I said, no announcement has yet been made on any centre closures. We realise the importance that farming communities attach to the investigation service. As for the distances travelled, I remind my noble friend that some 90 per cent. of samples submitted to centres by veterinary surgeons are suitable for postal or courier submission.

In reply to the second part of my noble friend's supplementary question, the Department of Education and Science has not been consulted because the involvement in university education in the case of Bangor veterinary investigation centre is a minor aspect of its work. It is the responsibility of the UCNW alone to obtain the expertise that it requires from the most appropriate source available. Should Bangor be closed, officials would discuss with UCNW possible alternatives for maintaining liaison with the veterinary investigation service.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government or her department have had discussions with the British Veterinary Association or whether they intend to have discussions with the BVA and similar professional organisations?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as I said, no announcement has yet been made; but that was an internal review. Initial discussions were held with the trade unions and during the review views were submitted from a number of interested parties including the British Veterinary Association and the National Farmers' Union.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that any reduction in the number of veterinary investigation centres at the present time would send entirely wrong signals to the whole of the food chain? Does she further agree that such a reduction would deprive her ministry of an important source of resources in the event of further unhappy outbreaks of food problems such as we have encountered in the recent past?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as I keep saying, no announcement has yet been made. On the question of emergencies, the service has proved that it has covered them very well. That cover will be maintained to deal with emergencies in the future.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the concentration of veterinary investigation services will apply over the whole of the United Kingdom including Scotland? Will she confirm that factors taken into consideration will include not only the numbers of livestock but also the distances involved? The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, mentioned a distance of 210 miles. It may well be that some pieces of animal can be posted but it is a little difficult to post a whole sheep. Does she agree that it is important that farmers have the animals investigated without an enormous amount of trouble, otherwise the whole chain may break down?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, veterinary investigation centres in Scotland are attached to Scottish agricultural colleges and not to the Department of Agriculture. Where the distance to the nearest centre is considered excessive for delivery of a carcass, as suggested by the noble Lord, a farmer may have the post mortem carried out by his own veterinary surgeon, who would then submit appropriate samples, or his veterinary surgeon can request a chargeable veterinary advisory visit from the nearest centre.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate the very close connection between veterinary investigation centres and universities? That applies not only in the case of Bangor but, from my own knowledge, to Langford and the University of Bristol. Does the noble Baroness understand that that is very important for the training of vets and pathologists?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I most certainly do. I have not lived in Cambridge for so many years without realising that fact.

Lord Monk Bretton

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell the House whether there is an intention to look into extending the free van service used to take samples to veterinary investigation centres that appears to exist in certain areas? If that service could be extended and possibly made available three times a week instead of twice, does she agree that it would take some of the heat out of this issue should a considerable number of veterinary investigation centres be closed?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's suggestion. As I keep saying, no decisions have yet been made. Therefore, I am unaware that there is any heat in the situation.