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Sea Defences

3. Mr. Tyrie: If he will make a statement about resources made available for sea defences. [33753]

Mr. Morley: Allocations for MAFF grants and credit approvals to operating authorities for capital flood and coastal defence works in 1998-99 are at the same levels as plans proposed last year by the previous Government. For future years, the funding level will depend on the outcome of the comprehensive spending review.

Mr. Tyrie: Is the Minister aware that the cost of emergency repairs at Selsey in my constituency is approaching £500,000 and that that money is coming from the Environment Agency budget that was originally earmarked for making more permanent repairs? Is that not a Catch-22 situation, because the more money is spent on emergency repairs, the less is available for making the sea defences permanent? Will the Minister assure my constituents that the Government will make available the resources necessary to bring an end to that absurd situation?

Mr. Morley: I can confirm that, because of the particular problems on the Sussex coast, extra resources have been available in relation to the grant-earning ceiling. That has been raised from the original allocation of £3 million to £3.9 million, which takes into account

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the points that the hon. Gentleman makes about the need for emergency repairs and the fact that the cost of permanent repairs has increased.

Beef Export Ban

4. Mr. Grogan: If he will make a statement on progress towards lifting the beef export ban. [33754]

Dr. John Cunningham: As I have just told the House, on Monday, we secured the first crucial step towards lifting the ban when the Agriculture Council approved the export certified herds scheme by a substantial majority.

Mr. Grogan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there two lessons to be drawn from the successful meeting on Monday? First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane)--whose constituency, even if it is 65 per cent. rural, is not as rural as Selby, which is is about 80 per cent. rural--said, if we are to have the ban lifted in England, Scotland and Wales, we need to maintain our constructive attitudes to Europe. Secondly, and more important, in the coming months we need to maintain the strongest possible public health measures.

Dr. Cunningham: My hon. Friend is right on both counts. It is because we have developed an open and constructive dialogue with all the institutions of the European Union--the Commission, the Council and the Parliament--that we have been able to make progress. The progress is due equally to the fact that we have taken stringent measures to safeguard the public and to ensure that our beef is safe to eat.

Mr. Jack: On behalf of Opposition Members, I welcome the announcement on the lifting of the Northern Ireland beef ban. It is a tribute to the foundation work put in place by previous Agriculture Ministers that this Minister has been able to achieve success in Brussels.

May I press the Minister a little further? A moment ago, he announced that he was confident that the date-based scheme offered the key that would unlock the door to the permanent lifting of the ban for the remainder of the United Kingdom. May I have his assurance that that remains the only barrier to lifting the ban? Will he be initiating a discussion at the next Agriculture Council to try to get on the record some form of indicative timetable for the lifting of the ban? Can he tell us when he expects the centre at Workington to be up and running?

Dr. Cunningham: The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions. First, I give the right hon. Gentleman at least nine out of 10 for brass neck. The previous Administration made no progress towards the lifting of the ban, which the right hon. Gentleman, the House, the country and, more particularly, our farmers know very well. The right hon. Gentleman is also out of touch with what is happening at the next Agriculture Council. The next Council will be a special Council which I have called to hold the opening discussion and debate on the Agenda 2000 proposals. There is no question of my tabling any indicative timetable at that time. The Council has the special and single purpose of discussing Agenda 2000. If the right hon. Gentleman spent more time and paid more attention

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to detail, we might get some sensible questions from him. Finally, we expect the centre at Workington to be operational later this year.

Farm Subsidies

5. Mr. Eric Clarke: When he last visited the north of England to discuss subsidies to farmers. [33755]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker): I visited the region in February when I attended a meeting with the local National Farmers Union.

Mr. Clarke: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. So much for the Conservatives being the party of the countryside. How can the Conservative party represent the countryside when it has no rural representatives--and no urban representatives, either, come to that--in Scotland or Wales? It is illogical. I assume that my hon. Friend will continue to meet farmers throughout the United Kingdom in order to discuss their problems.

Mr. Rooker: The answer to the question implied in my hon. Friend's comments is that we meet farmers regularly throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Subsidies to farmers in Scotland--part of which my hon. Friend represents--were £480 million last year, which is an all-time high.

Mr. Jack: Farmers in the north of England will be interested in the recently published proposals for Agenda 2000--and particularly the way in which they affect the dairy sector. Can the Minister tell me whether, at the special Council which his right hon. Friend the Minister will be attending at the end of the month, he will be raising the fact that there is to be a 2 per cent. increase in milk quota, but that, as we have no mountain dairy producers or, at this stage, a newcomers' scheme, Britain will get no increase in milk quota, but will suffer a 15 per cent. reduction in the price of milk? Can the Minister give us an assurance that he will protect Britain's dairy farmers in those discussions?

Mr. Rooker: Yes, the issue will be raised.

Meat and Bonemeal (Disposal)

6. Ms Drown: What steps his Department is taking (a) to provide for the incineration of more meat and bonemeal and (b) to reduce the need for MBM storage. [33756]

Mr. Rooker: The Government are actively considering a number of major disposal options involving incineration for the meat and bonemeal derived from the over- 30-months scheme. Our goal remains to find a disposal solution which takes full account of the need to protect human and environmental health, while keeping the cost to the taxpayer as low as possible.

Ms Drown: I thank the Minister for his reply. My constituents turned out in force last week at a council planning meeting and they were delighted that the council unanimously rejected a plan to store meat and bone meal at an inappropriate site in Wroughton in my constituency.

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Will the Minister assure my constituents that MAFF, the intervention board and the Environment Agency will put no pressure on the applicant to appeal against the decision, so that my residents' wishes are respected?

Mr. Rooker: Yes; not only will MAFF not put any pressure on the applicant to make an appeal, but, if the applicant makes an appeal, we will put no pressure on the appellate authorities.

Farm Products

8. Mr. Hoyle: If he will launch a campaign to promote the safety and quality of British farm products. [33760]

Mr. Rooker: The safety and quality of British foods are second to none. My colleagues and I take every opportunity to publicise that fact, and to stimulate the effective marketing of our products. Promotional campaigns are really a matter for the trade, as they are far more expert at them than are the Government. However, we do what we can to support the various and many trade initiatives.

Mr. Hoyle: I am slightly disappointed by that answer--although it might help a bit if the Minister were to take on board the fact that the oldest agricultural show is staged in my constituency of Chorley. There are many agricultural shows across the country, at which MAFF has exhibitions. What better opportunity could there be to ensure and promote the safety and quality of our good British products? With a little imagination, which I know they have, the Government could raise the profile of safety and quality by promoting them at those shows. Such promotion is all the more important as some people, such as the French, continue to block British beef products but are not sorting out their own house.

Mr. Rooker: I understand and share my hon. Friend's concern. MAFF has travelling exhibitions which visit most of the shows and major exhibitions, such as the food fair that will soon be held in London. We have also sponsored a major British specialities exhibition at the food and drink expo--which I visited on Monday--at the national exhibition centre, in Birmingham. Although we shall continue our exhibitions, it is for the trade to push the matter. Ministers will give what support we can, and we shall visit as many shows as possible--especially targeting shows that Ministers have previously avoided.

Dr. Julian Lewis: How can the Minister justify the continuing ban on sales of beef on the bone in the light of the advice given by his own Ministry to the landlord of the Elm Tree pub in Swanwick that it is perfectly legal for him to cook beef on the bone if he strips it off the bone after it is cooked in the kitchen and before he serves it to his customers? How do the Minister and his colleagues, having introduced the legislation, feel to be the first Labour Ministers since Ramsay Macdonald--who earned the title from Winston Churchill, in 1931--to be boneless wonders?

Mr. Rooker: The hon. Gentleman and most of his colleagues have not quite got the message: the decisions that we took last December have enabled us to start to secure the beginning of the lifting of the beef ban. If what

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the hon. Gentleman said about the cooking of beef on the bone is accurate, it is contrary to the regulations. It is an offence to cook beef on the bone. As we have repeatedly made it clear, the danger will be in the juices--[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Oh, yes; and we will not be the first Government knowingly to put infectivity in the food chain. Fairly soon, Conservative Members will get that message.

Mr. Hanson: Does my hon. Friend accept that farmers and consumers in my constituency realise that one of the best ways of promoting the safety of British food is by establishing the Food Standards Agency? Will he perhaps tell the House how he will promote that agency, so that producers and consumers understand the importance of promoting and improving our food?

Mr. Rooker: Yes. The consultation round on the White Paper "A Force for Change" concluded on Monday, and more than 400 representations were made. We expect to produce draft legislation for the House to consider by the early summer, to produce a Bill for the next parliamentary Session, and to have the agency up and running in the second half of next year.

Mr. Swinney: Once the date-based scheme is secure, will the Minister and the Government consider launching a campaign based on the safety and quality of United Kingdom beef, to ensure that our farmers can reclaim some of the export markets that have undoubtedly been jeopardised by the beef ban of the past two years?

Mr. Rooker: Yes. It would be useful to the House. Recently, Professor Philip James, having been asked about the safety of British beef, said in evidence to the Agriculture Committee:

the European Commission's scientific steering committee--

    "believe that meat and meat products from Britain are safer than in most other European countries."

Mr. Soames: Will the hon. Gentleman join me in applauding the work of Food From Britain, which does an extraordinarily good job of promoting British food abroad? Does he agree that farmers need to do more to sell food directly to the consumer? What plans does he have to encourage farmers' markets, which are such a success in the United States of America and could do so much to bring farmers closer to consumers, to the benefit of both?

Mr. Rooker: Question Time is not the time to go into great detail, but when I was at the expo on Monday, I saw the excellent way in which Welsh beef farmers have been marketing pink beef and veal. They never thought of or needed to do such marketing before and they have the full support of my Department.

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