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Orders of the Day — BSE Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:04 pm on 17th February 1997.

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Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid 9:04 pm, 17th February 1997

The hon. Member for Taunton said rightly—it is the only thing he said that was quite right—that the BSE crisis should have been debated on the Floor—[HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member for Huddersfield."] The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said that the BSE crisis should have been debated on the Floor of the House, and he is right, but what an inopportune moment to do so. I listened to his rambles. I thought that they were a preamble, but the preamble went on for 10 minutes. I can only think that he lives very close to the Emley Moor transmitter and that his brain has been partly microwaved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), however, made a valid point when he said that the timing and choice of the debate have been inept. Why? My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should have been in Brussels today because today is the day that the Council of Ministers debates this very issue, and what is on the agenda but the British beef crisis? Instead we have a debate today that was chosen to fit in—so it was thought—with the forthcoming general election.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield spoke about crisis management, but how well have the Labour team organised the crisis that they have engineered today? All last week, we heard the Opposition Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), telling everyone that the debate would lead to a vote of no confidence. We were told that there would be a general election in three or four weeks and that we would have to gird our loins. He was not mealy-mouthed about it; he openly admitted on "Newsnight" and other programmes that this was an opportunistic moment because it would be the time to get rid of the present Government.

Labour could not even manage that properly, could it? It has bungled that. It could not even liaise with the minority parties, so the matter will die like a damp squib in about 54 minutes from now, when the Opposition lose the vote.

To put matters into perspective, excluding the beef sector, agriculture has been enjoying a period of unprecedented prosperity, despite the Labour party, whose members have never been known as friends of agriculturists. Since when have farmers ever said, "We welcome the idea of the Labour party getting into office because the Labour party cares"?