9 February 1996

Debate dodging charge is refuted

ACCUSATIONS that MAFF was deliberately trying to avoid parliamentary debate on new EU animal transport rules have been dismissed by junior farm minister Angela Browning.

Paul Tyler, Lib-Dem rural affairs spokesman had insisted that MAFF was adopting a "back-stairs approach" that would prevent any parliamentary discussion on the issue (News, Jan 26).

But in a letter to Mr Tyler Mrs Browning said: "This is emphatically not the case."

She said that under the 1981 Animal Health Act, which was agreed by parliament, any statutory instruments enacting welfare rules under those powers were not subject to debate.

But such instruments could be debated at the discretion of parliaments business managers on a "take note" motion. And MPs could always propose topics of concern, like animal welfare, for adjournment debates.

Mr Tyler said he was delighted that there was the possibility of debate and he hoped Mrs Browning would ensure a "take note" one went ahead. "A take-note motion is simply an opportunity for debate but there is no vote at the end of it," he said.

"But it would be extraordinary if the government then went ahead with its transport plans without taking account of the strong views Im sure would be expressed in such a debate."

Mr Tyler said that the governments proposals to introduce the EU transport directive were restrictive and took no account of local variations in the UK.

"Other EU countries are interpreting the directive more loosely and sympathetically," he said. These countries were much more sensitive to how the rules might affect remote areas, yet the UK government was only going to apply full derogation for the Scottish Western Isles, and Orkney and Shetland.

"They are not going to consider the remote parts of the south west or Wales and it is that attitude that we find difficult to stomach. Whitehall is always over-officious while other countries take a more sympathetic line," he said.