Beef Exports

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 14th July 1999.

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Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 3:31 pm, 14th July 1999

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about beef exports.

I am very pleased to inform the House that, this morning, the European Commission adopted a decision that has the effect of lifting the beef ban for the whole of the United Kingdom. Its decision is that the date-based export scheme, on which we have been formally negotiating since October 1997, should start to operate from 1 August this year. From that date, it will be possible to export to other European Union countries boneless beef from cattle born after 1 August 1996 in any part of the UK.

Other conditions will have to be met. To deal with the risk of maternal transmission, no animal will be eligible for export unless its dam can be proved to have lived for at least six months after its birth without developing BSE. The date of birth and the identity of the animal must be established beyond doubt.

I negotiated one significant change with the Commission, however. Although the slaughterhouses must deal exclusively in cattle that meet the requirements for export, they can also deal in other species. That is a commercially important point for operators.

My Department and the other Agriculture Departments have worked in close consultation with all parts of the industry to ensure that they are geared up to make the best possible use of the scheme. The next steps will involve a final inspection and approval by my Department of exporting plants, after which exports can start. Everything is in place for that to happen from 1 August.

One company is poised to start exporting as soon as possible after the 1 August start date and others will follow. The Government will do all that they can to ensure that the scheme delivers benefits to our beef producers and traders and that it helps to build confidence within the agriculture industry at home and to rebuild confidence in British beef among our European Union partners.

The decision is an important breakthrough for the industry after the bleak time since March 1996 during which our beef industry has been afflicted by the export ban. My objective, however, is to get the UK market back on the same terms of trade as our competitors.

Today's decision is the result of a negotiation that has lasted for nearly two years. I pay tribute to the hard work that has been put in along the way by Ministers and officials in a number of Departments. It is an excellent example of well-organised, inter-departmental collaboration across Government in successful pursuit of a significant, national objective. The outcome also shows clearly the benefits of the Government's new approach to doing business in Europe. In stark contrast with the ludicrous Tory beef war, which produced nothing except our own isolation from Europe, Labour leadership in Europe and our constructive approach towards our European partners has clearly been shown to succeed.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Opposition warmly welcome the news that beef exports will restart on 1 August. That is an important step forward, but the Minister will know that it is not only about today's headlines; it is the start of a long process of winning back markets that are crucial to the survival of British beef farmers.

Several questions arise. The Minister made some uncharacteristically political comments at the end of his statement—no doubt inserted with the forthcoming reshuffle in mind. In view of those comments, is he aware that many beef farmers are bitterly disappointed that eight months have passed since he last made a statement to the House that the beef ban was to be lifted? During those eight months not a single ounce of beef was exported from the British mainland. The Minister told the House: I can say that it is my objective to have the date-based export scheme up and running and past its Commission inspection by next spring."—[Official Report, 25 November 1998: Vol. 321, c. 191–92.] It will now be well into August before that objective is achieved. Spring has been a long time coming this year for beef farmers.

Will the Minister confirm that, after his statement of 25 November, more than four months passed before the European Commission inspectors were even invited to Britain to examine the facilities through which beef exports would be channelled? Is that what Labour mean by "well-organised, inter-departmental collaboration"? As it has taken Labour two years and three months to get the ban lifted, and as today's statement confirms that the lifting is very partial, does the Minister really believe that beef farmers will see that as a triumph for the Government's new approach to doing business in Europe? Alternatively, was the verdict of beef farmers the one that was delivered on 10 June?

Will the Minister confirm whether the lifting of the ban applies only to European Union countries, or also to those outside the EU? Will he say which slaughterhouse has been approved for export? How soon are others likely to be approved, and how many are likely to take part in the scheme in the foreseeable future?

What help will the Government now give to exporters to rebuild their markets? For example, will the Government help with the running costs of the scheme for slaughterhouses during the initial period when exports build up? Has money been set aside for that purpose? Does the Minister agree that the experience in Northern Ireland shows that help is indeed needed?

How soon will British service men abroad be able to eat British beef? Does the Minister agree that Labour could boost confidence in British beef if they lifted their absurd ban on beef on the bone? Does he agree that Labour could boost confidence in British beef if 42 Labour local authorities ended their ban on beef on school menus? Will he confirm that his statement means that a slaughterhouse, which deals with cattle that meet the export requirements, can sell into either export or home markets?

As the Minister states that cattle born after 1 August 1996—for example, cattle which are now 35 months old—can be exported, does that mean that the over 30 months scheme is now being phased out? What will the final inspection of exporting plants by MAFF involve? Is he aware that the ending of the calf processing aid scheme on 31 July this year will have immediate and adverse consequences? Is he worried about the possible animal welfare problems that may result? Has the Ministry sent out a leaflet advising farmers how to slaughter calves on their own farms?

The Minister stated that Labour's objective is to get the UK market back on the same terms as that of our competitors. However, this agreement fails to do so. Does he agree with those farmers who say that the potential for beef exports remains limited while the existing restrictions are in force? Will he give top priority to the removal of the remaining restrictions? Will he fight inside Europe for the export of beef on the bone and of live cattle to be resumed as soon as possible?

If the right hon. Gentleman is to avoid the charge of having done too little, too late, much greater urgency is needed to secure the removal of the remaining restrictions than was demonstrated in the months following his previous statement on this subject to the House last November.

The Minister has our congratulations on what he has achieved so far, but he will earn our support and, indeed, the thanks of beef farmers if he recognises that it is the first step along a long road and that the Government still need to make strenuous efforts to reach the goal of a thriving beef export market.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I thank the Opposition spokesman for his congratulations. I have to say that I hate to think what he would have said to me if he had turned against me. What a whingeing, grudging welcome he gave to what is, after all, an important announcement for one of our key agriculture industries. Before dealing with the points of detail, I observe that among all the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised, there was no mention of what caused the ban to be imposed in the first place or an acceptance that perhaps the previous Government had something to do with that ban being imposed and the failure even to make a start on getting it lifted. Those grudging remarks come ill from a member of the party that got us into this mess in the first place.

Let me try to respond to the barrage of rather small points that were put to me. The calf processing aid scheme comes to an end on 31 July. I said that in the debate last week, and I have not changed my mind since then. We also discussed the OTMS in last week's debate. The matter is under review, and I am waiting for advice from the relevant scientific committee. The hon. Gentleman referred to local authorities. I am writing to them—

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that last week.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Well, that does not make it wrong this week. The position remains the same, and I know that most Members of the House will not be surprised by that.

The position on beef on the bone has not changed. I want to lift the ban as soon as I can, but that will be in response to the professional advice of the Government's medical advisers.

The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) referred to the start date of 1 August and said that beef will start to be exported again well into August, but 1 August is the start of August. How can that possibly be grudgingly desrcibed as "well into August"?

The hon. Gentleman asked whether people are ready to go ahead with exports. I said in my statement that they are, at St. Merryn's in Cornwall. They believe that they already have markets lined up and are ready to start exporting immediately after 1 August. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Which markets?"] Hon. Members may shout, "Which markets?", but that is a commercial matter for the exporters. The Government's role is to make sure that trade can be facilitated. The Opposition ask what we are doing to help to win back the markets. Surely the first thing to do is to make it legal to export beef to those markets, which is exactly what I have done.

The hon. Member for South Suffolk went on to say that I should provide illegal state aids to assist British beef to get back into the export markets. What view does he think the Commission would take of that? What message would that send to our European partners, who, without any selfish interest in this matter, have stood by us when we have been able to work constructively with them to prove our case? Surely our case has been proved by the strength of our arguments.

The hon. Gentleman asked about third countries. The ban on British exports was worldwide and it will be lifted from 1 August, so, subject to the rules of the domestic Governments, which we shall address on a case-by-case basis, it will be possible to sell directly to the European Union and third countries.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the timing and asked why the ban was not lifted in the spring rather than in the summer. When I met members of the National Farmers Union at their conference in the spring, I told them candidly that the date for lifting the ban might be later than they hoped, but I would rather get it right than do it early, and the farmers cheered because they knew that that was in the national interest.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

May I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend and his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), on the excellent way in which they have handled the issue since the general election? The key decision in lifting the ban was that taken by Labour Ministers after the general election to establish the cattle traceability centre in my constituency. That reassured people throughout the European Union. May I express the hope that when the BSE inquiry is finally published it exposes why the Tory Government refused to take that critical decision, because, had it been taken earlier, it would have led to the beef ban being lifted earlier?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My hon. Friend is on to a very good point. Cattle traceability is crucial to the date-based export scheme and I pay tribute to his hard-working constituents in the British cattle movement service. I also pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), for having done so much to smooth our way in the European Union and to get the important negotiations off to a good start.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Liberal Democrat, Ross, Skye and Inverness West

I warmly welcome today's news. Does the Minister agree that this afternoon it is probably worth us all maintaining a sense of perspective and patriotism about this development? It is rather disappointing that, perhaps for understandable reasons, the Conservative spokesman seems unable to exhibit either. Is not the true perspective that an industry that was worth in excess of half a billion pounds to this country in 1995 was effectively closed down? In addition to the terrible deaths and human tragedies, in the past two to three years there has been an alarming rise in the number of suicides in farming as a result of the extreme pressure that this issue and many others have created on the British agricultural sector. Therefore, in welcoming today's news, we can learn the lessons of the past.

Does the Minister agree that a lesson from the recent past is that when the ban was lifted in Northern Ireland, welcome though that was, it was a very long haul indeed to re-establishing credibility in the European markets and achieving market penetration? Will the Minister work with the Meat and Livestock Commission and the British agricultural sector on a wholesale marketing campaign across the continent, bringing correspondents, food writers and agriculturists from there to here as well as publicising our domestic market over there to ensure that we get back on track sooner rather than later? Finally, does he agree that it would help the re-establishment of credibility to lift the ban on beef on the bone? In the longer term, let us hope that such a dreadful tragedy for all concerned can be prevented from ever recurring, not least by the establishment in due course of a properly funded and independent Food Standards Agency.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, in particular his welcome for the Food Standards Agency, which is an important step forward. He will be pleased to learn that I am meeting Don Curry of the MLC at 5 o'clock today to discuss what the Government can do to help.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that BSE has been a national tragedy for our country. So far, 43 lives have been lost to new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and some £4 billion of public money has been spent, mostly on public protection measures, some of which have acted as pretty powerful market interventions. The figure that he quotes for the industry losses in 1995 are right, although, as part of the tragedy, the shutters came down on exports when they were running at an all-time high, so the industry has been hit hard.

My objective has been to make sure that the public can have absolute certainty in the beef on the United Kingdom market as that is the only market available to the domestic industry and to make sure that we could get back into exports in an orderly way and command the confidence of overseas consumers. That is exactly what we have done.

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South

May I assure my right hon. Friend that farmers in my constituency will be wholeheartedly delighted with today's news? It is probably the best thing that has happened in my area for some time. I am sure that they will contrast the hypocrisy from the Conservatives with my right hon. Friend's statement.

May I add my comments to those of the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy)? My farmers think that the MLC has not done as much as it could have done to promote British beef. Will my right hon. Friend stress that once again to Don Curry of the MLC, whom I am glad to hear that he is meeting later today?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I take my hon. Friend's point and thank him for his welcome for the announcement. The opportunities to support British beef overseas have been limited because we have been able to export only through the Northern Ireland certified herd scheme. A date-based export scheme, which I expect will be the successor scheme in Northern Ireland, will broaden the pool of animals that is available to exporters. The scheme should provide much more in the way of opportunities, and it is that which I want to explore with the MLC.

On the domestic beef market, such is the effort that has been made by the MLC and the Government in emphasising the tough-minded nature of public protection measures that beef consumption is now higher in the UK than it was at pre-BSE crisis levels.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The decision of the European Union to lift the beef ban is obviously good news. I am the first to acknowledge the hard work that the right hon. Gentleman, his Front-Bench colleagues and officials have done. I think that they deserve the congratulations of the House.

That said, would I be right in saying that most of the steps that the right hon. Gentleman has taken to get the ban lifted were based on the policies and plans that the previous Conservative Government put in place before the last general election, which laid the foundation for the lifting of the ban? Has not the lifting of the ban exposed the illogicality of adhering to the domestic-based 30 month rule as from now? Is it not right to say that, from August 1996, we can be certain about the quality and integrity of the cattle feed being fed to animals? Having regard to that fact, and also to the fact that a cull was carried out to eliminate the risk of maternal transmission, we could now properly lift the 30 month rule in respect of cattle born after August 1996.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I accept that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is on to a strong point on the OTMS. I am awaiting scientific advice on precisely the point that he has raised. I thank him for what he said about the work of officials. Officials in my Department have made heroic efforts with their counterparts in the European Union to explain what we are doing and how we are meeting the technical requirements of the scheme. In that, we have been assisted by officials in the Foreign Office and in other Government Departments as well as by other Agriculture Departments.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that the guidelines on the technical implementation of the scheme were set down under the previous Government. My criticism relates to the way in which that Government went about trying to achieve those guidelines. The beef war on Europe was a ludicrous policy and ended crumbling in the British Government's hands. There was no country on our side and 14 which were pushed into positions against us. The present Government have repaired that damaging approach. Our approach has enabled an outcome to bear fruit for an important domestic industry.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend. Contrary to what the Opposition spokesman said, this was never going to be a one-off event. There had to be a great deal of hard work behind the scenes to get the markets reopened.

Alongside the work of the MLC, does my right hon. Friend accept that we can learn from Europe inasmuch as the role of producer co-operatives there is often key to production and marketing strategies? Will he talk to all the farming organisations with a view to increasing collaboration so that we can make a sustained effort to export our beef?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I made a similar point in my speech at the royal show last week. The point is relevant to the beef sector and, dare I say it, to the dairy sector as well.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to confirm that there is no proven scientific evidence that CJD in humans is linked to BSE in cattle? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that his Government have been asked repeatedly to use their best offices to persuade local authorities and health authorities to source their supplies of meat in this country. Why has that still not been done?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Of course it has been done at inter-departmental level. I gave the House an assurance in the previous debate that I would personally write to each procurement authority, although, as the hon. Gentleman knows, normal links between Government and competent local authorities and health authorities are maintained through the relevant Ministries, not through direct contact with mine. As for the first statement that the hon. Gentleman invites me to give the House, I hope that he will understand if I decline.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

May I assure my right hon. Friend that his announcement will be warmly welcomed by the farming community in Wales, which will meet at the royal Welsh show in Builth Wells next week? It will be particularly welcome to the farmers from my constituency whom my right hon. Friend met recently as representatives of small family farms, and who were tremendously appreciative of the assurances that he gave. The announcement will help the campaign in my constituency for a new, up-to-date livestock market, which will be a great boost to the farming community in Monmouthshire and the whole of south-east Wales.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I look forward to my visit to the royal Welsh show next week, Agriculture Council permitting. It is my policy to discuss my Department's approach not just with the representatives of farm unions, but with individual farmers. I learn a lot from that.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Agriculture Committee, Chair, Agriculture Committee

I am sorry, Madam Speaker, that my robust enthusiasm for the truth got me into some difficulty with you during Prime Minister's Question Time. I know that you and the Minister share that enthusiasm for the truth.

May I ask the Minister what proportion of pre-ban export levels has been set in the business plan of his Department for the recovery of beef exports? Will he reconsider the recommendation in the Select Committee on Agriculture's report on the beef industry that the Government should give extra assistance to the beef industry to help it to recover lost beef export markets?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I think that I could do more harm than good if I did anything that even approached introducing state aids, which would be regarded by our colleagues in the European Union as unlawful. As I am one of the key complainants when others do that, it would not be a good idea for me to start doing it, particularly in the beef sector.

I do not have a business plan for the industry. It is a private sector matter. My determination is to work with the private sector to do everything that the British Government properly can do to help. That is quite a lot, but it does not run to direct extra state aids.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams Labour, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his announcement, which is the best news that farmers in my constituency have had for many years. I pay tribute to the work done by his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). As far as I know, the only abattoir that will be available for beef for export is in Cornwall. Does my right hon. Friend have any advice to offer farmers in Wales, 200 miles away from that abattoir?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I accept the point that my hon. Friend makes about transport issues, and I hope that the devolved authority may be able to help with local market conditions. I am still looking hard at the overall costs on the abattoir sector, and hope to have something to say about that shortly. My hon. Friend should take the delay in making an announcement as good news, rather than bad. I am still fighting the sector's corner in Government.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

I welcome the Minister's announcement today. Will he take the opportunity of condemning local authorities that refuse to put beef on their menus?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

It is not my habit to go about condemning anyone. I want a constructive dialogue with everyone, particularly with those from whom I am looking for help.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I welcome the news and congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and his team on their achievement. I have two brief comments. First, will he please redouble his efforts to ensure the adequacy of dedicated abattoirs? Secondly, when he meets the MLC later today, will he make the point that local branding will probably be of great assistance in marketing on the European mainland?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The local marketing initiative is primarily a matter for the MLC, but I take a close interest in it and see the advantages that could be offered. I expect to explore these matters with Mr. Curry and his team when I meet them at 5 pm.

On dedicated abattoirs, the hon. Gentleman is on to a good point. I was conscious of the impact of that on the market in the negotiations with the Commission, which is why I negotiated a slight change, which means that the abattoirs can handle other livestock products, although not cattle intended for the domestic market as well as for the export market. I know that the change has been welcomed by the industry.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

I ungrudgingly congratulate the Minister on delivering the deal, but may I add a note of caution on the timetable? If the Commission is to be involved, my understanding is that the new Commission will not take control until September because there are a series of European parliamentary hearings and we have to wait for the new European Parliament to come into being.

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman investigate the continued importing of sub-standard pigmeat into Britain from other EU countries, which is a source of growing concern?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I have no evidence that pigmeat that does not meet our hygiene requirements is entering Britain for human consumption, but I am always willing to consider specific cases, and, if the hon. Lady wants to put a specific case before me, I shall have it examined by Department officials straight away.

There is no doubt that the Commission has competence. Today's announcement is the Commission's final step in getting the date-based export scheme up and running. My Department's inspections remain, but I am satisfied that that will not be a problem.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

On behalf of Cheshire farmers, I congratulate the Minister on his achievements and warmly welcome the lifting of the export ban on de-boned beef. However, may I impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the importance of lifting as soon as possible the ban on beef on the bone, and of the Government throwing their weight behind marketing initiatives in the future so that we can regain our position in European and world markets?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

May I say to the hon. Lady without doing her any harm with her party leadership that I do not disagree with anything that she has said and intend to take all those matters forward inasmuch as it is lawful for me to do so?

Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Liberal Democrat, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

I welcome the Minister's statement, but does he recognise that the farmers in my constituency will obviously feel even more restored when they see the beef leaving Britain for EU markets? To that end, will he reassure them that he does not regard this as the end of the crisis for them, and will attempt, where possible, to keep to the minimum the costs and burdens that they face, which competition on mainland Europe does not face?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am very conscious of the hon. Gentleman's last point, but I am afraid that, because of the nature of the scheme, it is inevitable that costs are involved in it that will not be faced by competitors, even within the EU. It is my objective that the UK market should operate on exactly the same basis as the rest of the EU market as soon as possible. I accept that we are not there yet, but this is an important step on the journey.

As for seeing the meat off, I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will almost certainly be present to wave the beef out of Britain when it leaves at the beginning of August, and perhaps this is an appropriate moment for me to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work that he has put in to get the scheme up and running.

Photo of Mr Richard Livsey Mr Richard Livsey Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

I warmly congratulate the Minister, as will the farmers in my constituency, which is the premier beef-producing area of Wales. The point made by Welsh Members about a dedicated abattoir is especially important now that an all-Wales co-operative has been formed for the meat industry. When the right hon. Gentleman visits my constituency to attend the royal Welsh show, will he pay particular attention to that point, because it is important that we are able to export Welsh beef direct from Wales?

Will the Minister also take note that, with the expiry of the calf scheme, cull cow values will still be immensely depressed and that the dairy industry is still being badly hit by that circumstance?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The points about the dairy industry have all been made to me and I am conscious of them, but I do not want to offer any false hope that somehow the calf processing aid scheme will be extended further. I obtained two extensions and can do no more. It comes to an end on 31 July.

The hon. Gentleman's point about a dedicated abattoir for the industry in Wales is a good one, and officials of my Department stand ready to work with the industry to help bring about that outcome if there is a will in the private sector to dedicate an abattoir to de-boned beef exports and, if it is deemed necessary, other animal processing for the domestic market.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

As the representative of England's premier beef industry, may I say that the Minister's decision today will be welcomed by Herefordshire beef farmers and the wider Herefordshire rural community? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall his visit to my constituency some months ago when he and I met Mr. Peter Symonds, whose family have been breeding Hereford cattle now for well over 300 years? Does he recall hearing Mr. Symonds express the fear that some of the imported meat on our shelves does not conform to the high standards that we now have in the United Kingdom—not just for beef, but for pigmeat, poultry and other meat? Will he review food labelling again, to ensure that we can be certain that the food that we buy conforms to UK standards, which are now clearly the highest in the world?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I remember the visit very well. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the souvenir photographs that he sent me afterwards, showing three magnificent creatures, one of very high value!

Of course I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, and I shall bear it in mind.

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Labour, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his predecessor, his ministerial team and his officials on all their hard work. I think that they deserve far more credit than has been forthcoming from Opposition Members.

Will my right hon. Friend investigate the possibility of increasing the transmission of Government information directly to farmers, through the MLC, so that they know how to go about re-entering the critical beef export market which, before the ban, was worth about 30 per cent. of production?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I thank my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. He makes a good point about the need to ensure that the quite complex mechanisms through which the scheme operates are explained properly, so that individual farmers can decide whether to take part. Although the date-based export scheme is slaughterhouse-led, I hope that, as it grows, the methods of operating it will become commonplace in the livestock industry, and will facilitate a steady increase in exports from the United Kingdom. I shall certainly discuss these matters with the MLC at 5 pm today.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I gave notice of it to you, and to the Foreign Office.

This morning, the Foreign Secretary held a press conference on the Falkland Islands, and published an agreement that is vital to the islands' future dealing with access for Argentine citizens and the resumption of flights from Chile—flights that were only ever cancelled as a result of the Government's incompetent handling of General Pinochet's arrest. The Foreign Secretary has not done the House the courtesy of making a statement here, either before holding the press conference or at all. This is the third occasion this week on which the Foreign Secretary has failed to come to the House. We have become used to the fact that he does not expect to have to apologise, but it seems that now he does not expect to have to explain either.

I know how much you, Madam Speaker, deplore the practice of Government announcements being made to the press before they are made to the House. I hope that you will be able to prevail on the Foreign Secretary to make a statement tomorrow.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I think that the Foreign Secretary is wise enough to know when it is right to come to the House when there is new policy or a change of policy. I have not been informed by any Foreign Office Ministers that they seek to make a statement on the issue to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that on Monday you made a clear ruling that all Members have the "privilege and the responsibility" of taking part in all the business of the House. It appears from Prime Minister's questions today that your ruling has not reached every Member. A number of questions suggested that some Members representing Scotland and Wales were "half' Members of Parliament, and should not take part in discussions and decisions on certain matters. Do you agree, Madam Speaker, that that could come about only as a result of the establishment of an English Parliament? Will you consider the matter further, and decide whether we need a clear written ruling to establish that all Members of this House are full Members of the United Kingdom Parliament?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I have no intention of being tedious and repetitive. What I said on Monday, or whenever it was, stands.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As the convener of the much-maligned Scottish group of Members of Parliament, I am, in fact, raising a different point of order. Have you had any indication that the Secretary of State for Scotland will come and bring the House up to date on the Kvaerner negotiations? We learn from today's newspapers that the Kvaerner shipyard on Clydeside has been saved, but further negotiations are needed to reverse the 241 redundancy notices that were given yesterday. Is there any way in which the matter can be brought before the House? That would enable me to commend the work of the Secretary of State for Scotland in saving the yard.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I have not been informed that any statement is to be made today. All Members who raise points of order about statements would be wise to look at the annunciator. It is always printed there by about noon, so that we are all aware of what is happening in the House.