asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received on his proposals for closure of veterinary inspection centres.
My right hon. Friend has received 118 representations to date on his statement of 15 April about the future of the veterinary investigation service.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the important Moulton inspection centre lies in my constituency of Kettering? Has he got the message that the farmers in my constituency are worried about its possible closure? Will he therefore confirm that he will consider all sensible proposals, including the privatisation of the Moulton centre?
I am aware that the centre is in my hon. Friend's constituency, but, as the report made clear, it receives a low level of submissions and serves a relatively small catchment area. That area can easily be served by the centres at Cambridge and Sutton Bonington. My right hon. Friend is considering all the representations that have been made. He is meeting representatives of the main interested bodies and will be hoping to complete consultations within the next month or so, after which a final decision will be made.
Given that timetable, can the Minister guarantee that he will come to the House with these decisions before we rise for the summer recess?
I should like to consult my right hon. Friend on that, because some decisions must await the outcome of financial studies which are currently being undertaken and which require careful consideration. They could take a little longer than the month or so that I talked about earlier.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that part of his proposal is to close three centres that serve the south of England—including the Itchen Abbas centre which serves my constituency—and to replace them with a single, larger, central unit? Will he consider enlarging the Itchen Abbas centre, which would be simple, rather than closing it? It is ideally situated on a green field site. If it were closed, obtaining change of use planning permission would be extremely difficult. The only alternative would be to destroy it, and that would be a terrible waste of a public asset.
I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend so that they can be taken into account in the consultations in which he is now engaged.