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Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the official within London Regional Transport who decided to bring this case displayed a serious lack of judgment? Can the Minister say whether that official is still employed by London Regional Transport, or has he been sent to the equivalent of Outer Siberia--whatever that is in LRT?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, those are inevitably not matters for Ministers. Clearly London Transport recognised that there were problems in this case, but it would not be sensible for me to comment further.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the Minister aware that London Regional Transport in fact employs its own private police force? Surely the manner in which that private police force conducts itself is to some degree a matter of concern to the Government.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in that context I am not entirely clear what the noble Lord means by "a private police force". There is enforcement of fares, which is obviously separate from the British Transport Police who operate on the Underground. We are trying to ensure that passengers on London Transport pay the correct fare. The system of penalty fares therefore enables us, in most cases, to ensure that the revenue is protected without recourse to the courts and therefore criminality. However, where intent is involved, it may be appropriate to use the more traditional procedures, and sometimes misjudgments may be made in those cases. In general, however, I should defend that system.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the clear advice given to Ministers is that there are no public health grounds for preventing the import of
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, does it go far enough? On the one hand, we have French beef that is fed on materials which are unmentionable in this august Chamber. On the other hand, we have the best beef in the world. As the noble Baroness has said, British beef on the bone has been cleared by the Chief Medical Officer, but it is still an illegal substance. Why do the Government not take the opportunity to give British farming a boost by now lifting the ban on British beef on the bone?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, when I answered a Question in your Lordships' House two weeks ago, I believe I made clear that the Government do wish to lift the beef on the bone ban as soon as the medical advice throughout the United Kingdom allows it to do so. We believe that it is in the interests of the industry and of consumers to take this forward on a UK basis. At the moment, before giving advice to their legislatures, the chief medical officers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would prefer to await the further epidemiological evidence from the Oxford group which is expected this month. I made that clear the other day. In view of other issues within Europe, I do not believe it is sensible to suggest that we should ban illegally the import of beef from France when there is no scientific advice to suggest that it is unsafe.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, will the noble Baroness explain why it is that, prior to the beef ban, nearly 80 per cent of the beef imports by France from this country were of old culled cows, some of which were imported with brains? Will the Minister ask the French to explain why they have such a low level of CJD? Will she also ask them to look on the Internet at the reports of the BSE inquiry, where it appears that the science indicates that it may not be beef at all that has been causing the spongiform encephalopathies?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am sure that the French and UK Governments monitor very carefully what the noble Countess says on these issues and will take account of the points that she has made today. I do not believe that I should answer from this Dispatch Box for the import policies of the French Government before the ban.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, is it not the case that the only power which the Government have to ban the sale of this otherwise legal product is on public health grounds? If that is the case, and the Government have already decided that in England this is perfectly safe,
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as I explained the other day, the view of Her Majesty's Government is that on this as on many other issues of food safety, it would be sensible to wait a few weeks to see whether it is possible to find a consensus between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I believe it is in the interests of the British beef industry that we should take a coherent view across the United Kingdom on this important issue, rather than drive a wedge between different parts of the United Kingdom.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, will the Minister explain why there is any need for restaurants and shops to import French beef at all when there is plenty of excellent British beef to go round for everybody?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very good point. I believe that we in this House are all interested in promoting British products, particularly meat products whose level of safety and quality, in our opinion, is the highest in the world. Indeed, that is the argument which we adopt also in relation to exports.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the reason why I put the three together was that the chief medical officers of all three would prefer to see the advice from the Oxford epidemiological unit as to the incidence of BSE. Professor Donaldson had an estimate of that incidence, and it was on that that he based his own advice before suggesting to Chief Ministers that the ban should be lifted.
Viscount Addison: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that an effigy of a French farmer will probably be burnt in Kent on Guy Fawkes' night tomorrow? Does that not mean that the escalation of the feelings of farmers in this country is reaching the point at which the Government should be giving them some help and consideration?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I believe that the escalation of feeling has been extremely unhelpful in a great number of areas. However, the Government are trying to take an approach that is rational, sensible and reasoned on both the issues of the current disputes with France in terms of their imports under the date-based export scheme and in other areas. Yesterday, Commissioner Byrne praised the "intelligent,
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as I believe the House will be aware, the Phillips Inquiry has taken longer than was originally intended. I understand that the current position is that it will now report by 31st March 2000.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, will the Minister not accept those judgments which have been made on scientific advice that our British beef is quite safe to eat? At present, the Government have not sought to act independently as regards England, as was mentioned two weeks ago when this issue was raised in the House. But will the Minister not accept that the fact that the Government are not pushing forward with that adds to the frustration of our farmers who wish to see their beef exported, and urgently?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I understand that frustration. Beef on the bone would not be exported because the date-based export scheme deals only with deboned beef, as she well knows, and very specific categories of beef. I understand the frustration and the wish to make progress on this matter. One has to balance that frustration against the possible adverse consequences of taking a different approach in different parts of the United Kingdom. The Government have made it clear that they believe it is worth waiting a few weeks to see whether it is possible to reach a concerted view on this issue.
Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I make a brief Business Statement regarding Prorogation. The progress of business next week will, as always, depend on the receipt of messages from another place. If business on all Bills is concluded on Wednesday, the House will sit at 11.15 a.m. on Thursday to prorogue. If, however, business on all Bills is not concluded on Wednesday, the House will sit at 3 p.m. on Thursday in order to conclude the business and will then sit at 11 a.m. on Friday to prorogue. In either event, Prorogation will be followed by a reception in the Royal Gallery to mark the end of this Session. No formal invitations will be issued for the reception. All those who plan to be here for Prorogation will be welcome to attend.
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