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Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, which I hope all of your Lordships will agree has been most fruitful. I looked forward greatly to the maiden speeches of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and I can now look back on them with great pleasure. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

BSE (Agriculture)

5.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should now like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Statement is as follows:

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My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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5.25 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I declare an interest. I am involved in the dairy sector.

Given the title of the Statement, "The Outcome of the Council of Ministers", one is tempted to ask what the outcome was and, indeed, whether there is any real progress to report. We welcome the confirmation that the export ban is temporary. According to the Statement, it will be lifted "progressively". Can the Minister give some idea--any idea at all--of the likely timescale? How progressive will the lifting of the so-called "temporary" ban be? What stages will be involved? How long will it all take?

We also welcome the Minister's reference to the Government's intention to go ahead with a legal challenge to the ban under Article 173 of the treaty. Can the Minister say when that will be lodged? He said that it would be done shortly. Article 173 allows the Court of Justice to review the legality of acts of the Council and the Commission. However, perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to Article 186, which states:


    "The Court of Justice may in any cases before it prescribe any necessary interim measures".
That point was made on an earlier Statement by my noble friend Lord Mishcon. Is anything resembling an injunction open to the European Court of Justice? Is there any temporary relief that we could plead under Article 186 of the treaty?

I turn now to the selective cull which was first described last week. I hope that the Minister will understand that there will be great uncertainty in the farming industry. As I understand it, the selective cull is not to be imposed until there is some sign of a lifting of the ban. That means that all those farms that know that they might be subject to the selective cull are in limbo. They are not at all sure what will happen. Cohort farms do not know whether they can sell any cattle. There will be a great deal of uncertainty on those farms.

Furthermore, if farms which are outside the selective slaughter scheme and farms which have had cases of BSE involving animals born before September 1990 were now to have just one case of BSE involving an animal born after September 1990, such farms would now have to slaughter all the other animals born in that year inside the herd as milking animals. I hope that the Government will understand that compensation must be generous to such farmers if there is not to be a perverse incentive to try to hide such a single case.

On the scale of the selective slaughter, perhaps I may repeat the Statement, which states that,


    "the scale of any measure finally put in place will be very much on the lines I have already indicated to the House".
That can only mean that the Government are thinking of the order of the 40,000 cattle mentioned originally. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that.

I am afraid that, as we said last week on the previous Statement, we are now in a numbers game. The Council of Ministers will be trying to ratchet up the numbers for

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each concession. I fear that because of the approach they have adopted the Government are now in a very weak negotiating position.

The Government have said that the lifting of the ban and the selective cull have to proceed in parallel. It is hard to understand how that can happen. How can one have a partial selective cull and a partial lifting of the ban? It seems to me that the Statement does not add up.

I return to the 30-month scheme which, I understand, starts tomorrow. Is the Minister aware of the reaction of a number of substantial retailers who have said that they are not prepared to buy beef from slaughterhouses which are engaged in the 30-month scheme? Even though slaughtering takes place only on certain days or on certain lines, they will refuse to buy beef from those slaughterhouses because of the risk of cross-infection. If the Government are aware of this, I shall be interested to hear their reactions. Can the Minister say how far the Government have gone with the exemption scheme? It is important that those producers who produce clean beef from animals over 30 months of age know where they are. We know that these animals are stacking up in the supply chain and that forage stocks are nearly gone. Those farms face a serious problem. The introduction of the selective slaughter scheme and the way that it has been devised means that the Government agree--as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said last week--that the feed ban was transgressed either on farms or in feed mills, or both. My honourable friend Dr. Gavin Strang, the spokesman in the other place, has asked the Government whether they will institute an inquiry into the matter. If the Government are aware that the feed ban has been transgressed--they have admitted it--will they be prepared to consider prosecutions?

I turn to the statement of the Council itself, which is quite worrying. Reference is made to the extension of the selective slaughter scheme. The Government have said that it will be on the same scale as already mentioned. However, the Council say:


    "The Council has however noted the case for strengthening the programme, through additional measures particularly targeted on herds where a significant number of cases of BSE has been detected. This should contribute to a more substantial and rapid reduction in the incidence of BSE. To this end, the Council has invited the Commission to further investigate with the UK delegation these additional measures within the Standing Veterinary Committee together with Member States' veterinary experts".
It is clear that the Council is building these additional measures, which are not defined, into the lifting of the ban. Perhaps the Minister can tell us the scale of the additional measures that may be required. It is extremely worrying. We all agree that the selective slaughter scheme is itself unjustified on scientific grounds, but it is clear that the Council expects the extension of the selective scheme to be central to the lifting of the ban. It would be interesting to know details of the Portuguese scheme for the complete eradication of BSE, which is also mentioned in the Statement.

The Council also has proposals for what it calls a holistic approach to research into both BSE and CJD. I hope that this is not simply a delaying tactic. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the Government adopt a new approach to research and development in this area. It must have occurred to the Government that the

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short-term contracts encouraged by the Government cannot be beneficial to the crucial work that is being done into BSE, CJD or any other research area. Does the Minister agree that the prior options programme for the selling off of our research establishments must now be abandoned? The units which are investigating BSE and CJD should not be subject to all the uncertainty and upheaval that the prior option scheme entails. BSE and CJD will be with us for a number of years. Long-term research needs to be done by scientists in the public sector who do not have to spend their time looking for their next jobs.

To conclude, we certainly support the Government in seeking an end to the export ban and restoring consumer confidence, but we fear that this crisis will be with us and the industry for a long time yet.


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