§ Ms Stuart
[holding answer 18 December 2000]: I am advised by the Food Standards Agency that the Meat Inspection Charges Task Force (the Maclean Committee) concluded that the Government should provide some degree of financial support in order to prevent the closure of large numbers of small and medium sized abattoirs and cutting plants. It therefore recommended that the current method of charging for meat inspections on an hourly rate basis should be changed and that, instead, all abattoirs and cutting plants should be charged the lower of either the standard (headage/throughput) fees laid down in the EU Charges Directive or their actual inspection costs (subject to the minimum charge of 45 per cent. of the standard headage/throughput charges, as required by the Directive).
We have accepted this recommendation. The additional aid announced on 28 November in the context of the publication of the Rural White Paper (£8.7 million in 2001–02) together with the existing subsidy on meat inspection charges (£9 million in 2001–02) will help to fund implementation of the new method of charging. Any shortfall in the funding will be met from within Food Standards Agency resources.
The Task Force considered that acceptance of this recommendation by the Government would ensure that Meat Hygiene Service inspection charges were not the main reason for plants going out of business, which appeared to the Task Force to be the case under the existing charging system. However, the Task Force also considered that implementing its recommendation would not in itself keep uncompetitive meat plants in existence.