Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Richard: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene since the noble Lord has referred to me. I object slightly to the use of the word "even". I have an opinion as to the possible legality or otherwise of this regulation. It seems to me that in those circumstances I am fully entitled to express it. With great respect to the noble Lord, I am not forced to express it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I was attempting to pay the noble Lord a compliment on this occasion.

Lord Richard: Try harder!

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord does not read it that way because he may not agree with the rest of what I have to say.

My understanding of the legal base for the ban appeared to be confirmed by my noble friend the Minister yesterday in our debate when he said:

In other words, this duplicitous act by our European competitors was authorised by a Commission regulation. I remind your Lordships that regulations are supposed to be purely administrative little devices issued under the delegated authority of the Council to tidy up the odd lack of clarity here and there in the vast mountain of Euro-legislation from which we suffer. They are not even deposited in Parliament for debate; they are immediately binding in all member states. But it is a regulation fixing nitrate levels which has compromised our lettuce-growing industry; it is a regulation banning Emtryl which threatens our gamebird rearers. Can my noble friend confirm my understanding that it is a regulation that has landed us in this predicament?

One thing that is clear is that this monstrous ban was imposed legally according to the terms of the Treaty of Rome, to which we have so foolishly committed ourselves. I commend my noble friend the Minister for his robust reply to the opening comments of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I commend him doubly when he says that Great Britain will not be bullied by a malevolent and ignorant Europe into the slaughter of productive cattle. Those are brave words bravely spoken. My noble friend is nothing if not courageous. But I remind him that the terms of the Treaty of Rome cannot be avoided by lengthy appeals to the Court of (so-called) Justice in Luxembourg. As we know, that Court is nothing more than the engine of the Treaty.

I wish him well in his future negotiations in Brussels. But I imagine--I hope he will correct me if I am wrong--that he will find himself up against our old friend the qualified majority vote before the ban can be lifted. If that is so, I remind your Lordships that

17 Apr 1996 : Column 723

countries with only 26 out of a total of 87 votes can block the lifting of the ban. We will have to get 62 votes on our side to carry the day. This is certainly the voting system which makes our lives so impossible whenever the Government want to defend our interests against our European competitors in areas such as agriculture, the single market, transport, external trade relationships and the environment.

I suggest to my noble friend that he tells his European counterparts that their behaviour so far in this matter has converted thousands of British farmers and millions of British people to the Eurosceptic cause. Any refusal to lift their ban will convert literally millions more.

Even if they do lift the ban, the whole story so far confirms that the only way to get out of the awful mess we have got into with Europe is to tear up the Treaty of Rome. We could easily retain our access to the single market for reasons I have given your Lordships on several occasions, with which I will not weary your Lordships again now. If we were to do that we could make our own agricultural policy and repair the damage done to one of our best and finest industries.

6.55 p.m.

The Earl of Macclesfield: My Lords, I declare an interest simply by saying that I have been in and around farming all my life. I start with one or two horror stories from the past and the present which, as a result of all this, I hope to see the back of. Back in the 1960s and 1970s we imported American salivary glands for inclusion in cheap sausages and burgers. Where did they go? At least one firm had contracts with schools and hospitals. It was a cheap food policy, but it was not very nice food. Belgian beef glands have been imported for exactly the same reason, except that in addition we do not extract those beef glands; we just throw them away. They have also gone into cheap food. If we as a country were not so insistent on eating cheap food, perhaps we would not be in this mess. In addition, cull beef livers face a 25 per cent. rejection rate and go into the pet food chain. Some slaughterhouses chuck the lot. It is just not worth their while to go through veterinary inspections. Others think it is. The purchase price paid by at least one--and probably rather more--major baby food manufacturer is exactly the same, give or take a penny, as that paid by a pet food manufacturer. We can all work out that those livers go into baby foods. That may be stopped. At least the French are feeding chicken byproducts back to chickens, including pellets. We are probably doing it as well.

I turn to mechanically recovered meat, in this case chicken. When the panic started one local authority rang up its supplier and asked whether there was beef in the sausages. The reply was no but that it contained fat from mechanically recovered chicken and a bit of pork. The response was, "Thank God". One thinks of barbecues etc., in which food may not be cooked properly. I refer to sausages and burgers. I found out only yesterday that mechanically recovered chicken was put into sausages and burgers. It would be a good idea to stop that

17 Apr 1996 : Column 724

practice. Chicken is a salmonella risk. If we can get rid of that, it will be a step in the right direction to produce food properly.

I turn to one or two steps that could have been taken last month when this sorry mess started to come to light, with the press getting hold of one or two "facts". First, it should have been said that there would be no government Statement until there had been discussion with their advisers and the facts could be put together. I should have thought that anybody would have come to that view without thinking twice about it once a microphone was placed in front of him. The resulting consultations could have taken place fairly rapidly. The advisers would have been assembled. What kind of Statement should have been issued? In principle, we have heard the Statement from a large number of speeches here today. We have heard some science from the noble Lord, Lord Winston; we have heard commonsense from my noble friend Lord Granchester. Other contributions have come from the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith and so on. It is quite clear from what we have heard that had all of that come out loud and clear on the day, there is a very good chance that we would not be in this particular mess now.

In addition, one or two items have come to light only in Hansard following the Statement on 25th March. First, it has come to light that the medical advisers have said, for example, that there is no human activity without risk. Secondly, it is important to be aware that many foods are associated with health risks and that changing from beef to non-beef products is not necessarily without risk. It is fairly clear that those statements were made only to put into context their opinion of the potential risk involved in eating beef. Unfortunately, no scientific information came with it. If that scientific information had come out on the day, we would have been in a very good position to deal with the Common Market and Brussels when they began to make suggestions that there should be a ban on the export of our beef.

Looking at the other side of the coin and at what was actually fed to people, it is not altogether surprising that people panicked. Many people cannot read behind certain things that are pretty obvious to me. However, I do not think that it helped--not that anybody outside this Chamber would have seen it--when the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in commenting on the statement from the Chief Medical Officer that the term "safe" is not the same as "zero-risk", said:

    "That will do for a degree in philosophy but how will that run in McDonalds and Burger King?"--[Official Report, 25/3/96; col. 1495.]
In view of what was not said, the noble Lord has a point, although it would have been better if he had gone on to say that that would not have mattered at all, provided that the information was put before the public. However, as that statement reads, it can also be said that when the noble Lord, Lord Carter, gets up to speak, he is not going to have a heart attack, but all the same it is not zero-risk--

Lord Carter: My Lords, as the noble Earl mentioned my name, perhaps I should point out that I was simply

17 Apr 1996 : Column 725

saying that that is the sort of phrase that can be used, but it does not help when one is trying to explain to consumers exactly what has happened.

The Earl of Macclesfield: My Lords, as I said, if more had been explained to the consumer about what had actually been happening, that would have been fine. It is a great pity that the noble Lord did not say all that at the same time. Indeed, it is a great pity that it was not said the week before by the government spokesman. As far as I can see, Her Majesty's Opposition had the information. They could have come out with it and got one over on the Government with such a statement.

I turn now to the problems that we have at the moment. In a sense, with continental friends like ours, who needs enemies? We have Fischler with his comment that beef is safe. A lot of this seems to run to political cowardice and appeasement. Appeasement is not a very good idea. It never was and it did not do one of my uncles any great good. We have to get stuck in and fight this one. We really have to fight this one.

We had a demonstration of guts earlier on today when we heard from my noble friend Lord Grantchester. Yes, he went on well over his time, but he said what was needed to be said and what is needed to be in Hansard so that everyone can read it. There was an awful lot of common sense in his speech. I accept that some of it was controversial, but I really do not see how he could have made a speech here today without being controversial. I entirely agree with every word that he said and I entirely agree that it all needed saying.

So, we get stuck in and we fight. It is no good just standing there and saying that we disapprove of the ban. We have got to apply some sanctions. They will come round the table to negotiate when they realise that we mean it and that we know that we are right, but they do not believe us because we fall down under everybody all the time. There should be no co-operation. We can leave that in the hands of Sir Humphrey. There should be no imports of continental veal. That is reared in circumstances that are unacceptable to us. If that is a level playing field for our farmers, presumably our Prime Minister learnt his football down at Yeovil Town. We can have the Spanish out of the Irish Box for the time being--they should not be there anyway but, to be fair, neither should we be netting tuna fish down in the Bay of Biscay.

What about other things? I imagine that certain things are imported which do not conform to British standards. We can boot them out of the window rather fast, no matter what. If we all come round a table, they will start negotiating, but they will lift that export ban first because life will get somewhat painful if they do not. Let us have some sensible compensation arrangements. We do not appear to have them at the moment. Such arrangements must include our farming, haulage, slaughtering, cutting and rendering industries, our beef wholesalers, exporters and all the others. Let

17 Apr 1996 : Column 726

us face it: up to now we have had politicians who are fiddling while the British beef industry and the British fishing industry burn.

7.3 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, in his opening remarks the noble Lord, Lord Richard, divided his speech into three parts, the first and the last of which dealt with what we should do now. I should like to take that as my brief, so let us forgo recriminations on all sides about what has gone on in the past.

First, we were treated early in the debate to the expert advice of my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior who proclaimed that British beef was safe. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, did likewise. The noble Lord referred to chickens, as did the noble Earl, Lord Macclesfield. The battery chicken is probably the greatest marketing deception of the century, certainly in terms of protein content. The protein has been reduced by 50 per cent. and transferred from the fat to the meat. It is probably the most unhealthy food that is marketed in the country. However, British beef is safe. We are all agreed on that. Eating British beef is safer than crossing the road, and it is safer than eating unpasteurised Camembert.

As to a coherent policy for the future, it is plain to see where that lies. There has been a disproportionate effort towards intensive farming policies, generated by huge subvention payments made under the CAP rules and the dash for growth in agriculture at the end of the war. That is self-evident.

However, there has since been a litany of disastrous drugs and pesticides which have been withdrawn. The words DDT, Aldrin and Deldrin, not to mention the most recent recommendations to reduce the level of OP concentrates, have cast a shadow over the scene. In the absence of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, perhaps I may make a point about the elimination of organophosphates, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will write to me to tell me how the epidemiological study which is being conducted in Edinburgh into the use of organophosphates on cattle is proceeding. I understand that it has only just started and has three years to run. I think that it should be hastened in the light of this evidence.

It is perhaps predictable that, having promoted the case of organic farmers so often in the past, I should say now that less intensive farming should be applied generally in this country. It has never been proposed by those who support organic farming that there should be a wholesale turn over to it. But a change in single figure percentage terms in the available arable acreage would provide the vital and critical mass of distribution that would make the produce viable and able to compete in the market place. Organic beef has benefited remarkably and, indeed, regrettably, for all the wrong reasons, from recent events. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can tell me whether the organic aid scheme will be reviewed to bring the support that it offers to UK farmers up

17 Apr 1996 : Column 727

to the level of support given to the Danes by their government and to some of the Lander in Germany who combine to supply some 60 per cent. of the total UK organic market. I support the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in that respect.

The most immediate issue is that British beef is safe. I suggest to my noble friend that under no circumstances should the Government submit to any pressure--I am glad to have that assurance--to enact any plans that would materially damage the industry through unnecessary culling. Above all, we should not be impressed by the motives of our so-called colleagues in Europe or the Brussels Commission. We may be accused of being the only people in step but when the herd is stampeding whether or not one is in step is hardly important. We must pursue our own self-interest exclusively in this extraordinary crisis for our farmers and, indeed, for the entire nation.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest in that I have lived in the great county of Angus, where we produce prime beef, for 56 years. I am delighted that my noble neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, is looking at me, perhaps as a massive beef consumer.

Secondly, I declare an interest in that I have a suckler herd which might meet with the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, since it runs into three figures and more.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for giving us the opportunity today to discuss all that has happened in the past three weeks. However, I should like in anticipation of his speech to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for all the help that he has given on a bipartisan basis throughout the past three weeks across the Floor of your Lordships' House. Your Lordships have been well served by the enormous scientific knowledge available in this House, and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, brings to our debates also a sense of realism, professionalism and a great deal of competence.

I congratulate the maiden speakers. I congratulate first my noble friend Lord Biddulph, but, above all, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, whose notable maiden speech would have made his late father immensely proud. The noble Lord has certainly lived up to the great motto "Nil satis nisi optimum", which I translate for your Lordships as "Only the best will do". That refers to the noble Lord's Holsteins as well as to his other team. The figures 87 and three will be burned into his mind, but never mind.

I turn to the lessons that can be learnt from the whole affair. The first and most important lesson is that honesty pays. Whatever else has occurred, the opening comments made on 20th March by my right honourable colleagues the Secretary of State for Health and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were right. If the fact that there have been 10 cases of a hitherto

17 Apr 1996 : Column 728

unknown or different strain of CJD had been concealed that would have been particularly ugly and reflected badly not only on this Government but on the SEAC--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page