Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am able to give the answer straightaway. They are the estimates of the running costs in that year. It is not the total cost.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I welcome the new policy of honesty in sentencing. On earlier occasions in your Lordships' House I have deplored the enormous disparity between what one might describe as gross and net sentences respectively. It confuses the public and makes them cynical about the criminal justice system. It is good that the gap has been closed.

Having said that, I believe that it would be dangerous and undesirable if there were to be no remission for good behaviour. I am pleased to hear that the Government propose that remission of up to 20 per cent. can be earned.

I am uneasy about the proposal for imposing an automatic life sentence for a second serious violent or sexual offence. Exactly how does one define a serious sexual offence? Does it include, for example, rape within marriage, or what is colloquially known as date rape when a young man misunderstands the signals sent out to him by a young woman of his own age, or where the young woman having invited the young man into her bed suddenly changes her mind at the last moment? I believe that the general public would be quite horrified if young men were to be sentenced to life imprisonment for a second such offence. I shall be grateful if the noble Baroness will clarify that point.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I welcome the comments of the noble Lord in welcoming the honesty in sentencing proposals. It is certainly true that there is great confusion among the public about this. I also welcome his comments about remission. One of the beneficial moves on remission--it is already under

3 Apr 1996 : Column 355

way--is that it should be earned. We have moved from the days when remission was given in a relaxed way. It should be earned. I hope that that will have an impact on behaviour in prisons and make them more manageable places; and that those who are released are released on the basis of good behaviour.

I note the concerns of the noble Lord about the life sentencing policy. I also note that he has raised an important point. When the measure comes before the House for the purposes of legislation, it will be essential to have a proper definition of what we mean by serious and violent sexual offenders. In the meantime it will be a matter for consultation.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, as I have said before, no one blames the noble Baroness for any policy of this kind that she announces. She is just the angel of light speaking on behalf of the prince of darkness. She does her best.

I agree with my noble friend Lord McIntosh, the acting Leader on our Front Benches, who called it a deplorable document. I would call it an evil document--he chooses his words possibly more carefully and perhaps more gently--and it will be so regarded throughout the Prison Service. The noble Baroness is highly intelligent. She must be aware that the policies of Mr. Howard, in contrast with the policies of the six preceding Conservative Home Secretaries, are viewed with detestation and contempt in the prisons. That is important in enabling the Prison Service to play a constructive part. The relationship between the Prison Service and the prisoners can be fatally undermined by such policies.

I had the honour of being chairman of a committee set up by the late Lord Wilson in 1964 which introduced parole. The Government are virtually destroying the parole system. It denies hope to prisoners in denying them the possibility of proving themselves to be much better people than they seemed at the time of their trial. There is no getting round that. One either holds out hope or one does not. The Government are virtually destroying that hope.

I have a positive question for the noble Baroness. The Government have said that they are cutting the amount of money going to the Prison Service. Will they still make those cuts to the Prison Service when introducing policies which will lead to a vast increase in the prison population?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am tempted to say, "Please may I leave now", with the description of "angel of light" ringing in my ears. It is only a matter of days since the noble Earl referred to me as a maiden of darkness working for the prince of darkness; perhaps I have come a long way since last week.

The noble Earl makes an important point. It relates to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. I refer to working constructively with prisoners in prison with educational programmes and rehabilitation programmes to address their offending.

We are committed to working with offenders to address their offending behaviour both inside prison and after their release. The intention is that they should be

3 Apr 1996 : Column 356

supervised after release. The noble Earl has had experience of those programmes in operation. The sex offender treatment programme is an excellent example of the work done with prisoners while they are serving their sentence. The White Paper makes it clear that all offenders serving 12 months or more will be supervised for a period after their release.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to cuts. We have had debates about that previously. The intention is that there will be an increase in management efficiency. There will be an increase in the effectiveness, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of running our prisons. It is a rather tense time at present. But the intention is that it should not affect the front-line services in our prisons; and it is our intention that it should not affect the programmes that we wish to be carried out in prisons which we believe will have a material effect on the quality of life of prisoners after they have served their sentences.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps I may follow that up. I do not understand the answer. There will be a huge increase in the prison population. It may be 10,000; some people think that it will be more than 20,000. Does that mean that the cuts will still apply?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I referred to the extra places being made available to prisons now. That money is additional.

As the noble Earl knows, the efficiency cuts are 9 per cent. over three years and they are on the base budget of the prisons. But there will be extra money for extra places. There will be those sums of money to provide the new places and for the running of the prisons when they come on stream.

BSE (Agriculture)

5.20 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement which has been made in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

    "Madam Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a Statement about the emergency Council which has just concluded in Luxembourg and related matters.

    "The high level of public concern over BSE continues to cause very grave problems for farmers and for all parts of the food chain. The whole Government have been following the situation closely, day by day, in an effort to identify any problems as they arise and to find solutions.

    "It is clear that many of the problems faced by the beef industry are the result of the precipitate decision taken by the European Union, in particular the decision to ban exports from this country and what I can only describe as panic reactions by other countries around the world. Many of the steps that have been taken against our exports have borne no relation at all to the science. I hope that soon

3 Apr 1996 : Column 357

    normality will return. I will come back in a moment to the Community front and the outcome of the Council which ended this morning in Luxembourg.

    "At home my ministerial colleagues have kept in close touch with industry organisations to obtain a full picture of what is going on in a fast-moving situation. We are meeting any organisations wishing to talk to us about how their members are affected. There are encouraging signs that confidence is returning.

    "In particular, I am encouraged at reports from retailers that their customers are looking for beef in the shops again. Retailers have met with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and have reported that they need to begin buying beef again. So those with cattle to send to market should know that there are willing buyers for British beef.

    "From our discussions with supermarkets it is clear that they would favour a quality assurance scheme. We agree. My officials are working up some detailed proposals as a matter of urgency. The wholesale trade is beginning to return as a result of the revival of retail sales.

    "The Government recognise that one consequence of these developments which needs to be addressed immediately is a blockage in the slaughterhouse sector as a result of cash flow problems which may be inhibiting the flow of meat through the system. The Government are determined to restore movement in the processing system in order to enable market confidence to recover.

    "As an immediate but necessary interim measure, I can announce that all slaughterhouses that continue to handle beef will with immediate effect be relieved from Meat Hygiene Service red meat inspection charges in respect of 1995-96 and for an interim period. My department will seek additional resources to cover the loss of revenue to the Meat Hygiene Service through a Supplementary Estimate.

    "In order to quantify the difficulties facing the industry, qualified expert accountants are being appointed forthwith to provide urgent advice on the immediate problems of the industry and how they could be solved. Those solutions will be the subject of close consultation with the slaughtering industry itself. Simultaneously the Government are approaching the banking industry to establish whether it would be prepared to extend trade indemnity credit insurance to underwrite the costs to the slaughterhouse sector of taking on new business. By these means, I hope I have demonstrated the Government's commitment to maintaining the vital contribution of the slaughterhouse sector to the meat processing chain and the essential immediate task of facilitating the flow of fresh meat through the system to retailers' and consumers' demand.

    "We have continued to discuss with farmers the orders that we laid last week. As a result of these discussions I have today laid an order amending the Beef (Emergency Control)(Amendment) Order 1996 to provide for the age of cattle to be determined either by "dentition"--the stage of development of teeth--

3 Apr 1996 : Column 358

    or by reliable independently verifiable documents. I believe this will remove the main cause of uncertainty among farmers and help restore the flow of cattle through auction markets and to abattoirs.

    "The public and the retailers are rightly looking for reassurance that the process of slaughtering cattle and dressing carcase meat is carried out with the greatest possible attention not only to legal requirements but also to general standards of hygiene. The Meat Hygiene Service has a crucial role. This agency, which was set up just a year ago, has performed a key part in our action against BSE since then. The agency's budget will need to be increased to cover the cost of additional staff who are now being recruited.

    "In view of the heightened public interest I propose to introduce a quarterly published bulletin which will report the latest results of audits by the Meat Hygiene Service and State Veterinary Service on compliance with meat hygiene regulations and enforcement action taken. This will, I hope, demonstrate the continuing efforts which the UK meat industry is making progressively to raise standards of hygiene in our slaughterhouses.

    "I shall shortly be placing before the House performance targets for the Meat Hygiene Service for the coming year. These will need to reflect the additional duties resulting for the Meat Hygiene Service from the new measures I am announcing today and those announced on 20th and 24th March.

    "I turn now to the outcome of the Council of Agriculture Ministers which started in Luxembourg on 1st April and which ended at 6 a.m. this morning. Considerable efforts were made over two days and two nights by Minister Lucchetti for the Presidency and Mr. Fischler for the Commission, but I fear that the propositions on the table at the end of the meeting did not meet our central requirement that the export ban should be lifted. As our partners were not prepared to accept that, it was not possible for the UK to endorse the Council's conclusions.

    "The BSE crisis has presented the Community as a whole with a challenge of major proportions. The Community's response must be prompt and effective but also soundly based and fair. The United Kingdom is making a major effort to contribute to that Community response. Arrangements will be introduced to ensure that all bovine animals over the age of 30 months at the time of slaughter will not enter the human food or animal feed chains. This scheme will take the place of the compulsory deboning for which SEAC recently called.

    "It is right that we should contribute in this way to solving the Community problems caused by the BSE crisis. But the United Kingdom also has the right to expect a fair and balanced response from our Community partners to the particular difficulties faced by UK producers.

    "The Community's first response to the BSE crisis was the imposition of a total export ban against UK animals and products. That ban is not justified. It is not based on sound scientific analysis. It is disproportionate. It should be removed.

3 Apr 1996 : Column 359

    "I made clear that any Council conclusions, to be acceptable to us, must include either agreement to lift the ban forthwith or a procedure and timetable to that end. It was not possible to reach such an agreement. I was therefore unable to endorse the drafts that were before the Council, despite the very real progress that has been made. It remains my intention to work in co-operation with other member states and the Commission to find a satisfactory and rapid solution to the problems which confront us all. Nevertheless some progress was made over the past few days, and there are specific steps which we can now take, with financial support from the European Union.

    "First, we shall make preparations to bring into effect as soon as possible the arrangements for cattle over the age of 30 months as they come to market to be slaughtered under special supervision and destroyed and disposed of in a safe manner. As a matter of urgency I am considering with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the options for the disposal of the additional waste that would arise from these measures. Our objective is to identify the best practicable option and to ensure that the waste is dealt with in a manner which protects the environment and human health.

    "I emphasis that this is not a compulsory slaughter scheme in the sense that such a phrase is ordinarily used. The objective is to take older cattle, cows and bulls coming on to the market for slaughter in the normal way at the end of their working life and to take steps to prevent them from entering the human or animal food chain.

    "Some attention was focused at the Council on the possibilities for selective culling of animals most at risk of BSE. I believe some of our Community partners have exaggerated ideas of what is possible in this area, based on misunderstanding of the nature of BSE. We shall, however, be giving further thought to the idea in consultation with our own farming organisations and others, to whom I know the idea is of interest.

    "The Community has taken important steps to stabilise market prices. Intervention support has been extended. The Council authorised purchases of up to 50,000 tonnes in the EU as a whole in April. The Beef Management Committee met while the Council was in session to put that into effect. In Great Britain, the new categories eligible for intervention bring coverage up to 22 per cent. of total UK beef production. Meat will have to be from animals under 30 months of age. These changes will help stabilise prices in the UK and in other member states. They will help restore confidence to the UK beef sector and help restart activity in the slaughtering sector.

    "Lastly, with all the new developments of recent days and those that I am now announcing, it is important that all concerned in the industry know where they stand, or can find out immediately if they are not clear. To meet that need I have made arrangements to supplement the helpline service which my department has been providing to deal with

3 Apr 1996 : Column 360

    inquiries about BSE and the beef export ban. Staff will be on duty throughout the coming Easter holiday to deal with business inquiries. My and other Ministers' private offices will be on duty throughout the Easter Recess to deal with any queries and questions raised by colleagues.

    "To conclude, I believe that the steps taken by the Government up till now rest on sound science. It remains our objective to take science as our best guide. Our senior adviser on the science, Professor Pattison, has told us that, with the latest steps we are taking, beef is for all practical purposes safe to eat--safer than it has ever been.

    "I see signs that public confidence is returning--but the position taken by our European partners is unhelpful. The sweeping ban on our exports is unjustified and the Government will continue to work by every means possible to get that ban lifted.

    "Meanwhile, with all that is being done by Government and industry, British beef is a product that we can be proud of. We shall do all we can to promote and protect it."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place by his right honourable friend. As always, I declare an interest as the director and shareholder of a farming company with dairy cattle which will be affected by the slaughter policy.

This is the third Statement in 10 days. Each has ended with the same words; namely, that the Government have done enough to satisfy the consumer, our European partners etc. And each time they have had to come back with further proposals. This can hardly be called a triumph of European negotiation. If I wished to be uncharitable, I should say that we have ended up with the worst of all worlds.

The scientific advice was quite clear. Professor Pattison, the chairman of the SEAC, Mr. Ray Bradley, from the Central Veterinary Laboratory at Weybridge, and others, have all made it clear that there is no scientific reason for a slaughter policy. But we are to have a slaughter policy. This is a purely political decision with which we have agreed, but it has no basis in science. The reason for introducing a slaughter policy was to satisfy and convince our European partners. Now we still have a slaughter policy, but the export ban remains. We do not even have a provisional timetable for lifting the export ban.

I have been around long enough to appreciate that there may have been some commercial factors in the minds of our European partners when they considered this problem, as well as the human health aspect. The fact remains that we shall have to slaughter our cattle, but the export ban is still there.

Not only do we still have the export ban. We have to go back to Brussels in four weeks' time with proposals for the further slaughter of whole herds. As I understand

3 Apr 1996 : Column 361

it, these will be animals in full milk production. Therefore what is to be the basis of the new proposals for the selective, or targeted, slaughter?

Before leaving the question of slaughter, it is interesting to note that one group of consumers was asked to rank in importance the various aspects that would restore their confidence. The first was better labelling: "We should like to know what we are eating". The second was clean slaughterhouses and hygiene in abattoirs. Allaying public anxiety through a slaughter policy was 17th on the list.

We asked for an 80 per cent. rebate from our European partners. They started at 70 per cent., and they ended at 70 per cent. The Prime Minister, fresh from his triumphs at Turin, confirmed earlier this week that the contribution from Europe would be deducted from our rebate. Will the Minister tell the House what the final net cost of the policy to the UK taxpayer is likely to be? An article in the Evening Standard today gives a figure for the net value of the European contribution of only £85 million for a policy that is likely to cost in excess of £400 million or even more. I refer to the annual cost.

We must return in four weeks time with a proposal for targeted slaughter. As I understand it, that will affect complete dairy herds, which are deemed to be at greatest danger from BSE. I suggest that the Minister takes into account the situation of dairy farmers, who are the victims, as it were, of the targeted slaughter. They have to get rid of their animals. They may be faced with a large bill for super-levy. Will they be able to roll over their excess quota from last year, which ended on 31st March, into the current year? These are the sort of practical points that the Government will have to take into account.

I turn to the slaughter of the cull cows, the 15,000 per week of dairy and beef animals that have completed their useful life. Will the Government now at last agree to the random sampling of the brains of those slaughtered cull animals? That might help to show the true incidence of the disease. It might even produce an argument for ending the slaughter if the incidence is found to be lower than expected as a result of that examination.

Will the Minister also inform the House as to the latest information on a reliable, live test on cattle? If such a test is found, can we have an absolute assurance that the Government will make it compulsory?

I now turn to the Statement itself and some factual questions. It states that the supermarkets would favour a quality assurance scheme, and the Government agree. We also welcome that. In fact, it was recommended by the Labour Party, I believe last week. As I read the Statement, the relief from inspection charges from the Meat Hygiene Service will be retrospective, since it refers to the year 1995-96. So presumably there will be a repayment of last year's charges. It also says that the department will seek "additional resources". How much is intended to cover the loss of revenue?

There is an interesting suggestion as to extension of the trade indemnity and credit insurance. I ask the Government also to look (this is entirely from memory)

3 Apr 1996 : Column 362

at the Agricultural Credit Act 1929. I believe that Act allows the Government to extend credit guarantee to farmers. If it is hard to help through the insurance market, perhaps that is another way that the Government might consider.

The Government are extremely sensible to have an alternative means of determining the age of cattle, either by dentition (to examine the state of the teeth) or by independent verifiable documents. As one wholesaler put it, the meat we import from Argentina has no teeth.

There is also the question of additional staff for the Meat Hygiene Service. Will the Minister say how many it is intended will be employed? If he has the figure, will he tell the House the actual total increase in staff for the MHS after the extra staff has been employed. I believe there has been a reduction in staff over the past few months.

The Statement also says that the Government will make preparations to bring into effect as soon as possible the arrangements for the cull cow slaughter. It would be extremely helpful to know what "as soon possible" means. When will that start? As I am sure the Minister knows, cull cows are now piling up on the farms. They are being held back. It is cold, spring is late and forage stocks are low. It is extremely important for practical reasons that we know as quickly as possible when it will start.

Will the Minister explain an ambiguity? I believe I understand the Government's intention, but will he explain his statement that this is not a compulsory slaughter scheme? It is compulsory in the sense that, as a dairy farmer, I shall not be able to send my cull cow to any other route except that proposed by the Government. Will he explain that apparent ambiguity? The farmer will not in fact be able to choose whether or not he sends the animal to slaughter and then to the incinerator if it is over 30 months.

Do the Government recognise that the industry is now confronted with huge uncertainty? It has no idea what number of cattle the Government will condemn. It has no idea whether the proposal on targeted slaughter will be acceptable to our European partners. It has no idea when it will again be allowed to export beef and beef products. Does the Minister agree that the industry and consumers cannot be left in limbo until the Government returns to the Commission at the end of April? Will he try to secure an earlier meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and of the Standing Veterinary Committee with a view to reaching an earlier agreement with the European Union? It really is unacceptable that we have to carry on for yet another month in such a state of continued uncertainty. Can the Minister give the House some indication of the number of cattle that he envisages will be targeted under the proposed selective slaughter policy? Has he any idea of the criteria for the slaughter? I appreciate that there are practical difficulties, but some broad guidance in this area would be helpful.

Will the funds from the European Union be available for compensation only to farmers or will they also help towards the cost of incineration and the other expenses arising from these measures? All those involved in the

3 Apr 1996 : Column 363

industry understand that the production of meat-and-bonemeal is a major exercise in waste disposal. That is no longer available. I understand that meat-and-bonemeal is still being made, presumably for incineration. Perhaps it will have to be taken into intervention and then burned. That may be the only way to deal with it; otherwise there will be a major waste disposal programme with the untreated offal.

Can the Minister put a rough figure on the cost of all the new measures announced in the last fortnight? Can he also set out the net cost to the UK after deduction of our rebate from the EU budget? My first calculation is that the net value of the funds from Europe will be only £85 million. Last Thursday the Minister in the other place advised that the Lord President of the Council was to convene a committee to address the problems faced by abattoirs and the broader rural economy. Can the Minister say whether there has been any progress with that committee and tell us when we can expect an announcement on assistance?

I am sure that none of us can remember anything in our agricultural lifetimes that remotely resembles this crisis. I can assure the Government that we shall do everything from these Benches to help to restore consumer confidence and repair the damage to the beef industry. We shall certainly wish to call the Government to account. I am delighted, and I know my colleagues agree with me, that the Labour debate which will take place on 17th April will be on that subject. But we can wait until then. All our efforts now have to be spent on limiting the scale of this disaster.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page