Discussions at EU level are ongoing, and the UK is fully engaged with the Commission, other member states and the devolved Administrations on finding a practical enforcement solution. We need to protect producers across the EU who will have complied with the ban from unfair competition from those who fail to comply.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he agree that the concerns of the United Kingdom are being heard because of early representations by this Government? Will he commit to doing the same for our pig farmers, who risk being disadvantaged in the same way by new animal welfare regulations due in 2013?
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that it is over a year since we first told the Commission that it was quite obvious that a number of countries would not be able to comply in time. She is absolutely correct that this is a precursor to an even bigger welfare issue: the ban on sow stalls, which comes in on 1 January 2013. If we do not get it right this time, it does not bode very well for 2013.
Colin Carter’s Eggs in Perranwell has invested in high standards of hen welfare, and it is understandably concerned, as I am, that cheap eggs—in particular, processed or liquid eggs, which account for 25% of the market—are coming in from parts of the EU that do not have such high standards. What is my right hon. Friend doing to prevent that?
As I said in my opening answer, discussions are still going on. There is a further meeting of officials in Brussels next week, and that really is the last chance for the EU to prove that it is serious about improving animal welfare and enforcing its regulations. If, as I fear, no solution comes about next week, I will make an announcement shortly on how we intend to protect our industry.
My constituent Mr Tulip and his family have spent almost £8 million bringing their farm up to the EU directive level. If the meeting next week does not go well, will the considerations include banning eggs from countries that are acting illegally?
I fully appreciate that UK producers have invested about £400 million in new systems, and they are entitled to expect others to do the same; that is perfectly reasonable. As for the measures that will be taken if we do not get anywhere in Europe—and I cannot claim much optimism on that front—I will make an announcement shortly. A ban has not been ruled out, but I am sure that the hon. Lady will appreciate that there are some pretty big legal issues here.
Given that the British egg industry has spent some £400 million on meeting the requirements of the EU directive, and countries such as Spain, Poland, France and Italy have done everything to avoid their obligations under the directive, should not the Minister say at the EU meeting that unless the Europeans put the right deal on the table, there will be a British unilateral ban to keep out illegal eggs from other EU countries?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Some 12 member states will not be in full compliance—some to a much greater degree than others—and he is right that Spain and Poland are among those 12. As I say, we have not ruled out a ban. It is important that the other countries—member states that, like us, will have complied, including most of the northern European countries—work together wherever possible to make sure that we have maximum impact when it comes to forcing compliance elsewhere.