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It is unfortunate that the Chairman of the Agriculture Select Committee, the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin), has just left the House, because I wanted to raise a few issues with him. If the Government had implemented the 1990 recommendations of the Agriculture Select Committee, we would have avoided the most recent BSE scare.
I believe that the Committee—which I left recently— was remiss in failing to carry out a further inquiry into BSE. Over the past two and a half years, I have repeatedly asked for an inquiry into BSE. I know that it might be controversial for me to say this, but I believe that the Committee, to some extent, was fearful of the consequences of re-examining BSE. The Committee was wary of what might happen if it was seen to be stirring up the issue, even though the majority of its members felt that the issue was of public concern. I regret the Committee's decision not to take further evidence.
I now wish to refer to the position paper produced by the European Commission, which states:
Any plan to gradually restore the single market in beef and beef products will require the following of the United Kingdom:
implementation of a selective slaughter programme to be approved by the Commission".
We can do that quite rapidly. The paper continues:
legislation for the removal of meat-and-bone meal from feed mills and farms and subsequent cleansing of the premises and equipment concerned".
We can deal with that quite rapidly. It continues:
effective implementation of the over-30-months rule including the destruction of the animals".
We can probably deal with that quite rapidly. The paper continues:
improved methods for removing specified bovine material from carcases".
We can deal with that quite rapidly as well. It continues:
These measures are considered essential by experts of the Standing Veterinary Committee. In addition these actions must be backed up by Community inspections to verify correct and effective implementation.
In other words, what we do will be checked. However, I have trouble with one of the requirements placed on the United Kingdom—in fact, yesterday I asked the Prime Minister a question in that regard. The paper states:
introduction of an effective animal identification and movement recording system with official registration".
That is the critical condition, and it will cause problems for the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) was a member of the Select Committee when those matters were discussed. The Committee recommended that such a system be set up in 1990, and the Government failed to implement the recommendation.
I have the departmental minute—which was returned to the Committee—which deals with the Committee's recommendation in relation to the identification scheme.
The key words are:
the size of the financial commitment".
I argue that the Government did not implement the identification scheme because of the financial commitment that they believed it entailed.
On 13 April 1993, during the proceedings on the Agriculture Bill, I moved an amendment to set up the identification scheme. A long debate ensued, and it centred on the scheme that operates in Holland—the Royal Dutch Cattle Syndicate, or the NRS scheme, now known as the NIS scheme. The scheme that operates in Holland mirrors the requirements that have been set down in the European Commission's position paper. On that occasion, the Government again refused to move.
Last year, the Select Committee produced a report entitled "Identification and Registration of Farm Livestock". We had an opportunity to implement the scheme that was originally called for in 1990. Members of the Committee went to Holland to look at the operation of the scheme—I did not go on that trip—and came back singing its praises. The Committee made its recommendations and, once again, the Government refused to implement them. In relation to a national database, the Government replied:
The Government has already given considerable thought to the balance between the benefits available from a national database, the extent to which one is needed to solve specific problems, and the costs of setting up and maintaining a system of such complexity. So far, the Government has not concluded that it would be cost effective to establish such a database.
Once again, the Government ducked the issue. We are under pressure from farmers—we know that they want the ban lifted and we know that every day counts. At the heart of the Commission's position paper is the recommendation that we set up the identification scheme. I forecast that there will be a delay in the lifting of the ban because of that area in the document. A refusal to implement the Commission's recommendations will lead to further delay.
The Government's position on the issue has been outrageous. If they had implemented the recommendation at any time—even as late as last year—we would now have in place that critical element which the Commission will demand of us before it raises the ban. We have failed and farmers will pay the price.
Since 1992, I have argued that this would end up in a multi-billion dollar bill. I have been convinced of it. When I was on the Front Bench in the agriculture team, I was always raising the issue. We have been well aware of the fact that one day we would have to pick up the bill for it. The money that will have to be spent will be Labour money. The money that will be spent next year, the year after and the year after that will be money that a Labour Government will have to raise in taxation. Labour money will be wasted because the Conservative Government failed properly to regulate in the feed mills, in the abattoirs and in the rendering mills.
The Select Committee report of 1990 recommended that there should be such regulation. The 1990 report is all about regulation, and the Chairman of the Committee knows it. When we read the Government's reply to that report, we see that their argument is that they cannot afford to introduce the regulations or, alternatively, that the regulations will be onerous on the industry. As a result of the Conservative Government's negligence, next year a Labour Government will have to pick up the multi-billion dollar bill. We regret that.