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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the position on international treaty obligations is that none of the changes we make has or will have any effect on them. There is no conflict between what we are doing in the benefit system and our international treaty obligations. That is a point I have made before, and I underline it again. It is a question of the UK's benefits system, and how many people receive benefits over many, many months, in fact into years, who are found not to have a legitimate call on those benefits.
We intend to take the actions that I have outlined to do what the Court of Appeal said. It said, "You can't do this by secondary legislation. If you are going to do it, you must do it by primary legislation". That is what I have announced we shall do. I trust that we will get on with Clauses 9 and 10 this afternoon, which relate to primary legislation. If the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, divides your Lordships' House on whether or not we should carry on considering the Bill on Report, I hope that my noble friends will support me in the Division Lobby.
Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the meeting of the European Council in Florence on 21st and 22nd June. The Statement is as follows:
"The first objective was achieved on 10th June when the ban on beef derivatives was lifted. This was followed on 19th June by unanimous approval of our BSE eradication plan by the Standing Veterinary Committee. In Florence on 21st June, the second objective was achieved when the European Council accepted unanimously the framework and procedures put forward by the Commission for lifting of the wider ban. These were based closely on our proposals.
"We aim to be in a position to tell the Commission by October that we have met the necessary conditions for decisions to lift the ban on two of the five stages; namely, certified herds and animals born after a specified date and their meat. This is subject in particular to clearance of the backlog of animals awaiting slaughter in the 30 month plus scheme, and a start to the accelerated slaughter of cattle particularly at risk of developing BSE.
"Removal of the ban in these two areas would re-open to our industry an export market worth initially around £100 million per year increasing rapidly thereafter, as the certified herds' scheme gains momentum. Also by October, I expect a Commission proposal on a third stage, embryos, subject to the scientists giving them a clean bill of health. And I believe we should have met the conditions necessary for a decision to lift the ban on the fourth stage, meat from all animals under 30 months, by November.
"Securing agreement on these steps would restore the position on beef exports to what it was before 27th March except in those areas where sale has been prohibited in the UK itself. In other words, we would be in a position of being able to sell for export to the EU young animals and all the beef which could by then be sold in the UK. This would open the way for exports worth some £530 million per year.
"The only remaining category is meat from animals over 30 months except, of course, for that from certified herds which should be lifted in October. As the House knows, this category is still banned in the UK because of the greater incidence of BSE in older animals.
"The targets we have set are ambitious. It is now up to us, and to the farming and ancillary industries, to ensure we meet them. The point is that this timetable is essentially in our hands. When we have met the conditions, the normal procedures for decisions of this kind, involving the Standing Veterinary Committee in particular, will apply. But we have the firm commitment from all heads of government in Florence that these decisions will only be taken on the basis of scientific and objective criteria.
"One aspect not adequately covered in the framework is the early export of British beef to third countries. This was complicated in the minds of our partners by their concerns about the possibility of re-export to the EU, and by our European Court of
"We nevertheless secured a presidency statement, accepted it must be said reluctantly by the other member states and the Commission, that the Commission will consider individual requests from third countries to buy British beef exclusively for their domestic markets. If such requests come forward soon, I hope that, either through Commission procedures or the European Court of Justice case, exports from Britain to third countries will begin to flow.
"We have a lot to do in a short time to meet the conditions necessary to enable the EU and world markets to be fully open again. But I believe we have taken a great step forward in the past few days. We will go on doing everything possible to protect public health, restore consumer confidence and secure the interests of the beef industry. Our overriding aim remains, as it has been from the start, the eradication of BSE from Britain.
"The European Council agreed that the Inter-governmental Conference should now turn from analysis to negotiation. We need to move from exchanging ideas to considering texts. I was therefore happy to lead the call for an outline treaty text to be prepared in time for the Dublin European Council in December.
"The Government's position on the substance remains as set out in the White Paper, A Partnership of Nations. In Florence I set out again our policies in key areas such as qualified majority voting and the need for flexibility as the EU enlarges further.
"We also discussed employment. At the Essen European Council in 1994 we agreed an approach which recognised the primacy of action by member states and recommended a number of lines of action reflecting this Government's approach. In Florence, the European Council confirmed the priority attached to tackling unemployment and agreed to carry forward the Essen approach, taking account of the initiative taken by the President of the Commission on confidence pact for employment. There are some good things in this document, but others which we cannot accept.
"Unemployment in this country is now the lowest of any major European competitor. We have created more jobs over the past three years than Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Indeed, we have created more than Germany, France, Italy and Spain added together. That is because we have followed policies that help job creation. That is why we will not sign the Maastricht social chapter or accept European
"Florence was not a decisive stage in discussions on economic and monetary union. The European Council considered a report from economic and finance Ministers on work done since Madrid. This included the relationship between those inside and those outside any future single currency. It covered the proposal to create a new ERM. Most of our partners favour creating such arrangements. Let me assure the House that it has been confirmed that any new scheme will be voluntary. We will certainly not join any new ERM.
"The European Council also reached agreement on the role of the European Court of Justice in the Europol Convention. I said after the Cannes European Council that the ECJ would not be the arbiter in any case relating to Europol which involved the United Kingdom Government or arose in the courts of the UK. Other member states saw a need for a role for the ECJ on questions of interpretation of the convention arising in their national courts.
"The outcome allows other member states the option of providing such a role for the ECJ for themselves. The UK Government and our courts will not be bound by this in any way. This is a satisfactory outcome and another example of the EU developing in flexible ways.
"Finally, the European Council confirmed that enlargement negotiations with central European countries should open at the same time as with Cyprus and Malta, six months after the IGC ends. It also agreed a number of statements on external issues, the most important of which were on the Middle East and Russia.
"The Florence European Council marked a decisive turning point in our efforts to protect the interests of those hundreds of thousands of people working in the British beef industry. The issue will now be dealt with on a proper, rational basis, with the timetable for the lifting of the ban dependent on our own efforts. This has enabled the restoration of normal business in the European Union.
"This has been a difficult episode in this country's relationship with Europe. We were right to stand up for our interests. But I now look forward to working with our partners on our positive vision of Europe as a strong partnership of nations."
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am grateful, as always, to the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. What a Statement we have just listened to! As I understand it, British foreign diplomatic policy over the past month or so has been reduced to blocking 74 decisions of the European Union. I wonder how many of those decisions we actually wanted. Perhaps the noble Viscount will tell the House how many of the
This hollow deal could have been achieved better by patient diplomacy and a bit of governmental humility and foresight right at the beginning. The European Union insisted on a coherent plan for the eradication of BSE from the British herd. Eventually that was achieved, but only after a period of confrontation which I think has seriously weakened our position with our European partners, the effects of which will be lasting.
I described the deal as hollow. The diplomatic editor of The Times described it as a fig leaf so small as to be positively indecent. Will the noble Viscount tell the House when the ban will be lifted? Today we have had a series of recommendations by the Government that in October we shall do X and Y and by November, we hope to be in a position to do A and B; and that if everything goes well, the body to which we have apparently handed over the decision on whether the ban should be lifted--namely, the committee of vets--will then have to decide whether Britain has taken sufficient steps.
It seems to me that British influence in Europe has been reduced to a state in which we do something and then the vets have to decide on it. That has reduced our position in the Community to a fairly parlous one.
Will the noble Viscount tell us exactly how many cattle will have to be slaughtered? As I understand it, the pre-30 month will amount to 0.75 million cattle. The extra cull originally started off at 40,000, increased to 80,000 and after that has become rather woolly. Perhaps that is too much of a sheep-like metaphor to apply to cows. Last week on television the Deputy Prime Minister said that the number amounted to only a handful. At No. 10 on Thursday, guidance was issued saying that it amounted to only a few clapped-out old milkers. On Sunday morning, Mr. Hogg, the Minister for Agriculture, said on television that it amounted to 67,000 animals. As I understand it, the present figure is put at about 40,000 cattle. The position is that 0.75 million of the old cattle will be slaughtered and 120,000 extra animals are to be culled.
I ask two questions. I understand that the scheme is to be voluntary. How is it to be voluntary? Are the farmers supposed to notify somebody that a cow in their herd looks as though it has BSE and therefore should be slaughtered? If so, how much compensation will be paid? How will that scheme be policed if it is supposed to be voluntary? Secondly, if all this goes through, what incidence of BSE do the Government expect to find in the British herd? Do they expect it to be zero, 10,000 or 5,000? I should like to have an indication of the Government's position.
This has been a sorry tale in the history of British relationships with the European Union. The end result seems to be tramelled cows, a bill estimated at about £2 billion and no guarantee whatever as regards when the ban will be lifted. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there is no automaticity in this deal whatever? It is hoped that the ban will be lifted but there is no guarantee of it.
As regards EMU and the IGC, it is perfectly clear that the other members of the Union are moving inexorably and quite quickly in two directions: first, in the direction of a radical revision of the treaties under the IGC; and secondly, towards EMU by the end of this decade. It is also perfectly clear from what the Prime Minister said that we shall be moving in the opposite direction. I merely warn the Government that in the long run, a two-tier Europe in which Britain is in a tier of one will be deeply damaging to this country both politically and economically. Nothing in this Statement gives me much encouragement for future relations between Britain and the European Union.
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