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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, with regard to the Cologne Summit, can the Leader of the House confirm that the holding of an IGC next year will not delay the process of enlargement, which of course requires institutional reform?
As to Kosovo, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness two questions. First, newspaper reports suggest that the build-up of the force in Macedonia is being somewhat slowed down because contributions from some other countries are coming through only slowly. Can she confirm or deny those newspaper reports? Related to
Finally, I express concern about the noble Baroness's references to Bosnia. I think she will agree that Bosnia has not been a wholly successful operation. It has been ethnically very divided; in some cases local authorities will not accept back refugees from an ethnic group other than their own. Can she at least promise that the Government will look carefully at the arrangements on the civil side for Kosovo to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of Bosnia, which included offering only a helping hand to local bodies and not using Bosnian refugees as a major element in the reconstruction of their country?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, perhaps I may first pick up the point made by the noble Baroness about the IGC. The proposed agenda--albeit in a skeletal form; the IGC is not due to be held until the spring of next year--will deal, as the Statement said, with some of the issues left unresolved from Amsterdam; for example, the size and composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council and possibly the extension of qualified majority voting in the Council. I understand that there is not to be, as it were, a parallel track between the resolution of those problems and discussions upon enlargement. Of course, if enlargement is to take place along the lines that have been discussed, it is necessary that some of those issues are resolved in order to improve the effective workings of the Commission and the other bodies involved.
As to the questions relating to Kosovo, I understand that the problems of getting forces into Kosovo are caused not by a lack of political will but by some bottlenecks at the Greek ports. They have had a partly political dimension in Greece; but this has not been the fault of the suppliers of the forces concerned. There is no concern that the build-up will progress along the lines that it is.
Perhaps I may now turn to Bosnia. We can learn from both the positive and negative lessons of Bosnia. I referred to the positive lesson in my initial reply to the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Rodgers. That concerned the way in which the Russians had agreed to serve in Bosnia under a command which they understood was in some sense a NATO command but had no sensitivities about being NATO led. That was my main point. I agree with the noble Baroness that there are lessons which need to be learned in the negative as well as the positive sense.
The issues concerning the returning refugees are essentially a question of timing. We can only be grateful that we have come to the situation that we are now at, where at least there seems to be a possibility of movement on the return of the refugees. I have reiterated several times that the refugees will not go back unless they feel confident that a NATO force and a substantial military presence is in Kosovo. There is a time-line between achieving that result and the onset of the Balkan winter. That is why the NATO Council and all of those involved have been particularly glad that some
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, I wish to ask two questions. First, how is it that the Statement completely ignores the existence, the uprising and the invasion of the Kosovo Liberation Army? Its activities provoked the atrocities that everyone complains about.
My second question is altogether different. How is it that it has taken seven weeks of illegal attack by NATO before there is any endeavour to get a proper United Nations' authorisation for what has been going on? That is a very serious question. We are accustomed in this country to observing international law and international peace. Those operations, albeit by NATO, have violated that tradition and have been unauthorised by the United Nations.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am surprised that the noble Earl says that the KLA was not mentioned. It was not actually mentioned in my right honourable friend's Statement but it has certainly been part of the understandings of the G8. As I understand it, it is part of the draft resolution to the Security Council that the KLA should be demilitarised. That has been said now for some time. I am surprised that the noble Earl said that it was not mentioned.
On the question of illegality, my noble friends and I have repeated on several occasions in this House that, although there was no specific authorisation--a matter that we have discussed--this action was taken as an exceptional measure to halt an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. When Security Council debates took place on 24th and 26th March, strong support was given for NATO action, and the Russian draft resolution criticising NATO action was defeated by 12 votes to three.
Of course we all feel that it is now appropriate to try to achieve the Security Council resolution to take forward the peacemaking efforts that I have described and which were referred to in the Statement. But to say that the KLA has not been mentioned is not right. It has been mentioned; and it has been asked to demilitarise.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, the Serbs have planted large numbers of mines in Kosovo. Does my noble friend accept that the Government should insist that those mines are cleared before the bombing ceases, and on an absolute guarantee that they will be?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as to a guarantee that the mines should be cleared before the bombing ceases, militarily and in terms of the technical arrangements and all the difficult issues that must be kept in play that would be very difficult.
The question of the mines has been fully appreciated in the military technical talks that are taking place today. There may be a limited allowance for a very small number of Serbian forces to remain in Kosovo simply to identify where the mines are in order to help the NATO forces when they attempt to make the passage back into Kosovo safe. It will be very important to have accurate information. But I do not think that we can achieve that before the bombing stops.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, in view of the fact that implementation of a withholding tax will cost many thousands of jobs in this country, was there a specific mention of that, rather than the matter being included in the generalisation about so-called tax harmonisation?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sorry, I may have slightly misheard the noble Lord. There is no agreement on a withholding tax being imposed on Britain by Brussels, and there will certainly be no agreement to anything that damages the eurobond market. As I said in reply to the noble Viscount, there was specific mention in the Council's resolutions that it
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the 20 minutes' mandatory time, as stated in the Companion, has now elapsed. There is other business and we ought to stick to the convention.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend Nick Brown. The Statement is as follows:
"The Belgian Ministry of Agriculture first received information in mid-March that severe health effects were being detected in laying chickens. The problem was traced to fat manufactured in January by the firm Verkest in Belgium and supplied for the production of animal feedingstuffs. Approximately one month later, the Belgian Ministry of Agriculture was informed that high levels of dioxins had been found in feed for breeding chickens, and in chicken fat analysed by the company producing the feed. After further tests for dioxins, the Belgian Government initiated on 25th May discussions on preventive measures with the Belgian industry. The United Kingdom Government believe firmly that the Belgian Government should have acted earlier to inform trading partners of the problem.
"Dioxins are a group of closely related chemicals produced during combustion and as unwanted by-products of some industrial chemical processes. Dioxins are not acutely toxic to humans at very low doses. Thus the likely intake of dioxins from short-term and sporadic consumption of contaminated food is expected to be insufficient to cause harm. Nevertheless, sustained human exposure over a long period to dioxins is potentially damaging to humans: studies relating to industrial processes show that exposure to high levels of dioxins over a period of 20 years increases the risk of cancer.
"Our public health advice on the Belgian incident is that, whilst it is clearly undesirable to consume contaminated products, there is no reason to anticipate harmful effects from consumption of those
"The Government have nonetheless acted swiftly, in close and effective co-operation with all the sectors of the food industry, to take all the steps necessary to protect United Kingdom consumers. We first received information on Friday 28th May suggesting possible contamination of some eggs and poultry produced in Belgium. We established immediate contact with the European Commission, who were holding urgent and detailed discussion with the Belgian authorities about the extent and nature of the problem. Although at that stage the Belgian authorities suggested that exports of potentially affected products to the United Kingdom were minimal, we immediately advised the food industry to check with their suppliers that such products did not originate from the affected Belgian farms.
"There were further extensive discussions between the Commission and the Belgian authorities and with the member states on 31st May to 2nd June. We maintained close contact throughout with the food industry, and specifically with a small number of companies which had sourced products in Belgium. The food industry acted quickly to withdraw potentially affected products.
"On 2nd June, in anticipation of a decision by the European Commission to prohibit the export from Belgium and the sale in all member states of poultry and eggs from the affected farms, unless they could be shown to be free from contamination, the Government issued a food hazard warning on the action to be carried out by local authorities to trace all imports of eggs and poultry from Belgium.
"The European Commission decision was given formal effect on 3rd June. On 4th June, in anticipation of a further Commission decision extending the prohibition on export or sale to a further range of products--pork, beef, and milk and milk products-- I made two emergency orders under the Food Safety Act 1990 and Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act to give formal legal effect to the Commission's decisions for the full range of affected products. The European Commission formally adopted its decision on pork, beef and milk and milk products on 7th June. The powers under the emergency orders made in the United Kingdom had been in effect since midnight on 4th to 5th June.
"The emergency orders make full legal provision for the seizure and destruction of any products which violate these requirements. Local authority enforcement officers have been fully briefed on these powers, and on the need to ensure that food businesses are in compliance. These measures
"I believe these actions to have been proportionate and in line with the need to protect public health and guarantee consumer confidence. Honourable Members will be aware that some non-EU countries--including the United States of America, Canada and Singapore--have taken steps to impose restrictions on imports of products from the European Union. While it is understandable that third countries should wish to introduce restrictions on the import of Belgian products until the situation is resolved, it is disproportionate for other countries to seek to restrict imports from all the affected categories from all European Union countries. There can be no basis on food safety grounds for such action, and it is deeply unfair to our domestic producers that they should, at least temporarily, lose their markets.
"The Government are determined to continue to act with the food industry and local authorities to protect British consumers. Swift proportionate action has been this Government's guiding principle since taking office, and will continue to be so".
Lord Luke: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture. Of course, the first priority in the matter must be the protection of British consumers. But the issue also affects British farmers whose products are now banned from the United States, Canada and other countries.
With regard to the consumer point, we support the Government in the action they have taken so far. Will the Minister confirm when the Ministry of Agriculture first knew about the problem? Was it on 28th May? If that is the case, does he not agree that it is disgraceful that, if the Belgian Ministry of Agriculture was informed in mid-March, no inkling of it seems to have reached Britain until 28th May? Was it never discussed in the corridors of EU power in Brussels? Furthermore, is it true that other European Union countries, including Holland, were told days, if not weeks, before Britain?
Does the Minister agree that to be kept in the dark over such an important matter is a poor reward for all the concessions made by this Government in the recent farm policy reform talks? Further, is it possible that British consumers were needlessly placed at risk by this unexplained delay by Belgium and other European authorities in informing Britain?
Does the Minister agree that this whole mess highlights the imperative and urgent need to improve food labelling in Britain? It would, of course, help if food labelling were accurate on the continent. I wonder whether the Minister has read an article which appeared in the Independent which states:
British farmers are prevented from exporting to the United States and other countries. In fact, the Minister of Agriculture says that this is deeply unfair, and we all agree very much with that. But what does he intend to do about it? I return to what I said earlier. Food safety is the absolute priority and the general public are rightly worried by this situation. Let us hope that they are at least partially reassured by the Statement. But a great deal more needs to be done to rectify the imprecision of the way in which we approach food safety, in particular with regard to food imports.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I too wish to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, which is important. It is right and proper that it should concentrate on the protection of the consumer. However, I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Luke, who spoke from the Tory Front Bench, in saying that the farmers are suffering from the illegal methods used and the lack of information. It bears an unfortunate resemblance to the development of BSE, in that apparently it all started with some method of manufacture with fat which produced a lot of dioxins, over and above the normal process, which got into the food chain. That is exactly what happened in Britain in that the method of manufacture of blood meal and so on was changed from the batch method which killed the bacteria to a much cheaper, more efficient method with a continuous chain which was not at a high enough temperature.
Can the Minister tell us a little more about what is happening with the firm concerned? Are all the possible places being followed up where the fats could have been used? Obviously the firm sells outside Belgium, probably in Holland, Germany and certainly France. It appears that the lessons we learnt were that contaminated animal foods stayed in the chain much longer than they should have. Really energetic methods need to be pursued before the problem can be stamped out and we can get rid of the excuse by the United States, for example, not to take British produce.
The Government must push the Commission to put pressure on the Belgian Government because their record appears to be appalling. For them to have cognisance of this in March and to find very high levels while we only learnt of it in late May is a scandalous piece of European non-co-operation. Could he at the same time tell us whether we have an official level of dioxins in food which we test? We know about the other levels. Can we test for dioxins? Is there a permissible level? In addition, what can be done in manufacture to reduce the possibility of contamination? We know that heat is used in the case of BSE. If dioxins are produced by heat, it must be more difficult to use heat.
I believe that a great deal of effort should be made by our Government to ensure that the Commission does its job, that the Belgian Government are persuaded to do their job, and that our farmers have the present disadvantages of the system removed and are able again to export their very safe beef.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for supporting the actions that we have taken to defend the consumer. That is always our first priority. When noble Lords have leisure to read the Statement and the chronology, they will see that the British Government acted with considerable speed and introduced our emergency orders before the Commission's decisions were finally enacted, so that to some extent we pre-empted them.
I agree with what the noble Lord said about the delay on the Belgian side, which is very regrettable. My advice is that the first time we heard about the problem was on 28th May and that the information came from industry sources in this country. That is regrettable. There does not seem to have been very speedy communication from Belgium to this country.
We believe that it is indeed true that two member countries were informed in advance of information being given to other member countries. Holland and France were alerted before we, or perhaps even the Commission, were informed. That is presumably because Holland and France are the main recipients of the contaminated feed. That is indeed a fact. I agree that it would have been preferable to have known earlier, but I believe that the Government acted as swiftly as humanly possible in the circumstances, and we regret that some of our European partners did not act as swiftly.
We agree with what the noble Lord said about labelling. We wish to introduce the maximum amount of labelling information to the consumer. We have made progress in that area. It is correct that it is not complete progress in terms of country of origin. We are pursuing better labelling in Brussels.
In terms of the United States and other third countries--Malaysia, Hong Kong and Canada--it is very regrettable that our producers are suffering as a result of this problem in certain of their big overseas markets. The noble Lord asked what could be done about that. We shall do everything possible to produce
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, referred to the fat process. I am not an expert and I know very little about the nature of that process. What I heard about it left me with the feeling that I would not be examining it too closely. He draws a parallel with BSE. There are parallels. However, the scale of the threat to human or animal health is very different. It is the case that this once again raises questions about modern food production processes and mass food production. Everything possible is being done in this country and in Europe to trace the sources of contamination. According to reports, I believe that the Belgians themselves are in a state of near siege, many of the relevant food shops having been closed.
The noble Lord raised the question of beef on the bone. I repeat what has been announced. That situation is to be reviewed by the Chief Medical Officer in a couple of months and the decision will be based on scientific evidence.
The noble Lord referred to the Belgian record. I have said that we regret it and deplore the delay. Within Europe, it is incumbent upon all member states to make information of this kind available to their partners and to the Commission as rapidly as possible.
With regard to dioxins, tests are available. However, the tests are quite long. That is why, at this stage, we still do not know the level of dioxins in certain other foods. Nevertheless, we are able to trace the sourcing from Belgium. Our information--and the Belgians insist that this is true, and we have no evidence to the contrary--is that this year we have imported no feed from any of the contaminated sources. We imported only 728 tonnes of feed, which is less than one per cent of our imports. The evidence, and my advice, is that none of that comes from a contaminated source.