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Mr. Bruce: What about the NFU?

Mr. Tyler: If the hon. Gentleman will read my speech--[Interruption.] No; the hon. Gentleman clearly cannot read. I reported accurately the catalogue of events. On the Sunday, the Agriculture Minister made his statement on television. On the Monday, the Minister met the NFU, as did I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). That proposal was presented after the Minister had already floated the idea. So the Minister first introduced that suggestion into the public domain.

If there is going to be an additional and selective cull, there are three absolutely essential preconditions. First, that cull must be firmly rooted in the scientific advice on which the Government are claiming to act. It must therefore be related to identification of any possibility, or scintilla of possibility, as the Minister of State has said, of exposure to potentially contaminated feed. That must require a means of ensuring traceability and a national registration scheme. As the hon. Member for North Antrim has rightly said, Northern Ireland may be one step ahead, and we will have to introduce such a scheme area by area. It is also true that some parts of Scotland are further advanced in the introduction of such a scheme. Hence the importance of the questions that I have asked in recent weeks about the possibility of animal-to-animal or maternal transmission. If that is even a minor route for infection, we must have a policy to deal with it; otherwise the scientific base collapses.

Whether that cull is to cover the rumoured 40,000 cattle or more, the Government must certainly insist on selection according to proven risk. They should not operate some haphazard or random scheme.

The second precondition is that the cull must be accompanied by a cast-iron guarantee of full European Union compensation. As we know, the present scheme triggers just 30 per cent. in net terms, as a result of rebate arrangements negotiated by the former Prime Minister,

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now Lady Thatcher. That means that the cull would not result in British farmers receiving 60 per cent. or even 70 per cent. compensation, as has been suggested. If we are to have a selective cull, and if it is to apply across Europe, we cannot be the one country in the Union that receives less compensation for our farmers than that offered to others. They must be given 100 per cent. financial support.

The third essential precondition is that such a cull must lead to immediate agreement in the Council of Agriculture Ministers on a timetable for the removal of the export ban. I accept, as other hon. Members have suggested, that its introduction may take some time, but it must be a precondition of any agreement to an additional cull. As several hon. Members have rightly said, that agreement will take place at Government level in the Council of Ministers. The support for such an agreement is already evident from what the Minister has said and what many others have heard from the Commission.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Could the hon. Gentleman explain to the House and to me in particular how some of those preconditions can be met according to anything like a realistic timetable when, as far as I am aware, the medical and veterinary knowledge is such that risk assessments cannot be made? I agree that those preconditions are desirable, but I cannot see how they are achievable according to anything like a reasonable time scale.

Mr. Tyler: The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the Minister's reply, because she and the Minister have said on a number of occasions that the veterinary committee basically accepts the thesis on which we have operated. If the scientific judgment is that we are correct, it follows that it will be possible to agree a timetable. I do not suggest that agreement on immediate removal of the export ban is probable, but a timetable towards that end is not an unrealistic expectation.

Sir Michael Spicer (South Worcestershire): I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has heard the latest news [Hon. Members: "Yes, we have."] Well, it seems that everyone has heard it. Surely that news cast some doubt on the hon. Gentleman's arguments and those advanced by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). They have argued that quiet diplomacy should be adopted and that agreement should be reached according to rational scientific argument. The scientific committee has specifically turned down a request for such an agreement, when there is manifestly no scientific reason for doing so. Surely that goes against their argument.

Mr. Tyler: The hon. Gentleman has obviously not been listening to the debate, but I have, and because of that I have not heard the precise details of the latest news. As I understand it, however, the veterinary standing committee has adjourned its discussions until Monday to await some further information. It has not turned down the application. The Minister can confirm that later.

I hope that we all agree that the existence and our membership of the EU institutions makes possible an orderly progress towards lifting the export ban. Imagine how long it would take in bilateral negotiations to remove a ban when 40-odd countries hold it against us? I hope that the Minister will comment on the decision-making process that would be necessary were that to be the case.

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Suppose, for example, that we had to have one-to-one discussions with the 25 countries that banned the import of British beef before 20 March, let alone the 25 countries outside Europe which have adopted that ban since that date. That makes a total of over 60 countries, including those in the European Union. If we were not actively party to the decision-making process of the European Union we would have to enter into bilateral discussions with all those countries, which would be quite impossible.

Such matters are usually dealt with by consensus and, in extremis, by qualified majority voting. If we were dependent on a veto in those discussions in Europe before we could make any process, we would be in even greater difficulty.

The farming community is looking for some clear indication of where we are going. It needs to know the target and where is the light at the end of the tunnel. The farmers from all over Britain who lobbied us today are desperate about the way in which their industry has been devastated by recent events. Of course, it was badly affected by the original announcement, but even more so by the eight weeks of dither and delay as Ministers have sought to get a grip on what has happened. Those farmers need to know about some targets. For example, will it be possible to give a date after which no animal can be expected ever to have been exposed to contaminated feed? Perhaps that would mean an animal born after 1 April this year, or even 1 July this year. Such an announcement would mean that farmers could see an end to their problems.

One west country farmer said to me this afternoon that he felt that "We are plagued with cows that won't sell, grass that won't grow and a Government that won't do its job."

Normally, I would wish to speak at some length about reform of the common agricultural policy, but I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and those comments will have to wait for another day.

It is clear that most hon. Members accept that it is the Government who must take the lead to remove the burden of devastation that lies across the land at the moment. That cannot wait for decisions to be made elsewhere, nor does it have to wait for such decisions. On Monday night the Minister of State was good enough to acknowledge that. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that it is in their hands to release that burden from people who simply do not deserve to have it thrust upon them.

Mr. Douglas Hogg: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It may be for the convenience of the House to know that the standing veterinary committee has suspended until Monday. Good progress has been made today. I am grateful to the Commission for its proposal to lift the ban on gelatine, tallow and semen. I am also grateful to President Chirac and the French Government for their help. A number of other member states have now indicated their support. Some technical issues need further clarification, and I hope that the Commission's proposal can be adopted on Monday.

Dr. Strang: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. We are grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for providing us with that information. It must be a considerable disappointment that the Commission's recommendation, albeit modest, was not even voted upon today. Does he agree with the Opposition that it is vital that

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at the meetings of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and the standing veterinary committee, which are to be resumed next week, we should get a clear demonstration of progress from the European Union, because we must get the overall ban lifted? We are merely talking about three products, which represent a minority of jobs.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Order. I cannot allow a debate on a point of order, but I know that those on the Government Front Bench will have heard the request from the Opposition spokesman, and no doubt those matters can be dealt with in the wind-up speeches or in tomorrow's debate.

6.58 pm

Sir Michael Spicer (South Worcestershire): I cannot resist making a brief comment on that announcement from my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture because it seems extraordinary that even the modest proposals of the Commission, which are supported with scientific argument, do not find a ready acceptance in a scientific committee. It has been suggested by several Opposition Members that the argument should be conducted solely on the grounds of science, yet one suspects that politics is playing a greater part than one might, at first glance, have imagined. It is clearly a disappointment and I hope that the matter will be put right speedily on Monday.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said that he did not intend to talk much about the future of the common agricultural policy. I hope that the House will forgive me if in my brief remarks I speak about almost nothing else. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Agriculture was right to begin by saying that one cannot talk about the agriculture industry without talking about the CAP. That is true not only in general but in the specific context of the crisis in the beef sector.

My right hon. and learned Friend also said that there is a need for urgent reform of the CAP. In saying that, he followed in the footsteps of Minister after Minister over the past 20 years. I have to absolve the Labour party from that charge because it would seem from the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang)--perhaps there will be other official speeches on the matter from the Labour party--that it is not concerned about reform of the CAP, which he did not mention. That must call into question Labour's motives, and the validity of its arguments, in calling for a vote at the end of this debate. If the Opposition have no alternatives to suggest for the future of agriculture, what would we be voting on? That is a phoney position that does them no good, but it is one to which we have become used. They have no alternative to offer to the CAP. Several Opposition Members have talked about strategy and generalities but nothing specific has been forthcoming. I suspect that they would not want to reform the CAP because they would want more of it--more centralisation, more protectionism and more taxpayers' money. That is the meaning of socialism, especially in economic and agricultural affairs.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister said that he wanted agricultural protection decoupled from production. He wanted a market-driven system and he wanted the argument that the status quo is not sustainable

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to be accepted. However, the status quo is precisely what we have got in the form of the appalling waste in our agricultural industry and the bizarre fact that we have fields that people are paid not to produce food in. Sometimes we have mountains or lakes of food, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir J. Spicer) said, on other occasions we have shortages. We have quotas that distort the position and intolerable waste that costs our taxpayers an increasing amount. The cost is running at about £6 billion a year on the agriculture industry alone, £2 billion of which is paid by our taxpayers to support not our industry but those of other countries. So much for changing the status quo.

If we consider how the status quo has evolved in the past two or three years, it is clear that the situation for the consumer is also intolerable. Every man, woman and child in this country effectively pays £250 per year more in food prices than they would have to were they able to benefit from world prices for agricultural produce. That is not just bad for the taxpayer and the consumer, but for the producer.

Hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies and meet their National Farmers Union representatives regularly know that they believe that that situation is not sustainable. The agriculture industry rightly calls for security so that it can plan future production. If it has to plan production on the basis of gross distortions and massive injections of public funds--especially those going into other countries' pockets--and with consumers having to pay vastly too much because of the food mountains and set-aside fields it cannot be good for the long-term stability of British agriculture and production.

There are two basic problems with the CAP that must be addressed. First, we cannot for ever continue to run an industry by intervening in its price structure unless we are prepared to accept permanent distortions between supply and demand. There must be a better way to support agriculture, if that is what we want to do, than by interfering with the price mechanism, which inevitably causes distortions in supply and demand. It is the intervention in the price system that causes the great problems on the international front. It is not only that the industry is suffering domestically as I have described; there are vast international repercussions from the way in which it is being run.

A distorted, protectionist industry of the sort thrown up by the CAP is very bad for the developing world. The enormous tariffs of the CAP are often ignored. We have to pay twice as much for, say, New Zealand butter inside the boundaries of the CAP as we would if we were able to buy it at its genuine market price. That factor applies across the board to goods produced by developing countries. The CAP is bad for the poorer countries and for the rest of the world.

Tariffs are a serious problem. Much of the revenue that comes into the coffers of the European Union is dependent on moneys drawn from the tariffs. About a quarter of all moneys that come to the Union are derived from tariffs. The EU therefore has a vested interest, quite apart from its interest in protectionism, in maintaining a tariff structure around its agricultural production. That is one reason why the EU argues in the councils of the world, especially in GATT but also in the World Trade

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Organisation, for protectionism. The EU is one of the last bastions of protectionism--that was certainly true during the Uruguay round--because it is motivated not only by the philosophy of protectionism but by the revenues derived from it.

Mention has been made of the effects of the CAP on EU enlargement. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister argued that enlargement to include the east European countries that desperately depend on getting their products into a protectionist Europe would have implications for reforming the CAP. One could argue that point the other way round by saying that one reason why Europe is so slow to allow those countries to join is precisely because of its fear that the CAP will be fundamentally affected. Of course, under the present way of doing things, it would.

The price distorting element is one major problem of the CAP, another is its pooling nature. Why should Britain put money into a central coffer when one third of it--£2 billion--is taken out to pay other countries for which we as politicians representing our constituencies in this Parliament have no responsibility? Why should 85 per cent.--once one has taken into account the rebate lost--of all the moneys that the European Union kindly allows us in the case of the BSE crisis come from our own taxpayers? Why should we go through the process of cycling money through a bureaucracy, wasting it as we go along, in order simply to fulfil the requirements of the CAP?

It was pointed out earlier that common policies applied in different circumstances have different effects. The milk quota is a good example. The common policy on milk quotas had a different effect in Italy from in Britain where, from time to time, it has been extremely detrimental. We must deal with those two specific problems: price distortion and common pooling.

If we are to support agriculture--I suspect that it would be a common position in the House that British agriculture in many of its facets requires taxpayers' support--we should do so directly rather than through the price mechanism. That is the kind of reform that is needed.

Secondly, if taxpayers' money is to be used, the House of Commons and the British Government, and the Governments of other countries, must have a greater impact on the decisions about how that money is to be raised and spent. I cannot see how one can avoid, particularly in the context of spreading to eastern Europe, eventually returning to some system of national control over agricultural spending within an agricultural policy.

The frustration expressed on both sides of the House about the present system and the present beef crisis comes about largely because we have no real power. Different hon. Members have spoken about different ways of dealing with the matter. One hon. Member says we should be rational, another that we should be much tougher and another that we should use retaliatory measures. All have the common theme that we are dealing with a power which is outside our control. We are not even sure about the extent of our influence. Even when it comes to scientific arguments we are not sure whether we will have any influence. We shall be waiting over the weekend to see whether rational arguments will work on that limited front. However, we do know that the ultimate decisions are not being taken as a direct response to our views and the votes of the House. They do not count. That is why there is no point in having a vote on the matter.

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If we are really concerned about our constituents and our agriculture industry there must at some point be a recognition that we must regain some greater say, some greater influence, in the direct expenditures that we make or do not make--as we decide--on our agriculture industry. That will be good for our consumers, taxpayers and, above all, our agriculture industry.


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