Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Welsh: Given the hon. Gentleman's experience in Europe, does he not think that the heart of the problem is that the Government simply do not know how to negotiate in Europe? If they negotiated properly, they would achieve exactly what he is setting out.

Rev. Ian Paisley: The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not a European sceptic--I am anti-Europe and fight my seat on that issue. I believe that when one is in Europe one needs to learn how to milk the cow and get the cream, even if the cow is killed afterwards. All I am saying is that I have learned that Europe does what one asks it to do and then one can do anything.

Does any hon. Member believe that all the member states of the European Union dot the i's and stroke the t's of European law? Not one does, but they say that they do. It is time that the British Government were like Nelson and turned a blind eye to certain things and sailed to victory. That is where we have failed. If we breach the ban, we will move forward.

Arguments about tallow and other things are insignificant when our agricultural industry is going down the road to total ruin.

What do we say to the lorry man who says, "I have built up my business in transporting carcase meat, and now it is all over. I am finished. I started with one lorry; I now have 20 lorries on the road. I gave employment to 20 people--all sacked, with no compensation and no nothing"? Those are the people we should be thinking about, and the only way that we can help them is to get this ban lifted.

I ask the Minister: please, do something about the current logjam. The Government do not need to ask Europe about some matters--they can take action now. Hon. Members have today mentioned people who have been able to sell their meat, but they are selling it at a loss. They have lost. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) mentioned some prices that have been paid, and the people selling have made a loss. Those people must be taken into consideration because they are running their businesses at a loss, and it will catch up with them.

15 May 1996 : Column 1001

The Government must take in hand all these matters. The House, farmers and the people of the United Kingdom are looking for action, and they must have it. The Government can delay no longer.

6.40 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) will be surprised to hear that I am delighted to follow him--because I am not an Englishman, I am a Cornishman. I have at least that sense of identity to share. I also share very much his sense of the devastation that has been caused to the rural economy, to the rural community and to a huge number of totally innocent people. People have lost their jobs and livelihoods through absolutely no fault of their own. That is true in every part the United Kingdom.

I agree very much with what the hon. Member for North Antrim said in his concluding remarks, about the need to remove some of the blockages, which is a matter that is entirely in the hands of the Agriculture Minister. Clearing them does not depend on negotiations in Brussels or anywhere else on the continent, but on the Minister and his team. The very positive debate that we had on Monday--some hon. Members who were present for it are in the Chamber today--showed not only a recognition by Back Benchers on both sides of the House but an explicit acknowledgement by the Minister of State that he holds in his hands the power to remove some of the worst problems that now face the industry.

In that debate, one or two hon. Members seemed to be under the illusion that all the problems had been resolved or that they could all be put down to some wicked Eurocrats across the water. I think that it would be appropriate if I were to read for their benefit the brief that has been given to Conservative Members for the south-west in preparation for today's National Farmers Union lobby. They were urged to

As the hon. Member for North Antrim said, it is a question of "action this day", and we have already had 56 days too many since the announcement that precipitated the crisis.

To be fair, the Minister of State acknowledged his responsibility and took great trouble to try to respond to the many concerns expressed on both sides of the House on Monday. I am particularly disappointed that the hon. Members for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), for Newark (Mr. Alexander), for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) and for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) are not in the Chamber now, because I think that they would repeat the criticisms of the Minister's handling of the cattle disposal scheme, which have been expressed again in this debate.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and the hon. Member for North Antrim are entirely right: the industry has been devastated and, with it, great tranches of employment have been wiped out. Many of those businesses will find it extremely difficult to recover.

While it is true, as hon. Members have said, that the export ban is of critical importance, and although I endorse the view that we have to seek step by step to have it removed, it is also true that the activities of our own Minister and our own Government can wipe out so much of that great industry if we are not very careful. If and

15 May 1996 : Column 1002

when the ban is removed, a great deal of the industry will simply no longer exist to take advantage of the export potential that will be reopened to us. That is especially true of Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have--we must admit it--been one step ahead in this matter. I shall come back to that point later in my speech.

I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) is in the Chamber. I hope that she will not, as she did on Monday, adopt a tone of aggressive personal attack, because there is across the Floor of the House a sensibility of the severity with which this problem has hit the rural community. It was not appropriate to spend precious moments on ill-directed and inaccurate personal attack.

There were two points on Monday might which were not addressed, and I therefore make no apology for raising them now. In her reply to Monday's debate, the Minister made no reference to the questions raised on both sides of the House as to whether any sort of contingency plan had been in place in the Ministry. As hon. Members have said in this debate, even if no such plan was in preparation before last November, the scare that happened in that month made it quite clear that, sooner or later, we might face this problem. If that is true, it was a scandal to have no contingency plan in place to deal with rendering capacity, for example.

I hope that the Minister will tell us in her reply whether there was a plan, whether the plan that we now have is it, and, if so, why it is not working. I hope that she will also tell us why the Minister of State initially said that he had the renderers' complete co-operation, bearing it in mind that, as I understand it, some 90 per cent. of the total rendering capacity belongs to the same commercial group of companies. There were not many people to deal with, yet, when it came to the crunch last week, we found that the 70-odd abattoirs that apparently had arrangements with the Ministry, the intervention board and the Meat and Livestock Commission were found not to have the renderers' agreement. The number of abattoirs therefore dropped at the weekend to 21 and, as I told the Agriculture Minister in my intervention, I have today been informed that not even those 21 have clearance from the renderers.

It is totally unsatisfactory that in this type of crisis Her Majesty's Government appear to be beholden to a commercial interest of that nature and to be held over a barrel.

In the debate on Monday, the Minister gave no indication whether the concerns expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House--by the hon. Members who represent rural areas--about the proposal for a selective slaughter policy, in addition to the 30-month cattle disposal scheme, had been brought to any sort of fruition and whether they had been discussed in full with the industry or with the European Commission.

It is of critical importance to recognise that the 30-month scheme is a non-selective scheme. It is indiscriminate by its very nature, which is one of its problems. We want to have a mature beef assurance scheme so that cattle that mature later can be exempted and maintained for the purposes for which they are intended--they are, of course, particularly good for the prime beef market.

Mr. Ian Bruce: I am always rather confused by Liberal Democrats who say they do not believe in personal attack

15 May 1996 : Column 1003

and then go on straight in and make a personal attack. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would like to put straight the record on his speech on Monday, when he accused the Government of choosing the 30-month scheme rather than saying that the Government were responding to a scheme proposed by the food industry and the NFU?

Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. If he will read my speech, he will find that I explicitly answered that point, which has also been referred to in this debate by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley.

In a television interview on the Sunday before the NFU presented its proposals, the Agriculture Minister referred not only to the possibility of a mass slaughter scheme--he mentioned millions, as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley said--but to the possibility of a slaughter based on 30 months. Up to that point, there had been no mention of a slaughter policy based on 30 months. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee's recommendations were based on the suggestion that deboning should take place for cattle of more than 30 months, which is quite different. That is not a massive slaughter.

Next Section

IndexHome Page