05 March 1998
Blair hails beef breakthrough
By Trevor Mason, Press Association
A MOVE by European vets to support an end to the export ban on beef from Northern Ireland was welcomed by the Prime Minister yesterday. He told MPs there was now “some light at the end of the tunnel”.
To Labour cheers in the Commons, Mr Blair said he had “good news” to report from Brussels where European Union vets backed an easing of the worldwide ban on beef exports under Northern Irelands certified herd scheme.
“There has been a majority for the Commission proposal, which if held at the Agriculture Council next week – and I very much believe that it will – will mean that the export certified herd scheme is through,” he said.
“And at long last, after long years of Conservative failure, there is at least some light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.
His comments, at question time, came after EU vets voted 10-4 in favour of easing the ban for de-boned beef from Ulster herds free of BSE for at least eight years. The proposal was one vote short of the required qualified majority which would have brought an immediate end to the ban.
The proposal now has go before the council of farm ministers on 16 March where a simple majority of only eight EU member states in favour would be enough for the ban to be lifted.
In exchanges following the weekends massive countryside march and continuing controversy over the beef on the bone ban, Mr Blair also directly blamed the previous Tory Government for the BSE crisis.
“They gave the country BSE!” he twice insisted to loud Opposition jeers.
Apart from accusing the Tories of giving the country BSE, Mr Blair attacked the Opposition for closing 450 country schools, ignoring rising rural crime and shutting down one in four regional bus services.
Tory Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) asked Mr Blair for assurance that the cost of setting up and running the certified herds scheme “will be met by the Government, not just in Northern Ireland, but the length and breadth of the UK as well”.
“The limitations of the help that we have offered were set out in the statement made by Agriculture Minister, Dr Jack Cunningham, last week,” Mr Blair replied referring to the Governments offer to pay the start-up and one year running costs of the computerised cattle database at Cumbria, Workington.
“But I would say to you that we are well aware of the problems that farmers face at the moment because of increased costs on top of all the problems that they have with BSE, and it is for that very reason that we made the statement last week and certainly I will see how that fits in with the point you have raised.”