HC Deb 15 July 1997 vol 298 cc149-50W
Mr. Hill

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he has taken over allegations of illegal exports of United Kingdom beef; and if he will make a statement.[9120]

Dr. Jack Cunningham

My officials, in conjunction with officials from other member states, the Commission's Anti-Fraud unit and DGXXIV, are pursuing investigations in this country and elsewhere into allegations of the illegal export of UK beef. It will be some time before those investigations are complete. Criminal proceedings will be instigated if sufficient evidence of illegal activity is found. All allegations of illegal exports of beef are urgently and rigorously investigated.

As a result of serious hygiene concerns arising out of our investigations, however, my Department yesterday issued Notices preventing two meat plants in the UK from trading in beef.

In the light of recent events I have undertaken a thorough review of the measures currently in place to implement the ban on the export of UK beef imposed by EC Decision 96/239 as amended by EC Decision 96/362 and have concluded that those measures should be enhanced and extended. I have today informed the European Commission that I intend to: introduce new secondary legislation both to clarify and strengthen the powers available to UK officials where illegal exports are suspected; to enhance the checks that are carried out at ports of despatch.

I am also giving urgent consideration to enhancing veterinary checks at beef plants.

The UK is under an obligation to implement and enforce the export ban firmly and effectively for as long as it is in place. Only in this way will we regain the trust of our European partners, which is an essential pre-requisite to an early lifting of the export ban.