HL Deb 30 January 2003 vol 643 cc1282-4

3.17 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they intend to publish the first annual report on combating the illegal imports of animal products required by Section 17 of the Animal Health Act 2002, and whether they will publish the service level agreement between Her Majesty's Customs and Excise and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the detection of smuggled imports.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, Section 17 of the Animal Health Act 2002 came into effect on 14th January 2003. The first annual review of import controls covering the financial year 2002–03 is being collated and will be laid before Parliament as soon as possible after the end of the financial year.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, when will the risk assessment be completed and published? Will the Minister's department publish the statistics as a baseline for comparison in future years on this vexed question?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the risk assessment that was commissioned in the autumn has produced its preliminary results and is in the process of being quality controlled and peer reviewed. It raises some complex questions and does not, of itself, yield a baseline. Nevertheless, the risk assessment, which should be published within a month, will give us information on which to judge the effectiveness or otherwise of import control systems and internal disease control systems thereafter.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, in the absence of an annual report or a completed assessment, does the Minister believe that there is now effective control of illegal importers?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there will never be 100 per cent effective control. The measures that we have taken in terms of carrying out checks, raising awareness, increasing resources and co-ordinating intelligence should make for a more effective system of control over imports in personal luggage and on the commercial side. But there will never be 100 per cent success in controlling all imports—no country in the world can achieve that.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland

My Lords, while I accept the Minister's answer. does he agree that the Meat Hygiene, Service has made a huge impact on some of these areas?

Lord Whitty

Yes, my Lords. That underlines the importance of the Meat Hygiene Service not only at ports but in operating internal checks on internal movements further down the food chain. The risk assessment will show, in broad terms, that there is a problem of imported meat, but only a very small proportion of that will be contaminated, and only a very small proportion of that contaminated meat is likely to get into livestock. The risk of it then getting into livestock more generally and then into the food chain is substantially greater. Therefore, internal disease controls on farms, between farms, at market and down the food chain are vital.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, will the Minister accept my thanks for what DEFRA has already done in trying to raise awareness of this problem and in controlling illegal meat imports? However, does he agree that the general perception of travellers entering this country is that very little is still being done—that is, it is easy to enter this country without seeing such a poster or being subjected to a check? Will he urge the department to increase dramatically the amount of work that goes into this vital precaution?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I accept that anecdotally a large number of travellers seem not to see the posters that are there. A total of 26,000 posters have been established in airports, agencies and places of embarkation. A further wave of posters will follow on 1st February, incorporating the new rules and, it is hoped, being displayed to better effect for travellers. But the use of posters forms only part of the deterrence. The Government are also taking care of the rest of the deterrents—that is, issues concerning the number of checks, resources, co-ordination and so on. Those will be brought together in a few months' time when Customs and Excise takes over the co-ordinating role in dealing with illegal food imports.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the wording which is proposed to be used on landing cards with regard to animal products has been agreed with the carriers, and when those cards are likely to be introduced?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, a decision has not yet been made on landing cards. The system involving those cards applies only to non-EU travellers coming into the country, who account for less than 14 per cent of all people who land at UK airports. We are examining the possibility of including that information, but it will not deal with the bulk of people who enter the country. Therefore, if we go down that road, it will form only a very minor part of the total information system.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the European food authority will be able to make a positive contribution towards the reduction of imports of' illegal meat into the European Union and therefore into the United Kingdom?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the main activity of the European food authority will be to focus on the provision of food to consumers. Therefore, it will coordinate European national controls at that end of the food chain rather than at the fresh meat import end. Nevertheless, it will pull together some expertise, which will help in the detection and early identification of the risk of disease.

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