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Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): My right hon. Friend's announcement is a further example of the Labour Government delivering on their pledges--we have done it; the Conservatives destroyed the market.

I take my right hon. Friend back to the Meat and Livestock Commission, and what part it can play in Europe. Will we support it with increased resources? Will it sponsor an advertising campaign throughout the European Union to develop the markets for beef, and our re-entry into those markets? Will there be any opportunity for British producers to promote beef--perhaps through trade fairs--and perhaps even to foster some sort of beef price war in Europe so that we can reclaim markets, taking into account the experience of the Northern Irish in recent months, which has not been too good?

Mr. Brown: I welcome what my hon. Friend says, and thank him for his kind remarks.

On exports from Northern Ireland, when I visited Bologna last week, Paolo de Castro, my Italian ministerial counterpart, served me Northern Ireland beef and Italian mushrooms for lunch. It was not only delicious, but a great compliment, and it shows how far things have moved. The best thing that we can do is explain how Britain has got through the BSE crisis, explain what measures we have put in place to ensure that exported British beef is truly among the safest in the world--that goes for Northern Ireland beef from the herd scheme that is in place in Northern Ireland as well--and restore consumer confidence in British beef as a first-class product.

The MLC has a number of ideas, and I stand ready to explore all these matters with it, but I do not want to make a further announcement this afternoon.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): May I congratulate the Minister, without equivocation, on his achievement in obtaining a lifting of the export ban on British beef? There is no doubt that his personal negotiating skills have played a part, and I congratulate him on that.

Will the Minister answer two questions? First, when does he think that SEAC will advise him to allow the sale of beef on the bone in the United Kingdom? That would be another fillip and encouragement to the farming industry. Secondly, will he ensure that the veterinary and hygiene costs that are to be imposed on our abattoirs are no greater than those imposed on abattoirs in countries elsewhere in the European Union? The abattoir industry in this country is greatly concerned that the costs that it is having to meet will put some abattoirs out of business. Those costs are unfair, and not the same as those being imposed in other EU countries.

Mr. Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He has not always spoken warmly about the European Union and its institutions, so his remarks today are all the more welcome. I promise that I will take a hard look at the costs of the meat hygiene service and veterinary surgeons in abattoirs, and see what can be done. Public safety must come first, however, so I am not

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certain that I shall be able to do everything that he wants. I take the point that he made about comparable costs in other member states. He asked about advice from SEAC. I anticipate a report from it soon.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): Is my right hon. Friend aware that he, his departmental colleagues and the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), deserve the thanks of the whole House for getting us to this point?

Although I accept that, if we are to meet the stringent conditions for exporting British beef and rebuilding our export markets, the main challenge lies with the meat industry, including abattoirs, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have an important part to play, not least because of the emphasis on traceability in relation to the cull and the criteria for exporting beef? Is he willing to take a personal interest in the new cattle traceability scheme, and do his level best to make the centre at Workington a model not just for Europe but for the rest of the world in terms of speed, reliability and overall efficiency?

Mr. Brown: I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said. He, too, has played a part in those matters. What he says about traceability is absolutely right. Traceability is here to stay. I have visited the cattle movement service headquarters at Workington--indeed, I opened it. I found the young staff enthusiastic about what they were doing, and doing a good job well. On support for the meat industry and the Meat and Livestock Commission, I shall see what I can do to help.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): I hope that the Minister and the House will join me in thanking the Minister's officials, who deserve praise for their contribution to the lifting of the ban. Without their work behind the scenes, none of the progress in which we can rejoice today could have been made.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) asked the Minister whether resources would be made available from within his existing budget to help with the marketing effort. Will he produce a parallel package--in pro rata terms, worth some £11 million--to that provided by the Northern Ireland Office to help it to rebuild its markets in Europe?

Mr. Brown: I must operate within the budgetary constraints of the comprehensive spending review, but I shall see what I can do. It is right that the Government explain to those who used to be our trading partners in beef--we hope that they will be our trading partners again--exactly what we have done to ensure that the public, overseas and at home, are protected from BSE and new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The only way that we can rebuild our markets is through proper explanation.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about my officials. In my short time at the Department, I have been well served by senior officials, who have put in very long hours, not only to join me in the range of bilateral discussions that I have had to have with other countries, but to prepare for the meetings and

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discuss with other officials, so that the Ministers I meet are properly advised. They have worked extremely hard, and deserve the House's gratitude.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): I thank my right hon. Friend for his successful and doughty efforts. He speaks for the whole country. How does he assess the impact of the lifting of the ban on Wales, especially on my constituency, where farmers have had a nightmarish time, and have edged towards bankruptcy? How does he assess the impact of CAP reform on dairy farming?

Mr. Brown: The British, Italian, Danish and Swedish proposals for reform of the dairy sector are extensive, and involve a phasing out of quota by 2006. They have not been agreed by others on the Council of Ministers, and the Commission and other member states have made alternative proposals. It is too early to give my hon. Friend a definitive answer, but we want radical reform.

The announcement was widely welcomed by farm leaders from Welsh farming unions. Such is the importance of the announcement that they were in Brussels to hear at first hand how matters had transpired at the Council of Ministers. I hope that today's announcement, together with the one I made last week on support, particularly through the hill livestock compensatory allowances, will have a positive impact on agriculture in Wales.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): I congratulate the Minister, as I am sure the whole House does. First, has he taken any action with America and Canada to ensure that their import ban is lifted? No one can now argue that British beef is not as safe as beef from anywhere else in the world. Secondly, is it not a hurdle to the export of animals that it has to be proved that the dam was alive six months before the animal to be exported goes into the scheme? Is it correct that a statement witnessed by the farmer will not be adequate? Will the Ministry of Agriculture establish a special unit for this purpose? If so, will he ensure that farmers, who have suffered profit losses of between 45 and 50 per cent. over these years, will not have another cost imposed on them, and that the cost will be borne by MAFF?

Mr. Brown: The right hon. Gentleman makes two important points. We shall have to set up a unit in MAFF to deal with that technical issue. The dam must be alive six months before the animal goes into the scheme. As certification from the farmer will not be enough, in itself, for the workings of the scheme, the only way we can verify that is to establish a unit within the Department.

I am examining what the Government can properly do about costs. I am, in principle, considering making a contribution from the funds of my Department, at least to the start-up costs of the scheme, although some costs will have to be borne by the industry. No final decision has been reached, but the Government will have to provide some support to get the scheme up and running.

The worldwide ban was imposed on the United Kingdom by the European Union, and it operated worldwide. We have got that lifted, so it is now possible for us to commence discussions with other countries who

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were previously our trading partners in beef products, such as America and Canada, to get their bilateral bans lifted. I shall certainly attempt that.

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