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Mr. Brown: I thank the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) for the unstinting welcome that he has given to my announcement. His judgment, or lack of it, on the issue is exceeded only by his failure to follow the debate. As I have said repeatedly in the House, the beef-on-the-bone ban has absolutely nothing to do with the date-based export scheme, because the date-based export scheme is, as everybody who has followed the debate knows, for deboned beef.

With regard to the advice given me earlier by the chief medical officer for the United Kingdom, not only did I say that I accepted it, as did the then Secretary of State for Health, but I put it in the House of Commons Library so that every hon. Member could see it. Most hon. Members took notice of it and could study the issue on the basis of professional advice.

We did not implement the advice just in England because the Government believe it right to proceed consistently throughout the United Kingdom. That is what we are doing today. It required the consent of others. We sought and obtained that consent, and now we are proceeding. There is nothing new in that. It has been the basis of discussion for several months, as the hon. Gentleman ought to know. As for the advice that was given to my predecessor, that has also been put in the public domain.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's question about compliance cost assessment, that is not the basis on which Government policy is being driven. The Government's policy is being driven by the overriding desire to provide proper protection for the public. The test of whether we are doing so is whether we are acting on the basis of professional medical advice. We are willing to do so and to put the interests of the public first. As the hon. Gentleman has said repeatedly in the House, the current Conservative party leadership is not willing to do that.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that he is making. Does he agree that if the Conservatives had won the last election, the likelihood is that the ban on our beef exports would have lasted for the duration of this Parliament?

On the BSE-linked controls on sheep carcases, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what prospect there is that the restrictions on the sale of carcases of sheep over one year old will be lifted? Does he accept that the resumption of the trade in whole sheep carcases would be welcomed in the Scottish industry and throughout the UK?

Madam Speaker: Order. The Minister has come to the House to make a statement about beef on the bone. I will

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not allow him to answer questions in relation to other subjects. He has made a very restricted statement, and I hope that he will not stray from it when he answers the first part of the question.

Mr. Brown: My right hon. Friend is right. The Government have consistently followed scientific advice, and it is difficult to see how the Opposition could get any of the restrictions lifted in the institutions of the European Union if they are willing to put the scientific advice to one side.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): We welcome the announcement that the ban will one day be lifted, and we hope that that will be on 17 December. We, like the farming community, would have preferred that to happen some months ago. I did not hear the Minister's answer to the question that the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) asked about costs. Will he confirm that the set-up costs for the ban were approximately £25 million and that about £77 million a year has been spent on maintaining it?

Will the Minister also confirm that the Ministry received advice that suggested that it was not assured of success if challenged in the European Court? However, because of probable delays, the Ministry was happy to go ahead with the ban because a challenge was unlikely to be issued within an acceptable time scale. If that is true, why did the Minister allow prosecutions to proceed against many people who sold beef on the bone, especially Mr. "Beefy" Bowman of the Drover's Inn, Harrogate, whose case is on-going although it is currently adjourned? Does he believe--

Madam Speaker: Order. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has many more questions? If so, perhaps he could make written representations.

Mr. Breed: I would be only too pleased to do so. Does the Minister believe that those prosecutions should be dropped without further ado, so that those who have cases hanging over them can get on with running their businesses?

Does the Minister agree with the Leader of the House of Lords that the ban was introduced for "purposes of European diplomacy"? If so, does he believe that £200 million has been well spent?

Mr. Brown: At least my correspondence section will be relieved that the hon. Gentleman managed to get all that out. European diplomacy has nothing to do with the ban. The Government have acted consistently on the advice of their professional advisers; we continue to do that.

On existing prosecutions, I emphasise that the Ministry is not the prosecuting authority. Cutting abattoirs are a matter for the Meat Hygiene Service and other issues are for local authorities to decide. They and the courts--not me--are responsible for enforcing the law.

Our policy is not cost driven. The Government's overriding priority is the protection of the public. The hon. Gentleman asked about the delay in lifting the ban. We have to go through parliamentary procedures to protect

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the rights of the Opposition. If they want to throw those rights away, that will be an amazing revelation to my right hon. Friend the Government Chief Whip, who will take careful note of it.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the ban will be lifted "one day"; it will be lifted on 17 December.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the news that the ban on beef on the bone will be lifted. That news will be welcome to small butchers in Chorley. When I go to Mr. Brown's shop every Saturday to buy my meat, he tells me that he hopes that the ban will be lifted. I can now give him that positive news.

Farmers as well as butchers in Chorley will welcome the news. They believe that agriculture is at the heart of Government policy and that the Government will support them through continued grants. We would welcome my right hon. Friend to Chorley; we hope that he will visit our farmers and ensure that we continue to support agriculture.

Mr. Brown: I hope to be able to visit my hon. Friend's constituency soon, once I have completed one or two other tasks. In the meantime, I know that the butchery trade will welcome the lifting of the ban, because the Government act on the best professional advice that is available to us and to other authorities in the United Kingdom. We are able to lift the ban throughout the United Kingdom, and thus ensure that the announcement is greeted with confidence by consumers as well as the industry.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): There is a serious business behind what is becoming a Whitehall farce. The Government legislated for devolution and under devolution it is expected that there should be different policies in different parts of the United Kingdom from time to time--otherwise, devolution would not exist. Was it thought necessary not to lift the ban in England--even though the Minister and his advisers were convinced that it should be lifted--because that was not acceptable in other parts of the United Kingdom? Will he ensure that he will not hesitate to act on behalf of the devolved interests of the English if a parallel case arises?

Mr. Brown: I am happy to act on the devolved interests of the English, as the right hon. Gentleman puts it, and I have asked the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin), to act within the Department as the Minister for England, as well as carrying out her other responsibilities. We decided not to proceed on an England-only basis because it is clearly in the interests of consumers, as well as the industry, to have a uniform pattern of regulation throughout the United Kingdom on this particular issue. Although it may be possible to act differently on a particular subject, that does not mean that one should seek to do so--especially if it is more rational to act together--and my discussions with my colleagues in the devolved Assemblies have been very mature on all these issues. Those discussions have gone well and we all agree that it is right to act, if we can, in the same way and to the same timetable across the United Kingdom.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he has achieved and urge him to ignore

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the comments of Conservative Members--we would not be anywhere near this far along the line if we relied on their approach. I remind him that the ban on beef on the bone was imposed because of infectivity in the dorsal root ganglia and possible infectivity in the marrow. Can he assure the House that that has not been proved and that that is why he has been able to lift the ban?

Mr. Brown: I am able to raise the ban on retail sales and sales through catering establishments--direct sales--because that is the professional advice I have received. That advice is for all to see, because I have placed it in the Library today. My hon. Friend refers to the attitude of the Opposition, who seem to want to welcome the announcement and jeer it at the same time. They need a more mature strategy for dealing with those issues than merely jeering from the sidelines; and given how these circumstances were brought into being in the first place, a little humility might be appropriate.


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