Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Imported Meat

7. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): If he will make a statement about the powers he has to ban imported meat. [67802]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown): The rules for intra-Community trade in meat and for imports from third countries are laid down in European Community legislation. Member states have powers to take interim protective measures in cases where a disease or other serious threat to public or animal health exists.

Mr. Swayne: I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) pointed out, under the treaty of Rome, the Minister has the power to ban imports on grounds of animal welfare and public health. Will he use those powers to alleviate the crisis in the pig industry, where producers are being undercut by meat from abroad that is reared in much less suitable circumstances and fed on feeds that would be illegal in this country?

Mr. Brown: I can use the powers under article 36 for the purposes that are set out. We use them, for example, to ban imports of specified risk materials from cattle, sheep and goats, but I cannot use the article as a general protectionist measure, as the hon. Gentleman wants me to do.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): This morning, we have had many questions about GMOs, but some of us think that an even greater threat to public health could

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1068

come from artificial growth hormones that are injected into, or fed to, beef cattle. As I understand it, the product is already coming into this country and we are defenceless to stop it. What is the situation? Is it too late to stop that threat to public health?

Mr. Brown: Those matters are under consideration by the Commission. The European Union has a difference of view with the United States.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): What assessment has the Ministry made in view of the unfortunate industrial dispute that is taking place in the Meat Hygiene Service and this week's threat that the one-day stoppages or withdrawals may escalate to two or three days? What action does the Ministry propose to take to deal with the knock-on impact that that escalation could have on domestic demand for meat consumption, and the fact that all it will do is help our competitors to penetrate our market with imports that are all too often of an inferior quality?

Mr. Brown: The Meat Hygiene Service is set up as a next steps agency. I hope that the industrial dispute that is under way is resolved soon. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be the first to appreciate, the Government's priority is to ensure that the public are protected.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Why should we not, on principle, simply block the importation of pigmeat if it has been inhumanely produced?

Mr. Brown: Because this country has a huge vested interest in free trade, rather than in specific protectionist measures. I want British farmers to get that welfare premium in the marketplace, but, to achieve that, we must have clear labelling, the support of the British retail consortiums and other retailers and, above all, the support of United Kingdom consumers. We must encourage them to consume from welfare-friendly production systems, which will be a great support to the UK industry and, indeed, a great advance for animal welfare.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Yes, the farmers are looking for a level playing field, but, to be able to export, farmers have to survive the winter. Does the Minister accept that many sheep farmers are finding it extremely difficult because the grass has stopped growing and they have no money with which to buy feed for their animals? Can he accelerate the hill livestock compensatory allowance package and the ewe premium package that he announced last November to bring the cash forward more quickly?

Mr. Brown: It is my intention that the enhanced HLCA payments that I announced last November are paid before the end of this financial year. I know that that will give some support for the hard-pressed sheep industry. The mechanism that I used--enhancing the HLCAs--was the only one that was open to me to give extra support to the sheep industry. The Government recognised the difficulties and responded with that one-off aid package.

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1069

Common Fisheries Policy

9. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): What meetings he has had recently with the representatives of the United Kingdom fishing industry to discuss reform of the common fisheries policy. [67804]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): I regularly meet members of the United Kingdom fishing industry when we discuss possible changes to the common fisheries policy.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Representatives of the United Kingdom fishing industry will have studied the fisheries debate that took place in the Chamber shortly before Christmas. Can my hon. Friend say what the industry's reaction was to the Tory party policy of declaring national territorial waters and fighting some sort of fish war, rather like the previous beef war? Do the fishermen think that that is a realistic and sensible policy? What is my hon. Friend's assessment of that approach to the common fisheries policy?

Madam Speaker: Order. That is nothing to do with the Minister. The hon. Gentleman is asking about the Opposition's policy. It is not a relevant question for the Minister and I shall move on.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): In the context of the negotiations about the common fisheries policy, can the Minister say what emphasis has been placed on the possibility of zonal management committees or councils, which would not go against the concept of the Hague preference, but would take account of the fragile nature of many of our coastal communities and the nature of the stocks in those areas?

Mr. Morley: That is a good point. We have been discussing ways of achieving a greater regional dimension within the common fisheries policy and a zonal approach is part of that. I am interested in those ideas, which are also formulated in a paper from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. That approach to reforming the CFP and making it better and more practical is far better than any unrealistic policy of reneging on treaty obligations. That is not seen as a credible option by the fishermen and, when espoused by the Conservative party, it is not seen as a credible option by many of its members.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): There is a sustained discussion going on about the need to reform the common agricultural policy before European Union enlargement. What about reform of the common fisheries policy, which is just as important to our fishing communities as is reform of the CAP to our farming communities? When will we see a ban on industrial fishing? What guarantees can my hon. Friend give to our fishing communities that, with enlargement, our fishermen and their communities will be protected against the possible incursion of large fleets that are owned and operated by some of the applicant nations? Let us have a statement on that.

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1070

Mr. Morley: I recognise my hon. Friend's point about industrial fishing. At the next Fisheries Council, the United Kingdom will be advocating new proposals for seasonal closed areas from the Orkneys down to the Humber, which we hope will recognise the concerns about the impact of such fishing, based on the precautionary principle.

My hon. Friend is right to say that enlargement issues concern our fishing industry and our national interest. It is because of that that the principle of relative stability, which guarantees our quota share and that of other member states, is an important principle that we intend to protect within the negotiations on the CFP post-2002. That will protect our fleet from the effects of enlargement and the potential entry of large Polish fleets, for example.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Is it not true that the Minister is nothing if not brazen? After all, before the election the Minister said that he was prepared to go to Amsterdam and say that there would be no progress on treaty negotiation unless quota hopping was dealt with. When he arrived, he threw in the towel the moment his plane touched down. Is the Minister seriously suggesting that our partners in Europe will willingly agree to our regaining control of our waters, which is what the fishing industry wants? Will he back us when we say that we should be as resolute in making and securing those demands as the noble Baroness Thatcher when she secured our original budget contribution? In a word, is the hon. Gentleman prepared to say on behalf of the British fishing industry that he is not prepared to take no for an answer?

Mr. Morley: First, may I correct the hon. Gentleman? Before the election, we said that we did not rule out any approach to deal with issues such as quota hoppers, for example. That was the line we followed. The previous Government had no support for any of the changes that they proposed. Now, after 18 years of supporting the common fisheries policy, during which time they could not resolve quota hopping, agreed to Spanish access to western waters, could not resolve fishing issues or take forward uniform enforcement across the European Union, they seem to be saying that, in some way, they could negotiate a withdrawal from the CFP and tear up treaties agreed by their Administration. It is not credible to do that. Neither is it credible to use the fishing industry as part of the agenda for a eurosceptic attack on the European Union.

Next Section

IndexHome Page