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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I say straightaway that I fully agree with the noble Lord as regards the difficult time that farmers in all parts of the United Kingdom have had to endure as a result of the BSE crisis. I wish to be associated with the noble Lord's
I believe that on the previous occasion I discussed the matter of BSE in this House I made it clear that it seemed to me there had been a rather slower response than we ideally would have liked to making sure that proper communication was established. Although arrangements can never be perfect, I am afraid that in my view the complexity and the suddenness of the crisis contributed to that. An enormous amount of work has been done to try to put that right, in particular under the leadership of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who is particularly charged with making sure that farmers are aware of what is going on in England. The appropriate Ministers in the Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh Offices ensure that farmers are aware of what is going on in those countries. I hope that the noble Lord will not hesitate to get in touch with my colleagues if he feels that these arrangements are not working as to details. I wholly agree with him that this is one of the most important areas which the Government should address. I had hoped that that had improved enormously over the past six weeks in particular.
As regards compensation, I think the noble Lord is aware of the rates of compensation for cull cows over 30 months, and as regards the calf compensation scheme. We have yet to announce details of compensation for the cull scheme for the 89/90 cohort, but as this will be a voluntary matter--I think that is the way to describe it--the rate of compensation for that cohort has to be sufficiently high to be an inducement for farmers and to make it worth their while to take it up. Our objective--I am sure the noble Lord will agree with this--is to re-establish confidence in the beef industry, to eliminate BSE, and to continue to reassure the consumer because, after all, an even higher priority than the welfare of the farming industry is the importance of public health. Of course the two are intimately connected.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, first, will my noble friend desist from using the expression "single currency" as it is manifestly obvious that even if some member states enter a monetary union, there will be several different currencies circulating within the European Union and therefore none of them can conceivably be a single currency? Secondly, will he confirm that I heard him aright quoting the Prime Minister as saying that the original ban which was imposed by the European Union was unjustified? Will he confirm that he further said it would be removed in stages and that judgment on that removal will be reached only on objective criteria concerning public health? But if it was unjustified in the beginning, how can there be any concern today about public health? Surely that is a nonsense.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I stand corrected in regard to the single currency. My noble friend will agree with me that we slip quickly into the most convenient way of describing something. Convenience often takes precedence over absolute accuracy. It is known as the "single currency", and I suspect that, like the poll tax, my noble friend's efforts to get it called something else are doomed to failure.
As concerns the ban, I can confirm that my right honourable friend used the word "unjustified". My noble friend is right that my right honourable friend said that public health would be the first priority. Perhaps my noble friend also agrees with me that the measures we have taken are concerned with restoring public confidence. I hear my noble friend say "Ah!", but if he reads Hansard again he will find that public confidence also plays a part in what my right honourable friend said. It is no good basing ourselves entirely on public health because if no confidence is expressed by consumers, despite our satisfaction over public health, we can produce as much safe beef as we like but they will still not buy it.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I congratulate the Leader of the House on his Statement. First, I ask him to confirm that in 1988 the European Commission first raised the issue of the safety of animal feed. The view was then taken by a number of member governments, including our own and that of France, that it was not a matter suitable for the European Commission. No regulations were laid down until 1994.
Secondly, in view of the noble Viscount's welcome commitment to the cause of truth in the tabloids, will he confirm that the ban on beef exports from Britain was not first brought in, as the impression is given, by the European Union countries but that Canada, Japan, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and many other countries had banned British beef exports as long ago as five years previously? Will the noble Viscount confirm that the European Union ban was among the last of the series?
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, probably my memory is more defective than that of the noble Baroness. On the first point, I can confirm what she said. Secondly, I did not hear her mention the United States of America. I believe that I am right in saying that it imposed its own ban as long ago as 1989. The noble Baroness will agree with me that the terms of the ban differed substantially from that imposed by the European Union. I am sure that the noble Baroness will also agree that it is important for us to try to get the European Union ban lifted. It will improve our chances of persuading other countries to do the same.
I remind the noble Baroness that my right honourable friend also pointed out that we were proceeding with an interim measures appeal in the European Court of Justice. We believe that the ban on exports to third countries for internal consumption was unjustified and we intend to pursue the claim. We are reasonably optimistic about the outcome. We hope that at least some of the steps that have been
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the noble Viscount further explain what is implied by his statement that during the period of non co-operation, which I believe lasted a month, no fewer than 70 decisions--74 decisions, according to my noble friend--were blocked? Has the noble Viscount any information as to the number of decisions and regulations that were passed by qualified majority during that time? We should bear in mind the Government's continued assertion that the flood of regulations from Europe was diminishing. The figures the noble Viscount has just given, which cover one month, indicate that the number of decisions has increased and that more and more regulations are coming from Brussels. I should be glad of an explanation.
Will the Minister say whether, to the best of his information, the individual transactions in imports and exports between ourselves and the various countries of Europe and our transactions over the exchanges and with invisibles have suffered during the month? Are not the people most likely to be inconvenienced the bureaucrats themselves in all countries rather than those involved in the ordinary normal intercourse between countries? Since only one-and-a-half hours ago we considered vital questions of public expenditure and taxpayers' money, will the Minister inform the House how much the settlement will cost the United Kingdom in the remainder of 1996-97 and the years 1997-98 and 1998-99? Will £2 billion or £3 billion have to be paid by the taxpayers of the United Kingdom? If so, what do the Government propose to do about it?
Finally, while the noble Viscount was in conference in Florence, or while the Government were in conference in Florence, was it pointed out to our partners that there were serious complaints about the spread of BSE in France, the Netherlands and Portugal? Did the Government mention that and ask whether those countries should have their exports of cattle banned?
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, sadly, as someone who has nothing but the most vivid and affectionate memories of Florence, I was not privileged to be there last weekend. However, I was fortunate to be in South Wales, I am able to say to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and perhaps did better as a result.
I am aware that I failed to answer one of the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, about the number of matters that we vetoed which were subject to unanimity. As both noble Lords are aware, they are the only ones that we vetoed because under QMV, the veto would probably not have had much effect.
I was asked how many we agreed with. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, will allow me to be somewhat imprecise. There were a number of matters. I am sure that he can think of some which we wanted agreed, but it is fortunate that we merely delayed our agreement to the ones with which we agreed for a relatively short time.
On whether or not trade has suffered, in view of the latest set of trade figures we cannot be precise but it does not look as though our trade has suffered enormously. One of the reasons can easily be found: unemployment in this country is decreasing whereas in other countries in the European Union it is increasing. That is because we have made what is proving to be an accurate analysis of what creates jobs. The sort of social market arrangements to which the noble Lord's party is so keen to sign up are just those that are ensuring very high and growing rates of unemployment in continental Europe. So long as our competitiveness continues to grow in comparison with that of our European partners, I think we can safely say that our trade with them is likely to increase rather than the reverse. There is no doubt that if we are more competitive than they are we shall find our goods rather more attractive in due course and over a period of time than theirs.
As to BSE in other countries, so far as I know, no specific reference was made to it by my right honourable friend in Florence. If I am wrong in saying that, I will write to the noble Lord. I know that a number of farmers in particular have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the reporting of the incidence of BSE among our partners. I do not think that I am qualified to comment on that. It would be very helpful from our point of view if the European Union as a whole could co-operate in order to try to eliminate this terrible disease.
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