Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Thursday 21 October 1993


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:



Clarke, Mr. Eric (Midlothian)

Conway, Mr. Derek (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Cummings, Mr. John (Easington)

Enright, Mr. Derek (Hemsworth)

Gordon, Ms. Mildred (Bow and Poplar)

Horam, Mr. John (Orpington)

Marshall, Mr. John (Hendon, South)

Meale, Mr. Alan (Mansfield)

Morley, Mr. Elliot (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Paice, Mr. James (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Pickles, Mr. Eric (Brentwood and Ongar)

Robinson, Mr. Mark (Somerton and Frome)

Skeet, Sir Trevor (Bedfordshire, North)

Soames, Mr. Nicholas (Parly Secy to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Stern, Mr. Michael (Bristol, North- West)

Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, East)

Tyler, Mr. Paul (North Cornwall)

Mr. P. Seaward, Committee Clerk

3 Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Thursday 21 October 1993

[MR. BARRY JONES in the Chair]


10.30 am

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the Diseases of Animals (Therapeutic Substances) (Revocation) Order 1993 (S.I. 1993, No. 1331). I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Jones. I have not previously been a member of a Committee that you have chaired and is nice to see you in the Chair. I shall be brief. The Opposition do not oppose the order, but we seek a number of assurances about the measures that will be in place to ensure that livestock in this country are adequately protected from diseases that may come with imported livestock. When we prayed against the order, it was defective. A report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has outlined the defects. Can the Minister assure us that those technical defects have now been put right? The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a very high premium on animals in this country because of our disease-free status. The premium relates to the high quality of the meat that is exported and the significant market for the breeding stock that are exported from this country. He will also be aware that outbreaks of disease in livestock cause particular problems to farmers. Indeed, an outbreak of disease could be ruinous to many farmers in less-favoured areas. Therefore, protection against disease is important to maintain the premium value of our livestock. We must protect our farming industry from the possibility of diseases being introduced by imports. There is a problem with some of the current protection and with the move towards removing barriers as part of the single market. The, Opposition have no objection to the single market; it is a step forward in opening frontiers within the European Community and in encouraging trade. However, I seek the Minister's assurances on some points. On the problem of warble fly, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that under current regulations importers must specify the destination of animals that enter this country, and which must be inoculated against warble fly within 24 hours. As I understand it, animals entering Britain may be sold on before they have reached their stated destination. In those cases, it appears that there is no facility or legal requirement for them to be inoculated against warble fly. Although farmers and animal importers would not wish to use that loophole in the law, the fact remains that it exists. Will the Minister comment on that? Under the single market, the onus is now put on the exporting countries to ensure that only healthy animals are exported and are correctly certified, rather than it being on 4 importing countries to protect their livestock. That has raised some problems within the European Community. The Minister will be aware of the problems with the export of cattle from Poland and the Czech Republic to member states, including Great Britain, which resulted in some cattle that had been vaccinated against foot and mouth disease being imported into this country. Mr. Meldrum, the chief veterinary officer, said recently: "Investigations into the problem are still continuing with the Czech and Polish authorities but it is clear that these exporting countries need to have the infrastructure to ensure that fraud is detected and eliminated". He was referring to animals that may have been exposed to foot and mouth disease. Apart from the well-known case involving Poland the the Czech Republic, a letter in The Veterinary Record referred to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Italy. The letter suggests that the origin of infection in Italy is not absolutely certain, but said that separate consignments of cattle from Croatia had entered Italy. That particular type of foot and mouth virus is associated with the Asiatic part of Turkey. Evidence seems to show that the contaminated cattle originated in Croatia. Of course, it is hardly surprising that the current infrastructure and the method of ensuring that cattle are properly vaccinated are somewhat shakey in Croatia. In the pig industry there have been outbreaks of diseases such as Aujeszky's and swine vesicular disease, but not much concern has been shown about them because few live animals are imported into this country—indeed, more are exported. However, ther is some importation and people in the pig industry are anxious that the premium value of their stock is protected by proper checks. We have been successful in keeping Britain a rabies-free country. That is important not just for the livestock industry, but for the country in general and for anyone who owns a pet or keeps livestock. Will the Minister clarify what is meant by tradeable animals—animals that can be imported or exported from this country, with the proper rabies inoculations if required? Can people such as dog or cat breeders who own premium animals, which can be regarded as tradeable as there is a value on them, have the animals inoculated under present regulations and move them backwards and forwards across the boundaries of the United Kingdom and mainland Europe? My final point is about the possible future transfer of genetic material. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the growth of biotechnology and of the great amount of work being done in laboratories involving the commercial development of genetic material. I am trying to look to the future and the worst case scenario could be the importation into this country of genetic material that has been contaminated by a virus which could then spread to live animals. What safeguards are there to ensure protection from that particular aspect? Are those safeguards adequate to meet the inevitable scientific advancement in biotechnology and genetics and the trade that will undoubtedly follow the development of genetic material?

10.38 am

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nicholas Soames): I am grateful to you, Mr. Jones, and to the hon. Members for attending the Committee this morning. First, I apologise without reservation to the Committee for the way in which 5 the Order we are debating was laid before Parliament. As the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said, the proper procedures were not followed. My Department was at fault and I can only assure the Committee that we shall do our best to ensure that it does not happen again. I am extremely sorry for any inconvenience and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his forbearance on the matter. I intend no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, but some of the matters that he raised were very wide of the order. I shall deal with his points in general, but I should be grateful if he will allow me to provide detailed answers in writing. Copies will be sent to members of the Committee. In discussing a therapeutic substances order I do not want to become involved with the complications relating to tradeable animals and rabies regulations, which are nothing to do with the order. However, I am happy to deal with the point about warble fly and foot and mouth disease. I am also happy to give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the repeal of the Diseases of Animals (Therapeutic Substances) Order 1952, or TSO, will not place animal health and welfare at risk. I commend and agree with his concern for the disease risk status of this country and the great importance of animal health to our farmers and producers for a variety of reasons, not least because this country has high standards which we do not want to be compromised. The TSO was essentially a relic of bygone days—like so many of us. It applied to veterinary vaccines and its provisions were largely taken into the Medicines Act 1968. Before the 1968 Act came into force, the TSO contributed to the protection of animal health and welfare, but for the past two decades its effects have been limited. TSO licence numbers were required to appear on the labels of imported products, which made it easier for the Customs authorities to check that veterinary vaccines were being imported in accordance with the law. However, that requirement applied only to imported products and thus discriminated in a way that is incompatible with the European single market between products manufactured in other member states and those manufactured in this country. That is one reason why the TSO has been repealed. A second reason is that the 1968 Act required products to be labelled to show the number of the product licence. The TSO duplicated that and became unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman will agree that the inclusion of a second licence number on .the labels of imported vaccines did not make a real contribution to promoting animal health and welfare. The repeal of the TSO will not affect the controls that are in place and which even I, as a keen advocate of deregulation, regard as essential. First, there is the 1968 Act, which requires medicines marketed in this country to be assessed against the scientific criteria of safety, quality and efficacy before they are licensed. During the assessment process the greatest care is taken to ensure that vaccines are properly made and that they will not be the means by which infectious agents not already present in the United Kingdom are imported. As the hon. Gentleman knows, of equal importance, are controls on the import of live animals. The rules governing intra-Community trade have been harmonised in recent years. The new arrangements are based upon the requirement that veterinary services in the member state of despatch issue a veterinary certificate confirming that 6 livestock comply with the trading rules. Animals must be accompanied by the original certificate—not a copy—to the premises of destination. In addition, two advance notifications of intention to import livestock are required. The authorities of the member state of origin must notify us that a consignment is on its way and the importer must give at least 24 hours notice to the local divisional veterinary officer responsible for the premises of destination. The arrangements are backed up by powers to make random checks of premises of destination and checks en route, including at points of entry, where there is reason to suspect fraud or irregularity. Our excellent state veterinary service is conducting a significant number of checks at premises of destination. Underlying that are new disease control programmes operating throughout the Community and new notification and emergency safeguard arrangements. The hon. Gentleman raised two extremely important points, with which I am happy to deal. I hope that the answers will be satisfactory, although I shall elaborate on them in my letter to him. First, he rightly raised the vexatious and worrying question of warble fly, asking if it was correct that animals come into the country and are sold on before they have had an injection. I shall have to look into that because I do not know the details. However, the rules are quite plain. The state veterinary service has carried out many investigations for warble fly on cattle imported from France, which is there the infestation that we have recently noted originated. In addition to the Ordinary checks, we have blood tested all imported French cattle to estimate the current level of infection. Where signs of infestation are found in any herd, the requirement is for treatment with an approved warble fly preparation. We have required autmun treatment of all cattle in the affected area and in herds within a 3 km radius where necessary. We have provided for the possibility of imported animals with warble flies to be sent back to their country of origin. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have acted promptly to deal with the outbreaks—as, indeed, we jolly well should have done. This is an extremely important matter. We have implemented fully our national rules to prevent the spread of warble fly which, along with the requirement to treat imported cattle with an approved warble fly preparation within 24 hours of importation, should prevent infestation spreading and serve to protect our disease-free status. I shall inquire into the hon. Gentleman's further point about the movement of cattle before treatment and let him have a detailed answer. The hon. Gentleman also referred to foot and mouth disease spreading from Italy, where there has been a recent outbreak. This is a worrying development. Italian and Commission vets acted extremely swiftly, and our vets were involved in everything that happened, The United Kingdom and the European Community as a whole acted immediately to prevent the disease spreading from Italy. There was no risk of disease from cattle imported into Great Britain, However, as the hon. Gentleman said cattle have been imported from Croatia and Poland in contravention of Community rules. To maintain our export health status, such cattle should be re-exported or slaughtered. We are satisfied that compliance with the additional certification and testing requirements for 7 livestock and meat products provides adequate safeguards against the risk of introducing FMD infected and FMD vaccinated animals. This is a subject on which there will be no disagreement on either side of the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept from me that there is a desire and a need to uphold our very high standards. The disease-free status of our stock is extremely important, and assure him that we will do whatever we can to maintain it. The Third area of risk to which I referred is the import of meat that might be contaminated with infectious agents, Imports from outside the Community must comply with Community rules, which offer protection from the presence of unauthorised or undersirable substances. The meat hygiene directives underlying those controls have been in place for longer and their principles are well understood and assimilated into practice in the United Kingdom and overseas. As a keen advocate of deregulation, I feel rather abashed at having produced such a list of regulations. I would say, however, that in each sector we are looking at ways in which the burden of compliance by industry can be reduced, while the level of protection offered to animals and the public is not reduced. In none of these sectors, however, did the TSO make a significant contribution. The points raised by the hon. Gentleman are extremely important, but they do not justify the retention of elderly legislation—not that that was what he was seeking to achieve. I say again to the hon, Gentleman that now is not the time to engage in a discussion on genetic materials. That subject will be dealt with in great detail in Committee on another occasion. However, I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point and I will deal with it in a letter to him. Suffice it to say that he is quite right to remind us that this is a terribly important and, at the moment, rather sensitive area about which everyone will need more education. The Polkinghorne committee—one of a number of specialist committees—has recently reported on the ethics of genetic experimentation, further discussions will take place and we shall listen carefully to the arguments of Opposition Members, consumer groups and all those with interests in the food industry about the labelling of genetic material, and also to responses to our other scientific committees. All these matters are extremely important and will require careful and detailed consideration. With respect, however, this morning is not the time to discuss them. In addition, I do not have the information at my fingertips, but I shall certainly let the hon. Gentleman have it in writing. I am grateful to members of the Committee for listening to me and I commend the revocation order to them.

10.49 am

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am sure that all members of the Committee have listened with great interest to the Minister. We accept his assurance that the matters that have been raised this morning that go beyond the precise confines of the revocation order will be dealt with in writing. We look forward to hearing what he has to say. The Minister in a way I thought slightly disingenuous, suggested that the wider context was unimportant. I do not think that that is true and, indeed, the hon. Gentleman 8 himself has just suggested a wider concern that we should all share. The context is threefold. Concerns about animal disease are increasing in the industry and among the general public, in several forms. In my area of the southwest a major problem has arisen in the return of tuberculosis, which we thought had been virtually eradicated. Other diseases have been mentioned by other hon. Members. Foot and mouth is an example, as is the warble fly. In particular, if our method of attempting to control disease is to change—as I hope it is in some ways— the issue will be extremely important. Public and industry concern about the reappearance of diseases that we had hoped had gone or were going is one important aspect of the context. The second aspect is the moves to complete the single market. I shall return to that matter in a moment. The third is, as the Minister said in his latter remarks, that difficult balancing act between the removal of unnecessary red tape and the desire to ensure that those regulations that are maintained will be effective for public health and animal health. I am sure that the Minister recognises that in any process of change—even such a comparatively modest one as disposing of an order and attempting to bring the matter into a new context—our principal concern is to get the balance right. Many people in this House and outside are worried because this country seems to be making several moves, most of which might, in isolation, be welcome, but which cannot be considered in isolation because we are part of the European Community. I am constantly reminded that one country's subsidiarity is another country's uneven playing field. If we are not careful we shall find that we have tidied and improved standards and increased protection in a certain context, but that that is not happening in another country. If the United Kingdom attempts again to nationalise agricultural or animal health policy, other member countries in the European Community cannot be expected not to attempt the same—and by applying subsidiarity they may arrive at lower standards of protection for animal or human health. As hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have mentioned, the reappearance of foot and mouth disease through the European Community, the original source being unclear, shows how vigilant we must all be to prevent any subsidiarity for our country leading to a reduction in standards elsewhere—while ours are maintained artificially, with effective defences. The Minister referred to the transport of live animals. This Committee is not the appropriate place in which to go into detail on that matter, but I think that we all feel regret and disappointment that during the United Kingdom's Presidency of the European Community and, in particular, of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, we did not make more progress in raising standards throughout the Community rather than allowing them to be dissipated or reduced. I look forward to any further assurances that the Minister may be able to give us in writing, but I hope that he may be able to spend a moment discussing the attitude of his Ministry and of his colleagues in the Government to the question of ensuring that subsidiarity does not lead to a reduction in standards elsewhere in the Community while we try—vainly, as it would necessarily be—to raise standards in the United Kingdom.


10.54 am

Mr. Soames: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising some important points. I do not think that I am ever disingenuous, and certainly not with the hon. Gentleman. I did not wish to imply, and I did not say, that the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Glandford and Scunthorpe were unimportant. I went out of my way to say how critically important they were, even though I do not think that this is the right time to deal with them. I hope that you, Mr. Jones, will be indulgent while I deal with the specific points raised because they are important and relate to the single market. That is what the TSO is about.

The Chairman: Order. It is appropriate to point out that the Chair will decide what is in order.

Mr. Soames: Thank you, Mr. Jones. I agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) about subsidiarity. Debates take place in the European Parliament on whether animal welfare should be a matter for subsidiarity. We believe that it should not. The House will be united in the view that it is not proper matter for subsidiarity. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there will be difficulties and irregularities in creating a level playing field. We must live with that. We hear of the difficultes of a level playing field each time we visit any company involved in overseas trade. The hon. Gentleman will probably know better than me that Rome was not built in a day. The great single market has come into being almost overnight and if we stand back and consider what has happened, we realise that it is a remarkable achievement throughout the 12 member states. The barriers to trade are falling. Some barriers are still unacceptable, but subsidiarity must be handled carefully to ensure that, as the hon. Gentleman said, one man's subsidiarity is not another man's major loophole. That is an important point, and one with which the Government deal every day of the week. On the questions of the single market, animal health and foot and mouth disease, we cannot be pleased that animals with foot and mouth have appeared in the European Community. The problem is a sign of the times. Following the devastation of Croatia and Bosnia, there was the awful problem of animals with foot and mouth being imported into Italy, without the proper certification, by some feckless fool. Italian vets acted extremely promptly and the vets in this country, who uphold very high standards, have no criticism of the way in which the Italian or Commission vets handled the matter. They dealt with the problem well. 10 The single market has raised concerns for all livestock. The hon. Member for North Cornwall is right—in his part of the world we face the terrible problem of TB and how to deal with it. That raises arguments about badgers, but it is a hugely difficult issue. We are satisfied that the new arrangements strike the right balance between the removal of barriers to trade and the need to prevent the introduction and spread of serious diseases and to maintain the high standards in this country. We are not complacent. We shall continue to take the appropriate steps to protect the health of our animals and we shall use whatever means we can. To that end, I launched at the Royal Show the leaflet, "Don't import disease". It has been distributed to all farmers and importers and it explains how to reduce the risk of importing disease. Hon. Members will understand the importance of the Standing Veterinary Committee in Brussels. It consists of the chief vets from all the member states of the Community. In my experience they are extremely tough and their work has been good. I wish that farmers were able to attend a meeting of the SVC to see for themselves how rigorous it is in its work. The vets are trying not to diminish, but to raise standards. It is not arrogant to say that in this country—and countries such as Denmark, Germany and probably France—there are high standards of animal health and that breeders understand the importance of it. However, those standards are not necessarily shared in the rest of the Community, so the SVC has a tremendous role to play in enforcing those rules. I am grateful to you, Mr. Jones, for allowing us to step a little wide of the mark. As I said, I shall write to the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe in greater detail about the points he has raised and shall send copies of that letter to all members of the Committee. I am grateful to hon. Members for listening to the debate and I hope that they will see fit to revoke the 1952 order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved. That the Committee has considered the Diseases of Animals (Therapeutic Substances) (Revocation) Order 1993 (S.I. 1993, No. 1331).

Committee rose at Eleven o'clock.



Jones, Mr. Barry (Chairman)

Campbell, Mr. Ronnie

Conway, Mr.

Morley, Mr.

Pickles, Mr.

Robinson, Mr. Mark

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Soames, Mr.

Stern, Mr.

Taylor, Sir Teddy

Tyler, Mr.