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BSE

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:43 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries 6:43 pm, 25th June 1996

I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) that it was entirely inappropriate for the Liberal Democrats to table a motion of censure against the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food because he is not able to be here to defend himself. It is wrong to attack an hon. Member behind his back. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is typical of Liberal Democrat Members to say "Rubbish"; they never listen to argument. They know perfectly well why my right hon. and learned Friend is in Luxembourg. He is attending the Agriculture Council and could not be here to speak. He has, however, been defended admirably by my hon. Friend the Minister.

I have been lucky enough to have two Adjournment debates on the matter in the Scottish Grand Committee. I have tabled questions and I have asked the Prime Minister and other Ministers questions after statements. I warmly support the Government in what they have done over the past three months; I include in that comment, of course, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am pleased that we have had the support and help, through restraint, of the National Farmers Unions of all the countries involved.

Yet I, along with all my hon. Friends, have expressed concern about the whole industry—the food chain—as well as about the farmers themselves. We should not concentrate on the past, as the hon. Members for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) and for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) have done—we should think about the present and the future. The only point on which I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East is the need for scientists to try to find a live test for BSE. That will require immense scientific effort, but it will be well worth the money if we can find a solution.

We must try, as I said yesterday to the Prime Minister, to get the beef argument off the front pages of the newspapers and to restore confidence among consumers. We have set the process in train; we have the framework in place following the success of the Prime Minister's trip to Florence. We would not have had that success if my right hon. Friend had not taken a firm stance. He stood up and made our European friends concentrate their minds on what was before them. They had the whole of April and May in which to come to a solution and they did not even begin to answer the questions until the Prime Minister put it to them bluntly that they had to concentrate their minds and come to a decision. We now have action and a framework for bringing beef back into the export market.

In Scotland, we have had, fortunately, a lower level of BSE. If it had not been for the outbreak in March, we would have eliminated BSE in two or three years. We now have hundreds rather than thousands of cases. If we work hard at the problem, we can eliminate BSE in Scotland relatively soon. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we must therefore see a rapid implementation of the policy laid down by the Government, so that our exports to Europe will be acceptable to our European partners.