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Mr. Brown: As the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) knows, I profoundly disagree with the approach that the Conservative party are adopting to this issue. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I would accept his advice, and my answer to that is, "Not likely." I am very careful about where I take advice from, and I shall not

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take it from the party which formed the Government who presided over the BSE crisis in the first place, who recommend that we start a trade war with the French, and who suggest that we should adapt the science--on the basis of no scientific evidence--so that we can ban French produce from entering this country. That is not the right way forward for our country.

The right way forward is to try to resolve the issue by dialogue if we can, and to protect our rights through the courts if we cannot. That is why we now look to the courts and to the Commission to stand our corner. Under a Labour Government, it is France which is isolated in Europe on this argument. It was not that long ago, under a Conservative Government, when it was the United Kingdom which was isolated in Europe.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Was not the intervention of the Opposition spokesman cheap, glib and disgraceful?

May I ask a factual question? I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the French attitude flew in the face of science. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister say whether we have seen in detail what the French scientists have said? Is it understood that many other industries are deeply worried about their trade with France? Sliding into a trade war with that country would hit the Scottish whisky industry terribly badly, to give just one example. That industry sells as much whisky in France as it does in Britain.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: France is the largest single market in the European Union for Scotch whisky. In fact, this country's exports of food and drink world wide are worth £10 billion every year. To embark on a trade war that would put some of that at risk would be absolute madness. This Government will not do that.

My hon. Friend is also absolutely right about the attitude of the official Opposition. They jeer from the sidelines but, if one listens carefully, one notices that they do not have a constructive alternative to offer.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Does not this outrageous decision by the French Government defy law, science and practical politics? Is it not a massive slap in the face for the Minister and the Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman pursue swift legal action in this matter, and does he agree that it would be extraordinary if France were to assume the EU presidency after it had been arraigned for blatantly ignoring European law?

The Prime Minister goes to Helsinki later today. Although it is not in Britain's interest to disrupt the business of the 13 countries that support Britain's position, and despite the synthetic smiles on display at the Anglo-French summit two weeks ago, will the Prime Minister make it clear that France can expect no diplomatic or political co-operation from Britain until this decision is reversed?

Finally, a full-scale trade war is in the interests of no one, least of all other British agricultural sectors. However, does the Minister agree that many British

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consumers will make their own decisions between now and Christmas, and that they will choose cheese from Somerset, not from France?

Mr. Brown: There is an excellent Somerset brie that I freely recommend to the House. All consumers can choose how to spend their money. That is perfectly reasonable in a free society. As to whether the French decision is a rebuff to me, I do not think that the entire French Cabinet have focused on me personally in this matter.

More generally, it is a mistake to personalise issues in that way. This is a difficult problem, which I have sought to resolve through mature dialogue with the Commission and with the French. We are going to keep on talking. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Of course we are going to keep talking. There are many issues on which we and the French share common cause and interests. It would be incredibly immature if we were to cut off all dialogue across a range of topics because we could not resolve this issue. As I have said over and over again, we should resolve the matter through dialogue if we can, and through the courts if we cannot. We have the law, science and the Commission on our side. We will win in court.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): We did not hear one word from the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) about testing, which is a new issue for the French. The reason is that, time and time again between 1991 and 1995, the Tory Government blocked requests for money to be given to British scientific institutions to test for BSE. We all know why those requests were blocked: no doubt the reason will emerge in the BSE inquiry next year.

In an article published on 13 October, Le Figaro exposed a trade in animals in the south-west of England that was supported by falsified documents. The trade was conducted not by farmers, but by agricultural traders, and was only uncovered thanks to the intervention of our police authorities. The report was read and circulated throughout France, and was also considered in the French Parliament. If people in the United Kingdom are breaking the law, is it not clear that major problems will be encountered in resolving this crisis?

Mr. Brown: On the second point, my Department has been unable to substantiate reports that any of those animals have been smuggled into France. However, people have been caught trying, and those breaking the law are prosecuted with the full rigour of the law.

My hon. Friend's point about testing is absolutely right. It behoves everybody with an interest in the matter to realise that this country has an enormous vested interest in testing.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): How does the Minister reconcile the French actions--and, incidentally, those of the German Lander, which are not importing British beef--with the Prime Minister's own words? The right hon. Gentleman has said:

Mr. Brown: The distinction is very clear, and I drew it to the attention of the House a few moments ago. Under

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the previous Government, the United Kingdom was isolated within Europe. In this dispute, the French are isolated. We have the European Commission on our side. Thirteen member states have lifted the ban and the German Health Minister confirmed this morning that the German Government are proceeding to lift the ban.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): Is it not the height of hypocrisy for politicians who created the circumstances for BSE to crow about the awful consequences of that disease? Most of us believe that free and fair trade in the European Union is in the interests of all citizens of Europe. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the European Commission and, indeed, the whole European Council, will do everything possible to restore that principle for all commodities?

Mr. Brown: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend's comments. Perhaps I could treat hon. Members to this quote:

That was said by Lionel Jospin at the United Nations on 22 September 1999. I agree with him.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): We have a great deal of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman, but the kindest thing that one could say about his performance today is that it was pathetic. How can he possibly justify being prepared to concede that British beef should be labelled as having been raised in Britain, while not thinking it appropriate that French meat, which has been raised on excrement, should be similarly labelled? How many scientists does the right hon. Gentleman need to tell him that such food might be unsafe?

Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is wrong--the European Union is currently considering beef labelling rules. The French have a labelling regime for domestic products. I notice that when the Leader of the Opposition called on a number of agricultural spokesmen to resign, the hon. Gentleman was the only one to do so.

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): My right hon. Friend has reminded the House of the circumstances of the BSE crisis and its consequences. Could he also tell us whether the gunboat diplomacy that the Conservative party now seems to favour helped to resolve that issue? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the last thing the farmers in my constituency want is the sort of trade war proposed by the Conservative party?

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right. Farmers and farm leaders have made it absolutely clear to the Government that they do not want a trade war, least of all a trade war in agricultural products.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): No one is talking about a trade war, and it is absurd of the Government to pretend that we are. Will the Minister listen to Phillipe Roy, a restaurateur in my constituency, who has banned British beef and British products from his restaurant--[Hon. Members: "British beef?"] I am sorry; I mean French beef and products. He has said publicly that he knows the French Government well--he used to work for

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them--and the only language that they understand is direct action. The Minister's cuddling up to the French plainly has not worked. Will he advocate some direct action?

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