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Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): We are not jeering from the sidelines; we are condemning the Minister for having had the advice since September and doing nothing about it for England. If he is thinks that his logic about having to have uniformity for the whole of the United Kingdom makes any sense for my constituents in Devon, he is talking nonsense. Will he therefore give this country an undertaking that, if a similar situation arises, he will not be vetoed by the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Brown: The right hon. Gentleman should now take a deep breath. The different authorities in the United Kingdom are acting in concert not because we have to, but because we want to.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement, which is consistent with sound scientific advice and administrative common sense. However, what guidance will he give the enforcement authorities in the consultation period until 17 December? He has correctly drawn attention to the fact that the Ministry is not the enforcement authority in these cases.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is on to a good point. I have asked the enforcement authorities to take careful note of today's statement and, in particular, of the fact that it is the Government's clear intention to have the ban lifted across the United Kingdom, in concert with the other authorities, by 17 December.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Will the Minister of Agriculture apologise to the House? Once again, we find that the House is being informed a long time after the press has been briefed on these matters, and it is a contempt of the House for the Government repeatedly to make announcements outside before making them to Members of Parliament.

Mr. Brown: I take that as a welcome for today's announcement. If the House is due an apology, surely it should come from those who presided over these circumstances in the first place.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity once and for all to explode

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the myth that was being peddled as the Conservative spokesman traipsed the radio and television studios this lunchtime in advance of this parliamentary announcement? He said that the beef-on-the-bone ban has hindered the lifting of the beef export ban. Is not the opposite the case? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we would not have got the beef export ban lifted if we had ignored our official scientific advice? Does that not show that the Conservative party has learned nothing since it gave us BSE?

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The date-based export scheme and the beef-on-the-bone ban are not related, because of the nature of the export scheme. This is a national interest and should not be a party political point. It does our country no favours to wander around the studios suggesting that there is a connection when there clearly is not.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): When will we get the truth from the Government, which is that two years ago they introduced an unnecessary ban when they had an option not to do so, because that was part of the chief medical officer's advice? When will they stop blaming the chief medical officer for their own lack of judgment? When will we get an apology from Ministers for wasting two years with an unnecessary ban that has caused damage not just to farmers, but to restaurateurs, hoteliers and caterers? Will Ministers be prepared to make reparations to the people whom they unnecessarily damaged?

Mr. Brown: I have complete confidence in the professional advice that I receive from the UK Government's professional advisers. [Hon. Members: "Why not act on it?"] I am acting on it. The right hon. Gentleman asks when we will know the truth. I think that we will know the truth about the BSE tragedy, inasmuch as anyone ever can, once the inquiry reports.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons the British public are eating more British beef than they did before BSE is that they now know that the Government will properly protect the consumer and will take sound medical advice, rather than play every food issue for petty party advantage?

Mr. Brown: Of course my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government's priority is to protect the consumer, and we do that by acting on professional advice.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Today's announcement is a bit late, but most welcome. Will the Minister concentrate on giving the Meat and Livestock Commission sufficient resources to ensure that it can work hard to recover the market that we have lost?

Mr. Brown: I agree with that. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I are meeting those most directly concerned with beef exports tomorrow to discuss the way forward.

Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): It is rich of Conservative Members to demand an apology from the

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Minister on this issue, which he has handled with enormous skill that is worthy of the support of the House. He has done remarkably well. I have not heard an apology from Conservative Members for BSE the whole time I have been in the House. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the House should receive an apology from Conservative Members for their mishandling of the BSE crisis?

Mr. Brown: I think that I can modestly agree with that. As for the apologies, we shall await the outcome of the BSE inquiry.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): Has the Minister no sense of urgency? Does he not realise that farmers in Bedfordshire, whether they are producing beef, poultry or pigs, are dying on their feet and watching him doing nothing week after week? We welcome this statement at last, but others who are watching their businesses go down the drain are looking for action. Please will he take it?

Mr. Brown: Farmers are indeed getting action today because I am lifting the ban. There is a parliamentary procedure to go through. We have such parliamentary procedures to protect the rights of the Opposition, which I would have thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be keener on now that he is that side of the House. The procedure that I am adopting, which I assume has the House's consent, is an accelerated procedure. I have also specifically drawn today's statement to the attention of the enforcement authorities.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): I welcome the lifting of the ban, but will the Minister acknowledge that it caused serious damage to the reputation of the finest beef in the world--British beef? It also exposed a dangerous rift in Government over how questions of risk should be dealt with.

Now that the ban has gone, what steps is the Minister taking to re-examine the operation of the over-30-months scheme, particularly in respect of beef herds in which there has been no incidence of BSE, and in which the animals are fed on grass and are slow in maturing?

Mr. Brown: The first step is to receive advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, and I expect to receive it soon.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the lifting of the ban, but I fundamentally disagree with his point about damage to the beef industry. I believe that real and sustained damage would be done to the industry

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if the public could not have confidence in the public protection measures that enable me to say with confidence that British beef is among the safest in the world.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): As one who voted against the ban, I obviously welcome its lifting; but can the Minister reassure farmers in my constituency, especially given the falls in their incomes? He said in his statement that he continued to envisage difficult times, and, although it was a morale-boosting statement, there is a long way to go before the tragedy of BSE and the crisis in agriculture have been dealt with.

Mr. Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the statement. The right way forward for the beef industry is for it to provide a product that its customers want, and in which they can have confidence. That is why, given the tragedy of BSE, public protection measures are so important to consumers, and therefore to the industry itself.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Does the Minister agree that there is more joy in heaven when one sinner repenteth, no matter how belated that repentance may be? Will he give an assurance on the subject of uniformity? This is something that I simply do not understand. Will he assure us that there will never again be a veto over English agricultural policy by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Brown: Theology is not my strong point, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the different authorities in the United Kingdom are acting in concert, because we all believe that it is right to do so. It is in the interests of consumers, and in the interests of the United Kingdom beef industry.

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