HL Deb 09 February 1998 vol 585 cc854-5

2.40 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question on the Order Paper standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam. I have been specifically requested to do this. The House will wish to know that my noble friend was taken ill this morning, but he made arrangements for my name to be included on the Order Paper in due time.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress they have made with the Beef Assurance Scheme to provide a register of beef herds that have not been exposed to BSE.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue)

My Lords, without a live test for the disease it is not possible to provide a register of herds which have not been exposed to BSE. The Beef Assurance Scheme was introduced for herds with a very low risk of BSE in order to allow beef to be sold from animals between 30 and 42 months of age. The scheme now has 82 members.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. What steps are the Government taking to let consumers know about the Beef Assurance Scheme and to encourage the major supermarkets to use beef from the scheme?

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, the scheme is devised for a specialist niche market. It is for herds which are raised naturally. It is not the Government's view that it is appropriate for a major marketing exercise. It is for members of the scheme to market it. On the whole, beef from the scheme is marketed locally and we believe that that is the right approach.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, did my noble friend happen to hear an item on this morning's "Today" programme which indicated that a junior researcher had identified a spongiform difficulty in cows in Kent 18 months before BSE was formally identified? If that report had been acted upon, would it have made the problem any less?

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I saw the report and I thank my noble friend for drawing it to our attention. Of course, what was reported occurred under the previous administration and we do not have access to the details. However, we are conscious of the terrible cost that has arisen—the cost to taxpayers, the most terrible trouble for farmers and many difficulties for a new regime inheriting the situation. That is why we set up the commission of inquiry under Lord Justice Phillips. I should like to encourage anyone who believes that he or she may have evidence which would be helpful in explaining the sad programme of events to submit it to the commission.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I understand from the Minister's earlier reply that the scheme in question has no connection with the attempt to get the European ban lifted. What progress is the Minister making with the Commission? It is apparent to everyone apart from the Commission and its scientists that the precautions taken in this country probably make British beef the safest in Europe.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, it is our view that the way to get the ban lifted is to demonstrate to Europe and the world what we believe; namely, that our beef is the safest in the world. For that reason we have introduced all the controls that have been introduced, not all of which have been popular with the noble Lord. We believe that that is the way to get the ban lifted. As the noble Lord said, the Beef Assurance Scheme had nothing to do with the ban; it was in existence to provide an extra market in the domestic market.