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BSE

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

The hon. Gentleman knows that the incidence of BSE peaked in animals born in 1988–89 before the introduction of the ban on mammalian foodstuffs. Since then, as the charts in the blue book show, it has dropped remarkably. What does the hon. Member think has been happening to BSE-infected cattle? Of course they have been culled and slaughtered. The slaughtering has been going on for some time and it reached a peak of 40,000 at the height of the incidence of BSE.

The Labour party has behaved like startled rabbits. It does not know which way to run. First, the shadow Foreign Secretary attacked the Government for overreacting to the beef ban, and called on us to abandon non-co-operation. Two weeks later, he was back on our television screens attacking the Government for not going far enough. In the meantime, the Labour leader was in Germany reassuring Chancellor Kohl that, under a Labour Government, Britain would be a pushover. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) manages the Labour party and not the England football team. In the House, he claimed to support our policy of non-co-operation because he did not have the guts to criticise it. In Germany, he criticised British foreign policy because he did not have the guts to defend it. He has spent half his time claiming that we have been too hard in our relations with Europe and the other half claiming that we have been too soft. No wonder a senior spokesman for the German Chancellor stated that he would prefer to deal with the Leader of the Opposition, because he would have been more accommodating to German interests. Throughout recent weeks, the Liberal and Labour parties have failed to say what they would have done in the circumstances. The hon. Member for North Cornwall was provided with several opportunities to do so this afternoon, but failed.

The fact is—and the Labour and Liberal parties cannot bring themselves to admit it—that non-co-operation has worked. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his announcement to the House on 21 May, he said that two specific goals had to be achieved before we would suspend our policy of non-co-operation: first, that the ban on beef derivatives had to be lifted and, secondly, that a clear framework leading to the lifting of the wider ban had to be agreed.

The first objective was achieved on 10 June when the ban on beef derivatives was lifted. The second—a clear framework—was achieved at the European Council in Florence last week. Both objectives were achieved in precisely one month. I have no doubt that, without our policy of non-co-operation, we would not be where we are today.

We now have a framework that sets out clear steps for lifting the ban in stages. The Florence conclusions make it clear that decisions on each stage will be taken only and exclusively on the basis of public health and objective scientific criteria and of the judgment of the Commission". That is what we have been asking for all along.

The framework document agreed at Florence provides a number of preconditions that have to be met before steps within the framework can be considered. The preconditions comprise the implementation of a selective slaughter programme to be approved by the Commission under the standing veterinary procedure—that approval has already been given unanimously to the UK plan, amended to include voluntary slaughter of the 1989–90 generation; the introduction of an effective animal identification and movement recording system with official registration; legislation for the removal of meat and bonemeal from the feed mills and farms and subsequent cleaning of the premises and equipment; the confirmation of implementation of the over 30-month scheme; and, finally, improved methods for removing specified bovine material from carcases.

The framework also provides for the Commission, with the member states, to inspect and to confirm that effective action has been taken on all those steps.