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Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough): Did my hon. Friend read an article in the Daily Express--it was sent to me by one of my farmers from Whitby--stating that poisonous chemicals or growth hormones are still being injected into Spanish cattle, French cattle and Italian cattle against the law and that that beef is being eaten by people in the European Community? Is that not just as bad as the alleged atrocities relating to BSE? On that ground alone, should we not ban foreign beef coming into this country?

Sir Jim Spicer: I could not agree more. I believe that the time has come for us to retaliate--[Interruption.] Inevitably, we hear an outcry from the Liberal Members.

Mr. Tyler: If the hon. Gentleman has been listening to the Minister, to the President of the National Farmers Union, to the Prime Minister and to the Deputy Prime Minister, he will know that that is ridiculous talk. He is delaying the day that we will get rid of the ban. The words that he is using today may discourage President Chirac--should he dare to read anything that the hon. Gentleman says--from releasing us from this ridiculous ban.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider one other thing. He rightly emphasised the need for consultation. Can he explain why, in the two days before the announcement in the House of Commons to which he has referred, the Minister of State was in Brussels--in the Council of Agricultural Ministers--but did nothing to consult our colleagues in Europe?

Sir Jim Spicer: The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) scares me--I frighten very easily. I will say what I want to say in the debate and I will deal with the British people because I know how they feel and I know that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are out of touch. They do not want to take any action. There is nothing to stop the Government demanding from other countries the same standard of beef as we have in this country. Why should those countries not deal with the offal in the same way?

Several hon. Members rose--

Sir Jim Spicer: No, I will not give way again--I shall finish my speech because many other hon. Members wish to speak.

Rev. Ian Paisley: Surely the hon. Gentleman will give way to me.

Sir Jim Spicer: Yes, I will.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read with great interest that there has been an outbreak of this disease in a herd in the Irish Republic. Is he aware that that herd was slaughtered and put into the food chain?

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Does that not back up what he is saying--that we should be careful about bringing in meat from the European Union because they are not keeping up the proper standards themselves?

Sir Jim Spicer: I am delighted that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) is present today and not in the European Parliament. That is another way in which we can approach this and something that the Government might consider doing. It is up to the general public to play their part. They have the power of their purse to demand the sale of British beef. They have the right to say to shops and restaurants, "If you will not sell British beef, we will go and buy it somewhere else". If some shops and restaurants do not sell British beef, plenty of other places will. In that context, I am delighted to have seen a press release stating that Asda is to ban all foreign beef. That is a step in the right direction.

The Members of Parliament from Dorset and all the candidates from Dorset wrote the following open letter:

I hope that that campaign will be taken up by all hon. Members and that they will all write similar letters to their constituents--it would not even cut across Liberal sensibilities.

I know that some hon. Members are a bit squeamish about picketing--I am not talking about violence, but about handing out leaflets and signing complaint forms--but that is a good way to do it. Only yesterday, one of my hon. Friends said that he had signed seven complaint forms in a McDonald's in one day. I am going to try to beat that record and sign 25. We can all go in and we can all sign for British beef.

This process works. It has worked with Wimpy, which has responded to public demand. We have been asked to lay off McDonald's because it may come round, but I do not think that it will. I do not think that Burger King will come round either, unless and until we put pressure on it. I will not eat a McDonald's burger until the company lifts its ban on British beef--and I certainly will not go into a Burger King even after that. McDonald's had better watch out, because I used to eat there quite a lot. The hon. Member for North Cornwall shakes his head; Liberal Members are always squeamish and they want the soft option, but there is no soft option on this.

Mr. Tyler: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Jim Spicer: No, I will finish my speech. It will be a long haul for us to get back to where we were before 20 March, but it can be done if we all play our part. Let us announce that British beef is the safest in the world and let us eat only British beef and beef products, at least for the next few years. I am delighted to see the

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Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the Front Bench. She has done a lot over the past few weeks.

Dorset farmers have raised the following four points with me. First, we have to think about the problem of casualties. They are mounting on farms and something has to be done. That issue is uppermost in the minds of many of the people in the Gallery. My farmers care about their casualties and they want something done, and quickly.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for many years and he knows that the Gallery does not exist.

Sir Jim Spicer: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If people from Dorset are present in the House today, they will be extremely concerned about the situation in relation to casualties. Secondly, why is intervention not working? Why is not more beef going into intervention? My farmers cannot understand it--it is an escape route and more farmers could and should be using it.

The third issue is more staff. If we have an emergency--if we are spending an extra £1 billion over the next year or so--we should get decent staff. We need people who can answer a telephone intelligently and not pass farmers from one person to another. Finally, I refer to improved communications. Sending out circulars is one thing, but an occasional letter should be addressed to each farmer and signed by the Minister. That would be marvellous, and I believe that it done with computers as they are today. As we move forward and pick up on the number of cattle being slaughtered, that is something that we should do. And why not challenge the quality of imports?

I conclude on a happy note for Dorset. A slaughterhouse in my constituency--Normans--was removed from the list of abattoirs for some reason and therefore did not make the short list of 21. However, the Minister of State told me this afternoon that it will be reinstated in the list as from Monday week. That is a great boon to all the farmers in Dorset and, above all, to a marvellous slaughterhouse which has operated successfully for many years.

6.9 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I am grateful to be called to speak in the debate not least because, if you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had called the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), to speak immediately after the hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir J. Spicer), the simmering feud between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the west country could have erupted into a major conflagration. There has been one fire in the Palace of Westminster today and we do not want another.

Mr. Tyler: I must explain to the hon. Gentleman that I had beef for lunch, so I am feeling rather red-blooded and I reacted to the outrageous suggestions by the hon. Member for West Dorset.

Mr. Foulkes: I think that the hon. Gentleman's reactions predate lunchtime today. I am also grateful to be called in the debate as I am proud to represent a large rural constituency with extensive farming interests. The Ayrshire beef and dairy herds have the best reputation in the country.

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My colleagues who represent Ayrshire constituencies and I met a delegation of Ayrshire farmers who were part of the deputation that lobbied Members of Parliament today. We had a useful discussion and we learnt how strongly those farmers feel about the present situation. My colleagues who represent rural areas--the numbers are increasing on this side of the House and there will be many more after the next election--and I have emphasised to our colleagues who represent city constituencies that not only farmers but thousands of workers down the line are affected by the crisis.

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