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Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:55 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall 4:55 pm, 25th June 1996

We all want to get the rid of the export ban and of BSE. My point is that the timetable that the Prime Minister said was his objective in introducing non-co-operative tactics is non-existent. There is no timetable yet, as Conservative Members know. The failures of MAFF policy and practice in the first 12 weeks of the crisis, at home and abroad, left the British team in an impossibly weak position in Florence.

The Prime Minister boldly promised the House on 21 May that his obstructive non-co-operation campaign would continue until we have agreement on lifting the ban on beef derivatives". We do not have that in place. He said that there must be a clear framework in place leading to lifting of the wider ban."— [Official Report, 21 May 1996; Vol. 278, c. 100.] We do not have that at all. Both the explicit objectives given as the reasons for declaring war have failed. The Prime Minister cannot claim to have achieved either and, indeed, did not attempt to claim that yesterday. What he claimed was that the British Government would meet all the necessary deadlines in the autumn. He has failed to meet any of the declared deadlines so far. Conservative Members may remember the prevarication on introducing the cull, which was put off on several occasions. Long delays took place. Surely that promise was foolhardy in itself.

What of the claim by the Prime Minister yesterday that the whole cull backlog would be cleared by the autumn, making progress through the myriad of EU committees possible? The present cull scheme is due to end on 31 October, but the NFU foresees little chance of catching up with the existing backlog until well after that date. Then, of course, the older cattle will have to take their turn behind the queue that is forming from the new post-Florence so-called selective cull. On present throughput, the end of the year may be a more realistic estimate, if all goes well. I shall come back to that in a moment. The cull could go well into next year.

I note that other hon. Members spotted other flaws in the Prime Minister's statement yesterday. For example, the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson)—I know that he cannot be here, but I mentioned to him that I would express my approval of the point that he made—is reported in the Western Morning News this morning as warning: the ban on exports outside Europe should be lifted by the end of July, otherwise 'all those fine words from Florence' would seem worthless. I suspect that other Conservative Members will take that view, but it is highly unlikely that it will be lifted by the end of July.

Commissioner Fischler told us last week when we met him: the Commission could not sanction the dumping on other countries of food which was not approved for eating in Europe. That was an explicit statement by the Commissioner. As Conservative Members are fully aware, part of the process to which the Prime Minister signed up is that the Commission should have the last word on the subject. The Prime Minister failed to reassure anyone yesterday on that point. His statement was a string of phrases such as, "We aim to be in a position", "I expect a Commission proposal" and "I believe that we should have met the conditions". In short, he displayed again a totally unwarranted triumph of hope over experience.