HC Deb 19 March 1998 vol 308 cc1397-8
4. Mr. Grogan

If he will make a statement on progress towards lifting the beef export ban. [33754]

Dr. John Cunningham

As I have just told the House, on Monday, we secured the first crucial step towards lifting the ban when the Agriculture Council approved the export certified herds scheme by a substantial majority.

Mr. Grogan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there two lessons to be drawn from the successful meeting on Monday? First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane)—whose constituency, even if it is 65 per cent. rural, is not as rural as Selby, which is is about 80 per cent. rural—said, if we are to have the ban lifted in England, Scotland and Wales, we need to maintain our constructive attitudes to Europe. Secondly, and more important, in the coming months we need to maintain the strongest possible public health measures.

Dr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend is right on both counts. It is because we have developed an open and constructive dialogue with all the institutions of the European Union—the Commission, the Council and the Parliament—that we have been able to make progress. The progress is due equally to the fact that we have taken stringent measures to safeguard the public and to ensure that our beef is safe to eat.

Mr. Jack

On behalf of Opposition Members, I welcome the announcement on the lifting of the Northern Ireland beef ban. It is a tribute to the foundation work put in place by previous Agriculture Ministers that this Minister has been able to achieve success in Brussels.

May I press the Minister a little further? A moment ago, he announced that he was confident that the date-based scheme offered the key that would unlock the door to the permanent lifting of the ban for the remainder of the United Kingdom. May I have his assurance that that remains the only barrier to lifting the ban? Will he be initiating a discussion at the next Agriculture Council to try to get on the record some form of indicative timetable for the lifting of the ban? Can he tell us when he expects the centre at Workington to be up and running?

Dr. Cunningham

The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions. First, I give the right hon. Gentleman at least nine out of 10 for brass neck. The previous Administration made no progress towards the lifting of the ban, which the right hon. Gentleman, the House, the country and, more particularly, our farmers know very well. The right hon. Gentleman is also out of touch with what is happening at the next Agriculture Council. The next Council will be a special Council which I have called to hold the opening discussion and debate on the Agenda 2000 proposals. There is no question of my tabling any indicative timetable at that time. The Council has the special and single purpose of discussing Agenda 2000. If the right hon. Gentleman spent more time and paid more attention to detail, we might get some sensible questions from him. Finally, we expect the centre at Workington to be operational later this year.