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House of Lords

Thursday, 28th March 1996.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Hormone-implanted Meat

Lord Carter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they continue to support banning the importation of meat from countries which allow the implantation of hormones and what action they propose if such a ban is found to be in breach of the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the import from third countries of meat and meat products derived from animals treated with hormonal growth promoters has been banned since 1988, as has the use of these substances within the European Community. The UK has consistently opposed these bans on the grounds that there was no scientific evidence to justify their imposition. It would not be appropriate to anticipate the outcome of the World Trade Organisation dispute proceedings notified by the US authorities. Consultations started in Geneva yesterday and I hope they will lead to an acceptable negotiated settlement.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. If athletes are banned from using growth promoters, why are the Government prepared to accept them for the rest of the population?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is quite clear, based on extensive scientific testing, and is agreed by all European countries that the growth hormones we propose should be allowed have no effect whatsoever on humans eating the resulting meat products.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that this is a most interesting Question, coming at this particular time? Will he tell the House under what treaty provisions the hormones are banned? At the same time will he say under what treaty provision the European Commission yesterday banned the export of all beef products to the whole world? What other products and goods may be involved? What do the Government intend to do to regain the sovereignty of this country in respect of trade overseas, and indeed our home trade?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I probably have the information, but I cannot find the exact number of the EC regulation that bans the use of hormones. I assure the noble Lord that it is a widely used and perfectly accepted one. Nor can I answer the noble Lord on the second point that he raised about the authority for the European worldwide ban on British beef exports. It is a little wide of this Question. However, I invite him to consider the transfer of sovereignty from the European

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Commission to the World Trade Organisation which is implicit in its possible victory in the dispute on hormones. I wonder whether the noble Lord finds that a good thing, and if it is not rather inconsistent.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, if the European Union ban is lifted, will there be a system of labelling to reassure people that these hormones are in fact harmless, as I believe them to be? If the ban is not lifted, can the noble Lord give some idea of the penalties that are likely to be imposed by the United States in tariffs against European goods?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I think we are all in favour of labelling. It is certainly one possible outcome of the discussions between the European Community and the World Trade Organisation. So far as penalties are concerned, I am sure my noble friend is aware that there is already some element of revenge being taken by the United States which is, thankfully, not having a great effect on the British producers of any particular product. If the European Union continued with a ban which had been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organisation we should expect that to have trade consequences.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I declare an interest. In the past, when it was legal, I have used hexoestrol on my bullocks. Does my noble friend agree that if we, as farmers, have to rely all the time on media hype to decide what we should or should not feed our cattle, at the end of the day we shall find that we use no drugs at all, including antibiotics, and this country will surely revert to the state of health that we had, say, in the 1920s and 1930s? Is that what the Opposition wish?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sure we are right in insisting that we take a great deal of care in getting the science right, taking the best possible advice and spending everything that is required to understand and prove that a particular substance is harmless to human health. I am sure that we are right then to insist, so far as we possibly can, that we abide by that scientific advice and do not allow ourselves to be swayed by pressure groups or scare stories.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it might be as wise a precaution to ban meat with implanted hormones as it is to ban feed that contains animal remains?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not see the connection at all.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I understand that these growth hormones are based on steroids. Will the Minister explain why vets have not been allowed to use therapeutic doses of steroids on animals that have lost their appetites, when in the past they have proved extremely beneficial to the health of the animals? Why have the Government accepted that stricture when they are so against the implantation of hormones?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we are all in favour of the therapeutic use of hormones where these have no harmful effect on humans as a result of their use and

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where they have a beneficial effect on the animal. We are at present somewhat hobbled by the European Union taking a different view, not based on science but based purely on decisions it believes it should take on behalf of consumers, rather than allowing consumers to take their own decisions.

Lord Carter: My Lords, if the Government decide on a cattle slaughter policy as a result of the BSE crisis, it will be against the advice of their scientific advisers, who have not recommended a slaughter policy. If the Government are prepared to override scientific advice where BSE is concerned, why can they not do the same for hormone-implanted beef to ensure consumer confidence?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I fail to see the connection at all between something that is admittedly of possible potential danger to human beings and something that is provably of no potential danger to human beings.

Smoking and Health

3.8 p.m.

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the 121st birthday of Mme. Jeanne Calment last month, they will modify the health warnings on cigarette packets.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): No, my Lords. While I applaud Mme. Calment's achievement in becoming the world's oldest person, I do not accept that her longevity is in any way attributable to her liking for an occasional cigarette.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that ingenious reply. Is she aware that Mme. Calment was advised at the age of 117 to give up smoking on the grounds that it was bad for her health? She was so miserable that after a year she started again, in moderation, on her 118th birthday and has not looked back since. She is now the oldest person in the world. Does the Minister agree that it seems to prove that a little of what you fancy does you good? To show that this is not a one-off, does she further agree that the Greeks are the heaviest smokers in the world yet they have the longest life expectancy in Europe?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I understand that a number of studies have been carried out on the Greek diet and that that also has an effect. I also understand that Mme. Calment drinks wine, eats chocolate cake, and is not unlike my noble friend Lady Trumpington whom we know to be indestructible.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the Exchequer were to lose the duty on tobacco and cigarettes it would mean the standard rate of income tax having to be increased by 4p in the pound to make up the deficit?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, it is the Government's policy to increase the duty on cigarettes.

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It has a direct correlation to the numbers of people who give up smoking. The higher the price, the less people are likely to smoke.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that on my pipe-smoking package it says, "Smoking causes cancer"? That is in accordance with the cancer directive 92/41. But that is not necessarily so. Is the Minister aware also that Lord Shinwell puffed a pipe every day until he was 100 years of age; Lord Brockway puffed a pipe every day until he was 99; and the average age of the Peers in this House who belong to the Lords and Commons Pipe and Cigar Smokers Club is over 70? Does not the Minister agree therefore that we should remove the slogan on cigarette packets and replace it with one that says, "Smoke a pipe and live longer"?

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