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Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Obviously, this is great news for farmers in the north-west, which is the second most affected region. What can we do to promote the quality beef that is produced in England? Wales can sell its beef on the back of the success of its Welsh lamb, which is delivered all around the world. That is a prime example of the good branding of a quality product. I believe that we shall not have the same support in England. What new initiatives will the Minister introduce to support English farmers? Will he give them the same support as is given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. I shall be working with the Meat Livestock Commission to ensure that there is proper marketing support behind the new export drive. It is also important for us, as public representatives, to play our part. This issue should not become unreasonably politicised, but we should explain what our country has done to ensure that our beef is entirely safe. That is the key message we should be sending out, and it has the great merit of being completely true. Beef is safe.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): First, I thank the Minister for his statement, and I congratulate him on the efforts that he has made since he took office. A great handicap to the export of beef is the fact that beef on the bone cannot be exported. I know that the Minister anticipates that that ban will be lifted in the United Kingdom--in the near future, I hope. Will the same apply, in the end, to the export of beef to Europe, or will there have to be another month of tortuous negotiation with the European Commission?

Mr. Brown: I am afraid that the blunt answer to the last question is yes. The date-based export scheme relates to deboned beef: it therefore excludes live animals and whole carcases, and, indeed, any other beef on the bone.

As the incidence of BSE in this country lessens, we shall want to deal with the issue, but the Government's view is the same as that of the last Government when they negotiated the agreements in Florence. We think that we should make a start, and this is a good start, which will give us a chance not only to recover markets, but to explain our current arrangements to ensure that beef products from Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom are completely safe.

Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): I thank my right hon. Friend for all the efforts that he has made since taking up his present post. I know that farmers in my constituency have great confidence in him, because they cancelled an arrangement that they had made to come here, yet again, to lobby Warwickshire Members. Owing to my right hon. Friend's efforts, they decided that such action was unnecessary at this time. That denotes an enormous increase in confidence in him, and in the present Government.

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My right hon. Friend has plainly met one major challenge, but the greatest challenge of all will be reform of the common agricultural policy. What part are the Government taking in that?

Mr. Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks.

Since becoming Minister of Agriculture, I have set out to meet not just farm representatives, but individual farmers. The priorities in my work load have been informed by what I have been told by farmers, as well as their representatives.

I assure my hon. Friend that the British Government are in the vanguard of nation states that seek radical reform of the CAP, so that it can meet the challenges of an increasingly liberalised world market that is moving remorselessly towards us, whether we reform or not. The Government believe that we should be ahead of the game, rather than running behind it.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): I congratulate the Minister on bringing a good day to British farming. That has been rare in recent years. Does he accept, however, that the crisis is not yet over, and that a difficult winter lies ahead for many farmers in my constituency and elsewhere? Will he consider working with representatives of the British banking industry, and trying to persuade them that they should continue to support farmers in the coming months, so that, when better days come, there are still farmers in business to enjoy them?

Mr. Brown: Yes. A huge effort has been made, in terms of officials' as well as Ministers' time, to secure what I have announced today. Last week, I announced a package of measures specifically designed to deal with the current difficulties in the farming sector. The purpose of all that has been to ensure that the industry can experience better times--and those better times, we hope, are being negotiated within the CAP. CAP reform is crucial to the long-term stability and security of the domestic industry.

I hope to meet representatives of the sector that specialises in agricultural banking shortly.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend and his predecessor on the tremendous news that we have heard today, and on the excellent work that went into bringing it about. I pay tribute to other Shropshire Members, past and present, and to the MEP for Hereford and Shropshire--a constituency that includes Wyre Forest--who have undertaken some hard lobbying of my right hon. Friend.

What initial targets and estimates has my right hon. Friend for the reclaiming of the export market? In particular, may I ask what figures he has in mind in relation to the next 12 months?

Mr. Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, and acknowledge the tribute he pays to representatives from his area, who have all played a constructive part in the discussions.

I shall not be setting targets. It would be quite wrong for us to do anything other than acknowledge that it will be difficult to recapture markets that were lost to us.

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A surplus of beef products in the EU makes it pretty difficult to do so. The important thing is that the legal barrier to us trying to do so has been lifted, and we can make a start. It will take time, and I am afraid that the early start might be slow, but we must get on with it.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): May I also congratulate the Minister on his success in securing a lifting of the ban throughout the European Union? I thank him for his visits to Wales during a difficult period for farmers, and for his work alongside ministerial colleagues in the Welsh Office. While he thinks about ways in which we can promote Welsh beef and beef from other countries of Britain, may I commend to him the success, for example, of branding Welsh lamb? When he considers ways in which he can sell the idea of reopening markets for Welsh beef, will he remind our colleagues in Europe that some of the best beef is finished on grass? That should be an enormous selling point. Will he confirm that any measures implemented in MAFF will be mirrored in the Welsh and Scottish Offices?

Mr. Brown: Yes, I can confirm that. My visits to Wales have enabled me to hear at first hand the views of farming leaders as well as individual farmers in Wales. The fact that the Government are listening and making policy that is informed by what farmers say has been widely welcomed--nowhere more so than in Wales. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North): I welcome very much my right hon. Friend's statement. Is he aware of substantial concerns about the safety of beef production and the incidence of BSE elsewhere in Europe and the world? What discussions are taking place in Europe to ensure that other Governments implement the same stringent controls as ours in order to prevent the spread of BSE?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. The EU is considering Europewide measures on specified risk material and other precautionary regimes on BSE that would apply throughout Europe. The UK's contribution to those discussions is, of course, informed by our experience of these matters. I have offered to share our science and technical expertise with other member states, so that, if a crisis looms in their countries, they can get through it with knowledge of some of the things that we have had to learn the hard way.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): Although I, too, welcome the Minister's statement, which reflects his personal efforts as well as those of his predecessors, will he use this opportunity to remind the House that this decision very much falls into the context of the progressive decline of the BSE epidemic in cattle? There is a strong probability that no more than 1 per cent. of total cases ever has yet to come to light.

In the wider context of Agenda 2000, will he consider with his European colleagues the implications of supply and demand in the European beef industry for land use, and contemplate constructive measures to encourage further extensification, and possibly the conversion of some grazing land to other uses?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He makes two important points. On discussions

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on Agenda 2000 proposals, there is widespread recognition throughout the EU of a structural surplus in beef products with which we must deal. Within that broad recognition, there is further discussion on whether priority should be given to extensive or intensive systems. Clearly, different countries approach that depending on their domestic circumstances.

I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the reported number of BSE-affected cattle seems to be coming down in line with predictions, which rather confirms and underpins the Government's approach.

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