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Orders of the Day — BSE Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:51 pm on 17th February 1997.

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Photo of Mr James Spicer Mr James Spicer , West Dorset 7:51 pm, 17th February 1997

I open with a brief remark to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). On these occasions, he is very much the lone ranger. He holds up the Liberal cause to the best of his ability. I ask him to go out, be the lone ranger and deal with the leaders of councils, in the west country in particular, who imposed a ban on beef long before there was a European ban. He needs to crack a whip or use a pistol on them. Will he start with the leader of Dorset county council? That would be extremely helpful.

One remark by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) tonight found an echo with many hon. Members. He said what a pity it was that we did not have co-operation, and that, rather than opposing, the Opposition had not come forward at a time of crisis with an offer of working together to find a solution. That has been done before. During the foot and mouth outbreak in the 1960s, the Conservative Opposition went to the then Minister of Agriculture and said, "How can we help? Let's go together on this."

If the Opposition had come to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister at the start of this dreadful crisis and said that they wanted to work with him, he would have welcomed them on board, and they would have been part of the crisis committee that has done so much over the past 11 or 12 months to get the crisis under control. It is now under control. The way in which the Labour party has brought the issue forward tonight is obscene.

I have been proud to represent West Dorset for the past 23 years. This past year has been the proudest, because I have seen the fortitude of my farmers at a time of great crisis for them and their industry. Dorset was, and still is, the county hardest hit by BSE, and West Dorset has been in the eye of the storm throughout. We have all known about BSE for many years, but the reality is that farmers have had to live with the problem, waking up to confront it every morning. When it finally burst open in March, what happened? It was leaked by the Daily Mirror and played up by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman). The precipitate problem need not have been built up into a crisis.

The European member states reacted in the same way as the Labour party, going for short-term political gain. They have inflicted a wound on themselves, just as the Labour party will tonight.

Last Thursday, we saw the start of the new Labour weekend spin. The Leader of the Opposition got up and focused on BSE, saying that spending £3 billion on BSE was a disgraceful waste of money. I have one or two questions for him and others in his team. They are important questions to which farmers in my constituency would like answers. Would he have initiated the 30-month cull and slaughtered more than 1 million animals? That task was carried out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and all those in his team. They carried out that crisis operation to the best of their ability, with the support of the farming community and everyone else.

Would Labour have given such positive support to our farming community? Would they have completed that 30-month cull successfully in the first week of December, and then, at the behest of the NFU—I have said this several times to the hon. Member for North Cornwall—embarked on the accelerated cull, as the Government have done? That would not have been authorised if the farming community had not been fully behind it.

Does the Labour team understand that my farmers in West Dorset welcome the Government's measured approach and the way in which they are dealing with the selective cull? There will be full discussion between farmers and officials before the cull. Even after that, farmers will have some say in when their cattle will be disposed of, so that it can fit in with their proper business plan.

Those on the Labour Front Bench do not understand any of that. They do not understand the countryside—Labour is not a countryside party.