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The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to "remote abattoirs". Is not that exactly the problem? All the local abattoirs to which the farmer could go and which would solve the problem referred to by my noble friend Lord Stanley are being closed down through excessive costs and bureaucracy. What is the noble Lord doing to ensure that they can stay open for the local farmers?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, this most important question is currently of concern to us. As the noble Lord will know, we announced a review of the impact of charges on abattoirs. We have delayed the proposals to introduce charges for SRM controls at a cost to the Government of some £20 million. We are still considering an increase in the meat hygiene service charges. We wish the maximum number of abattoirs and small abattoirs to continue. It is a free market. This matter is for the industry. If there is an over-supply, some will disappear. We believe that small abattoirs in the remote areas such as those referred to by the noble Lord serve a very important purpose to the rural community and local producers.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, Is the Minister aware that we used to feed our dogs on sheeps heads, which were a valuable nutrient, and that we cannot now do so? The last time my husband went into a butcher's shop to buy a sheep's head, he said, "Have you got a sheep's head?" The butcher said, "No, it's just the way I part my hair".
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I enjoyed that but I shall not attempt to match it, just as I have never seriously attempted to part my hair. For the record, perhaps I may point out that the exclusion of sheep's heads was introduced under the order of the previous government as a result of SEAC advice on the possible danger of BSE. It is a precautionary principle.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, as somebody who has no hair and no problem in that connection, perhaps I may ask a question of my noble friend. Brains used to be a delicacy in restaurants. Can he say whether calves' brains are still allowed to be eaten, and, if not, why not?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the exclusion of various offals has been the result of scientific advice of where there is a possible danger of disease. We have not excluded anything that has not been the subject of scientific advice.
Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, is the Minister aware that for those who keep livestock, and particularly those who keep cattle, torn ears and missing tags are an everyday feature? Can he tell us what, if anything, the Ministry is doing to try to devise some rather more up-to-date and less primitive methods, such as micro-chipping? That could be applied cheaply, would be tamper-proof and would not lead to the stress caused by the present system.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. We are very aware of the disadvantages of tagging and of the technical advantages of micro-chips. However, given the price of lambs, since the chips would cost £3 to £4, we believe that is an unacceptable additional burden.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, can the Minister clarify the long-term hygiene regulation about the removal of sheep's heads? It seems to me that it was not so very long ago that it was introduced mainly on the basis of an EEC regulation.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, there was a regulation in relation to meat hygiene. But we, or the previous government, acted on the basis of scientific advice and introduced the 1996 regulation for the removal of sheep's heads in relation to sheep's heads being a specified risk material. That will be in force as long as there is that threat to health. We all look forward to the time when that threat is lifted.
Lord Ellenborough: My Lords, I can hardly thank the Minister for that Answer. Are the Government not concerned that the recent, somewhat lengthy and voluble report, with the grandiose title, Procedural Consequences of Devolution, totally ignored what has now become known as the "English Question" and produced absolutely no proposals to allow English MPs to vote on English matters? Cannot the Government by now wake up and realise the potential dangers to the United Kingdom? Burying their heads in the devolution sand causes resentment to the English and undermines England's very identity as a nation, not least with the Government's insulting proposals to fragment England into artificial regions.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, English MPs will of course continue to be able to vote on English matters. The devolution agenda in no way attacks, impugns or derogates from the English identity. Indeed, it may assist the pride that Scots people rightly have in their national identity and undoubtedly is likely to do so in Wales. This is part of a constitutional change which I believe, as it develops, will have increasing support in every part of the United Kingdom.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, with regard to constitutional change, I see from Hansard that some Answers to Questions in Parliament are now being refused on the ground that they cover matters devolved to Scotland, in spite of the fact that this Parliament remains ultimately responsible and the Government are apparently going to propose legislation to this Parliament covering some matters otherwise devolved to Scotland. On what criteria, therefore, are Ministers refusing to answer Questions?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am not sure it is Ministers who decide to refuse; I believe it is a question for the House authorities as to whether the Questions are appropriately put. If I am wrong about that, the principle is perfectly well established that matters which have been devolved by the decision of this House as well as by the decision of another place, either in the context of Wales or of England, are properly to be answered by Ministers in the Scottish Parliament, in due time the Northern Ireland Assembly, or the Assembly in Cardiff.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am not aware of any such complaint. None has ever been drawn to my attention. I believe it was my noble friend Lord Sewel who said that the answer to the West Lothian question might be similar to that given to the West Belfast question, to which my noble friend Lord Monkswell is referring.
Lord Monson: My Lords, does not the noble Lord, Lord Williams, agree, first, that Northern Ireland under the Stormont Parliament had only 70 per cent of the seats to which it would otherwise have been entitled, which would give the Scots 39 or 40 seats at Westminster and not the number they now have? Secondly, if the MSPs were to vote to ban hunting in Scotland, as has been forecast, without the English or Welsh having any say in the matter, would it not be intolerable for Scottish MPs at Westminster then to be able to vote to ban hunting in England and Wales?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the figures put by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, do not go to the principle. I understood the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, and his supplementary, to be based on principle. So whether Northern Ireland Members comprised 70 per cent, 100 per cent or 50 per cent does not go to the point. I do not know whether hunting will be banned by the Scottish Parliament. The noble Lord is quite right that it is within its legislative competence. The fact is that we have come to a different constitutional settlement in the context of devolution. The Scottish people voted very substantially in favour of it. The Welsh people also voted in favour of it.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, can the noble Lord explain, in his enthusiasm for devolution, the logic which permits Scots MPs to vote on English matters when the same English MPs cannot vote on some of the Scottish matters?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am an enthusiast for devolution. I believe that if one takes a courageous breath and sees the consequences of over-centralisation, which was remarked upon by many Scottish Peers in this House as well as by many Welsh Peers, one will realise that that is the way ahead. I cannot pretend that any constitutional settlement will be of perfect intellectual symmetry, in the same way as I am unable to find any perfect intellectual symmetry about the continuation of the hereditary peerage.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, as someone who was born in the Rhondda Valley, and is therefore Welsh, can my noble friend say, if it is right that Scottishness should be represented through a Scottish Parliament and Welshness through a Welsh Assembly, why Englishness should not be represented through an English Parliament? Should we not put that to the English people by way of a referendum?
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