|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
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.
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:
"The Council discussed the reform of the Community fruit and vegetables regime and the Commission's proposals for this year's farm price fixing. Both are important matters and I set out the United Kingdom position on the lines I have explained to the House on many occasions.
"The Council also discussed BSE. I put before the Council a dossier of information setting out the measures the UK has taken. I shall place a copy of that dossier in the Library of the House. My first objective at the Council was naturally to achieve action on the export ban. Progress was made on this and the conclusions of the Council explicitly recognise that the ban is temporary. They also recognise that the measures already put in place and foreseen form, and I quote, 'part of a process which should allow the export ban to be progressively lifted on a step by step basis'.
"In addition, the Council has recognised that the lifting of the ban in respect of tallow, gelatine and semen should be addressed in the Standing Veterinary Committee shortly. As the House knows, the relevant decisions are taken by qualified majority vote in the Standing Veterinary Committee, not in the Council. The next meeting of the Standing Veterinary Committee takes place next week.
"Nevertheless, this welcome progress should not obscure the fact that the ban is disproportionate and unjustified. Accordingly, I made it clear to the Council and recorded in a formal UK statement that on the basis of the scientific evidence available there should be an early and complete lifting of the ban.
"Accordingly, we are proceeding with our application to have the ban set aside by the European Court of Justice under Article 173 of the treaty. Our application is in an advanced stage of preparation and will be lodged very shortly. The House will also know that the National Farmers Union has been granted leave to seek judicial review of the export ban and I understand that the matter is expected to be referred to the ECJ on 3rd May.
"I turn now to the selective cull. The Council accepted that the proposals I have put forward involving the culling by farm of birth of age cohorts born after September 1990 in which there have been cases of BSE were very much in the right direction. It was also agreed that it would be helpful to investigate whether additional measures targeted on herds where there had been many cases of BSE would be justified. This is a point which is obviously worth careful consideration, and my officials will be entering into technical discussions on this shortly. It is, however, already clear that should we proceed with a cull, the scheme we have put forward will form the major component of any such policy and that the scale of any measure finally put in place will be very much on the lines I have already indicated to the House.
"As regards the beef market, I am glad to say that the partial recovery has continued. Consumption is now at some 80 per cent. of pre-crisis levels for good quality cuts and average market prices are 109p. per kilo compared to 120p. per kilo before the crisis. The scheme for the slaughter of male calves has been operational from 22nd April and the scheme for the disposal of cattle over 30 months at the end of their working lives will start operation tomorrow. This follows a decision of the Management Committee on 26th April when, on our proposal, specific provision was made for payments to be made on a deadweight as well as a liveweight basis. This follows strong representations from the farming unions.
"Madam Speaker, I know that many Members and their constituents are concerned about how this scheme--I shall call it the 30-month slaughter scheme--will work in practice. The first point is that the scheme is now launched. The first cattle are likely to be processed tomorrow. Over 60 abattoirs and 80 markets across the UK will act as collection centres. Farmers will be anxious to have the finalised details. We shall be sending direct to farmers a note setting out all they need to know about the new arrangements.
"So, Madam Speaker, I would summarise the position thus. In our view the ban that has been imposed by the European Union is unjustified and should be removed. The conclusions arrived at yesterday have established a process which could achieve this. I very much hope that the Commission and all member states will play a full and active part in resolving this grave and urgent problem."
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:
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.
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 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
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.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page