To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to review the levels of charges paid by the meat industry to local authorities for the inspection of fresh meat.
Charges for the inspection of fresh meat, including poultry meat, are levied in accordance with Community legislation intended to harmonise their collection by member states. This legislation is currently under review. In Great Britain, charges are levied by local authorities to recover the costs of the inspection services which they provide; under the new arrangements for meat hygiene enforcement which I have announced today, this work will transfer to the new service when it is established.In preparation for future discussions on this subject within the Community, and reflecting our concern over existing variation in the levels of charges set by local authorities for the inspection services which they provide, the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales and I have decided to carry out a review of inspection charge levels at a sample of plants in Great Britain. This review will be carried out by the Government in conjunction with independent consultants, and will seek to identify any possible means of reducing inspection costs whilst maintaining existing inspection requirements. It will also seek to collect information relevant to the operation of revised United Kingdom and Community charging arrangements. We intend to publish the results of the review within two months.Under EC legislation the European Commission was due to submit a report to the Council of Ministers on the operation of the harmonised arrangements in the light of experience acquired before 1 January 1992, accompanied by any proposals for their revision. This report is still awaited and I have written to the Agriculture Commissioner to emphasise the importance which the United Kingdom attaches to this review, in order to achieve conditions of fair competition which have not yet been attained. I have also drawn his attention to some of the charges set by the French Government, which appear not to conform to Community rules. I have written to the French Minister of Agriculture on the same point.