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Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, we in no way under-estimate the seriousness of the problem and the great desirability for British beef farming of finding an early solution. Therefore, we are fully disposed to support the Government's objectives on British beef, if not always their tactics. The Government increasingly proclaim that British beef is the safest in the world. In that case, what exactly was the point of Mr. Dorrell's Statement on 16th March which began the whole matter?
Government policy has tended to alternate from day to day--indeed, sometimes within a few hours in the same day--between pleading for support and reaching for a big stick. The latter tactic was generally renounced within a few hours on discovering that we did not have a big stick. Today's Statement appears to combine the two tactics within the same 10 minutes. The first part of the Statement thanks the Commission, which is something fairly new from this Government, for its constructive attitude and the fact that its view was
That is a classic example of the Government being hoist by their own petard. We all enjoyed yesterday's intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, when he asked what on earth is allowing the German Government alone to hold it up. What is allowing them to hold it up is the near approach to a national veto, which I believe the noble Lord considered to be the epitome of the only thing good about the European Community. Indeed, the fact that we could not get the vote through yesterday marches oddly with the tremendous effort of the British Government in ensuring that the qualified majority should be as high as possible. Our hope for the future is that we shall be able to achieve that by the Commission having a second go at it with a simple majority. I hope that the Government will reflect on those issues and will learn a little from their experience in these matters.
If that does not work, we go to the Court. That seems to me perfectly proper. I am glad that the Court has not so far been undermined by some of the Government's ideas--although they are put forward by their Back-Benchers--so that it is not in a position to be totally ineffective on this matter.
Beyond the Court, if necessary, we shall withhold our normal co-operation up to and at the European Council in Florence in late June. That threat might be more formidable if our normal co-operation was more co-operative than it normally is. As our normal co-operation is to try to block everything and, if it goes through, to ask for an opt-out, I am not sure that that will be exactly earth-shaking in its effect upon the Community.
I just make two further points. In order to try to understand this issue in a more co-operative way from the point of view of Europe, we should occasionally put ourselves in the shoes of others. Let us suppose that there was no case of BSE in Britain and there were 160,000 cases in France and another 160,000 cases in Germany. What does the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal think would be the attitude of the Sun or the Daily Mail--the Euro-sceptics, the Euro-nihilists--to that filthy foreign food coming across the Channel in those circumstances?
Finally, I believe that certain other factors which have emerged rather slowly illustrate, like a flash of sheet lightning across a rather bleak landscape, how few are our other options in reality. Should we turn from the unco-operative Community which, it was suggested, is almost conspiring against us, to welcoming countries across the oceans? The Americans and Canadians banned British beef in 1989, as did the Australians. The New Zealanders had a flicker of co-operation. They imposed a ban which they then removed but it has now been imposed again. There is not a great alternative course. I hope that the Government will succeed because I really wish to see confidence restored in the British and European beef industry and I wish to see removed those grave difficulties for British farmers. But I hope
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am at least grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for his support for the Government's objectives. Knowing the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as I do, I am sure that he would associate himself with that expression of support although he confined himself to what was clearly a rather tempting jibe about what he sees to be the internal divisions of my party. The noble Lord also declared a direct interest. Sadly, I am no longer able to declare a direct interest, as the noble Lord knows, because I sold my dairy herds as soon as I discovered a high incidence of BSE in them. But, as he knows, I have something of an indirect interest which perhaps your Lordships would expect me to declare.
What underlies the questions of both noble Lords is some puzzlement about what precisely my right honourable friend and the Government mean by a threat to withdraw co-operation. I make it clear to your Lordships beyond peradventure that this Government are not now, never have been, and never will be interested in pursuing policies which involve the breaking of the law. I do not believe that either noble Lord would expect that of any British government. Also, we are not interested in pursuing what I might describe as a Gaullist empty chair policy. However, the Government have followed a determined co-operative policy in the wake of the original SEAC declaration. But, as my right honourable friend says in his Statement, they have been confronted by evidence of at least lack of goodwill and some bad faith on the part of some of our partners. Therefore, it seems reasonable that we should react fiercely and firmly when we have tried as hard as we can to show co-operation, in spite of the elegant jibes of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, a few moments ago.
We have in mind that there are certain matters which require unanimity and not necessarily agreement by QMV. Until there is a clear path established towards the lifting of the ban we propose to withhold our agreement to those matters. We shall look extremely carefully at any decisions which can be blocked at the IGC. In consequence, we may find it extremely difficult to co-operate in relation to reaching decisions.
I merely give two examples of the sort of matters which my right honourable friend and my colleagues and I have in mind. The convention on insolvency requires unanimity and that is to be brought forward this week. There is also the convention on Europol. We hope to reach some agreement on those parts of it which relate to the ultimate power of reference to the European Court of Justice. We have made some very good progress on that but we shall find it difficult to see our way towards making any further progress.
Also underlying the remarks made by both noble Lords is the implication that we are interested in being difficult for its own sake. I make it clear that we are interested in establishing a clear path towards the eventual lifting of the ban. We regard the lifting of the ban on tallow, gelatine and semen as a first step towards
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked, in so many words, "How long, oh Lord, how long?" As I say, we need to agree a framework. We hope that we shall be able to see that first step taken by 3rd and 4th June. We should like to see the next steps taken in as short a time as possible.
The noble Lord also asked about the relationship between the lifting of the ban and further culls. I should remind the noble Lord that our original proposal for a selective cull was based on identifying cases of BSE in cattle born between 1990 and 1993. The proposal was to cull cattle born on the same farms and at the same time which might therefore have been exposed to the same infected feed. It was estimated that that would lead to the culling of about 40,000 cattle, as the noble Lord knows.
The new proposals put forward last week extended that to cover any cases of BSE which are confirmed in the future. The impact of that is clearly uncertain for obvious reasons. The best guess at the moment is that that may lead to the culling of some 80,000 cattle in total. That includes the first 40,000. But that could be implemented only in the context of a programme for lifting the EU ban. The two would operate in tandem and we should not volunteer a further cull unless it was clear that it would lead to a full agreement implemented in good faith by our European partners.
As the noble Lord said--and he is a considerable expert in these matters, as the House knows--we are happy to rest on the advice given to us by SEAC and Professor Pattison. That advice is clear: for all everyday purposes British beef is safe. Therefore any additional measures that we take must clearly be measures directed at restoring confidence rather than implying that the measures we have taken so far are not adequate to improve safety. This is a distinction which again I know the noble Lord understands extremely clearly.
I am conscious that I am taking rather a long time over this but both noble Lords asked a number of questions. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, also talked about traceability schemes. As he knows, these are complicated but we hope to have them running by early June--June this year, I hasten to add! We have taken steps to tighten the feed ban, including extremely rigorous inspections of feed mills. These, I am advised, are bearing fruit. I would be interested--as indeed would my colleagues--in view of the professional skill and knowledge of the noble Lord, if he could make any further suggestions for improvements in that area. He is in a good position to do so.
I do not think there is any point in having any more committees. We have more than enough committees as it is. What we need is clear and simple direction. Both noble Lords had a good deal of fun at the Government's expense over the question of QMV. I am sorry to disappoint them. I think it is perfectly plain that
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, asked me about the Statement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. With the greatest of respect to the noble Lord, I should like to ask him what he would have said to me if my right honourable friend had not made a Statement as soon as possible and as soon as it was clear what the advice from the SEAC was. Even if the Government had not been careful to adhere to their long established policy--which I fully support--of telling Parliament as soon as possible and as frankly and as clearly as possible what the situation was in regard to matters of public health, I have no doubt whatever, given that we live in the world we live in, that the Government's desire to dissimulate (which of course does not exist) would have been revealed in an immediate leak from some helpful individual in the know. Given that the matter was leaked on the morning that the Statement was made, it was entirely sensible, purely from the point of view of self-preservation, let alone the higher motives which informed the Government's actions, that my right honourable friend came to the House at the earliest possible opportunity, as he did.
I ought to emphasise again in this context--this underlies a number of the comments made by both noble Lords--that the entire basis of the Government's approach in terms of safety has been to act on the recommendations of the SEAC under its chairman, Professor Pattison. We are not scientists--or at least I am not--and even my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is not a scientist. It would be rather curious if we had established a committee to give us clear advice in these matters and we had decided to disregard the advice it had given either by not doing as much as it had recommended or by doing more. As I say, it seems to me that the fact that we acted immediately on the advice that the SEAC gave us seems to me to be not only sensible but also in the best interests of all political self-preservation.
On the matter of cull cows and the operation of the various schemes which the Government have brought in, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Carter, would expect me to admit that the introduction of the scheme so far has been far from free of difficulty. He and I are probably in daily contact with people who have experienced difficulty. As he equally well knows, the introduction of a scheme on this scale is hugely complex. The Ministry of Agriculture has been extremely fortunate in the co-operation that it has received over the past few weeks from the National Farmers' Union, from individual farmers and from the agriculture industry in all its manifestations. It is absolutely essential that that scheme should be up and running as soon as possible with as few glitches as possible. The entire government machine is bent to make sure that that will happen, and that improvements are put in place.
I hope I may add one other remark in this context. I think that a free flow of information is extremely important. It is, I would suggest, important both that the victims of this ghastly crisis should feel that they have free access to government agencies and to the Government themselves, and that the Government should describe as openly as possible not only what their own position is and what they want to do, but be frank about the difficulties that they are experiencing because it is only through the building of a team effort that we shall be able to succeed in addressing the problem. I am glad to see that the noble Lord is nodding.
I have two other remarks to make. I apologise for taking so long. Let me make it perfectly clear that the European Court of Justice is an absolutely essential entity if we are to realise what is one of the most valuable benefits of European Community membership as regards the Government, and that is the establishment of the single market. It is clearly impossible for the single market to operate effectively unless we have an effective European Court of Justice. We therefore in no way wish to denigrate the existence of the court, or indeed to try to ensure that it cannot carry out its work properly. I hope that noble Lords will read again what we have put in the White Paper, which we published, setting out our negotiating position on the IGC. I hope noble Lords will agree with me that what we are proposing will, if accepted, improve the operation of the court rather than the reverse. After all, as I emphasised, it is no business of this Government not to support the rule of law.
I must finish with a rhetorical question. I listened as always with the greatest of respect to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who probably knows more than anyone else in this House about the nuts and bolts of agricultural matters. However, I have to say that I was particularly struck by the fact that he was--if I may put it this way--rather long on hindsight and rather short on foresight. It would be extremely helpful if during the coming weeks and months--and indeed perhaps during the coming days--the Labour Party could tell us in some detail what it would do now that is different from the Government's policy. If it would do nothing different I would hope that, with the good will that I always associate with the noble Lord, he would come forward with an enthusiastic endorsement of what the Government are doing.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this Statement appears to many of us to be much more robust than any of the preceding ones, and that for that reason it is particularly welcome? I for one found the tone of the Statement ideally adapted to the situation and clearly calculated to have a substantial beneficial effect. I would therefore like to thank my noble friend for making the Statement in this way, and equally I express gratitude to the Prime Minister for originating it.
I have only one question of fact. I was not clear as to when it was indicated that the hearing by the European Court of the application would begin. Presumably we can be given a precise answer as to when the Government contemplate that the decision will be made
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