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Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal for repeating this extremely low-key Statement. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister, with his phrase about the great step forward in the past few days--or was it a great leap forward?--has added another memorable phrase to the collection of aphorisms which have punctuated, with almost relentless regularity, the evolution of European policy: from a Britain at the heart of Europe in 1990; to game, set and match for us in 1991 after the Maastricht summit; to his description of M. Santer as the right man in the right place at the right time in 1994. It has been a remarkable series of phrases. We must all hope that the phrase, "a great step" or "a great leap forward" will not come back to mock him quite as soon as others have done.
The great beef war has been a most extraordinary saga. The Government's fundamental weakness is that throughout they have given the impression that they were more interested in picking and, it is to be hoped, winning a quarrel with Europe for internal party political reasons and perhaps in the hope, misplaced I think, of electoral salvation than in eradicating BSE. A month ago Mr. Major stamped his foot and ordered mobilisation. The trouble was that the nearer to the battlefield the forces got, so the faster martial ardour evaporated. Therefore, we had last Friday's anti-climax and the extremely vague agreement dripping with conditions of which anyone can make what they like. The result is certainly no better than could have been obtained by competent Ministers of foreign affairs and agriculture without all the huffing and puffing.
If one wants an example of what I mean, one only has to read the Statement. I am amazed that the Statement, at least by implication, almost directly claims that the removal of the ban on derivatives was a direct result of our refusal to co-operate. It was totally known at the time that we took the decision--and the Commission had already voted for this--that under the procedures of the Community (the Council of agricultural Ministers having failed to agree) the Commission could then take a decision by its own perquisites to implement the removal of the ban. That is a power which the Commission has under the Treaty of Rome but which, if it had not existed and the Commission had asked for it at the IGC, would, without question, have been vetoed by Her Majesty's Government. Further, the only result was that, whereas in the previous week the Commission had voted unanimously for removal of the ban, in the week after the ban was imposed it voted by about a two
Although nothing has been achieved which could not have been obtained by proper competent diplomacy, it is clearly the case--and I put this most cautiously--that our long-term position in Europe has been somewhat damaged. I say "somewhat" because, first, I do not like exaggerating and, secondly, because, to be honest, there was not all that much there previously to damage.
In my view, in any negotiation one can hope to gain one's ends either by being liked or being feared; or sometimes by a judicious combination of the two. What we have just done is to undermine our strength in both those alternatives at one and the same time. We have obviously not made ourselves more liked, and we have certainly not struck awe into our partners.
Equally, your Lordships may recall that at the beginning of his Foreign Secretaryship, Mr. Rifkind tied himself, I thought, slightly into knots by trying to strike a new balance between pursuing Britain's interests and Britain's influence. He need not have worried about the distinction. Both he and the Prime Minister have shown how easy it is to damage both our interests and our influence at the same time.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am disappointed to find that both noble Lords, if I may say so with the greatest respect and indeed affection for them, have fallen into what I can only describe as the tabloid trap. There is a very unfortunate set of headlines in this morning's tabloid press which seems to be encouraging us in sporting terms to go to war with our friends the Germans. I deprecate such headlines, as I am sure do both noble Lords. Therefore, it is a little curious for both noble Lords to employ military metaphors when it comes to referring to our, fortunately temporary, disagreement with our European partners over beef.
I believe it fair to say that neither of my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary took the step with any martial ardour. In fact, I do not think that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. I do not believe that military metaphors are in the least bit appropriate for negotiating difficulties of the kind we have experienced. Indeed, I should point out to both noble Lords that I am astonished by the Government's moderation when one considers that after eight weeks of what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, described as "patient diplomacy", and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said about the Commission (to whose helpful attitude I am happy to be among the first in your Lordships' House to pay tribute), not one single step was taken in terms of actual concrete progress towards establishing a framework towards lifting the ban.
Given our extraordinary patience, I can only refer both noble Lords to the remarkable fact that we have a deal four weeks later which accords in every material respect with the objectives we set out very clearly at the beginning of our conversations with our European partners on the question of BSE. I leave it to the House to draw its own conclusions.
I also have to say that I do not believe it to be entirely right--although, as always, I defer to both noble Lords who have infinitely more experience of the Commission and of Brussels--to suggest that this is some sort of millennial apocalyptic event which will destroy our relations with Europe for ever and a day. After all, we are not unique in doing what we have done. I am sure that both noble Lords will remember that a number of our European partners took action when they felt the situation warranted it, beside which our steps seem moderate in the extreme. I merely suggest that they should look into recent history to see what, for example, the Italians and the French have done on occasion.
My message to both noble Lords is that although this House always enjoys listening to their higher flights of fancy--indeed, we enjoy their rhetoric, their vocabulary and the statesmanship with which they deliver their homilies--I believe that to erect the whole affair into a sort of re-run of the battle of Crecy, the Somme or Agincourt is hardly what it merits. What we want is very simple. We want to ensure that our beef industry is once again re-established, and re-established as quickly as possible.
In his splendidly rhetorical style, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked when the ban would be lifted. The answer is perfectly simple. The ban will be lifted when the steps that we have agreed have been taken. As noble Lords will be well aware, such steps are extremely complex to put into operation. If we were to say that we thought that the steps should be taken by such and such a date--let us say, 1st January--there is absolutely no guarantee that we would be able to do so or that we could go to the Commission and indeed to the SVC and say, "It is 1st January. You must assume on the basis of our having reached that date that we are able to take the particular step referred to in our agreement to lift the ban".
No, my Lords, how much more sensible to say that we will define the individual step that needs to be taken and do what my right honourable friend set out in the Statement; namely, give some broad indication of the time by which that step will, we hope, have been arranged mechanically at home. We will then work hard to ensure that we have done what we need to do in order to be able to go to the Commission and explain how we have fared.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked me how many extra cattle will be slaughtered. He knows that this is a highly emotive question. As a farmer myself, I am well aware of that. The extra number of the 89/90 cohort is nothing like the 67,000 which has been bandied around. That is the highest potential number. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, many of the cattle concerned will already have been slaughtered under the 30 month plus scheme when they reached the end of their working lives. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, the average age at which cattle are slaughtered is 6.8 years. The number could well be as low as 20,000, or perhaps as high as 40,000. However, I do not think that the theoretical figure of 67,000 is what we are talking about.
The noble Lord asked about European monetary union. I shall not go into the Government's position again. The noble Lord knows as well as I that we have quite sensibly kept our options open. Unlike some other parties we have made it clear that if by any chance a Conservative government were to decide that it was to our national advantage to join a single currency, we would give the voters an opportunity to give their verdict. Of course for us to say at the moment that we would not join at all would be foolish in the extreme because we have an interest in trying to make sure that the negotiations leading up to the establishment of a single currency--if it happens--should take proper account of vital matters which have to be decided. One vital matter to which my right honourable friend referred in his Statement is the relationship between "ins" and "outs". The noble Lord will be aware that "ins" and "outs" do not necessarily fall into those categories because they want to be in or out. Some of them--indeed perhaps even a number of them--will not meet the Maastricht criteria and therefore will put themselves out of contention for a single currency anyway.
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, over the past few weeks I have been approached by a number of farmers, notably in my area of north Wales and Anglesey. I have never known them to be so confused, worried and uncertain about the future. I should like the noble Viscount to tell the House--if he will--what consultation there has been with the farmers over the past month or so, and especially over the past few days when these conclusions have been arrived at. Are they satisfied? Were they properly consulted? By that, I refer to all the unions. What is the response of the farmers to the result of the talks in Florence? Can the noble Viscount say what compensation they can expect? They have lost a great deal of money. Their way of life has been interfered with in a substantial way. I can assure the noble Viscount from my personal contact with them that they are going through a difficult time. I feel sorry not only for the farmers but also for the families of the farmers and for those in the villages who depend on the farmers. The consequences are far greater than has been made clear by the Government to the country at the present time. I shall be grateful if the noble Viscount can enlighten us on those points.
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