HL Deb 23 May 1996 vol 572 cc978-80

11.30 a.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will take steps to ensure that no Minister attends any meeting of the Council of Ministers of the European Union.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear in another place on 21st May, Ministers will continue to attend meetings of the Council of Ministers. We will raise the question of the ban on British beef at all councils and, if necessary, ask for special councils.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, with which I entirely concur, particularly in view of the Government's announcement that they intend to pursue a policy of non-co-operation.

Are the Government aware that non-co-operation is an art form in the European Community? It is practised by a number of states without any apparent objection from those who object to Britain adopting the same means. For example, is the Minister aware that Italy threatened non-co-operation when it said that it would not agree with the 1994 budget of the Community unless its milk quota was enlarged? Is she aware that Spain threatened non-co-operation in the measures to enlarge the Community unless it obtained the right to fish in the Irish Box? Is the noble Baroness further aware that the French Government threatened non-co-operation, particularly in the redistribution of voting rights within the Community, unless the Community agreed to the establishment of a brand new parliamentary building in Strasbourg?

All those efforts seem to have been successful. Is the noble Baroness aware that it is remarkable that there has been no demur against non-co-operation from other member states or from any of those that attack their own country for adopting the same method? Will she proceed with this programme until the matter has been satisfactorily resolved?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am aware of all the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. The critical issue is this. The blocking of the lifting of the ban on beef derivatives is a wilful disregard not only of British interests, but also of European interests. Some of the member states concerned are among the foremost who urged a higher level of co-operation and solidarity in the European Union and yet those qualities have been conspicuously lacking in practice.

We are now facing a difficult situation. We wish to resolve the matter, but if others will not take their decisions based on scientific fact then other action must be taken. That is why yesterday and indeed on Tuesday in this House and in another place we made it absolutely clear that we are not prepared to allow progress in the IGC or on other measures requiring unanimity in Community business until decisions are taken based on scientific fact.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, now that the Government are indulging in the folly of going to war with Europe over British beef in order to placate the European sceptics in the Conservative Party, will the Minister tell the House whether we are also going to war with the United States of America, Australia and Canada, at least one of which banned British beef before the European Union?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am sad that the noble Baroness should ask such a question. First, we are not going to war with anybody. Secondly, the United States have not banned us exporting our beef to others; they have said that they will not import it themselves. There is a difference because it would be quite wrong for one country to impose its will on other countries which are quite capable of taking decisions for themselves.

This is a serious matter and however much levity is made about it, we wish to resolve the problem. We wish to obtain a decision based on scientific fact. It is absolutely clear from the meeting of the standing veterinary committee on 20th May, when the Commission helpfully brought forward the proposal to lift the ban on the export of gelatin, tallow and semen in line with scientific evidence, that that was the way to go. The noble Baroness is attempting to make a political point and came close to saying that she agreed with the ban. I do not believe that she does.

My point is that the ban is unjustified. A number of senior politicians made it clear that their view is that British beef is safe and therefore it is high time that the Community came to a decision based on scientific fact. That is entirely clear, and the majority of other member states supported the Community on that point.

Lord Clark of Kempston

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that to suggest that it is an appeasement for the so-called "Euro-sceptics" is quite wrong? The Government's stance is in order to protect the beef industry in this country and the derivatives issue is just the first step. Has my noble friend any knowledge that candles made from tallow form a health risk?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I certainly do not have any information on the last point raised by my noble friend. In relation to his substantive point, I confirm that our action is to protect our beef industry and all those other industries that are developing their work on the basis of beef derivatives. To take a decision in the way that some countries within the European Union are seeking to do is nothing short of wanting a battle with us over exports.