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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): I am pleased to confirm that I led an Adjournment debate on behalf of the Government in the House on 26 April, reporting on national and international developments in controlling the sale of conflict diamonds. The United Kingdom has played a prominent role throughout in supporting the UN Security Council resolutions and the Kimberley process.
Mr. White: Given that the UN global policy forum produced a report last December that set out not only the smuggling routes, but the names of the brokers, dealers and cutters involved in the trade, will my hon. Friend assure me that the global certification scheme, on which the Government are working, will not get bogged down? Will he also give an idea of the time scale, because each day's delay means that more people die needlessly?
Mr. Wilson: I can assure my hon. Friend of the Government's complete commitment to see the process through to the end. Useful progress was made at meetings in Brussels last week. It is vital to involve Governments in the producer states as well as the industry and countries such as Britain, which are central to the trade. Everyone is working together to produce a scheme. At the same time, it is important to remember that only 3 or 4 per cent. of diamonds come through illegal channels. Nothing should be done to damage the legal trade because diamonds are very important to producer countries, especially in southern Africa.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you prior notice. You will no doubt have seen early-day motion 619 and press reports about the proposed merger of the Halifax bank and the Bank of Scotland. If those reports are to be believed, the Halifax headquarters will move to Edinburgh, even though it is a much larger bank. The Halifax is hugely important to my town, from which it takes its name. It is Yorkshire's premier financial institution and Britain's biggest mortgage lender. It would be a devastating blow for my town and the Yorkshire region if the headquarters were to relocate. Has a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry notified you that a statement will be made on that important issue?
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, there are a number of protests today, not only in London, but in more than 1,000 general practitioners' surgeries throughout the United Kingdom at the Government's inability to deliver their promises on health. Are you as surprised as I am that the Secretary of State for Health has not made a request--or perhaps he has--to make a statement to the House today?
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given the revelation on this morning's edition of the "Today" programme that the Ministry of Defence is facing difficult choices between retaining our aircraft carrier programme or a large chunk of the Army, have you received an application to make a statement on that matter?
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you agree that the serious issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is worthy of further consideration? The revelation has been lent some credibility by the response of the Minister for the Armed Forces earlier today, who confirmed that difficult decisions have to be made. Given that there is not another session of Defence questions before the general election, is it not appropriate for a Defence Minister to be called to the House?
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said in response to the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) that no Minister has contacted you to make a statement on the possible merger of the Bank of Scotland and the Halifax Group plc--in which, by the way, I have a small investment.
The hon. Lady made an important point. Bearing in mind that thousands of jobs could be at stake at the Halifax and in Yorkshire, and that the Government send Ministers to this place to make statements when jobs are at risk, are you, Mr. Speaker, able to bring pressure on them to make a statement on a matter that is crucial to Halifax, Yorkshire, England and Scotland?
Mr. Speaker: I have no desire to see anyone lose his job, but it is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Members for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) know their way around the Order Paper, and they know how to get a Minister to the Dispatch Box to give an account of his or her stewardship of the matter.
The first reason is retailers' insistence that farmers use specified abattoirs. It is not generally realised that many of Britain's big retailers require suppliers to use specific abattoirs, even if they are on the opposite side of the country. If farmers wish to sell to them, they are forced to transport their animals the necessary distance for the convenience of the retailer.
Secondly, there is a large number of middlemen who buy animals speculatively at markets and move them from one market to another, looking for a better price. We can imagine the stress of animals packed into transporters for day after day as the dealer hunts his profit. I am not against profit, but we can reasonably ask ourselves whether that activity, with its cost in animal suffering and human risk, is producing anything worth while. Thirdly, price competition lures farmers into sending their animals across the country to make a marginal saving, even when a local abattoir is still available.
We have a great tradition in Britain of cheap food, and that has done a great deal to promote the interests of the people of the country. However, it is time to consider whether that is necessary in its current absolute form. What is the real price that we are paying? It is an increased risk of epidemics that cost Britain billions when they occur and the suffering of animals, which consumers, when asked, say that they are not seriously willing to accept. The real price is too high.
We must accept that the Bill would increase the price of meat--I estimate that it would do so by 5 per cent. A piece of meat now costing £2 would therefore cost an extra 10p. I have a 10p with me--the price of saving it is a great deal of suffering for animals and an increased risk of epidemics that cost all of us billions of pounds. With the Bill, I should like to invest that 10p in higher standards for the animals' sake and for Britain's sake. I commend the Bill to the House.
Dr. Nick Palmer accordingly presented a Bill to limit the distance that farm animals may be transported in any one-week period: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 8 June, and to be printed [Bill 90].