HL Deb 15 December 1982 vol 437 cc621-5

4.18 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on the meeting of the Agriculture Council on 13th and 14th December in Brussels, at which I represented the United Kingdom.

"The Council agreed to extend to the end of 1983 the arrangements for controlling imports of live cattle and pigs into Great Britain to protect our livestock against foot and mouth disease and swine vesicular disease. The special arrangements which apply to imports of live animals and meat into Northern Ireland have also been extended for a further year. During next year, the Council will discuss the introduction of rules for trade within the Community in live animals and fresh meat. We shall, of course, ensure that, when such rules are adopted, the special status of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is fully protected.

"The Council also discussed new provisions which would bring up to date the public health requirements for trade within the Community and with third countries in fresh meat. No decision was reached and the Council will consider this further at its meetings early next year.

"Agreement was reached on the 1983 arrangements for the importation of beef for processing. Next year's arrangements, including the quantity of 60,000 tonnes at reduced rate of levy, are the same as those for this year. These supplies are important to our processing industry and this means that imports can take place from the beginning of January.

"As the House knows, in October the Council decided the arrangements for imports of New Zealand butter in 1983. However, the French and Irish Governments indicated again that they are not prepared to adopt the necessary implementing regulation until the Commission have authorised exports to Russia. I made clear that there is no possible justification for the objections of these two delegations, which are an abuse of the Council procedures. There will be further discussion at the Management Committee before Christmas."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. In view of the need to protect cattle and pigs against the diseases referred to in the Statement, we welcome the further extension of 12 months. We also note the proposal to discuss the introduction of new rules for trade in live animals and fresh meat within the Community. Will the noble Earl now give the House a firm assurance that the Government will not approve any rules relating to foot and mouth disease which fall below the standards implemented by the Government following the report of the Northumberland inquiry after the outbreak of 1967–8, which was such a traumatic experience for many of us in this House? The noble Earl referred in the Statement to the words used by his right honourable friend, "special status of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". Is this what he meant when he used the words "special status"?

Can the noble Earl say why it was not possible to agree to new provisions on public health requirements for trade with third countries in fresh meat? This discussion has now been postponed, I understand, until next year. Are the Government now confident that some agreement can be achieved, and what changes in the rules do Her Majesty's Government support?

On the last paragraph in the Statement, the subject of New Zealand butter, while supporting the Government, can the noble Earl say what is the root of the French and Irish objection, given that these two countries accepted the arrangement with New Zealand when we and Ireland joined the Community in 1973?

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. I would strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in asking the Government to ensure that our present standards are kept in any agreement made. There was a very interesting article in the paper this morning on the spread of foot and mouth disease in Estonia and Byelorussia, and 2,500 vets have inoculated 4 million animals in an endeavour to contain the spread of foot and mouth in that area. One of the great advantages that we have in being an island is that we have been able to keep up our regulations, and our slaughter policy has proved enormously beneficial and cheap. I sincerely hope the Government will stand by what they say in the Statement, and a further assurance will be welcome. I do not want to say anything about the fresh meat agreement. I trust again that the health of our livestock and livestock industry will be the main consideration.

With regard to butter, I wish the Government would come clean on this. Either we belong to the European Economic Community and support the common agricultural policy, which keeps up prices by intervention and sells the surplus in the world market, or we do not. It appears to me that if the country is busy selling pipelines and pumps for pipelines and turbines to Russia, and the whole world is competing to sell grain to that country, it is a bit hypocritical to hold up the commercial sale of surplus butter which the whole world is, if I may use the expression, hotching with, because of some objection which is not clear. Perhaps the Minister would tell us what he would do with the surplus butter if it is not sold on the world market?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, what a fascinating question to be asked at the very end of the noble Lord's intervention. I am grateful for the welcome which both noble Lords have given to the Statement. Both noble Lords asked for an assurance about the special status of Great Britain with respect to foot and mouth disease. Of course, the idea of these discussions is to try to get a harmony of view. I can reassure the noble Lords that we will see that our unique position is fully protected in any arrangements which are arrived at.

The noble Lord asked what was going to happen about fresh meat. The aim is to reach a decision in January or February, and the latest proposals are acceptable to nine member states, including the United Kingdom. Therefore, I would not anticipate a great deal of difficulty there.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked what was the root of the French and Irish objection to the importation of butter. I suppose that really that question would be best directed to the French and Irish Governments. I think in general I can say that they are concerned at the importation of New Zealand butter when there is a surplus of butter within the Community. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is entirely right: they, together with all the other members of the Community, agreed that there should be special provisions for New Zealand butter, and that we intend to see continued. It is therefore wholly wrong for them to block the particular importation of butter at the moment. The reason why they would do this, as I understand it, is that they would wish to see the Commission's proposals for exporting butter to other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said, why do not the Government come clean about the exporting of surplus butter? He knows perfectly well that it is a principle of the common agricultural policy that surpluses in the Community are exported on to the world market with a restitution. There is a genuine world market in grain; there is not such a genuine market in butter. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan we took the view, and the Community took the view, that to deny to Russia access to Community butter at advantageous rates would at least be a reflection of the abhorrence of members of the Community to that particular action. That is the reason why we have continued to retain our objections to the sale of butter to Russia.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that his remarks concerning our Commonwealth partner, New Zealand, will be very welcome indeed? I was pleased to hear that. I wonder if he will bear in mind that we hope we shall not enter into the fiasco that was entered into a year ago with regard to EEC surplus butter, when this country and New Zealand suffered when butter was sold to the Soviet Union at knockdown prices and a few months later repurchased for much more than it was sold for. It is this situation which makes people very angry indeed.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, is perfectly right; this is a politically sensitive issue, and it is a personally sensitive issue. We wish to see this matter dealt with as fairly, as properly and as reasonably as possible.

Lord Collison

My Lords, the noble Earl and Minister will understand that we are all pleased to learn that the safeguards against importation of foot and mouth disease are going to be extended in this country for a further year. I am concerned with the long-term future. What are the prospects of the other countries of the Common Market accepting similar restrictions on the importation of cattle as we are now enabled to do under our special arrangements?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, in the United Kingdom we have had this derogation for six years and we have it for another 12 months. I hope, and it is the hope of the United Kingdom Government, that during that time we will be able to come to arrangements which are suitable not only to other members but also to the United Kingdom, bearing in mind the special status which we have. The noble Lord, Lord Collison, will, of course, be fully aware that one of the problems is that it is only the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark who have a slaughter policy. We have that policy for very good reason. It is seeking to dovetail that policy with those countries which do not have it which causes the problems. I am hopeful that we can come to an agreement that will be suitable to all member states.

Lord Walston

My Lords, I trust the noble Earl will not mind if I say that there does not seem to be a great deal of meat in this statement. In fact, if one could change the metaphor, he promises us more jam. if that is the right word, tomorrow than any decision today.

The only question I should like to put to the noble Earl is whether this 60,000 tonnes of meat which is to be imported, and which the Statement tells us is the same as last year, will come from the same countries as last year and that, in particular, the position of Botswana and some of the other Commonwealth countries has been safeguarded, as in the past?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, is entirely correct. There is not a great deal of meat in this Statement. My right honourable friend thought, as is his practice, that the customary and proper thing to do is to inform the other place of the discussions which have taken place and the conclusions, such as they were, arrived at during the last Council of Ministers meeting. It was considered appropriate for that Statement to be repeated here. The noble Lord is right in saying that there are not too many conclusions. With regard to the specific point about Botswana, I will find out the answer to his special question and contact him.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his Statement and recognising the constructive work that has been done and the need for protection from foot and mouth disease, may I ask: does the Minister consider it relevant for me to ask whether anything was discussed on the subject of what are known as "bobby" calves.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that does not strictly come under the foot and mouth regulations. There are regulations which control the movement of calves, but they do not come under those for foot and mouth disease.

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