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Mr. Marlow: The hon. Gentleman said that many of his constituents are concerned about the present situation. How will they react to the news that the veterinary committee meeting in Brussels has risen without resolving the issue of gelatine?

Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. My constituents will be deeply disappointed by that news, but I do not think that they will be surprised.

Thousands of workers in the slaughtering, rendering, meat-processing and haulage industries will be affected. Those in the equipment manufacturing and supplies industries will suffer also as farmers who are uncertain about their future cut back on their purchases. Some workers in those industries were laid off initially without wages or benefits. They will be sadly disappointed by the way in which the Minister of Agriculture dismissed them today with a wave of his hand. It was as though they did not matter--but they are suffering also.

The farmers and my other constituents contend that the Government's attitude has been characterised by dithering, complacency, confusion and by chaos. Although the Government's announcement might have been precipitated by a question from this side of the House--the hon. Member for West Dorset said that the Government intended to make an announcement anyway--they had been aware of the problem for some time. They made no preparations prior to the announcement: they did not assess the likely reactions or consequences and had no plan for dealing with them.

There is general concern also about the Government's blundering ineptitude in the negotiations. The Minister of Agriculture does not have the best reputation for tact and diplomacy--we have seen him at work in other contexts--and I think that that exacerbated our difficulties within the European Union. The Government have now introduced a selective cull and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, we welcome the principle behind it. However, the cull was introduced before the appropriate measures were in place. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have levelled criticisms, questions and challenges at the Government regarding continuing problems with red tape and bureaucracy.

Rev. Ian Paisley: Is it not amazing that the slaughter should go ahead without any undertaking from Europe that the ban will be lifted when the cull is completed?

Mr. Foulkes: That is a very good point. I believe that we could have been granted that concession if our negotiators had applied a little more intelligence and capability. I shall return to that point later.

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The legacy of delay and dithering dates back some time. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy was identified in November 1986, Ministers were informed of it in June 1987, and in 1989 the Agriculture Committee found that the Government had reacted too slowly regarding the specified offal ban. There are many other examples of the Government's dithering, lack of urgency and complacency in dealing with the problem.

However, we must not dwell on the many mistakes of the past, but we must try to sort out the problem and help those who are suffering. The trade ban is affecting Scottish farming particularly badly, as my hon. Friends know--I consider the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) to be an hon. Friend in this context at least.

Beef exports are worth £500 million to the United Kingdom, of which £120 million comes from Scotland. Much of Scottish farm production focuses on the export market and three out of four Scottish farmers are involved in beef production. Some 50,000 cattle on Scottish farms are awaiting slaughter and it will take more than a year to get rid of the backlog. We face a particularly difficult problem in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Slaughterhouses have also suffered badly. Many operations have ground to a halt, with workers often receiving no wages or benefits. Slaughterhouses which deal with 800,000 cattle a year and upon which many thousands of workers depend are now operating part time. For instance, in Sanquhar they are working a two or three-day week--if they are lucky.

The Ayrshire delegation emphasised the fact that the crises has caused a slump in the market for clean cattle. Cattle that were fetching 150p per kilogram before the crisis now sell for only 80p per kilogram. The tragedy and the irony is that that is less than the 85p per kilogram that is realised by cull cattle. The market has collapsed completely and that is creating tremendous problems for farmers.

The meat processing and bakery industry--which is particularly important in Ayrshire--processes 12,000 tons of beef annually and it has been hit badly by the crisis in confidence. Sales fell dramatically at the start of the crisis and sales in Scotland are now only 50 per cent. of their pre-crisis levels. Road hauliers have been similarly affected. Four out of five vehicles involved in meat transportation are off the road and 80 per cent. of lorries that transport meat are no longer working. Many companies are close to bankruptcy. A road haulage section which employs 1,500 people is losing nearly £5 million per month. The crisis cannot continue.

I have received dozens and dozens--maybe scores--of letters since the crisis began. I have had hundreds of telephone calls and meetings with farmers. Mr. Buchanan from Lendalfoot has written to me, saying:

We must start the wheel turning again. The crisis is having a physical and a psychological effect upon the health of those affected. Another of my constituents--I will not mention his name--wrote to me, saying:

    "I had to go to the doctor because I was suffering from depression, I am now on medication".

Farmers and others are also in a difficult situation financially.

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Our top priority must be the lifting of the ban. That will be achieved by reasoned argument, clever diplomacy and the proper deployment of scientific information, not by bluster, blackmail, the threat of retaliation or by a trade ban. That would only make the situation worse, as the hon. Member for North Cornwall has said.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: My hon. Friend is making a good point on retaliation. How would it benefit farmers, especially mixed farmers, in his or anyone else's constituency to engage in threatened retaliation that affects the beef and other markets? I know from family experience that many farmers in my part of the country are farming lamb and expect to sell much of it to France. How would it help our farmers if there were a trade war with Europe on other farming produce?

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend is right. Once such a trade war starts, it is a difficult to stop. It escalates and can affect many more innocent people. I am not a Euro-sceptic, but I can understand why they may be getting frustrated. To use this issue, however, to advance their Euro-scepticism is dangerous, short sighted, selfish and irresponsible.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the priority is to breach the blanket European ban, whether on gelatine or tallow? I notice that the veterinary committee has adjourned until Monday: it wants more detail. The breach, however, must take place, whether on those items or on specialist herds from Northern Ireland or Scotland. We must breach that blanket ban as part of a step-by-step approach to getting the whole industry on the move. It does not matter where it comes. We must get that first breach.

Mr. Foulkes: I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I think that he agrees that it should be done by argument, by scientific information, by diplomacy and by political pressure, but not by threats.

Every week we read in the press that the Minister hopes that the ban will be lifted and then it never is. That also creates problems. The false expectations that the Minister raises are unhelpful; almost as unhelpful as when he said, in the first weekend of the crisis, that 4 million cattle would have to be slaughtered. He is part of the problem, not part of the solution. More hon. Members should realise that. They may not do so soon, but they will.

Intervention must be brought into play as soon as possible. On 29 March, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland proposing that on behalf of my constituents, who had made the suggestion but, six or seven weeks later, there is still no effective action. It is typical of Ministers' attitude. They pooh-pooh suggestions, saying, "We don't need to do that" and move only under intense pressure from Members of Parliament, the industry, the media and others.

As I said in an intervention, the Prime Minister promised that had he would cut red tape to speed up the process, but nothing has happened. Because of technicalities, farmers have huge problems getting cattle into disposal. They travel hundreds of miles and find that they cannot get cattle even into intervention because of a small technicality. That red tape must be familiar to hon. Members representing rural areas. Farmers in my constituency complain to me about not just that, but many other matters. The red tape is no better--in fact, it is worse--in this instance.

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Even worse is that only 50,000 tonnes have been allowed for intervention for the whole European Union. It is wrong and a scandal--I say this not to attack the Germans, but to advance my argument--that 25,000 of those tonnes should go to Germany and only 1,200 to 1,500 should go to the United Kingdom. The scheme was designed to discourage intervention and to reduce the beef mountain--that was part of the strategy. That is not appropriate for the current bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis.

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