§ 6. Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
If he will make a statement on progress towards the reopening of the export market for Scottish beef. 
§ 9. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
If EU inspectors have been invited to Scottish farms since the lifting of the beef export ban was announced. 
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar)
Substantial progress has been made since the principles of the date-based export scheme were agreed in Brussels last November. The Government's chief veterinary officer has invited European Union inspectors to visit the United Kingdom in the week beginning Monday 12 April to assess our plans for implementing the date-based export scheme. I remain optimistic that Scottish beef can begin to regain its rightful place in the export trade in the course of this summer.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
We have come a long way since the ridiculous beef war in which the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) tried to play the role of the neighbour from hell in the European Union. Now that the Labour Government have implemented all the requirements of the Florence agreement—step by step and without any need for extra taxation in Scotland to pay for it—will my right hon. Friend make leading Scottish beef back into the export market in June a priority for the Labour Administration in the Scottish Parliament? As First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, would he like to arrange a Scottish beef barbecue in Brussels to celebrate?
§ Mr. Dewar
I am not a great barbecue man myself, but, on this occasion and following such a beguiling invitation, I might reconsider my position.
I am encouraged by the fact that progress has been made, and that can be traced directly to the feeling across the European Union that, under this Government, the United Kingdom is involved and pulling its weight. We still have many disagreements, but at least we are involved and there is a feeling that we are prepared to talk and do business. That has resulted in the progress that we have achieved.
It is difficult to move from the agreement in principle through to the practical reassertion of Scottish beef's proper place in the European market, but I am glad that my ministerial colleague, my noble Friend Lord Sewel, was encouraged by his reception when he visited northern Italy only a couple of weeks ago and talked to people involved in what had been an important export market. I hope that we can build on his visit and on the other steps that we are taking, in close co-operation with the National Farmers Union of Scotland.
§ Mr. Boswell
Given the size and importance of the beef industry in Scotland and given that BSE has always run at a lower level in Scotland than in the rest of Great Britain, is the Secretary of State not rather surprised that, several months after the Prime Minister declared the end of the beef war with a flourish, the inspectors are not coming to Scotland for a further three weeks? There are direct flights, I believe. However, not a single tonne of Scottish beef is available for export to Europe.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has taken that ungracious attitude, because he is often rather knowledgeable and reasonable in this area. We have never pretended that the agreement in principle on the date-based export scheme meant that we could immediately restart exporting. Clearly, there had to be tracing and slaughtering of offspring of all BSE cases born after 1 August 1996, and a completely new database had to be erected to establish eligibility checks. There was a great deal of work to be done, and it is being pushed on with considerable energy.
I have kept closely in touch with the National Farmers Union of Scotland. I welcome the fact that the chief veterinary officer has been able to arrange for 12 April a visit by the inspectorate from the European Union, and I hope that that goes well. However, the idea that, if we had just raised an air fare, the whole thing could have been settled four months ago not only defies imagination, but is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I welcome the progress that has been made and wish the Secretary of State success, but he will recognise that it will take a long time to build that export market again. Might one of the disagreements between the Scottish farmer and Europe be its possible introduction of a permanent ban on beef on the bone?
§ Mr. Dewar
No, that was not one of the areas to which I referred. The beef-on-the-bone ban is in place because of the very clear medical and scientific advice that has been offered to the Government of the United Kingdom. I need hardly say that, if that advice changed, or if the very clear indications of an element of risk were removed, we would be happy to see the end of the ban.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
I welcome any progress in the beef industry, but, given the fact that the Secretary of State has basically told us that not a single carcase has yet been exported from Scotland, despite all the rhetoric, how many slaughterhouses does he expect to be approved by the end of April? If the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) is right in saying that the Scottish Office is awash with money, could the Secretary of State perhaps use some more of it to alleviate the suffering of those in the agriculture sector in Scotland?
§ Mr. Dewar
I never cease to marvel at the hon. Gentleman's courage. Against the background of the record of the last Conservative Government and his record in the business, he criticises us. It is a little too much. I cannot predict what will happen, because it depends on the visit on 12 April. I hope that that goes well and that we can satisfy the European Union inspectorate that such a move is part of the necessary process. As the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) has said, it is a slow business. We have always known that, but we are ensuring that every possible step is taken as quickly as possible. We are spending a lot of time and taking a lot of trouble to re-establish the contacts that will be necessary if we are to get our beef back into the European market. The results of those contacts are, on the whole, encouraging. A little support and backing from the Opposition, who constantly declare their interest in helping, would be appreciated.