HC Deb 19 February 1998 vol 306 cc1165-6
1. Lorna Fitzsimons

What progress has been made on the adoption of the export certified herd scheme. [28746]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dr. John Cunningham)

The Commission presented a proposal for the export certified herd scheme to the Standing Veterinary Committee on 21 January. I expect the committee to vote on the proposal soon. If it is not adopted by the committee, it will be referred to the Agriculture Council for a decision.

Lorna Fitzsimons

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Like many of my colleagues, he may not know that Rochdale has a substantial interest in the issue. I have been lobbied by farmers—I grew up with several farmers—who are proud to be the providers of some of the finest and safest beef in this country and, indeed, the world. They want to know what support the Europear Commission got for the export certified herd scheme, and what my right hon. Friend expects the Standing Veterinary Committee's view to be. They want to know whether we stand a chance this time of getting enough support from the Commission to ensure that they car export their beef, because it is the best beef.

Dr. Cunningham

I certainly agree with my hon Friend that British beef is safe to eat. The important aspect of the Commission decision was that the Commission itself accepted implicitly, in unanimously backing the scheme, that British beef is safe. There are no good reasons for the Standing Veterinary Committee not to reach the same conclusion.

Mr. Walter

To implement the scheme in Great Britain, we need a computerised system. Yesterday in answer to a debate in the House, the Minister of State said that no decisions had yet been taken on charging for the scheme, and that no decisions had been taken or passing on the costs of setting up the scheme—the previous Government made a public spending commitment not to pass on those costs. Can the Minister reassure farmers that, as in Northern Ireland, there will be no charge for the scheme?

Dr. Cunningham

I can tell the House that I shall be meeting farmers' leaders with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister later today.

Mrs. Betty Williams

What steps have the Government taken since May 1997 to implement the Florence agreement, and may we be told why the European Union is still refusing to reopen the beef export market?

Dr. Cunningham

We have fulfilled all the terms and conditions placed on us by the Florence agreement and, I repeat, there is now no good scientific or veterinary reason why British beef should not be allowed back into international markets.