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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

The hon. Gentleman is clearly out of touch with what is happening in the rural areas of Britain. I am coming directly to the answer to his point. The clear evidence which we are putting before the House, and which the industry has put before Members of Parliament for the past 13 weeks, is that the Government's mismanagement of the crisis at home and abroad has made a bad situation worse. Members of Parliament are entitled to hold the Government accountable for what has happened. That is our job as Members of Parliament, and it is the job of Conservative Members as Members of Parliament, too.

It is clear from the contacts that many of us from all parties have had that if the Government had come forward with a realistic proposal at an earlier stage, we could have avoided much of this most difficult situation that has arisen. I know that from my meetings with Ministry officials, officials from other member states and Commission officials way back in April.

Eight weeks ago, and five weeks after the Minister's statement here in the House of Commons, the Commission had still not received any hard proposals whatever from the United Kingdom Government. Commission officials were not antagonistic to Britain, as we now know. They were simply frustrated by the total lack of information and of an opportunity to discuss solutions. They were as frustrated as we were that suggestions made by others outside government were brushed aside. That situation continued for weeks. There were no hard proposals from London.

Mr. Fischler and his team, quite apart from the Government's allies in Bonn and Paris—Conservative Governments now, so no excuses—could rely only on reports of increasing chaos as the 30-month cattle cull was so badly mismanaged in Britain. Indeed, the full MAFF plan—all 171 pages of it—entitled "Programme to eradicate BSE in the United Kingdom" was published and submitted to the Commission and other EU member states only on 31 May. That was 10 weeks after the crisis erupted and 10 days after the Prime Minister declared a policy of non-co-operation. Was it surprising that it was not well received?

When I was in Strasbourg last week, the Commission presented its position paper to the European Parliament. I had private meetings that day with the Italian Foreign Minister, who was then preparing the agenda for the Florence summit, and with Commissioner Fischler. We were left in no doubt that the United Kingdom Ministers' policy of non-co-operation had delayed the solution of the export ban, and that a more positive step-by-step proposal at an earlier stage could have removed the issue from the political arena and kept it at a scientific and medical level.