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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am not sure that that is the case. The reality is that British beef is totally safe because of the controls which have been introduced not only by this Government but by the previous government. The message that we are sending out is that our beef is totally safe. We will continue to take whatever measures are necessary to reinforce that message.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his answers to these important questions and contrast his behaviour with the absence from the other place of the Secretary of State when similar issues were raised last night.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks which I know were generously meant. I do not believe that it would be appropriate for us in this House to comment on activities in another place. However, I should point out that wherever a junior Minister is operating, it is inappropriate and not conventional for a senior Minister to be present.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us on this side are

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extremely disappointed by his Answer today? Is he not now regretful that he and the Government did not take the opportunity given them by this House on 27th January to reconsider the matter and to have widespread consultation with those affected, including the customers? In spite of what happened last night, would it not be as well if the Government did exactly that? The people of this country simply do not believe that this ban is necessary on health grounds; they believe that it is a sop to the European Community.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am always sorry to disappoint my noble friend. As regards regrets, I do not think that we can afford regrets in this regard or in life generally. I restate what I said. The Government's position has been clear. It was not accepted in this House, and was rejected by quite a large majority; but it was accepted in another place last night by a very large majority.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that the European Community never requested a ban on British beef on the bone or oxtail? Will the Government confirm that the estimation by the scientists of the very small risk was accepted by the Community? Will the Minister tell us what has been the cost to this country of the ban on beef on the bone and oxtail, and what has been the greatly increased cost therefore of killing cattle in our abattoirs?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord the cost. We could speculate on the cost of not having imposed the ban if it prolonged the ban on British beef. It is not a question of whether or not the European Union requested a specific measure, because of course, other than the five conditions of the Florence Agreement, that is not done. But its general position is that it must be totally assured that British beef is safe. Had we not banned the beef on the bone, it would not have had that assurance and some member states might be quite happy not to have it.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he referred to restoring British confidence in British beef? My understanding is that both in this House and throughout the country, the British have confidence in their beef and wish to go on eating it on the bone. Moreover, if the Minister or any other noble Lord is after a raffle prize, he should rush to his supermarket and buy that thing more precious than pearls--a tin of oxtail soup.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, oxtail soup is different from oxtail. Assuming that it is properly prepared, which it is, oxtail soup is permitted and is

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on sale. It is the oxtail which contains the bone which contains the marrow which is dangerous and which is banned.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept our congratulations on the skill, charm and courtesy with which he handles questions which he cannot answer?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that. It is of course the case that I have quite a lot of experience in that area.

UK Economic Strategy

2.54 p.m.

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In deciding their economic strategy, what priority they give to reducing unemployment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government's central economic objective is high and stable levels of growth and employment. We are developing comprehensive measures to provide new employment opportunities and raise the sustainable rate of employment, including the welfare-to-work programme, tax and benefit reform, investment in education, and policies to promote economic stability.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, perhaps I may draw to the Minister's attention the remarks of Sir Nigel Wicks, who is the chairman of the European Union monitoring committee and a very senior Treasury official. He was quoted recently in the Observer as telling a European parliamentary committee that the European central bank should not take account of unemployment when setting policy. He said, "That is fundamental". How does the Minister reconcile the statement of that eminent gentleman with the Government's welfare-to-work policy and also, I presume, their policy on eventually restoring full employment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in his speech, Sir Nigel Wicks referred properly to the primary objective of the European central bank as that of maintaining price stability. But the European central bank has the further objective that, without prejudice to the objective of price stability, it shall support the general economic policies in the Community with a view to contributing to the objectives as laid down in Article 2. Article 2 refers to sustainable and non-inflationary growth, a high level of employment, the raising of the standard of living and quality of life and economic and social cohesion. Sir Nigel rightly went on to say that price stability translates into high investment and employment.

Lord Peston: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us do not agree with that last statement and that we regard it as economic nonsense? However, that is by the way. In asking the question, my noble

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friend referred to "full employment". Is it the Government's policy to endeavour, in the course of the foreseeable future, to restore this country's economic condition to one of full employment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can do no better than to quote the Chancellor from a speech to the TUC New Deal Conference on Monday, 8th December last, when he said:

    "Call it--like Keir Hardie's slogan--'work for all'; call it--like ours since 1945--full employment; call it high and stable levels of growth and employment; call it opportunity for all; call it the right to work--the demand for work has been the constant, indeed the central demand of one hundred years of Labour history".

My Lords, it still is.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that every time we have a recovery in the economy, there is a developing shortage of skills? Will he tell us whether, in the present situation, in which happily there is a recovery in the economy, the Government's policies are aimed at and will succeed in reducing that shortage?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe that that is implicit in all that I have been saying and all that the Government have been saying. The whole of the welfare-to-work policy and all our policies on education and employability are designed precisely to meet the point which the noble Lord rightly makes.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, we do not yet of course have a European central bank, but we do have our own central bank. Will the Minister recognise that the instructions that the Chancellor gave to the chairman of our central bank were to put inflation first even if the economic policy did not necessarily agree with that and it came second to his first priority?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not accept the accuracy of my noble friend's description of the instructions to the Bank of England. What we said to the Bank of England is that low inflation is essential for high and sustainable growth. However, I know that my noble friend Lord Peston does not agree with that view. The bank's monetary policy is to maintain price stability and, subject to that, to support the Government's economic policy, including their objectives for growth and employment.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that, despite the strenuous efforts being made by the Government, the northern region still has the highest rate of unemployment in the UK outside Northern Ireland? In particular, will my noble friend do all he can to expedite the report which is to be issued by the committee set up to consider the special problems facing the former mining areas?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I will indeed do so. Of course, it is a feature of our

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welfare-to-work programmes that they can and, indeed, have to be targeted regionally if they are to be effective when, as my noble friend rightly says, recovery manifests itself differently in different parts of the country.

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