Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that we fully understand why the farming press and farming community seek answers to some of the aspects of the schemes, especially the 30 month scheme which is a massive scheme. It poses immense logistical problems. It is a scheme where we have pre-empted and anticipated many of the problems that would arise. But inevitably the scheme is throwing up other teething problems. We are in the business of solving those problems as soon as they are identified. However, the scheme is worth between £500 million and £600

7 May 1996 : Column 58

million to the farming community in its first year of operation. It is absolutely vital both to the farming community and to consumer confidence. It is unprecedented. The scheme seeks to reverse the usual flow of the industry. The industry seeks to produce beef for consumption. This scheme seeks to remove that beef from the consumers' market. Therefore, no one should underestimate the challenge that the scheme poses and the effort involved in getting it into place.

I accept that the farming community, and tens of thousands of livestock farmers, seek answers to questions. Across the United Kingdom they have all received letters, in some cases two letters, from the relevant ministries. The farming press has carried advertisements from the relevant ministries. We have provided helpline numbers, and so forth. We are determined that farmers have the information and that we solve the problems.

I will not accept from the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that this is a UK fiasco or that there is a lack of leadership.

Lord Carter: My Lords, it was the chairman of Unilever who said that. All I did was to repeat what he said.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the noble Lord repeated it. If he seeks to ignore the European dimension of this saga, he is fooling himself and possibly others in the House. The domestic beef market is back to over 80 per cent. of its pre-crisis levels across many areas. It is the export ban which has caused so much chaos in terms of consumer confidence over a wider area. There is not a shred of scientific justification for the ban. It is unprincipled. It is disproportionate. I resent the fact that the noble Lord continues to apologise for the ban and refuses to condemn or deplore it. We think that the ban is worthy of action in the European Court. I have explained that it has no scientific basis whatsoever. It has done untold damage across the European markets. The German market is down 50 per cent. at the moment; the Portuguese market is down 80 per cent. It is that ban, introduced without any logic whatsoever, which has done a huge amount of damage.

We are producing the staff and resources for the MHS. We are consulting at present on the exemptions; we went out to consultation on Friday. We are pursuing an important initiative. We are consulting with the industry on the selective slaughter scheme. I remind the House that the commissioner himself called it logical and rational, and felt that there was no credible alternative. However, agriculture Ministers in other European countries did not share the good sense of the commissioner. That remains on the table. We shall continue to negotiate from that position.

If we proceed with that or any other scheme we shall do so only with the agreement of Parliament, the industry and our own veterinary scientists. We shall not depart on some sacrificial route simply to appease European feelings.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggested that the announcement made by my honourable friend the Minister of State in another place about daily meetings with the industry is somewhat tardy. All four agriculture departments have consulted and liaised extremely closely with their industries throughout the BSE crisis. My

7 May 1996 : Column 59

honourable friend announced today that in England he would have daily meetings to ensure that the 30 months scheme was running as well as possible.

In Scotland, as in the other territories, we have had very good relations with the industries involved. On Friday, we killed 100 cattle under the 30 months scheme. We expect to kill 500 today. I do not have with me the figures for the other territories. However, I repeat what my honourable friend said in another place: that by the end of this week the scheme should be up and running.

The vital figures which neither noble Lord should forget, especially when addressing the subject of cases in cattle born after the ban and the possibility of a feed inquiry, are those which illustrate how steeply incidences of BSE are declining in the United Kingdom. I can give the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, the Scottish figures immediately. In 1993 we had 2,200 cases. By 1995 we were down to 600 cases. This year we anticipate just 300 cases. The same rate of decline has been recorded across the United Kingdom.

Referring specifically to born-after-the-ban cases, 84 per cent. of all such cattle were born in the second half of 1988 and during 1989. Only 3,140 animals born in 1990 became born-after-the-ban cases. That figure has fallen; only one calf born in 1993 became a born-after-the-ban case. Therefore, the trend is very steeply downwards. That is why we must approach any selective slaughter scheme with great care.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, suggested that we ignore the European dimension of the proposal and go ahead with it on a unilateral basis with no linkage to European negotiations. Our own veterinary scientists say, and the SEAC advice is, that the rate of decline of BSE in this country is so fast anyway that in terms of human or animal health there is no need to supplement it with this proposal. However, given the importance of the European diplomatic challenge and of removing the ban, it is worth considering a logical supplement. That is what characterises the selective slaughter proposal currently on the table.

I address my last point to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. The export ban is having a disproportionate effect in Northern Ireland and Scotland. It is vital that we use any means possible to remove it. If there is leverage in a selective slaughter proposal, we should use it.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked an important question about the exceptions to the 30-month scheme. What progress has been made in dealing with the Galloways, Highland cattle and so on?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I answered the question but briefly and at speed. The consultation document went out to the farming industry on Friday 3rd May. We regard it as being an absolute priority for the specialist breeds which may be grass-fed and herds which fall into the category of never having been connected with a case of BSE during the past six years. There is a strong case for exemptions being awarded rapidly and we regard it as an urgent priority.

7 May 1996 : Column 60

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, my noble friend referred to the ban on exports being challenged in the European Court. Has that challenge been put in? If so, when is it expected that it will be heard by the European Court? I shall be grateful if my noble friend could answer that and also give whatever estimate the Government have of the number of animals that will be slaughtered as a result of the cull.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, as regards the ban, we are launching our action within a matter of days. I cannot inform my noble friend with any accuracy of the likely timetable that will be pursued within the Court. However, as soon as it becomes known I hope that both my noble friend and the House will be informed. As regards the number of animals involved in the proposed selective cull, to which my noble friend referred, the approximate figure at the moment is 42,000. We regard those 42,000 cattle as being at the highest risk of contracting BSE at a later date. If, at any stage, there are developments in finding a live test through technology, it will pre-empt the need for selective culls and other programmes which involve the culling of cattle.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I rather regret the attitude that continues to come across from the Government of seeming to blame Europe for all their problems. We need to recognise that there is to a great extent a lack of knowledge and therefore difficulty in deciding who is right, who is wrong and what action should or should not be taken. One area where we are not faced so much with that problem is the feed ban. It was, I understand, a legal requirement on the feed industry to stop using SBOs in feed production. That is a legal requirement. Last week we were told by the Minister that the ban appeared to have been broken and that contaminated animal feed stuffs--cattle feed--have been supplied. First, what powers do the Government have to seek financial redress, whether by fines or levies on the feed industry, to recover the public moneys expended in dealing with the problem so far? The number of animals which have succumbed to BSE over the past five or six years is enormous and the cost to the Exchequer significant. What powers do the Government have to obtain financial redress from the feed manufacturers? Secondly, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that they extract money from those companies which presumably made significant profits because of their illegal activities over the past five or six years?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, in regard to the 30-month cattle disposal scheme, those in this House who saw how the Speaker controlled the other place during the discussion will realise that she kept the House firmly focused on the question. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, has gone wide of the subject in his remarks; nevertheless I shall answer them. We do not necessarily seek to blame Europe in isolation of all other factors that pertain to the case. However, the fact is that the ban was imposed without any scientific evidence. It was imposed world-wide on our exports. We feel that that is of doubtful legality. So, both in terms of the science and of the injustice of such a move, we have strong feelings.

7 May 1996 : Column 61

As regards SBOs and feed production, I remind the noble Lord of what I said to the noble Lords, Lord Carter, and Lord Mackie. With the incidence of BSE reducing so significantly, it is clear that the regulations on SBOs and feed have broadly worked. However, the SEAC recommendations of late March recognised that it was doubly important to ensure that it was not possible for ruminants to gain access to SBO protein in their food. Therefore, in case there had been leakage in the feed mills or on farms where farmers were running both ruminants and non-ruminants, it was decided that all livestock feed should exclude SBOs as a constituent. If any feed company is found to fail to comply with any regulations, then prosecutions will be considered. It is simple.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page