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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he did not answer my question about intervention. Will it continue, because there are 60,000 animals stacked up? Are we going to have intervention to assist with the quick disposal and clearing of markets? I may have forgotten to ask that question.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I shall check Hansard because I have no memory of being asked about intervention. The scheme will continue. Since 20th March we have on two separate occasions made the entire intervention package significantly more attractive to the UK industry.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, can my noble friend say when the hearing of the motion to quash the ban is likely to begin in the European Court? In addition, is it possible to give an estimate of how long the procedure of that court will cause the hearing to continue and to say when we can expect a decision? Perhaps one is a little cynical about whether the Court is likely to proceed expeditiously, but I should be glad to hear what the Government believe to be the likely timetable for the hearing of the motion.
Secondly, can my noble friend be more precise about the likely size of the cull? He used the expression "tens of thousands", which he will agree is not a statement of precision. Can he give some idea, however approximate, of the scale of the cull and therefore of the direct cost of this unfortunate event to the British economy?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for asking those two questions. As regards the legal timetable, we are convinced that we have right on our side and therefore we are pressing for the fastest possible track. A number of options will be weighed up
As regards the cull, the proposal that we have lodged, and which is out to consultation with appropriate groups in this country, will involve a cull of about 42,000 animals. Perhaps I may remind the House that there are about 12 million cattle in this country and therefore the number involved is small. The cull is targeted at the group of cattle believed to be at highest risk of contracting BSE.
The suggestions which may well be made to us by EC vets and by vets in other countries will be worth looking at. We will consider them but I repeat the assurances that I gave to the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Mackie, that parliamentary approval will be needed for any such programme. We will want the support of our farming industry in any such programme and we want the UK veterinary community to support it. At the end of the day, I do not believe that this House or another place will back such a programme if it is seen to be disproportionate to the benefit it brings.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister further on the legal aspects of the matter which were brought forward by his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. May we take it that the application to the European Court will be for a declaration that the particular decision is null and void? Alternatively, is the application to have an interim injunction disposed, or for such relief as the Court may think fit? We need to know the kind of sting and will that lie behind what the Government propose to do.
I presume that in the most likely event the decision is manifestly null and void. Indeed, on the face of it that is so. Is it the Government's intention to proceed for an action for damages in view of the fact that the Commission's decision is entirely illegal? It is based on illegality not only as regards the treaties but as regards the Council directives which are referred to in it. Can the Minister ensure the House that the Government's attitude towards this matter is robust because it is intolerable that a non-elected Commission is entitled to issue an instruction affecting a sovereign state for which there is no legal foundation whatever?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I can assure the House and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that we will be very robust on the matter. We believe that the most intolerable aspect is that the ban is completely unjustified and disproportionate and in many senses ludicrous. There is no scientific evidence on which to base the ban which has been imposed upon us.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend Lord Stanley that the meat imported from countries such as the Argentine is inspected in the normal and rigorous way in which we inspect all imported foodstuffs. We have strict criteria with which all foodstuffs must comply. Perhaps I may remind the House that imported meat comes from countries such as the Argentine which are BSE free; they have no record of the disease. Meat imported from countries which have had instances of BSE can come only from animals under 30 months of age.
As regards the timetable which I outlined in a broad format for my noble friend, all farmers will receive the information directly from the Government about the exact details of the programmes. Furthermore, across the United Kingdom advertisements will be taken in the relevant journals so that all those who need to have the information will have an adequate opportunity to obtain it.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I declare an interest as a dairy farmer. Perhaps I may ask the Minister two questions? First, can he give any indication of when the export of cattle for breeding purposes to non-European Union countries will be allowed again? Secondly, can he tell us what studies are being undertaken of the geographical distribution of BSE? Is not that matter extremely important and relevant to the cull?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, we would like to see as soon as possible the opportunity to export cattle for breeding purposes. There is no reason why such exports should not be taking place this very minute. There is no logic nor reason behind the ban. We will do what is best for the industry. At present it is possible that a progressive lifting of the ban will be a faster and more beneficial solution to the problem than a complete lifting in one gesture. We are pursuing all options as vigorously as possible. Given that a progressive lifting may be the most effective solution, we are about to apply for exemptions to be endorsed so enabling us to identify categories of animals which would be justified for such exemptions.
As regards the geographical distribution of BSE, scientists' knowledge of the subject is that it is almost certainly feed related. Although we have good records and have compiled them all through computers in order to indicate the spread of BSE, the main inquiry of the veterinary experts relates to the cattle which have been sharing the same feedlots rather than necessarily being geographically intimate or remote.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, we have one principal aim; that is, to bring about an early lifting of the ban. We shall pursue every conceivable route towards that objective. We shall negotiate and we shall use other methods and routes such as legal action. As I assured my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the opportunities which arise through the legal system for fast-track judgments or interim judgments will be considered and explored wherever that is to our advantage. We want the ban lifted as quickly as possible. That is what we are striving to do.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a dairy farmer. I thank my noble friend for emphasising once again that there is no scientific evidence that BSE is linked to CJD. I thank him also for pointing out that there is therefore no scientific justification for the ban in terms of human health.
Given that he referred a few moments ago to the fact that at present BSE is feed related and that it is therefore most important to eliminate that cause, what do the Government propose to do about what appears to be a loophole in the context of feed supplied to cattle still being produced from lines which could be contaminated? I have received a letter from J. Bibby Agriculture Limited dated 11th April which states:
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