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Lord Lipsey: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the smaller parties would be much better advised not to press for party political broadcasts, which serve only to put off voters but, instead, for a change in our electoral system which means that if they get more votes they may start to get a few more people in Parliament?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I believe that that is a matter for the smaller political parties. I am sure that with imagination and creativity all political parties can make high quality party political or electoral broadcasts that attract voters.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, can the Minister say whether there are rules to prevent political parties from inciting religious and racial hatred through their broadcasts?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes--the ordinary criminal law.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, while it is clearly right that the Government should not intervene in the allocation of electoral broadcasts, does the Minister agree that the rules as applied were somewhat unfair to the Green Party which, although it fielded candidates in more than one-sixth of constituencies across the United Kingdom as a whole, was refused the right to a broadcast on Radio 2 and Radio 4 simply because its associated party in Scotland fielded candidates in less than one-sixth of the constituencies in Scotland?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not believe that it is for the Government to pronounce on this matter but for the political parties to negotiate a sensible deal with the broadcasters. We have done it in that way in this country for a long time and we believe that that is the right way to do it, rather than that the Government should pronounce on an issue of this kind.
Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the strengths of our democracy has been that parties have not been able to purchase air time on either radio or television? Can the noble Baroness confirm that it is still the policy of Her Majesty's Government to resist any idea of political parties buying air time on either television or radio?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I strongly agree with the noble Lord. One of the reasons we have election broadcasts in this country is that we do not allow political advertising by the parties during general elections, and long may that last.
Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, according to Mr Peter Kellner's article in the Observer on 11th June, if the percentage of votes given to the Labour and Conservative Parties at the past election had been exactly reversed the result would have been Labour 301 seats and Conservatives 289 seats? In the light of that information, will the noble Baroness consider her reply that electoral reform is an issue for smaller parties?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am glad to say that I did not see Mr Peter Kellner's article. However, I believe that the question put by the noble Earl is rather a long way from the one on the Order Paper which is about the regulations for party electoral broadcasts.
Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government are reviewing their proposals on the standstill movement in the light of responses to the consultation exercise. We have decided to make this issue part of a total approach for the exit from the current foot and mouth disease outbreak to future disease control which will also include biosecurity, animal identification and licensing. This will allow fuller veterinary and economic assessments to be carried out. In the mean-time, current movement licensing controls will continue.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am glad to hear the Minister's response. Presumably, there will be a public inquiry so that the Government can obtain the necessary information. This year, virtually all agricultural and county shows have been cancelled because of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. First, does the Minister appreciate the implications that any future 20-day standstill may have for those shows? Secondly, does the noble Lord accept the
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Baroness will appreciate that it is very difficult for the agricultural sector as a whole to plan for next year given that we have yet finally to eradicate the disease and that the process for movement beyond the disease has yet to be determined. Clearly, even if there were no further new outbreaks, there would still be some restrictions on movement. That will continue into the autumn. We need to use that period to assess the long-term restrictions on movement and whether the 20-day standstill period, or an alternative measure which achieves the same result in terms of the spread of the disease among animals, is appropriate. That is a matter that we need to address in the coming weeks.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that in this outbreak of foot and mouth disease the major problem has been the movement of sheep? If there is to be a 20-day standstill period, how do Her Majesty's Government intend to trace all the animals which have been moved from one premises to another, bearing in mind that one sheep looks very much like another? At the moment, sheep are marked only with the holding number of their birth rather than as individual animals.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I had always understood that the noble Countess was better than I at distinguishing one sheep from another. Nevertheless, I take her general point. Clearly, traceability and the way in which we manage the total national flock in future will need to be part of the long-term solution. The 20-day standstill period and what exemptions are appropriate in relation to shows or other areas where animals intermingle are matters that require long, hard thought and discussion with the industry. On the face of it, however, had there been a 20-day standstill period, the number of cases in the current outbreak of foot and mouth would have been halved. One cannot ignore that evidence, albeit that there will be other more damaging consequences to which the noble Countess has referred.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, can the Minister ensure that his department's reaction is proportionate and that the achievement of biosecurity does not threaten the future of livestock markets which are crucial? Is the Minister aware that the proposal to introduce electronic tagging will be a disproportionately high cost to smaller sheep farmers because start-up costs are the same whether one has 500 or 2,000 ewes?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the disproportionate cost to sheep farmers of all kinds has been the epidemic itself. Measures to ensure the long-term health of our sheep flock will need to take into account the fact that traceability and identification may need to be part of a future structure. All these matters need to be assessed
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have been to two conferences in the south of Scotland attended by all the farmers who lost stock in that area? Does the noble Lord accept that not one of them was in favour of the 20-day standstill and considered it to be quite impracticable and that they felt that there were many more important issues to be resolved by the Government, particularly relating to controls on imports from countries where foot and mouth is endemic?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I certainly accept that the vast majority of responses to the consultation indicated that there was severe disquiet, to put it at its mildest, about the proposals relating to the standstill. Nevertheless, the issue which the proposal is supposed to address needs to be resolved if we are to retain a healthy flock in the longer term. As to import controls, clearly both at national and European level there are some measures which need to be addressed.
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that not all agricultural shows have been cancelled and that, for example, the Royal Lancashire Show is continuing? Is the Minister aware that that has been achieved by expanding the features of the show relating to horses and poultry? I am sure that my noble friend will join with me in wishing it every success.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am always happy to join my noble friend in wishing anything that happens in Lancashire success. I trust that the show will be a success, albeit that this year the show is, regrettably, deprived of its livestock features.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Minister aware that about 300,000 hill lambs are due off the hills of Scotland and northern England in August and September? Many of these lambs are bought by dealers to distribute to other areas for fattening. What do the Government propose to do about that in view of the 20-day restriction?
Perhaps I may also ask whether the Government have any plans to restrict imports because the hill lambs are normally destined for export and they cannot be exported. It therefore seems to me that the Government should take some responsible action about imports.
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