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Lord Hooson: My Lords, I hesitated to give examples. I saw Professor Pattison on television agree with a question put to him that the epidemic could be on the same lines as AIDS. I actually heard him say that.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, Professor Pattison and Dr. Calman, and all the other experts involved, answered all questions accurately to the best of their scientific knowledge. How the media then handled the information causes one to wonder whether they have contributed to the panic themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, painted a somewhat inaccurate picture about our disappointment with Europe over their response. We have co-operated with them very closely. I was with my right honourable friend the Minister at the Luxembourg Council. The Commissioner himself, Commissioner Fischler, is being extremely helpful and very constructive. He was contacted by my right honourable friend shortly before he made the statement. Necessarily, it was Parliament who deserved to receive this information first and not other member states.

The export ban that was then instituted was an over-reaction in every way. There was no scientific justification for it and it was totally disproportionate. We cannot sit back here and say that they have been co-operating and very helpful when they have instituted a ban which has no justice in it whatsoever and one which has further disturbed the confidence of the markets both in Europe and beyond.

We shall be providing as much advice as possible to farmers and everyone else in the industry, as I have stressed. We have already produced a great deal of assistance to all parts of the industry, both farmers through various schemes, to slaughterers through the schemes announced today, to renderers and, with devices such as intervention, to the market as a whole. So in the range of measures that we have announced over the past 14 days we have delivered quite a lot of assistance.

The incidence of BSE is declining and the noble Lord is right. It is in fact one-quarter of what it used to be two to three years ago. It is reducing very quickly. I suggest that other countries which have recorded BSE should look at the facts. In most circumstances only a small portion of their BSE can be linked to UK imports. There are still large fractions of their BSE cases which cannot be linked to the UK itself.

I believe that the bulk of the points which were raised by the two noble Lords have been covered. I stress to them and to the House that we are committed to solving this problem and that we are determined to do so.

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Human safety and food safety are paramount. At the same time we are committed to helping the farmers who are being affected and the rest of the chain that follows through the entire beef industry that is being affected. Our concern has been reflected in the various measures that we have already brought forward and indeed in the measures that we may well be bringing forward in the near future.

6 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am not in the business of spreading alarm and despondency over this question. Indeed, it would not be appropriate if we went into detail concerning the matters raised in the Statement made by the noble Earl. Quite clearly, over the next few weeks there will have to be continuing discussion across the Floor of the House both in another place and here, concerning this very grave matter. However, I am disturbed about the general attitude adopted by Her Majesty's Government to her European partners in connection with this issue. I can understand, from the purely financial standpoint, the very legitimate desire of the Government to effect as much saving as they can in the expenditure they will have to incur in compensating the farmers and many other subsidiary interests, as a result of the policies that are going to be adopted. I would not have thought that the prospect of receiving £85 million per annum, if that is indeed the case, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, ought to be a matter to which we should pay overwhelming regard since in any event the great bulk of the money will have to be paid by British taxpayers.

As I see it, the Government genuinely believe that British beef is safe. They have made that clear on a number of occasions. Whatever view one takes about this, there are a number of uninstructed views, as well as expert views, upon the subject. Many of them are in conflict, but there can be no doubt about the fact that the Government have reiterated that they are confident that British beef is safe. Okay, let them have the courage of their convictions. Why should they accept supinely a restriction imposed by the European Commission on the export of British beef to countries other than those within the Community?

Noble Lords will recall that I raised that question yesterday. I was answered by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who said that the Government would make inquiries as a matter of expedition to find out whether or not there was any legal justification for that step. He said that there are many differing views--noble Lords can check his exact words--but that the Government have been expertly advised that there possibly was a liability.

My answer to that is "rubbish!". The Government should have the courage of their own convictions. They should ignore any Commission endeavours to restrict the export of British beef to countries other than those in the European Community. There is no point in being supine about this. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, may boil with rage when I say this, but many other member states of the European Community disobey Community regulations, directives and everything else at will if they

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do not suit them. Generally, we keep to the law--or seek to do so. However, I do not see any reason why we should do anything other than completely ignore any endeavour by the Commission to impose on the United Kingdom a restriction on its right to send its product, in which it believes--so I am told--anywhere in the world outside the European Community. I should be glad if we could have a little courage about this instead of using weasel words into the small hours of the morning and making pleas to our various colleagues in the European Community. They do not all obey the law (even tenuously) all the time, so I hope that we shall take a more robust attitude.

As to the other steps and the general attitude towards us among our colleagues around the table, what comment do the Government have to offer to the observation of Herr Kinkel of the Federal Republic of Germany to the effect that if Britain is going to ask for our help in connection with its beef crisis, he expects Britain to be more co-operative over our general policies in regard to Europe. What answer does the Minister have to that? Does he agree that the European Commission should be able to take such a selective attitude?

In the meantime, I hope that some endeavour will be made out of the funds at the Government's disposal, if only by further selling of the family silver, to make some compensation to the farmers and their subsidiary interests. I sincerely hope that that will be done. Noble Lords will be aware that at this time of the year, when bank overdrafts are beginning to rise in the farming community, the prospects of converting flesh into cash will be welcome to farmers. Many will not be all that averse to that; nor for that matter will their bank managers.

Earl Lindsay: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that we do not lack the courage, the faith or the determination to fight for a product which we know is safe, of quality, and which potentially outsells or out- competes beef from anywhere else in the world. If we intended to roll over and accept everything that our partners in Europe wanted to place on us, we would not have left the Council, as we did this morning, refusing to endorse its conclusions. Our partners know that we are seeking a lifting of the ban. They have their ideas about the terms and conditions that they would like to see met before the ban is lifted. Ostensibly, they have mentioned human health and consumer confidence as the basis for those terms and conditions. However, the extent to which they were driving those terms and conditions was such that we felt that we should not comply. We want the ban lifted as soon as possible. It is urgent that that happens, but we shall not comply if that means undermining the UK's interests. Therefore, I refute what the noble Lord implied when he said that, with weasel words, we complied with any suggestions put to us.

There is no cost compliance in the sense that Ministers from other countries are expecting various other concessions on our part in return for any lifting of the ban. I spent a considerable amount of time at the Luxembourg Council where everyone's attention was

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focused on just one problem: the beef market. Furthermore, we were not focusing only on the UK beef industry, but on the European beef market. Everyone acknowledges that it is now a European problem and that it requires a European solution. We want that solution to be effective, prompt and fair. Any such solution must involve a lifting of the ban because it is disproportionate, unjustified and totally irrational.

The Earl of Kintore: My Lords, I declare an interest as a partner in a farm which has a small fold of highland cattle. I ask the Minister what advice he has to give owners of cattle which mature rather more slowly and are not normally exposed to market until they are about 36 months old?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, asks a very good question. One of the issues that has been discussed with vigour at Luxembourg--and will continue to be discussed energetically--is the kind of exemptions from the exclusion of all carcasses arising from beasts over the 30-month age limit that can sensibly be incorporated. We are very well aware that there are breeds in the United Kingdom that mature more slowly. We want to recognise that fact, if at all possible. It is also important that the response perceived by the consumer and others is seen to be convincing. If we hedge our response with too many complicated exemptions we shall be in danger of confusing the very people we want to convince. We have to balance sensible exemptions with an overriding message of simplicity and determination.

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