§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the EEC provisional agreement yesterday to ban food imports from east Europe except East Germany.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Eggar)
Provisional agreement, subject to formal approval, has been reached on a Commission proposal for a temporary ban on the import of certain foodstuffs from countries falling within an approximate radius of 1,000 km of Chernobyl. The countries are the Soviet Union, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. It is a short-term precautionary measure which would, if formally approved, run until 31 May.
§ Mr. Taylor
How can my hon. Friend justify the exclusion of East Germany from the ban, bearing in mind that parts of East Germany are much nearer to the disaster than parts of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, particularly when East Germany has provided consistently a notorious vehicle whereby East Germany trade slips through to the West because of the inner German trade agreement? How can we determine which east European food comes from East Germany? If there is a problem of contaminated food reaching our constituents, why should my hon. Friend leave this huge loophole? If there is not a real problem, as suggested by the World Health Organisation, is this not a rather silly public relations ploy?
§ Mr. Eggar
The greater part of the German Democratic Republic does not fall within the approximate 1,000 km range which has been proposed by the Commission and accepted in principle by member states. My hon. Friend pointed to an alleged loophole as a result of inner German trade. If the regulation came into operation, it would have a direct effect throughout the Community. It would be up to the West German authorities to give effect in practice to the ban.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
What will happen to the food that has already been exported to the West? What are those foodstuffs? What action has been taken?
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
My hon. Friend has said that it will be a short-term ban. What will be the likely effect of the ban on cattle and pigs? Will it be safe to eat that meat in, say, six months' time? What discussions is my hon. Friend having with the food industry in Britain on this matter?
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the trade in vegetables and meat between East and West Germany leaves a loophole? Does 256 he agree that it is possible for pork, bacon, vegetable products, and so on to be transferred from Poland or Czechoslovakia to East Germany and then onward? Does he agree that that gap will not be closed by the agreement and that, therefore, my constituents and the whole of the British community are left at risk? That is not acceptable.
§ Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
Will my hon. Friend explain how we shall institute any safeguards here in respect of those commodities that used frequently to come into the Common Market and Britain from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and elsewhere? We tried to enforce anti-dumping regulations, but those goods could go through East Germany. Will any steps be taken to prevent that being repeated?
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
In considering these matters, have the Government taken account of the difference in acceptable standards between one country and another in terms of derived emergency reference levels? My point is that milk in the United Kingdom from a farm in Cumbria has an emergency reference level of more than 1,000 becquerels a litre, which is more than twice the permitted limit——
§ Mr. Cook
I was referring, Sir, to the different standards in European countries. I am asking whether account has been taken of those differences. I simply offered that comment as an explanation. I am concerned that acceptable limits here may be considered hazardous elsewhere and that, therefore, we may be jeopardising our electorate without knowing it.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell (Norfolk, North)
Is my hon. Friend aware that he has convinced no one with his original answer? Why cannot the ban come into effect immediately?
§ Mr. Eggar
Under the Community procedure, the ban cannot come into effect until all the countries have given their agreement. We expect that agreement to be given tomorrow, with the ban coming into effect on Saturday. [Interruption.] I heard the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) say that it will take three years. I am not sure how he can seriously put forward that point of view when the Community has acted extremely rapidly.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)
I endorse entirely the Minister's sensible view that the spreading of unnecessary public alarm should not be encouraged by this House. However, his response to the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) did not go as far as it ought to go towards achieving that very reasonable objective, for the simple reason that it made it clear that there is a loophole that has not been filled. Are the Government unable to do anything else to reassure the British public that the loophole through East Germany is not one from which this country may suffer?
§ Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)
If there were direct exports from East Germany to this country, how should we be able to stop them? Why is it not possible for this country to act unilaterally, without waiting for our EEC partners, and impose a ban at once?
§ Mr. Eggar
We are talking about a ban that is to come into effect on Saturday. Very stringent checks are already being made on fresh foodstuffs, including foodstuffs that are not included on the Community's list. As to the possibility of direct exports of listed foodstuffs to this country from East Germany, we have the same obligation as the West German authorities to ensure that they meet the criteria.
§ Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the West German Government would not have agreed to this procedure if they were not satisfied that they would be able to check the origin of the goods entering their country?
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
In view of the acrimonious discussions at official level, is the Minister satisfied that the Government of every country will agree to this ban? Will he also reconsider the loophole that has been discovered relating to imports from East Germany? How will the Government of West Germany know whether food routed through East Germany is East German in origin? They will have only the word of another Government to go on. It is not fair to the Government of West Germany.
§ Mr. Eggar
I am unaware of the acrimonious discussions to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman relies upon the Financial Times, he ought to have more impeccable sources. If the West German Government are convinced that they can introduce the necessary measures to ensure that the ban is followed through, we should have no reason to doubt them.