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BSE

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:48 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill , Ludlow 7:48 pm, 25th June 1996

I shall not give way. As my hon. Friend knows, our speeches are limited to 10 minutes.

There is no guarantee that, if we carry out the selective cull, the export ban will be lifted. Furthermore, there is no certainty that there will still be an export trade. I noted the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister, who anticipated that there would be £100 million-worth of exports immediately and that the volume of exports would accelerate rapidly. I remind the House of the comments of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday, when he referred to the natural prejudices across Europe. I submit that those prejudices will make it very difficult for us in attempting to recover our export markets on the continent. I remind my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that exports to third countries depend on substantial export refunds. Without them, those exports would not take place.

In the light of those factors, it is essential that the Government conduct a cost-benefit analysis to see whether the cost of implementing the selective cull and continuing the 30-month cull is outweighed by the benefits. If it were certain that the export ban would be lifted, that our export trade would recover immediately and that the date of eradication of BSE would be brought forward, that expenditure might be justified. However, in the circumstances, I think that we should determine the true benefits and compare them with the cost involved.

I believe that there is an alternative use for the money. I submit that we should assist those who have suffered most from the BSE crisis—the specialist beef producers. Those producers of prime beef under 30 months are the innocent parties. They have had to accept much lower prices in the markets and they are now at an enormous disadvantage compared with those who are taking part in the culling scheme. I continue to advocate a deficiency payments scheme as a more accurate, targeted and worthwhile way of helping that sector of the industry. It would also benefit the consumer. Under the old deficiency payments scheme, the British consumer benefited from cheaper beef, farmers' incomes were maintained and the cost was borne only by those who paid tax.

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that it would be wonderful if the Government could puff out their chest and say that, in spite of all the difficulties that BSE has caused, they are now approaching the issue from a cost-benefit point of view. The Government should reject the idea of needlessly culling cattle at great expense and put their money where it would benefit the consumer and the farmer directly.

I have real fears—they were expressed to me at the weekend when I was in Scotland, a country that enjoys a reputation for producing prime beef—that if prime beef producers are not compensated in some way, when they go to market in autumn to buy store cattle, they will not be able to afford to pay the price that the producers of calves require to make a living in the hills. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that point. It is self-evident that, if the finisher of cattle finds that his returns are reduced substantially, he will be a poor bidder in the store markets this autumn. The hill farmer who produces store cattle will suffer as a result.

I repeat my plea to Ministers to look seriously at a deficiency payments scheme to replace the European scheme. The Minister has promised additional assistance for farmers with suckler cows and male beef cattle. Heifers are excluded, and the British beef industry regards that as another weakness of the European system compared with the old British system. When my hon. Friend winds up, perhaps she can tell the House whether she believes that the £14 million that is being made available to the British industry is a satisfactory share of the fund of £527 million from which it comes.