HL Deb 04 February 1986 vol 470 cc1111-25

9.55 p.m.

Lord Gallacher rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their reponse to the report of the European Communities Committee on Examination of Animals and Fresh Meat for the Presence of Residues (3rd Report, 1985–86, H.L. 42).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is a clear need to monitor the presence of potentially harmful substances in meat. Most member states of the Community already have national systems for governing sampling for residues of substances such as hormones and pesticides. Pressure to change the status quo has come from two main sources. First, consumers throughout the Community have become increasingly concerned about the possible effects of diet on health. Although certain hormonal growth promoters were banned after a scandal in Italy five years ago, consumers are still concerned about the presence of residues in meat. Secondly, the plan of the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, to complete the internal market by 1992 calls for common levels and policies for veterinary and plant health and the alignment of national standards to common standards as much as possible in order to facilitate intra-Community trade.

The Commission has accordingly issued a draft directive proposing a uniform system of monitoring for residues. This proposal has been broadly welcomed in the Community and by the relevant trade associations, as well as the National Farmers' Union and the Meat and Livestock Commission in the United Kingdom, although the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food expressed reservations over the cost and practicality of the scheme.

The United Kingdom currently performs 300 tests for residues a year on each principal species of farm animal. With the exception of Luxembourg, which has few farm animals, most member states carry out many more tests than in the United Kingdom. In West Germany more than 220,000 samples are taken each year, while in Italy the number of samples taken increased more than three-fold from 119, 117 in 1981 to 387,792 in 1982. Although there is no direct correlation between the number of samples taken and the degree of protection afforded to the consumer, the United Kingdom's approach to sampling is regarded as minimalist by other member states.

These considerations led the sub-committee to welcome the Commission's attempt to set up a common residue monitoring regime which would institute a standard system within the member states. The sub-committee considers it to be a step towards facilitating Community trade and furthering the completion of the internal market. While believing that the Commission's proposal is based on a response to pressure by consumers in certain member states rather than on any scientific evidence, the subcommittee considers it important to maintain consumer confidence in meat and meat products.

The sub-committee makes a number of observations on the draft directive. It recommends that standard procedures should be established to be used by all member states and by those third countries with which the Community trades on a large scale. It recommends the establishment of common residue limits. It deprecates the fact that the Commission's proposal does not extend to poultry meat. It regrets the absence of any estimate by the Commission as to the possible cost of the proposed scheme and recommends that the cost should fall at the same point in each member state, in order to avoid possible market distortions.

It recommends that research should continue to be carried out into cheaper practical methods of testing for residues. It recommends that animals and meat imported from third countries should be subject to the same tests as those carried out on animals and meat produced within the EC. It recommends that the majority of testing should be carried out at the point of slaughter, and, finally, it disapproves of the proposed derogation for members states with fewer than 10 per cent. holdings with more than 20 animals.

While the committee was undertaking its inquiry, the Commission issued a further proposal to ban the use of all growth-promoting hormonal substances in animal production apart from use for therapeutic purposes. The Commission was responding to intense pressure from sections of the consumer lobby and in particular to a resolution carried by a large majority by the European Parliament on 10th October 1985. The committee was grateful to Mr. Ken Collins, Member of the European Parliament and rapporteur to the European Parliament for its report on the use of hormones, for his help during its inquiry.

The Commission's proposal was agreed by the Council of Agriculture Ministers in December, despite the strong reservations expressed by the United Kingdom Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As a result of Mr. Jopling's strong resistance to the proposal for a total ban, the United Kingdom secured a one-year derogation from the ban, which will come into effect in all other Community countries from 1st January 1988. The committee had insufficient time to take evidence on the Commission's proposal, which is outlined on pages 22 and 23 of the report. Its reaction to it is summarised as follows: it agreed not to make a recommendation based on incomplete scientific evidence. It notes, however, that the use of hormonal substances in animal production has increased the quantity of meat available to the consumer. One effect of a total ban on the use of hormonal substances for growth promotion would be to reduce the quantity of lean meat available.

That is the sum total of the committee's response to the Commission's proposal for a total ban. In outlining the conclusions of the report, I have been speaking in my capacity as chairman of Sub-Committee D—the Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the European Communities. With the leave of the House, I should like to conclude on a personal note by raising three points with the Minister.

First, I should like to ask the Minister whether he believes that it is desirable that the Commission should issue proposals—or that the Council of Agriculture Ministers should adopt proposals—that are based on incomplete scientific evidence and may be seen more in terms of a reaction to political pressure. Secondly, does he agree with several of those who gave evidence to the committee that the imposition of a total ban will make the need for monitoring for the presence of residues more, rather than less, important? And finally, I should like to ask the Minister whether he agrees that the one-year derogation from the total ban allowed for the United Kingdom is likely to cause disruption to the United Kingdom export trade both in the short and in the long term; and, if he does not agree, whether he will enlighten me on the reason behind a derogation that, to me, is inexplicable in trading terms.

10.3 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I rise to take part in this debate although my knowledge of the subject was only gained through sitting on the committee and listening to all the admirable interviews that we had with different people. I should particularly like to thank our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, for the very brilliant manner in which he chaired the committee and for the encouraging way in which he managed to secure so much information from those who gave evidence.

As your Lordships may know, I am a very old farmer. I knew nothing about this problem until I listened to the evidence given by so many experienced people. Even now I find the name of the different hormonal substances impossible to understand. If your Lordships care to look at paragraphs 7 and 8 of the report, you will see some of the terms to which I am referring.

In my farming activities I do not use hormones, so I have no experience of the matter. On the other hand, I have connections with the subject through the Consumers' Association. The association has received many letters from the public because there is anxiety about the residues in cattle and about the effect that they could have on meat sold to consumers. I feel reassured in this because of the central control exercised by the Veterinary Products Committee, which can issue or withdraw licences for the use of hormones according to whether it considers there is any risk to the consumer. This is described in paragraph 16—control of residues.

This surveillance continues under the auspices of the Food Science Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. We are not the only European country which operates tests. West Germany, France, the Netherlands all have these operating tests. In paragraph 22 there is a whole list of countries outside the EC which also have a national monitoring scheme. That of course is also reassuring.

The FAO and the World Health Organisation co-operate in the testing of whether there are any bad residues resulting from hormones. Support for a monetary standard was also, according to our evidence, quite strong. The Meat and Livestock Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the National Farmers' Union and the National Federation of Meat Traders all gave evidence to our committee. All were concerned that a standard should be adhered to which would maintain the confidence of the consumer who in this case is the really important person.

Our committee agreed about this and is prepared to support a codified system which will reassure buyers and consumers of the quality of the meat. For this it may be necessary to increase the tests and we thought, as the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, said, that these should be carried out at the abattoirs and should apply to meat that we import as well as to meat that we export.

A discussion took place about the cost of this monitoring and we came to the conclusion that, if necessary, the charge should go to the Government under the same regulations in each member state. This would also apply to the meat which is imported from third world countries.

This is a highly technical report and a highly technical subject. It does not apply to all agriculture but it does apply to those who use meat and are meat producers. Our committee has made a contribution which I hope will be of use and value to the Ministry of Agriculture and I am sure that we shall hear from the Minister of State that he will give answers to some of the questions that we have put. I have great pleasure in supporting our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher.

10.7 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I, too, start by expressing appreciation of our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, for leading us through this labyrinth of technicalities and for drawing the information so carefully from the various people whom we interviewed.

It is a very difficult subject. The purity of food is very high in everyone's priorities and when impurities involve such things as hormones commonsense seems to go out of the window, together with reason, and the whole matter seems to approach the area of panic and hysteria. It seems that something of this nature has happened in Strasbourg. As the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, said, harmonisation of residues in meat was the primary object to start with and that is what the report is about. The objective seemed entirely laudable. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will feel that the report is well worth while.

In the meantime, there was this harmonisation on how to test residues and how we can reconcile our own way of doing it with, say, Germany, which tests much more thoroughly, or Italy, which tests in a different way, or with countries outside the Common Market which might be sending meat to the Common Market. While all this was going on, the regulation came out, which in a way made the whole report obsolete and accomplished harmonisation in one by telling us that implants of a hormonal nature were not to be used any more, and the English farmer was given a dispensation—an achievement of the Minister of Agriculture—so that we do not have to put this regulation into effect until, I think, 1989.

As has already been brought out, that decision was made by a feeling in the Parliament in Strasbourg which was completely unsupported by scientific fact. That is why I mentioned panic and hysteria earlier on in my very brief speech. The fact of the matter is that there was a committee appointed by the commissioners, under the chairmanship of Professor Lamming of Nottingham, which was to study the whole question and submit suggestions as to whether there was or was not danger in residues in meat.

The decision and the regulation came out before this committee had even reported. In fact, they had not even held their last meeting. I think that we should bear this in mind when we are thinking of the whole business of the banning of hormones and overruling, so to speak, this very careful report, and the thought that has gone into this question of meat residues previously.

So suddenly the question broadens and the production of meat becomes more expensive so far as the producer is concerned, and as a result meat may become more expensive so far as the consumer is concerned. I do not think that the situation is completely overcome because, surely, there still remains a problem between ourselves—that is, the countries within the Community—and those outside the Community, where implants are still allowed; for trade with them presumably will still take place.

I think that certain questions are raised about how the Government should react to this situation. As I said, not only will meat be more expensive to rear—that is almost certain and it can nearly be quantified—but it would appear on the face of it that certain research problems will lose their point and perhaps be cancelled in times such as these, when there is not much money about for that sort of undertaking. Though it sounds a little vague to say it, to me an alarming pattern of Community legislation has been set simply by the fact that scientific evidence has not exactly been overruled, but having been commissioned, has not even been received.

Perhaps, then, I may suggest to the Government that they should consider various matters, and ask my noble friend whether he thinks they are reasonable to consider. The first point I thought I would raise, which I fear he will say is not reasonable to consider, is that the Government should approach the commissioners—or the Council of Ministers, I suppose—to see whether, through the manipulation, if you like, in some way of the Treaty of Rome, at some stage or other the process cannot be put into reverse. On the whole it seems to be such a bad decision that such a thought might at least be allowed to pass through our minds.

I also ask my noble friend whether we can have an assurance that experimentation and research along the lines of meat residues should continue. In our deliber- ations, or rather when we were taking evidence, it became clear, as one has always known, that research on one subject may well lead to important breakthroughs or discoveries in another area. That came out particularly strongly in the evidence from the Animal and Grassland Research Institute, as given by Professor Prescott. It seems once more, because of that barbarous and to me arbitrary decision, wrong that we should perhaps stop putting money into such research.

Finally, the question remains of harmonisation. Although banning hormones within the Community is fine, there is still trade with the United States and many other parts of the world. I shall be interested to hear whether my noble friend thinks that banning hormone implants in this country is helpful to world trade.

With the greatest respect to those in Brussels, the situation seems to be muddled. It seemed to be a little bit of a muddle when one noticed, as is said in the report, that they were examining meat residues only in red meat and leaving out poultry. That seemed quite wrong. Now I feel that they have produced something in Brussels that is so unfounded on scientific fact that I hope one day it will be reversed.

10.16 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, for asking this Unstarred Question this evening, as it gives the Government the opportunity to make comments on this rather important, if slightly esoteric, subject.

The report states in the second paragraph of the introduction: consumers throughout the Community have become increasingly concerned about the possible effects of diet on health". I think that every noble Lord will be aware of the growing tide of interest in health foods, and the growing number of health foods and health food shops bear witness to that. Diet has received a great deal of publicity lately, both in magazines and on television, and the connection between a healthy diet and long life has been demonstrated.

The successful campaign to advise people that smoking can lead to cancer has had a very satisfactory impact on people's minds. Now the publicity given to the excessive consumption of polysaturated fats, leading to heart strain, has made people much more concerned about what they eat and what is contained in their food.

The Commission has reacted to all that pressure for a healthy diet and has now brought in draft proposals for the prohibition of all hormonal substances for fattening purposes, despite the fact that it had appointed, as my noble friend Lord Radnor mentioned, a Scientific Working Group on Anabolic Agents in Animal Production: to assess the risk to public health of the use of five hormonal compounds for fattening purposes", under the distinguished chairmanship of Professor Lamming. We were greatly assisted by the evidence that Professor Lamming gave to the committee. There would appear to be no scientific evidence to ban the use of the five hormones at present used for fattening animals. Three are natural hormones and two are synthetic. But, as we have heard, before the scientific working group could report, the Commission went ahead with its plans for a total ban.

The importance of this report is that it evaluates the attempt of the Commission to set up a common residue monitoring regime which would institute a standard system within the member states. There will be difficulties ahead, and not least of these is the absence of any form of tolerance level in the draft directive.

The United States of America has since 1979 maintained a national residue programme plan to detect the presence of illegal residues of pesticides, animal drugs and several hundred other potentially hazardous chemicals that may contaminate meat and poultry. The plan for 1985 lists the criteria for the inclusion of substances in the national plan and specifies the method of analysis for individual compounds and residue limits for a wide variety of animal drugs and pesticides. The FAO of the World Health Organisation has defined residue limits for many antibiotics in meat, milk and eggs. Tests will have to be done on meat to detect substances that are there naturally. I am thinking here of testosterone and progesterone especially, as well as the possibility of these natural substances having been administered for growth promotion purposes.

The Memorandum prepared by the Meat and Livestock Commission and published on page 37 of this report makes the following statement under MLC Comment 11: The interpretation of measurements of natural hormones is not possible, as those derived from implants cannot be differentiated from hormones which are endogenously produced by the animal". It goes on to illustrate with data the typical oestrogen levels in various classes of beef animals and the anomalies that can be produced.

I should be grateful if the Minister of State in his reply can inform the House how it is intended to overcome this very serious problem. Perhaps he would be prepared to say if some guidelines can be made available to farmers so that they are made aware of the complications involved in the testing procedure and given advice on the preparation of their animals for sale and slaughter. All this monitoring and testing will be done at some cost. It is a matter of regret that the Commission has not seen fit to include any estimate of the possible cost of the proposed scheme.

However, the cost of the ban on growth promoters will be felt most keenly, and the cost of that ban will have to be met by the farmers. A great deal of the meat sold as beef today is from the fattening of steers from the dairy industry with the widespread use of Holstein and Friesian breeds. These animals, growing naturally, take a long time to develop and do not furnish themselves as well as beef breeds when being prepared for market as fat animals. The use of synthetic hormonal growth promoters has improved the performance of these animals and it is widely accepted that value of the carcass is increased by as much as £50 a head. Many of the traditional beef breeds put on too much fat too quickly and therefore now have to be slaughtered at a lighter weight than before in order to fall in line with the all-important consumer preference for lean meat.

It is a bad time for farmers to face this pressure on their margins, as the mounting surpluses will have their own financial pressures on prices in the next two or three years. However, the industry will have to come to terms with the new situation and adjust accordingly. I believe that it is necessary to examine animals and fresh meat for the presence of residues, for the health of people at large, for the furtherance of trade between Community countries and for the confidence that such testing and standards will give to third countries, and I believe that it should be required from third countries for the good of international trade in meat. I commend the report to the House.

10.24 p.m.

Lord Middleton

My Lords, having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, and my noble friends have said tonight about the matter in Appendix 4 of the report, I would like briefly to intervene in order to reinforce their view of its importance. They have referred to the chain of events leading up to a decision at the Council of Ministers to ban the use of the three natural hormones in meat production. We have heard how that decision stemmed from an October vote in the European Parliament. The Select Committee—as the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, has told us—wisely, in my view, agreed to make no recommendation on what in mid-December was a new turn of events without full scientific evidence, for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, set out.

I regret that the members of the European Parliament were carried away on what seems to me to be a tide of prejudice, based on insufficient knowledge. Yet, as we have heard tonight, expert advice was at hand, or would very soon be at hand, so it is hard to understand why the Commission allowed themselves to be caught up by the same current of impatience and irrationality.

Nevertheless, they went ahead and they produced draft Directive 10284/85. The Commission, as we have heard from my noble friend Lord Radnor, had previously set up a committee of European scientists, inviting them to provide evidence on the use of hormones in meat production and on the effect, if any, on the health of the consumer. Although Professor Lamming's committee was within weeks of reporting, the Commission cancelled the working party's final meeting at short notice, thereby depriving themselves of the scientific advice that would shortly become available.

I have not heard that there exists any evidence that these banned growth promoters have any harmful effect on the human body. Evidence, however, suggests that these substances, properly used, enhance the economic efficiency of meat production, and, as Appendix 4 points out, raise the quantity of lean meat available to the consumer.

In view of that it is not surprising that our own Minister, in dissenting, took the stand that he did at the December meeting of Ministers; and I applaud his action. The vagaries of the European Parliament, I suppose, have to be accepted. What is difficult to accept is the performance of the Commission in this matter. It appears that they were swayed by uninformed political opinion which constitutionally they were not bound to accept. I wonder with what degree of enthusiasm eminent scientists will in future greet any request to work for a European Commission which seems prepared to ask for expert advice without being willing to receive it.

I echo the noble Lord, the chairman of the sub-committee on which I serve, in asking—as my noble friend Lord Radnor has also done—what action is contemplated by the Government; or indeed if any course of action is available. Although it is a matter outside the main part of the report, it is one which closely relates to future meat production by British farmers, to the meat trade generally, and to the ability in future for British consumers to buy what nutritionists say is good for them at a reasonable price.

10.23 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, for the able, brief and efficient way in which he put this report in front of your Lordships. I thank the noble Lord not only for that, but also for the very efficient and able way that he handles our committee and the witnesses. We are all very grateful to the noble Lord for that.

First, I have to declare my usual interest. I am a farmer and I use hormones on my animals, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, who does not need to do so, although I understand that they are used a little on sheep but not so much as on beef cattle.

I do not need to say a lot about the report; it speaks for itself. As I said, our chairman has put it in front of us very briefly and very well. However, like other noble Lords, I think that it was a very unfortunate episode—if that is the right word to use—that our report was overtaken first by the Parliament's decision, and then by the Commission's decision to ban all hormones in live animals.

We all applaud the Minister's efforts to help us. However, I am not sure that this year's delay will not do more harm than good. I understand that one of the reasons he pushed it very hard was because we have many chemical companies in this country which would not have sufficient time in order to arrange to hold-back production and get rid of stocks. This applies not only to farms, because I looked into my medicine cupboard only a few days ago and I was horrified to see the stocks of unused medicines that I had, including a great many implants. It would certainly take a while to get rid of them. Manufacturers and mechants would all have stocks. However, I do not think that that was worth doing, bearing in mind the damage to the export trade. Two noble Lords have pointed this aspect out. France does not need much of an excuse to stop exports from this country into France, and this is a major instance that they could use. I think that we should ask the noble Lord the Minister to do something about rescinding the situation during this year. I am sure that it would be acceptable.

The banning will not do away with the need for testing because they will have to test imports into the EC and they will have to test for illegal use. Therefore, our report will not be wasted by any means. A great many of our conclusions will still have a bearing on the situation. Perhaps I may just mention one or two of the main ones. The standard of testing is one. My noble friend Lord Gallacher has mentioned how the different number of tests in various countries would need to be clarified. The cost aspect also has to be considered. I understand that the Minister would be very worried if we did the same amount of testing as is conducted in Germany. We were given information that tests could cost as much as £50 a time. That would be a very expensive affair.

To turn to the matter of reassuring consumers, the consumers are the people who are eating the meat and we must see that they are reassured. Like the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, I think that the Commission and the European Parliament paid a little too much attention a little too early in that case. To leave poultry meat out of the picture, bearing in mind the amount that is eaten today, seems to me slightly ridiculous. I do not know why the consumers have not created hell about that; but so far as I know they have not done so.

There is also the point that research should continue. I should like the Minister to reassure us that there will be no playing down of research on this subject. After all, I think Dr. Prescott said that they had one experiment taking place—and it would take a while before it was proved that the activity was perfectly safe—where 30 per cent. more milk was obtained by the use of this particular hormone. The economic advantage of that is enormous. The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, also mentioned that aspect in respect of beef. Therefore, it would be terrible to throw the advantage away if the experiment could be proved to be successful. In their wisdom the Commission decided that they did not want any proof whether or not it was safe. This has had a very bad effect on farmers' minds. Professor Lamming carried out a programme on it, although he did not give this to us in evidence. He pointed out that 100 per cent. more hormones were left from eating cabbages than there were from eating any meat. I am just wondering whether surplus cabbages fed to beef cattle would lead to more hormones than we could ever push into them by implanting. Someone made the point as regards implanting in the ear that if there is any residue left in the ear nobody eats it anyway. I am not so sure about that.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, is not present. Many years ago he and I went to Russia, and before we left Kazakstan, halfway between Alma-Ata and Bakash, we were given a party at which a stew was produced which was called "five finger stew" because it was so small that you needed all your five fingers to eat it. In the middle of it was a sheep's head complete with eyes and ears. There were four guests, Lord Nugent, Sir Peter Greenwell, Professor Noble and myself. Two of them got eyes and two got the ears. It was a nice gesture. I got an ear, and fortunately I had a big pot of flowers in front of me and I managed to dispose of it. If that had been an implanted ear and I had been a good enough guest, or a polite enough guest, to eat it, who knows what would have happened to me? I might have had a change of sex, and in that case I should have been big enough perhaps to hold my own with the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington.

The question of research and what can happen must be looked into. I hope we are going to have assurances from the Minister on that point. Then there is the question of meat from other countries, and the testing must be done there. The other point is the point of slaughter. If there is illegal use of hormones, that is the point where the animal loses its identity. If farmers are going to be pulled up for illegal use then all the testing must be done at the point where the animal can be identified. We make that point very strongly.

Then there is the question of exempting states less than 10 per cent. of whose holdings have more than 20 animals. They should be tested too. That can amount to a lot of animals. I know that there are not supposed to be many animals in Luxembourg but there are other states which come under this, and we make that point and it is a strong one.

I would emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, said about the Commission's banning without the support of Professor Lamming's committee. Here was an eminent body of scientists from all the countries. Admittedly Professor Lamming had a difficult job. There was the language question, and problems in getting the members together, and everything else. But to carry out the operation of banning just before he was due to make his last report was a dreadful thing to do, and should be condemned. I give the report every support.

10.37 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I should like to pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee in its consideration of the Commission's proposal for a directive which is designed to harmonise the arrangements for testing meat for residues within the Community. The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, as chairman, and the members of the committee were aware, in looking into this proposal, that negotiations were proceeding both on this issue and on the related question of the use of hormonal growth promoters in the Council of Ministers, to which all your Lordships referred, and which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, has referred to in terms with which I broadly very much agree, including the view the noble Lord expressed in his speech about the discriminatory effect of the proposals that have come out of the Commission.

I should like to congratulate the committee on producing within a short timescale an informative and valuable report which will continue to prove useful as the discussions on the residues proposal continue in the Council of Ministers. This proposal for a Community directive is concerned with the detailed arrangements for the examination of the Community's meat supply for the presence of a range of residues, in particular residues of veterinary substances, in order to protect public health. As the committee itself made clear, it will also remove impediments to trade which can arise through the introduction of national residue requirements.

The Government therefore support the aims of the proposal for this directive. The arrangements for sampling and testing would be based on a centralised system involving the testing of a certain number of samples taken on a random basis from a given animal population. From the results it would be possible to calculate the extent to which a residue problem may or may not be present in that animal population. The proposal would also require action to be taken where the results demonstrate the use of a prohibited substance or residue levels in excess of recommended tolerance levels. This system in a number of respects broadly reflects the present monitoring system in Great Britain.

Indeed, I should like to pick up the view expressed by noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood that it is highly desirable to have national systems of monitoring. We in this country have a regular testing programme called the national surveillance scheme, which for some time has included a test for a range of antimicrobial substances and a test for the growth promoter, stilbene, the use of which is banned in the European Community. Monitoring for other growth promoters is being introduced into our programme. Under separate arrangements there is monitoring for synthetic hormonal growth promoters, for pesticides, for heavy metals and for other specific classes of veterinary drugs.

To return to the proposal for the directive for the Community, it is the proposed scale and complexity of the level of sampling proposed by the Commission that is of concern to the Government.

On this latter point, I note that the committee, while it considered that some increase in monitoring may be required to maintain consumer confidence, shares the Government's view that the sampling levels proposed were not scientifically based.

My noble friend Lord Ullswater made the point that the proposed arrangements would undoubtedly be costly to operate. There are inevitably difficulties of quantifying the expenditure implications of this proposal with any precision. The cost is, at least in part, dependent on the tolerance levels mentioned by my noble friend and methods of analysis which have yet to be proposed. However, I am confident that if the Commission had prepared even a broad estimate of the potential resource implications, as we and other member states have pressed them to do, the substantial cost of the proposals would have been demonstrated.

The Government remain unconvinced that the object of the proposal can only be achieved by adopting the sampling strategy proposed or similar systems involving sampling at corresponding or higher levels. We shall therefore continue to try to ensure that full weight is given to the financial implications of any proposed sampling arrangements. It would be regrettable if arrangements were adopted which foundered because they were not pragmatic. It will also have to be borne in mind that, as the committee concludes, any arrangements should be capable of being operated by those countries outside the Community which export meat and meat products to member states so as to provide consumers with a corresponding assurance about the safety of third country supplies, a point which was brought out very clearly by my noble friend Lord Radnor.

I have attempted to touch on a number of the conclusions of your Lordships' committee. As for the remainder, the Government will take the committee's conclusions fully into account in our future negotiations within the Community. I should, however, refer to the question of the inclusion of poultry meat in the proposal, which the committee favours. The reason for excluding poultry from the scope of the draft is one of timing rather than substance. The general view within the Community is that it would be sensible to assess the operation of the arrangements for red meat before bringing in poultry.

I should reply to two direct questions asked during the course of the debate. My noble friend Lord Radnor and the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, both asked for an assurance that research into meat residues would continue. I can assure both noble Lords that the Ministry of Agriculture sees a continuing need for research into residues in meat. The Government's programme of expenditure is continually reviewed to ensure that it reflects current priorities. My noble friend Lord Ullswater asked whether advice could not be given to farmers on the proper use of hormone growth promoters. The Ministry of Agriculture last year issued a code of practice to all farmers giving guidance on the safe use of all medicines. Strong emphasis was laid on the observance of proper withdrawal periods, which, as your Lordships know, is the safe way to avoid residues at undesirable levels.

Before I finish, I shall finally deal with the use of hormones. As all your Lordships have spoken about the hormone ban perhaps I may tie my reply to the three questions which the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, asked me. Other noble Lords put these matters to me but the noble Lord put them into the order of three questions.

The noble Lord's first question was this. Do the Government believe that the Commission's proposals and the Council's decision should be based on scientific evidence and not on incomplete evidence? That is a question which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, most certainly supported in his speech. The Government believe that it is essential for decisions on the authorisation of veterinary products to be based on a careful assessment of relevant scientific evidence. Clearly, the health and safety of the consumer and of the animal, and the protection of the environment, must be paramount. But the evidence available gave no scientific grounds for believing that the correct controlled use of hormone growth promoters presents a danger to human or animal health, and that is why we opposed the proposal.

The United Kingdom voted against the proposal also because it regarded the legal base as incomplete, since the proposal was based on Article 43 alone and was inconsistent with previous decisions on this subject, which we believe means that the present decision should be based on Article 100, the article which requires a unanimous decision.

I should like to make it absolutely clear that my right honourable friend has made clear at meetings of the Council and in writing to the Commissioner, Mr. Andriessen, that my right honourable friend deplored the action of the Commission and the Council in disregarding the evidence on the safety of the three natural hormones and in not waiting for the scientific evidence of safety on the other two.

Lord Raglan

My Lords, before the noble Lord moves on, may I ask him this? Has the Commission given Her Majesty's Government any reason for adopting these proposals; or is it, as Commissioner Andriessen is reported to have said while on a visit to this country a couple of months ago, that it is a good way of reducing the beef mountain?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not think that I should comment on the noble Lord's last suggestion, but I think there is no doubt at all about it that the Ministers in the Council had regard to what they believed was consumer opinion, and there is no question about it all that the decision was not based upon the available scientific evidence.

The second question of the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, was this. Will the derogation be disruptive for United Kingdom trade? We are of course in a different position from other member states in raising steer beef, which means that we need hormone implants. Adjustment of production to ban on hormone growth promoters may take longer than two years. The derogation would be a useful provision to have, therefore, to deal with that particular problem. However, there is no bar, of course, to individual producers raising and selling animals which they guarantee to be untreated by hormone growth promoters. Nevertheless, time may be needed to market meat from animals which have been implanted before the adoption of this directive.

I am therefore in essence saying that I believe that the one-year derogation for the United Kingdom would give us elbow room to sort out some of these problems. On the other hand, I realise that there are contrary arguments to which the noble Lord very briefly referred. As the precise form of the derogation has not yet been produced by the Commission as a proposal, I think we had better wait until we see the form of the derogation before making up our minds as to whether we need to implement it. Meanwhile, I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Middleton for supporting my right honourable friend's successful efforts in getting the right to a derogation which, in the end, we may still find that we need.

The third question of the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, was this. Will monitoring for residues be more, or will they be less, important? At a Community level, some additional controls have been adopted by the Council and it is already agreed that animals or carcases would be sampled for residues. If illegal residues are found it is agreed that further tests would be carried out at the farm of origin, and these requirements enter into force by 1st January 1987. So for hormones, it is only a decision on the scale of something that is outstanding.

I think that answers the questions that I have been asked. I am very glad we have had the opportunity to debate this particular report, because it enables the House to acknowledge the work of the Select Committee on an issue which is of concern to both consumers and exporters.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I feel that his noble friend Lord Radnor and I would like a little more assurance, not that there will be research into residues only. We were anxious to have research into new hormones and everything else, and the noble Lord rather emphasised the research on residues. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, is nodding his head and would like a little more than that.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as I understood it, the question which my noble friend Lord Radnor asked me was: would there be continuing research into residues?—although it is perfectly true that the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, made it clear that the question he emphasised was: would there be research into hormones? I think there are two points that I ought to make on that.

The first is that the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, will know better than I do, from his experience in Government, that it is not just a form of words when I say that the need for research programmes is constantly monitored to see whether they are meeting the necessary priorities of the day. This is the truth and there is a system, as the noble Lord very well knows, whereby one keeps on having reviews of R & D commissions to see whether they are up to date and whether the money is being spent as effectively as possible. Therefore, I must rely on that point in saying that when we next do our review we shall have to look in the circumstances of the time at what resources ought to be devoted to research into hormones.

The second point which I ought to make is that, again, it was not just a mere form of words to say that we need to see the shape of the proposed derogation when it comes from the Commission, which has not yet been produced. The only disagreement which has been registered this evening is that it is quite clear that the chairman of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, was in his very interesting speech counselling caution so far as the derogation was concerned, whereas I think others of your Lordships were saying to the Government that the derogation might very well be useful and was, anyway, a way of showing the Community that we resented the way in which the decision on the ban had been taken without scientific evidence.

As so often in these matters, the Government stand in between. It is true that my right honourable friend has won the right for a derogation, but I think we want to see the shape of the proposal and, taking into account all points of view, we then need to decide where we go as to whether we put the derogation into effect or whether we do not. That, of course, will have its effect on whether or not resources ought to flow into research and development of hormones. For that reason, as well as for the first reason, I am afraid that I cannot give any further answer either to my noble friend Lord Radnor or to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie.

May I again thank your Lordships for taking part in this debate, and also thank the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, and members of the committee for their very interesting report.

House adjourned at five minutes before eleven o'clock.