|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Sandberg: My Lords, as a former banker I was very glad to hear that the Government had talked to banks and received a sympathetic reply, but I was sad to note that there was no reference to any approach having been made to the Bank of England. Speaking for myself, I believe that the Bank is very reactive in its decisions. Surely, at this time it should be proactive and provide some help to small industries by giving more serious thought to lowering the interest rate.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in the immediate situation that we have been talking to the banks about, the small businesses within rural areas would be more concerned with deferrals of interest, interest holidays and delaying loan repayments than with the precise rate of interest. That, as the noble Lord knows, raises somewhat wider issues. The Bank of England is independent on such matters.
Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend a question following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked regarding orders of priority. For example, in the North West we have the Blackpool Zoo, Knowsley Safari Park and Chester Zoo. These places are now closed and the staff are redundant. Will they qualify for compensation in the same way, even though there is no foot and mouth disease in the area?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in general, relatively large enterprises, such as zoos, would not benefit from the proposed package. Clearly, as we move to the next stage, we need to look at those areas of the tourist trade which have been particularly affected and see what best we can do. A significant number of zoo animals are susceptible to foot and mouth. Therefore, it will be necessary for zoos to remain closed for some time, whatever the situation on foot and mouth in other areas. So there will be an issue to be addressed there. But this particular package is unlikely to affect those particular rather large zoos.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the confusion is highlighted by having a different regime in Scotland? Will he instil in the Environment Agency some sense the importance of making the right decision the first time? It instructed a friend of mine at 10.30 a.m. to dig a pit to bury stock. At 4.30 p.m. it said, "No, you cannot bury the stock". He had to fill in the pit. The next morning he was instructed to reopen the pit and start burying.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, that last question is impossible to answer. Clearly, the impact is both immediate and longer term. We do not have figures that relate to the knock-on impact of the disease across the whole of the rural and tourist economy. Such figures are not capable of being produced until the crisis is over. It is to be hoped that the job losses will be short term.
The different regimes in England and in Scotland are a consequence of devolution, on which I appreciate that some noble Lords are not particularly keen. Nevertheless, it is important that decisions are taken locally. That means locally by the Scottish authorities, both at national Scottish level, including the Scottish environmental authorities and by the Scottish county and other local authorities. That probably means that there will be slight differences of treatment in different parts of the country. However, the (thankfully so far) relatively small areas of Scotland affected are different topographically and in terms of their agricultural nature from areas in England and therefore one would expect some decisions to be slightly different.
In relation to the Environment Agency, as I have said, we want to speed up the process of decision-making, but that sometimes means that one makes decisions too fast. I am not sure whether it was the Scottish or English Environment Agency to which the noble Earl was referring, but I hope that we can avoid conflicting advice and avoid mistakes. In all these cases speed is important, but it is also important that the decision is robust and meets all the requirements. I hope that people will recognise that, like the MAFF veterinary service, the county and other veterinary services, the Environment Agency is doing its desperate best to ensure that the situation is contained as much as possible. A great deal of work is being done by huge numbers of government people who are working 18 and 20 hours a day in some cases. So we are committed to containing the disease. The package is intended to ensure that the knock-on effects of the disease are minimised as far as possible. Nevertheless, some desperate situations will arise, both in the farming community and in the rest of the rural area. We need to do our best to minimise that.
Tesco reverted to dual pricing because it found that nine out of 10 of its customers still used imperial measures in their heads. Yet the Government relentlessly pursue their determined drive to abolish those familiar measurements. In my view, that is part of the Government's long-term project to airbrush out our history, including the existence of the United Kingdom, the traditions and status of Parliament itself, in both Houses, and the reduction of England into petty regions in the style of French departements and German Lander.
The date of the survey that I have just mentioned is significant. In 1989 the previous government obtained a 10-year derogation from the EC directive permitting the sale of loose goods such as meat, fish, vegetables and fruit in pounds and ounces. Despite the fact that the Government had two clear years notice of public opinion before the derogation expired on 31st December 1999, they just allowed the date to go by default without lifting so much as a finger to obtain an extension. That was clearly a deliberate decision on the part of the Government.
In reply to a Question for Written Answer from my honourable friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton in July 1999, which at least would have been a reminder, if the Government amidst their so many other preoccupations had overlooked it, the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs said:
The same question was raised by some of my right honourable and honourable friends in the other place and answer came there none. The only pathetically specious reply that the Minister could dredge up was:
Before the Government side gets over-excited, it is true that the previous government signed up to the directive. One was negotiated by the Labour government in 1979 just before the Thatcher government came into office. I shall, if I may, revert to that aspect in a few moments.
I remind your Lordships that we also negotiated the derogation which the Government have deliberately allowed to expire, in the same way that my right honourable friend the former Prime Minister established and negotiated the principle of subsidiarity which the Government waive at every opportunity. The Minister in the other place claimed that imperial measures had to disappear into history because of,
Harmonisation is another excuse. Well, I can understand the commercial need not to attempt to sell goods in pounds and ounces to countries that have had the metric system for more than 200 years. But what principle of harmony is breached if some market trader in Sunderland sells his customers bananas by the pound? Even if overseas visitors patronise his store, or even Safeway, surely they will not be insulted if they see a sign containing a so-called "supplementary indication". If millions of British tourists--
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page