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The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is on our continuing efforts to get the ban on British beef and beef products lifted and the implications for a wider European policy. The Statement is as follows:
"But we have put in place a wide range of measures to ensure that all products reaching the market are safe on any normal definition of the word. As a result of controls on feed, the incidence of BSE in Britain is falling rapidly and will continue to do so. We believe that there can no longer be any conceivable justification for the ban remaining in place. It is having a hugely damaging effect on the beef industry throughout Europe.
"We have explained very clearly the extent of the measures we have taken--going well beyond those in place in many member states--to ensure the safety of British beef and beef products. The Commission has played a notably helpful role in following carefully the scientific advice.
"As a result, the Commission recently put forward a proposal to lift the ban on gelatine, tallow and semen. This is based on the scientific evidence that these products are safe when produced in agreed ways. A majority of member states supported this proposal when it was put to the Standing Veterinary Committee yesterday but it did not attract the required qualified majority to enable it to take effect. I should like to thank those countries that supported it and President Santer and Commissioner Fischler for their determination to put it to the vote.
"President Santer and Commissioner Fischler have confirmed that they stand by the proposal they put to the Standing Veterinary Committee yesterday. That proposal has to be confirmed by the Commission tomorrow. It will then be submitted to the Agriculture Council on 3rd and 4th June. Under the procedures the proposal would then be implemented unless there were a simple majority against it in the Council.
"Moreover, we have still been unable to reach agreement on further steps towards a progressive lifting of the wider ban, which is clearly our main objective. Some of our partners are reluctant even to contemplate moves in this direction, for reasons which have nothing to do with the science involved.
"Important national interests for Britain are involved here. I cannot tolerate these interests being brushed aside by some of our European partners with no reasonable grounds to do so. The top priority of our European policy must be to get this unjustified ban on beef derivatives lifted as soon as possible and to establish a clear path for the lifting of other aspects of the wider ban. We will continue our present efforts. But this is not enough.
"We have a strong legal case against the ban as a whole and particular aspects of it. We made it clear from the outset that we believed the ban to be unlawful and disproportionate and that we would therefore be bringing proceedings. Those proceedings will begin this week. We shall also begin this week our claim for interim measures aimed at achieving those interim remedies unreasonably denied us in negotiation. Although our wider proceedings will inevitably take time to be heard, the application for these interim remedies should be heard within two to six weeks.
"The interim measures application has a number of separate elements. One is the lifting of the ban on gelatine, tallow and semen. If the Agriculture Council does not approve the lifting of this ban on 3rd and 4th June, we shall ask the Court to lift it. We shall also be asking the Court to lift the worldwide ban on exports of British beef. The beef is safe and there is no practical possibility of it being reimported into the Community.
"A third element is the ban on beef from specialist beef herds, in particular slow maturing grass-fed herds which have never seen a single case of BSE and are among the finest in the world. As soon as appropriate verification schemes are in place--and preparations are already well advanced--we shall ask the Council to lift this ban. If we get no satisfaction, we shall again pursue the legal remedies open to us.
"But these legal steps are also not enough. We shall continue to press the scientific case on our partners and to pursue our own programme to eradicate BSE. But I have to tell the House that without progress towards lifting the ban we cannot be expected to continue to co-operate normally on other Community business.
"I say this with great reluctance. But the European Union operates through good will. If we do not benefit from good will from partners, clearly we cannot reciprocate. Progress will not be possible in
"We will raise the question of the ban at all Councils, including the Foreign Affairs Council. If necessary, we shall ask for special Councils. I will also be making clear that I expect agreement on how to deal with these problems to be behind us by the time the European Council meets in Florence on 21st and 22nd June. If they are not, the Florence meeting is bound to be dominated by this issue. It could not proceed with our normal co-operation unless it faced up to the crisis of confidence not only affecting consumers but also governments.
"This is not how I like to do business in Europe but I see no alternative. We cannot continue business as usual within Europe when we are faced with this clear disregard by some of our partners of reason, common sense and Britain's national interests. We continue to want to make progress through negotiation. But if this is not possible, we are bound to use the legal avenues open to us and the political means we have at our disposal.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement that was made in another place by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and, as always, I declare an interest as someone involved in dairy farming.
My first response to the Statement--I have to say this with some regret--is that it has much more to do with the internal problems of the Conservative Party than the future of the beef industry. That split within the Conservative Party and the attitude of some members of the Government have been in large part responsible for the problem. When Ministers refer, as they have, to ignorance and malevolence by our European partners, that is no way to influence them or to get them on our side. We have had a Statement a week, sometimes two, for the past nine weeks. Every Statement has promised progress and each subsequent Statement has revealed another reversal in Europe.
The Minister referred to the controls on feed. The incidence of BSE in Britain is falling rapidly and will continue to do so. However, the Government have still not produced a satisfactory answer as to why there have been 27,000 cases of BSE in animals born after the feed ban. I understand that some time ago Professor Lamming, who is well known in agricultural scientific circles, recommended the appointment of a committee to oversee the feed ban. The proposal was supported by the SEAC but was not accepted by the Government. Why was that?
We all welcome the Commission's proposal to lift the ban on gelatine, tallow and semen. That is important but it is not the major problem. Billions of pounds are involved in the overall ban affecting the beef cattle and not the derivatives. Furthermore, it appears that in the Standing Veterinary Committee the proposals did not attract the required qualified majority. Will the Minister confirm that the proposals that we made to change the qualified majority have now caught us out, which is ironic?
There is to be a meeting of the Agriculture Council on 3rd and 4th June. If there is a simple majority--there is a chance that we will get the proposal through that meeting--it will take three months to achieve the lifting of the ban on tallow, gelatine and semen.
The Statement refers to establishing a clear path for the lifting of the other aspects of the wider ban, which is much more important than the ban on the beef derivatives. However, as it has taken three months to lift the ban on the tallow, gelatine and semen will the Minister give us an idea of how long the Government believe it will take to get the rest of the ban lifted?
We welcome the fact that the proceedings will begin this week in the European Court but why has it taken so long? When we debated the matter on 7th April we were told that the proceedings would be brought soon. We also welcome the claim for interim measures. I believe that we suggested that; indeed, I referred to a claim under Article 186 of the treaty.
The appropriate verification schemes have been mentioned. When will such schemes be in place? We have heard about them for weeks and weeks but still there is no sign of verification schemes to exclude the old and the clean beef which never had BSE. When will those schemes be in place to relieve the great worry on all the farmers who are involved?
A disturbing figure was given on the "Farming Today" programme this morning. The estimate for the cull cows is 750,000; that is, 15,000 a week to be slaughtered. However, this morning's programme reported that when the proposal was made neither the NFU nor the Government knew the number of clean beef animals over the age of 30 months which would be involved. We are now told that the figure could be between 300,000 and 400,000. Can the Minister confirm that or say whether the Government have other figures?
The Statement refers to pursuing our own programme to eradicate BSE. We have the cull cow slaughter policy, the problem with the clean beef animals and also selective slaughter. We began with a figure of 40,000 but yesterday that rose to 80,000. We have said many times that the Government are playing a numbers game
If the ban is lifted through the European Court, what will happen to the slaughter schemes? Presumably the cull cow, the over-30-months scheme, will stay in place. If the ban is lifted, will the selective slaughter scheme have to be imposed? The Statement refers in Delphic terms to matters in Europe not proceeding with our normal co-operation. If the normal co-operation of the past few weeks has been any example we can all worry. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister would tell us exactly what the Prime Minister means by,
The Statement marks a complete failure of our negotiations in Europe; it contains vague threats of non-co-operation. However, I ask your Lordships to consider the dates. We are told that interim relief might take from two to six weeks. If we know the European Court it will be six weeks. That takes us to the week beginning 1st July to wait for the judgment on interim relief. There will be the Agriculture Council meeting on 3rd and 4th June and the European Council in Florence on 21st and 22nd June. All our partners have to do is to sit and say that they will wait for the judgment of the European Court in July on the interim measures.
Non-co-operation is not defined in the Statement. It has taken two months to get the claim to the European Court and it will probably be July before we know the judgment on interim relief. In the meantime, how will any of that help the farmers and those in the rest of the beef industry to deal with this truly awful crisis?
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