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Mr. Beggs: There is no evidence that the problem can be transferred from mother to calf. The hon. Gentleman is right, however, to suggest that more compound feedstuffs will have been used to finish cross-bred cattle.

Mr. Morgan: I was not referring to the possibility of maternal transmission. That is an entirely different issue, which is still the subject of experimentation at Weybridge. I hope that the Minister, or other Ministers tomorrow, will be able to tell us more about that experiment; I asked about it today, but my questions were not answered. The issue is dear to my heart. I hope that the experiment will be completed, and that Ministers will tell us the results when they have them--in the summer or autumn, I believe.

The problems of south-west Wales have been mentioned, and I want to concentrate on Wales. We have already heard several speeches about Welsh agriculture,

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but I am sure that many of the points that I shall make have parallels in other parts of the United Kingdom. A big question is how well the Government have handled their new policy on the slaughter of cattle and their removal from the human food chain. The farmers told us today that they had concluded that the Government did not have a clue what they were doing. They go over to Europe and tell people there that they are introducing a scheme, but weeks later the scheme has not been introduced; yet they expect Europe to take it on trust that such and such a slaughter policy is being implemented and that cattle are already being removed from the food chain. We know, because our farmers are telling us, that that has not happened. Weeks later, a huge backlog has built up on farms of animals that have not yet been processed through a scheme that the Government are trying to persuade Europe that they have introduced.

If our farmers do not trust the Government's ability to implement a scheme in the time scale that they promised, consumers in Germany, France and other European Union countries cannot be expected to have faith in their capacity to implement it. We know that it is not working in this country.

Today we were given a letter from the Minister of State--the only agriculture Minister who is not in the Chamber now--listing the slaughterhouses that would participate in the scheme to remove cattle aged over 30 months from the food chain. It is difficult for us to have much faith in the information, at least as regards Wales. Three abattoirs in Wales are listed, but the National Farmers Union told us today that one is not participating. Geographically, the abattoirs are quite well distributed, but the one that apparently will not participate is located in the area which contains most of the cows that will need to be processed. One is in Gaerwen in Anglesey, which is a fairly important area, and one in Abergavenny in Gwent, near the English border; that, too, is a fairly important area.

The most important area, where almost 70 per cent. of the cows are stacked up on the farms and no one knows what to do with them, is Dyfed in south-west Wales. That area has the highest concentration of BSE outbreaks; we need to take urgent action. We have been told that Oriel Jones in Llanybydder, which has been mentioned, is not participating in the scheme. How much credence is the House to give to the letter from the Minister of State? If we cannot place our trust in it because the slaughterhouse that should be serving 70 per cent. of the cattle is not participating, although it is listed, what are our colleagues in the Council of Ministers supposed to make of it when they look for suitable reassurances? That below-par performance from the Government is consistent with the pattern of performance that we have seen since the beginning of the saga.

Mr. Douglas Hogg: While it is perfectly fair to criticise the Government, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take into account the possible impact on Europe of inaccurate remarks. As I said earlier, today more than 4,000 cattle have been slaughtered. I hope that we shall soon be slaughtering 18,000 or so a week in England and Wales. It is important not to misunderstand those facts.

Mr. Morgan: I was reporting what the NFU in Wales had told me and other Welsh Members of Parliament today. We were told that the three slaughterhouses in

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Wales--it appears to be only two--had slaughtered a cumulative total of 225 cattle. There are many cattle in Wales; there are 70,000 in the backlog--55,000 of them, we understand, in Dyfed, where there is no participating slaughterhouse. I am therefore not exaggerating the likelihood of there being serious problems; I am simply giving the figures that were provided to us by farmers' representatives, based on their knowledge and the information that they had been given by the slaughterhouses.

I hope that the Minister will refer to the fact that we have no rendering capacity in Wales; we understand from the NFU that there is no such capacity and there is only one incinerator. The incinerator in Haverfordwest in south-west Wales cannot be served by a local slaughterhouse. There are logistical problems in getting cattle to two slaughterhouses in south-east Wales and north-west Wales, then into England for rendering, then back down to Haverfordwest in the extreme south-westerly corner of Wales for incineration. That process will pose big problems for the country roads of Wales throughout the summer. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurances on that point.

There has been a breakdown of trust in general between the farming industry and the Government. There is also a breakdown of trust between the farmers and the feed mills. The farmers believe that the feed mills poisoned their cattle and caused BSE when the changeover from batch production to continuous feed occurred. At that time, much material was being processed at below the proper temperature and no one did anything about it; it was not regulated or stopped. The farmers believe that it is essential to restore a measure of regulation into the feed mill industry. Until six weeks ago--March 31--it was still possible for infected feed to be introduced from chicken feed, which was still allowed to contain the specified bovine offal. The offal in chicken feed and pig feed was coming--via the same lorries and feed mills--into the food being fed to dairy cattle. That problem has now been solved, but it should have been solved six or seven years earlier.

Why has it taken the Government so long to move towards using the available cold storage that is not in use? What proposals are there to reactivate the redundant slaughterhouses that have been closed in the rationalisation process and thus increase the slaughtering capacity? Are we still in the hands of the rendering industry? Is it setting the agenda for the Government and causing the agriculture industry and the other by-product industries to suffer until it gets its act together?

Will the Government tell us what is to happen about traceability? Will there be a scheme similar to the one in Northern Ireland so that we know exactly when beef animals were slaughtered, what farm and herd they came from and their cross or whatever else needs to be known? Using the Northern Ireland standard of traceability would be a good starting point and would help to restore confidence to the British consumer and to our partners in the European Community. People would know that the Government were not merely talking about solving the problem but were implementing measures--not just planning them--so that when the Minister goes to Brussels and says, "This is what we intend to do next week," it actually happens at that time.

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There has been a series of delays, prevarications and dithering. A breakdown in confidence is apparent throughout agriculture over the Government's handling of the issue. That is why we shall seek to divide the House tomorrow on the issue of how badly the Government have handled the BSE crisis.

9.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones): The debate has been good in some parts and not so good in others. I am glad to have this opportunity to speak in a debate that was opened so excellently by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In the circumstances, his was a measured speech. I can speak from close experience of his skill and ability and his energy, enthusiasm and emotion. He has fought tenaciously and diplomatically for our best interests in Europe. I know that, because I was alongside him in Luxembourg at the invitation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

There was not the slightest doubt that the interests of Wales were fully represented by the Minister, that it improved our representation and presentation and gave us the opportunity for immediate discussions on matters affecting all the countries of the United Kingdom. Not least, we were able to increase our activities at the margins in our contacts with member states. My noble Friend Baroness Denton of Wakefield represented Northern Ireland's interests, and my noble Friend Lord Lindsay had Scotland's interests to the fore. The fact that we have not completely succeeded is not failure. Progress is being made in the context of responses by the Commission and member states, and is a demonstration of the sheer magnitude of the problem of this unjustified ban.

If my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture's opening speech was excellent, we were all greatly disappointed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), whose speech might have been more typical of a Scottish Grand Committee, because it seemed to be a north-of-the-border long lament. He made much of this not being the sort of debate that he wanted, and that there was something wrong with the motion. As the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members know, today is not the only opportunity we have had to debate this matter. The hon. Gentleman could have had a debate on it during an Opposition day if he was so impatient.

If the issue is so important to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East where was his real contribution? I listened carefully for any positive remarks. He reiterated what he has said at other times and on which there is wide agreement--that it is important to pursue the issue of traceability and the quality assurance scheme. He rightly spoke about what has been done in Northern Ireland but, essentially, it was the typical, negative contribution that we hear so often from the Opposition, especially from their Front Bench. I noticed that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), who wound up for the Opposition, sought to outdo only his negative contribution.

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