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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I really cannot reconcile the words "appeasement" and "climbdown" with getting what we want, which looks like happening. However, I can reassure the House that the action we have taken will not cease until we have the agreement that we seek from our partners.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is the Minister aware that on television this morning the Deputy Prime Minister referred to the ban on the importation of beef imposed by the United States and by Hong Kong? Will he share my puzzlement at his own Written Answer to my Question which appears in Tuesday's edition of Hansard (col. WA 17) in which I asked specifically which countries had imposed such a ban? The names of Hong Kong and the United States did not appear. Given the fact that it took four weeks for his department to answer the Question, would they at least try to get it right first time?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, indeed we have got it right. The name of Hong Kong was absent because the noble Lord asked which countries had imposed a ban before the European Commission imposed its ban. Hong Kong imposed its ban afterwards. The United States was absent because the United States has not imposed a ban on the import of British beef.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the politics in all this are giving everybody a field day. What farmers want to know is what they will have to do, and when, in order to get their market back. Does the Minister have grounds for foreseeing the possibility, once the framework is agreed, of telling farmers exactly what the timetable will be and what they will have to do?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, what we rightly have is a framework, a procedure that will be followed in order to enable the ban to be lifted. There will be things that we must do to achieve that, because we are seeking to convince our European partners that they will be right to resume importing British beef. We shall be setting ourselves a rigorous timetable to achieve that aim.
Lord Carter: My Lords, in an earlier answer the Minister referred to foot and mouth disease. He really should know the difference between a disease that can be passed from animal to animal such as foot and mouth and a disease like BSE, which cannot.
Is the Minister aware that every farmer in the country will have been staggered by the remark of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Heseltine, on the "Today" programme this morning when he casually referred to the "handful" of cattle now to be added to the 80,000 already in the selective slaughter scheme? Is that "handful" 20,000 or 67,000? In his evidence to the Select Committee on Agriculture in the other place yesterday, the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Hogg, quoted the figure of 67,000 as the additional number and said that 20,000 is too low. What is the reduction in actual numbers--not vague percentages--of BSE cases now expected to result from the selective slaughter scheme, and how many cattle are to be slaughtered?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, doubtless we shall have an opportunity to go into the details of this matter when they are presented to Parliament. However, I will help the noble Lord to the extent that I am able to. We are not looking for a disease that is passed from cow to cow; I am glad for the noble Lord's confirmation of that. We are looking at culling a group of cattle that are likely to be already infected even though not showing signs of infection. So far as the number of cases that we might expect to eliminate is concerned, of the basic cull--the original 42,000--we reckon that one in 14 would show the disease. There may be a number which would not show the disease; it is not something that can be diagnosed before symptoms appear. In the other sections of the cull, that percentage will be rather reduced. I do not have the figure with me. It is very much a question of seeing what we can do to reduce the incidence of BSE without going to unreasonable lengths. It is a matter on which Parliament will have a chance to have its say.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me. I very much enjoy listening to my noble friend Lord Lucas answering the Opposition. Equally, I know that the House is looking forward to hearing my noble friend Lady Chalker.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, the Government consider that the long-term interests of the UK will be best served by accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The timing of accession remains under review. Parliament will be informed as soon as the
Lord Kennet: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it took some eight years to negotiate this worldwide convention, it was open to signature for about another six years, and has been in effect for two years? Will she further confirm that, by 30th June this year, all countries that wish to appoint members to the tribunal under the terms of the convention must have given in the names? Is it the case that, in not having done that, we exclude ourselves from the tribunal on the law of the sea and from various ancillary bodies thereunder? Why are we excluding ourselves from an arrangement that is manifestly in our national interest, as it is in the interests of all other countries given that, until the week before last, the Government were saying quite simply that we should accede, without any qualifications?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I underline that the Government are committed in principle and we are working at this matter. However, it has turned out to be more complicated than we anticipated. That is why it is taking longer than we wished. About half the countries have signed up; the other half have not.
The noble Lord is quite right: the UK candidate for the Law of the Sea Tribunal will not be able to succeed, because one has to have acceded to the convention for over a month before the election takes place. I hope that that will not affect the question of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, since the elections for that commission do not take place until March 1997. By that time I sincerely hope that we shall have been able to resolve these matters.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, as the noble Baroness confirmed that as a maritime nation we have a stronger incentive than most to establish an effective legal regime in international waters, how does it come about that even when we are on the side of the angels and for all the right reasons, we somehow contrive to make it appear to the world that we wish we were somewhere else?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I have no idea about being on the side of the angels. These matters need to be worked at quite a lot. A number of states are party to UNCLOS and that is growing. But many industrialised countries are only now acceding or have not yet done so. We must continue our work on this, which is what we are doing.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am not sure that I can give the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, all the legal details. The Rockall fisheries zone is a matter of concern to this country. That is why we are continuing to study the legal and practical implications to make sure that we get things right.
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