HC Deb 13 February 2004 vol 418 cc115-6W
Mr. Gardiner

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what assessment has been made of the effectiveness of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise illegal meat enforcement strategy, with particular regard to the number of prosecutions that have been pursued; [155685]

(2) how many prosecutions there have been as a result of illegal meat seizures by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise in the last 12 months; [155686]

(3) what Her Majesty's Customs and Excise's policy is on prosecuting people caught in possession of illegal meat at United Kingdom ports of entry. [155689]

John Healey

Customs' illegal meat enforcement strategy aims to deter and detect illegal imports and thereby reduce the risk of disease from such imports. The strategy delivers this aim through:

  1. (a) increasing passengers' awareness of the rules and regulations, encouraging the voluntary surrender of any illegal meat on arrival and increasingly discouraging the public from embarking on their journey to the UK with illegal meat in their possession;
  2. (b) anti-smuggling checks to detect illegal imports on the basis of risk assessment and intelligence;
  3. (c) seizing imports surrendered by passengers in the Red Channel or detected in the possession of passengers in the Green Channel;
  4. (d) issuing a seizure notice and warning letter to the owner where the illegal meat was not declared or surrendered;
  5. (e) responding flexibly to formal notifications by Defra or the Food Standards Agency by imposing additional restrictions in the event of an outbreak of animal disease or other circumstances which may present a risk to animal or human health.

Within that overall policy, Customs consider cases for investigation and prosecution where suitable evidence is available, and in particular: serious cases involving repeat offenders; large scale imports; commercial smuggling; other aggravating circumstances.

Customs have not undertaken any prosecutions since taking on responsibility for these anti-smuggling controls on 11 April 2003.

The effectiveness of Customs' strategy is kept under continual review.

Mr. Gardiner

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what trials Her Majesty's Customs and Excise has undertaken of x-ray equipment to detect illegal meat imports; and when they took place. [155690]

John Healey

Customs have undertaken a number of informal trials using their own x-ray equipment as well as external trials involving developments in x-ray technology offered by other manufacturers. The most recent trials took place in June last year.

This is a constantly developing area and Customs remain committed to working with other UK and overseas agencies as well as manufacturers to make the most of new technology where it can provide good value for money.