Backbenchers seek revenge for beef ban

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Tory backbench anger at the apparent impotence of the Government to persuade its European partners to lift the ban on British beef boiled over in the Commons yesterday.

Cheers greeted calls for retaliatory action against French and German exports and for suspending Britain's contribution to the European Union. Repeated assertions by Douglas Hogg, Minister of Agriculture, that "persuasion and negotiation" remained the best way forward were greeted with near- derision by his backbench critics.

When Mr Hogg said all MPs had an obligation to ask themselves what policies were most likely to bring about a speedy removal of the ban, Tony Marlow (C, Northampton N) shouted: "A gunboat."

Reporting back on two days of negotiations with his fellow EU agriculture ministers, Mr Hogg won few points with his offer that the ban on beef by-products tallow, gelatine and semen might soon be lifted.

"Those of us who represent beef and dairy constituencies are running out of patience," Nicholas Winterton (C, Macclesfield) warned the minister. His wife, Ann Winterton (C, Congleton) seemed to have passed that point. "Every man and woman in this country can now see that we in this House are not masters of our destiny," she said. The EU was nothing to do with fairness and scientific fact and everything to do with politics and protecting markets.

With the first cattle due to be killed today - or "processed" according to Mr Hogg - under the scheme for keeping beast over 30 months old out of the food chain, MPs were concerned that the cull might be extended simply to restore confidence in beef elsewhere in Europe.

In a burst of xenophobic excess during Scottish question time, Neil Hamilton, a former Tory minister, said Chancellor Helmut Kohl had proposed a "final solution" to the BSE problem involving the "unnecessary slaughter" of large parts of the British herd. John Townend, chairman of the Thatcherite 92 Group of Tory MPs, said the fishing industry had been savaged by EU policy and now it had started on the dairy and beef industry. He urged Mr Hogg to "tell our friends overseas that if the ban is not lifted in three to four weeks we will take retaliatory action".

Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton SW) warned that any scheme of compulsory killings of healthy cattle in order to reassure European consumers would require legislation which would be "very unlikely" to pass the Commons.

Mr Hogg must have expected a rough ride from the Euro-sceptics, who jeered his lines on applying to have the ban set aside by the European Court of Justice. But he may not have anticipated the anger of normally reliable knights of the shire like Peter Emery and Patrick Cormack. Sir Peter, MP for Honiton, said opposition to lifting the ban was political and to the commercial benefit of French, German and Dutch farmers.

MPs from both sides of the Commons and, more pertinently, from both slopes of the Pennines, had earlier joined voices to tilt at another popular demon - the wind turbines on the skylines of their constituencies. Initiating a short debate, Nigel Evans (C, Ribble Valley) said wind farms were ugly, inefficient and intrusive. "We are in danger of industrialising some of our most beautiful countryside."

But Richard Page, a junior industry minister, said if 10 per cent of energy were produced from wind, carbon emissions would be reduced by 8 million tonnes. "That is an immense amount of pollutant, and not something that can be lightly tossed aside."