Three issues raised in Parliament on Monday reveal how challenging the task of government can be. The Prime Minister reported on the previous weekend’s meeting in Brussels to set the EU budget for the next seven years.
Last year he was embarrassed by a Commons vote for a cut in this budget whilst the European Commission asked for a 6% increase. He confounded critics by negotiating the first cut in the EU’s history. The budget will be 80 billion euros less than the Commission’s proposal. His backbenchers were thrilled and even the Opposition congratulated him but the deal has to be approved by the European Parliament and there are doubts as to how they will vote
The Government announced plans for reforming how social care of elderly people is funded. The aim is to prevent them having to sell their homes to pay for this care. What they contribute will be capped at £75,000 from 2017 and the Government will pay a proportion of residential care costs for anyone with less than £123,000. Anyone unable to afford care fees will be able to defer paying until they die. Social care is about washing, dressing and eating but critics suggest that these only account for a third of the real costs that total care involves. These reforms will cost the nation £1 billion a year and be met by freezing the Inheritance tax threshold at £325,000 (£650,000 for a couple), breaking the Chancellor’s promise to raise the threshold.
The horse meat scandal rumbled on and became more serious when Findus lasagne was found to be 100% horsemeat. The key question is whether this is a health safety issue or a fraudulent mislabelling of horse meat as beef products. Horse meat is eaten in many societies and involves no health risk unless the horses have been given the veterinary drug phenylbutazone which causes blood disorders in humans. The Food Standards Authority has ordered all food businesses using meat products to check them and results are expected by Friday 15th February.
The supply chain for processed meat is complex. The meat used by Findus was supplied by Comigel, a French company, which obtained the meat from Spanghero which sources its meat from Romania, Cyprus and the Netherlands. Romanian abattoirs were initially suspected to be the sources for the Findus meat but two British abattoirs are now under investigation. Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for the Environment and Food, has had talks with his EU counterparts. He cannot ban imported meat products unless a health risk is shown to exist. Horse meat is cheaper than beef, pork and lamb so it makes business sense for food processors. Nevertheless, eating horse meat is a taboo in Britain and this scandal could reduce the demand for processed ready meals and give traditional butchers a boost.
Ministers grappling with such complex issues need wisdom and it is in our interest as well as our duty to pray that God will give them that wisdom.