HC Deb 23 March 1999 vol 328 cc209-10W
Mr. Wigley

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will change inspection charges for abattoirs from hourly rates to charges based on throughput-headage payments. [66159]

Mr. Rooker

Although harmonised EU rules lay down standard charges for hygiene inspections in slaughterhouses and cutting plants, the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) is required under Treasury rules to recover the full costs of the services it provides to its customers, be they fresh meat premises or the Government. As the major part of the MHS costs are the time costs arising from the deployment of MHS inspection staff in fresh meat premises, MHS charges are set on a 'per hour' basis since this basis accurately reflects the real costs of providing the inspection service in individual abattoirs and cutting plants. It also encourages operators of such businesses to plan and execute their operations efficiently. In those small premises with only low throughputs of animals or meat, the average inspection charge per animal or tonne of meat will inevitably be higher than in those high throughput premises which are operated efficiently since the latter will inevitably benefit from economies of scale. Any alternative charging system, based solely on throughput of animals or meat, would simply result in large abattoirs or cutting plants having to subsidise the small businesses. The EU Charges Directive precludes Member State Governments from subsidising hygiene inspection costs.

In relation to charges for the enforcement of specified risk material controls, we have already acknowledged that charges based on throughput rather than an hourly rate could bring benefits to small low-throughput abattoirs and announced that officials have been asked to consider the feasibility of altering the basis of these charges. However any such change would require amendments to the legislation recently laid before Parliament to enable these charges to be levied.