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Orders of the Day — BSE Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:36 pm on 17th February 1997.

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Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering 9:36 pm, 17th February 1997

I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I must respond to the debate.

I confirm that we expect the selective cull in Northern Ireland to start on 3 March, about the same time as in the rest of the United Kingdom.

We shall shortly have met all the Florence conditions. We have cleaned up feed at mills and on farms, and banned contaminated feed from 1 August. We have begun the process of tracing cattle and my right hon. and learned Friend has introduced a passport scheme from 1 July. We now have some of the best slaughterhouse standards in the world. We have cleared the backlog in the over-30-months scheme and we shall shortly implement the cull. We shall then formally submit to the European Commission the certified herd scheme and we hope and expect a good and full response from the Commission. As the House will understand, that must follow the detailed process laid down in the Florence agreement.

I come now to the points raised by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). Quite properly, I have visited Ulster twice in the past few months. I know full well that the beef industry there relies on exports and has been particularly hard hit. My right hon. and learned Friend has made it clear that the scheme that we shall put forward to the Commission applies to the whole United Kingdom, but as it is based on good traceability and the absence of BSE from herds, it will be of direct and immediate benefit to Northern Irish farmers. That was very much in our minds when we devised the scheme.

My right hon. and learned Friend has said today that the case for direct and immediate relief for Northern Ireland is very strong—indeed, unanswerable. So it is. He has said that he will urge the case of Northern Ireland. So he will. For the avoidance of doubt, let me make it clear that while other parts of the United Kingdom may have producers who qualify too—I think of Scotland and the west country in particular; the scheme is designed to be open to all parts of the country—it is certain that none will have a stronger or more immediate claim for relief than Northern Ireland. That is the case for Northern Ireland that my right hon. and learned Friend will urge in the coming negotiations.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry raised a second point about the additional EC support for the beef industry, and in particular for Northern Ireland. I am glad to be able to tell the House that my noble Friend Baroness Denton, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, having consulted the farming unions in Northern Ireland, has decided on the distribution of the additional EC support for the beef industry. Besides £250,000 for beef promotion, £9.4 million will be available for suckler cow herds. All suckler herd owners will receive a £25 per head top-up to the suckler cow premium, but in recognition of the unique problems faced by the flagged suckler herd owners, and with the support of the representative organisations, those herd owners will receive an additional £135 to £145 per animal. [Interruption.]