HC Deb 25 November 1999 vol 339 cc742-3
6. Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

What steps he is taking against the restrictions imposed by German Lander on British beef. [98842]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown)

I have spoken and written to the German Health Minister about the German ban. The German Minister has assured me that the German Federal Government are taking the necessary legal steps to lift it, but—because of the necessary constitutional procedures in Germany, including the need for agreement by the Länder—it will not be possible to lift it quickly.

Mr. Brazier

Surely, then, the position is that the House and the British Government can be overruled by European rulings but the German Federal Government can shelter behind the German constitution in allowing the Lander flagrantly to break European law, to the detriment of British farmers. Given that the Government have made much, somehow or other, of their fairly modest efforts with the French, is it not time that they matched that by taking legal action against the Germans?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. This is a matter of European Union law, and the law applies in Germany in exactly the same way as it applies in France and throughout the rest of the EU. The German Federal Government have been completely candid with the United Kingdom Government. They have explained to us how their procedures work and why it will take time to get the ban lifted in Germany. I believe that the German Government are proceeding in good faith in this matter, but they have to deal with regional authorities controlled by parties that are different from those in the federal Government. He will accept that, sometimes, opposition parties can behave unreasonably towards the party in power.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we shall not be exporting any beef, either to France or to Germany, unless there is consumer confidence in those countries? Is not the best approach to ensure that we explain our BSE safeguards so that the French ban is lifted, with the support of the French and German Governments? Otherwise we might have the ban lifted, but no one will be eating British beef.

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is exactly right; that is the approach that the Government are taking. We are explaining the powerful safeguards—which sit around the date-based export scheme—that are in place in this country. We are taking our potential customers into our confidence because we want them to be our customers. We want them to buy our beef.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gain sborough)

Past constitutional disputes between the German Federal Government and the Länder have taken years to resolve. How long will it take to resolve this issue?

Mr. Brown

This issue is a matter of European Union law. If we cannot get it resolved by discussion, it will have to be resolved by law. Again, we shall look to the Commission to stand our corner.

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