3:31 pm
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Mr Robin Cook (Livingston)

I beg to move, That this House notes that after the Florence European Council the Prime Minister assured the House that by October the United Kingdom should meet the conditions for the ban to be lifted on the export of beef from certified herds and certain other categories and that by November the United Kingdom should meet the conditions for the ban to be lifted on all beef that can be sold in the United Kingdom; deplores the fact that the ban on the export of United Kingdom beef remains fully in place and that Her Majesty's Government has failed to meet the conditions for it to be lifted within the timetable they themselves announced; recalls that in advance of Florence Her Majesty's Government pursued a policy of non-co-operation which led to a deterioration in relations with the other member states of the European Union, and failed to resolve the crisis for the United Kingdom's beef industry; believes that the measures adopted by Her Majesty's Government following the identification of BSE a decade ago were inadequate and enforcement was unsatisfactory; notes the confusion and delay since the House was advised on 20th March that BSE was considered the most likely cause of a new variant of CJD and the failure of Her Majesty's Government to meet its own targets for the slaughter programme; deplores the hardship and suffering caused to beef farmers and the beef industry; and regrets that Her Majesty's Government has not protected the interests of United Kingdom consumers or producers of beef. On Monday, the House was entertained to the vision offered by the Government of a world free of trade barriers by 2020. The Foreign Secretary, in a failed attempt to capture the headlines, described this as the Government's "2020 vision". There is, of course, an unreality about a Government who have five months to run setting out their vision for 2020, but there is a wider lack of reality about a Government who have visions of free trade around the globe in the next century when they comprehensively fail to get the ban on exports of UK beef across the channel lifted.

The crisis in the beef industry since the statement of 20 March dominated the proceedings from March to June. Since the House returned, there has been no statement and no debate initiated by the Government. The only statement that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave the House was in response to the private notice question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang).

This is the first full day's debate on the subject, but—many hon. Members on both sides will be aware of this—the crisis caused by the statement on 20 March is still there around Britain. It is experienced by thousands of farmers, by the people who work in the industries that support farming, and by the people who work in the industries that process beef, all of whom are still living with the consequences of the statement of 20 March.

Those people might by now have expected to be out of that difficulty. They might have heard what the Prime Minister said at the victory celebrations on 24 June in this House when he returned from his triumph at Florence. In that statement, the Prime Minister assured the House that, by October, the Government would have met the conditions for lifting the ban in two stages—beef from certified herds and beef from young animals—and that, by November, the Government would have met the conditions for lifting the ban on all beef that at present is allowed to be sold only in the United Kingdom in order that it could be sold on the continent as well.

The House must agree that October has been and gone, and all those stages of the ban are still in place. Indeed, November is half over. I will cheerfully give way to any hon. Member who believes that the ban will be completely lifted in the next two weeks. Not only have the Government missed the target they set for the lifting of the ban, but I am prepared to have a small bet with any hon. Member that the Minister of Agriculture will not be able to give us the revised target for the lifting of the ban.

Before the recess, the Minister said that he hoped that the ban would be lifted completely by the back end of the year. Perhaps we should ask him what he meant by that.

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Mr Robin Cook (Livingston)

Indeed. Is December the back end of the year? Will the Minister stake what is left of his reputation that the ban will be lifted in December? If we miss December, will we not be looking down the front end of another year?

I hope that the Minister will tell his hon. Friends the truth—that he has no idea when the ban will be lifted. Far from being able to tell us when he will get agreement to lift further stages in the ban, he now cannot even tell us when he will implement the agreement that he has already secured to lift the ban on the trade in gelatine.

Conservative Members have to face the truth: that they will be fighting the general election with most of the beef ban still in place. That will lead to some interesting questions at their election meetings. The most difficult one to answer will be whatever happened to the Prime Minister's great triumph at Florence. Lifting the ban in stages was the victory of the beef war. If we take that away, what will happen to the victory?

I do not hold the Minister responsible for the beef war. He is held to account for enough without being held responsible for the beef war that he did not invent. The architect of the beef war was the Foreign Secretary, who, no doubt wisely, decided not to be here today to explain why the policy that he constructed has collapsed.

The Minister of Agriculture will recall that, last May, the Government brought in the Foreign Secretary to support him in his negotiations, because of the feeling that his diplomatic skills could be improved by assistance. The Foreign Secretary devised the policy of non-co-operation in Europe, or, as it graphically became known to diplomats, PONCE—a fitting acronym, given the posturing that it involved.

In pursuit of PONCE, the Government halted the work of the European Union by prolonged serial vetoing. They even vetoed measures that were more important to Britain than to the other member states. We blocked a measure that Britain had proposed to cut red tape. We blocked tougher powers of inspection against fraud, although Britain had lobbied for them. We blocked the sending of a letter to Iran about Salman Rushdie, although the only person who could have benefited directly from it was a British citizen.

We even blocked measures of value to countries outside the European Union that had no part in our quarrel with the continent over the trade in beef. In view of the human tragedy that is currently taking place on an epic scale in Zaire, the House should recall with some sense of shame that, in June, Britain blocked a joint declaration of concern at the rising ethnic tension in that region of Africa.

There has been a cost to Britain of that sustained disruption. I shall give only one example, which illustrates the damage to our relations with Europe. Last January, the Government of Portugal brought forward a resolution in the European Union to condemn Indonesian repression in East Timor. It is a big domestic issue in Portugal, because Indonesia is a former colony and because the people of Portugal have considerable sympathy with the Catholic majority of East Timor.

The British Minister in January requested the Portuguese to withdraw the motion because, at that time, British hostages were being held in Irian Jaya and Indonesia was assisting us in the release of those hostages. It would have been a source of embarrassment for Britain were that resolution to have been pressed. Happy to help, our oldest ally withdrew the resolution.

In the spring, the hostages were released. In June, Portugal brought back its resolution on East Timor, and Britain blocked it under the policy of non-co-operation. The fury that that double-cross caused in Lisbon may partly explain the warmth with which the Prime Minister of Portugal sent a message to our party conference hoping for a change of Government at the general election.

That loss of good will might have been a price that the Government were prepared to pay, if they had won the war. All wars have casualties, and it is victory that justifies the risk of casualties. Conservative Members claimed victory. The Foreign Secretary described Florence as a turning point. The Minister of Agriculture said that it was a great success, and provides a solid way forward."—[Official Report, 24 July 1996; Vol. 282, c. 369.]

As late as 4 July, the Prime Minister was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair): Does the Prime Minister still hold to November of this year as the date by which the ban will be completely lifted? The answer was: Yes".—[Official Report, 4 July 1996; Vol. 280, c. 1049.]

Of course, to meet that target the United Kingdom would have had to keep its side of the bargain. The most curious part of the Government's mystifying conduct over the BSE crisis is that, having hailed agreement in Florence as a victory, they then proceeded to break that agreement by not keeping their part of the bargain.

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Mr Robert Jackson (Wantage)

The right hon. Gentleman talks about Britain keeping a bargain. If the Government were to introduce a selective cull to implement the Florence agreement, would the Labour party vote in favour?

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Mr Robin Cook (Livingston)

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the reason why the Government are terrified to introduce such a cull is that they do not know whether their Back Benchers would vote for it. If an order is tabled, we will consider the details and decide whether it will obtain our support. The hon. Gentleman can hardly ask us whether we will support the order when his Government will not even table an order for us to consider in the first place.

The Minister of Agriculture did agree to bring in a selective cull in June, presumably in the confidence that the hon. Gentleman would support him. Having introduced it in June, the Minister then dumped it in September. Shrewdly, on that occasion, his colleagues recognised that, to sell that breach of contract, he would need more help and guidance than just the Foreign Secretary. When the Minister of Agriculture went to last month's Agriculture Council, he was accompanied not just by one extra colleague but by a phalanx of five Ministers. Some were there to support him and others were there to contradict him. Yet all the Queen's Ministers could not put the Florence framework back together again.

The Minister of Agriculture has talked much, and no doubt will talk again today, about the new scientific evidence that justifies scrapping the cull—mainly the computer-modelling exercise in nature magazine. But the weight that he places on that exercise is not shared by Nature magazine. After his decision to halt the cull, Nature ran a blistering editorial saying: The role of science is to illuminate political choices not to enforce them. By acting as if it is oblivious to this truth, and to European political reality, the UK Government can only erode its credibility still further. Before the Minister invites the House to attach the greatest importance to scientific evidence, perhaps he also should attach the same weight to the conclusion of the same scientist, that the Minister's course of action lacks credibility and is out of touch with reality.

The truth is that it is not the scientific evidence that prompted the Government to abandon the cull but the bogus, empty nature of the agreement they reached at Florence. The Minister of Agriculture was candidly honest about that on 14 October. He told the House on 14 October that the case for the cull had diminished because It has become increasingly clear during the summer that the prospect of other member states agreeing to an early …lifting of the export ban …has lessened."—[Official Report, 14 October 1996; Vol. 282, c. 465.] So there we have it: other member states were not going to agree to lift the ban anyway. I have to ask, how can this be? It is not what we were told was in the Florence agreement. We were told after Florence that decisions would be taken not by the Council of Ministers but by the Commission. We were told that the decision that would be taken by the Commission would be taken on scientific, not political, grounds.

The Foreign Secretary explicitly told me in response to an intervention on 20 June: It does not need to go before any Ministers or any Government."—[Official Report, 20 June 1996; Vol. 279, c. 1028.] If that was true, how can the Minister of Agriculture now claim that the ban cannot be lifted because some Ministers and some Governments object?

Or is the truth that the Foreign Secretary has absented himself from today's debate because he knows that he has sold the House a false prospectus; that Florence did not give us a binding framework for progress on lifting the ban; that there was no real linkage between steps that we might take and steps in lifting the ban; and that there never was any serious prospect that the ban would be lifted in October or November, as promised by the Prime Minister?

The public have a much more acute sense of the worth of the Florence agreement. After the agreement, a survey discovered that 83 per cent. of the public believed that the United Kingdom had lost the beef war, and 4 per cent. believed that the European Union had lost the beef war. Even at today's ratings in the polls, there must have been some Conservatives among the 83 per cent. who believed that Britain had lost the beef war.

Yet, breathtakingly, the Government propose to do it all over again, this time to stop the working time directive. The Prime Minister assured us yesterday that the Government would veto the intergovernmental conference unless the law was changed. We shall be treated to some more acts of PONCEing, and pretty empty PONCEing it will be, because the end of the IGC will not be until June next year, and the Prime Minister knows perfectly well that there is a pretty good chance that he will not be there in June next year.

Before I move on, I should just say that, if Conservative Members want to announce in their election addresses at the next election that the Conservative party is the party that will deny people the right to say no to excessive working hours and that will refuse parents the right to insist on holidays to spend with their children, I warn them that there is not a Labour candidate in any constituency who will not dance with delight.

In taking on Europe, the Government are condemning themselves to expose their own weakness. Conservative Members are doomed to disappointment if they think that the electors are keen to be conscripted to another war against Europe. The beef war was the first war in British history in which we picked a fight with the whole of the continent. Previous British Governments, including Conservative ones, have been sensible enough to ensure that either France or Prussia was on our side before going to war. For two centuries, Britain's advantage was held to be in finding the balance in Europe and holding the balance in Europe. Only this Government imagine that the balancing point can be found somewhere in the middle of the channel, between Britain and all the rest of Europe.

In taking on the whole of Europe, the Government have not demonstrated their strength but exposed their weakness and revealed their incompetence—the incompetence with which the Minister of Agriculture gave no prior warning to the Commission or his opposite numbers of the bombshell he dropped on 20 March on the connection between BSE and CJD. I know that the Minister rang the Agriculture Commissioner just before he came into the House on that day. I know that he advised the Agriculture Commissioner that he was sorry that he could not give him prior warning because it was a convention of the House that the House had to hear first before anyone else.

I have to tell the Minister that the Commissioner in Brussels would have found this a lot more convincing if he had not read in that morning's editions of The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail what the Minister was going to say in the House that afternoon. Plainly, those newspapers had been told before the House of Commons.

The Government also revealed their incompetence by promising an action plan to eradicate BSE and then turning up at the meeting with a four-page sketch that the Spanish Agriculture Minister described as "mierda"; a term which, if literally translated, I am sure you would rule unparliamentary, Madam Speaker, but which was paraphrased by The Daily Mail as "clearly insufficient" They showed incompetence in taking three months following the statement of 20 March—some 10 years after the identification of BSE—to produce a serious, thorough-going programme to eradicate BSE from the herds.

So inept has the Government's response been to the beef ban, a bit of me wonders if it is not just suiting them that the ban is there. The amendment accuses the Opposition of "cynical…opportunism". Words like "mote" and "beam" flit through my mind. I must tell the Minister that there is no worse cynical opportunism than the way in which the Government have seized on the beef ban to blame Europe for a crisis that was of their own making. Indeed, the moment of truth will come if the beef ban is lifted.

Beef sales will only recover not when Conservative Members bludgeon political leaders into lifting the ban, but when they persuade housewives in Europe to buy British beef, which they will never do by threatening a policy of non-co-operation with consumers. The amendment has the sheer gall to accuse the Opposition of ignoring the restoration of consumer confidence". That amendment will be moved by the Minister of Agriculutre, the same Minister who told the House on 20 March: I do not believe that this information— the information on the link between BSE and CJD— should damage consumer confidence".—[Official Report, 20 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 387.]

I must tell the Minister that he is still out of touch with reality. The Meat and Livestock Commission reported in October that beef sales were down by 17 per cent. on last year. In Germany, sales are down by 15 per cent. and in Italy by 25 per cent.—even before those countries agree to import any British beef.

Nor is it just Europe that does not have confidence in British beef. More than 50 countries outside Europe have also banned the import of British beef, some of them countries that Conservative Members regard more warmly than Europe, where they speak foreign languages—they include the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa.

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Mr Rod Richards (Clwyd North West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the beef ban by the European countries was justified?

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Mr Robin Cook (Livingston)

As I have explained to the House, it was entirely understandable why—given the ineptness of the Government—that ban was introduced. Ever since the ban was introduced, the Opposition have offered support to the Government in their steps to remove it, even to the extent of giving them the benefit of the doubt during the beef war when they carried out the policy of non-co-operation. What we object to is the failure of the Government to achieve the measures that would lift the ban, and the way in which they deceived the House on the effect of the Florence agreement.

I was about to add—perhaps the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) will wish to ask whether this ban is justified—that even Hong Kong has banned British beef, although I keep reading that the next leader of the Conservative party may be the man who is currently the Governor of Hong Kong. If he stands, presumably, he will not get the vote of the Minister of Agriculture, who cannot even persuade Chris Patten to have confidence in British beef.

The reason why there is such difficulty in restoring international confidence in the safety of British beef is the manner in which, at every stage of the history of BSE, the Government have done as little as possible, as late as possible.

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Mr Michael Lord (Suffolk Central)

The right hon. Gentleman has been asked two direct questions, neither of which he has answered. He is making a clever speech that the House is enjoying in some ways, but he is not dealing with the problems facing a major industry in this country. Does he support the slaughter of thousands of healthy animals, with no guarantee that the ban will be lifted at its end?

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Mr Robin Cook (Livingston)

Hang on. We were told that the Government secured the undertaking in Florence that, if they slaughtered the animals, the ban would be lifted. The hon. Gentleman is disagreeing with those on his Front Bench, not with me. We are asking the Government why, having sold that agreement to the House, they have ratted on it.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that British agriculture is facing its gravest crisis this century. Will he tell the House and the country simply and clearly whether he believes that the ban is justified?

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Mr Robin Cook (Livingston)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that question again. We have repeatedly said that we regard British beef as safe and that we do not accept the ban, and we have repeatedly supported the Government in all the measures that they said would lead to a lifting of the ban.

After all that support, we are told that the ban cannot be lifted in the timetable that the Government promised, partly because they have done too little, too late, to combat BSE, starting at the very beginning, with their disastrous decision on taking office not to regulate the feedstuffs industry to a higher standard, on the grounds set out in their consultation paper: It is the wish of the Minister that in the present economic climate the industry itself should determine how to produce a high-quality product. The industry promptly responded by phasing out the chemical solvents that might have prevented BSE from getting into the food chain.

The Government long refused to accept the risk to public health from BSE, as exemplified by the famous observation of the present Secretary of State for the Environment that nobody need be worried about BSE, in this country or anywhere else. Fortunately, he was moved to another job just before we discovered how worried we ought to be.

Finally, even when Ministers introduced regulations to control BSE, they failed to enforce them, and as late as last year, 48 per cent. of slaughterhouses and 17 per cent. of rendering houses were in breach of BSE controls; and, in March this year, eight feed mills were still found to be breaching regulations to keep animal protein out of feedstuffs. The crisis in our beef industry was made in Britain. The genius of Her Majesty's Government is that, instead of solving the first crisis, they have paralleled it with a second crisis, in our relations with Europe.

I began by referring to the human hardship caused by the collapse of the beef market. Farmers, especially hill farmers, watched their way of life being put at risk, and workers in the processing industry watched their jobs disappearing. They are watching this debate and will note how we vote; we owe it to them to vote against a Government who have failed them, and we owe it to ourselves to vote against the Government, because we know that they deceived the House in June over the deal they brought back from Florence, and that they have broken the commitment they gave about when the ban would be lifted. All hon. Members with any self-respect must resent that deception, and I urge them to join us in the Lobby tonight.

3:57 pm
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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: congratulates the Government on the action it has taken to deal with the BSE crisis which has led to the restoration of consumer confidence; welcomes the package of support the Government has provided to the beef industry; notes the significant improvement in the measures to deal with the disposal of animals over 30 months of age and the progress made towards meeting the criteria set out in the agreement for lifting the European ban on British beef; and urges the Labour Party to drop its cynical political opportunism at the expense of many who depend on this important industry. I begin my response to the debate with at least one assertion with which we can all agree: BSE has been a disaster for British agriculture and a tragedy for all those whose lives and livelihoods depend on a prosperous beef sector. Against that background, we have a right to expect that all those who participate in a debate on BSE, whether in this place or in the newspapers or elsewhere, should do so in a rational, considered and sober way, because scares, alarmist headlines and ill-judged political point scoring damage consumer confidence. That reinforces the prejudices of those who do not wish to see the ban lifted and thereby damages the interests of British farmers.

Prominent among those whom I most condemn is the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman). Her comments on 20 March, when she raised quite unjustified scares about the risks of feeding beef to children, did a great deal to damage consumer confidence in Britain.

In addition, I very much regret that on 22 March the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) gave his support to the imposition of a beef ban, making our task harder, reinforcing the position of member states when they did not deserve to have their position reinforced.

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Dr Gavin Strang (Edinburgh East)

Let me correct that from the Dispatch Box for the second time. We have been round this course before. When the French Government took action immediately following the announcement to stop beef and animals moving into France, I said that I liked to think that had the situation developed in France, a British Government would have done the same. That is quite different from the worldwide beef ban. The French Government's action was justified. What was not justified was the subsequent worldwide beef ban. The French Government were talking about a temporary cessation of trade in the crisis, which was obviously justified. We have made it clear throughout that the worldwide beef ban is not justified, and the Minister knows that.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

That is a case of wriggle, wriggle, wriggle.

The hon. Gentleman made two statements. He made a statement on 24 March, which he has summarised reasonably accurately, but he omitted to mention the press release that he put out on 22 March, which is the one to which I was referring, when he said in terms: A temporary cessation in the movement of British cattle, beef and beef products into the continent may be wise at this time. He did not thereafter qualify it.

It is interesting to note that the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), in the first of the observations that he made on a ban in the course of this afternoon's speech, found a justification for the imposition by member states of a ban on British beef and beef products, and that is a profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs.

That brings me to a point that I wanted to make about the right hon. Member for Livingston. I have seldom heard a more self-indulgent speech made in the House from the Front Bench. By adopting the case of member states he makes it much harder for us to secure a lifting of the ban. Furthermore, everybody in the agriculture industry will have noticed that the right hon. Gentleman could not or would not say whether he would support a cull order. In truth, it was the most irrelevant and least illuminating speech that I have heard for some while. It surprises me that it was thought right to allow the shadow Foreign Secretary to move the motion when the Opposition agriculture spokesman is sitting beside him.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I shall shortly tell the House exactly where we stand on that matter.

Any discussion of BSE must start with the proposition that British beef is safe. I say that for at least four reasons. First, the only British beef on the United Kingdom market is from the younger animal, and that provides a high degree of assurance. Secondly, all BSE suspects are removed from the food chain. Thirdly, we have established in the slaughterhouses the most rigorous and comprehensive set of controls of any in Europe, with the result that all parts of the carcase capable of harbouring the infected agent are stripped out and destroyed. Fourthly, we have removed from the food chain all the meat and bonemeal that is believed to have triggered BSE in the first place.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

No, I shall not give way at the moment. For all those reasons, I can say with complete confidence that British beef is safe and that the consumer can eat it, confident as to both its quality and its safety. That is not only my view or that expressed by the leading experts in the United Kingdom, but the view of the World Health Organisation and its veterinary equivalent, the Office International des Epizooties, and of Jacques Santer and Franz Fischler.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I shall give way in a moment.

It is therefore all the more unreasonable—indeed, it is unlawful—that member states should have imposed the ban in the first instance and that they should have defended its continuation thereafter. The ban is not based on scientific criteria, nor on a proper consideration of the objective facts. It was imposed and is now adhered to because of internal pressure in member states. I say that the single market is being disrupted for reasons that are wholly improper.

I give way, first, to the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend).

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Mr Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Was it not an absolute disgrace that contaminated feed was still being exported from this country as late as June this year? How can we possibly expect the French and the other continental countries to believe that we have done everything we possibly can to eradicate the disease, when we continued to send them poisoned feed?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the facts. The controls that were put in place at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s related to the feeding of meat and bonemeal to ruminants. They did not preclude the feeding of meat and bonemeal to farm animals that were not ruminants. What was being exported was, therefore, also lawful in this country. We reinforced the controls this spring when we prohibited the feeding to all farm animals of rations containing meat and bonemeal. The objective of that was to prevent any risk of cross-contamination.

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Mr John Townend (Bridlington)

In view of what my right hon. and learned Friend has said, does he agree that this country has been double-crossed by our European partners in respect of the lifting of the beef ban, just as we have been double-crossed in respect of the social chapter opt-out? Does he agree that they are enjoying taking British export markets and that they have no intention of lifting the ban for several years?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I shall turn shortly to my assessment of the position of member states. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall deal with his question when I reach that point in my speech.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), but then I must make progress with my speech.

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Mr Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

The Minister has just spent some time describing how all the specified bovine offal has been removed from carcases and so cannot enter the human food chain and I agree with him that it is safe. Can he therefore explain to the House why the Government entered the Florence agreement?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I now come to the Florence agreement in my speech. I believe that that agreement represents a triumph of the negotiating skills of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, because it provides a framework within which the ban can be lifted. The basic structure of the Florence agreement is that the United Kingdom undertook to take certain steps and, in return for that action, the European Union agreed to a progressive lifting of the ban.

We have already implemented all but one of the five Florence preconditions. We have withdrawn meat and bonemeal from farms and feedmills; we have introduced cattle passports; we have tightened yet further our slaughterhouse controls; and we have destroyed more than 850,000 cattle under the over-30-month scheme. Against that background we had every reason to expect an increased willingness on the part of member states to move on the ban.

Thus far, the signs have been disappointing. My clear impression, based on many discussions within and without the Council and from all that I have seen, heard and read, is that member states are facing strong internal pressures. Like us, they are having to assess the latest scientific evidence. That said, they do not appear to be in a position to agree to a rapid and substantial lifting of the ban, which was the basis for our commitments made at Florence.

Several hon. Members:

rose

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I will give way in a moment.

It seems that the most promising way forward might be to seek a lifting of the ban in respect of specialist herds and—more difficult—in respect of cattle born after 1 August 1996. In that context, it is worth noting that some parts of the United Kingdom are well placed in that the incidence of BSE is low and traceability is good.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I will give way to my hon. Friend, then to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and then to other hon. Members who have been attempting to intervene.

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Mr Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

What my right hon. and learned Friend has to say about Florence and Europe is illuminating, but I hope that he will spend part of his speech talking about the plight of farmers in this country. Does he accept that the 10 per cent. reduction in the 30-month slaughter compensation has hit many farmers caught waiting in the slaughter queue, through no fault of their own, at the very time of year when feed costs are going up and they are already having to use winter feed supplies? Given all the chaos over which he has presided, why hit farmers when they are already down?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I will tell my hon. Friend a great deal about the support that we have given to the beef sector. I am sure that he will be encouraged by the speed at which we are processing the backlog.

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Mr David Trimble (Upper Bann)

As the Minister has said, it has been obvious for some time that the solution to the ban will be through a United Kingdom-wide certified herd scheme under which, at present, many Ulster herds and some Scottish herds would qualify immediately. What is the position with regard to that scheme? Has a scheme been formally submitted to the Commission or is it being held back by a dog-in-the-manger attitude on the part of some others?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

It is true that some parts of the United Kingdom—the hon. Gentleman mentioned Ulster—are particularly well suited to benefit from certified herd or beef assurance schemes. That is based in part upon traceability and the low incidence of BSE in the Province. We have discussed with the European Commissioner and his officials various concepts surrounding the beef assurance scheme and the certified herd scheme. They have approved the beef assurance scheme for the United Kingdom market. We have not yet submitted detailed working papers, which would be the step preceding formal proposals by the Commission for a lifting of the ban to be put to the Standing Veterinary Committee.

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Mr Robert Jackson (Wantage)

My right hon. and learned Friend knows of the anxiety within the farming community that the Florence agreement should be implemented by our partners and, therefore, by ourselves. My right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned his clear impressions and the signs that our partners will not honour their commitment to the Florence agreement. Surely the simplest thing would be to ask them whether they would implement their commitment to the agreement if we do what we have to do under the terms of that agreement.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

If we were to ask a question in those terms, we would simply be referred back to the Florence agreement. When we move forward with particular proposals, we must judge what sort of response we will get. It is always difficult, but we must judge that by people's words and deeds, both public and private. It is on that basis that I have made my statement.

Madam Speaker, you looked at your watch, so I shall make progress and shall give way to other hon. Members later.

It is important that we should not lose sight of the scientific facts. Those facts were usefully brought together by Professor Anderson in his article in Nature magazine, to which the right hon. Member for Livingston referred in somewhat disparaging terms.

There are two key points. First, BSE will be eradicated from the British herd by 2001 or thereabouts. The number of cases is falling year on year by about 40 per cent. The high point was in 1992, when we had 36,700 cases. That figure fell in 1994 to 24,000 cases; in 1995 there were 14,000, and in 1996 we expect about 8,000. Secondly, there are no credible cull policies—that is, policies involving a size of cull that the House would accept—which would bring forward the date when BSE will be eliminated, or decisively accelerate the rate of decline.

I shall spell out that point a little more clearly. We have already had around 160,000 confirmed cases of BSE. Before the disease dies out in 2001 or thereabouts, we are likely to have around 8,000 more cases. A cull policy involving 128,000—that being the number agreed at Florence—or, indeed, any cull that would commend itself to the House, would still leave us with about two thirds of the anticipated number of confirmed cases. There are no public health arguments for a substantial cull, because the measures to which I have referred already address that question.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), and then I shall give way to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

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Mr John Greenway (Ryedale)

My right hon. and learned Friend said—accurately, I suspect—that other member states seemed unprepared to honour the Florence agreement if the cull went ahead. There is growing support among farmers for the cull to go ahead so that we honour our side of the bargain. Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House what the European Commissioner's view is? My understanding is that the European Commissioner, Franz Fischler, has throughout been helpful to my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government in trying to find a way of resolving this problem. It should be possible to get agreement, at least with Franz Fischler, on a way of resolving the conundrum that unless we have the cull, the ban will not be lifted. That is increasingly what more of our farmers think.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I have always found the Commissioner to be straight and direct. I am grateful to him for the candid way in which he has always dealt with me.

The position of farmers has changed. In the summer and early autumn of this year, the National Farmers Union was strongly opposed to an accelerated cull. It has modified its position, but it has an unduly optimistic expectation of how far the ban would be lifted. The important issue that it has to face is whether it wants a full cull for a very limited lifting of the ban. That is a matter of great importance to them and to the House.

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Mr Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On the latest scientific research, Nature has not addressed the question of what is being done to find the basic causes. That was addressed by Dr. Bob Will of the neuropathogens unit and the CJD research surveillance unit at the Western general hospital in Edinburgh, who came to a meeting of 130 farmers and butchers which I chaired in my constituency. What is the basic science, especially in relation to the suspicions about prions? Will the Government make a statement about how they are setting about the basic science, because they cannot be sure about 2001 or any other date unless more is known about the root causes, and that may require more expenditure on scientific research.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

There are a number of possible causes of BSE in the United Kingdom herd, but I believe that the most widely accepted view among experts is that the feeding of meat and bonemeal containing the remains of sheep triggered the condition, although other causes have been suggested.

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Mr Robin Cook (Livingston)

The Minister said that Franz Fischler had always been candid with him, but did not convey to the House what view Franz Fischler had expressed when being candid. Has not Franz Fischler gone on record as saying, as recently as two weeks ago, that it will not be possible to continue lifting any part of the ban until the condition of a selective cull is fulfilled? Will he now present proposals to fulfil that condition? If he does, we will not oppose him. Will he now present proposals for a cull?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

We now have the humorous situation of the right hon. Gentleman's having said one thing in his speech and another in his intervention. But he is right: Commissioner Franz Fischler has always been very direct with me, and he has always said that a cull must take place. That statement, however, conceals as much as it discloses. The rate of lifting of the ban, the rate of implementation of the cull and the stages that will be delivered in response to a lifting of the ban are matters for discussion in the European Union and the European Commission.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

No, I want to make some progress. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I do not think that anyone can accuse me of not having given way. I think that I have given way to eight or nine hon. Members so far.

Let me say something about maternal transmission. The House will recall that, early in the summer, scientists advised that the calves of affected dams were more likely to develop BSE than those of unaffected dams. On further consideration, it has become clear that we may not be seeing maternal transmission of the disease in the true sense. What we may be seeing is transmission of a susceptibility to contaminated feedstuffs, which is a different matter.

The difference is important. If there is true maternal transmission, certain cull policies might be justified on that basis. Quite different conclusions would flow from a decision that what was being transmitted was, in fact, a susceptibility to contaminated feedstuffs. I hope that we shall have a view on that important matter within a few months.

For all those reasons, we have not presented the House with proposals for a full-scale cull. It is important to see the outcome of the European Union's scientific deliberations on the latest evidence. It is also useful to have the opportunity of listening to the views of hon. Members—

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

—in particular, on the balance to be struck between likely progress on the ban as I have outlined it, and the implementation of a selective cull. And, of course, we have not completed the clearing of the backlog under the over-30-months scheme.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The hon. Gentleman serves no interest by shouting in that way. I give way to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley).

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Reverend Dr Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

In his reply to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the Minister said that he had discussed the certified herd scheme with the European authorities, but had not yet submitted papers to them. Will he promise us that he will take that course, and submit the papers?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I think that there may be some misunderstanding. I have discussed certified herds and the beef assurance scheme with the Commission and the Commissioner, and they have had papers; but there is a difference between having papers and having the formal working proposals— the documents referred to in the Florence documents—which triggers the process that causes the Commission, we hope, to go to the Standing Veterinary Committee. The Commission and the commissioners have not had those formal working papers.

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Mr Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) have both pressed the Minister. My question is simple: why have the papers not been completed and forwarded for consideration?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

There is a distinction between discussing the proposal for certified herds and discussing the beef assurance scheme. We discussed the concept of the scheme and the scheme itself in the context, initially, of the UK because it is an exception to the over-30-month scheme. We had approval from the Commission to go ahead with that. It is also a step in the lifting of the ban, but moving on the formal lifting of the ban must be triggered by a cull, by bringing forward specific proposals following a cull, and by putting them to the Commission, on the basis of which it can lay formal proposals to the Standing Veterinary Committee. We have not yet done that.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I have already and on various occasions explained why we have not yet done that. I turn to the over-30-month scheme, which has been the subject of a certain amount of comment in this place.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I am making some progress. I have seldom seen a more excited gentleman than the hon. Gentleman.

I remind hon. Members of the origin of the over-30-month scheme. Its first purpose was to provide an extra safeguard for public health. It also met the joint demands of supermarkets and the National Farmers Union. I agreed with those views and persuaded our European Union partners to adopt the scheme as an EU measure, funded by European funds.

The over-30-month scheme has important and beneficial consequences. First, it has reassured the consumer. We must not overlook the fact that, having dropped significantly, the consumption of beef is now back to around 80 per cent. of its pre-March level. Secondly, the scheme has underpinned the beef market. Had we not slaughtered about 860,000 beasts under the scheme, the beef market would be much weaker.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I will make some progress and then give way.

It is true that there is a backlog of animals to be culled, but in the past four weeks the position has greatly improved. The register that we have compiled shows a present backlog of around 320,000 beasts. We have taken steps to improve throughput: we have altered the rendering mix and brought more capacity on stream. On 8 October, I announced a further £16.6 million for extra cold storage. Taken together, those steps have enabled us to increase the weekly rate of slaughter to 59,000. The register will enable us to give priority to registered animals—to animals now on the backlog—and on that basis we hope and believe that we will he able to clear the backlog on a UK basis by around Christmas.

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Mr Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that much of what he says will be deeply disappointing to beef farmers in Scotland who, only on Monday, met Franz Fischler and came out of the meeting urging him to put pressure on the Minister to secure the implementation of the cull, in accordance with the Florence agreement? Does the Minister not acknowledge that Scottish farmers are ready, willing and able to start implementing the cull now, and that that could be the first phase of the British implementation of the Florence agreement? Why will he not agree to that?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The House and everyone concerned with the debate have to ask themselves this: what is the likely response to the imposition of the accelerated slaughter plan? The best judgment that we can make at the moment is that member states are facing very strong internal pressure from their consumers, farming unions and others not to agree to a rapid and substantial lifting of the ban. Therefore, it seems to us, probably, that the best way forward is to concentrate on the specialist herds and possibly cattle born after 1 August. What this House has got to do is to decide whether the balance is the correct one, it being less favourable than that which we anticipated, and had every reason to anticipate to be the case at the time of Florence.

Several hon. Members:

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. He will know from his visit that farmers in Staffordshire take a similar line to that just mentioned by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). I understand my right hon. and learned Friend's dilemma, but can he not seek an early meeting with his colleagues and a firm undertaking from them that if the accelerated cull is implemented, there will indeed be an assurance that the ban will be lifted?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

It would be highly desirable of course that, if we had to implement any accelerated cull policy, we did so against the background of an agreed timetable for the lifting of the ban, but the House needs to be honest with itself and with the country: we are not going to get from the European member states a precise timetable for the lifting of the ban. Therefore, the Government and others have to make a judgment as to what the member states will do if we take certain steps, including undertaking an accelerated cull.

Several hon. Members:

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Mr Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The Minister will be aware that European Commissioner Fischler has said clearly that he will make special arrangements for Scotland and the north of Ireland because of the protections available there. Will the Minister not put the Commissioner to the test by asking for those special arrangements for Northern Ireland and Scotland? He will then find out the commitment of the Commission. He will help the Scottish beef industry and help to save the Northern Ireland beef industry, while learning what, in effect, he suspects.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I have not in fact heard the Commissioner express himself in precisely the terms that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, but I have already made the point that there are some parts of the United Kingdom that are particularly well placed, having regard to the low incidence of BSE and traceability. That fact is well understood by the Commissioner.

Several hon. Members:

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and then I must make some progress.

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Mr Bill Cash (Stafford)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that what he has just said could be interpreted as weasel words? Furthermore, does he accept that, in the light of everything that has gone on in the past few months, the most important thing is that we get an absolute guarantee from the member states? It is not a matter of judgment, but a matter of practicality that we get an absolute guarantee from them that if we honour our side of the Florence agreement, they will lift the ban. If not, there will be serious trouble from those on the Conservative Benches.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I do not think I justify the criticism of having used weasel words—I stated the position absolutely plainly. I say to my hon. Friend that I might wish that it was otherwise, but the position is that we are not going to get from the member states an absolute guaranteed timetable leading to dates when the ban will be lifted. We are not going to get that.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The hon. Gentleman will just have to contain himself for the moment. I am not going to pretend that we will get such a guaranteed timetable because if I did so, I should be deceiving the House.

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Mr Robin Cook (Livingston)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has now said twice that it is not possible to get an absolute timetable out of the European member states. Can he therefore explain why the Prime Minister said as late as 4 July that the ban would be lifted by November?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The Prime Minister also made it plain that it was not possible to get a timetable from the European Union—which has always been the case. I am glad to have an opportunity, once again, to reaffirm that fact. Inevitably, we must make a judgment on the likely response to any action that we may think fit to take within the framework of the Florence agreement.

Several hon. Members:

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

No; I shall make some more progress now.

The over-30-month scheme has been an important way in which to reassure the consumer and to underpin the beef market. It is, however, only one strand in an extended policy of support. Since 20 March 1996, the Government have committed huge sums in support of the beef industry and the related sectors. I shall deal with the latter point first.

We concluded that we could not assist everyone who had suffered loss: there were too many of them, and the costs would be too great. Therefore, we concentrated financial assistance on those links in the chain whose survival we judged to be essential, and which would survive only if Government funds were made available. That is why we provided transitional aid of up to £118 million for the rendering industry and up to £100 million for the slaughtering sector.

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Mr Robert Key (Salisbury)

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that one part of the industry that has not received any assistance is the cattle head deboners, who effectively have not only had their business stopped but had their property sterilised, if not confiscated. That has been deeply distressing and has caused much unemployment, and it is irrational. Is my right hon. and learned Friend prepared to meet—or to allow one of his Ministers to meet—representatives of cattle head deboners to find a sensible way forward on the issue?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I know that that matter causes considerable concern to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members. The issue was, today, the subject of an Adjournment debate, in which my hon. Friend spoke. The Government's position was clearly outlined in the debate by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I do not wish to imply for a moment that we can move from that position. If my hon. Friend would like to bring a delegation of representatives of those who have been affected to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I know that he would be extremely glad to see them. However, I do not wish to arouse expectations.

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Mr Robert McCartney (North Down)

Does the Minister agree that the beef crisis has borne more heavily on Northern Ireland—because of its high percentage of imports, at more than 77 per cent.—than on any other part of the United Kingdom? Does he also agree that the best method of testing the bona fides of those who imposed the ban would be to put forward our best case—which, undoubtedly, is Northern Ireland? Northern Ireland has the highest degree of animal traceability and the lowest incidence of BSE, and its agricultural producers have suffered to the greatest extent. Therefore, will the Minister press Northern Ireland's case as a pilot scheme for testing the bona fides of those imposing the ban?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The hon. and learned Gentleman constructs a very powerful case for Northern Ireland, which I understand. We have to approach the matter collectively, having regard to the entirety of the United Kingdom. I realise that the facts mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman constitute a powerful case, which is already known to the Commission and to some member states. I shall ensure that those arguments are always borne in mind by all those who have to make decisions on those issues.

Several hon. Members:

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I feel that I must give way to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman); he is getting so excited.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I thank the Minister for giving way at last. He is aware of the pent-up frustration of the farming community, and has described some of the hardships it is suffering. However, the frustration is not only over Government inaction. According to figures I received yesterday from the Minister's colleague, since March there has been a 15 to 20 per cent. drop in the market price of beef. According to figures that I received from the Library today, however, there has been only a 1 per cent. drop in the retail price of beef. Farmers and consumers are being cheated. Will he explain why? Farmers and consumers would like to know.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Market prices are determined by the market, but the hon. Gentleman is right that there has been a substantial reduction in the price of beef sold for consumption. I am glad to say that that has increased somewhat recently and now stands at about 100p a kilo, which is still about 20 per cent. down on this time last year. He brings me naturally to my next point.

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Mr Michael Spicer (Worcestershire South)

As I understand it, my right hon. and learned Friend seems to have been saying in the past 20 minutes or so—I may have got him wrong, but I am sure that he will correct me if I have—that we did not get out of Florence what we expected. We are honouring all our side of the bargain, including being prepared to offer the accelerated cull, in return for nothing. In fact, he has identified public opinion around Europe as being such that it has hardened the position of other countries against us. Is it not perhaps time that we started to contemplate a new bout of disruption, a sort of double whammy of disruption for when we get to Dublin?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Policies of disruption are—and should always be—policies of last resort. We never thought that we had a timetable in the Florence agreement. We established a process. At the time of Florence we believed, and had every reason to do so, that if we fulfilled our commitments there would be a rapid and substantial lifting of the ban. It has become plain over the summer, for the reasons that I have given, that, at least at the moment, member states are unable to deliver the rapid and substantial lifting that we all expected. I think that that is due to the internal pressures in their own countries.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I should like to proceed and explain the support that we have given to the beef industry.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

No, I am going to make some progress.

Since June we have committed something like £263 million in support, both direct and indirect, to beef producers. That includes the July package of £109 million. I announced in September an increase of £60 million in the hill livestock compensatory allowance cattle rates. Last October, the Agriculture Council agreed aid worth £50 million in the United Kingdom, which we intend to spend in ways that will be of particular benefit to Buckler producers. I announced in Bournemouth further aid worth £29 million. Today, I am pleased to announce that we shall be spending that £29 million on a second beef marketing payment scheme, covering the period between July and September.

The measures that I have described demonstrate two things: first, the absolute commitment of this Conservative Government to the needs of the rural economy and the future of British agriculture and, secondly, that the Labour motion, one not even moved by the Labour agriculture spokesman, is a fraud and a sham and should be rejected with contempt.

4:42 pm
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Mr John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I must, as ever, declare an interest since I have a personal position in a family farming business. I also have a constituency interest, since I represent many hill farmers in the Lammermuir hills. The Minister talked about fraud and a sham. I am afraid that farmers and people working in ancillary industries to the beef industry regard him as the fraud and the sham. We have just heard an awful speech from him, which was based on the unsustainable premise that our European partners are as untrustworthy as he has demonstrated himself to be over recent months.

After 18 years, I have learned to expect the worst from the Government. The problem that we are facing today meets all three dictionary definitions of the word "shambles": a mess or muddle; a butcher's slaughterhouse; a scene of carnage. That is what the industry is facing. Since the crisis erupted in March, we have had a succession of schemes, debates, statements and palliatives, but we are still in a multiple crisis. The word "crisis" is overworked in the House, but it is for real on this occasion. There is a crisis of animal health, which now appears to be connected with a new form of CJD that has killed 14 people, possibly because some infected cattle got into the food chain in the late 1980s. There is also a crisis of consumer confidence around the world—tragically, with a consequent economic crisis that has engulfed an industry employing 600,000 people in the United Kingdom, mainly in fragile rural areas.

Even leaving aside the point that the disease should not have been allowed to develop in the first place, the Government must stand condemned for letting things progress from bad to worse and on towards unmitigated disaster during 10 years of prevarication and ineptitude.

The priorities must surely be to eradicate the disease and to restore consumer confidence in beef. Both require the fullest co-operation with our European Union partners, but the Government's political agenda requires confrontation with them whenever possible, so we started off with the infantile beef war earlier in the year.

There is a consensus almost everywhere, except in the Government, that a selective, targeted cull of the cattle most likely to be infected with BSE is desirable to speed up the decline of the disease and to help to restore consumer confidence. The whole House has accepted that in previous debates and I made the point in a debate as early as 28 March. Since then, the Government have been all over the place. They had a self-destructive confrontation with the European Union. Then they decided to implement a selective cull as the basis of the Florence settlement of 22 June. Then they decided to renege on that settlement.

Meanwhile, the beef industry and associated industries, employing a total of 600,000 people, are on the rack. Butchers, hauliers, farmers and many others are facing ruin. We now have a serious consequential animal welfare problem because large numbers of unmarketable cattle are stuck on farms. It will be difficult to find feed and housing for them during the winter. Problems will certainly arise from that.

The Minister mentioned the over-30-month slaughter scheme which is working, after a fashion, better in Scotland than in other parts of the United Kingdom. However, there are serious delays in some areas. In September, the Government cut the compensation payable to farmers under the scheme by 10 per cent., to add grief to the businesses caught up in the queue. The scheme is, by definition, not targeted. It is a pretty crude measure to take stock off the market. We have the scheme, but there is no sign of progress towards reassuring consumers in export markets, let alone a lifting of the ban.

The Prime Minister announced the Florence agreement proudly to the House at the end of June.

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Mr John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The triumph, as my hon. Friend calls it. The framework referred to in the agreement stipulated the action that the United Kingdom is committed to taking to accelerate the disappearance of the disease. When in place, that action will bring about a step-by-step relaxation of the export ban.

The terms could not have been clearer. Without action on a selective cull of cattle likely to be infected with BSE, there will be no end to the export ban. That was accepted by the industry, by the European Union, by the House and, ostensibly, by the Government but, eight months on, nothing has happened.

The Minister mentioned his doubts about the willingness of the European Union to keep to the time scale suggested. Why have the Government made no move to keep their part of the bargain on the time scale? As far as I can make out, the Minister of Agriculture has done damn all in England and Wales.

There has been some posturing by the Scottish Office, but it seems that only Northern Ireland will4 be able to fulfil the Florence criteria. I had the privilege of visiting the Northern Ireland Agriculture Department a couple of weeks ago with colleagues on the committee of the British-Irish parliamentary body and I was impressed by what I saw there. The Department has developed an elaborate computerised record system for all cattle in the Province to help to promote quality assurance and to eradicate other diseases. Happily and coincidentally, that development should make it possible to make rapid progress with a selective cull in Northern Ireland because the Department can identify the relevant cattle.

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Mr Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, rather more than two years ago, Aberdeen and Northern Marts which, as he knows, is one of the chief marketing and slaughter companies in Scotland, commissioned a feasibility study into a traceability system for Scotland? According to Brian Pack, the chief executive of Aberdeen and Northern Marts, such a system could be implemented in a matter of months. However, the Government expressed no interest in it. Does the hon. Gentleman have any comment to make on the fact that, at no time during the BSE crisis, have the Government shown any interest in introducing a traceability scheme in Scotland?

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Mr John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I doubt whether the scheme could be implemented in a matter of months, but I believe that it is deplorable that the Government have not even begun to look for the cattle concerned and have not put together anything like the quality record system that exists in Northern Ireland. I agree with the thrust of the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

It will probably be necessary for the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture to locate about 2,000 cattle which will need to be slaughtered under a selective programme. The Northern Irish could probably do that immediately, which is to the credit of the Northern Ireland Office. I deplore the fact that neither the Scottish Office nor the Ministry of Agriculture is moving in the same direction.

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Mr Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the north of Ireland. He said that the north of Ireland fulfilled the Florence criteria. In reality, there are 1,700 cattle, instantly traceable, which, I am told by the authorities, could be dealt with in one day if the Government asked the EU Commission to make such an arrangement for the north of Ireland. That is what is standing between the beef industry in the north of Ireland and its potential demise.

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Mr John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The point is clearly made. The preparatory work has been done in Northern Ireland and it should be done in Scotland, in Wales and in England.

Characteristically, the Scottish Office has been blowing hot and cold on the issue. The Secretary of State suggested that he would achieve great things when he attended last month's Agriculture Council meeting. Interestingly, he wrote to hon. Members on 23 September to report on progress. He said: my officials are working closely with those in the SNFU to ensure that we can progress preparations as far as possible in advance, so that we are in a position to start culling in Scotland if circumstances permit. We understand that that would have involved about 4,000 cattle.

Presumably, such a cull would have been carried out with a view to getting an early lifting of the export ban for the whole of Scotland or at least for clean specialist beef herds, mostly in the hills and uplands of Scotland. The letter was good news. It seemed that the intention was to start the process of selective culling to fulfil the Florence conditions and thus to make it possible to restart beef exports from Scotland, which are vital for the Scottish economy.

However, I am a naturally suspicious soul, especially where the Scottish Office is concerned, so I tabled a parliamentary question last week to the Secretary of State just to find out how the Scottish Office was getting on with finding the cattle in the cohorts that were likely to be infected with BSE and that would need to be culled to fulfil the Florence criteria.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), replied: Data on all herds with confirmed cases of BSE are held at the Central Veterinary Laboratory. This data can be used to identify the herd of birth of BSE cases—and hence animals subject to the same feeding regimes; that is, the birth cohorts. To identify all these at-risk animals, it is necessary to visit the herds of origin, to identify the cohort animals remaining in such herds and finally to determine the present location of cohort animals which have moved to other herds. This involves detailed inspection of records. In May of this year, the CVL made an estimate that a maximum of 127,000 cohort animals were present on farms in Britain, of which some 4,300 were in Scotland. Given the need for on-farm visits and reference to on-farm records, it is impossible to give a reliable estimate of how long it would take to identify all these animals."—[Official Report, 11 November 1996; Vol. 285,c.55.] The agreement was made in June and now, five months later, the Department has not even started to set up the record system, never mind identifying the cattle that would need to be culled in order to fulfil the Florence criteria. It has not even started to look for the cohorts and individual cattle that are likely to be infected in preparation for fulfilment of the agreement that was reached in June.

There may be a problem with confidentiality at the Central Veterinary Laboratory. The CVL is either unable or unwilling to disclose or disseminate information about infected animals and the farms where they originated. For goodness sake, surely the Government should be able to address administrative points of that nature.

In England and Wales, the Department has not even pretended to start preparatory work for the cull. I appreciate the reluctance in the dairy industry to lose milking cows, but the disease is largely rooted in the dairy herd, so that is probably the main sector where it will have to be eradicated. The Florence agreement is all we have. Why are the British Government sabotaging the agreement that they trumpeted in June?

The Department should address another practicality—the discrepancy in the EU rules whereby in other nations in the European Union, including the Republic of Ireland, individual herds are deemed to be infected, whereas in the United Kingdom it is the farms that are deemed to be infected. Therefore, farms in France, the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere where cases of BSE have been identified can take the straightforward step of slaughtering cattle to wipe the slate clean and start afresh, but the current rules make that impossible in any part of the United Kingdom where the land of the farm is flagged up as being infected. That will have to be addressed and I should be grateful if the Minister could do so in his reply to the debate or in writing.

Let me conclude by quoting a mild-mannered neighbour of mine, Mr. Sandy Mole, the president of the National Farmers Union for Scotland. He represents people who would normally tend to support the Conservative party, but he and his members and those representing the other industries that are directly affected by this disaster feel betrayed and furious.

On 2 October Mr. Mole said: The recent outbreak of xenophobia led by the usual gang of anti-European fanatics has put the Florence Agreement in real danger… We must not allow people's livelihoods to become embroiled in a festival of political point scoring. That is precisely what was happening within the Conservative party at the time.

On 8 October, Mr. Mole said: We have lost patience with the political wrangles which stand in the way of progress being made to lift the export ban on beef. The time has come for positive progress to be made. The Prime Minister made a deal: he must stand by it … Scotland's people will not stand for this sort of discrimination"— that was in favour of Northern Ireland— which would so blatantly be based on the Parliamentary arithmetic of keeping fringe interests quiet. The Secretary of State for Scotland is in no doubt about the strength of our views on this subject. Finally, Mr. Mole said on 11 October: In all this Government muddle we are trying to get across the simple message that the selective cull must begin or there will be no progress in lifting the ban anywhere in the United Kingdom. It is high time John Major took a grip of this bumbling shambles of a policy before some agreement is forced on Scotland by civil servants sitting behind desks in London. That was strong stuff from the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland. He is right to suspect that Scottish interests may be being sacrificed.

It is time that the Secretary of State for Scotland stood up for that country. The National Farmers Union of Scotland is right to be furious at the betrayal of the Florence agreement. That is the only way forward for the British beef industry, which employs 600,000 people directly or indirectly. Therefore, I urge the Government to stop deceiving the House, the country, the industry and the European Union and to begin to make serious progress towards implementing the Florence agreement.

4:59 pm
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Mr Tom King (Bridgwater)

The briefest reading of the Opposition motion, together with the announcement that it would be moved by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), gave the clearest sign that today's debate would be more about politics than about the serious issues surrounding BSE, which deeply concern so many of our constituents and constitute a major crisis for the agriculture industry. The right hon. Gentleman had the gall to open his speech by saying that the matter had been too little discussed in the House and claiming the credit for being the first to launch a full-day debate on the subject. Where has he been all these months, when a number of us—I pay tribute to some hon. Members on the Opposition Benches—have been present and debating the issues?

The right hon. Member for Livingston then had the nerve to make a speech that had little to do with BSE but much to do with his political agenda. I thought that he might have done the House, and the agriculture industry, the credit of being better briefed. He did not even know whether his party was in favour of the accelerated cull and he had to be briefed afterwards. It was not his finest parliamentary hour and his whole body language showed that perhaps he also realised that.

The House will know that I have not been an uncritical admirer of the handling of the crisis. I understand that, since the original, unhelpful leak in the newspapers that precipitated the announcement on BSE, my right hon. and learned Friend the Agriculture Minister and his colleagues have been faced with a massive problem. I recall the panic at the start that affected the markets. Auctioneers even rang farmers to tell them not to bring any cattle to the market and nobody had any expectation about when the auctions might be resumed. It is against that background that I review the problems.

The crisis has posed major problems. I do not regard the Minister of Agriculture and the team of staff at the various official levels of the Ministry of Agriculaire as uniquely equipped to handle the crisis. We need to have lean and efficient Ministries, not over-manned Ministries, but when they are faced with a crisis of this kind, there should be a system that can give them the reinforcement that they need to tackle the problems. That is an important general point of public administration. The crisis has challenged the Ministry of Agriculture, the Intervention Board and the industry.

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said that hauliers had had their livelihoods destroyed, but other hauliers have never made so much money in their lives. The crisis challenged the industry, as I have said, but the Government said that we must all pull together to face the crisis. The Prime Minister made a pledge and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture repeated it. Our determination was to save the industry. That is what we sought to do and that is what I believe that we have achieved. The tragedy is that, in certain parts, the industry has not pulled together. I am sure that I am not the only hon. Member who has heard complaints about people who have exploited the system and taken advantage of the crisis. Preferment has been given in the abattoirs and various deals have been done in which certain people have exploited the situation. That has led to the necessary introduction of the registration scheme and my local farmers union believes that that will deal with the problem, together with the speed-up of the over-30-month cull.

I hope that we shall hear further details about how we shall deal with the further arisings of over-30-month cattle when the original backlog has been cleared, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to say something about that when he winds up. I also hope that we have come through the worst of the mischief and that the new arrangements will ensure greater fairness.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Agriculture Minister referred to a figure of 850,000 for the cull. He referred to a further 320,000 that will come through the registration scheme. I should like to know whether that is the number of cattle still waiting to be culled or whether it represents the number of cattle that has been registered, of which perhaps some 100,000 have been slaughtered in two weeks at 50,000 a week. If the latter is the case, the number will already have been significantly dented; I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to confirm that.

Against that background, the fifth tenet of the Florence agreement—the accelerated cull—takes on a different dimension. If we have slaughtered 850,000 cattle and if we are going for some 250,000 more, we shall move towards 1.2 million. It has been suggested that, because some of the cattle in the cohorts that might have been part of the accelerated cull have already gone under the present culling process, the actual requirement of the accelerated cull might be less than 10 per cent. of what we have already slaughtered.

Sentiment in my part of the world is now changing. We have not implemented the accelerated cull—the fifth ingredient in the Florence agreement—because the full capacity has been taken up by the over-30-month scheme. It is only by the second or third week of December or by January that we shall be in a position, allowing for any further arisings of cattle not in the backlog but now over 30 months, in which we can embark on an accelerated cull.

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Mr Tom King (Bridgwater)

I doubt that I shall be able to answer any question on the subject, but I shall give way.

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Mr William Ross (East Londonderry)

I am trying to be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman, as usual. Is he aware that in Northern Ireland, where we formerly had some 2,000 cattle that would have been covered by the accelerated cull, that number is now down to 1,700 because 300 have already been disposed of through the on-going slaughter policy? Northern Ireland is not as far advanced as the rest of the country and if we apply the same statistic to Great Britain, his figures are likely to be correct.

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Mr Tom King (Bridgwater)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have, from my personal experience, the highest regard for the records that are kept in Northern Ireland. They are why the hon. Gentleman is able to give us such specific information about the situation in Northern Ireland.

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Mr Paul Marland (Gloucestershire West)

As we have fulfilled four of the five conditions that were laid down at the Florence summit, is it not irritating that we have received no co-operation from our European partners over some way to lift the ban?

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Mr Tom King (Bridgwater)

I was not prepared to support an accelerated cull in July. I thought that the question was premature and we did not know what further scientific evidence would arise in the following months. We heard much about maternal transmission, although I am not quite sure what the position on that is now. Other developments took place and now the question arises for serious consideration. We should now address that issue seriously with the Commission. I understand the problem that my right hon. and learned Friend the Agriculture Minister has now, because I appreciate the problem of what I call the gelatine retreat. My understanding is that we are now clear on gelatine, on the authority of the European Union and the Commission, which has the authority to lift the ban, but the other member states—I stand to be corrected on this point—have all found ways to prevent any gelatine from being admitted to their countries. That is obviously a most unsatisfactory situation and one that we need to address.

The more painful aspect of the present situation is not just the position in individual member states but the nature of the worldwide ban. Some alleviation of that ban would help with the opening of markets which are important to our farmers.

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Mr Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the frustration of Northern Ireland Members? In Northern Ireland, animals for the selective slaughter can be identified. In Scotland, we have no backlog in the 30-month scheme. We are hanging around while our industries are in crisis waiting for the Minister of Agriculture to decide to support the selective slaughter. Why cannot Scotland and Northern Ireland get on with the job and why will not the Government support that?

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Mr Tom King (Bridgwater)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's intervention reinforces the belief in the west country that the allocation of animals for slaughter was unfairly tilted. We in the west country still have a substantial backlog. That is not entirely a serious response. The hon. Gentleman has just trodden on a painful grievance of the west country, where a significant number of animals are awaiting slaughter. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) will know why I say that. We now need to challenge the European Union and the Commission to move towards the accelerated cull and lift the ban.

I have thrown some brickbats around today, but I also want to pay some tributes. I pay tribute to the British people. The figures on beef consumption are encouraging. In the west country and in other areas, people have shown a determination to support British agriculture. That is one of the things that has helped to ensure that consumption of beef is as high as it is, although we obviously want to see it improve, and to see the price of beef improve.

I pay tribute to the Government. They have faced many difficulties. The right hon. Member for Livingston said that we had done too little too late. He said that to a Government who have committed some £3,000 million to this process over three years. In their tongue-tied way, the Opposition criticise the Government. I challenge the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), when he replies to the debate, to say that, if the Labour party had been in government, there would have been the slightest chance that they would have invested such sums.

My farmers have many problems and I have fought many battles with them and for them in this crisis. There was panic when farmers looked at the cattle on their farms and wondered whether they could sell them and when auctioneers rang up and told them not to bother to bring cattle to market because there was no market for them. People wondered whether they might have to bury their cattle. The Government's action and the funds that they have put in have saved the industry. It is about time that that was said. There has been too much knocking of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and endless criticism. The markets are living. Farmers can take cattle to the markets and sell them. We are moving through the problem. It is easy to jibe and criticise, but it is right that that tribute and recognition should be given.

5:13 pm
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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), not so much because of his peroration but because of his introductory remarks. He rightly said that we have discussed the BSE crisis in the House on a number of occasions. I am reminded of the text on which I was brought up: Joy shall he in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. I welcome warmly the Labour party's recognition—at long last—of the severity of the crisis, and I remind the House that on four previous occasions it has been conspicuous by its absence.

On 13 May, seven eighths of Pie Labour party failed to support us in the Division Lobby when we made a careful analysis of, and gave specific warnings about, the dire consequences of mishandling the crisis. Again on 21 May—the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) referred to this—the leader of the Labour party not only failed to support us, but shamefully endorsed the ludicrously counter-productive measures that the Government proposed, no doubt simply because he was scared by the jingoism of the tabloid press. It was sad, and I hope that the words of the right hon. Member for Livingston this evening will be taken as an indication that the Opposition will not be sucked into those counter-productive war games again.

On 25 June, after the ignominious collapse of the non-co-operation tactics at Florence, the Labour leadership again failed to support us here in the House and in the Division Lobby; in relation to both the ham-fisted Hogg diplomacy and to the escalating shambles over the cattle cull, nine tenths of the Labour party, including its leader, failed to vote.

On 24 July, when we had our last chance before the recess to inject some justice and urgency into the cull confusion, all but a handful of Labour Members simply went home. That showed how important they thought the issue was and how interested they were in rural areas. I note that the right hon. Member for Livingston failed to vote on every one of those occasions, so I take it that his appearance for a short time in the debate this afternoon is but a momentary lapse of attention to other matters. The only mention of BSE in major speeches in the debate on the Queen's Speech was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown).

Avid listeners to "The Archers"—I suspect that you are one, Mr. Deputy Speaker, being a cultivated man—will have noted the comments in this week's omnibus edition. Ruth bemoaned the failures of the Government, but Phil rightly remarked that the official Opposition had "kept pretty quiet". The victims of Government incompetence deserved more sustained, consistent and robust support.

I draw attention to the people who have been directly affected by the on-going crisis. I have here a report from the Western Morning News entitled "BSE tragedy as farmer is crushed to death by unsold bulls". It says: A farmer has been killed by his own animals—which he had been unable to sell because of the BSE crisis.Cohn Burley, 35, a divorced father of three young children, was found dead by his father at the 100-acre farm he worked on his own at Higher Trebarveth, Ponsanooth, near Redruth.Investigations are being made into the death of the popular and hard-working man, which has shocked the farming community where he lived, but it appears he was crushed by 16 21-month-old bulls which had remained on the farm after the price dropped out of the market because of the BSE crisis.…But his uncle, John Burley, said last night: 'The BSE scare has caused his death. Those bulls would have been off the farm by now if he had been able to sell them.' That is but one hideous consequence of the failure to manage the markets through the summer, but many other beef and dairy producers throughout the country have suffered, albeit not so dramatically or tragically, from the inadequacies of market support and of the over-30 month scheme ban.

Every week since 20 March, here at home, the dire situation with regard to the cull has been more important to farmers than has the Government's diplomatic calamities abroad. Playing war games to attempt to divert attention from the shambles at home has not conned anyone in the industry. The lesson must surely be that we must now concentrate on cleaning up the situation at home. As the right hon. Member for Bridgwater rightly said, the discrepancies in the effect of the cull in different parts of the country is a national disgrace, and mismanagement of the cull has been a disaster for which the Government must take the blame.

In the six months since it was put in place, the direction and management of the OTM scheme has demonstrated the height of incompetence. At an early stage, Ministers admitted to me that neither MAFF nor the intervention board were in charge of the scheme. In the first few weeks, the plan was to put the whole operation out to competitive tender. As hon. Members will know, every local authority is forced to go out to competitive tender even on tiny contracts. That would normally have been the case—as Ministers subsequently admitted—under both EU and UK regulations, but it was quietly dropped. I challenged Ministers, who replied that it was dropped as a result of emergency time scales. The Government's original application list for abattoirs and collection centres was 200 long, but at a stroke it was reduced to 21.

The dead hand of the cartel of big business that dominates this industry guaranteed that it kept the profitable business for itself, and how profitable it was. The £87.50 price that the businesses extracted from Ministers-remember, there was no competitive tendering—proved to be four times the economic cost calculated by the Government's auditors. Even when the price was eventually reduced, Ministers only cut it in half and failed to backdate it for two months, as had been agreed.

The extortionists demanded their pound of flesh. On 17 July, I took representatives of small abattoirs to meet the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who assured us that he was in charge. He said that he had taken over responsibility from MAFF, which had proved to be incompetent—the Prime Minister had admitted as much—but no progress was made for months, until the past few weeks.

Many hon. Members who have watched the situation unfolding may suspect that there is a hidden agenda. Just before the crisis broke on 20 March, the Meat and Livestock Commission was hawking around a plan to streamline the abattoir industry. Is it a coincidence that the larger groups are now fattening themselves very nicely at the taxpayer's expense, while smaller firms are being forced out? From Scotland to Devon, Skegness to Greater Manchester, and Wales to Northern Ireland, the meat industry is being cut to ribbons before our very eyes.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who I regret has left her place, told European Standing Committee A this morning that the industry is being reshaped by the crisis. Is this what she means? Is it deliberate? Do the Government approve of the changes that are taking place? Surely the lesson is that the failure of the Minister, MAFF and the Government to take charge has rewarded the cartel of the biggest operators at the expense of everyone else, including the taxpayer.

There is now the prospect of greater incineration and freezing capacity coming on stream, but it looks as if we are to have a repeat performance of the farce that has already occurred. The Government have indicated to a small number of large operators that they will be given preferential treatment. A very small number have been given letters of intent, without any promise that they have the plant or equipment necessary or that they can carry through their promises. In addition, there is no promise that there will be anything in it for small operators. How they have been selected is a mystery; there has certainly been no open and competitive tendering. Indeed, the operators have so fallen down on what is being asked of them that they are asking other, smaller operators to come to their aid.

Incineration South West, a smaller firm that serves much of my county of Cornwall, has not been allowed to participate fully and directly, despite having the most modern plant and full approvals. Mr. Russell Peake, the principal of that company, came with us to meet the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 17 July, and was promised urgent and favourable consideration of his application. He has since obtained all the local approvals, which came through this week. His is a respected and conscientious firm that is much used by farmers throughout the south-west.

However, the big boys of Yorkshire Water—whose waste disposal company apparently put in a bid—received a letter of intent from the intervention board. It has now been allowed to accept a contract without having plant available—so much so that it has come to Incineration South West at the other end of the country to get the adequate and modern plant to do the job, and is prepared to subcontract the work. The big operators will flourish at taxpayers' expense, while smaller, better equipped, more local companies will be frozen out. Such is the profitability that Yorkshire Water is prepared to go to the other end of the country to use a small company. It will still make a large profit.

The unlucky farmers who have not yet been able to move their over-30-month cattle from their farms are facing higher feed and housing costs with each week that goes by, and the costs are escalating as winter comes in. In addition, they are facing a 10 per cent. cut in the figure —initiated by the Government in Brussels—to be paid in compensation, and they will be hit by an extra 3 per cent. cut as a result of the revaluation of the green pound. The National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association have today demanded that the Ministry restores in full the value of those unjustified and illogical cuts.

The Minister has told us that the cull backlog will soon be cleared. He has said outside the House that the backlog will be cleared by Christmas day, but I do not remember his mentioning that date today. When the Minister of State replies to the debate, I hope that he will say firmly that that Christmas present is guaranteed and that the date still stands. Farmers are now entitled to expect the Minister to stand by his forecast and to keep his promises. I hope that, if he is not able to do so, he will restore immediately and in full the compensation that farmers have lost.

A number of beef producers are in dire straits, particularly those who are wholly dependent on their suckler herds. On 24 October—after thousands of farmers had come here to meet us —The Daily Telegraph published a revealing report, headlined "Be grateful for BSE aid, Hogg tells farmers". The article contained an interesting description by one of the Minister's senior officials of a letter from the Minister to beef and dairy producers. The official said that the letter was intended to be a stop whingeing and count your blessings message". If that was the intention, the Minister should resign; if the senior official did not understand his Minister's intention, he should resign. The president of the NFU said in response that the Government's mismanagement of the beef crisis was a "catastrophic affair". I have been in public life for 32 years, and I cannot remember an occasion when I or my farming community have been more angered by a ministerial announcement. Anyone would think that the farmers had knowingly, willingly and callously taken risks that had caused this crisis.

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Mr Tom King (Bridgwater)

How is that comment to be reconciled with the letter from the NFU today which states that, despite the recent difficulties, the NFU is grateful for the sympathy, substantial practical assistance and extensive public expenditure devoted by the Government to tackling this unprecedented crisis in British agriculture?

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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Nobody is saying that we are not grateful for anything we can get, but the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that—for the first time in living memory—the council of the NFU has passed a motion of no confidence in the Minister. I take that motion seriously, as I do other comments by the president of the NFU that have been quoted in the newspapers.

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Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and West Devon)

Will my hon. Friend invite Conservative Members to read the second page of the NFU letter, which states that the Government have done very little and that the NFU is unhappy? In other words, the first page of the letter shows the courtesy that we would expect from the NFU, but the second page gives us the reality.

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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and the Country Landowners Association—a traditional ally of the Conservative party—has made equally trenchant criticisms. I find this attempt to blame farmers and put the obligation on them despicable. They have been powerless as the cull mismanagement has deepened. As victims of the catastrophe, they deserve better than the whingeing self-pity so evident in the letter from the Minister.

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Mr Tony Banks (Newham North West)

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Can he tell us who is responsible for BSE?

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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

It is certainly true that the conspiracy between certain big commercial organisations and those who approved their products caused farmers unwittingly to use dangerous products on their farms. The farmers cannot be held responsible for that, just as the hon. Gentleman cannot be wholly responsible for the pet food that he gives to his beloved pets, to which he refers occasionally in the House.

In the meantime, the Government must stop repackaging the compensation sums that they claim to be making available. For example, once we were able to analyse—and the farmers were able to identify—the precise nature of the supposed £40 million that was announced at the Conservative party conference, it turned out that less than £10 million in new money would reach the producers.

The forthcoming decision on hill livestock compensatory allowances will be crucial, because if there is not a substantial increase, especially in the ceilings that are put on the payments for cattle, there will be no adequate response to the deepening crisis in less-favoured areas. We need a substantial and sustained increase immediately—not next spring—for those in the disadvantaged and severely disadvantaged LFAs, especially to meet the crisis in the suckler herds.

Last week, the Midland bank report forecast a one eighth drop in the profitability of the agriculture industry as a whole—but that disguises a much deeper crisis in the livestock sector, as the industry is bolstered by a relatively happy situation in the cereal sector. There is worse to come. The lesson from the report must be that this is no time to put income tax cuts before the survival of a vital industry.

Much has been made in the debate this afternoon of the outcome of the Florence summit. I was surprised that the Minister made much play of the fact that we could not control the time scale, but did not refer to the Prime Minister's statement that It is now up to us to meet the conditions for lifting the ban" .— [Official Report,24 June 1996; Vol. 280, c. 21.] That is how he kept hon. Members of the Euro-sceptic tendency in their place. He said that the time scale from then on was in the hands of the British Government and that we were no longer the victims of the whims of the French and German conservative Governments. The Minister did not mention that this afternoon—and we heard nothing about it from the Opposition Front Bench.

The Prime Minister specifically promised that the over-30-month cull backlog would be cleared by the end of October. I know that Roman emperors used to change the calendar for their convenience, but so far that has not happened here. He further promised that that would enable the accelerated slaughter scheme for potentially risky cohorts of cattle to be set in motion from the end of October—but here we are, well into November—and that the timetable was in the Government's hands. He bought off his Euro-sceptic fanatics, who suspected that his belligerent tactics on the continent had been a total failure, and said that the Government would be able to make the running from then on.

We now know that all those promises were worthless. Specialist beef producers throughout the United Kingdom are furious at being misled. I spent two and a half weeks in Scotland in September, meeting hundreds of beef producers and their union representatives, and I was left in no doubt that they are anxious that progress be made on the selective cull as quickly as possible. Before the BSE bombshell in March, 20 per cent. of their output was exported. I know the case that has been made for Northern Ireland; indeed, I referred to it this morning in European Standing Committee A.

Instead of producing the comprehensive working document on how the cull could work which the Minister and the Prime Minister undertook to produce after Florence, the Minister went back to the Council of Agriculture Ministers with nothing. The Commission and other member states want a good wad of paper that they can deal with and discuss at a technical level to ensure that the veterinary and medical significance is fully understood, but the Minister put the matter straight back into the political arena and invited a complete rejection. Perhaps that is what he wanted, because the Government could then blame Europe for what went wrong.

The Minister was sent back from Florence to do his homework, but he reappeared with pathetic excuses for more dither and delay. He was sent away with a flea in his ear, and the following day Commissioner Brittan had to try to pick up the pieces.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that the working document promised at Florence is now in an advanced state. We need a clear strategy covering the whole United Kingdom, to re-establish the British beef herd as BSE clear. The Minister again admitted this evening that he has not as yet any firm proposals for certified herds; that must surely be an integral part of the working document.

We need a phased, step-by-step BSE eradication plan, region by region and/or herd by herd. That is essential to rebuild confidence at home and abroad.

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Mr Tony Baldry (Banbury)

We heard the Labour party's current position this evening although, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said, it was not entirely clear on the accelerated or selective cull. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make it clear exactly where the Liberal party now stands on that.

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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am delighted to give the assurance that if the Minister produces a working document that sets out in detail and in practical terms an accelerated cull that will do the job, we will support it. So far, he has failed to do so, and his Ministry and the Prime Minister have failed to deliver. It is no wonder that people at home and abroad are beginning to distrust their promises and forecasts.

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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

No. I have already taken longer than I intended.

In answer to our debate on 13 May, the Parliamentary Secretary promised that the mature beef assurance scheme would be up and running by June."—[Official Report, 13 May 1996; Vol. 277, c. 735.] It is now nearly eight months since we first suggested that necessity, and still the Ministry has failed to produce a workable, reliable scheme. Its first attempt was patently inadequate —it failed to impress European Ministers or the Commission, or to meet the facts of agricultural life here. For example, any link with holdings rather than with herds is irrational, unless Ministry scientists are reversing their previous advice and saying that BSE can be transmitted through the soil.

Ministers have managed to sour relationships with all our European partners and with the farming unions, so progress is painfully slow.

The House should consider carefully the admission in October by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that in an emergency—which this is—you have to think the impossible. I invite the House to compare the Government's response to this crisis with that of the Thatcher Government to the Falklands invasion in 1982, when with all-party support and within seven days the task force was mobilised. The current Government have taken seven months to get to the starting block. Under this Administration, the task force would never have left port.

If this is an emergency, why not seek emergency powers? Why not requisition plant and take control back from the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers and the United Kingdom Renderers Association, by which Ministers have admitted being held over a barrel? The federation's memorandum of 23 May warned its members that if the way in which the over-30-month scheme was being mishandled became public, the Government might decide to take control of the cull". Liberal Democrat Members have been ready and willing from the outset to try to achieve a consensus on the priorities. On several occasions, representing as we do rural Britain at so many levels of government, we have offered to work with Ministers to seek solutions. They have insisted on blundering on alone.

I notice that the Minister is in deep conversation with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). Perhaps he is seeking alliances in that respect, but he has made no attempt to talk to parties representing major livestock areas in this part of the country and on this side of the Irish sea.

I refer in particular to the family in my constituency of the late Robert Cowburn of St. Columb Road, in the heart of Cornwall. The coroner judged his suicide to have been the direct result of the hopeless situation in which the Government's mishandling of the crisis had left his beef herd.

Surely it is, even now, not too late for Ministers to swallow their pride and adopt a non-partisan national approach to this continuing national emergency.

5:40 pm
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Mr John MacGregor (South Norfolk)

Like the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), I begin by declaring an interest in that I am a director of a company which has a subsidiary company which deals with feed mills and feed. It is a small part of our total turnover, but it is nevertheless there. I also have a much more general constituency interest.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister is not currently in the Chamber, but I understand, perhaps more than most, how immensely difficult it is to develop reasoned actions in handling these immensely difficult issues, when so often politics, emotion and alarmist headlines can dominate.

I shall not go over the background of the past few months—others have done that— but I start, as my right hon. and learned Friend did, by re-emphasising, as I think should be done every time we have a debate on this issue in the House or discuss it elsewhere, that British beef is safe.

It is fundamentally important that my right hon. and learned Friend started with that and re-emphasised it. Nothing can do our farmers more good than to keep thumping that message home. In my part of the world there is now robust acceptance of that message, and it has done a great deal to bring confidence back to the market.

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Mr Tony Banks (Newham North West)

Did the company with which the right hon. Gentleman has an association ever produce cattle feed that contained animal protein?

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Mr John MacGregor (South Norfolk)

The company was acquired only recently by the company of which I have recently become a director, but I believe that rigorous measures were in force from 1989 to deal with the feed mill issue. I have seen a great deal of the documentation that it produced for its employees to ensure that the original 1988 measures were adhered to.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister emphasised that British beef was safe, but the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) did not do so until he was asked a question. Had he not been asked a question, he would not have mentioned it at all. That leads me to the conclusion that what he was about this afternoon was playing party politics rather than trying to deal with the real situation.

Two issues now concern my farmers. The first is the reduction in the payments under the compensation scheme. What particularly angered them was the fact that it was not their fault that a number of cattle on their farms did not get into slaughter in time, and that therefore there was an element of retrospection in the way in which the matter was handled. I understand that the problem was that, because of the registration scheme, there was no way of identifying which cattle came into that category. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister of State could confirm that when he replies, because it is the issue which, until recently, predominated in the discussions that I have had.

The main emphasis now is on the continuing uncertainty in relation to some aspects of the overall policy. The current progress on the 30-month slaughter scheme and on registration is immensely helpful. It has done a great deal to remove much uncertainty. The key area of uncertainty now is the accelerated and selective slaughter scheme, on which I want to concentrate.

I underline the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend, that we must be certain that we will benefit from the accelerated scheme before he embarks on implementing it, especially given the background that the rational case for it is weak. It is not scientifically justified, and it certainly does nothing to assist in dealing further with the food safety issues, which have all now been addressed and fully carried through by my right hon. and learned Friend.

Not only that, but the measures that I introduced as Minister of Agriculture, and other measures taken since then, have all led to the position in which the beef is safe. Therefore, the scheme is not scientifically justified from that point of view, and the recent measures that were taken after the statement of 20 March make that clear.

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Dr Alan Wynne Williams (Carmarthen)

The right hon. Gentleman says that the arguments for the second slaughter programme are weak, yet it is part of the Florence agreement, and when the Prime Minister returned from Florence in June he trumpeted that agreement, and the Minister of Agriculture said that the agreement was a great success and provided a solid way forward. Are not we going back on that agreement?

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Mr John MacGregor (South Norfolk)

I shall come to that point later, because it is relevant to what my right hon. and learned Friend was saying this afternoon about how he assesses the mood in the European Council of Ministers. The case is not strong, and the point that I am making now is that we should not embark on it unless we are sure that we will get the benefits from it.

In addition to the cull not being scientifically justified, according to the Oxford Nature research, to which reference has already been made, we are already on course to eradicate BSE, as my right hon. and learned Friend made clear this afternoon. We believe that the measures that have been taken to deal with BSE will work and are the right ones, and that we are on course to eradicate it by 2001, or whatever.

An accelerated slaughter scheme would accelerate that by only a few months. So, again, it is not in itself justified in dealing with the problem. It will also mean that a considerable number of healthy, non-BSE-infected cattle will be slaughtered unnecessarily. It will also involve a substantial cost to the Exchequer and, just as significant—from the industry's point of view, more significant—a devastating and possibly unnecessary impact on many farmers who have built up their herds after decades of hard work and now feel that they will have been cruelly dealt by if they see all that go by the board.

If such a scheme were to add to consumer safety, it would be justified, but it will not. We know that the measures that have already been taken over the years, including all the measures in the past few months, are the right ones to deal with consumer safety. Even the right hon. Member for Livingston admitted this afternoon that British beef is safe. Therefore, it is not justified from that point of view.

The accelerated slaughter scheme could be justified—I come now to the point—in terms of the cost to the industry and the taxpayer only if the benefits exceed the costs. That means not just lifting the ban, on which we seem to have focused this afternoon, but also seeing exports re-established. Those are two different things, and both are necessary.

What my right hon. and learned Friend said this afternoon about his assessment of the position in the EU is most important. Only he can judge the attitude in the Council of Ministers and the attitude of other Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred to what I think he called the gelatine test. So far, the failure of the gelatine test is not very encouraging. Therefore, my right hon. and learned Friend is right to be concerned to ensure that we will get the benefits if we go ahead with the scheme.

I was going to say that I suspect that there may be a hardening of attitude among some Ministers in other European states towards their part in fulfilling the Florence agreement —my right hon. and learned Friend nearly went as far as saying that, to some extent, there has been that hardening of attitude—and that therefore they may also be considering tightening the conditions further or raising new ones. If so, my right hon. and learned Friend is right to be cautious, and should resist and put the responsibility where it clearly lies.

My right hon. and learned Friend has already made the point that four of the five steps in the Florence agreement have been taken, which is significant progress. We need to be convinced that, in taking the fifth step, we will get the returns that are necessary for our farmers.

I am aware, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater said, that the numbers in the cohorts may be down from the 120,000 as a result of the 30-month scheme. Obviously, that will be the case. The numbers will come down. Therefore, in principle, the costs and the effect on the industry will be less if we go ahead with the scheme. The danger is that new conditions might be raised and those numbers therefore increased. That is why I support my right hon. and learned Friend's approach to the matter—it is right from the farming point of view.

My right hon. and learned Friend said that one way through might be to begin the scheme with the specialist herds, and possibly cattle born after 2 August 1996. That is a sensible way to proceed, because we can thus test whether the European Union will respond as it ought to. My right hon. and learned Friend needs to be sure that the European Union ban will be lifted and that no other types of restriction will be imposed on our exports—all the issues that are starting to emerge in respect of the gelatine test—before he embarks on the full ban scheme.

The House should reflect on this point: suppose we started on the scheme, but failed to get the right response from the European Union? We would have a very different debate from this one, and our farmers would feel very let down. The guarantees must be clear-cut and absolute. My right hon. and learned Friend's current way of tackling the issue is right, and, if he does not get those guarantees, he should announce that the scheme will not proceed. The sooner a decision is reached within the European Union, the better.

5:51 pm
Photo of Mr Tony Banks

Mr Tony Banks (Newham North West)

Unlike previous speakers, I have no financial interests to declare. I do not speak on behalf of the farmers of Newham. For the benefit of those hon. Members who think that I live in a concrete jungle, I should point out that many cattle once wandered on Wanstead flats, which is in my constituency, and it was a delight to see them. I have not seen them around recently, but I suppose that they have gone the way of all flesh.

I want to say a few words about the welfare of the creatures we are discussing tonight, which are being slaughtered in large numbers. The House is clearly overwhelmingly concerned about the welfare of farmers. I can understand that—farmers have votes, cattle and other animals do not. Indeed, if animals could vote, I am quite sure that I would have become Prime Minister by now.

I was appalled by the figures read out by the Minister—860,000 slaughtered so far, a backlog of 320,000 waiting to be slaughtered, we have now reached a weekly slaughter rate of 59,000, and that is all a matter for great congratulation. As far as I am concerned, it represents nothing more than a concentration camp regime for cattle.

Why are all those animals being massacred, and for what purpose? We have heard that there is no timetable from the European Union for an end to the ban—there is no end in sight, and no one can give any clear indication of whether there will be an end at all. How many cattle will have to be slaughtered? It might be that the European Union will not be satisfied until the whole national herd has been wiped out. In achieving that end, vast numbers of completely healthy cattle will be unnecessarily massacred. That is appalling from an economic point of view, but from an animal welfare point of view it is obscene.

The other point in the Minister's speech that appalled me was the fact that, so far, this exercise has cost the British taxpayer £263 million. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) talked about a conspiracy. I find it strange that, despite the fact that there was clearly a man-made cause of the disease which led to the crisis, no one will be prosecuted. No one will be blamed. We will not be able to recover any of that money from those responsible.

I hold farmers partly responsible—it is not necessary to have a great deal of knowledge to know that there will be a price to pay if herbivores are fed animal protein.

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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

What proof does the hon. Gentleman have that the average livestock farmer had any idea that animal protein was an ingredient? They were told only that there was a protein ingredient and they were usually told that it was fishmeal, even if it was not.

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Mr Tony Banks (Newham North West)

Even if it was fishmeal, that would not have been appropriate. When does the average cow eat fishmeal if it is grazing in a field? If any animal protein is fed to a herbivore, there will be a price to pay. I might add that that is only the thin end of the wedge. If we consider all the ways in which we are interfering in nature for the sake of food production, we shall see that there are all sorts of problems in the pipeline, but it will be years before we find out how horrible our future might be.

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Mr Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I entirely agree with some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It is unethical, immoral, wasteful of money and unnecessary that all those animals should be slaughtered; but—bearing in mind the recent intervention from the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)—surely the hon. Gentleman accepts that it was the European Union that encouraged increased agricultural production? The use of protein led to that end, so the European Union is to blame.

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Mr Tony Banks (Newham North West)

The hon. Gentleman could no doubt find a convenient way to blame the European Union for bad weather, or any other ill. No one can claim that they are totally innocent or that their hands are clean—no one, that is, except dedicated vegetarians like me, but that is of little consolation.

Human interference in nature worries me greatly, and it is still happening. We are currently dealing with one crisis, but how many more are waiting to be addressed as we interfere more and more with nature in trying to get higher and higher productivity? Look at the pesticides and herbicides we use, the poisons we pump out, and the way in which we genetically engineer fruits and vegetables. Nature is extremely unforgiving, and either we or our children and grandchildren will have to pay the price for our actions.

Let me return to the subject of animal welfare. We are approaching the winter, which brings colder and wetter weather. Even at the accelerated rate of slaughter, there will clearly not be enough housing on farms for the animals. How many animals will be left out in the fields in the winter months? Many farmers say that they cannot afford the extra £10 to £14 per week needed to feed animals through the winter. If farmers are able to bring their cattle in, welfare considerations come into play if those animals are kept in overcrowded conditions —the problems of mastitis, lameness and pneumonia will emerge.

We have to ask this question: if farmers know that cattle are waiting to be slaughtered, will they feed them properly?

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Mr Tony Banks (Newham North West)

I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can give the House that assurance, given how many farmers there are.

Will farmers be ready and able to meet the high veterinary bills resulting from problems of overcrowding? Farmers will be looking at an asset of diminishing value, so we have to ask ourselves whether they will be prepared to invest in it. I cannot believe that all of them will.

Apart from welfare problems on farms, there are reports of serious problems involving marketing, transport and pre-slaughter conditions. Around one third of cull cows are sold through markets. Last week, "Newsnight" showed a west country market selling cull cows to a dealer who was transporting them to Yorkshire for slaughter, yet there was an abattoir next door to the market. The abattoir in question was receiving cull cows from Yorkshire. What the hell is going on? Why are those cattle being moved around?

Nigel Taylor, a vet who saw those animals at the market, was appalled, and said that the animals could be "distressed and disturbed". The programme suggested that the over-30-months scheme had been hijacked by dealers, who paid backhanders to slaughterhouses to get their animals to the head of the queue. The Government have acknowledged that problem by introducing the new registration scheme, and I hope that we shall have regular reports on whether the scheme is addressing those abuses.

There are eye-witness accounts of cows calving as they wait their turn in the slaughterhouse. In September, one person saw about 60 cattle in a slaughterhouse at Crick in Northamptonshire. The animals had come from a market and were supposed to have been killed on the Wednesday; but the Ministry had called a halt to the killing, so they had to wait until the following Monday before being slaughtered.

Several animals were painfully thin. Others had udders that were grossly distended—they obviously required milking, but, of course, abattoirs do not have the facilities to milk cows, so the cows spent their last five days in severe pain. The matter was reported to the Ministry vet, whose response was, "What on earth can I do about it?" Others report overcrowded abattoir lairages with animals up to their bellies in muck. The staff say that they have no time to clean out the facility because, as soon as one lot is slaughtered, another lot comes in.

Let me talk about the calf slaughter scheme, officially known as the calf processing aid scheme, which was set up by the European Union four years ago. So far, it has been optional for Governments, but it could become compulsory. Farmers are paid to slaughter the young calves under the scheme. We adopted the scheme in late April, when the European Union refused to import our male dairy calves for their veal crate farms. It is a shame. It must be bad enough for the calves to find out that they are going to a veal crate, but when they think that there is a chance of being rescued, they find out the EU will not take them, so they are slaughtered. What appals me is the waste of animal resources as well as the welfare considerations.

To date, about 300,000 calves have been slaughtered under the scheme. It was originally intended for male dairy calves only, but it was extended to beef breed calves early this month, so numbers are likely to be increasing rapidly. The calves have to be slaughtered by the time they are 20 days old—it was originally 10—and the abattoir is paid £103.47 for each calf slaughtered. Further profits can be made from the by-products such as the hide, as well as by selling carcases to pet food manufacturers and maggot farms. The flesh is not allowed to be used for human consumption or for consumption by livestock, fish or horses.

Welfare concerns come to mind immediately. The calves are condemned animals, and, as I have said, I believe that they will receive minimal care on the farm. Certainly, an expensive —[Interruption.] I believe that that will be the case on many farms. I am just saying what I believe. Given the pressures on farmers, I do not believe that they will be prepared to pay for expensive veterinary visits, because the cost would be uneconomic.

There is the question of transporting and marketing. Many of the calves are being sent to market and bought by dealers who shop around for the abattoir offering the best price. Some dealers are paying £101 for a calf, yet, as I have said, the subsidy to the abattoir is only 103.47. Are the abattoirs paying more than the subsidy for each calf? If so, how are they making a profit? There will obviously be a little bit extra from by-products, but can we be certain that none of those calves is ending up in the food chain?

There are many reports of calves being brought to market and sent on lengthy journeys to faraway slaughterhouses. We all know that young calves make poor travellers—the literature shows us that. We know of consignments that have gone from a west country market all the way to Scotland. It is appalling. Dealers are collecting calves and transporting them all over the country.

On 17 August, there was an advertisement in a west country newspaper, the Western Morning News, which called for calves of four to 10 days old. It talked about regular collections throughout Devon and Cornwall". It is an offence to transport a calf of four days old, before the navel has healed. What action is being taken? Nothing is being done, because so many cowboys are operating. When a large amount of taxpayers' money is around, corruption always comes in.

The welfare considerations of the cattle have not been addressed in the House in the way they should. The concern is essentially for farmers, particularly those who are making a big noise. There are votes here. I did not just turn up in this place yesterday; I understand that votes are vital and concentrate the mind of every politician, but we should not be oblivious to the welfare of the animals that are being massacred, in many cases unnecessarily, in their hundreds of thousands.

The BSE crisis has been an example of appalling incompetence, particularly within the cattle cake manufacturing sector. They are the people who are responsible for this, and I want to see someone arraigned before the courts. If this had been in any other area of production, the producers would have been in the courts by now, and all sorts of heavy fines, if not imprisonment, would have been handed out. It has been an example of incompetence by the Government and the industry. It is about time the electorate were given the opportunity to carry out a political cull of the Government.

6:03 pm
Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts

Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is right to be concerned about animal welfare, particularly over the next few months. We are all concerned about that, none more so than the farmers who have bred the animals.

There was a curious air of unreality about the opening speech of the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) which contrasted sharply with what my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) described as the realistic assessment of the situation in Europe presented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister.

It will come as no surprise to the House when I say that I wish to concentrate on Wales, although much of what I want to say will be applicable to other parts of the United Kingdom, except perhaps Newham.

Agriculture is very important to us in Wales. It is the backbone of our rural economy and the prosperity of life in the countryside is highly dependent on it. The beef sector is an essential element of that. I met my farmers during the long recess and when they came to Westminster on the opening day of this parliamentary Session. I know at first hand of the problems they face on farms, in the market and even in the abattoirs and elsewhere.

There was a backlog of 30-month-old cattle which grew during the summer months as the farmers failed to get them slaughtered. There is no doubt that Wales is particularly handicapped by its lack of rendering capacity and our animals had to be taken over the border after slaughter. Progress was abysmally slow. Some extra facilities have been brought into play and the pace of the cull has undoubtedly quickened. However, there is still a lot of cattle on farms awaiting slaughter. I am glad that more carcases are now being diverted to cold storage and that precedence is being given to registered animals.

Wales has 14 per cent. of the total England and Wales backlog and I welcome the measures taken to deal with that. During the recess, the process was so slow that my farmers were actively discussing the possibility of incinerating carcases in disused quarries and elsewhere. I hope that we shall not embark upon an accelerated cull, as proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), before we have disposed of the backlog. We can talk about it and think about it along the lines advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk. I thought that what he said about the accelerated cull made good sense.

The effect of the backlog, coupled with the low market price, has meant that farmers have been unable to restock this autumn as they would have wished. Their incomes have been hit badly, not only this year but for the year to come. It is important to bear that in mind.

Most of Wales is hill farming country. It is 80 per cent. less-favoured area and there is considerable dependence on the livestock compensatory allowances, which, as I understand it, have fallen in value over the past four years. Therefore, I plead with the Government to be as generous as possible with those payments this year. If they are not, many farming enterprises will go under and those that survive will be left wondering whether there is any future in farming for them and their families and whether we in this House really care.

Few could understand the Brussels decision to reduce by 10 per cent. the basic payment under the over-30-months scheme. No one will understand it if the hill livestock compensatory allowances are not up to expectations, and are niggardly at this time of deep crisis and acute need in the farming industry.

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Mr John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The right hon. Gentleman said that it was a Brussels decision to cut compensation payments. He should understand that that decision was taken by the British Government.

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Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)

I understand that it was a Brussels decision. It was certainly taken in Brussels. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It was taken in Brussels. We have talked a great deal about consumer confidence in beef. We are now talking about farmers' confidence in themselves and their enterprises. It is vital that that confidence be maintained and sustained through the HLCAs to be announced later this month. I warn the Government that there will be justifiable anguish if the uprating is inadequate.

There is no doubt in my mind that we must eradicate BSE—that has been my position from the outset, but it is easier said than done, especially in the absence of complete and definitive science. The incompleteness of our knowledge and its emergence in dribs and drabs have been responsible for many of our difficulties, along with what I describe as the vagaries of European Union opinion. That BSE must be eradicated is now generally accepted. Scientists are urging a similar policy on scrapie in our sheep flocks, and I do not dissent from that view. Meat for human consumption must be above suspicion. However, I do not underestimate the enormity of the tasks and the length of time that they will take. Mercifully, the end of BSE is in sight as a result of the measures adopted by the Government.

It is also clear that while measures are taken to achieve the objective of clean herds and flocks, the farming community must be financially supported or it may lose heart, which would be a sad day for all of us. I fully appreciate the magnitude of the Government's financial commitment—£2.5 billion. I also appreciate the fact that they have already allocated £60 million to hill farmers, although I am not sure how that will be distributed.

I am aware of the tremendous personal efforts made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and his colleagues on the Front Bench, who were faced with a daunting situation that might have floored lesser men. They are to be commended for their courage, pertinacity and dogged pursuit of their policy objectives.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) referred to the rapid reaction to the Falklands crisis. We were dealing with the Argentines with our own forces. The BSE problem facing the farming industry is very different. It takes time for agricultural measures to take effect.

I am sure that the Government will persevere and rally the farming community behind them. I hope that they will also have the full support of their colleagues in the Treasury and other Departments, including the Ministry of Defence, which is feeding our troops with foreign beef. There have been protests in Wales—I am sure that the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) is aware of them, as is the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), because he listened to representations from the farming industry. A change would help to restore and buttress confidence, as would the return of beef to our school menus. Believe it or not, in parts of the Principality—even rural parts —beef is still not on the school menu.

It is clear that the Opposition are milking the beef crisis for all it is worth. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right to describe their behaviour as cynical political opportunism at the expense of the farming industry. Naturally, the Opposition are quick to fault the Government at every step in the long process towards the eradication of BSE, but it is by no means clear after today's debate what they would have done had they been in office. They are not clear about what they would do, even with the hindsight that they have now. They are naive in the extreme to think that more could have been done to lift the European ban, especially when the European beef industry as a whole was suffering a severe crisis of consumer confidence.

The right hon. Member for Livingston gave the game away when he referred to the decline in beef sales in France, Germany and elsewhere. Surely that proves that there was a lack of confidence in French, German and Italian beef, as well as in British beef, which was not subsequently exported to those countries.

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Mr Paul Marland (Gloucestershire West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lack of confidence in beef in Europe is due to the fact that there is no system similar to ours for tracing BSE? All too often, when a cow in France looks as if it has a BSE problem, it is diagnosed by the vet as having backache. The farmer is advised to get it to the market and into the food chain as quickly as possible, so that the whole affair can be covered up.

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Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have supreme confidence in our beef industry, and in the safety of our beef products. That is not paralleled in European countries, where consumers have more doubts than British consumers.

The Government have taken the right measures in difficult circumstances. The proof of that is that the end of the BSE scourge is in sight. Opposition Members have given the impression that somehow or other the crisis could have been solved overnight. Measures to eradicate BSE require time, and the industry requires time to work those measures through.

6:18 pm
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Mr William Ross (East Londonderry)

The Minister of Agriculture began his speech by saying that the BSE crisis was a disaster for British agriculture. I hope that he will reconsider those words and accept that it is a disaster not only for British agriculture, but for a wider spectrum of our economy. The ancillary industry employs a vast number of people—far more than the numbers employed on beef production in farms—who have also suffered grievously. We must keep in the forefront of our minds the problems that those people have faced, many of whom have lost their livelihoods as a result of the crisis.

In Florence the Prime Minister, the Government and the country signed up, if not to a timetable, to a sequence of events leading to a progressive lifting of the beef ban. I say that in the most charitable way that I can: whenever we start talking about timetables, the perspective, or the meaning, seems to change. In any event, although we may not have signed up to a particular month, I believe that we certainly signed up to a result that was clearly understood by all. Although we are all happy that four of the five measures agreed to at that time have now been implemented—or nearly implemented—we are concerned about the remaining principle of the cull, which has not yet been carried out. We look forward to the day when a certified herd scheme will operate throughout the United Kingdom.

I am glad that in Northern Ireland—and, apparently, throughout the United Kingdom —all cattle destined for slaughter are now registered and given a measure of priority. I have always felt that the Government should have taken control of the situation. I know that there were manpower difficulties at the start, but a large number of retired officials could have been brought back on an emergency basis to set up and run the scheme. That would have avoided all the problems encountered by farmers, and all the rumours of fraud, backhanders and so forth that have so plagued the scheme. The mere fact that the Government have now had to take over the whole system of registering cattle for slaughter means that the view of those such as my local farmers union was entirely correct.

I hope that the slaughter of the 90,000 cattle that remain in Northern Ireland will soon be carried out, but it cannot be carried out unless some of those cattle leave Northern Ireland to be slaughtered elsewhere. That means that they must cross the water to Great Britain. I hope that the Minister can tell us whether that will be possible, because we all want the backlog in the entire United Kingdom to be cleared very soon.

Another point that the Minister and the Government seem to be trying to ignore is that, so far as the Common Market countries are concerned, the only show in town is the certified herd scheme. Having listened with interest to all that has been said here today, I simply cannot understand why the detailed papers have not been presented, because that is the key. Is it because the Government are not prepared to continue the accelerated slaughter scheme, which would have to follow on from the clearance of the current backlog involving cattle aged over 30 months?

My hon. Friends and I appreciate that those in the rest of the United Kingdom may not know where the cattle intended for accelerated slaughter actually are. They may not know which beasts are involved, and on which farms they are located. In Northern Ireland, however, we know which cattle are involved and where they are. As I pointed out in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)—a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—in recent months the number has dropped by some 300 to 1,700.

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Mr William Ross (East Londonderry)

If the number is dropping as fast as that, it is excellent news. The cattle, however, are scattered over Northern Ireland. Although in theory one day's slaughtering would deal with the lot, it would actually take about a fortnight to gather them all up and get them through the slaughterhouses. We hope that an effort will be made to do that very soon; once it is done, Northern Ireland will have fully met the requirements of the Florence agreement.

The Minister said in his speech that there was no credible cull policy that would accelerate a national clear-up of BSE. I assume that that is one of the reasons for his current difficulties with our colleagues in the European states. He also pointed out that, despite all the work done by the United Kingdom, there had been no favourable response from those other countries. If the situation regarding the attitude of the other EC countries is as bad as the Minister believes, it is time to test their good faith. In Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent in Scotland, the mechanism is to hand, although I understand that Commissioner Fischler has indicated that Scotland would not be accepted as speedily as Northern Ireland in that regard. In Northern Ireland, the cattle can be identified, the whole thing could be cleared up in a matter of weeks, and we would then know whether Europe was prepared to accept the measures that we have signed up to.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

May I make two brief points? The first relates to the backlog. We hope to be able to increase throughput to around 8,000 per week in the fairly near future. Beyond that, of course, the backlog needs to be cleared in a UK-wide context: we are as anxious as the hon. Gentleman is for the backlog in the Province to be cleared.

As for the extent to which the European Commissioner and his officials have been involved in discussions on the specialist herds, the beef assurance scheme and the certified herds, we have had detailed discussions on the basis of detailed papers. The Commissioner and the officials understand very well that Northern Ireland will fall readily into both the beef assurance and the certified herd schemes. It seems to me that any proposals that we present are likely to bring early benefit, in so far as benefit is possible, for Northern Ireland. I direct what I have said to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) as well, as I know that he has the same anxieties.

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Mr William Ross (East Londonderry)

We all know these things. There is nothing new in what the Minister has said. What we want to know is whether he is going to test the good faith of those in Europe. If we are not prepared to do that, what is the use of all these words? We have an instrument to hand —or a weapon, if hon. Members wish me to use a stronger term—which we can use to extract from Europe the concessions that we need. The plain truth is that, no matter what system we use, the very first area of the United Kingdom that will be able to meet the requirements is Northern Ireland—followed rapidly, I believe, by many parts of Scotland, under the certified herd scheme. We all understand that, but when will Europe's good will be tested?

To go a little further down the same road, can the Minister tell us whether, when we reach the happy point at which we believe that the Florence criterion has been met, the Standing Veterinary Committee can itself lift the ban? The Minister shakes his head, but I understand that the decision on tallow and gelatine never went back to the Council of Ministers: it was lifted following a request, or a ruling, from the committee.

Let us look at the time scale. If the scheme must be considered by the committee, it will probably want to look at it for two or three months, and it may then have to return to the Council of Ministers. Does the scheme have to go back to the Council of Ministers? Will we be subjected to one delay after another, carrying the thing on until perhaps after a general election, before final decisions are taken? If so, all the problems that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) mentioned, including the feeding of cattle over the winter, will have to be faced. The Minister cannot wriggle out of these problems. We all appreciate his difficulties in dealing with Europe, but these are crunch issues and we need answers to them today.

The flagging of holdings is basically a Northern Ireland problem only. The Minister and Baroness Denton of Wakefield at the Northern Ireland Office are well apprised of the difficulties surrounding the issue. He knows that there is a unique problem in relation to flagged suckler herds. Farmers expect to sell their calves by this time every year. If they try to sell them at present, however, they are immediately flagged up in the market as calves from herds that have had some contact with BSE, with the result that no one in the buyers' end of the market wants to know.

Farmers do not have the feed to carry progeny over the winter. Next year's calves have already been born and the rest will be born in the next few months, to be sold, farmers expect, next autumn. There must be some way out, some scheme to help those 300 farmers in Northern Ireland. I am sure that Members representing Wales and Scotland will be aware of the same difficulty, although a slightly different aspect of it may concern them. That problem concerns us in Northern Ireland. We need sensible answers to help that small group of farmers in the hills of Northern Ireland.

6:31 pm
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Mr Hector Monro (Dumfries)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), who has a broad knowledge of agriculture and of rural affairs, as he has demonstrated again today.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I felt that the opening speech by the Opposition spokesman was a political act of scaremongering. He spoke with much hindsight, was negative and did not say how the Labour party would handle the crisis in future, if in power. We know that we have had a difficult six months. As a farmer, I have been involved at first hand in the problems of, say, the over-30-month scheme and the calves scheme. I have heard the problems that my constituents have, as farmers, in getting their beasts to slaughterhouses. It has been a difficult time for them. They were particularly cross at the reduction in the value of the OTMS in October. Those in the queue felt hard done by that they had missed the deadline by a few days, as I did when the date for the topping-up of heifers occurred in July.

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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Minister was wrong in saying just now that the reduction was made on the initiative of the European Commission in Brussels? In fact, the initiative came from Her Majesty's Government.

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Mr Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I will not confirm it because I do not know. This was all part of the fact that the European Community ecu had to be reduced, which was tied in with the value of the green pound. It was Europe's decision as much as ours.

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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

May I just separate those two issues? The 3 per cent. reduction was the result of the green pound devaluation—the right hon. Gentleman is correct there—but the 10 per cent. reduction, which took place before that, was on the initiative of Ministers.

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Mr Hector Monro (Dumfries)

The hon. Gentleman has made his point. Whoever made the reduction, it was unfortunate that it had to be made at all, because the prime beef market had been slowly recovering. The price was approaching around 100p per kilogram and farmers felt a little better for that. They took it hard when the OTMS was reduced.

I thank the Ministers who have been involved. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and Lord Lindsay have spent much time trying to resolve problems and to help. Both were at the recent Council meeting with my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his colleagues. Ministers have left no stone unturned in trying to resolve the problem, which came out of the blue in March. It is not right for Opposition Members to criticise Ministers, because the problem came as a big surprise in March.

Much had to be put in place quickly to try to save the industry, which the Government have done. We have had our knocks, prices are down and there are still problems. Considering what occurred, however, we have got through the summer and autumn better than many people thought we would. The Opposition are carping in not accepting the huge amount of money that the Government have put into the BSE problem—£2.5 billion. A Labour Government would never have considered putting up so much money to help farmers.

The trend is right, but the overall issue is that the priority is to get the ban lifted and exports re-established. It is no use flying kites—as many people do for one thing and another—which might or might not help. We should not take any step unless we are absolutely convinced that it is the right way to get the ban lifted on the continent, and we must receive an assurance from the continent that it will accept what we are doing towards gaining 100 per cent. consumer confidence again.

The Prime Minister and the Government were right at Florence. Five out of the six points have been cleared. The critical issue is still the selective cull. We shall never get the ban lifted until we conduct a form of selective cull. The continentals are not prepared to accept anything less. It may not be prudent or justified, but they believe that it is essential and it will take a miracle to change their position.

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Mrs Elaine Kellett (Lancaster)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that some people, the Germans in particular, are so keen to ruin our beef industry that even if we offered them heaven tomorrow they would not agree?

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Mr Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I fear that my hon. Friend is right. Whatever we do—even if we had conducted a selective cull in the past few months—it would still not be accepted by the Germans and probably not by the French or the Belgians either. They are not considering the matter scientifically. Sadly, they have a totally irrational attitude, with their own home beef production at the forefront of their minds.

I sometimes wonder where we are in terms of science. In March, we based policy firmly on Edinburgh and the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee; yet we were prepared to accept, on relatively little scientific evidence, the view of Oxford scientists this summer. Do the Government have a policy on whose scientific evidence we should use and what science is under consideration at present? Which universities or establishments are working specifically on BSE and trying to produce an answer that will help farmers and Britain? Some things that come out in the night in scientific journals are singularly unhelpful and often leave much to be desired in terms of what most people would feel was fair comment.

During the summer, like many hon. Members, I spent a lot of time with farmers. I toured around Scotland to talk to them and to members of the National Farmers Union, listening to their problems and to what mattered most in terms of their practical problems. They always talked about the 30-month cull, but the Government have now got on top of the problems associated with that, and well done to them. I know that it took a long time to take all the relevant factors into account, especially those relating to the rendering industry.

I have been worried about casualties, but I have received letters of confidence from Lord Lindsay that they must have priority at all slaughterhouses. I hope that that turns out to be true because there must not be any worries about animal welfare.

In Scotland, we are all pleased that the threat of BSE is falling away rapidly. I suspect that there will be under 1,000 new cases this year. That is good news. Given the present rate of cull, I should have thought that a further selective cull need involve only a small number of animals to meet the required criteria.

Bearing in mind what the hon. Member for Londonderry, East has said, we must be careful about opting for regional policy, with Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales going their separate ways. I believe that it is very much better to stick together to try to get the ban lifted universally. I know that Ireland is way ahead of us on computerised traceability. It is a complicated procedure, and all credit to Ireland for having built it up over the years, but I do not believe that universal computerised traceability would impact on the present ban. It would take a long time to put similar schemes into operation in Scotland, England and Wales, so it is not something to which we can give great priority at the moment.

We must look at the good news—the Government have put £2.5 billion into agriculture and an extra £6.6 million towards cold storage facilities. It is true that we have been concerned about the long distances that beasts have been taken to be put into cold store. Once again, it is also important to consider the additional costs involved, because under the OTM scheme farmers have to pay for the transport. A farmer may believe that his beasts have been taken to the slaughterhouse a couple of miles down the road, so it is quite a surprise when he receives the bill and discovers that they went to south Wales. It is important to try to keep the slaughter of beasts as near as possible to their farms.

I was pleased at the announcement of £60 million for the cattle component of the hill livestock compensatory allowance. That is important and will build up the suckler cow subsidy to a significant sum. I take into account what the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said about less-favoured areas, which are an important consideration. I know that this year has been one of particular difficulties for hill farms. The hill farming review is currently being conducted and it is shortly expected to announce that there has been a significant drop in incomes. In the light of that, it would be a major disappointment if there were a drop in the sheep component of the HLCA. I hope that it will be possible to see it increased, because if ever a sector of farming needed confidence and support it is that of the true hill farmer.

I was glad to hear on 8 October about the further significant sum of money to be devoted to help overcome the BSE crisis. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Minister of State where that money will go. I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister said that it is intended to pay for additional help with beef marketing, but I hope that a further explanation will be offered when my hon. Friend winds up the debate.

In the long term, I am worried about whether we intend to continue the 30-month cull. Are we making progress with the slow maturing breeds? How are we getting on with the certified herds scheme? Farmers are itching to know what is to happen about those issues now and in the coming year. I cannot see the ban being lifted for some months, so we must know how we shall be placed next spring, summer and autumn. Will there be a sufficient supply of prime beef, and what will the price be? What advice is the Meat and Livestock Commission giving to the Government about the future?

I do not think that we can sustain beef production at 100p per kilo. Somehow or other prices must increase if beef production is to be profitable again. We have got over the problems of the summer because of various schemes and assistance provided by the Government, but we appreciate that that cannot go on for ever. We must build a settled, long-term future for a profitable beef industry because it represents a major part of the agriculture industry, particularly in Scotland and Wales. The current drop of one third in the value of prime steer is a serious loss.

I am extremely concerned about the current import ban that Spain has imposed on lambs aged over six months, and I hope that a brief mention will be made about that tonight by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. That means that all lambs born in this country in spring and early summer that would have gone to Spain are banned from there because of their age. That is serious and I hope that we can put a diplomatic boot into Spain and say that we will not accept the ridiculous approach that it has taken up in recent weeks.

Whatever it takes, and whatever the cost, we must put all our efforts into getting the current beef ban lifted. That means reaching an agreement on the continent, which will be our major difficulty in the coming months. We have all agreed that beef is safe. We want to see it eaten at schools, in homes, and restaurants and sold at McDonald's and supermarkets. We must strive to market it in case we do not succeed in getting the ban lifted in the foreseeable future.

The letter from the National Farmers Union rightly pointed out that farmers appreciate the support that they have been given by the Government. They also know that they currently receive significant aid for livestock, and great support through arable aid. They know that the Government are deeply involved in rural affairs. I also think that farmers believe that this is no time for change, and they would regret it if they helped to bring that about.

6:46 pm
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Mr Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

A serious problem in Britain in agriculture almost inevitably becomes a serious crisis in the north of Ireland. I make that distinction because of the structure of the industry there and the scale of dependency in the north of Ireland not just on agriculture, but especially on the beef industry.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), answering on behalf of the Government in a recent Adjournment debate, agreed that the current crisis was one of the greatest setbacks in the past 150 years."—[Official Report, 16 October 1996; Vol.282, c.752.] The permanent secretary in the Department of Agriculture in the north of Ireland is reported to have said I think there has been nothing like this since the famine. Those are crisis words, but they are not an exaggeration when one looks at how dependent the north of Ireland is on the beef industry. Consider that 5 per cent. of its gross domestic product derives from agriculture as opposed to 2 per cent. in the rest of Britain. If we add food processing and agricultural input supply to that figure, it rises to 8 per cent. That represents a huge dependency on the beef industry. Consider, too, that 10 per cent. of Northern Ireland's work force are engaged in agriculture and ancillary industries. Of those employed in the north of Ireland, 40,000 are employed in the agricultural industry. The output for finished cattle and calves is worth about £400 million per annum, which is equivalent to slightly more than £1 million per day. Those facts about the small, mixed economy of the north of Ireland clearly demonstrate its absolute dependency on the beef industry and the scale of the crisis.

There is also a difference between the importance of beef exports in the north of Ireland and in England, Scotland and Wales. England, Scotland and Wales import beef to meet their needs. Therefore, they can more easily withstand the effects of BSE.

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Mr Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I realise the difficulties of having one's economy tied into a wider economy, but that is a problem for the Scots.

The beef trade is of greater relevance to the north of Ireland, which exports almost all its beef and cannot sustain a beef industry in the face of a worldwide export ban. That is the difference, and that is the problem. About 80 per cent. of the beef production of Northern Ireland is exported: 30 per cent. to Britain, and 50 per cent. to the rest of Europe. Suddenly to close off the market for 50 per cent. of production spells trouble for an already depleted economy.

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Mr James Spicer (West Dorset)

We are all anxious that the ban should be lifted. However, does the hon. Gentleman believe that the same scale of exports—or any exports—would automatically resume the next day if the ban were to be lifted? I am speaking particularly about France, because we do not sell much beef to Germany. Even if the ban were lifted, would not those continental countries—I use that phrase advisedly—continue to ban our beef products, by hook or by crook?

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Mr Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I do not know, but I should like to put them to the test, and there is only one way in which to do that: by ensuring that there is no argument left against our position. Then we will find out. We must revert to the seriousness of the problem in the north of Ireland.

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Mr William Ross (East Londonderry)

Surely the hon. Gentleman is as well aware as I am of the strong signs from some countries in Europe, and also from South Africa, that they would willingly buy Northern Ireland beef once the ban is lifted.

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Mr Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I believe that that would be the case, but I always prefer to have something proved than to take the word of someone about it. The hon. Gentleman—who, politically, comes from the same place as I do—can understand that one becomes conditioned to accepting not a person's words but the deeds that accompany them. I have every confidence that beef from the north of Ireland will sell, that it will sell in Europe and that it will sell as well as before. I want to prove that, to ourselves and to everyone else.

The incidence of BSE is remarkably different in different areas, and I have gone to some lengths to check the figures. Between 1988 and 1996, there have been 163,000 identified cases of BSE in England, Scotland and Wales. In the Republic of Ireland—I make no political point here—there have been 143 identified cases. In the north of Ireland, per head of herd, there have been 0.004 identified cases. Something in those figures should tell us something.

The figures tell us, first, that the control system in Ireland, north and south— although I am speaking only about the north of Ireland—has been very effective. It has been effective and efficient because of the farm quality assurance scheme, to which 75 per cent. of main producers subscribe, as do supermarkets in the north of Ireland. The scheme is unique in its identification and traceability system, which does not yet exist in England, Scotland or Wales. It has also been at the forefront in dealing with, and anticipating, the problems that have accrued—not so much in Scotland, but very much in England and Wales, and, minimally, on the island of Ireland. A high standard of protection is in place.

We have one other great advantage, which I believe is the key advantage in negotiations and in solving the problem. We have a sea around us. We are ring-fenced by sea. Surely that must have some influence on the low incidence figures, which I believe I can support. Surely that must be taken into account when we consider how we will solve the problem. I am not arguing that we are different, better or separate, but that we have been different in the approach we have taken to the problem of controlling disease and to our agricultural industry. Out of necessity —our dependence on the industry and the market—we have been more attentive to the market and to our products.

I do not suggest for one moment that anyone or any area should suffer because of the unique situation in the north of Ireland. But, as I know almost every hon. Member would agree, the north of Ireland should not be made to suffer because it has exceeded other regions in protecting its beef and beef production. That would be the unkindest cut of all. The heart of the hurt among the farming community in the north of Ireland is the belief that—after having done it right and produced the product in manner that is relatively BSE free—we are suffering as if those achievements had never occurred. I have great admiration for the efforts made by the Minister with responsibility for the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, during a harrowingly difficult time. She has had to cope with Whitehall; she has had to cope with Europe; she has had to cope with the farming industry in crisis; and she has had to cope with us, the hon. Members from the north of Ireland. I pay tribute to her work, dedication and sense of justice—which was very potently demonstrated during the problems over the continuing backlog.

I make three suggestions. The first is that, whatever the merits or demerits of the Florence agreement, only a small step is now required to ensure that beef from the north of Ireland can re-enter the European market, and that would involve the culling of 1,724 cohorts. In his most recent intervention, however, I was reassured to hear the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) say that a more accurate figure would be about 400 cattle, because of the culling that has already occurred. The figure is only 400 cattle. They could be culled before 1 o'clock tomorrow, and then nothing would then stand in the way of north of Ireland beef going straight into the European market. Is that an unreasonable request? Once the selective cull of those 400 cattle is accomplished, a certified herd scheme can immediately be implemented in the north of Ireland.

Secondly, because of the 30-month cull scheme problems, there is a differential between what people might have received for their cattle on the morning before 31 October and what they would receive today. I sought professional advice on this before the debate and was told that for normal beef cattle at this time of year, anything up to £346 an animal can be lost. There is not only a loss on the animal but the added expenditure on feed and the difficulties that that causes, especially for the smaller producer.

My last point relates to hill livestock compensatory allowances, which are crucial to the north of Ireland economy. A huge part of the north of Ireland qualifies for the scheme. Many people depend on the compensatory amounts to be able to continue in the industry, but they have been reduced by whomsoever over the past two years on the grounds that farmers had done better. What farmers had been doing beforehand, of course, was not evaluated in relation to other incomes. Due to the problems facing those farmers, there is a very strong argument for ensuring an immediate and substantial increase in HLCAs, so that people are able to see themselves and their industry out of the problems.

I fully agreed with the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) when he referred to the flagged herd. Flagging the farm as opposed to the herd is unique to the north of Ireland and other parts of Britain. It means that the suckler herd farmer simply cannot give away his stock once it is flagged. I am told that we are talking about 300 farmers who need to be bailed out. There is no short-term palliative. I am also told that only a very small amount of money would enable those people to start again, build up their herds and get back into the industry without such a millstone, which they will never be able to remove alone, hanging around their necks.

I ask the Government to listen carefully to those points. I think that they are important and I know that they will be elaborated on. Every single public representative in the north of Ireland has been working with other parties, Members of the European Parliament, the Minister, farming unions and people on the ground to try to resolve the problem. They can only go so far. We can make progress only by the type of informed Government decisions about which I hope we shall hear very soon.

7:02 pm
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Reverend Dr Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

This is a very sobering and sombre debate for the representatives of Northern Ireland. We are not engaged in any party-political endeavour. Whatever others in the House are about—it is their business, and rightly so—we are dealing with a crisis, as the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has underlined. I shall not go into the statistics.

In evidence given by the banks to the forum for political dialogue in Ulster, it has emerged that £70 million has already been lost out of our economy in Northern Ireland. I heard the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) ask about next year. Next year— indeed, next summer—we are not going to have a beef industry because, as the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has just said, we depend on our exports. Scotland will survive, although not well; England will survive and, perhaps, do a little better; but we cannot survive because we can sell only 25 per cent. of what we produce to our people. We have to sell the rest outside the country, and at least 50 per cent. of that goes to an area that is now prohibited to us. The door is shut, the chains are up and the locks are in.

I have some experience in Europe, for I have been a Member of the European Parliament since direct elections were introduced. We are not going to wake up one morning and hear an announcement that the ban has been completely lifted. That is not going to happen. If any hon. Member thinks that, by any way we move in this House, that will happen, they are living in cuckoo land.

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Reverend Dr Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

I notice that the hon. Gentleman, who has had wide experience of Europe too, nods his head in approval.

How are we going to get out of the difficulty? What plan can we adopt that can get us out of the difficulty? The only plan than we can adopt is realistically to face up to the fact that, if the ban is going to be broken, it will be broken only piecemeal. Hon. Members might not like to hear that. Nobody believes in the Union more than I do. The matter is not about setting one part of the United Kingdom against another. Frankly, if Scotland, England or Wales were in the position that we in Northern Ireland are in, I would be advocating that they immediately go ahead, start to move and get some water over the dam. If we get a break, we can bring others with us. Some hon. Members might not like Northern Ireland carrying the flag in this instance, but they will have to face up to it at the end of the day. We had better all realise that—and quickly.

Why do I say this? We have heard that we have difficulties in Europe. I am not pro-European, as everybody knows; I know that there are difficulties with Europe. There are two kingpins to our problem, however, with whom we do not have difficulties: the Agriculture Commissioner and the chairman of the Council of Ministers, who happens at the moment to be the Agriculture Minister of the Republic of Ireland. Commissioner Fischler met the three Members of the European Parliament who represent Northern Ireland—me and my two colleagues, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the former Member for Newry and Armagh, Mr. Nicholson—and representatives of the unions. I asked: "Will you tell me, Commissioner, what Northern Ireland has to do to come up to the standard that you say you have in Europe?" What was his answer? He said, "You are far beyond that standard." How can we justify a ban on Northern Ireland beef in Europe if we are far more advanced than Europe on the matter? I would like the Government to press that matter with vigour.

I was greatly disappointed and disheartened by the Minister's answer when the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) asked why we are not pressing on with the certification scheme. The Minister replied, "Look, we have talked about this. We have had some papers, but we do not have the working papers yet." I then intervened. I asked the same question and got the same reply. Then the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) asked the same question, and he got the same reply. We did not get anywhere.

Tonight, the Minister has spoken again. As the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said, we have heard it all before. I want to ask the Government some plain questions. Are they going to block this road? Are they going to press for the certified herd scheme? Are they going to push the issue? How soon will they make a decision? I understand that they have not yet made a firm decision. Until they do, we shall not know what the outcome will be. I urge them to make a firm decision.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh talked about what stands between us and the market that we want. He was right. The animals are one obstacle. There are many others. The hon. Member for East Londonderry took me up wrongly before, and I want to put the figures on the record. He said that some 300—of 1,700—cattle had already been slaughtered. I checked, and found that 400 have now been slaughtered. About 1,300 beasts stand in the way of our meeting the Florence requirements for a cull.

A tremendous number of animals have already been slaughtered: 56,000 steers and heifers and 25,000 cows—a total of more than 80,000. Only 1,300 cattle are now standing in the way. Surely the Government should proceed.

Someone said that the debate was about what Europe had done. The Prime Minister accepted the Florence agreement. He may ask whether I accept it or whether the House accepts it, but that is not the question. He accepted it. It was sold as a very good deal. We were told that there was a calendar with this very good deal. That calendar has come and gone and we are nowhere. Would it not be right for the Government to say, "Right, we shall bring Northern Ireland up as far as the cull is concerned"?

The second matter to be dealt with is whether the number of cases of BSE in Northern Ireland is going down or up. If we still have serious levels of BSE in Northern Ireland, should it not be looked at? The good news is that BSE has peaked in Northern Ireland. In 1988 we had three cases. In 1989 we had 30. In 1990 we had 100. In 1991 we had 170. In 1992 we had 333. In 1993 we had 487. In 1994. the number went down to 360, and it has gone down again in 1995 and this year. The number is going down; we are not experiencing an increase. I am not making a political point, but the south of Ireland has had an increase while we have not.

The secret of the difference between us and the rest of the United Kingdom is simple—we do not have a land border; we have water around us. We can safeguard ourselves. Everyone knows that we have always had the best possible animal health standards because we are ringed by water. We have a case to be put.

I am sorry about what has happened, because Mr. Fischler and Mr. Yates, the two key men, told my two colleagues in the European Parliament—the hon. Member for Foyle and Mr. Nicholson—and me only a few days ago that they needed an application from the British Government. They need the Government to ask for it.

Hon. Members have talked about testing Europe. Let us test Europe. Mr. Yates will soon be going out of office, but he has assured us that he has already talked to his replacement from the Netherlands, who is of the same opinion. We used to export a lot of beef to the Netherlands. The Netherlands accepts Ulster beef. It was asked in the House today whether, if the ban was lifted, we would get these markets. We would have to go and fight for them. They are not waiting for us, but there are certain places where we have good will, and the Netherlands is one. We want to be able to help them out by giving them the best possible beef.

The House and the Government must take steps to get the papers and make the application. On European matters, it has often been necessary to persuade the chairman of the Council and the Commissioner. They do not need any persuasion. They are already of the opinion that the matter can be dealt with regionally. Swine fever in Germany was dealt with regionally. It was dealt with inside one country. One of the directives gives the ability to do that. We need to adopt that approach.

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Mr Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

It may seem that some of us have just come in, but we have been watching the hon. Member through the medium of our new televisions. I have listened carefully to what he has said. A lifting of the ban in Northern Ireland would begin to break the logjam. My farmers in Yorkshire, many of whose herds are BSE-free and who argue along the same lines about swine fever, Aujeszky's disease and foot and mouth, would welcome the first thaw coming from Northern Ireland.

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Reverend Dr Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

That is very heartening for the people of Northern Ireland. At times, we feel isolated—perhaps even discriminated against—because we happen to be better than some of the farmers over here. We want the ban lifted for the whole United Kingdom. Unlike the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I am not a vegetarian. I eat beef and like it. Beef eaters should eat Ulster beef, but if they cannot get Ulster beef, they should not forget Scottish or Yorkshire beef.

Let us be frank. The ban will not be lifted overnight. We shall have to go the way that I am suggesting. I plead with the Government to sit down and look carefully at the matter and say, "Yes, we shall have to do it this way." That is the only way to make progress. As I have already said, we shall not wake up one morning and discover that the ban has suddenly been lifted. I was at the European Parliament yesterday and I saw a report that said: Meanwhile confusing messages emerged from Luxembourg on October 28 on the UK's strategy for eradicating BSE and ending the beef ban. UK Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg told the press corps he was not pressing for a regional approach to lifting the ban, but would be trying to make progress towards resumption of beef exports 'from certified herds' which were guaranteed free of the taint of BSE, and of the contaminated bone meal held responsible for spreading the disease. However, the presence of Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth in the UK delegation sent out a different signal. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland is present. The report continued: Both Scotland and the UK province of Northern Ireland have a large number of such herds.Earlier, the Farm Council President-in-Office Ivan Yates told the press corps that a regional proposal 'could be considered', provided the agreed targeted cull of cattle most at risk from BSE were implemented in that region. 'A special case can be made for Northern Ireland because of their animal identification system and that they were surrounded by water', said the Irish Agriculture Minister. However, Mr. Hogg rejected the idea of destroying cattle from herds already certified free of mad cow disease as 'irrelevant'.

If the Minister is saying, "Yes, I want to make progress towards the resumption of beef exports from certified herds," why does he not put in the working documents? That is the question and that is the position. Let us get the documents in and then see the response from Europe.

7:20 pm
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Mr Martyn Jones (Clwyd South West)

From 1985 to 1996, we have been debating BSE in the House, yet we still have a BSE crisis. I believe that as long as it is handled by the present Administration, the issue will drag on and on. I am, therefore, grateful for the opportunity today to express my disgust at the Government's mishandling of the crisis. Government incompetence created it. They deregulated the rendering industry and allowed the prion organism of BSE to get through into the food chain. Government incompetence has maintained the crisis. How dare anyone say that the Tories do not care about manufacturing. They have manufactured more crises than any of our competitors.

At every stage of the crisis, the Government have failed to build a positive bridge with Europe. They have failed to deliver promises, and they have even failed to be consistent with their own version of events. In June, the Conservatives celebrated Florence; in September, they mourned Florence; since 28 October, they have been in confusion. The Tory BSE crisis has created a new verb—to maff it up. The Government have maffed it up, leaving our farmers in chaos and our consumers in fear.

At the European Union summit in Florence in June, in addition to the over-30-month scheme, the UK Government undertook to implement a selective cull of cattle most likely to develop BSE, to remove both meat and bone meal from farms and feed mills, to improve the methods of removing specified bovine material from carcases and to introduce an effective animal identification and movement system. In return, on being satisfied of an effective application of those methods, the European Commission envisaged a staged lifting of the ban on beef and beef products. The necessary draft orders were published to fulfil the commitment to the accelerated cull and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food described it as a great success. But it now appears that there never was a certain timetable for lifting the ban, so why on earth was the agreement signed?

In the following months, we heard contradiction after contradiction. Like Britain's European partners, UK farmers are confused. I have met many farmers in my constituency and they, like farmers elsewhere, are rightly angry and in confusion. It is ridiculous to leave a whole industry trying to interpret the smoke signals coming from MAFF. I fear that the smoke signals are no longer hidden messages of indecision, but the burning of an ineffective dinosaur being steered by an ineffective Government. My farmers fear another cut in the hill livestock compensatory allowance, which other hon. Members have mentioned, when an increase is surely justified.

As a Member of Parliament for a rural constituency, and as a microbiologist by profession, I understand that the science surrounding BSE is continually evolving, but everyone can see only too clearly that a policy of sitting on one's hands waiting for Father Time to sort out the problem is not an acceptable option for British agriculture.

The beef export ban is still 100 per cent. in place and beef farmers have been given no indication of what the Government's policy is and when they can expect progress. The Government have lost their credibility in Britain, and Britain and its farmers eagerly await a change of Government. The Government have also lost their credibility in Europe, with their schoolyard antics losing the respect of even our most long-standing European allies. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said recently of this Government: They seize on an issue, they talk tough, they alienate everybody and then they cave in."—[Official Report, 12 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 152.] Perhaps my right hon. Friend should have said that the Government sleaze on an issue rather than seize on it.

Such a stance undermines the efforts of representatives of farming bodies to press the Commission and member state Governments to honour their part of the Florence agreement. As we cannot rely on this incompetent Government to achieve anything in Europe, their undermining of our representative farming bodies is particularly serious and potentially catastrophic for farming.

I bring to the attention of the House—I am sure that it has been done before—the fact that, at the October meeting of the National Farmers Union, there was a vote of no confidence in the Minister's representation of the interests of the UK and its agricultural industry in the European Union. Indeed, the Minister's speech to the Tory party conference in Bournemouth was described by Farmers' Weekly as a "masterpiece of under-achievement". It is now a standing joke among farmers in my constituency that the only safe meat is Hogg-meat as it is spineless, brainless and gutless and, therefore, contains no specified bovine offal. That is possibly a bit unkind, but to be fair to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's miserable ministerial performance, it is merely typical of the Government's overall performance.

It is no surprise that the Farming News editorial stated on 11 October, with regard to the impending general election: Few in farming will not be wishing that it brings a change in the management. I return to the subject of science. It is worth bringing to the attention of the House a quotation from a recent edition of the scientific journal Nature. On 7 November, Gerald C. Coles, from the department of clinical veterinary science at the university of Bristol, said: MAFF has a history of suppressing scientific information it does not like, either by banning publication by its research staff or suggesting to those outside that the publication of certain MAFF sponsored research might jeopardise further funding. The article then comments on the cultural problem within MAFF. It explains that it arises from the view that the role of scientific civil servants is to support politicians. As a result, science must be made to fit policy (which may be dogma) rather than policy being based on scientific research. That is one of many such comments. The Government have dismissed science they do not agree with, or science that is outside MAFF control, but they have desperately clutched at any science that backs their stance.

I take no pleasure in saying—for the second time this week—"I told you so." In a speech in the House in May 1990 on BSE, I asked the Government to act on a number of crucial points. I asked them, first, to make Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease notifiable and, secondly, not to use the brains of cattle for any purposes. Thirdly, I asked them to ensure that all cattle brains were destroyed by burning within the head and, fourthly, to stop offals such as brains, spleen and lymph glands being used in any animal feed. Here I specifically warned of my concern for Britain's 7 million cats.

On 24 April 1990, even though we had had recently reported cases of feline spongiform encephalopathy, the Minister said that there was no evidence of naturally occurring encephalopathies in cats. That is almost certainly true, yet every year since 1989 we have had cases of FSE. Already this year, six cases have been confirmed and, at the last count, since 1989, there have been 74 sequels to Mad Max, the first cat who went down with the disease —so we have reached Mad Max 75 and counting.

I asked the Government to ensure that if pet food manufacturers must use meat and bone meal, it should be produced only in plant that has never been used for specified bovine offal or for cattle destroyed under the over-30-month scheme. Further to my sadly necessary "I told you so" lecture, I asked the Government not to hide behind expert advice—that is, selected advice. Advisers advise, but Ministers must decide.

I shall now quote from Nature of19 September, which said: The role of science, with its attendant uncertainties, is to illuminate political choices not to enforce them. By acting as if it is oblivious to this truth, and to European political reality, the UK Government can only erode its credibility even further. In 1990, I also asked the Government to stop feeding offal to animals, to instigate random testing at abattoirs—something they have not done yet—to prevent the possibility of vertical transmission in cattle by culling calves and affected cattle, with full compensation, and to increase research on transmission. For some of those suggestions, the Government have had to scurry about like political rats on a sinking ship of consumer confidence, desperately trying to cover up the holes instead of bothering to repair the damage. Other measures have not been taken. Do the Government not care? Are they arrogant? Apparently, the answer is yes on both counts.

Farmers in my constituency and throughout north Wales are suffering because of the Government's arrogance and incompetence and they have had enough. They are suffering great hardship and I am as angry as they are that we have had to put up with the Government's pathetic performance.

Welsh farmers are considered to be the finest in the land and second to none when it comes to caring for their animals. Their suffering is a tragedy that I shall never let the Government forget. No doubt the history books will concur with that analysis.

The Government have continually maffed it up and they should resign. We should have an election as soon as possible so that farmers—Welsh and others—and consumers can vote out this miserable and incompetent Government. Enough is enough.

7:29 pm
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Mr Paul Marland (Gloucestershire West)

I am sick and tired of listening to Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen in the House and on the radio knocking the Government and denigrating Britain and British industry. However, we have heard not a word about what the Labour party would do about the present crisis. Today's debate has been distinguished by a lack of speeches from Labour Back-Benchers. Of course, we heard from the House's favourite vegetarian, the hon. Member for Newham, North—West (Mr. Banks), who made a passionate speech, but we have heard very few speeches from the Opposition Back Benches. The fact that very few of them are present demonstrates their lack of interest in the debate and its subject.

We heard earlier that the Labour party backed the cessation of trade in United Kingdom beef. That is another example of the Labour party cosying up to the European Union and being willing to accept whatever it proposes, regardless of the effect or the consequences in Britain.

The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made no reference whatever to United Kingdom farmers. My impression was that the debate was being used as a political platform for totally separate purposes. I could not help wondering why the debate was opened by the Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs rather than their spokesman on agriculture. It was only when the answer was dragged out of him that the right hon. Member for Livingston agreed that British beef was safe. He did not volunteer that information. It seems to be the stock-in-trade of the Opposition to spread despondency and speak with the benefit of hindsight, claiming that as a genius that only they possess.

We are talking about the biggest crisis that has ever hit both our farming industry and our food industry. In and around Gloucester and Gloucestershire, the operation of the over-30-month slaughter scheme appears to be going quite well, and the backlog is being reduced. Locally, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In the past two weeks, nearly all the cattle on the OTMS scheme in Gloucester have been slaughtered. I am assured that the backlog will have been entirely cleared within the next two weeks. Each week, 600 cattle pass through Gloucester market. Some weeks ago, the number was 250. Abattoirs in the district are now looking for cattle to slaughter.

Looking back, one can see that it has not been easy, as many interests have had to be taken into account. We had to do what we could to save the entire industry. Farmers had to be considered, markets had to be kept going and the interests of abattoirs, cattle dealers, transport companies, butchers and meat wholesalers all had to be safeguarded. It was the biggest crisis ever to hit the food industry in Britain. It was also important to try to keep our European partners on side as we attempted to tackle the problem.

As others have said, this is an evolving crisis and a new disease. There was uncertainty about the best way to tackle it, and we had to find the way forward with some caution. Quite rightly, we followed the best scientific advice available. The Government deserve some recognition for sticking to that course while others bobbed and weaved and changed their minds. I was shocked by the performance of the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Hannan) when the crisis first came to light, and the way in which she seized upon the opportunity once again to damage British interests.

Although I am speaking locally, clearing the backlog has had an effect on the registration scheme in Gloucestershire. Cattle were due to be registered on the scheme by 1 November so that action could be taken by 4 November. That deadline slipped to 11 November due to the small numbers of cattle that had been registered. That was not due to a lack of information that should have been handed out to farmers, a shortage of forms or other minor difficulties that we have heard about in the past; it was actually due to the lack of cattle that farmers wished to enter on the registration list.

I cannot help wondering whether we need that registration scheme. Could we leave it to the market? I believe that the numbers in the registration scheme have been distorted by the fact that a number of farmers have registered their entire herds. As they were unsure whether any of their cattle would have to be taken out in the not too distant future, in order to safeguard their own position they have registered their entire herds.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister said that some 285,000 cattle were still awaiting slaughter. I wonder how many were as a result of farmers having registered their entire herds under the scheme. May I suggest that, in the changed circumstances, perhaps it would be better to drop the registration scheme and let market forces sort it out? That would change the position, so that the abattoirs were chasing the farmers for cattle rather than the farmers chasing the abattoirs to allow their cattle into the scheme to be slaughtered.

I believe that we should reconsider the selective cull. There has been a considerable change of heart in the House and throughout the country on whether it will remain necessary in future. Originally, we heard that hundreds of thousands of cattle would have to be taken out under the selective scheme, but now, as a result of successfully clearing the backlog of the OTMS scheme, the number has been substantially reduced.

Many farmers have made their own arrangements under the 30-month scheme in order to take older cattle out of their herds. That may have been part of the reason why there was a considerable logjam during the operation of the scheme. Yesterday, we heard again that there is further scientific evidence that older cattle are most at risk. If the 30-month scheme remains in operation, they will all be taken out of the food chain.

Sir David Naish confirmed to the Back-Bench agriculture committee that farmers would like the selective cull to continue, but only if our European partners agreed to lift the ban when the selective ban had been completed. I have serious doubts whether our European partners would lift the ban if we went ahead with the selective cull. It is important to get their agreement. As has been said, we have already fulfilled four of the five preconditions set out by the Florence summit. It is a great shame that our European partners have not recognised our efforts.

I agree with what has been said about lifting the ban in Northern Ireland. That would be an excellent first step. We could then flush out exactly what our European partners had in mind and whether they would lift the ban if we proceeded with the selective cull. Lifting the ban on Northern Ireland might give us more confidence that we should proceed without delay.

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Mr Phil Gallie (Ayr)

If that is the case for Northern Ireland, does my hon. Friend agree that there is also a good argument for considering the Scottish situation?

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Mr Paul Marland (Gloucestershire West)

I like the idea of going a step at a time; that is a helpful intervention. We should seek to get the ban in Northern Ireland lifted, test our European partners, and then start concentrating on what has been happening in Scotland. The Scottish farmers are making a good case, as my hon. Friend says.

On the subject of compensation for farmers, I realise that I am walking on eggshells. Nevertheless, farmers in Gloucestershire have told me that they are grateful for the amount of taxpayers' money that has been paid to them by the Government.

I am reliably informed that the value of cull dairy cows this year throughout the scheme has been similar to the value of cull dairy cows during last year. That fact is worth recording. Some farmers may have specific views on their circumstances; it is easy to blow up an individual case to demonstrate the awfulness of a situation, but overall, the information I have is that cull dairy cows have retained their value well during the scheme.

I know that the drop in the price of cull cows was unpopular. Whoever was responsible for the drop, it happened. Part of the reason for the drop may have been that farmers were achieving a higher return for 30-month-old cows than if they had put them into market. Taxpayers can be asked to pay so much, but I do not think that anyone wanted the farmers to profit from the scheme in the way that some have, and there is considerable evidence that that happened.

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Mr James Spicer (West Dorset)

I can see the logic in what my hon. Friend has just said, but I cannot see the fairness. Some people stood by from early May with their cattle waiting to go, watched others go through the back door, and then found that the cut had happened and the ones who came in through the back door had collected the cash. Those who waited are naturally irritated about that.

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Mr Paul Marland (Gloucestershire West)

That is why I said earlier that I recognised that I was walking on eggshells. I have not heard anyone dissent from my observation that some farmers sought to retain their animals to put them into the 30-month scheme, so that they could achieve a higher price. That is a sad reflection on them, but it is the way things work. There are so many farmers and so many cattle that the Government would not have been able to regulate the scheme in any other way. One or two other speakers have mentioned the Intervention Board, and some problems surrounding its activity have been brought to my attention. For example, it has been difficult to trace large payments made by the Intervention Board to markets to be distributed among a number of farmers. The markets have had difficulty in tracing what the payments were for in order to apportion the money as intended. The markets have had to go back to the Intervention Board to find out how the cheques were made up. The Intervention Board has done its best to co-operate, and that is the one minor irritation that I have heard about.

Furthermore, I understand that the Intervention Board has been uncompromising in its attitude to missing ear tags. Even when a cow in the system is clearly freeze-branded and the farm records back up its history, I understand that the board has been difficult about accepting that the cow is eligible for the scheme. I understand everybody's concern about fraud, but perhaps in the circumstances a little more understanding from the board might not go amiss.

All in all, in my district, there is some light at the end of the tunnel of the gruesome situation. I wish to pay tribute, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) did, to farmers for the way in which they have responded throughout this time. It has been difficult for some of them, but they recognise the difficulties we face. I also pay tribute to the president of the National Farmers Union, who has shown tremendous leadership during this difficult time. He has not become flustered but has remained cool-headed. Despite the pressure that he has been under to lambast the Government, he has been fair and reasonable throughout. I publicly pay tribute to him.

It is wrong to blow up isolated cases, but it is easy to do, and it is an old trick still used by some Opposition Members to paint a picture of a difficult situation. It is wrong to focus too much attention on one individual. I also pay tribute to the Meat and Livestock Commission, which has mounted a quiet and steady campaign to promote British beef. It kept saying that British beef was safe, as everybody in the House—certainly all Conservative Members —thinks it is. A butcher in my constituency—Andy Crease, who has a butcher's shop in Newent—has kept all his customers eating beef by reassuring them that everything in his shop was of the highest standard. I salute him for what he has done to keep up beef sales in Newent.

I hope that those who run the mighty McDonald's will take notice of our debate today. They have explained their difficulties with their customers and the use of British beef in McDonald's restaurants. I hope that they will be reassured by what has been said in the House and the way in which beef sales are keeping up. Before too long, I hope that McDonald's will decide to go back to using British beef, because its consumption in its restaurants has a tremendous effect on the price.

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Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that, in your city, the royal naval dockyard and the Ministry of Defence have let a franchise to McDonald's, which is the first ever on naval property. That McDonald's emporium is now serving Dutch beef to British service people and the dockyard workers. Does the hon. Member agree that it is time the Government used their influence to ensure that our service men have access to clean, good, fresh British beef? Does he also agree that, if the task force were to set sail now to the Falklands, it would have to eat Argentine or Dutch beef, as was mentioned earlier?

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Mr Paul Marland (Gloucestershire West)

The last part of the hon. Gentleman's question is imaginative. I do not think that it is the role of the Government to interfere in the private sector and tell McDonald's restaurants that they must use British beef.

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Mr Paul Marland (Gloucestershire West)

Because we are not in the business of compulsion. We have to seek to persuade McDonald's by other means that British beef is safe and that its customers can be reassured about eating British beef, probably more so than about Dutch beef because, as I said earlier, I believe that BSE exists just as badly in Europe as it does here. It has been tremendously under-reported in Europe, and that is a great shame.

I lament the way in which senior Opposition spokesmen have sought to denigrate British industry and British farmers, and to make trouble where no trouble exists.

7:48 pm
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Dr Alan Wynne Williams (Carmarthen)

I found the opening speech by the Minister of Agriculture profoundly depressing. I am sure that farmers across the country will have got little cheer from the Government's grasp of the problem and, in particular, their lack of success in lifting the European ban.

When the Prime Minister returned from Florence, he hailed his framework agreement as the way forward. He said that, by October or November, the ban would he lifted, but our part of that deal was the second slaughter programme, which collapsed during August and September. It was clear from the Minister's speech that there was mistrust—mutual mistrust, so he alleges—between our European partners and Britain. The Government did not have faith that, if we went ahead with our slaughter programme, the EU would lift the ban. That intense mistrust is appalling. It is a reflection of the Government's relations with the European Union. It is sad, and it makes it difficult to work our way out of the crisis.

I am afraid that remarks such as the latter remarks of the hon. Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. Marland), in which he expressed Euro-scepticism and sought to blame Europe for a crisis that is absolutely British-made, are extremely unhelpful in finding a way out of the problem.

The accelerated slaughter programme is our side of the bargain. One does not sell one's house for £50,000 and then go back and ask for more. Once one has signed the contract or agreed to the communiqu—, one has to keep one's part of the deal, whether it was good, brilliant or poor. I was taught when I was a youngster that an Englishman's word was his bond. I am from Wales, and when I give my word, I stick to it. It is a bad breach of faith on the part of the Government that they have been backsliding throughout the summer since the Florence agreement.

Very little pressure has been placed on the Government by Conservative Members this evening to proceed with the accelerated slaughter programme, which has to be the way forward. We agreed to the framework that was set up. Its targeting is difficult to define. We accept the difficulties, but it is the only agreement we have.

We have heard three excellent speeches from Northern Ireland Members this evening. There was nothing concrete or definite in the Minister's speech about making a special case for Northern Ireland, where the incidence of BSE is so much less than in mainland Britain. Traceability and records are much better. There is no backlog, and the problem is relatively much simpler to solve. The way ahead is to make a special case. Ivan Yates and Commissioner Fischler are key people in the Council of Ministers. We have them on side, and they want to see us proceed in the direction of special treatment for Northern Ireland.

I listened intently to the Minister's speech, but he gave no assurance that the Government would submit the necessary papers, because they would then have to proceed with the accelerated slaughter programme, and they are unwilling to do that. There is a lack of political will to proceed with implementing the Florence agreement, and at the same time Northern Ireland is being held back.

I am afraid that my general impression from this evening's debate is that the Government are being slow and ponderous, and have shown bad faith in finding a way out of the problems that afflict us.

I was in the Chamber on 24 June when the Prime Minister made a statement on the Florence summit. What he said was incredible. He said that most of the stages in lifting the ban would be completed by October or November. The steps we took were up to us. We had to implement in full the over-30-month scheme and proceed with the accelerated slaughter programme. If we fulfilled both those conditions, as well as four other conditions—which have been met—two stages in lifting the ban could be reached in October and two in November. The fifth stage would be to lift the ban from all beef. The barren cows programme would remain.

The Prime Minister said: this timetable is essentially in our hands."—[Official Report, 24 June 1996; Vol. 280, c. 22.] If the timetable was in their hands, the Government have proved incompetent in the three or four months since in implementing the programme.

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Mr James Spicer (West Dorset)

On the particular point about implementing the selective cull, the hon. Gentleman has close links with his farmers' unions, as do I and all other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. Will he recall just where his local NFU stood on the selective cull in May and June? Was it not opposed to it? In the south-west of England, the NFU was saying that, if the Government tried to implement the cull, farmers would block their driveways and not allow it to go ahead.

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Dr Alan Wynne Williams (Carmarthen)

I accept that the Farmers Union of Wales in my constituency has changed its mind backwards and forwards over the summer. I promise the hon. Gentleman that the farmers' unions are now united. I shall quote them later to show that they want to see us proceed rapidly towards a selective cull.

I shall continue to follow the argument chronologically. In his speech on 24 July, the Minister of Agriculture said that the Florence agreement was a great success, and provides a solid way forward."—[Official Report, 24 July 1996; Vol. 282, c. 369.] Yet, three months later, we had prevarication and a breach of faith during September. At the beginning of the recess, we expected to receive details of the accelerated slaughter programme. On the last day that the House sat, the Secretary of State explained why there was a delay in drafting the programme.

During the summer, a statement was made on maternal transmission. There has been some confusion on that since, but the crude numbers suggest that it is a factor to be borne in mind in the slaughter programme.

Then we had the Oxford study, which outlined various scenarios and estimated how effective or efficient a slaughter programme would be. Such scenarios need to be taken into account in drafting the programme, but I learned from my discussions with farmers at shows and at local offices of the FUW when the statement on maternal transmission came out that there was an instinctive feeling, which was borne out by the statement, that it was sensible to slaughter the last calf born to a cow which subsequently died of BSE. BSE would clearly be developing within the calf's brain.

It makes sense to slaughter the birth cohort of any herd of which 5 or 10 per cent. have already contracted BSE. The Oxford study considered various such scenarios. It is the Government's role to draw up a suitable, targeted slaughter programme. The figures may be of the order of 100,000. I cannot understand why MAFF and Conservative Members find such a figure difficult to accept. We already have in place a programme that involves the slaughter of more than 1 million cows in a calendar year. We are talking about an additional 100,000. That is not many more—just an additional 10 per cent.—so why do we not proceed with that?

The right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) expressed serious reservations about any second slaughter programme, because he thought that it would be inefficient. I accept that, but it is no more inefficient than the barren cows programme is now. If one out of every 100 cows slaughtered has BSE, that scheme will be 99 per cent. inefficient. The figure for the targeted programme is about 30 cows slaughtered for every one with BSE, making it a more efficient programme.

In research carried out at St. Mary's hospital and Imperial College in London, Professor Collinge identified the fingerprint for a BSE prion and a CJD prion. Initially, farmers and the national press took that to be a depressing find, as it appeared to make it all the more certain that the newly identified strain of CJD was directly related to BSE. The vast majority of scientific opinion is now of that view, and Collinge's work confirmed it.

The research contained the opinion that, within perhaps six months, we will have a test for CJD using samples from the tonsils and lymph nodes of human beings—a significant step forward. It may be disturbing, in that we could then use anonymous testing or volunteers to estimate the seriousness of the incidence of CJD in the next five, 10 or 20 years. If the test is available in six months, we may discover within a year or two that there are a few dozen cases of CJD. If so, CJD will be less important than salmonella, and we will wonder what the panic has been about. If the numbers are higher, however, the test will have given us a measure of the problem that lies in store.

If we can test for CJD, it may allow us to produce a test for BSE in live cattle. Throughout last year—and in debates since 1989—the Opposition have pressed vigorously for research to be carried out to produce a test for BSE in cattle, which would lead to the only sensible slaughter programme. If we can develop such a test within six months, we can apply it every three months or six months, and slaughter only those animals showing signs of BSE. That slaughter programme would be 100 per cent. efficient, and that is the direction in which we must move.

We must not be afraid of science, as science can help us solve the problem. Until we have such a test, the Government must proceed with the accelerated slaughter programme and legislate in that area. The farming unions want the programme, and we agreed to it in Florence. We must also press Northern Ireland's case for the restrictions to be lifted, as a first major step towards having the ban lifted for the rest of the UK.

8:03 pm
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Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I shall speak briefly, as I know that others want to get in. I shall make three points: first, I will say a few brief words about the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg); secondly, I will mention some points put to me by my local Lincolnshire NFU branches; and, thirdly, I will give my views on the selective cull and whether we should proceed with it.

First, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has, sadly, been traduced as usual during this debate. I very much regret that the NFU has taken it upon itself to demand his resignation. It may be true that my right hon. and learned Friend is not the Errol Flynn of our parliamentary generation in terms of charm or good looks, but no one compares with him in terms of intelligence, integrity and moral courage.

I wish my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food well in his continuing efforts, and nothing can be gained on the part of the NFU by demanding his resignation—particularly as the NFU itself has changed its position on the issue. During the summer, the NFU urged the Government not to proceed with the selective cull, and it has now accused the Government of dithering. I do not blame the NFU for changing its position, as this is a highly complex situation and it is quite entitled to change its mind. But the Government are equally entitled to change their mind on the basis of scientific evidence, as they have done.

Secondly, I wish to refer to the views of my local NFU branches. Like all hon. Members who represent agricultural areas, I am only too well aware that this is one of the gravest crises facing rural areas in many years. I had a number of meetings with my local NFU branches over the summer about the backlog in the 30-month scheme. Ministers—particularly the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), who has taken a close interest in this matter, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—have cleared the backlog. Those are not just my words, because I took it upon myself to check today with the Lincoln NFU and with the regional NFU at Uppingham. I was told that the backlog in our region will be cleared by December, and a great deal of credit should go to Ministers for achieving that.

My local branches say that there are still wide variations in the time it takes for farmers to get their beasts slaughtered, and that the new registration and permit scheme that is to come into effect should even out those problems. They add, however, that it is too early to say how effective the scheme will be. They have made it absolutely clear that, as far as the 30-month scheme is concerned, they believe that we have cured the problem.

My local NFU branches and the national organisation—I now come to my third and final point—now call for a selective cull, but I very much hope that the Government will resist these calls. I believe that they should resist them for two reasons. First, there is very little cogent evidence that such a selective cull would achieve a rapid eradication of the disease; and, secondly, there is little cogent evidence that it would be politically effective in Europe. As an hon. Member who represents a rural area, I want to do all that I can to help farmers resolve this problem. If I felt that a selective cull would be effective physically—in terms of eradicating the disease—or politically, I would be the first to call for it. There is no such evidence.

We have heard during the debate about the various scientific evidence. Professor Anderson wrote during the summer that the epidemic is well past its peak, and seems to be in a phase of rapid decline. He added that new infections from contaminated feed are predicted to be close to zero by the end of this year. Some interesting statistics have been produced during the debate, but no one has denied that all the various options for the cull would, to a greater or lesser extent, be hugely expensive and barely effective.

The evidence suggests that if all 7 million cattle in this country were culled, 1,300 would have been culled for every case saved. Culling the 2 million cattle born between October 1990 and 1993 would result in 564 being culled for each BSE case saved. Some 455 cattle would have to be culled to save each BSE case if cattle from herds in which a case originated between January 1991 and December 1995 were culled. So it goes on. Virtually every single option—there is no need to detain the House, as they have all been published—would result in a huge number of cattle being culled at great cost with very few BSE cases being saved. Those are the scientific facts, and no one has been able to refute them.

I do not believe that it would be politically effective in Europe to proceed down the route of a unilateral selective cull. One need only consider what happened with gelatine: we were assured that the ban would be lifted but every member nation has found some excuse to maintain it. If we were to go down that route without getting an assurance in writing that there would be a timetable for a phased lifting of the ban, member states would find some excuse for keeping out British cattle. I do not blame them for that, because they have their own political situation to deal with and it is not for me to comment on public opinion in Europe.

In Florence we achieved not a timetable but agreement to a process. We should have continued the policy of non co-operation until we had a firm timetable; the subsequent history of the affair bears out that view. I am told that on the continent BSE is known as the JCB disease, because so many cattle are simply shovelled into pits and never heard of again.

We should insist in Europe that all contaminated cattle be kept out of the human food chain. The fact, confirmed by people on both sides of the debate, is that we have taken adequate steps in the existing cull, in ensuring that older beasts do not go on the market at all and in removing all potentially affected parts from all beasts. Every objective scientific observer accepts that British beef is safe, as do the Commissioner and the World Health Organisation. There is nothing more that we can do to make British beef safe.

Much as I want to help my local farmers, I must tell them that the Country Landowners Association better represents their interests than the National Farmers Union. The CLA is not calling for an immediate cull but insisting that any cull must be linked to a timetable. If we did not secure that link we would be embarking on a senseless, expensive and cruel slaughter that would achieve extremely little. lb/> We need to stop having debates like this. We all know that this debate is merely the Opposition's attempt to cobble together a majority to embarrass the Government. Do they really think that if the debate achieves any publicity it will help British beef? Will it help the food industry if they manage to defeat the Government? Of course not. I hope and believe that they will not defeat the Government, but are playing politics.

The Government must keep their nerve, stand firm and gradually rebuild confidence in British beef. The British public have confidence in our beef. There is no possible rationale for the European ban. We must resist the siren calls, and I congratulate the Government on the stance that they have taken hitherto.

8:12 pm
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Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

Like the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), I am a member of the Agriculture Select Committee. Probably not for the first or the last time, I disagree profoundly with his analysis, particularly on the accelerated cull.

The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) made a forceful point when he told us that the position on the accelerated cull had changed significantly since June. We are now well into the backlog and if all the indications are right we shall have cleared it by the end of the year; we shall then have the opportunity to implement the accelerated cull.

Until the speech of the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, there was general cross-party realisation that there has to be movement on the accelerated cull. It would not be a unilateral action, because it was part of the agreement that the Prime Minister acknowledged was made at Florence. The accelerated cull was not imposed by the European Union or the Commission; it was proposed by the Government as a way of trying to lift the ban. We know that the ban will not be lifted unless that condition is adhered to. We should proceed on the basis that the accelerated cull must be linked to the lifting of the ban in clearer terms than were set out at Florence.

I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) is here. Tonight we have heard about the impact of the BSE crisis on all the countries of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales—and for most of the debate representatives from the Offices for those countries have been present: the Secretary of State for Scotland, Scottish Office Ministers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and a Minister from Northern Ireland have all been here, but there has not been a single Minister from the Welsh Office. That is an utter disgrace. I acknowledge the fact that the right hon. Gentleman told us his view from the Government Benches, but a Minister from Wales should have been present, because BSE has had a profound impact on the rural economy of Wales.

The matter is important to Wales, because 80 per cent. of its land mass is in less-favoured areas. Agriculture maintains not only the fabric of our rural economy but the social fabric of many parts of Wales; it is vital, because many people's jobs depend on it. A recent study published by the institute of rural studies at the University college of Wales at Aberystwyth showed the extent of the damage caused to the industry: between 2,500 and 3,500 jobs are at risk as a result of the crisis and our rural economy could lose between £40 million and £50 million. It is therefore important to bring the perspective of farmers in Wales to the attention of the House.

Let us consider some of the core issues. The Agriculture Select Committee examined the matter thoroughly and it became clear that the BSE epidemic arose from the relaxation of the rules on animal meat processing in 1981. The disease was first diagnosed in 1986 and made notifiable in 1988, but it was not until this year that firm steps were taken to eradicate it.

The Government initially appeared overwhelmed by the loss of confidence in the beef industry following the announcement made by the Secretary of State for Health in March this year. They had a number of options: first, the Minister told the House that all cattle over 30 months would be deboned; then there was the suggestion of a wholesale slaughter policy, from which the Government eventually withdrew; and, finally, there was the over-30-month scheme, which has been implemented.

In Wales, the scheme got off to an extremely slow start. We do not have adequate rendering facilities and we had the problem of the designation of abattoirs and collection centres. The Government have increased the number of animals that they want to include in the slaughter scheme—up to 55,000 a week—and we have great difficulty in meeting our targets in Wales, for the lack of rendering capacity.

One of the main reasons for the Government's failure to have the ban on beef exports lifted was the chaos caused by the original introduction of the over-30-month scheme and their failure to recognise the scale of the problem. Farmers' organisations and unions in my constituency and elsewhere consistently told me that the Government had underestimated the backlog. The Government thought that it was about 100,000 and the farmers, about 400,000. Eventually, a proper survey showed the backlog to be substantially more. Newsletters produced by the Ministry constantly told us that the backlog would be cleared by October. That was repeated until last month when we were told what the farmers had known all along—that the backlog was substantially greater than the Government had acknowledged.

That was an issue in Europe. We accept that the ban was completely unjustified and we want to see it lifted. But the European member states were not properly informed of the extent of the backlog and now the Government are equivocating on the accelerated cull.

Ministers from different Departments have said different things to different people in different places at different times. The Minister of Agriculture has said one thing, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland another, the Secretary of State for Scotland another and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster another. What is the Government's position on the accelerated cull? Northern Ireland Members have asked today about the position in Northern Ireland, yet we still do not know. Unless the Government make their position clear, the day for lifting the ban will remain on the back burner. The Government need a clear timetable for its introduction.

I want to clarify one point which seems to have been missed by the Government when it was put to them. Why was there a 10 per cent. reduction in the compensation under the over-30-month scheme from 1 ecu to 0.9 ecu? That was put forward by the Government. It was agreed in Brussels, but it was a Government proposal, made when farmers knew the extent of the backlog and had been waiting patiently for their animals to go through the queue. As we have heard tonight, others were taken in through the back door, getting their compensation at the old rate. Those farmers who waited patiently, playing by the rules, found their compensation cut overnight without any consultation. That is no way in which to treat an industry in crisis. The Government should listen to the voices on both sides of the House and restore the position to what it was previously in order to ensure that those farmers who are still waiting are compensated at the right level.

We acknowledge that additional help has been given to the industry. The Minister today talked about the £29 million which has been given to farmers in respect of animals sold between March and June, the £29 million announced in October, the £50 million additional money from the EU following the Luxembourg Council, and the £60 million which has been allocated through the HLCA. All that money is being put in through existing mechanisms, but the difficulty is that not every farmer qualifies for each of those mechanisms. The Government should ensure that there is equity of treatment for each farmer who has suffered loss as a result of the beef crisis.

It is to be welcomed that the HLCA payments will go to those in the hills who are in desperate need of assistance, but lowland farmers also have great problems. Conditions are attached to the beef special premium and the suckler cow premium so that not every farmer will receive the same amount in compensation. The great advantage of the over-30-month compensation is that each farmer had the same compensation. They knew what they would get. Using those mechanisms can distort that compensation and the Government must address that.

We accept that the Government have already introduced many of the points agreed at Florence—all the points that the Minister has acknowledged and all the points made by hon. Members. But the accelerated cull remains the key issue, and unless the Government are prepared to bring forward proposals, it is highly unlikely that there will be significant early movement on the lifting of the ban.

We are talking not about hundreds of thousands of animals here but about a limited number. The Government should go back to our European partners and talk sensibly, on the basis of the scientific evidence, about how the ban can be lifted. There must be a firm timetable for lifting the ban for all beef animals aged under 30 months. The overwhelming view expressed on both sides of the House tonight is that that accelerated cull will now form the basis of the lifting of that ban and I ask the Government to act with urgency on that issue.

8:25 pm
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Mr James Spicer (West Dorset)

It would be easy simply to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the views of my right hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) and for Bridgwater (Mr. King), which the House has already heard. I could then sit down, but that is no way for a politician to behave. Given the opportunity to sound off and to reiterate exactly what they have said, that I must surely do. I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister is in his place as I shall be repeating almost word for word what my right hon. Friends said in the debate.

I want to concentrate on two points and I illustrate my first point by telling the House about a farmer in my constituency, John Hoskin, the chairman of my local branch of the National Farmers Union, who is well known to the Parliamentary Secretary. my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), whom I am delighted to see on the Front Bench this evening. What has happened to John Hoskin has also happened to others in my constituency and particularly in the south-west where BSE has hit harder than anywhere else in the country during the past five years.

As hon. Members know, the 163,000 cases of BSE—a chilling figure—have not occurred in the past six months but in the past five years. Long before that dreadful day in March, farmers in our constituencies were living with the fear of BSE and, to be honest, keeping it to themselves. They reported and disposed of each case, but they did not tell me as a friend and someone who has known them for many years.

I shall always remember the shock that I had when I went to my first meeting with the NFU after the statement on 21 March, when suddenly people around the table told me that they had had 30, 40, 50 or 60 cases of BSE in their herds. I realised then for the first time what they had lived through. But that is as nothing compared with what they have had to endure in the past six months, when they have faced uncertainty about the future and how to go forward.

I come back to John Hoskin. John Hoskin is a tenant of the Duchy of Cornwall on a large farm just outside Dorchester. In January this year he was elected chairman of the Dorset NFU. It is pretty certain that his wife wishes that he had never been elected chairman in this particular year, and he probably feels the same way himself. On 1 May, when the first measures were announced, John Hoskin had 102 cattle waiting to be disposed of. We all know what the problems have been since May. It is no use the Opposition trying to make capital out of this, because there have been massive problems. The rendering capacity was not there. How can a slaughter rate suddenly be accelerated overnight from 10,000 or 15,000 per week up to 55,000 or 60,000? It cannot be done. The problems arose and, of course, we fell behind. As a result, on 1 October, not one cow had left John Hoskin's farm. The same was true for many other farmers in the south-west, which was the area with the highest incidence of BSE and where far more cattle were left hanging around. John Hoskin still had 102 cattle and winter slowly but surely began to set in.

On 8 October, an angry John Hoskin carne to Bournemouth to the Conservative party conference. He and I had been in almost daily contact before that. He went with other members of the farming community to see my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who expressed to John not only his concern and sympathy, but his absolute determination and the Government's determination to do everything that was needed—not just for one year, but for the next five years if necessary—to ensure that the agricultural community came through the gravest crisis that we have ever faced. Some hon. Members may say that they would have expected the Prime Minister to say that.

John Hoskin was reassured by that meeting, but with 102 cattle waiting at home at that time he also knew that on 21 October there would be a cut of 10 per cent. in the price that he would receive. That point has already been made by many Conservative and Opposition Members during the debate. Frankly, I do not care where that cut came from or how it was initiated. It may have been the most logical measure in the world and there are perhaps good reasons why it should have come about. It was logical, but I have to say to my right hon. and learned Friend that it was not fair.

John Hoskin had been waiting in the queue since May and not one cow had departed from his farm, but in the week beginning 21 October—believe it or not—35 went, and a further 25 went the following week. I phoned him this morning and was told that he had only 15 cattle left to go. He said to me, "Of course I am a happier man because they have gone, but it still rankles with me that some of the people who were up to their tricks behind the scenes and who were getting cattle away got the higher level of compensation while I did not." That point has been made time and again in the Chamber today.

Why did that happen? Why did John Hoskin not get a fair crack of the whip? We all know that we did not get the register established in time. The NFU wanted a register and I do not know why we did not do it. Now we have the register, and it should be possible to say that the register is the end and that the 10 per cent. cut should be implemented only when it is through. However it is done, I beg my right hon. and learned Friend to reconsider the proposal on the grounds of fairness alone.

By mid-December all cattle on the register will have been cleared. That is a massive achievement. I offer my warmest congratulations to all the Ministers who have been involved, to all the abattoirs and to most of the renderers, although the latter really do not need much thanks as they have done rather well out of the operation. During the past two or three months, the situation has been treated as a crisis and everyone has worked to get the figure above 55,000, and we hope that it will stay there. Everyone involved deserves our thanks.

After that, we have to look to the future. Everyone wants the ban lifted. To trace the history of the crisis, we have to go back further than Florence, to the meeting in Turin a week after 21 March, when most of the Community's political leaders said to our Prime Minister, "This whole thing is nonsense—we'll get it sorted out." I remember hearing the Italian Prime Minister saying, "Absolutely ridiculous—it will not stand." Yet they went back, talked the matter over and instructed their representatives on the scientific committee to vote to keep the ban in place. That is the challenge that we face.

If we are now to consider a selective cull, let us be absolutely clear that there are steps towards achieving that. First and foremost, we have to establish how many cattle are left on the list. My guess is—all that we have heard tonight from Members from Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England confirms it—that the number will be far less than we originally thought, because many of those cattle will already have been swept up in the 30-month cull. As the president of the NFU said the other day, what farmer wants to be left with the cow that has the last case of BSE in the United Kingdom? Everyone will have been doing their own selective cull and many of the cattle will have disappeared.

Let us say that we are dealing with, at the upper end, 100,000 cattle. That is two weeks' slaughter. The prize, if we can win it, is worth while, but we have to ask ourselves whether we shall achieve that prize by going that far down the road. I echo what most hon. Members have said—by all means, let us get everything in shape, let us be ready with the lists of where those cattle are, but let us then go to the European Community—whether to the scientific committee, or to that kind and sympathetic Commissioner, or to the Irish representative who is so helpful and thoughtful—and say, "This is what we will do, but we will not do it unless the ban is going to be lifted." Somebody said that we should have that in writing: I want it written in blood—I want to be absolutely certain that the promise will not be reneged on. That is what we have to achieve.

If we can achieve that, and if the Community lives up to its promise, it must then go a step further. Simply lifting the ban will help us in South Africa and it may help us to export our calves to Italy, where they are wanted, or to the Netherlands. Northern Ireland's farmers already have their markets lined up—they tend to be far thinking in matters of this kind. In addition, however, we have to ensure that there is no impediment to our exporting to Europe.

I remember the lamb war. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister was in Normandy—I came along a little later. When I marched off a lorry containing sheep that had entered a French port, it was almost like landing on D-day. The port was deserted and we were cowering and cringing like the lead man in a fighting patrol, waiting for the French farmers to attack us, and I can promise that there were no police about. If we are to return to that sort of scenario, where every consignment of British beef is attacked in that way, we may as well forget it.

Nevertheless, it is worth going that extra mile to try to get the ban lifted because the alternative is five years as a fortress. Like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I would give a pledge that even if we have to endure five years as a fortress we shall give our full support to the farming community, and I hope that the Opposition parties would say the same. We are determined that agriculture should emerge from this total ban in good shape and ready to fight.

Let us face up to reality. Let us take the Community's words at their true value, and let the Community show us that its representatives are honest and basing everything on scientific evidence. Only then should we go down that road, or at least make sure that we can explore it.

8:39 pm
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Mr Andrew Welsh (Angus East)

The hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir J. Spicer) is seeking practical solutions and I certainly urge him down that road, whether they are written in blood or not.

The Scottish National party amendment offers some practical, common-sense solutions towards getting a breakthrough in the European ban for Scotland and Northern Ireland. We could use the strength of our industries to breach the ban and lead the United Kingdom industry out of the present unacceptable situation.

I have found this debate and the Minister's contribution somewhat depressing. According to the Minister, there is no end in sight for this continuing crisis. After eight months, there is still no sign of an end to the industry's problems. The debate has been a little like the film, "Groundhog Day". Each time this Hogg reappears at the Dispatch Box, we get slight variations, but nothing really changes. There has been no progress towards ending the greatest crisis to hit the agriculture industry in modern times. I should like to see a greater sense of urgency. This crisis is attacking the heart of one of our most important industries.

From his performance today, the Minister seems to have no real plans and, apparently, no commitment to solving the BSE problem. He complains that there is no European timetable for lifting the beef ban; yet he admits that he has not even got to first base and submitted detailed working documents to Europe. He has deliberately ignored the strongest European cards—the industries in Scotland and Northern Ireland. They could get zonal exemptions and jointly breach the European ban. They could lead the United Kingdom's industry out of its problems.

Those are the major keys, but I have not heard anything from the Minister to suggest that he is prepared to use those keys to unlock the door to Europe. After eight or more months, we still have no timetable. We have had only a series of Government failures affecting 6,000 jobs in Scotland and an industry that is worth £120 million annually. We are now well into the eighth month of what has been an agonising time for our beef industry. The Government's involvement has been a catalogue of disasters and wilful neglect. Rather than the Government making a serious attempt to eradicate BSE as soon as possible and lift the EU export ban, we have witnessed only a series of absurd U-turns, the only logic of which has been to pander to the Euro-sceptic gallery.

Despite all that, the Prime Minister returned from Florence in June with an agreed package which set a deadline of October for returning prime Scottish beef to European markets. That deadline has now passed and the Government have failed to implement the accelerated selective slaughter—an essential part of the agreement. The signals from the Ministry of Agriculture suggest that the selective cull may now be shelved, along with all attempts to lift the export ban, the pretence being that the so-called review is based on the evidence of one scientific report. In fact, all the evidence suggests that it is another unhelpful twist by a Government who have been shown as willing to sacrifice an entire industry for short-term political gain in middle England.

The Government have been far from objective in heeding scientific wisdom. As far back as March, the first month of the crisis, Professor T. H. Pennington, professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen university, gave an independent opinion which confirmed that the level of risk from Scottish beef from accredited herds was as close to zero as practically possible. Professor Pennington said: Scottish Quality Beef can be traced back to BSE-free herds. From the scientific point of view it would be irrational to rate the health risk from consuming this beef as higher than that run from any other country that had reported BSE in its own cattle—a risk that is currently considered to be negligible.

BSE is essentially a dairy problem and its incidence in Scotland and Northern Ireland is significantly lower than in the rest of the United Kingdom. We have heard the figures from Northern Ireland, and I must point out to the Minister that Scottish herds have produced less than 5 per cent. of United Kingdom BSE cases since the mid-1980s and that the numbers are falling rapidly. The over-30-months slaughter scheme has been operating well in Scotland. We have not shared the difficulties experienced in England, many of which have been rehearsed today.

A selective cull in Scotland would mean slaughtering only about 3,500 animals and could be completed in a matter of weeks if the Government chose to do so. The beef industry in Scotland has insisted that the selective cull must go ahead. It recognises that living with the beef ban is not an option. Before the crisis, 20 per cent. of Scottish prime beef output—worth some £120 million each year—went to the export market. There is no realistic prospect of re-routing that amount of top quality beef to other parts of the United Kingdom. Like the Irish, in many ways we have no alternative but to break the ban and restore our export markets.

The overall value of the beef industry to the Scottish economy is £1.2 billion. Agriculture accounts for more than 3 per cent. of Scotland's gross domestic product—more than twice the proportion in England. That is why we are asking for a greater sense of urgency from the Minister. He chooses to indulge in conversations during the debate and listens to nobody. He should do some talking to Europe and listen to the House of Commons, but perhaps that is asking too much of a Minister who is busy talking to his colleagues. I have news for him: he will eventually have to talk to the electorate, and that will break any complacency that he shows in the House.

The nature of the industry in Scotland is different, and I regret that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not present to hear this. A total of 70 per cent. of Scottish beef originates from Buckler cow herds which are kept to produce only beef animals. There is more than enough difference to merit a different approach in the marketing of Scottish beef. Since the start of the crisis, the Scottish National party has been campaigning strongly for a regional or zonal approach to ensure that the ban is lifted from Scottish and Northern Ireland quality beef as soon as possible. That approach has received the support of a number of EU countries, including Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Ireland. There would be support in Europe if the Scottish and Northern Ireland card is played, and it is time that the Government did that.

The Commission President, Jacques Santer, and the farm commissioner, Commissioner Fischler, were also receptive to the proposal, but insisted that it had to come from the United Kingdom Government. That is where the real problem has been. It is up to the Government to make the proposal. It is no use the Minister standing at the Dispatch Box and whining that there is no timetable in Europe: he should produce the working documents and proposals to get beef from Scotland and Northern Ireland on to the European markets and make that essential breach in the ban. Instead, the Government have repeatedly put their Unionist dogma and their Europhobic prejudices ahead of securing any progress for Scotland. The Scottish beef industry has been forced to bear the burden of that approach.

Where was the Secretary of State for Scotland during all this time? He could be described as Scotland's resident Europhobe. He has not been fulfilling his obligation to represent the industry—he has been rousing the Tory faithful against Europe and rubbishing the case for a distinctive Scottish beef industry to receive the distinctive treatment that it merits. The crisis was in its seventh month before the Secretary of State for Scotland could bring himself to engage in talks with our European partners. Even then, he was playing second fiddle to the Minister of Agriculture. It is uncertain what one could expect to be achieved by a man who banned the European flag on Europe day, but he certainly failed the Scottish agriculture industry.

The Florence agreement must be honoured. The accelerated selective cull is the Scottish beef industry's passport into Europe and the industry wants it immediately. If the Secretary of State for Scotland has not made that plain to the Minister of Agriculture, he has done no job for Scotland. There is nothing in the Florence agreement which prevents Scotland from proceeding alone with the selective slaughter. Franz Fischler has already confirmed that fact in a meeting with the Scottish National Farmers Union in Brussels. The block on progress lies not in Brussels but in London.

With growing indications that consideration is being given to some sort of regional approach, the Secretary of State's inaction has raised the prospect of Northern Ireland securing an early exemption from the ban. We welcome the Government's acceptance of the logic of a regional or zonal approach. Scotland must be in the vanguard of that approach, along with Northern Ireland, for the same reasons.

The livelihoods of 6,000 people are at stake. The future of an important Scottish industry must not be neglected because of the Scottish Office's failure to act. The extent of its inaction was highlighted last week when Lord Lindsay pledged urgently to introduce computerised cattle traceability. That announcement was quickly followed by the revelation that only two years ago the Scottish Office rejected a proposal for just such a computerised database, which would have guaranteed cattle traceability.

In 1994, Brian Pack, chief executive of the beef conglomerate, Aberdeen and Northern Marts Ltd., commissioned a successful feasibility study into the computerisation of traceability of cattle covered by a quality assurance programme. Mr. Pack was sufficiently encouraged by the results to approach the Scottish Office. At that time, the Scottish Office rejected the proposals. It now argues that the advent of BSE has produced a changed situation. Given that the Government had a solution in their hands from day one, why has it taken eight months of crisis for them merely to take note of that proposal? Had the scheme been introduced at that time, it would have been up and running now. The solution has been available, but the Government have opted instead for inaction.

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Mr Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

If the ban were lifted only for Scotland, that might satisfy the hon. Gentleman, but it would not necessarily persuade European producers to buy Scottish beef as it would still be coming from the United Kingdom. One has to overcome consumer resistance as well as Community barriers.

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Mr Andrew Welsh (Angus East)

We should put it to the test. We know that there is a demand on the continent of Europe for prime Scottish beef. I represent the Angus part of Aberdeen Angus. I know how popular that meat is and that there is a market for it. It is important to breach the blanket European ban, and the key to achieving that lies in Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is what I am arguing for. A selective slaughter programme would be over in weeks. A computerised traceability scheme could be introduced within three months. If that had been undertaken when the problem first arose, the beef industries in Scotland and Northern Ireland would be up and running. The sooner that is done, the sooner we can make the breakthrough.

The Scottish Office has been dilatory. The marketing initiative to promote Scottish beef was promised in May, but we had to wait five long months before it was launched. It seems fair that the first target for lobbying should be the Ministry of Agriculture. A sign of the times can be seen at the restaurant in Kew gardens run by MAFF, which has a sign clearly stating that it serves only foreign beef. If the Government genuinely want to promote beef, the recovery in confidence could begin if they did something about that—assuming that they have any influence in Kew gardens.

I cannot underestimate the importance for the Scottish economy of lifting the beef export ban. Ninety per cent. of Scottish agriculture is in less-favoured areas. The industry is essential to rural communities, where there are few viable alternative industries, partly as a result of the withdrawal by the Government of a constructive regional economic policy. The Government have failed the Scottish beef industry in the past eight months. I urge them to act while there is still an industry to save.

The Government have a key to breaking through the European ban and it could be implemented right away in Scotland. The lower incidence of BSE in Scotland shows that with a combination of a selective slaughter programme and a computerised traceability scheme Scotland would be ready within a short time to get back into Europe and, with Northern Ireland, to lead the rest of the United Kingdom industry back into its lost markets. Anything less would be a sign of continuing failure by a bungling, blundering Government.

8:53 pm
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Mr Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

As much as I enjoy the company of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, I must take exception not only to his poor sense of humour when referring to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, but to some of his assertions. He said that we have made no progress towards the restoration of the beef industry. To say that we have made no progress when we are about to slaughter 1 million cattle stretches credibility too far.

The hon. Gentleman's other assertion—that we are prepared to sacrifice an entire industry—is arrant nonsense. How could we sacrifice an entire industry when we have put £2.5 billion of taxpayers' money into it?

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Mr Andrew Welsh (Angus East)

The Government are repairing the damage that they caused. We heard from the Minister's own lips that he has not even begun to put the introductory working documents to Europe. No wonder there is no timetable for ending the ban: the Government have not even reached first base.

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Mr Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

I am glad to see my right hon. and learned Friend sitting on the Front Bench. He has done a tremendous amount in what has been a hugely difficult crisis. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) likened it to the Falklands campaign. The logistical problems of dealing with that number of cattle are fantastic. A million cattle carcases mean we shall have to dispose of about half a million tonnes of animal. It is a huge operation. The Intervention Board and Ministry of Agriculture officials, who have never dealt with such a problem before and have put this scheme together from scratch, deserve our congratulations, not brickbats from the hon. Member for Angus, East.

The unresolved mystery is what the shadow Foreign Shadow was doing opening the debate for the Opposition at 3.30 pm. What does he know about agricultural matters? Why should he be the one to introduce the Opposition debate? All credit to the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook): as always, he made an entertaining speech. He is an extremely good orator, but why was he chosen? I can hazard a guess. If one has little to say, it is best to say it well and hope that people listen to the way one has said it and not to the content of one's speech. I suspect that, because the Opposition had so little to say about this matter, and about what they would do, they chose the right hon. Member for Livingston to open the debate, not the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang).

Farmers in my constituency in Northumberland want not sophistry or oratory but practical solutions to a difficult problem, so that they can make plans for the future of their business. That is what they have been getting from my right hon. and learned Friend and his team. I am glad to congratulate them, because they have had to deal with an unknown problem and with changing scientific evidence arriving seemingly by the day. They have done a first-class job in extremely difficult circumstances. Most of those in the farming industry will be grateful to them. I should like to include the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who came to my constituency and addressed farmers. He left them feeling far more certain about their future.

It is natural for farmers to get angry and upset when they do not know what is happening or what the future holds. If I could make any criticism of my right hon. and learned Friend, it would be over the decision to cut compensatory payments that was taken in Brussels. I entirely understand, and do not argue with, the reasons for that action. It is quite wrong for people who send cattle to be destroyed to receive more money than they would if those cattle were destined for human consumption. I also think it wrong for those with dairy herds to use taxpayers' money to "refresh" their herds by culling cows. Apart from anything else, that increases the backlog and makes the problem worse.

I do not argue with the reasons for cutting the amount; but, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) pointed out not long ago, farmers who had been waiting to get rid of their cattle felt angry about the fact that they had been financially disadvantaged, while those who had taken a chance and sold their cattle to dealers obtained a higher price. In Northumberland, we have a large number of suckler cow herds. Suckler cows cannot be got rid of until the calves are weaned, and by the time they had been weaned, the amount of compensation had been reduced.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed views about the accelerated cull. I shall not add to that, nor tell my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister what I think he should do. He has the very difficult job of balancing two interests. As we have heard tonight, the National Farmers Union takes one view and the Country Landowners Association another. I think that most of us would be happy with an accelerated cull if we felt that there would be a substantial chance of the export ban being lifted, but, if there is no such chance, the cull will surely disrupt some farmers, at great expense to taxpayers. As was pointed out earlier, it is not just a question of extending the cull rate by two weeks; compensation for cattle involved in the accelerated cull would have to be much higher, and it would be a much trickier scheme all told.

I am interested by the debate about whether Northern Ireland should be acting as a pathfinder, testing the bona fides of the European Union. That proposal was mentioned several times this evening, and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) dealt with it in some detail. It has a good deal of superficial attraction, and I understand why those in Northern Ireland are very much in favour of it. Farmers in Northumberland, however, will be asking this question: if the Government went ahead and used Northern Ireland to persuade the European Union to lift the barrier, what effect would that have on the Scottish and English markets?

As we heard from the hon. Member for North Antrim, Northern Ireland has lost its export markets. The hon. Gentleman said that Northern Ireland could go to the Netherlands and get those markets back, but, if it could not, what would it do with its beef? Northern Irish beef would bear the gold star of EC approval, it would be bought and sold in this country and in Scotland, and it would displace the domestic beef markets from those two countries. That is what we would risk if we proceeded in that way with Northern Ireland. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to give careful consideration to the impact of departing from the idea of a UK solution to the problem.

I hope that the industry can now begin to look forward to a more certain future. I would be very interested to see proposals suggesting what we could do to safeguard the future of the beef industry in the coming years. At present, the export industry occupies 28 per cent. of our beef market, and the cull represents roughly 25 per cent. The export and the cull are almost balanced. What is missing is 15 per cent. Our beef consumption constitutes only 85 per cent: 15 per cent. is, at it were, going astray. We must decide what to do with that in the future.

There are a number of options. One is intervention, which is becoming increasingly unattractive. I think that intervention beef will be virtually impossible to get rid of in future, particularly because it is not traceable. We can cut production by means of, for instance, the calf slaughter scheme, which provides a valuable way of taking dairy beef out of the beef market. There is much merit in trying to reduce the quantity of dairy beef going into the market. If we want to get the beef market back, that would be better done with purpose-bred beef herds than with beef from the dairy sector.

The third option is to increase promotion. In recent months, very successful promotion campaigns have been run by the Meat and Livestock Commission and other parts of the industry. We have seen the start of a return to the consumption of forequarter meat, which is long overdue. Promotion is very cheap in comparison with the figures that we have talked about tonight. We are talking about £2.5 billion; £2.5 million would go a long way towards increasing the promotion of beef.

I think that the British farmer has been well served by the Government. I have no hesitation in going to my farmers and telling them that, whatever they say, this Government and this party will look after the interests of the beef industry—something that no other party would do. We have had nothing from Opposition Members apart from the use of their marvellous 20:20 hindsight vision, and nothing but empty rhetoric from the right hon. Member for Livingston. The Government and their Ministers will save the beef industry.

9:04 pm
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Mr Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

The attitude of my farmers in west Wales is completely different from that which the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) has perhaps experienced in north England because my farmers have been extremely angry for many months. That was certainly made clear to me at last month's National Farmers Union lobby, where, as the Minister of Agriculture will know, members of the farming community were seeking the return of capital punishment, but for one individual alone: the Minister.

I was staggered by the Minister's speech, particularly bearing in mind the comments of hon. Members on both sides of the House on the need for a strategy that is workable, practicable and will implement the Florence agreement, which, we were told on 24 June, would, in five stages, move us towards the lifting of the export ban. Both in today's statement and in his October statement, the Minister took much time to explain that it was no longer possible to implement the agreement. What he failed to do in October, and has failed to do today, is to announce what is in its place. That is what everyone in the House and, particularly, in the beef sector wants to know. If the Minister believes that the agreement is out of the window and will not be honoured by our European partners, what are the Government going to put in its place?

Bearing in mind the impact of the crisis, which has been running since March, the anger in the farming community and in the rural economy generally—not just in Wales but throughout Britain—is utterly understandable. It is worth reiterating the figures that were referred to by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) from the Institute of Rural Studies at the University college of Wales at Aberystwyth. They show that, in rural Wales, this year, a loss of between £30 million and £40 million is predicted, with a knock-on effect on more than 2,000 jobs.

In a constituency such as mine, which has some of the highest unemployment not just in Wales, but in the UK, any detrimental impact on the local economy, from whatever source, is of great concern. I will illustrate for the Minister some of the impact that the crisis is having on my constituents.

This week, a farmer, Mr. William George, of Hasguard near Haverfordwest, gave my office figures on his turnover. For the first seven months of this year, it is down by £100,000. Profits are down by £60,000. He believes that he may just break even this year, and he says that he will not invest in new equipment. I receive letters from my local agricultural equipment suppliers saying, basically, that the market has dried up, but is that any wonder when the turnover of such a large beef producer has been cut by £100,000 in the seven months since the crisis began?

If the Florence agreement is, in the Government's view, no longer operational and will not work, the Minister of State must at least tell the House and the farming community what will be put in its place.

The hon. Member for Hexham referred to the 20:20 hindsight of Opposition Members. I do not think that that is a fair comment; at Agriculture Question Time, and when various statements had been made, Opposition Members and, to be fair, Tory Members, have raised specific issues. For example, we all asked about the registration scheme. Had that been in place, we would at least have known the size of the problem and the shortfalls in slaughtering and rendering capacity would have been identified. Why did it take the Government so long to get to grips with those problems by, for example, examining obvious alternatives such as increasing freezer capacity?

The Government warrant justified criticism and must accept it because they made fundamental errors that were pointed out to them not just in this place but by the farming unions. It took an awfully long time for the Ministry and its Ministers to address those serious problems.

At the lobby organised last month by the NFU, I learnt how desperate farmers have become. They do not believe they can get through this winter because of a lack of fodder—the dry summer means that fodder is in short supply—and they asked whether we could persuade the Government to opt for open-field incineration. That shows how desperate they are, because they know that the incineration of huge mounds of carcases will have a negative impact on consumer confidence, but they accept that. They are desperate because they have not got the necessary feed for their animals throughout the winter.

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Mr Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

Is my hon. Friend aware of reports that some abattoirs are finding it difficult to find animals to slaughter because of the bureaucratic way in which the Intervention Board is handling the matter?

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Mr Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

Yes, I am aware of those reports. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to the situation that was described on "Newsnight", where cattle in the south-west were being transported to the north of England for slaughter when right next door to the collection centre was an abattoir that was slaughtering cattle that had been transported considerable distances to it. Enormous bureaucratic mistakes have been made, which again have been pointed out to the Ministry either directly across the Floor of the House or in letters to it. It has taken an unacceptably long time to address those problems.

The farming industry is genuinely desperate. This afternoon, I had a conversation with one of my constituents who not only discussed the problem of winter fodder, but raised an issue of which I was unaware. Because of the increased number of cattle that some farmers will be forced to keep this winter, there is a real problem to do with slurry. There is potential for serious incidents of pollution because farmers' operations have been geared to a certain number of cattle, but they must now keep more on their farms while they await a decision on the slaughter scheme. They have a genuine fear that pollution could be caused as a result of a slurry overspill. It would really rub farmers' noses in it, and quite literally, if they were then faced with fines, as well as the cash shortfall that they have experienced in the past few months.

I said to the Whips that I would not speak for longer than 10 minutes, so let me say in conclusion that this crisis has had an enormous impact not just on the farming community but on the rural community as a whole. I have already referred to the fact that the suppliers to the farming industry have taken a hammering. As I said, the agricultural equipment suppliers face a significant shortfall in their market and have laid off people.

I do not believe that the Government realised sufficiently early the seriousness of the situation. If they had, even they would have put in place measures to address the real issue, which was lack of capacity in the slaughtering industry and in the rendering sector. Even now, we have not got to grips with the issue. I drew to the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), a crazy situation in which an abattoir that processed only clean beef for supermarkets wanted to take over a neighbouring slaughterhouse that had not been operated for just over a year. The company had approval, yet it was told—directly by the Under-Secretary—that it could not use that slaughterhouse because the rules of the scheme stated that only slaughterhouses operational at the start of the scheme could be used. That company had already set up rendering capacity.

In his reply to the debate, I hope that the Minister will tell us what will replace the Florence agreement if it has been thrown out by the Government.

9:15 pm
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Mr Phil Gallie (Ayr)

The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) said that his farmers are angry. Of course they are angry: every farmer in the United Kingdom is angry. Across the UK, most people, irrespective of whether they are involved in agriculture, are angry about BSE, CJD and the cull requirements. But I doubt whether any other Government would have been able to find the £2.45 billion compensation that the Government have put into agriculture.

The Opposition motion is particularly cynical, as was the speech of the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). If we were to score his speech, and analyse the solutions presented in it, it would receive nine for presentation and zero for content.

As sad as it was, the statement in March 1996 had to be made. Perhaps we would not be facing the current serious situation if there had been a bit of unity in the House then—but that is water under the bridge. Since then, however, the situation has occasionally worsened. The media come up with issues related to BSE and CJD that add nothing to our knowledge but which cause great anxieties in the marketplace, after the Government have tried to build up the market's support.

Action taken in the 1980s dealt with the risks presented by BSE and CJD. I remind hon. Members that, last Christmas, the market put pressure on the Government not to impose stringently the requirement to remove parts of the carcase from the food chain. Very wisely, the pressure was resisted.

I deeply resent the cull requirements. I resent the 30-month requirement, although I compliment the Government on how that cull has been executed. It has been a massive task, with massive, built-in unknowns, but it has almost been achieved. I resent the selective cull just as much. Today, I heard the Pope speaking to the world food conference, in Rome. He directed his remarks to people who are starving. Let us think about that. Shamefully, we are wasting good-quality food. Future generations will look back to this time and wonder what Europe was doing wasting food on such a scale.

I believe that the selective cull is nothing but a marketing exercise. We signed up to it in Florence, however, and we have to proceed with it—as the Scottish National Farmers Union recognised when the deal was struck. Since then, the NFU has followed that pattern. It is now time for us to meet that commitment.

The Scottish beef industry is a quality industry. It has been well backed by the Scottish Office in recent times. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has found additional resources to promote it—he met its representatives through the summer—and its quality aspects. Such support is very important, and has been welcomed by the industry as a whole. Indeed, only this week, Sandy Mole, the president of the NFU in Scotland, complimented my right hon. Friend on the support for BSE and a number of other issues. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, he didn't."] If Opposition Members care to read Sandy Mole's report, they will find that he did.

Others have not helped marketing. Reference has been made to McDonald's, but I would like to include Burger King, too. It is totally wrong that it is selling Dutch beef to our children. Industries in such countries cannot reach the same levels of traceability as the United Kingdom beef industry. I say to all citizens in the UK, "Forget about McDonald's and Burger King. They are a disgrace to this country. Let's use Wimpy, which has at least supported the industry."

I argue very strongly for Northern Ireland. It is an integral part of the United Kingdom, and I honestly believe that, on this issue, the countries of the United Kingdom must stand together. I recognise that that cuts across the wishes of right hon. and hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland, but I believe that in this Union of ours we stand together. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to get stuck into the selective cull, so that we can clear up the problem as best we can.

9:21 pm
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Dr Gavin Strang (Edinburgh East)

We have had a very useful debate. All hon. Members have expressed the concerns held by people in the industry across the length and breadth of the country—Scotland, Wales and England. It is fair to say that there has been a particular focus on Northern Ireland, and that hon. Members who represent it have made very powerful speeches. I think that the whole House understands why that has been so. I shall comment on Northern Ireland at greater length later.

It is valuable to remind ourselves that the underlying, fundamental concern in the debate on BSE is, of course, one of public health. There is a new variant of CJD, and 14 cases of it have occurred. We do not know whether that new variant has been caused by BSE, or how many more cases of it there will be. Obviously, we desperately hope that there will be very few. We know that, in the 1980s, when it became clear that BSE was a major issue, the Government acted too slowly and quite inadequately. We should remember that it was always understood from the very beginning that there was a possibility—albeit, as it was argued at times, a remote one—of a link between BSE in cattle and CJD in humans.

There were delays in implementing the regulations to protect human health, and when they were put in place, they were badly enforced. The Government have admitted that under-compensation in the 18 months between August 1988 and February 1990 for the slaughter of suspect cases of BSE will have deterred farmers from keeping out of the human food chain cattle that they suspected of having BSE. The Minister admitted that that under-compensation was contributory.

We also know that it took two years and seven months after BSE was officially identified before it was announced that steps would be taken to keep bovine specified material out of our food. Three years after BSE was identified—November 1989—the regulations were put in place in England and Wales. In January 1990, they came into force in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Concern was expressed at the time about the effectiveness with which the regulations were implemented.

Particular attention has rightly been focused on the fact that the ruminant feed ban put in place in 1988 was clearly not enforced. It is generally accepted that the sole cause—or at least the main cause—of BSE in our cattle was the eating of feed contaminated with ruminant protein. It has been admitted that the animals in this country continued to get contaminated feed. Indeed, the report of the Agra Europe meat conference 1996 states that Richard Cowan of the Ministry of Agriculture said on 8 October that lax controls over contaminated feed meant that it was not until 1 August this year—1 August this year—that the Government could be 100 per cent. confident that all stocks of contaminated feed and any risk of cross-contamination of feed had been entirely eliminated from our farms.

Over all these years, contaminated feed was continuing to reach our cattle. That is not unrelated to the Government's treatment of the state veterinary service over the years—the way in which it was run down, reorganised and totally demoralised.

Eight years after the ruminant feed ban was introduced, this has to be the overwhelming reason why more than 28,000 cases of BSE have been confirmed in cattle born after the feed ban and why two thirds of all new BSE cases now coming through are in animals born after the introduction of that ban.

On 20 March, the Secretary of State for Health reported to the House that Government scientists had advised Ministers that BSE was thought to be the most likely cause of the new variant of CJD. The Government were clearly unprepared for the impact of their announcement on consumers and thus on the industry. The Minister of Agriculture told the House: I do not believe that this information should damage consumer confidence and thus the beef market."—[Official Report, 20 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 387.] It was clear, and became clearer as the days, weeks and months passed, that the Government had no strategy to deal with the crisis. Our rural communities are still paying the price for that terrible misjudgment. The same confusion characterised the Government's handling of the issue with our European Union partners.

On 3 April the Government announced that all cattle over the age of 30 months were to be banned from human food. The Ministry of Agriculture press release of 16 April said that the slaughter programme would start on 29 April. By the end of May, the Government's 30-month slaughter programme had hardly started. Information from the Government to farmers was poor, confused and late and the slaughtering capacity was insufficient and poorly distributed. Widespread reports came through of dealers and abattoirs profiteering on the compulsory scheme, buying cattle from desperate farmers at knock-down prices. Abattoirs have been paid too much for too long.

Five months into the scheme, on 12 September, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announced that the Government did not know how many cattle were in the backlog to be slaughtered under the 30-month scheme. Only then did they embark on a survey to assess the size of the backlog. It was estimated at 400,000 animals. That figure has now been reduced. The Minister has confirmed today that the Government expect the backlog to be completed by mid-December.

Let us not forget—several hon. Members have focused attention on this—that a number of farmers have kept the animals on their farms since the over-30-month scheme came into operation in April. They now find their rate of compensation cut. The cost to those farmers of keeping the animals has been much greater than the cost to farmers who got their animals away early on in the scheme.

Hon. Members will recall that the Agriculture Council decided on 2 April that the United Kingdom should bring forward proposals for a selective slaughter scheme for the cattle most at risk of BSE.

First, the Minister proposed slaughtering around 42,000 cattle; that was in April. In May, the figure was increased to 80,000 cattle. It was then reduced again to 42,000, and finally, in June, at the Florence summit, the Prime Minister agreed that there would be a selective slaughter programme involving probably around 147,000 cattle.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) pointed out earlier this afternoon, the Prime Minister was keen to present the Florence agreement as a great victory—a great achievement for the British Government. The agreement is at the heart of the debate, and I will remind the House what the Prime Minister said. On 24 June, he said: We aim to be in a position to tell the Commission by October that we have met the necessary conditions for decisions to lift the ban on two of the five stages—that is, certified herds and animals born after a specified date and their meat. That is subject in particular to clearance of the backlog of animals awaiting slaughter in the 30-month-plus scheme, and a start to the accelerated slaughter of cattle particularly at risk of developing BSE. He went on to explain that removal of the ban would, in the first instance, enable us to allow the export of meat up to the value of £100 million. He then said: Also by October, I expect a Commission proposal on a third stage—embryos— subject to the scientists giving them a clean bill of health. The whole point was that the exports would build up, increasing rapidly thereafter as the certified herds scheme gains momentum."—[Official Report, 24 June 1996; Vol. 280, c. 21.] Indeed, on the very last day before the House broke up for the summer recess, the Minister of Agriculture stated, referring to the Florence agreement: The agreement was a great success, and provides a solid way forward. The framework also provides for the introduction by the United Kingdom of a programme for accelerating the decline of bovine spongiform encephalopathy."—[0fficial Report, 24 July 1996; Vol. 282, c. 369.] So what happened after the House went into recess at the end of July? First, we had the partial results of the experiment on maternal transmission; then we had the publication of the paper by Professor Roy Anderson and his colleagues at Oxford. Those developments made a case for redirecting the selective slaughter programme, and the Commission accepted that. The response to those developments should have been to maintain the momentum behind the Florence agreement by redirecting the selective slaughter programme, which, on the basis of the new information, could be more effective.

Let us be clear that the experiment has shown that there is no, or only slight, maternal transmission—that we can rule out maternal transmission on a major scale. The importance of the Roy Anderson paper was that it enabled the Government to redirect their selective slaughter programme more effectively. The Government were given good advice, on the basis of statistical analysis, on how, with a given kill rate, they could reduce the number of BSE cases by even more than was envisaged at the time of the Florence agreement.

I cannot accept that those developments justify what has happened since. The Government used those scientific developments to walk away from the Florence agreement. Let us be clear that the scientific developments meant that the agreement reached at Florence could be more effective. This afternoon, the Minister of Agriculture made great play of the fact that we would still be left with about two thirds of the BSE cases. If we implemented the selective slaughter programme, between now and 2001— when, we hope, very few BSE cases will be left—we could reduce the number of cases by about a third. Surely that is worth achieving.

The Commission always made it clear that it would judge the selective slaughter programme not on the number of cows killed, but on the likely reduction in the number of BSE cases. I put it fairly and squarely to the Minister: if it was right to agree in Florence in June to that selective slaughter programme, it cannot have been right to walk away from it in September, because the only developments that had taken place since were ones that were likely to make the programme more rather than less effective.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I think that the House would like an answer to this question. If the Government come forward with a selective cull programme involving all the 128,000 beasts referred to in the Florence agreement, will the Opposition support us, and will the hon. Gentleman give a guarantee to that effect?

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Dr Gavin Strang (Edinburgh East)

Of course. It would be nonsense for us to advocate that we would implement the Florence agreement and then vote against the means of doing so. Naturally, we would need to look at the details of the order, but we would not stand in the way of implementing the agreement.

The debate has revealed that all hon. Members representing all parts of the United Kingdom, even those who were initially against implementing the Florence agreement and the selective slaughter programme—and I can understand why—now support it. The Minister's intervention has confirmed that the House wants the selective slaughter programme to be implemented, and the only ones standing in its way and thus failing to honour the Florence agreement are the Government.

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Dr Gavin Strang (Edinburgh East)

My hon. Friend asks when the Government will bring in the order.

The Cabinet announced in September that they were suspending the selective slaughter programme. On 28 October, I heard the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster say on Radio 4: We accept the Florence agreement and we intend to comply with it. We intend to implement a selective cull programme once we are in a position to do so under a Union banner. I am not sure what he meant by that. Then, no fewer than five Ministers attended the Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

Since July, when it seemed that the Government were intent on implementing the selective slaughter programme, we have had the suspension of the selective slaughter programme, followed by an assurance from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that it would go ahead. Now we are no further forward. I defy any hon. Member to tell me whether the Government intend to implement the selective slaughter programme and honour their side of the Florence agreement. I appeal to the Minister to give us a clear statement on that when he replies to the debate, particularly in view of the overwhelming opinion of hon. Members that we should comply with the Florence agreement and implement the selective slaughter programme. Hon. Members will recall that the Opposition were less than enchanted with the Florence agreement. However, the Government insisted that the timetable was as solid as the Prime Minister described it and that our farmers and meat industry should accept it in good faith. Now we are nearly two weeks into November, and well past the Prime Minister's deadlines for lifting the ban, yet the beef export ban is still 100 per cent. in place and beef farmers have been given no idea about the Government's policy or when they can expect any progress to be made towards the lifting of the ban.

It is no wonder that our farmers are distraught, or that the National Farmers Union passed a vote of no confidence in the Minister and the National Farmers Union of Scotland called on the Prime Minister to take charge of policy on the beef crisis, which has now become a bumbling shambles. It is vital that the beef ban is lifted. Only the European Union can do that, and the Florence agreement is the only mechanism currently on the table.

[Interruption.] Attention has rightly been focused on Northern Ireland, where the beef industry is disproportionately more important. Farming is more important there, and exports are more important to the beef industry. Traditionally, more than half the beef produced in Northern Ireland is exported, and an additional quarter goes to mainland Britain. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is such despair in Northern Ireland.

The same is true of Scotland, where exports affect a large part of the beef industry, which is of particular importance to the Scottish economy. Given the low incidence of BSE in Northern Ireland and the exceptional cattle database operating there, it would make sense for Northern Ireland to lead the United Kingdom out of the beef ban. Right hon. and hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies will agree that any agreement that gave terms for lifting the export ban in Northern Ireland, but included conditions that meant that other parts of the United Kingdom, particularly Scotland, had no prospect of having the ban lifted in the short to medium term, would be unacceptable.

Obviously, the farming industry throughout Britain has accepted that, if we go ahead with the certified herds scheme, in the first instance the vast bulk of those certified herds will be in Northern Ireland. The debate has revealed not only the overwhelming support for implementing the Florence agreement, but the incredulity felt by all hon. Members—not just those representing Northern Ireland—when the Minister sought to explain to us that, after all these months, the Government have still not managed to submit the formal working document to the Commission as a basis for progress to be made and the decision to be taken to implement the certified herds scheme.

Let us be under no illusions. There is tremendous hardship and suffering in our farming industry. For example, people have invested a whole lifetime's work in building up a pedigree beef herd. It may be their livelihood and their investment, but it is also their lifetime's work. They have built a herd that has never had BSE and that is never likely to have BSE, yet they find that their lifetime's work and their livelihood have been put in jeopardy. Young farmers, perhaps, who borrowed money to move into a hill farm in the past few years and whose farms are heavily dependent on beef suckler herds, are on the verge of bankruptcy. Their businesses are on the verge of collapse through no fault of their own.

Hundreds of jobs have been lost in the industry. This morning, we had an excellent debate on the impact of the crisis on cattle head deboners. Tremendous strength of feeling and concern was demonstrated by hon. Members, who rightly argued the case for that industry which, overnight, was wiped out through no fault of its own. There can be no disagreement about the scale and the depth of the suffering in the industry as a result of what has happened. BSE is the biggest crisis to hit British agriculture this century.

The crisis has rightly been the preoccupation of hon. Members on both sides of the House. BSE was always going to cause the industry problems, but the Government's handling of the issue has compounded the problems, cost jobs and damaged livelihoods. It is right that the House of Commons should pass judgment on how the Government have handled the BSE crisis. We owe that to our constituents, to farmers and the industry. I urge hon. Members to vote for the Opposition motion.

9:41 pm
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Mr Tony Baldry (Banbury)

This has been a long six-hour debate, in which many constructive points have been raised. I intend to try to respond to them. I may, towards the end of my remarks, have some things to say about the Opposition and their approach, but in fairness to the farming community I should deal constructively with the constructive points that have been raised.

Since March, we have had only one duty—to seek to protect consumer health and confidence and to help the farming community and everybody associated with the beef industry. The over-30-month scheme sprang from that duty. Why did it come about? The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and others seem to be under some misunderstanding on that point. The scheme came about because SEAC recommended that all beef from cattle over 30 months should be deboned. Immediately, the supermarkets said that they would take no beef from cattle over 30 months, and that meant that there was no longer a market for that beef. The supermarkets and the farmers came to the Government and asked us to provide a scheme that took that beef out of the system and ensured compensation for the farmers. That we have done.

The scheme is a huge logistical exercise. Much of the beef would previously have gone into the food chain, and now all of it has to be rendered. There is a finite rendering capacity, and it was an enormous logistical exercise to bring together slaughterhouses, rendering capacity and refrigeration capacity. Inevitably, bringing on some of that refrigeration capacity took time, but I am fully confident that at no time could we have slaughtered any more animals than we have slaughtered. We have now slaughtered more than 870,000 animals. At the present rate, we are slaughtering them at the rate of more than 55,000 a week. Last week, nearly 60,000 animals were slaughtered.

People were rightly concerned about the backlog, so we introduced a registration scheme, which means that those who have registered will be given priority for their cattle to be slaughtered. I am confident that we will have cleared the backlog by Christmas. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) was correct to say that, of the 320,000 animals that have been registered, almost 100,000 have already been slaughtered. I was asked about the capacity of the scheme. Once the registered cattle have been slaughtered, there is more than adequate weekly capacity to deal with any animals that come forward from the over-30-month scheme. Once the backlog is cleared, those who are bringing cattle to be slaughtered under that scheme should have no difficulties.

It is right that the House should appreciate that, on the basis of past Intervention Board records, we had every reason to expect that we would have to deal with 1 million animals in 12 months. In fact, we will have dealt with 1 million animals in seven months. We owe a debt of thanks to officials, to the Intervention Board and to many throughout the industry who have worked extremely hard to tackle an enormous logistical exercise.

We have given considerable support to farmers: including £81 million in suckler cow and beef special premiums, £29 million for beef marketing payments schemes, £60 million for hill livestock compensatory allowances, a further £29 million for a second beef marketing payment scheme, and aid worth about £50 million which we intend to spend in ways of particular benefit to suckler producers.

We have given aid of up to £118 million to the rendering industry. Similarly, £110 million has been provided to the slaughtering industry to provide a breathing space during which companies can adjust to the new marketing circumstances.

We have appreciated the enormous difficulties that farmers have faced throughout all this. My right hon. and hon. Friends in MAFF, the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and the Northern Ireland Office have met farmers from throughout the country almost on a daily basis. I am grateful to the NFU for its fair acknowledgement in the briefing that it sent to hon. Members today. It said: on behalf of the farming community the NFU is grateful for the sympathy, substantial practical assistance and extensive public expenditure that has been devoted by Government to tackling this unprecedented crisis in British agriculture. That is a fair summary by the NFU. On behalf of all Ministers present, I should like to say thank you to the NFU for recognising what the Opposition were so curmudgeonly not to recognise—that throughout we have sought to act positively and constructively.

Photo of Mr Tony Baldry

Mr Tony Baldry (Banbury)

We have had a six-hour debate, in which a large number of points were made. I intend to try to reply to those points.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir J. Spicer) criticised the decision to reduce the cull cow compensation rate. Let me deal with that. Historically, the cull cow price is about two thirds of the clean beef price. By fixing and keeping the cull cow rate at 85p a kilo when the clean beef price was only 10p or so higher, we introduced economic incentives for farmers to hold on to cattle so that they qualified for the over-30-month scheme instead of selling their beasts at an earlier age for consumption. Moreover, we created the opportunity for farmers to reshape their herds using the over-30-month scheme as the means.

In addition, the rate of 85p a kilo was higher than the rate being paid in other member states for beef for the food chain. That was clearly untenable, particularly as 70 per cent. of the cost is funded by the Community. I do not blame farmers for doing what they did, but neither of those consequences was desirable or intended, and it was right that the rate was changed. I of course appreciate the concerns that, for those who had not managed to get their cattle through the OTMS, the change seemed unfair because it looked as if it was retrospective, but without a registration scheme there was nothing that we could do about it. We just could not continue as we were. I have to say to the House that, given the circumstances, I do not believe that we could ever get perfect equity. One cannot achieve perfect equity among all producers.

My hon. Friends have raised concerns about particular groups. We had a debate this morning on head deboners. I told my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and others who took part in that debate that I was more than willing to meet representatives of the head deboning industry to hear at first hand their concerns.

I am also aware that some of my hon. Friends have been concerned that certain abattoirs have not yet been able to participate in culling cattle as part of the over-30-month scheme. The present agreements with the slaughterers expire on 31 March next year. By early December, the Intervention Board will invite expressions of interest from the industry in participating in the continuing cull after 31 March.

The debate has, understandably, moved on to a debate in large part on the selective cull. I think that all my hon. Friends will agree that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister achieved a good outcome at Florence in that he succeeded in achieving an agreed process with our European colleagues which until that time they had not agreed.

During the summer, we reconsidered our position on the selective cull for reasons that I shall explain to the House in more detail. I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have been interested to hear the comments of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. If orders are brought to the House, I am sure that we can look forward to their full support in introducing the necessary statutory instruments for a cull. That is the first time today that such an offer appears to have been forthcoming.

Before the summer, there was considerable opposition from farming unions to a selective cull. We all remember stories about farmers at their farm gates with shotguns, and there was scant support from Opposition parties for such a cull. In fairness, the position of the farming unions turned around completely during the summer, and they are now broadly in support of some kind of cull. In May, the NFU told us: The NFU could not, however, support any culling scheme that was not linked to a clear framework for a progressive and rapid lifting of the export ban". Just before the House rose in July, the NFU said that it believed that an additional slaughter programme is unjustified on scientific grounds". As recently as 11 September, the Country Landowners Association said that it continues to be against the Government's present policy on the Accelerated Slaughter Scheme. There has now been something of a change in the NFU and the CLA, and that has been reflected in the farming unions elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The NFU briefing for this debate said: It is essential that there is a UK-wide selective cull". I emphasise that, and I hope that those hon. Members who have not taken part in this debate, or who have been unable to attend all of it, will read Hansard tomorrow. There have been many expressions of a desire to get on with a selective cull, but there have been almost as many variants of how that cull should best be taken forward. The NFU is now saying that there should be a UK-wide selective cull to ensure that farmers in different regions of the UK are not disadvantaged …; the only prospect of obtaining an early lifting of the export ban is for the British Government to carry out what it committed itself to doing in Florence this summer.

Photo of Mr Tony Baldry

Mr Tony Baldry (Banbury)

No. The hon. Gentleman has made his speech, and I am seeking to respond to some important points.

The CLA has now changed its tune: The Government must review its original proposals for a selective cull in the light of developments since they were first developed and communicate its findings to the EU Commission. We have not walked away from a selective cull. Instead, there has been a complete turnround in the attitude of the farming unions, and a number of other matters have changed in important ways.

First, Professor Anderson and his team published their findings in Nature in August which indicated that the epidemic will virtually die out around 2001, irrespective of any further measures, that the targeting in the original selective cull proposals could be improved and that there might be other possible approaches. We also received the preliminary results from the Government's maternal transmission experiment, one interpretation of which could indicate an element of transmission of BSE from dam to calf.

It was clear that further work on culling options was needed, and we made it clear in the late summer that we were not proceeding for the moment with the selective cull as set out in the UK's eradication programme. It was never ruled out, and we have studied the scientific evidence in consultation with our European partners. We have never ruled out the possibility of moving forward on some form of selective cull, and there are strong arguments in favour of it. A sharper reduction in the number of BSE cases in the next few years will help to give consumers extra reassurance and steady markets both here and abroad.

It is important to state that even those who want a selective cull have also made clear that it is worth moving towards such a cull only if we can be sure that it will result in the lifting of the export ban. I believe that that is the position of the NFU; I am sure that it would support such a cull if we could guarantee that the export ban would be lifted. We will be looking for the unequivocal support of our European Union colleagues in this. When we have fulfilled our part of the bargain, they must fulfil theirs.

As was made clear by my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for North Norfolk (Sir R. Howell), a former Agriculture Minister, we need to be sure that the Commission will honour its side of the agreement if we go ahead with a selective cull, but as other hon. Members have already made clear, the precedent on gelatine is not reassuring. We met the criteria for the export of gelatine some time ago, and we are still having problems, with practically all our European Union colleagues finding ways of not honouring their undertaking. No hon. Member will want us to proceed with a selective cull unless we can be sure that the export ban will be lifted.

Photo of Mr Tony Baldry

Mr Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Of course, we understand and appreciate the situation in Northern Ireland. If a selective cull goes ahead, those in Northern Ireland are in a good position for an early start, simply because of traceability and certified herds. I am sure, however, that Northern Ireland Members will appreciate the concern of hon. Members from Scotland, England and Wales, that if a process starts in Northern Ireland it should not be to the exclusion of other parts of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr William Ross

Mr William Ross (East Londonderry)

Nobody from Northern Ireland has ever asked that other areas of the United Kingdom be excluded or disadvantaged in any way, but we want the Government to use the position on Northern Ireland as a test of Europe's good faith to see whether it will go along with what they signed up to.

Photo of Mr Tony Baldry

Mr Tony Baldry (Banbury)

We understand that position, but the hon. Gentleman must understand that the farming industry in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom would be extremely frustrated if we were to start and complete a selective cull throughout the United Kingdom with no guarantee or reasonable expectation that the export ban would be lifted.

The Labour party has come somewhat late to this issue, and Labour Members have been noticeable by their absence in most previous debates on BSE. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] A handful of them have attended each debate, and it is significant that today's had to be opened by their foreign affairs spokesman, whose presence in the Chamber was notable only for its short duration.

From the beginning, Labour has treated the beef crisis as a political opportunity. It has deliberately ignored the science, and says that we have reneged on Florence, which is complete nonsense. We have taken account of the important new scientific evidence on maternal transmission and of Professor Anderson's work on the selective cull; Labour knows that, but it seeks to make political capital out of it.

Labour Members attacked our non-co-operation policy, which produced the Florence deal; now they say that we have abandoned Florence. All that gets picked up by European colleagues and confuses our message. Labour's party politicking is frustrating our efforts to lift the ban. Back in June, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) promised to help; we have had scant help since then. In June, he said that the Florence deal was not a victory for the Prime Minister, and he described it as a massive climbdown, yet today he insists that we implement the whole deal, regardless of new evidence and of whether we will succeed in getting the ban lifted. Today is the first time that any Opposition Member has voiced any support for the selective cull. Opposition spokesmen have demonstrated scant leadership, because throughout the summer they listened to the farming unions and, now that the farming unions have changed their view, they are saying that they would support the Government if we introduced measures for a selective cull. We have taken note of that, and we will take note of everything else that has been said during today's debate. I hope that Conservative Members will recognise the motion for the opportunist rubbish that it is and will support the Government's amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 302, Noes 303.

Division No. 13][10 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeClelland, David
Adams, Mrs IreneClwyd, Mrs Ann
Ainger, NickCoffey, Ms Ann
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Cohen, Harry
Allen, GrahamConnarty, Michael
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCorbett, Robin
Ashdown, PaddyCorbyn, Jeremy
Ashton, JosephCousins, Jim
Austin-Walker, JohnCox, Tom
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Cummings, John
Barnes, HarryCunliffe, Lawrence
Barron, KevinCunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE)
Battle, JohnCunningham, Dr John
Bayley, HughCunningham, Ms R (Perth Kinross)
Beckett, Mrs MargaretDafis, Cynog
Beggs, RoyDalyell, Tam
Beith, A JDarling, Alistair
Bell, StuartDavidson, Ian
Benn, TonyDavies, Bryan (Oldham C)
Bennett, Andrew FDavies, Denzil (Llanelli)
Benton, JoeDavies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bermingham, GeraldDenham, John
Berry, RogerDewar, Donald
Betts, CliveDixon, Don
Blair, TonyDobson, Frank
Blunkett, DavidDonohoe, Brian H
Boateng, PaulDowd, Jim
Boyes, RolandDunnachie, Jimmy
Bradley, KeithDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bray, Dr JeremyEagle, Ms Angela
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)Eastham, Ken
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Etherington, Bill
Burden, RichardEvans, John (St Helens N)
Byers, StephenEwing, Mrs Margaret
Caborn, RichardFatchett, Derek
Callaghan, JimFaulds, Andrew
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Fisher, Mark
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Flynn, Paul
Campbell-Savours, D NForsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Cann, JamieFoster, Derek
Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)Foster, Don (Bath)
Chidgey, DavidFoulkes, George
Chisholm, MalcolmFraser, John
Church, Ms JudithFyfe, Mrs Maria
Clapham, MichaelGalbraith, Sam
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Galloway, George
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Gapes, Mike
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Garrett, John
George, BruceMcKelvey, William
Gerrard, NeilMackinlay, Andrew
Gilbert, Dr JohnMcLeish, Henry
Godman, Dr Norman AMcMaster, Gordon
Godsiff, RogerMcNamara, Kevin
Golding, Mrs LlinMacShane, Denis
Gordon, Ms MildredMcWilliam, John
Graham, ThomasMadden, Max
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Maddock, Mrs Diana
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Maginnis, Ken
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Mahon, Mrs Alice
Grocott, BruceMallon, Seamus
Gunnell, JohnMandelson, Peter
Hain, PeterMarek, Dr John
Hall, MikeMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, DavidMartin, Michael J (Springburn)
Hardy, PeterMartlew, Eric
Harman, Ms HarrietMaxton, John
Harvey, NickMeacher, Michael
Hattersley, RoyMeale, Alan
Henderson, DougMichael, Alun
Hendron, Dr JoeMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Heppell, JohnMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Milburn, Alan
Hinchliffe, DavidMiller, Andrew
Hodge, Ms MargaretMitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hoey, Miss KateMolyneaux, Sir James
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Home Robertson, JohnMorgan, Rhodri
Hood, JimmyMorley, Elliot
Hoon, GeoffreyMorris, Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Howarth, Alan (Stratgf'd-on-A)Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Morris, John (Aberavon)
Howells, Dr KimMowlam, Ms Marjorie
Hoyle, DougMudie, George
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Mullin, Chris
Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)Murphy, Paul
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Nicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Oakes, Gordon
Hume, JohnO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hutton, JohnO'Brien, William (Normanton)
Illsley, EricOlner, Bill
Ingram, AdamO'Neill, Martin
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)Orme, Stanley
Janner, GrevillePaisley, Rev Ian
Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs)Parry, Robert
Johnston, Sir RussellPearson, Ian
Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side)Pendry, Tom
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak)Pike, Peter L
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW)Powell, Sir Raymond (Ogmore)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)
Jowell, Ms TessaPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kaufman, GeraldPrescott, John
Keen, AlanPrimarolo, Ms Dawn
Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S)Purchase, Ken
Kennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen)Quin, Ms Joyce
Khabra, Piara SRadice, Giles
Kilfoyle, PeterRandall, Stuart
Kirkwood, ArchyRaynsford, Nick
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)Reid, Dr John
Lewis, TerryRendel, David
Liddell, Mrs HelenRobertson, George (Hamilton)
Litherland, RobertRobinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Livingstone, KenRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretf'd)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Llwyd, ElfynRogers, Allan
Loyden, EddieRooker, Jeff
Lynne, Ms LizRooney, Terry
McAllion, JohnRoss, William (E Lond'y)
McAvoy, ThomasRowlands, Ted
McCartney, Ian (Makerf'ld)Ruddock, Ms Joan
McCartney, Robert (N Down)Salmond, Alex
McCrea, Rev WilliamSedgemore, Brian
Macdonald, CalumSheerman, Barry
McFall, JohnSheldon, Robert
Shore, PeterTrickett, Jon
Short, Ms ClareTrimble, David
Simpson, AlanTyler, Paul
Skinner, DennisVaz, Keith
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Walker, A Cecil (Belfast N)
Smith, Chris (Islington S)Walker, Sir Harold
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Wallace, James
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)Walley, Ms Joan
Snape, PeterWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Soley, CliveWareing, Robert N
Spearing, NigelWatson, Mike
Spellar, JohnWelsh, Andrew
Steel, Sir DavidWicks, Malcolm
Stevenson, GeorgeWilliams, Alan (Swansea W)
Stott, RogerWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Strang, Dr GavinWilson, Brian
Straw, JackWinnick, David
Sutcliffe, GerryWise, Mrs Audrey
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)Worthington, Tony
Taylor, John D (Strangf'd)Wray, Jimmy
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Wright, Dr Tony
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)Young, David (Bolton SE)
Thurnham, Peter
Timms, StephenTellers for the Ayes:
Tipping, PaddyMr. Jon Owen Jones and
Touhig, DonMr. Dennis Turner.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)
Aitken, JonathanCarrington, Matthew
Alexander, RichardCarttiss, Michael
Alison, Michael (Selby)Cash, William
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Channon, Paul
Amess, DavidChapman, Sir Sydney
Ancram, MichaelChurchill, Mr
Arbuthnot, JamesClappison, James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)
Arnold, Sir Thomas(Hazel G)Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Ashby, DavidClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Aspinwall, JackCoe, Sebastian
Atkins, RobertColvin, Michael
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Congdon, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Conway, Derek
Baker, Kenneth (Mole V)Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Baldry, TonyCope, Sir John
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Cormack, Sir Patrick
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Currie, Mrs Edwina
Batiste, SpencerCurry, David
Bellingham, HenryDavies, Quentin (Stamf'd)
Bendall, VivianDavis, David (Boothferry)
Beresford, Sir PaulDay, Stephen
Biffen, JohnDeva, Nirj Joseph
Body, Sir RichardDevlin, Tim
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDicks, Terry
Booth, HartleyDorrell, Stephen
Boswell, TimDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Dover, Den
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaDuncan, Alan
Bowden, Sir AndrewDuncan Smith, Iain
Bowis, JohnDunn, Bob
Boyson, Sir RhodesDykes, Hugh
Brandreth, GylesEggar, Tim
Brazier, JulianElletson, Harold
Bright, Sir GrahamEmery, Sir Peter
Brooke, PeterEvans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Browning, Mrs AngelaEvans, Nigel (Ribble V)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Budgen, NicholasEvennett, David
Burns, SimonFaber, David
Burt, AlistairFabricant, Michael
Butcher, JohnFenner, Dame Peggy
Butler, PeterField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Butterfill, JohnForman, Nigel
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Forth, EricLidington, David
Fowler, Sir NormanLilley, Peter
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)Lloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Lord, Michael
Freeman, RogerLuff, Peter
French, DouglasLyell, Sir Nicholas
Fry, Sir PeterMacGregor, John
Gale, RogerMacKay, Andrew
Gallie, PhilMaclean, David
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMcLoughlin, Patrick
Garel-Jones, TristanMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Garnier, EdwardMadel, Sir David
Gill, ChristopherMaitland, Lady Olga
Gillan, Mrs CherylMajor, John
Goodlad, AlastairMalone, Gerald
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMans, Keith
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMarland, Paul
Gorst, Sir JohnMarlow, Tony
Grant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grylls, Sir MichaelMates, Michael
Hague, WilliamMawhinney, Dr Brian
Hamilton, Sir ArchibaldMayhew, Sir Patrick
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Mellor, David
Hampson, Dr KeithMerchant, Piers
Hanley, JeremyMills, Iain
Harris, DavidMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Haselhurst, Sir AlanMitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hawkins, NickMoate, Sir Roger
Hawksley, WarrenMonro, Sir Hector
Hayes, JerryMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Heald, OliverMoss, Malcolm
Heath, Sir EdwardNeedham, Richard
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidNelson, Anthony
Hendry, CharlesNeubert, Sir Michael
Heseltine, MichaelNewton, Tony
Hicks, Sir RobertNicholls, Patrick
Higgins, Sir TerenceNorris, Steve
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)Onslow, Sir Cranley
Hogg, Douglas (Grantham)Oppenheim, Phillip
Horam, JohnPage, Richard
Hordem, Sir PeterPaice, James
Howard, MichaelPatnick, Sir Irvine
Howell, David (Guildf'd)Patten, John
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Pattie, Sir Geoffrey
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Pawsey, James
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunter, AndrewPickles, Eric
Hurd, DouglasPortillo, Michael
Jack, MichaelPowell, William (Corby)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Rathbone, Tim
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)Redwood, John
Jessel, TobyRichards, Rod
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRifkind, Malcolm
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Robathan, Andrew
Jones, Robert B (W Herts)Roberts, Sir Wyn
Jopling, MichaelRobertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Key, RobertRoe, Mrs Marion
King, TomRowe, Andrew
Kirkhope, TimothyRumbold, Dame Angela
Knapman, RogerSackville, Tom
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Sainsbury, Sir Timothy
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Scott, Sir Nicholas
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Shaw, David (Dover)
Knox, Sir DavidShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kynoch, GeorgeShephard, Mrs Gillian
Lait, Mrs JacquiShepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)
Lamont, NormanShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lang, IanShersby, Sir Michael
Lawrence, Sir IvanSims, Sir Roger
Legg, BarrySkeet, Sir Trevor
Leigh, EdwardSmith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir MarkSoames, Nicholas
Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)Speed, Sir Keith
Spencer, Sir DerekTrotter, Neville
Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)Twinn, Dr Ian
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Spink, Dr RobertViggers, Peter
Spring, RichardWaldegrave, William
Sproat, IainWalden, George
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Stanley, Sir JohnWaller, Gary
Steen, AnthonyWard, John
Stephen, MichaelWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Stern, MichaelWaterson, Nigel
Stewart, AllanWatts, John
Streeter, GaryWells, Bowen
Sumberg, DavidWheeler, Sir John
Sweeney, WalterWhitney, Ray
Sykes, JohnWhittingdale, John
Tapsell, Sir PeterWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Taylor, Ian (Esher)Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Wilkinson, John
Taylor, Sir TeddyWilletts, David
Temple-Morris, PeterWilshire, David
Thomason, RoyWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)Wolfson, Mark
Townend, John (Bridlington)Yeo, Tim
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)Young, Sir George
Tracey, RichardTellers for the Noes:
Tredinnick, DavidMr. Timothy Wood and
Trend, MichaelMr. Richard Ottaway.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 303, Noes 302.

Division No. 14][10.15 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Brandreth, Gyles
Aitken, JonathanBrazier, Julian
Alexander, RichardBright, Sir Graham
Alison, Michael (Selby)Brooke, Peter
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)
Amess, DavidBrowning, Mrs Angela
Ancram, MichaelBruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Arbuthnot, JamesBudgen, Nicholas
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Burns, Simon
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel G)Burt, Alistair
Ashby, DavidButcher, John
Aspinwall, JackButler, Peter
Atkins, RobertButterfill, John
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)
Baker, Kenneth (Mole V)Carrington, Matthew
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Carttiss, Michael
Baldry, TonyCash, William
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Channon, Paul
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Chapman, Sir Sydney
Batiste, SpencerChurchill, Mr
Bellingham, HenryClappison, James
Bendall, VivianClark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)
Beresford, Sir PaulClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Biffen, JohnClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Body, Sir RichardCoe, Sebastian
Bonsor, Sir NicholasColvin, Michael
Booth, HartleyCongdon, David
Boswell, TimConway, Derek
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Bowden, Sir AndrewCope, Sir John
Bowis, JohnCormack, Sir Patrick
Boyson, Sir RhodesCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Curry, DavidHunter, Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)Hurd, Douglas
Davis, David (Boothferry)Jack, Michael
Day, StephenJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Deva, Nirj JosephJenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)
Devlin, TimJessel, Toby
Dicks, TerryJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, StephenJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJones, Robert B (W Herts)
Dover, DenJopling, Michael
Duncan, AlanKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Duncan Smith, IainKey, Robert
Dunn, BobKing, Tom
Dykes, HughKirkhope, Timothy
Eggar, TimKnapman, Roger
Elletson, HaroldKnight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Emery, Sir PeterKnight, Greg (Derby N)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Knox, Sir David
Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)Kynoch, George
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evennett, DavidLamont, Norman
Faber, DavidLang, Ian
Fabricant, MichaelLawrence, Sir Ivan
Fenner, Dame PeggyLegg, Barry
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Leigh, Edward
Forman, NigelLennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)
Forth, EricLidington, David
Fowler, Sir NormanLilley, Peter
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)Lloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Lord, Michael
Freeman, RogerLuff, Peter
French, DouglasLyell, Sir Nicholas
Fry, Sir PeterMacGregor, John
Gale, RogerMackay, Andrew
Gallie, PhilMaclean, David
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMcLoughlin, Patrick
Garel-Jones, TristanMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Garnier, EdwardMadel, Sir David
Gill, ChristopherMaitland, Lady Olga
Gillan, Mrs CherylMajor, John
Goodlad, AlastairMalone, Gerald
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMans, Keith
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMarland, Paul
Gorst, Sir JohnMarlow, Tony
Grant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grylls, Sir MichaelMates, Michael
Hague, WilliamMawhinney, Dr Brian
Hamilton, Sir ArchibaldMayhew, Sir Patrick
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Mellor, David
Hampson, Dr KeihMerchant, Piers
Hanley, JeremyMills, Iain
Harris, DavidMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Haselhurst, Sir AlanMitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hawkins, NickMoate, Sir Roger
Hawksley, WarrenMonro, Sir Hector
Hayes, JerryMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Heald, OliverMoss, Malcolm
Heath, Sir EdwardNeedham, Richard
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidNelson, Anthony
Hendry, CharlesNeubert, Sir Michael
Heseltine, MichaelNewton, Tony
Hicks, Sir RobertNicholls, Patrick
Higgins, Sir TerenceNorris, Steve
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)Onslow, Sir Cranley
Hogg, Douglas (Grantham)Oppenheim, Phillip
Horam, JohnPage, Richard
Hordern, Sir PeterPaice, James
Howard, MichaelPatnick, Sir Irvine
Howell, David (Guildf'd)Patten, John
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Pattie, Sir Geoffrey
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Pawsey, James
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Pickles, EricSykes, John
Portillo, MichaelTapsell, Sir Peter
Powell, William (Corby)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Rathbone, TimTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Redwood, JohnTaylor, Sir Teddy
Richards, RodTemple-Morris, Peter
Rifkind, MalcolmThomason, Roy
Robathan, AndrewThompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Roberts, Sir WynThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Roe, Mrs MarionTracey, Richard
Rowe, AndrewTredinnick, David
Rumbold, Dame AngelaTrend, Michael
Sackville, TomTrotter, Neville
Sainsbury, Sir TimothyTwinn, Dr Ian
Scott, Sir NicholasVaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, David (Dover)Viggers, Peter
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Waldegrave, William
Shephard, Mrs GillianWalden, George
Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Waller, Gary
Shersby, Sir MichaelWard, John
Sims, Sir RogerWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Skeet, Sir TrevorWaterson, Nigel
Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)Watts, John
Soames, NicholasWells, Bowen
Speed, Sir KeithWheeler, Sir John
Spencer, Sir DerekWhitney, Ray
Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)Whittingdale, John
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Spink, Dr RobertWiggin, Sir Jerry
Spring, RichardWilkinson, John
Sproat, IainWilletts, David
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)Wilshire, David
Stanley, Sir JohnWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Steen, AnthonyWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Stephen, MichaelWolfson, Mark
Stern, MichaelYeo, Tim
Stewart, AllanYoung, Sir George
Streeter, GaryTellers for the Ayes:
Sumberg, DavidMr. Timothy Wood and
Sweeney, WalterMr. Richard Ottaway,
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeBradley, Keith
Adams, Mrs IreneBray, Dr Jeremy
Ainger, NickBrown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Allen, GrahamBurden, Richard
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Byers, Stephen
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Caborn, Richard
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCallaghan, Jim
Ashdown, PaddyCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ashton, JosephCampbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Austin-Walker, JohnCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Campbell-Savours, D N
Barnes, HarryCann, Jamie
Barron, KevinCarlile, Alex (Montgomery)
Battle, JohnChidgey, David
Bayley, HughChisholm, Malcolm
Beckett, Mrs MargaretChurch, Ms Judith
Beggs, RoyClapham, Michael
Beith, A JClark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bell, StuartClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Benn, TonyClarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bennett, Andrew FClelland, David
Benton, JoeClwyd, Mrs Ann
Bermingham, GeraldCoffey, Ms Ann
Berry, RogerCohen, Harry
Betts, CliveConnarty, Michael
Blair, TonyCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Blunkett, DavidCook, Robin (Livingston)
Boateng, PaulCorbett, Robin
Boyes, RolandCorbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, JimHoyle, Doug
Cox, TomHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cummings, JohnHughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)
Cunliffe, LawrenceHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cunningham, Dr JohnHume, John
Cunningham, Ms R (Perth Kinross)Hutton, John
Dafis, CynogIllsley, Eric
Dalyell, TamIngram, Adam
Darling, AlistairJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)
Davidson, IanJanner, Greville
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C)Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Johnston, Sir Russell
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side)
Denham, JohnJones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Dewar, DonaldJones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak)
Dixon, DonJones, Martyn (Clwyd SW)
Dobson, FrankJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Donohoe, Brian HJowell, Ms Tessa
Dowd, JimKaufman, Gerald
Dunnachie, JimmyKeen, Alan
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKennedy, Charles (Ross C & S)
Eagle, Ms AngelaKennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen)
Eastham, KenKhabra, Piara S
Etherington, BillKilfoyle, Peter
Evans, John (St Helens N)Kirkwood, Archy
Ewing, Mrs MargaretLestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)
Fatchett, DerekLewis, Terry
Faulds, AndrewLiddell, Mrs Helen
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Litherland, Robert
Fisher, MarkLivingstone, Ken
Flynn, PaulLloyd, Tony (Stretf'd)
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)Llwyd, Elfyn
Foster, DerekLoyden, Eddie
Foster, Don (Bath)Lynne, Ms Liz
Foulkes, GeorgeMcAllion, John
Fraser, JohnMcAvoy, Thomas
Fyfe, Mrs MariaMcCartney, Ian (Makerf'ld)
Galbraith, SamMcCartney, Robert (N Down)
Galloway, GeorgeMcCrea, Rev William
Gapes, MikeMacdonald, Calum
Garrett, JohnMcFall, John
George, BruceMcKelvey, William
Gerrard, NeilMackinlay, Andrew
Gilbert, Dr JohnMcLeish, Henry
Godman, Dr Norman AMcMaster, Gordon
Godsiff, RogerMcNamara, Kevin
Golding, Mrs LlinMacShane, Denis
Gordon, Ms MildredMcWilliam, John
Graham, ThomasMadden, Max
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Maddock, Mrs Diana
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Maginnis, Ken
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Mahon, Mrs Alice
Grocott, BruceMallon, Seamus
Gunnell, JohnMendelson, Peter
Hain, PeterMarek, Dr John
Hall, MikeMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, DavidMartin, Michael J (Springburn)
Hardy, PeterMartlew, Eric
Harman, Ms HarrietMaxton, John
Harvey, NickMeacher, Michael
Hattersley, RoyMeale, Alan
Henderson, DougMichael, Alun
Hendron, Dr JoeMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Heppell, JohnMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Milburn, Alan
Hinchliffe, DavidMiller, Andrew
Hodge, Ms MargaretMitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hoey, Miss KateMolyneaux, Sir James
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Home Robertson, JohnMorgan, Rhodri
Hood, JimmyMorley, Elliot
Hoon, GeoffreyMorris, Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Morris, John (Aberavon)
Howells, Dr KimMowlam, Ms Marjorie
Mudie, GeorgeSmith, Chris (Islington S)
Mullin, ChrisSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Murphy, PaulSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Nicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)Snape, Peter
Oakes, GordonSoley, Clive
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Spearing, Nigel
O'Brien, William (Normanton)Spellar, John
Olner, BillSteel, Sir David
O'Neill, MartinStevenson, George
Orme, StanleyStott, Roger
Paisley, Rev IanStrang, Dr Gavin
Parry, RobertStraw, Jack
Pearson, IanSutcliffe, Gerry
Pendry, TomTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pickthall, ColinTaylor, John D (Strangf'd)
Pike, Peter LTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Powell, Sir Raymond (Ogmore)Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)Thurnham, Peter
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Timms, Stephen
Prescott, JohnTipping, Paddy
Primarolo, Ms DawnTouhig, Don
Purchase, KenTrickett, Jon
Quin, Ms JoyceTrimble, David
Radice, GilesTyler, Paul
Randall, StuartVaz, Keith
Raynsford, NickWalker, A Cecil (Belfast N)
Reid, Dr JohnWalker, Sir Harold
Rendel, DavidWallace, James
Robertson, George (Hamilton)Walley, Ms Joan
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)Wareing, Robert N
Roche, Mrs BarbaraWatson, Mike
Rogers, AllanWelsh, Andrew
Rooker, JeffWicks, Malcolm
Rooney, TerryWilliams, Alan (Swansea W)
Ross, William (E Lond'y)Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Rowlands, TedWilson, Brian
Ruddock, Ms JoanWinnick, David
Salmond, AlenWise, Mrs Audrey
Sedgemore, BrianWorthington, Tony
Sheerman, BarryWray, Jimmy
Sheldon, RobertWright, Dr Tony
Shore, PeterYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Short, Ms Clare
Simpson, AlanTellers for the Noes:
Skinner, DennisMr. Jon Owen Jones and
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Mr. Dennis Turner.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MADAM SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House congratulates the Government on the action it has taken to deal with the BSE crisis which has led to the restoration of consumer confidence; welcomes the package of support the Government has provided to the beef industry; notes the significant improvement in the measures to deal with the disposal of animals over 30 months of age and the progress made towards meeting the criteria set out in the agreement for lifting the European ban on British beef; and urges the Labour Party to drop its cynical political opportunism at the expense of many who depend on this important industry.