Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I cannot speak to that. I can only speak to the specific circumstances relating to the question of compensation which was granted by a High Court decision. That is the issue with which we are dealing at the moment. It is carefully circumscribed by that judgment and we have to act within that situation.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, will my noble friend consider that if the employer has mislaid or destroyed the records of employment, those responsible should take into consideration evidence that may be provided by the mining trade unions? Can that point be looked at urgently?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we will certainly look at that. We need to produce proof of employment and if that proof can be provided in other ways, we will certainly consider that.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that since the scheme started--only four or five weeks ago--15 miners have died? In view of that statistic I hope that, despite the assurances he gave us earlier, there will be no let up in the efforts being made. Secondly, will he ensure that maximum publicity is being given to everybody concerned as to what has to be done and what is being done?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we will certainly keep up the pressure to get through these cases. We will also be prioritising the medical assessment process on the basis of age to try to deal with this unfortunate situation and will keep up the pressure in every way we can.

Milk Marketing

3.37 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Secretary of State has no plans to amend the remedies concerning Milk Marque which he announced on 6th July. They provide Milk Marque and the milk processing industry with the opportunity they both sought; that is, to devise a reform of Milk Marque's selling system which enjoys the confidence of all.

Lord Monk Bretton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, is it not the case that Milk Marque has only been able to deliver the lowest producer price in the whole of Europe? It has been

15 Jul 1999 : Column 547

losing membership in droves. If it is denied milk processing capacity and its selling methods are again to be altered, is not its collapse a serious possibility? If that collapse takes place, is not the industry back in its pre-1933 position, before the establishment of the Milk Marketing Board? I do not know whether that is the Government's intention. But would not there be greater virtue in looking at the need for substantial processing to be in producers' hands, which has led to stability for dairy farming both in Europe and the United States? Also, should we not look at the serious gap between UK producers and retail prices?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is certainly the case that Milk Marque has been losing custom at the rate of around 4 per cent a year. The Government recognise that that is a serious situation. However, I must remind the noble Lord that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission found that Milk Marque had been operating its monopoly against the public interest at the expense of consumers and the milk processing industry. The Government want a viable diary industry, but it cannot depend on a continuation of bad monopoly practices.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is it not true that the quota system allows this country to produce only 83 per cent of the milk that we consume? That adds a terrible distortion to all milk production and the milk industry. With that imposition from Europe, of course the industry is in a muddle.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we produce virtually all the milk that we consume as liquid milk and approximately 80 per cent of the milk that we use in butter and cheese. I am not familiar with the statistics to which the noble Earl referred. Despite a lot of scare talk some years ago, there has not been a significant increase in imports of raw milk.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, the dairy sector will be interested in the Minister's statement. It will hope that the changes will enjoy the confidence of all. The dairy sector is lacking in total confidence at the moment. Does the Minister agree that Milk Marque is the only organisation in that sector with a long-term, total and unswerving commitment to the future of milk production in this country? Any further problems in the industry would have reverberations throughout the agriculture sector in England and Wales.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness knows better than most of us the history of the dairy industry and milk marketing in this country. She will be aware that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report advocated the break-up of Milk Marque. Although the Secretary of State accepted many of the MMC's findings, he rejected the idea of breaking up Milk Marque immediately, because he saw that as a very difficult and long-term solution. That is why he

15 Jul 1999 : Column 548

gave Milk Marque and the industry another six months to try to come up with the reforms to its selling methods that the report shows are clearly necessary.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, further to the question of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, about the fact that this country does not produce 100 per cent of its milk and milk products, and bearing in mind the efficiency of dairy farms and the milk processing industry, am I right in thinking that that deficiency in production is made up by imports from Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, not as far as I know. The noble Earl was referring to imports from the European Community.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does not the Director-General of Fair Trading have six months before making a final decision on processing? Is not that causing uncertainty in the industry, because the final outcome is still not known and there are still six months before the decision is taken? Is not a further problem in the milk market the fact that Milk Marque is obliged to be the collector of last resort? Given that it has to collect milk from some of the remotest parts of Wales and elsewhere, its costs are inevitably higher than those of many of its competitors.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord does not seem to like the long-term commitment that is such an attraction to his noble friend. The six months that the Director-General of Fair Trading, Milk Marque and the dairy industry have to come up with solutions to the defects in Milk Marque's selling methods is not a minimum. If they can come up with solutions earlier, the uncertainty can be dealt with. I thought that the Secretary of State's decision had been generally welcomed in the dairy industry. Mr Ben Gill, the president of the National Farmers Union, said:

    "However, we do accept the need for a new selling system and will be actively pressing the Government, the OFT and all the parties to find a new system straight away".

We are generally in accord with the views in the industry.

Northern Ireland

3.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

    "Madam Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on Northern Ireland. I start by paying tribute to the contribution made by the Deputy First Minister designate, the honourable Member for Newry and Armagh. Although his skills and oratory will be absent from the Assembly, they will not be absent from this House.

15 Jul 1999 : Column 549

    "On 2nd July, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister proposed, with the Taoiseach, a way forward to implement the Good Friday agreement-- a way forward to secure both devolution and decommissioning, with a clear failsafe for both.

    "This morning, as proposed on 2nd July, the Assembly met to select the departmental ministers to take office on devolution. Devolution would have followed on Sunday. The decommissioning process would then have begun within a period specified by the decommissioning commission--as General de Chastelain said on 2nd July, "literally within a couple of days". Actual decommissioning would then have followed to a timetable laid down by the commission--within weeks.

    "If commitments on devolution or decommissioning had not taken place, there was a failsafe: parties would not have been expected to continue in government with those in default.

    "As the House will know, the Ulster Unionist Party, Democratic Unionist Party and the Alliance Party chose this morning not to nominate any member to ministerial office. All parties have agreed on the principle, under the Good Friday agreement, of an inclusive Executive exercising devolved powers. With the UUP not nominating Ministers, it was clear beyond doubt that such an inclusive Executive could not he formed.

    "I therefore acted immediately to undo the appointment of Ministers designate, since the requirement for a cross-community Executive had not been met. I will now take steps, with the Irish Government, to institute a formal review under the Good Friday agreement. Discussions will continue. My right honourable friend the Member for Torfaen and I will continue to be available to all the parties.

    "My right honourable friend the Prime Minster will meet the Taoiseach next week to discuss the arrangements, agenda and time-scale for the review. It will take place under paragraph 4 of the review section of the agreement and will involve the relevant parties. It will not be a review of the agreement itself but of its implementation. I expect the review to get under way after the main holiday season. People are tired and need a break.

    "Earlier this week the House debated the Northern Ireland Bill, which creates the failsafe envisaged under the way forward proposals. We judged that it would help to reassure unionists and nationalists--but particularly unionists--that we were serious about the failsafe if we published the Bill and demonstrated that it was on its way to becoming law.

    "I am grateful to the House for considering the Bill at such speed on Tuesday. We will not withdraw it, because it may well be that a failsafe on those lines will he necessary to underpin whatever way forward is eventually agreed. But the Bill will now not proceed on the emergency timetable this afternoon in the other place.

15 Jul 1999 : Column 550

    "I still believe that the way forward proposed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach is a balanced approach that could have succeeded, but I do not seek to blame any party in the House this afternoon. The last thing that the people of Northern Ireland need now is an outbreak of recriminations. I believe that all those who supported the agreement when it was made genuinely want to see it implemented.

    "The reality is that we either move forward together or we do not move forward at all. Today is a setback. It would be foolish to deny that, but it would be even more foolish to conclude that the Good Friday agreement cannot continue. Apart from those who have always opposed the agreement, no one is seriously suggesting an alternative way forward. There is still a wide measure of agreement on the issues that have divided people in the past: on the resolution of the fundamental constitutional question on the basis of consent; on a fully inclusive form of government, with both communities represented; on a fair and just society in which both traditions are respected and rights are safeguarded; on the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms in a manner determined by an independent commission; and the eventual normalisation of society.

    "That is in my opinion a massive consensus which was inconceivable before the Good Friday agreement and which puts today's set-back--very serious as it is--in perspective.

    "Most of all, I place my faith in the people of Northern Ireland. Over this summer, at the beginning of the parades period, in both communities, they have shown that the very strongest of disagreements can be expressed peacefully. For their sake, we, the Irish Government and all the Northern Ireland parties must not be disheartened. We must continue to work to implement the agreement the people have approved."

That concludes the Statement. With the leave of the House, I want to add my personal appreciation to your Lordships for the speed with which you were willing to deal with the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Bill yesterday.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in another place.

This is a sad day, but not one for recriminations and party politics. The day is made even sadder by the resignation of Mr Seamus Mallon of the SDLP. He was the Deputy First Minister. His resignation automatically triggers the resignation of the First Minister. The house is coming down further, which is very sad. I seriously regret Mr Seamus Mallon's decision. He has been a brave and hard-working member of the peace-seeking team. I hope that he will not stay on the touch-lines for too long.

As I made clear yesterday at the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Bill, my party still supports the Good Friday agreement and our bipartisan approach to the Northern Ireland problem. However, I want to ask

15 Jul 1999 : Column 551

the Minister a few questions. Will he agree that, had some of the amendments tabled for debate today which were tabled in another place by my right honourable friend Mr Mackay or perhaps some of the amendments drawn up by the Government, which I have not yet seen, been accepted, we may not be where we are now?

Does the Minister agree that the heart of the problem lies in decommissioning by all the paramilitary groups? The problem is getting the bomb and the gun out of Irish politics. Will the Minister also agree that David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party have done all that could be expected of them? Can he confirm that the Prime Minister still stands firm in his stated belief that democrats cannot be expected to sit down with terrorists? Will the Minister comment on Dublin's role in the situation, and on where the Taoiseach stands on the vexed question of the Sinn Fein and the IRA being two sides of the same coin?

My right honourable friend Mr Peter Brooke in another place said that the time had come to steady the bus and keep cool. This is a sad day for Ulster, for the people of Ulster and for all those who have worked so hard to bring peace to my troubled homeland.

Perhaps I may suggest that today is not a day for political point-scoring or for apportioning blame, but for the serious work to begin again in the quest for peace in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Government will agree that with hindsight the week of 12th July should not have been the first choice for negotiations of this nature. The summer months in Ulster are notoriously volatile. We understand that the Prime Minister has problems in another part of Europe which have caused significant interruption. Let us hope that in the cool of the autumn, patience, reason and good sense will lead us to the solution that is wanted by all.

3.53 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, it is most regrettable that the whole process fell today. That was clearly brought about by the refusal of the Unionist Party to carry out its obligations under the Good Friday agreement in relation to the appointment of Ministers.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page