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Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:29 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 5:29 pm, 25th June 1996

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'congratulates the Government on securing a clear framework for the lifting of the European ban on British beef; welcomes the package of support the Government has provided to the beef industry over the last three months; and urges the Liberal Democrat Party to work with the Government to restore confidence in British beef instead of carping and criticising from the sidelines.'. I believe that the debate is a disgrace. The Liberal Democrats—particularly the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)—have dragged proceedings in the House to a new low. We have just heard a self-serving, self-seeking, sanctimonious and tawdry little speech. Let us be clear about what is happening today: the Liberal Democrats have used their Supply day to debate the conduct of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, knowing full well that he could not be here to defend his reputation.

My right hon. and learned Friend is not here because he is in Luxembourg attending the most important Agriculture Council meeting of the year. He is negotiating the common agricultural policy price fixing and working to get the best deal for British farmers, including specialist beef producers. If the hon. Member for North Cornwall had been out and about talking to as many farmers as me, he would be aware that specialist beef producers want not sanctimonious speeches in this place but action. That is what they will get in Luxembourg.

What are the grounds for the hon. Gentleman's attacks on my right hon. and learned Friend? Are they that he is a dishonourable man? Most of us know that my right hon. and learned Friend is one of the most honourable and decent Members of the House. Throughout the crisis, he has remained above personal attacks and mudslinging. He has worked flat out for three months to try to resolve the crisis and to secure a future for our beef industry.

Perhaps the hon. Member for North Cornwall believes that my right hon. and learned Friend concealed vital information from the public or from the House. No: my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health came to the House with new scientific advice about bovine spongiform encephalopathy within hours of receiving it from the spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee. In the latter part of his speech, the hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that the Liberal party knows more about BSE than SEAC. Of course, the Liberals—who are craven servants of federalism—say that we should have gone to Brussels first. I do not believe that the House would or should have tolerated such a move. Ministers are accountable to the House first and last.

What else is my right hon. and learned Friend supposed to have got wrong? It is alleged that he misled the public about our plans for a selective cull. The media may have misled the public, but my right hon. and learned Friend certainly did not. I have a transcript of the interview that he gave to the "On the Record" programme four days after he reported to the House. I shall read what he said when he was asked which animals the Government were considering culling, and I shall ensure that a copy of the transcript is placed in the Library so that hon. Members can check the veracity of my quotation. My right hon. and learned Friend said: I certainly am focusing on the question of the older cow … that is jargon… for the beast above 30 months. That is the class of beef we should look at first". That is all that he said about a cull in that interview. That is precisely what we did, and the 30-month scheme is now operating successfully. How did the press report my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks the following day?