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BSE

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 8:06 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr Nicholas Budgen Mr Nicholas Budgen , Wolverhampton South West 8:06 pm, 25th June 1996

I begin by declaring an interest because I own a small beef herd. I make no apology for speaking in the debate because my constituents, who are urban dwellers, have an interest in the large cost of the deal with Europe, which they will have to fund, and they also wish to know that the beef they eat is safe and healthy.

The attack launched by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) started with the dubious proposition that his party would have got a better deal. The deal is not especially attractive and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) that the size of the cull is enormous and that the disruption, cruelty and sheer waste of killing productive animals early in their life is horrible to contemplate. I agree also that the timetable is neither specific nor satisfactory, but no one can possibly argue that they know that any better deal would have been available: that is the crucial point.

Our beef, for better or for worse, has been excluded from most of the markets in the civilised world. It has been banned, for instance, from America since 1989, but we have not had the opportunity to exercise a non-co-operation policy against America. It looked at one point as though we would not be able to export our beef at all, even after a big cull and after meeting the unsatisfactory timetable.

The policy of non-co-operation has distinguished the Government's behaviour in the past few weeks. As I suppose Mr. Gerry Adams would say, force does work. It may be a rough old world, but by saying that we shall not co-operate we have half opened the door for our beef. If the European Union becomes awkward again about the details our culling programme or the details of the timetabling, we too can cut up rough and reintroduce the non-co-operation policy.

It is possible for me to say that because I am not a Euro-enthusiast. I do not believe in a federal Europe, but the Liberal Democrats are the most Euro-enthusiastic, so it seems rather difficult for them, since they almost certainly would not have used the policy of non-co-operation, to argue that they would have got a better deal. It is only by being awkward that we have got the deal, expensive and unsatisfactory though it may be. But for our awkwardness and bloody-mindedness, the door would not have been even half opened.

The Labour party says, with the benefit of hindsight, that many more expensive and bureaucratic measures should have been exercised, particularly in the abattoirs and feed mills. For the benefit of my urban constituents, let me use my own personal knowledge. When I used to go to Lichfield and Uttoxeter markets, I was constantly told how expensive, boring and unnecessary was the intervention of the various inspectors as a result of the European regulations, how disgraceful it was that small abattoirs were being forced to close and so on. Most constituency Members of Parliament were asking for their constituents to be relieved from such a gross and expensive intrusion.

It is all very well the Labour party saying that it rather likes inspectors in abattoirs, state-employed vets and lots of public expenditure, but that would not have been necessary in the past. The position has changed, as a result of which more expenditure must be incurred to get our beef into Europe. As one who has not always been very gushing about the Government's performance, I cannot see how the Ministry of Agriculture can legitimately be criticised on this occasion. I hope that, whenever necessary, we shall exercise our rights within the Community to use the veto. That is what General de Gaulle did, it is what Mrs. Thatcher did and it has been very effective on this occasion.

The critics of the policy come from the Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties, which are rapidly emerging as the advocates of a federal Europe. Those who believe in a federal Europe would not have been in favour of a policy of non-co-operation. Thank heavens that the Government took a firm stand. Let us support them in that. Of course this is not the perfect deal—no one could ever expect a deal to be perfect in every respect—but it is a fine show of resolution. Let us hope that it is repeated, and let us throw our weight behind it tonight.