14 February 1997

Prescott enlisted to slam governments woeful BSE record

LABOUR leaders have asked John Prescott, the partys deputy leader to lead a renewed attack on the governments handling of the beef crisis.

Mr Prescott has been asked to turn up the pressure on the government by highlighting what Labour claim is its "woeful record" over the past year. He will also remind the public of the £3.3bn cost of the crisis so far.

Labour aim to use every opportunity to put the beef issue back on the political agenda in the run-up to a general election. Farm minister, Douglas Hoggs, performance will also come under scrutiny.

Shortly after his new role was confirmed last week, Mr Prescott met members of the NFUs north-west Leics branch during a visit to Hill Top Farm, Castle Donnington, with Labours agriculture spokesman Elliot Morley. Jim Armett, who finishes about 500 beef stores a year, told Mr Prescott that trade was unpredictable and producers still faced uncertainty from week to week.

Mr Prescott also heard local branch chairman, Keith Woodings, a dairy and beef producer, say he would have liked the selective cull to have been tied to a commitment from the EU to lift the export ban as soon the cull was complete.

Mr Prescott said a Labour government could come in with a fresh start and it aimed to get UK beef back on to the export market as soon as possible.

Mr Morley said Labour would insist on a show of faith by the EU Commission through an immediate lifting of the beef derivatives ban. It also wanted quality assured beef allowed back on to the export market straight away.

In response to Mr Armetts comment that he wanted a stop to the calf slaughter scheme because it could lead to a shortage of home-produced beef, Mr Morley said the scheme would have to come to an end sooner or later. "It is not a scheme we would want to support indefinitely," he added.

Mr Morley also claimed that most reasonable people would appreciate that the governments behaviour over Europe had completely alienated Britain from other European countries. And he suggested a new relationship with Europe under a Labour government could help to speed progress on lifting the ban. He added that the impression he had received from discussions with EU Commission officials and other European politicians, was that the Europeans were waiting for an election, and a Labour government.

"I think there will be a window of opportunity which we as a Labour party could exploit," he added. &#42

John Prescott, deputy Labour leader, (left) discusses the beef crisis with Leics farmer Jim Armett (centre) and agriculture spokesman Elliot Morley (right).