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Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 12 December 2013

I would like to update the House on the progress that my Department has made in implementing the recommendations of the tree health and plant biosecurity taskforce, which published its report in May. This is further to my written ministerial statements of 20 May 2013, Official Report, column 54WS, and 16 July, Official Report, column 78WS, in which I accepted three of the recommendations relating to risk assessment, contingency planning and appointment of a chief plant health officer, and agreed to provide an update before the end of the year. I would like to thank the taskforce for their review of UK plant health controls.

I have made plant health one of my Department’s top priorities. Since then, we have made rapid progress in meeting that commitment and in implementing the taskforce’s recommendations. A single, prioritised plant health risk register has now been produced and we have started to use it to identify risks from specific pests and diseases and agree priorities for action. In addition we have commenced work to put in place new procedures for preparedness and contingency planning to ensure we can predict, monitor and control the spread of pests and pathogens. We expect to see the results of this work next summer and this will help ensure the UK is ready to deal effectively with future incursions of diseases into this country and is also able to respond better to those that are already established. Finally, recruitment for the senior post of chief plant health officer is under way and will be completed early in the new year.

The remaining recommendations are to:

Review, simplify and strengthen governance and legislation.

Improve the use of epidemiological intelligence from EU/other regions and work to improve the EU regulations concerned with tree health and plant biosecurity.

Strengthen biosecurity to reduce risk at the border and within the UK.

Develop a modern, user-friendly system to provide quick and intelligent access to information about tree health and plant biosecurity.

Address key skills shortages.

I can confirm today that I am accepting the remaining taskforce recommendations, and that in order to deliver these, my Department is developing an enhanced plant health programme. This programme will encompass all plants since the threats facing our plants are not restricted to trees. Details of this programme will be set out in a new plant health strategy, which I will publish in the spring of 2014. The strategy will set out a new approach to biosecurity for our plants and will include:

Pre-border activities to reduce the risk of pests and diseases arriving here from overseas, including our work with countries beyond the EU to drive up standards.

Activities at the border to reduce the risk of pests and diseases entering the EU and the UK.

Action inland to step up surveillance and improve preparedness.

All of this will be informed by the risk register, which will be published in January. It will be underpinned by a programme of work to build skills and capacity on plant health and to raise awareness of the threats facing our plants. I have reprioritised resources to enable this.

Since Government alone cannot make the radical changes needed to protect our plants from pests and disease the strategy will include details of what industry, environmental groups and the general public can do to help us to protect our plants from pests and disease. We will be sharing an initial version of the strategy with industry and environmental groups at a summit on 20 January next year to seek their input and to develop areas where they can contribute and we can work together. We will then finalise an agreed strategy at which point I will provide a further update to the House.