HC Deb 21 May 1990 vol 173 cc76-120 7.13 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the mishandling by Her Majesty's Government of the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. This is an issue of great magnitude: potentially, it poses the greatest threat of the century to British agriculture. The possible implications of bovine spongiform encephalopathy—or mad cow disease, as it is known—threaten the existence of the entire British cattle herd. Moreover, these serious assertions ignore any possible risks—remote though they may be—of the disease being transmitted to humans. If that awful scenario were to develop, the legacy for which the Thatcher years would be remembered would not be the dismantling of the National Health Service, the privatisation of water or the destruction of our steel industry; the present Administration would be remembered simply for having permitted a new disease to emerge in the human race. However, I shall not develop that argument. I shall concentrate on the immediate issue: British cattle—alone in the world, I might add—have developed BSE, and I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that our first piority is to eradicate it as quickly as possible. The only people who can do that are the Government, but my confidence in their ability to do so wanes by the day.

Since first entering the House 20 years ago—along with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—I have witnessed many examples of incoherent and confused action, but rarely have I witnessed such incompetence, vacillation and indecision as has been apparent in Ministers' handling of mad cow disease. When the Government have acted, it has usually been a case of "too little, too late". Even the Government's own expert adviser on BSE, Professor Southwood, has admitted that things could have been done a bit quicker", and has observed that there is no doubt that it would have been better if we had acted a year earlier. Those are not my words, but those of the Government's independent adviser, whose opinion the Minister—rightly—highly respects.

Last week, the Minister's bizarre actions epitomised the Government's confusion. He showed all the signs of the vacillation and indecision that are his hallmark. I remind the House that this is the Minister who, ostensibly, was in charge at the time of Chernobyl and who delayed the imposing of restrictions for seven weeks. In those seven weeks, tens of thousands of lambs from areas contaminated with radioactivity entered the food chain.

The Minister spent the early part of last week showing all the signs of Corporal Jones disease—he stomped from one TV studio to another, as if auditioning for a part in a new production of "Dad's Army". All he seemed to be saying was "Don't panic, don't panic." The results were predictable. When he finally realised that, his expensive PR advisers calmed him down and he moved into the next phase of unsuccessfully trying to feed his young daughter hamburgers. I shall not develop that theme, but I counsel the Minister not to be so foolish in future.

I concede that this is a difficult issue, but I wish to analyse it coolly——

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)


Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)


Dr. Clark

I shall not give way at this stage.

Among the first questions that must be answered is why the disease arose, and why only in Britain. It is interesting that when Conservative Members find themselves on the rack, all that they can do is barrack and shout abuse.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

What would a Labour Government do about the crisis? Would they ban beef? Would the hon. Gentleman ban beef? What would he do if he were in my right hon. Friend's position?

Dr. Clark

That is a fair point. I give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that I will enunciate the steps that we think should be taken——

Mr. Hind

It was a simple question.

Dr. Clark

If the hon. Gentleman is so ignorant that he cannot accept a courteous reply, and a promise from an hon. Member that he will deal with the point, he is beneath contempt. This is a serious problem and the Minister has not dealt with it as firmly as he should have done. I shall explain in words of one syllable, so that even the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) may understand.

The generally agreed presumption is that meat contaminated with scrapie was fed to cows that developed BSE by one means or another. I shall not go into the particular physiological process. The real question is: why did it happen in the United Kingdom? The key lies in the rendering industry. Before the 1979 general election the Labour Government became aware of the problem in rendering and published tighter draft regulations. That is in the public record. Unfortunately, the new Conservative Government, following their usual practice of rewarding their friends including those in the rendering industry, scrapped those regulations. The rendering industry honestly and unashamedly acknowledged the generosity. The chairman of the United Kingdom Renderers said: The original proposals were very expensive, but there was a distinct change of heart when the Conservatives came into office. They were happy to drop the idea of a code and settle for random testing. Mr. Field, an executive member, went a stage further and, referring to the different technology permitted by the weakened regulations, said: This was partly as a result of changes in animal feed techniques but the basic motive was profit. The Government's regulations allowed that. This Conservative Administration are directly responsible for the disease appearing in the United Kingdom.

Faced with a new problem, the Government, understandably, were bemused. For 18 months following the confirmation of the disease by their own vets, they did precisely nothing.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)


Dr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman scoffs. If he can tell me what the Government did in the first 18 months, I shall willingly concede the point.

Mr. Boswell

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the diagnosis made by the Ministry vets was retrospective—re-examining the information on cases which had taken place over the preceding 18 months? That is how they knew about it.

Dr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman is right that in 1985 the disease was first discovered by a Kent vet and that in November 1986 it was finally confirmed by the Ministry's vets. In 1988 the Government wisely appointed a committee under Professor Southwood to look into the problem. It met on 20 June 1988 and acted with commendable speed. The gentlemen were well aware of the seriousness of the problem. The very next day they sent their recommendations to the Minister, but it was not until February 1989 that the Southwood report was published.

Professor Southwood claims that some of the crucial research suffered a delay of nine months. He specifically referred to the possibility of the disease passing from mother to calf, which is the critical factor. He said: We recommended that such an experiment be started almost as soon as we met, but it did not get under way until the report was published 9 months later.

Mr. Hague

Has the hon. Gentleman noted in the general conclusions of the report the words: We greatly welcome the speed with which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has brought forward regulations based on the veterinary evidence and on our recommendations?

Dr. Clark

Yes, I have read the report and I commend the hon. Gentleman on his assiduity in reading it. It may be that Professor Smallwood—[Laughter.] When I said "Small", I was thinking of some Tory Members. Professor Southwood's mind may not be like a stagnant pool; it may change. The hon. Gentleman rightly quoted Professor Southwood's words, but only yesterday he said the words that I have just quoted. Clearly, Professor Southwood, with the benefit of hindsight, has changed his mind and been honest enough to say so.

Professor Southwood had a difficult task. With the slashing cuts in research staff which the Government made—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members may smirk, but thousands of research scientists in agriculture and food have been made redundant by the Government. The state veterinary service has 27 per cent. fewer vets today than when the Government took office. As a result there was a dearth of information and expertise. It is not surprising, therefore, that the conclusions in the report appear fragile today.

As the Minister repeatedly tells us, the Government's policy is based on Professor Southwood's theories, which must be seriously questioned. In essence, the Government's policy is simply that mad cow disease will in time go away. That is not a policy, but a hope and a prayer. The Government's policy is based on the premise that once the practice of feeding cattle the remains of other ruminants has been stopped and the lengthy incubation period expires, the disease will peter out. They even claim to know when that will be. They give a precise date of 1996. Some of us rather doubt that.

The Government seem to have underestimated the extent of the problem. They have nailed their colours to the Southwood figure that the number of BSE cases would be of the order of 350–400 per month. That figure has been exceeded easily. For the past two months for which figures of confirmed cases are available, there were on average 900 a month. Clearly, the Government have got their figures wrong. In addition, the Government have accepted Southwood's argument that the cumulative total of mad cows would be between 17,000 and 20,000. That, too, must be seriously questioned because we already have reports of more than 13,000 confirmed cases.

The basic question mark in the Government's strategy is against the assumption that the disease is not transmissible from cow to calf. If that is found not to be correct, their whole strategy fails. There are no contingency plans whatever. Yet if we examine the case calmly, we find that the Government's logic is faulty. They argue that the disease cannot be transmitted to humans on the basis that scrapie has been known for more than 200 years and, as there has been no proven transmission from sheep to humans, it is unlikely that the disease will jump from cows to humans. I can understand the reasoning behind that and I sincerely hope that they are correct, as does every Labour Member, but they have been selective in their comparison with scrapie. They ignore the fact that scrapie has passed from sheep to lambs. If BSE is similar to scrapie, as the Minister argues, there must be a real possibility that BSE will be passed from cow to calf. If that is so, the Government's strategy is absolutely flawed.

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

The hon. Gentleman started by saying that the prime cause of the problem was alterations to the code of practice in the rendering industry. He will be aware that this is a complex scientific, biological matter and I hope that he will explain in detail exactly how those changes in the code of practice led to the present situation.

Dr. Clark

If the hon. Gentleman did not understand what I said I suggest that he reads the report of my speech because I do not want to detain the House at great length now. He rightly raised that issue in a previous debate when I dealt with it adequately.

Mr. Lord


Dr. Clark

I will not give way as that is unfair to other Members who might want to speak.

Mr. Lord

It is absolutely crucial to the debate.

Dr. Clark

I shall not give way.

Mr. Lord


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has already said that he will not give way.

Dr. Clark

It is interesting to note that once the argument gets going Conservative Members find it difficult and try to deflect it.

There is an increasing belief among veterinarians that BSE can be passed from cow to calf.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

What evidence?

Dr. Clark

The hon. Lady is a practising farmer, is knowledgeable and attends all the debates on agriculture. She has asked a pertinent question and I shall name some of the vets and other medical authorities to satisfy her.

The consultant virologist, Dr. Richard Tedder, at the Middlesex school of medicine, an excellent school, is reported to believe: It is reasonable to assume that BSE could be passed on from cow to calf. A similar view is held by Roger Eddy, former chairman of the British Veterinary Association's farm animal committee. He also said that trials would find that calves can pick up BSE from their mothers. He clearly asserts—I hope that the hon. Member for Lancaster is listening carefully——

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I am writing it down.

Dr. Clark

In that case I shall speak slowly. Roger Eddy asserts: My belief is that vertical transmission will occur. Even the Government's chief veterinary officer, Keith Meldrum, distanced himself from the Minister when he said: It would not surprise me to find that maternal transmission did occur He has also taken a contrary view to the Minister about the dangers of the disease to human health: I cannot say that there is no risk to man from BSE. It is too early. We have only had this disease in the country for three years and the incubation period in man in cases of encephalopathies is very long indeed. If the opinions of those vets are correct—they are just as much expert as other veterinarians—the Government's one-thread approach looks extremely flimsy. If that thread breaks we shall face calamitous consequences for the farmer and the consumer. It is not the fault of the farmers that we have BSE. They did not have any foodstuff that was labelled, nor did they provide the contaminated feedstuff.

If the disease spreads unchecked, we may eventually have to embark on a major eradication scheme that would decimate the British cattle herd. Farmers understand that. That scheme would cost taxpayers billions of pounds and lead to a shortage of beef with worsening effects on our balance of payments, which is already bad enough. Many British farmers would never recover. This is truly a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.

If the Government's strategy fails, we shall be forced to embark on an eradication scheme not only for the health of our herd, but for the simple reason that other countries will put British agriculture into quarantine. Already nearly the entire world will not allow the import of British cattle. The European Community has gone further by banning all calves from BSE cows. Our European partners are not prepared to take any risks—and who can blame them? The Germans have gone even further by banning all British beef with bones. They have not done so for trade reasons, as the Minister said, but on the advice of their scientists. I remember the Minister coming to the House to say that he would take the Germans to the European Court and do this and that, but, of course, he did nothing.

The Government should wake up to the fears expressed and protect the consumer and the farmers who are in a mess through no fault of their own. I shall suggest a coherent programme to the Government—as I promised the hon. Member for Lancashire, West.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark

No. I promised to be brief, so I must continue.

The first thing that the Minister should do is slaughter all the calves of cows with BSE. That would limit the effect of vertical transmission. That is a sound insurance policy supported by many vets, the Women's Farming Union and, in effect, by the National Farmers Union. Secondly, in view of the evidence that BSE has been transmitted to cats and possibly, although I hope not, to dogs, he should prohibit the use of cattle offal in pet food. The pet food manufacturers operate a voluntary ban and therefore one would have thought that they would support a statutory one, but no. When those manufacturers discussed it with me they were most alarmed at the prospect of a statutory ban. Many people will conclude that their refusal to endorse such a plan means that the voluntary ban is little more than a token gesture for many of them. Thirdly, the Government should stop feeding cattle offal to pigs and chickens.

Fourthly, the Government should make available to all bona fide scientists samples of infected animals wherever possible. No one has a monopoly of scientific knowledge about the new disease—the wider the scientific investigation the better. I regret that the Minister has so far blocked that initiative and I hope that he will change his mind today. Fifthly, the Minister should be more frank with the House and the public. On Thursday, when we finally dragged him to the Dispatch Box, his behaviour was abysmal—[Interruption.] He promised to place a full statement of the Tyrrell committee in the Library. The fact that he produced only a 25-line Government minute is little short of disgraceful and does nothing to build confidence among farmers, scientists and the public.

Sixthly, the Minister should instigate a tagging system for all calves along the lines of the system currently operating in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity today to advise farmers that they should heed the law and ensure that their movement books are up to date as that would be a precursor to any scheme for checking the movement of cattle.

My final suggestion is perhaps where we should begin. Why will not the Minister follow the specific recommendations of the Tyrrell committee for the random sampling of routinely slaughtered cattle so that we can judge the extent of the disease within the herd? The Minister has said that he has not done so because it is not a priority and he said that he always follows scientific advice. However, we know that the Minister picks that scientific advice which is convenient to him. I recommend the advice given to him by the Richmond committee to ban the sale of green top milk

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way? Come on.

Dr. Clark

I will give way to the hon. Lady in a moment; I promise.

The Minister was advised to ban green top milk, but he ignored the scientific evidence in favour of the consumer.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Having done his best for the past few minutes to destroy the beef industry, the hon. Gentleman is trying to destroy the green top milk producers, who proliferate in my constituency and parts of Yorkshire and whose milk is found to be extremely helpful, particularly for some skin conditions. It tastes superb, is very good and all the customers want it. Now the hon. Gentleman is trying to do that in, as well as the beef industry.

Dr. Clark

I think that the hon. Lady, in her enthusiasm for green top milk, which she never hides, did not quite listen to what I said. I was not arguing the merits or demerits of green top milk. What I was actually saying —I hope that the hon. Lady will listen—was that the Minister's scientists had recommended the abolition of green top milk, but on that occasion, rightly or wrongly, the Minister decided to reject the scientists' advice.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Quite right.

Dr. Clark

The hon. Lady says, "Quite right," but the point I am making is that the Minister picks and chooses his scientific advice.

We all know the real reason why the Minister is reluctant to do random testing. It is simple: he and the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), have insisted time and time again that no BSE cattle have entered the food chain. That was the famous belt-and-braces approach of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, of which he is so proud and about which he will tell us more this evening. Therefore, if it were found that BSE cattle had slipped through the net—as they have—the only honourable thing for the hon. Member and the right hon. Member to do would be to resign.

The Minister should desist from putting his own political career before the interests of the farmer and the consumer. The disease has the potential of a doomsday scenario. The British need, and have the right to expect, Government protection. They are certainly not getting it from this Government.

7.43 pm
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Gummer)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'supports the Government's determination to eradicate bovine spongiform encephalopathy; and commends Her Majesty's Government for basing its policy and actions to secure the safety of food on the best scientific advice and for the prompt implementation of the recommendations of its independent expert committees as the best means of safeguarding public and animal health.'. I welcome this opportunity to put forward yet again the Government's clear position on BSE. First, the absolute priority for the Government is public health and the safety of the consumer. That must mean, first, that we take the best available advice; secondly, that we implement that advice completely and as quickly as possible; and thirdly, that we ensure that the public is fully informed of the detailed information that comes to us. It is for these reasons that I can repeat with confidence the chief medical officer's statement that there is no scientific justification for not eating British beef.

Therefore, the first question the House must address is whether the Government have any alternative but to accept the advice of the experts. I do not believe that any Minister could sustain a policy based upon setting aside the recommendations of our most eminent scientists and medics. So our policy must be based absolutely four square on that. But the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has claimed that we have done "nowt". Let us go through the facts.

Mr. Hind

My right hon. Friend will have noticed that I put a reasonable question to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark)—would he, in the circumstances, ban British beef for sale to the public? Quite clearly, he did not answer the question. The clear implication of ducking That question is that he agrees with my right hon. Friend that British beef is safe for the public to consume.

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is right. I have noted down the seven answers given, and they did not include the proposal that we should ban British beef.

BSE was first identified in November 1986, thanks to the alertness and skill of the staff at the Ministry's veterinary investigation centres and the central veterinary laboratory. That was the point at which the hon. Member for South Shields suggested that we do nothing. I hope that he will listen carefully to what I have to say. Because so little was known about the disease at that early stage, a number of research projects were immediately initiated, including work to determine its course and clinical picture, and to develop and refine techniques necessary to obtain a definitive diagnosis. Such knowledge is an essential prerequisite to determining what action is appropriate to deal with any disease.

What the hon. Gentleman suggests the Government should have done was precisely what he accused us of doing—running around, hoping for something to turn up, without knowing what we were supposed to be looking for. Instead, we did what any sensible Government would do: we immediately set up the research to enable us to act. A detailed study had been started as soon as the disease had been identified to determine its cause. Initially, a large number of possibilities had to be considered, including the use of pharmaceutical products, vaccines, pesticides, herbicides, and whether other livestock such as sheep were kept on the farm.

Further excellent work at the central veterinary laboratory enabled that list to be narrowed down to protein feed derived from sheep infected with scrapie. As soon as that was apparent, a ban was introduced, from July 1988, on the use of ruminant-based protein in ruminant ration. Therefore, it is quite clear that, far from doing nothing, the Government did the two precise things necessary before they could take action. When they had the results, they took action immediately.

From the outset, field investigations and laboratory work were being undertaken to develop a clear understanding and knowledge of the clinical picture and diagnostic techniques. It is all right for the hon. Member for South Shields now to say that he knew all about it, but he did not then. We were finding out all about it so that we could take the action we did.

There is no point in requiring notification if one cannot fully describe the clinical symptoms that enable vets in the field to be able to identify a particular disease. In the same way, until the diagnostic techniques were well developed, it would not have been possible to confirm whether or not an animal had the disease. When a clear picture emerged, the disease was made notifiable—June 1988. Yet again, we acted immediately. We got the results and acted on them.

While that work was being completed, in April 1988, my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Health, established a group of eminent scientific and medical experts, under the chairmanship of Sir Richard Southwood, professor of zoology at Oxford university. Their task was to advise the Government on all aspects of BSE, including any human health implications. Two months later, on 22 June that year, interim advice was received that, as a precautionary measure, all affected cattle should be slaughtered and destroyed.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Gummer

If I may finish the paragraph, I shall be happy to do so.

We accepted that advice on 7 July. All the necessary legislation and operational arrangements were agreed and drawn up within a month, and the slaughter with compensation scheme was introduced on 8 August. All the animals slaughtered are destroyed by burial or incineration, so that no part of them can enter the food chain.

Mr. Garrett

On a genuine point of reassurance, is the Minister happy with the way carcases are disposed of, with the heads incinerated but the spinal columns left in them? I understand that there is scientific opinion to say that the spinal column should be removed before burial.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that in Norfolk there is some anxiety about the dumping of no fewer than 100 carcases in a dump that is not very far from the river that supplies Norwich's household water.

Mr. Gummer

I have looked into the issue because the matter was raised with me; it is a local authority—authorised tip for various toxic substances and the like. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about the tip, I shall re-examine it, but the local authority's view is that it is perfectly suitable for these purposes.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Gummer

I should like to continue, because I have something to say about these matters later in which the hon. Gentleman might be interested——

Mr. Home Robertson


Mr. Gummer

No, I want to continue.

Nearly two years ago, we acted effectively and decisively on the very best scientific advice to stop the likely source of the disease and to take affected animals out of the food chain——

Mr. Home Robertson


Mr. Gummer

I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman.

The Southwood report was published on 27 February 1989. It pointed out that scrapie, the related disease in sheep, had been present in the national flock for more than 200 years and that there had been no evidence of transmission to man. The report also concluded from present evidence that it was likely that cattle would prove to be a dead-end host for the disease agent.

As to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we have acted slowly or ineffectively, I hope that he will recall that the working party greatly welcomed the speed with which the Government acted on the animal feed ban and to implement the working party's recommendations. The hon. Gentleman therefore cannot sustain any allegation that we acted improperly or in a dilatory way without coming into clear conflict with the evidence of the Southwood working party.

The Government did not stop there. First, they agreed and implemented all the Southwood recommendations. Everything that this most eminent group of scientists asked us to do we did—and more. We did not do nowt; we did what the group asked us to do and more. Southwood did not recommend that the offal ban was necessary, but the Southwood report concluded that, if there were to be any BSE agent harboured in animals not previously known to be affected, it would be in the specified offal. We have therefore taken out all the specified offal from all adult cattle reaching the slaughterhouse, so as to make doubly sure that consumers are protected. So once again the Government have acted to implement all that, and more than, the experts recommended.

One of the most important Southwood recommendations was the establishment of a consultative committee on research, under the chairmanship of Dr. David Tyrrell—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for South Shields may be talking now, but he said that the Government had done nowt. I am going through what the Government did point by point so that the public can see that we acted correctly and speedily on all of them——

Mr. Home Robertson


Mr. Gummer

I am going through point by point; when I have got through them all, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

This group of experts was set up to advise my Department and the Department of Health on research work in progress or proposed in relation to BSE and the other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, on any additional work required, and on the priorities for further research. In fact, a major research effort had been under way since the disease was first identified. More than £2 million has already been spent, and a further £12 million has been allocated over the next three years.

Dr. Tyrrell identified three categories of research: first, research of top priority. All that is under way. Secondly, he identified research of medium priority; all that is under way, too. We are now working our way through the areas of lowest priority. Some of them are under way, but some have not yet reached the stage of working out protocols.

Of course, the hon. Member for South Shields has picked on one of the lowest priority points and suggested that it is the most important of all. Odd that it was in the list of lowest priority. Odd, too, that the Tyrrell committee has said that it does not believe that action on this proposal would be sensible at this time, because it would not be a sensible use of these facilities and resources. It is odd policy to tell me that the thing of which I am most guilty is not acting on one of the elements in the list of lowest priorities—the very aspect that the Tyrrell committee has suggested should be left on one side for the time being.

Mr. Home Robertson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Gummer

I should very much like to finish one more paragraph, and then I shall have finished my list.

The House will understand that I am keen on the research part of the process, because, if we could find a diagnostic test, we could rid the country of BSE that much more quickly. If I found additional aspects of research that we were not doing but which would make a genuine contribution, I would have them done. If the hon. Member for South Shields suggests that we should not breed from calves of BSE-infected animals, I must tell him that I have asked the Tyrrell committee to tell me what would be best.

The Tyrrell committee produced a report for me—not a very long report, but it is in the Library. As I told the hon. Gentleman, for he wrote me a letter on the subject, I expect that Dr. Tyrrell will be giving me a longer report some time soon, and I shall place it in the Library as well—just as I place all information that is given to me and on which these decisions are made.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)


Mr. Gummer

The hon. Member for South Shields does his case no good by pretending that the material is not made available——

Dr. David Clark

My charge against the Minister, as he acknowledged, is that he has not made the Tyrrell report on this subject available, although he promised to do so. Is he telling the House that this 25-line document is the Tyrrell report? If it is, can he explain why it begins: Spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee under Dr. David Tyrrell says"? I would have read that as the Government's interpretation of the Tyrrell report. It is a travesty of the truth to suggest that it is the report itself.

Mr. Gummer

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the facts. Dr. Tyrrell reports to me. I then publicly state exactly what he has told me—[Interruption.] I do think it very important, as we are discussing a statement by a most eminent chairman of a working party——

Mr. Martlew


Mr. Gummer

No, I shall finish what I have to say first. Dr. Tyrrell has reported to me; I have published the report—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is it?"] In the Library, and I am holding a copy of it now—[Laughter.] I hope that Opposition Members will listen carefully, because there is a whole series of other circumstances in which I am asking for further information, and I expect the working party to present its conclusions in this way. That is what I have published, and any further statements by Dr. Tyrrell will also be published.

The Opposition cannot have it both ways: if we are going to make a document public, we make it public even if it is very short.

Dr. David Clark

Is the Minister saying that this is the Tyrrell report, or is he saying that this is his interpretation of the report? It is odd for the Minister to say, "Dr. Tyrrell says …" If it were the Tyrrell report it would start by saying "My committee says …" I suggest that we are getting the Minister's interpretation of that report.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman may submit that but he is utterly, totally and categorically wrong. This is Dr. Tyrrell as chairman of the committee giving me his advice, which is what he was asked for. I have published that advice. Dr. Tyrrell will expand on it, and I shall publish the expanded advice. He will advise me on a wide range of other matters, and I shall publish his advice. The hon. Gentleman is doing the House a grave disservice by trying to hit Dr. Tyrrell in this way.

Mr. Home Robertson


Mr. Gummer

I will not give way. I will complete what I have to say about the Tyrrell statement and then give way.

It is clear that the Opposition charge that we have done nowt is wholly and utterly unfounded. The hon. Member for South Shields is attempting to suggest that which he knows to be untrue and is continuing the campaign which is based, I am sad to say, on an attempt to invent things that are not only far from the truth but have been proved out of his own mouth to be wrong.

Mr. Home Robertson

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way at last. Brevity in reports is generally welcome, but this may be the exception. Diagnosis is crucial. The Minister said that all BSE-affected cattle were being destroyed, but that is just not possible. He cannot say that, because the only way to diagnose which cattle are affected with BSE is to examine the brains of the cattle after slaughter. Why is the right hon. Gentleman still refusing to take samples from the brains of cattle slaughtered at slaughterhouses in order to establish whether what he says is true?

Mr. Gummer

I do not think the hon. Gentleman understands the purpose of that piece of research. It does not do that at all. It is suggested that some years are spent on research into what was in the brain to see whether one could find the existence of sub-clinical circumstance giving rise to BSE. I know that the hon. Gentleman is an expert on a wide range of matters. He should take it from me that the most eminent experts in the field have said that this is a low-priority matter and have asked me not to take this line of research because at the moment there are other more important things to be done. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman wants to put his personal view ahead of the clear advice of the committee.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)


Mr. Gummer

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to wait, because he will have an opportunity to intervene at a more appropriate time.

All the results of the research will be made publicly available because, throughout the debate, I have made it clear that the information and knowledge available to us will be made public. I intend to continue on precisely that course. Any suggestion by the Opposition that anything is hidden or locked up is entirely without foundation. I shall give two examples. Although there is no evidence of any link between spongiform encephalopathies in cats and BSE, I insisted that information regarding the Bristol cat recently diagnosed with this disease be made public.

The hon. Member for South Shields should look again at his allegation that I have prevented scientists from speaking to the press. That allegation was all over the press, and the hon. Gentleman confirmed that he put it there. It is utterly and completely untrue and I am sure that he will wish to apologise when I have completed my speech. The only advice to Government scientists which my Department has recently reiterated are departmental guidelines, which were prepared not by me or my predecessor or his predecessor but were, albeit in a more complicated form, guidelines inherited from the previous Labour Government. There has been no change in the guidance that, when a scientist or veterinary surgeon is asked for an interview by the press, he should inform the press office so that we know that the facts are there. That is what the Labour Government's guidance contained, and we have not changed it.

The hon. Member for South Shields did himself a grave disservice by suggesting that I was in any way trying to stop anyone saying anything that he would previously have been able to say. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his allegation, which has caused considerable concern to the scientists in my Department, who would not work on the basis that the hon. Gentleman has said that I suggested. If the hon. Gentleman will not withdraw, he underlines the fact that almost everything he says merely springs from his own fantasy and is not the fact of the matter.

Dr. David Clark

May I clarify the matter? I said that Government scientists have been told not to speak to Members of Parliament or the press on this issue. The person in question, whom I have in mind, was telephoned in the middle of the night and told that. If the Minister is prepared to get a letter from the Head of the Government, the Prime Minister, assuring me that that individual will not be sacked as he was threatened, will not be reprimanded and will not have his career jeopardised, I will talk to that person to see whether he is prepared to let me name him. When we are dealing with a Government who, in their own words, are economical with the truth, I must have that from the Prime Minister.

Mr. Gummer

There is no change whatever in what I said earlier and nobody, but nobody, would have his career jeopardised in that way. The hon. Gentleman has failed to produce his evidence and has failed to withdraw. He has been shown to be a sham and his words on everything else can be judged on that.

The House would expect me to look closely at the effects of this discussion on encephalopathies. There is no doubt that it would focus attention on this class of disease. That is bound to be true of an issue that is constantly talked about, and it means that people will look even more closely at the matter. It was for that reason that the postmortem on the Bristol cat took place. Similarly, we have now confirmed the Northern Ireland case. The specific advice of the Southwood committee was that we should be particularly alert to the possible occurrence of encephalopathies in household pets. The problem facing us is that such illnesses may have no connection at all with BSE, and, indeed, may have been present for a long time. Therefore, we have a duty to the public to do two things. First, we have to be entirely open about the results of any tests on suspect animals; and secondly, we have to be very careful about jumping to premature conclusions.

This focus of attention has resulted in two or possibly three identified cases of encephalopathy in cats. Of course it would be quite wrong for us not to be very concerned about that evidence, but that should not blind us to the arguments clearly presented in last week's New Scientist leader. I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields will read that leader and take it to heart. I hope that he will take it more to heart than he has taken note of the fact that his outrageous allegations yesterday have been shown to be wrong.

The House will recognise that I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the reasons why his comments are so wide of the mark not just to get the record straight or to score points at the expense of the shadow agriculture spokesman but because, in matters of this seriousness, the crucial issue is public health. Party and personal advantage must not be allowed to interfere.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should have sought to undermine the views of the experts. That is damaging, because it gives the public the impression that there is a major disagreement between scientists on this issue. The men and women who are experts in these matters gave clear advice to the chief medical officer, my Department and the Department of Health, and it is on that basis that I am able to repeat the chief medical officer's advice that eating British beef is safe. Indeed, it appears to be on that evidence that the hon. Gentleman thinks that eating British beef is safe. Therefore, I am surprised that he has not asked those local authorities that have stopped children in their schools eating British beef to start to serve beef once again.

The hon. Member for South Shields has made a number of suggestions. His first was that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be renamed the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and that there should be created an independent food administration making its own independent statements. If we apply that to BSE, it is difficult to see how this differs from Southwood and 'Tyrrell giving independent advice, except that that independent advice is accepted by the Government but not by the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman does not want us to stick to what the experts say: he wants us to replace this with his own political opinions. His proposal smacks of that.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that we must not breed from the cows that have BSE and claims that that would speed eradication. I ask him to read again what Tyrrell says. He has specifically warned us that to do that would not necessarily speed up the removal of BSE but might in certain circumstances have the opposite effect. He has made a number of other proposals, all of which have been rejected by the scientists to whom we have turned. In an odd phrase, he spoke of the "fragile conclusions" of Southwood. He wishes to replace the conclusions of Southwood by a series of his own personal views. No Government could deal on that basis and no Government could take his line.

Mr. Lord

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer

No, I must come to the end of what I have to say.

The same thing happened when the hon. Member for South Shields made his allegation on rendering. He was not prepared to share with the House the detailed explanation of how he ties up any changes in Government decisions with his views on the effects of rendering on BSE. There is no doubt that had he argued his case through, point by point, it would be seen as hollow in this House as it is so seen everywhere outside it, except in Labour party circles.

All that the hon. Gentleman is left with of all his suggestions is one single change—the change of title from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. That is at best cosmetic and at worst an attempt unworthily to evade this serious issue.

I do not want any hon. Member to feel that, once the experts have pronounced, we are not willing to go back to them again. The Government have acted throughout on what the experts have recommended. We have acted immediately, we have acted as they have recommended, and we have acted to do all and more that they have required. We are willing to go back to them again and ask them again. The House will remember that, even though my expert advice had not recommended that there should be a ban on breeding from the progeny of BSE-infected animals, I asked the Tyrrell committee to consider this again in the light of all the evidence. I have placed copies of its advice in the Library, and I have said that I will place copies of any further advice there as well.

Similarly, two months ago I asked for expert veterinary advice on the removal of brains in slaughterhouses. It has now come. This broadly supported current practices, but I am asking the Tyrrell committee to consider this, and any other aspects of slaughterhouse practices that it feels may be relevant to the problem. I reiterate what I have sad often before: that I shall always be willing to refer the issues which arise in this matter to experts, and will make their advice public.

The real issue here is that the public want to be assured that the Government have acted on the best available advice. They have that assurance. They want to be assured that the Government implement that advice in its entirety. They have that assurance. They want to be assured that the Government have taken these measures with the fullest practical speed. They have that assurance. They want to be assured that the Government are putting all the necessary resources into research. They have that assurance. Above all, the public want to know that the Government put public safety first. They have that assurance.

This debate gives us the chance to show that the Government have taken the full range of measures proposed in the best scientific and medical advice. Faced with a disease of this kind, we must expect that people can easily be worried and realise that their anxieties are difficult to dispel. That is why it is so important for those who have different views not to promote anxiety, but to put forward their views so that they may be judged by their expert peers. I am always willing to ask the experts to consider proposals that are put to me.

The hon. Gentleman's points have been so considered and have been turned down. If any have not been so considered, I will ensure that they are. I hope that those who so often speak on television will come to us first with their arguments and facts so that they may be considered by those best able to assess them—the experts in the fiend and not politicians, who are merely amateurs.

There is no evidence that the BSE agent is harmful to man. Nevertheless, the Government have taken four major measures to remove BSE-infected animals from the human food chain. They have acted to remove the specified offals from all adult cattle. They have cut off what is considered to be the source of the infection. We are investing large sums in research, and will continue to do so. This has been done on the advice of the scientific and medical experts. Therefore, unlike the Opposition, we can say with confidence that beef can be eaten safely by everyone, both adults and children. The House can give us its confidence, because what we do will be based on scientific advice, not on the theories of Labour party politicians.

Mr. Cohen

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister repeatedly refused to give way to Opposition Back-Benchers. As to bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cats, the right hon. Gentleman said——

Hon. Members

That is not a point of order.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. It is for me to decide whether the hon. Gentleman is in order.

Mr. Cohen

I am raising a point of order. The Minister said that he had received advice from the Southwood committee that special consideration should be given to BSE in cats, but the right hon. Gentleman did not reveal the date on which he was given that advice, which is crucial——

Madam Deputy Speaker

I know now that the hon. Gentleman is not raising a point of order but a matter for debate. I call Mr. Alan W. Williams.

8.20 pm
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to follow that extraordinary bullish and brash speech from the Minister. I want to correct the right hon. Gentleman on two or three points.

The chief medical officer did not say that British beef is safe to eat. He said—and the Minister quoted him accurately the first time—that there is no scientific justification for not eating British beef. That is a very clear double negative. The chief medical officer did not say British beef is safe to eat because one cannot prove that it is.

Mr. Gummer

The chief medical officer went on to say: I therefore have no hesitation in saying that beef can be eaten safely by everyone, both adults and children, including patients in hospital. I do not see how that does not mean that beef is safe to eat.

Mr. Williams

I shall return to the point that no scientist in Britain today, no matter how distinguished—including the chief medical officer—can say with certainty that all British beef is safe to eat.

The Southwood committee estimated that the epidemic would peak at 350 to 400 incidents per month—and that figure was quoted earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). Already, the death rate is 350 to 450 cows per week, which is four times Southwood's projected figure—and the rate is doubling every six months. Despite the Minister's extraordinary complacency, the figure is multiplying exponentially. If the plateau had been reached, there could possibly be room for complacency, but in reality BSE is increasing way out of control.

Given the best scientific advice available at the time, Southwood predicted that cattle were likely to be the dead end host, but evidently that is not the case. BSE in cattle can be passed to mice, mink, deer, and possibly cats. It is very possible that scrapie in sheep evolves, mutates and changes when transmitted to cattle—and that the resultant strain, which manifests itself as BSE, could be many times more virulent and pathogenic than the scrapie from which it originated. In that respect, Southwood erred far too much on the side of optimism, and failed to make the more pessimistic assumptions that it should have made.

There are huge areas of ignorance in respect of BSE. It would benefit the debate if the Minister did not always display ebullient confidence and knock every argument to the floor—even if that is only in his own mind, because the consumer is far more discriminating and can see through the right hon. Gentleman's bullish arrogance. In any scientific inquiry, there needs to be more humility in the search for the truth. The fact remains that the scientists concerned, eminent though they may be, do not yet understand the key features of the disease. They do not know how widespread it is or how to diagnose it. With both scrapie and BSE, one can only reach a diagnosis by killing the suspect animal and examining its brain. It is incredible that such a viral particle or infective agent should be so hard to detect by normal diagnostic techniques.

We do not understand either how the disease is transmitted, or how scrapie became BSE. We do not know how other animals become infected by BSE. Most important of all, we cannot be certain that BSE does not affect human beings—no matter what may be said by Sir Donald Acheson, the Minister, or anyone else. It will take at least one decade before we can be sure whether BSE has any effect on human beings. To be as complacent as the Minister has shown himself to be, not only over the past few days but the past few years, is just as dangerous as scaremongering. There should be more balance in the debate, and greater consideration of both sides of the argument.

BSE is to be the subject of a "Horizon" programme on BBC2 tonight. The blurb for that programme in today's issue of The Independent says that scientists reveal that neither the facts nor the risks are fully understood. That is the state of our knowledge. The Minister may not acknowledge all the uncertainties, but the president of the National Farmers Union does. Sir Simon Gourlay is also quoted in The Independent today as saying: People recognise when there are voids in information. At the moment there is little confidence in official statements and that is why there is mayhem … there is a fear of the unknown. Sir Simon Gourlay has the modesty to accept the crisis of confidence that exists currently because of a fear of the unknown—but the Minister shows no such doubts. The debate would benefit also if the Minister and his colleagues, as well as MAFF, exhibited a little more humility and showed themselves willing to entertain some of the doubts shared both by the general public and leading scientists.

The effects of BSE are potentially so catastrophic that we should be adopting precautionary principles at every stage. Humans can recover from salmonella poisoning, but BSE is potentially an irreversible killer. It must be remembered that 100 years ago livestock was killed and consumed locally, but in today's food processing industry just one infected cow could contaminate 100 or 1,000 products and people.

The issue has gained extra momentum over the past two weeks because it has been found that cats have possibly died from contracting BSE. Those deaths might strike the House as trivial, and right hon. and hon. Members may question why cat deaths in Bristol, Belfast and Birmingham made the front pages of tabloid newspapers last week. However, if one considers the matter biologically, as carnivores, cats have digestive systems that are far more similar to those of human beings than cows. If the BSE particle or virus can survive the robust digestive system of a cat, containing as it does acids and enzymes to break down complex proteins, and damage its brain, at a molecular level it is most disturbing and significant that BSE can kill carnivores.

The more that BSE jumps species, in the way that scrapie jumps species, the more concerned every one of us should be. The two or three cat deaths that we have heard about could be just the beginning of an epidemic. Generally, when cats die no post-mortem is held.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the chief medical officer at the Department of Health is wrong to assert that there is no risk to humans from eating beef?

Mr. Williams

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would know that I said that no scientist can say that. The Southwood committee, which has produced perhaps the most authoritative document, said that the chance is extremely remote. I hope and pray that it cannot be transmitted to humans, but no scientist can say one way or the other. It will be at least a decade before we can give a firm no to that question.

In the meantime, following the precautionary principle, we should be doing all that we can to ensure that BSE-infected meat cannot enter the food chain. That is a reasonable request, which the NFU and the consumer will back. We should start the mass slaughter of the offspring of BSE-infected animals.

Scrapie passes from ewe to lamb. The AIDS virus passes from mother to foetus. The further the virus has progressed, the more likely it is that the mother will transmit it to the foetus, whereas if the mother is HIV positive, the chances of it being passed are perhaps 10 or 20 per cent. The further developed the virus is, the higher the probability.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean)

Would the hon. Gentleman persist with the policy of the mass slaughter of calves although the expert evidence suggests that it should not be done?

Mr. Williams

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said, I do not see all the experts lining up on the Government side. A couple of weeks ago, the Government's chief veterinary officer, Keith Meldrum, said that in the meantime he supported veterinary advice to farmers not to breed from the offspring of infected cattle. He has strong doubts about vertical transmission. We should be adopting the precautionary principle. Wherever it is possible that meat may be infected by BSE, we should be taking it out of the food chain. It is probable that the calves of BSE-infected cattle carry BSE. The NFU and consumers consider that the slaughter of calves should be a matter of urgency. The Government should start to take swift action.

There should be random sampling in slaughterhouses of dead cows to ascertain the true incidence of BSE. We have figures only for those cows that showed clinical symptoms before they were slaughtered. There must be random inspection of the heads of all cows that are slaughtered.

There should be pilot studies in farms that have had multiple outbreaks of BSE. Many farms have had two, three or more cows suffering from BSE. The Government should undertake pilot studies of the mass slaughter of the herd to see how many have sub-clinical symptoms of BSE.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

I am finding it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman. He was saying that we should proceed only on the certainties. He has made a substantial number of allegations, such as an epidemic of mad cats, without giving substance, belief or fact. Why does he believe that we should substitute his opinions or beliefs for the scientific facts that have been put forward by eminent scientists who say that we do not need a mass slaughter policy? Is he going along with Professor Richard Lacey, who has argued that 6 million cattle should be slaughtered?

Mr. Williams

No. I said that we should not work on the basis of certainties because there are no certainties. We must adopt the precautionary principle. If there is a chance of meat being infected, we should slaughter the calves of infected cows. That view is held not only by the Opposition but by the NFU and individual farmers in my constituency to whom I have spoken. In our part of the country, which is also represented by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), Dyfed has the highest incidence in Wales and, with the south west, probably the highest incidence in Britain.

It is appalling that offal from cows that may have sub-clinical BSE is still being fed to pigs and poultry. There is a danger of multiplying the disease and that it could jump species. We need to look carefully at the disposal of carcases. We must ensure that BSE-contaminated meat does not enter the food chain. Carcases have been buried in toxic waste tips, and I have read of headless carcases being disposed of in a refuse tip. We know that rats and birds feed from refuse tips. There is a danger of a BSE-infected animal carrying the disease to the rat and bird populations. It is absurd that we are disposing of carcases so carelessly.

There should be high temperature incineration to ensure that we get rid of the virus completely. The outbreak of BSE, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said, is not the farmers' fault. The farmers suffer, but it is not their fault. It is the product of animal feeding. Scrapie got into animal feed, which was insuffiently heated. The Government reduced the temperature from 130 deg C, which previously killed scrapie, to 105 deg C and has allowed it to develop into BSE.

Farmers should be compensated; 100 per cent. compensation was made a year or two after the campaign on scrapie that was run by the Opposition and others, but when it comes to a slaughter policy for calves there should be 100 per cent. compensation.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields that potentially this is the greatest crisis that has faced agriculture this century. If the Government do not act much more decisively and quickly, instead of doing too little too late, it will become a crisis of epidemic proportions. When we are dealing with human health, it is wiser to err on the side of overkill than to tread timidly a year or two too late, as the Government are doing.

In the interests of the beef producer and the consumer, I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the points that have been made by Labour Members in the debate.

8.38 pm
Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome)

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) has done his best to undermine the confidence of the industry and the consumer in the expert advisers to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the farming industry. I am sorry that he used his medical and scientific knowledge in that way. If the hon. Gentleman wants to express those views, he should take them to the committee that has been set up by my right hon. Friend the Minister and to those who are his peers in this discipline. The hon. Gentleman should not make his fears public. I am sorry that he made that speech.

I should like to say a few words on behalf of those in the livestock husbandry industry who have been worried about BSE for many months. They have suffered greatly in recent months because of lead contamination and the near catastrophe that resulted. They foresaw the serious scares -not backed by scientific evidence—that might be engendered about the effect of BSE on domestic meat consumption. They implored those of us who represent the south-west of England to express their fears to the Ministry and demand the clearest possible scientific research into this unpleasant disease as soon as possible so that British beef is cleared as safe for consumption at home and abroad.

Over the past year, many of us have implored the Department to do all that it can to come up with the answer. My right hon. Friend the Minister has explained what the answer was. The advice so far is begining to give confidence back to the beef producers. I hope that the House will say nothing more tonight to undermine that confidence.

I have seldom heard as disgraceful an attack on agriculture, undermining the confidence of the consumer, as that from the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). In the few years in which I have been a Member, I do not think that I have ever heard quite such an irresponsible attack made from the Front Bench on either side of the House. I deplore it and shall do my utmost to ensure that those who husband the beef industry in my part of the country know about it. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself. He should be trying to restore confidence that our best scientists will find the cause of this disease—as I believe they will-and confidence in the results so far, which show that there is no evidence that beef is dangerous to humans. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have served his party better if he had done that without trying to attack my right hon. Friend in a silly, personal, political way. It was one of the most disgraceful attacks that I have ever heard since becoming a Member.

8.42 pm
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

I have listened to the debate with considerable interest. The Minister put up a good, robust defence of his position. I could not agree with everything he said, but he made a much better job of it than the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) did in attacking him. The Minister's comments were helpful in that the industry and consumers were looking for some of the reassurances that he gave. We must be aware of the risks that may or may not be caused to beef because of the disease. There is no evidence that the disease can be transferred to humans, but we can never be certain.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Taylor

I shall give way later, but it is important that this point is clear in the minds of the industry and consumers. The Government's position and mine is that the disease's potential cannot be ruled out altogether. There is no reason to believe that the disease is present other than in the specified offal. It is important for people to be clear on that point, because it means that it is all right to eat meat that has not been contaminated in any way with that offal. Indeed, I ate some at the weekend. However, I shall refer to loopholes in terms of contamination and the effort to eliminate the disease.

Mr. Hanley

As a Liberal Democrat council has banned the consumption of beef in schools in Richmond upon Thames, does the hon. Gentleman regard that as responsible or irresponsible given that, as he said, there is no scientific evidence to support that approach? This action has caused much fear among people who say, "If our councillors ban beef, it must be bad."

Mr. Taylor

Emphasising it is unhelpful, but various councils have taken various actions. I happen to have spoken to councillors in Richmond upon Thames about what they have done. Their action has been similar to that in my county, although they took a different route because of different circumstances. Because parents made the request, the authorities have ensured that all children have the option of not eating beef, and only where that alternative is not provided have they stopped serving beef.

In terms of public concern, that is not unreasonable. Some parents would not be reassured if they felt that their children had no option but to eat beef. They would feel that their children were being forced to eat something that the parents would prefer they did not eat. I do not criticise that attitude. But it would only be unreasonable had councillors said that beef was unsafe and should never be available to children.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) made a perfectly proper intervention, but councillors of all political colours have made a decision on the facts as they understand them. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not a party political matter? The key point is to ensure that the evidence is known to the people making the decisions and that they make, democratically, the best decisions. We all aim to achieve the right results for everyone in all council areas.

Mr. Taylor

I should like to make progress, moving away from that incidental issue and commenting on what Ministers should do.

The Government have consistently refused calls by the National Farmers Union and others, including me, to label foodstuffs. They are still refusing, although the European Community may force compliance to some degree by 1992, but even then there is no requirement to state the percentage of ingredients. Given what appears to have happened because of the inclusion of offal, it is understandable that farmers should feel strongly about what they are being given to feed their livestock—feeding stuffs about which they have no knowledge and over which they have no control. In an article in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, the Gloucestershire trading standards officer said: We probably carry out more tests on feeding stuffs than any other county and we find more errors with them than with anything else we check. We find something wrong in about 1 in 8 samples. On a national scale it indicates a big problem. In one sample of calf food, we found string, buttons from overalls and little lumps of metal. Apart from those farmers who grow food for their cows, farmers could not be sure of what was going into the feeding stuffs. I have received letters however from farmers pointing out that not all had fed this stuff to their animals, and whose livestock are not therefore at risk. While specified offals have been banned from feedstuffs for cows, a problem remains for farmers in respect of other species, such as pigs. The Minister may say that the risk is acceptable but farmers may nevertheless prefer not to take it, and they cannot be altogether sure what they are feeding to their animals.

We tabled an amendment to the Food Safety Bill to require the labelling of animal feedstuffs and the banning of the inclusion of potentially hazardous contents in feedstuffs for all species. That is not unreasonable. I am told that it is perfectly possible to achieve that using modern computer techniques; certainly, the NFU believes that it is possible. I hope that the Minister will use the opportunity presented by the concern over BSE to act on that amendment. I do not understand why he will not. Such an amendment would greatly reassure both consumers and industry, so I hope that he will reconsider.

We must also consider the use of suspect offals at all in feedstuffs for pigs and poultry. The Government say that they have not had scientific advice to the effect that that should be banned. I accept that, but there is no doubt that it would reassure customers and the industry—which has expressed its concern, I am sure, to other hon. Members as well as myself—if those specified offals were banned. That would give us a cast-iron guarantee. The scientific advice is that there is no evidence that there is a risk, but we must remember that we were originally told that the disease could not be transferred to other species such as cats. But that now appears to have happened. Such a move would make sense in terms of the current public concern. If we are to help the industry and protect the consumer, we should try to meet those concerns.

As recently as 14 May, Ministers refused to give a cast-iron guarantee that pigs and poultry could not be affected. In a written answer on 28 March, the Minister listed eight research projects dealing with this very matter. The fact that there are eight research projects does not necessarily point to a definite risk, but it suggests that scientists and the Minister believe that the matter is worthy of further investigation. If that is so, to reassure the public, we should play safe and ban the use of specified offal in feedstuffs for all species.

We must also consider pet food. Two, or perhaps three, cats appear to have been infected with a feline version of the disease. Yet on 29 March the Minister said in the Standing Committee considering the Food Safety Bill that there was no evidence of naturally occurring spongiform encephalopathy in cats and dogs. He therefore proposed to do nothing. In response to the amendment that I had tabled to ban the use of specified offal in pet foods, the Minister said: I do not want to get into the position where I as a politician, go into a crazy panic over pet food, when all the evidence is against there being any risk whatever of the disease jumping species to cats and dogs. I could ban the pet food for no good reason and the scientists could a year later say that I was wrong—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 29 March 1990; c. 125.] That was fair enough. But, unfortunately for the Minister, only a month or two later, people are telling him, "You got it wrong; you should have banned the use of specified offals in pet food." In other words, he would have done better to play safe, as I argued at the time, and that option is still open to him.

Before the present difficulties arose, and while the Food Safety Bill was in Committee, I wrote to the pet food manufacturers to ask whether they were operating the voluntary ban of which we had been told. They responded to the effect that they were. Some 5 per cent. of the pet food manufacturers are not covered by the manufacturers' association, but given that the manufacturers say that they are operating a voluntary ban—indeed, they argued that they were operating it before the present ban was introduced in respect of food for human consumption—why do not the Government close the loophole and make illegal the use of specified offals in pet food? We know that a problem has arisen. Why do we not take the action which manufacturers appear to accept—but which as yet we have no guarantee that they are implementing? The Minister said earlier that the manufacturers had been warned that they should watch developments in respect of cats and dogs. It therefore surprises me that when I raised the matter in Committee the Government said that there was no evidence whatever to suggest that they should take such action. That does not seem to make sense.

We then have to deal with the protection of cattle. The Minister has consistently refused to accept that there is any justification for slaughtering the offspring of BSE-infected cattle. When I asked him about it on 15 March, he replied: We have no plans to do so.—[Official Report, 15 March 1990; Vol. 169, c. 324.] Tonight he has told us why he made that decision. He cited the Tyrrell report. I accept that Tyrrell did not recommend that the offspring of BSE-infected cattle should be slaughtered. But the report said: Infection from cow to calf is a possibility that cannot be excluded at present. On Report, I tabled an amendment to the Food Safety Bill that would ensure that farmers were fully compensated for the slaughter of those calves. I do not necessarily argue that we should go that far. I listened with interest to what the Minister said, and he may be right. I do not claim to have the necessary expertise to say one way or the other, but I know how the public and the industry are reacting and I do not think that they would be dismayed if the Minister took such a course, which might help to resolve the present crisis of confidence in the beef industry. But if the Government are not prepared to do that—and given that Tyrrell specifically said that we could not rule out a potential risk—why do not they ensure that there is at least a comprehensive tagging and registration scheme so that we know what is happening to the offspring? At the moment, we may believe that there is no reason for slaughter but, according to Tyrrell, we cannot rule out the possibility that that need will arise. We heard tonight that the Government's chief veterinary officer had said: It would not surprise me to find that maternal transmission can occur. A minimum requirement to register seems to me eminently sensible.

When the problem first arose, the Minister said: Nobody takes this disease more seriously than I do, but there is no justification for further action. Perhaps there was no justification, but given the present crisis of confidence for industry and consumer, the Minister should be seen to act to close every loophole, and that is one of the loopholes.

Following the progress of food from farm to plate, we go next to the abattoir. The Minister has at last told us the result of his further consultations about abattoir procedures. He will recall that, early this year, environmental health officers expressed serious concerns—expressed first in my constituency and subsequently taken up by their organisation—about the way in which some abattoirs operated. In effect, the abattoirs were, and are, attempting to get round the Minister's regulations banning specified offals. To realise the full value of the heads, they are split open with band saws. Inevitably, some splatter results and there is a risk of cross-contamination.

The heads are split and the broken brain removed so that the full value of the total carcase can be realised. That makes relatively little financial difference to the farmer, but in an abattoir where huge numbers of heads are processed the practice of splitting heads in that way is significant for profit margins. Clearly, that practice avoided the spirit of the Minister's advice. After I met the Minister and discussed the problem with him, he said that he would seek further advice. I was told that he would meet me in two weeks and tell me what advice he had been given. Well, some two months on, the results of the advice were announced today.

If cooking cannot kill the disease, anyone with common sense will appreciate that washing the meat if splatter occurs is no guarantee of safety. Perhaps the most important point is that washing down will not reassure the public if it does not reassure environmental health officers. I am pleased that the Minister has referred that point to the Tyrrell committee. However, I suspect that the committee will say that there is no scientific evidence to justify stopping that head-splitting process. Perhaps that would be an example of advisers advising, but Ministers must decide to ensure that even the most unlikely loophole is stopped. I am referring only to the specified offals and the risk of cross-contamination of what I said at the beginning of my speech is otherwise perfectly good meat.

Mr. Gummer

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about what I have done. I hope that he recognises that the matter has gone to the Tyrrell committee because our expert advice is that what we are doing is in general perfectly acceptable. However, I do not want there to be a scintilla of doubt.

The Tyrrell committee has made it clear that it should make its judgments according to the worst possible scenario. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) suggested that everyone was acting as though maternal transmission was impossible. Far from it. We always consider the worst possible scenario because that is the only way in which we can make judgments of this kind and that is what the Tyrrell committee is meant to do. Once we have asked such a committee to make its judgments on the worst possible scenario, we must accept those judgments and not second-guess them. If we second-guess them, we tell the public that we do not trust the people whom we have brought together to provide advice. We must be careful about suggesting that we should always act because we believe that the public will thereby be supportive. That is why I said clearly that I stick by the advice which is based on the worst possible scenario.

Mr. Taylor

As I have described, in abattoirs a band saw splits the head and enters brain material. Some of that splatters out and some remains on the band saw which is then used on other parts of other carcases. The advice is that the band saw and the area round the process should be washed down after each head splitting. I do not believe that that happens. No one could believe that a proper and thorough washing down would occur after that process. Therefore, the scientific advice does not match up to common sense.

I learnt only today that a Scottish abattoir has a new technique for coping with heads. In that abattoir a stainless steel nozzle is attached to the end of a hose line. An extension from that fits exactly into the hole made by the stun bolt. Water is then forced into the skull at high pressure and the brain is forced out through the neck cavity at high speed in a gush. The matter goes everywhere. I do not believe that washing down takes place after each such action. A similar problem occurs with mechanically recovered meat.

Finally, I have a warning on which I hope the Minister will act. Also, the public should be aware of this point about the British beef industry. The Minister confirmed to me in a letter that there have been some cases of BSE in the Irish Republic. It is a very small number, but there have been cases. Therefore, beef is imported without any controls on specified offals that may be a risk. Will the Minister reconsider his inaction on this and act to ban the specified offals from meat imports?

I also suggest that it is not impossible—I am sure that the Minister shares my concern over this matter—that there is BSE infection in other countries in Europe, but that has not been reported. We have a well-controlled industry in this country and an awful lot of precautions are taken. It would be wrong for people to believe that British beef is more dangerous than any other beef. Because of the lack of controls and the situation in the Irish Republic, arguably imported beef is more at risk from cross-infection. However, that should not be a reason for the Minister to be complacent.

I have raised a number of specific suggestions about things that the Minister could do to reassure the industry and the consumer and I hope that he will act on that advice.

9.4 pm

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

A great number of people in this country, particularly people in the food and farming industry, must wish that we were not having this debate. Right hon. and hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies might share that view. Although I do not wish to dismiss the seriousness of BSE, least said, soonest mended. I appreciate that that advice is unlikely to be taken by Opposition parties. However, I congratulate the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) on his latter sentence. He went to great lengths to explain that there is nothing wrong with British beef. I entirely endorse his remark that British beef is arguably still the best beef in the world.

Opposition parties wish to score political points. They are not concerned about the damage that they might inflict upon the innocent victims of their scaremongering. BSE is not contagious. What is contagious is the panic that national and local politicians create in the minds of the general public about the food that they eat. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) spoke about the calamitous effects on farmers and consumers. This is not a political issue. Whatever political case Opposition parties may think exist, they make their case badly and without any consideration of the continued damage to public confidence, or of the commercial damage to the food and farming industry and, in particular, the men and women whose livelihoods depend upon that industry. Opposition parties know only too well that this is essentially an animal health issue. It is not even a human health issue. The irresponsibility of Opposition parties is matched only by the blatant scaremongering of those who started this hare running.

Opposition Members protest that they are concerned about the farming industry and consumers, but they, together with the media, know that food scares are good copy because food is directly related to everyday life. It affects every person in the land, and it is a matter to which every member of the public can relate. That is why whenever something is supposed to be wrong with food it can almost be guaranteed to get headlines.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman listened carefully to the opening speech by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), but in case he did not I assure him that we have no interest in a food scare or in encouraging any food scare. We are concerned to restore confidence in the British beef industry. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to read in Hansard tomorrow the speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for South Shields and for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) and my own speech. The hon. Gentleman will not find one sentence that damages the beef industry.

Mr. Gill

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) makes my point for me. Words will not alter very much, but the more we politicians go banging on about the issue and making sure that it gets headlines in the newspapers and appears in every news bulletin day in and day out, the more the industry is prejudiced. Of greater concern is that fear and uncertainty is prolonged among the general public. I deprecate the irresponsible way in which the Opposition play on innocent people's fears. I deplore their rejection of evidence simply because it does not suit their own bias.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)


Mr. Gill

I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.

That attitude is not untypical of the Labour party, which cannot make its case without recourse to scaremongering.

Mr. Alan W. Williams


Mr. Gill

I shall give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) and then I shall gladly give way to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams).

Mr. Field

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the canteen on Thursday evening two very large trays of steak pie were completely sold out because Opposition Members were purchasing it? I got the last portion and jolly tasty it was, too—and it was British beef.

Mr. Gill

I am most encouraged by what my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that all responsible hon. Members know—and will demonstrate on every possible occasion—that there is no possible threat to one's health from eating British beef.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but must advise him that I shall not be as helpful to him as was the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field). The hon. Gentleman referred to the propriety of holding a debate on the subject of BSE. Would he prefer the Opposition to sit still, to talk about all the other issues, but not to mention BSE? Would he prefer the Opposition to allow the Government simply to carry on with their work behind the scenes and allow the number of BSE cases to double every six months and quadruple every year, as is happening now?

Mr. Gill

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statesmanlike remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) who pointed out that there are better vehicles for exercising concern and better forums for expressing the detailed and technical aspects of this matter than a debate on the Floor of the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that events in the Chamber are now recorded on television for all the world to see. If would be far more responsible if the Opposition awaited the findings of the Select Committee on Agriculture which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, will investigate this matter and take evidence from whoever seeks to give evidence to it—the hon. Gentleman himself may seek to do so—and will then report back to the House with its findings. I am sure that the general public would be much more satisfied and would have their minds put more at rest if that inquiry were allowed to proceed in a rational and calm manner.

The hon. Member for South Shields accused my right hon. Friend the Minister of doing too little, too late. When the hon. Gentleman makes such comments Conservative Members wonder what he would have done differently. Would he have taken advice from different sources? Would he have rejected the advice of Tyrrell and Southwood and relied more on the advice proffered by Professor Lacey, which might be more in tune with his own political prejudices?

It is important that all hon. Members retain an open mind on this subject, pending the results of the Select Committee inquiry. I very much welcome the inquiry, because the food and farming industry has absolutely nothing to hide. I am confident that that industry will adopt any reasonable measures that are suggested as a result of the inquiry. As a member of the Select Committee, I shall be especially interested to hear the evidence of some well-known publicity-seeking sensationalists. In the meantime, I have absolutely no hesitation in stating that British beef is perfectly safe to eat and that the overwhelming weight of evidence supports that view.

9.13 pm
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West)

Let me say at the outset that I am still eating beef—at least as far as my cholesterol level will allow. However, I am not eating products that contain mechanically recovered meat or any of the more exotic parts of the animal that masquerade as beef and that can be used at present. The few bits of the animal that are not used, or are obtained from unfit animals, are then used as animal feed to turn cows into carnivores and chickens into cannibals.

However, as I said, I am still eating red meat beef because, after reading at least some of the evidence. I can assess that evidence for myself. However, most people cannot and require the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Health to assess the risk for them and to take every reasonable precaution. As a member of the Select Committee on Agriculture, I will not prejudge its deliberations, but from the evidence that I have examined it is already obvious to me—as an interested individual—that the Ministry has not acted with wholehearted interest or with the necessary speed to protect either the farming industry or the consumer.

Mr. Martlew

Is it not true that the work of the Select Committee—of which my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) and I are both members—has been badly damaged by the speech by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill)? The hon. Gentleman, along with another hon. Member who spoke last Thursday, seems to have already made up his mind about the conclusions of the report. He has concluded that British beef is safe, and that the scare is all the fault of a bogus professor and a dead cat. Surely we must be more careful about what we say if we are to be regarded as independent judges.

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend is right, and I shall try to be open minded. However, I have read much of the evidence that has already been given to the Committee, and I am convinced that so far the Ministry has not acted correctly.

On the evidence of the Ministry's own experts, the epidemic in the cattle population was caused by the bending of rules governing heat-treating of offal, sanctioned by the Government. For two years after its recognition, Ministry vets were told not to refer to the disease as "scrapie-like". On top of that, there is the compensation fiasco. What can the Ministry have been thinking of—apart from saving money—by offering 50 per cent. compensation? Bowing to pressure, the Ministry increased that to 100 per cent., and the weekly average of reported cases jumped from 278 to 460—hardly a gradual increase.

If those incidents are coupled with the bungling of the on-going salmonella food-poisoning epidemic, the listeria problem and the fears about microwave cookers, it is hardly surprising that the public do not believe the Minister or his Under-Secretary when they claim that there is no risk to humans. The public—who have not read the report by Sir Richard Southwood—can appreciate, even if the Minister cannot, the finding of the report, which says that human transmission cannot be ruled out. That is a risk, however small.

I am not a specialist in neuropathology, but the risk to humans depends on its transmissibility. We are told that scrapie has not caused a human disease, despite existing in Britain for 250 years. However, the human form of the disease—Creuzfeld-Jakob disease—was described only in 1923, and was not recognised as a transmissible disease until 1960. Possibly more worrying is the laboratory evidence, which shows that, although scrapie will not infect rabbits directly, it will infect them after infecting hamsters. That is a well-known phenomenon in micribiology. That could increase the risk, whatever it may be. No one—not even the Minister or his experts—can assess the risk; it is unassessable.

Even if the disease passes from cows to humans, we are still not facing a human epidemic. At worst, we are probably facing an increase from about 30 to 100 or so cases a year. That is because many factors involved are in the incidence of this type of disease; whether we call it a slow virus or a prion. No one knows exactly what it consists of, how it can be transmitted or how it can be detected.

It is known, however, that there are genetic and transmission factors, and there appears to be a dose-related factor, although until reseach is done on the epidemiology of Creuzfeld-Jakob disease we cannot be sure. The Minister should ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health to make Creuzfeld-Jakob disease notifiable, as medical opinion considers the disease to be under-reported, and there is also a possible confusion with Alzheimer's disease. The incidence of CJD must be quantified; otherwise, how can we know what—if any—increase will occur from any type of BSE-related incident?

What should we do to restore confidence? We must examine abattoir practice. We must not use the brains of cattle for any purposes. All cattle brains should be destroyed by burning within the head. We must stop offals such as brain, spleen and lymph glands being used in any animal food. We have already had a sequal to "Mad Max I"; how many more of Britain's 7 million cats must suffer and die? On 24 April the Minister said that there was no evidence of naturally occurring encephalopathies in cats and dogs. That is almost certainly true, but there have been two unnatural cases recently. It could be another case of cross-species transmission. We do not know. We face not a doomsday scenario, but a risk. It does nothing for the Government's credibility publicly to deny any risk when their experts say that there is one, albeit a small one.

BSE could be transmitted to humans. The Southwood report and the chief veterinary officer have said so. Regardless of all the discussion about risk, one fact is certain and has nothing to do with the Opposition calling the debate. It is that public confidence in beef has plummeted. That will affect farmers throughout the country, especially those in my area, who are not the richest. In 1984 they got £1.98 a kilo whereas last week a farmer was offered £1.84. Even for sheep, which are not affected by the problem, my farmers are getting £2.62, which is exactly the same as in 1984. Coupled with high interest rates and the poll tax, this is a potential disaster for farming.

Confidence must be restored. It will not be fully restored until we have a food standards agency which is genuinely independent of both Government and the food industry. Meantime, I hope that the deliberations of the Select Committee will be accepted as objective. To restore confidence to the market and to prevent farmers from suffering from a problem which is not of their own making, the Government should err on the side of caution. They should not hide behind expert advice. Advisers advise, but Ministers decide. They should immediately stop offal feeding to all animals; they should instigate random testing at abattoirs; they should prevent the possibility of vertical transmission in cattle by culling calves and infected cattle with full compensation and they should increase reseach on transmission.

I will continue to eat whole red beef, but I am not confident of some beef products. Consumers will not be confident until the Minister takes on board all the measures that we have outlined and changes many of the food processors' practices to the benefit of consumers and producers.

9.21 pm
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

I must declare an interest as a layman on the Agricultural and Food Research Council. I keep a close eye on its research. I am grateful to the Government for their contribution of £12 million to it and to medical research which is essential. I also declare my interest as a beef farmer.

The Minister, properly, concentrated on consumers. He has often said that he puts consumers first. Farmers must also do so. However, this morning I had to stop my cattle going to market because of this ridiculous scare, so I think that it is fair to flag up the damage that these stories can do to legitimate businesses and a major British industry.

The Minister made a convincing case for the Government's action on the scientific advice that they receive. In so far as any of the Opposition's case remains, it centres on the alleged delay in implementation. The Minister explained why it took place, but having read round the subject I wish to make one or two points. In doing so I follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), not in his conclusions but in some of his analysis.

First, this is a brand new disease or possible complex of diseases. We have known about scrapie for some time—I have had one isolated case on my farm—but this is the first time that such a disease has cropped up in cattle and we do not even know what to call it. Is it a prion or a slow virus? We need to research that. Secondly, the period of incubation is questionable and there is no possibility of diagnosis in a live animal. If we had that possibility, life would be a great deal easier. Thirdly, it is clear by analogy that the disease is not highly infectious because mostly there have been one or two cases in a herd. Similarly, although scrapie in sheep is more concentrated in some breeds than others, cases are sporadic and intermittent. Fourthly, there seems to be little evidence of transmission across species, except in rather artificial conditions, such as some which have been mentioned.

The complexity of the difficulties now faced by the Minister are also revealed by the fact that BSE has given rise to the rediagnosis of a series of events that had simply been left to go on the nod in the past. I understand that the Americans are re-examining 80 cases of bovine rabies and I would not be at all surprised to find cases of BSE on the continent that are now dismissed as rabies. There may well be other examples of BSE in Britain—we have already had it diagnosed in a cat—that were not diagnosed in the past because no one thought to investigate that possible diagnosis.

The Minister must not only protect the public, but he must not go off at half-cock before the necessary information and advice is available to him. Hon. Members will be aware that certain debates are going on now concerning the Food Safety Bill and it is proposed that further compensation should be provided if local authorities seize food without justification. One can imagine the situation in which the Minister could find himself if he closed down the livestock industry—that appears to be the logic behind some Opposition speeches—without proper justification. That decision would never stand up in court and the compensation would be immense.

It has been difficult for the Minister to feel his way forward. but he has struck the right balance. There are certain points that I should like him to bear in mind. First, we know that enforcement is always difficult and we must ensure that regulations and advice are heeded. The enforceability of a full notification and tracing process for calves of infected animals after some years have elapsed and those calves have moved to different herds is a daunting task for my right hon. Friend even if he were advised to undertake it.

Secondly, there is a major need for greater public education not least because education committees, including, I am ashamed to say, my county's, have decided to proceed often on political rather than scientific grounds. They have second-guessed the advice, that the Minister has received. If those committees have better advice, by all means submit it to my right hon. Friend, but so far their approach has not been scientific.

I was slightly surprised to see a reference to the danger of eating meat pies by no less a distinguished person than the medical correspondent of The Times.He referred to that danger because brain and spinal tissue are used in those pies. That is a surprising comment in view of the safeguards that the Minister has imposed.

My third point relates specifically to my constituency and the tip site at Welford, which has now been closed. Carcases have been buried at that site, but I strongly prefer incineration, which is more positive and final.

My right hon. Friend should also consider the possibility of epidemiological studies of ordinary carcases and brains taken from the slaughterhouses. Although that is a one-star priority, the fact that one would be dealing with such large numbers means that there would be no bias in the sample and a small number would provide a good statistical reading that one could use with confidence.

The Government have expressed their readiness to keep reminding the public of what they are doing, to publish the information that they have and to consider new information when it becomes available—in that they have met my request. There is an equal duty on the Opposition not to stir things up with inappropriate scares. If the issues are real, they should be brought forward, but Opposition Members should avoid using words such as "could", "might", or "no absolute assurance" because they are not synonymous with a realistic and balanced approach to the problem.

With the possible exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), no one else in the Chamber will remember the foot and mouth epidemic of 1967, which devastated the dairying areas of the north-west. I was then a junior researcher for the Conservative party and there was then a great deal of pressure on Conservative Members, then the Opposition, to attack the Government. Those pressures were firmly and rigorously resisted, and rightly so. No party that aspires to be in Government should stir up criticism in that way. The Government have acted responsibly in this matter. They have taken the best advice, which is good enough for me and, I hope, the House.

9.30 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I recollect that Mr. Fred Peart, as he then was, was seriously criticised in 1967. The recollection of some of us is not what the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) said.

I have three questions. First, is it or is it not true that the cuts in the Agricultural and Food Research Council have been something of a hindrance in the present crisis? Secondly, are the Government going to bring forward legislation fairly soon involving the changes in abattoirs? The Minister referred to the New Scientist. There is a powerful six-page article on the issue of stunning and what that can do to meat. In 15 seconds I cannot go into it, but I ask that question. Thirdly, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has had some difficulty with his information, which I believe is absolutely valid. What are the instructions given to people working in Government employment in relation to making statements? That is something that should be coolly contemplated.

9.32 pm
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

I am disappointed that the hon. Members for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler), who have been in the Chamber throughout the evening, have not had the opportunity to speak. I know that they have both followed the debate closely, but that is the way the cookie crumbles.

The latter point of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) was answered fully by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who made clear the attitude of the then Opposition in 1967. The hon. Members for Daventry and for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) criticised the Opposition for tabling the motion. They seemed to imply, as my hon. Friend the the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) made clear, that we had no right to table a motion criticising the Government. I reject that view because I resent it. The Opposition have every right to table such a motion. I would suggest to anyone——

Mr. Gill


Mr. Davies

I shall not give way because time is short and the hon. Gentleman has made his case. I must now make mine.

We tabled our motion, which was critical of the Government. No Opposition Member has said anything to impugn the integrity of the beef industry or cast any doubt on the wisdom of eating beef. If that is construed as an attack on the beef industry, I am sorry. But our motion specifically attacks the Government's handling of the present problem of BSE, which is the issue that I want to address.

The hon. Member for Ludlow asked why we should debate this matter this evening. I received a parliamentary answer today stating that, during the past four weeks, 1,148 cases of BSE have been confirmed. Every county in England and Wales during the past four weeks has had confirmed cases of BSE. That alone is a good reason to debate the issue this evening. If the hon. Gentleman had looked at the press last week he would have seen that there is major public concern. It is right that if every newspaper in the country draws attention to what is clearly a major problem and local authorities throughout the land—Conservative, Labour, Liberal and hung—decide that there is sufficient concern——

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Davies

I shall not give way to the hon. Lady. She has been in and out all evening, and if she cannot listen to the debate, I am sorry.

Authorities across the political spectrum have decided, rightly or wrongly, that they want to ban beef in their schools. That is a matter of concern to me and, I know, to my hon. Friends, and that is why we tabled the motion.

I do not know what was the experience of the hon. Members for Daventry and for Ludlow during the weekend, but I know that they both have close interests with the farming industry and are both, I believe, former members of the National Farmers Union. I talked to several farmers in my constituency at the weekend. They all recognised that the major problem they currently face—admittedly, they were involved in dairy and stock rearing—is BSE. They want action and are not satisfied with the description that we have so far received from the Minister. The widespread opinion outside the House is a good reason why we should debate this matter and examine the Government's record.

Let us look at the case that the Minister made out when opening the debate. His case hinged on the idea that the Government are committed to acting on—and only on—that which has been scientifically proven. I happen to think that that is a faulty approach. Of course, the Government must listen and accept scientific evidence and advice, but their responsbility is to interpret that advice and then to apply it in practice at the political level, just as they did in the case of green top milk. The Government must understand that the public will make their own assessment of the risks involved with BSE, and if the public perception is that the safeguards implemented by the Government are insufficient they will take their own action—as they have.

The Government cannot determine policy in a vacuum. The likely public reaction to their initiatives, such as they are, must inform Government policy. A wilful disregard of the developing public mood in relation to food safety, in concert with the ritualistic recital of the words "scientific evidence", is bound to inflame, rather than calm, public concern hence the report in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday that six out of 10 people questioned now believe that the Government are withholding information on BSE.

The Government's reference to scientific evidence is itself disingenuous. Lack of hard scientific evidence that BSE poses a threat is not the same as saying that we have scientific evidence that it is not a threat. It may be instructive for those who listen to the words of scientists and advisers to hear what is said in the article in The Independent of Thursday 17 May: A recent editorial in the British Medical Journal concluded: 'Repeated claims that British beef is entirely safe to eat are very probably true; but such claims are scarcely scientific when the question has not been tested and is, perhaps, untestable.' The editorial was written by Professor Bryan Matthews, who is one of the country's leading experts on the human disease Creuzfeld-Jakob Disease, which shows some similarity to BSE. That is not a source to be dismissed lightly.

The Minister would have us believe that because we do not know that BSE affects humans, or that it is vertically transmitted, or that it is present in calves of less than six months of age, BSE cannot affect humans, cannot be vertically transmitted and cannot be present in calves of less than six months. That approach is dishonest.

In the absence of firm scientific proof, the Government must make an assessment of what could possibly happen. I am grateful that the Minister, when intervening in the speech of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), made the welcome statement that he was prepared to consider the worst scenario. That is the first time he has made that admission inpublic——

Mr. Gummer

indicated dissent

Mr. Davies

The Minister might have said it in private, but I welcome the fact that he has gone on public record with it this evening. Evidence of the action that he has taken to date shows that he has not adopted that line hitherto.

The Government must assess what could possibly happen and frame a reasonable political response. Their failure to do so in the past 10 years has been the principal cause of the current crisis in public confidence in our beef industry. For example, in the early 1960s it was a scientifically established fact that scrapie was transmissible, and it was known that that took place by ingestion. There was, however, no scientific proof that cattle could catch the bovine equivalent of scrapie. That position was exactly analogous to that which applies to humans now. The lack of scientific evidence did not prevent the feeding of scrapie-infected remains to cattle, causing the emergence of BSE.

It is because the public are worried that the lack of scientific evidence will not prevent the same thing happening to humans that we have this crisis on our hands. After all, why should the public accept Government assurances that all is well? Had the Government been asked in the early 1980s about the practice of feeding vegetarian cattle on sheep, no doubt they would have said that it was perfectly acceptable. It turned out not to be, but because of the lack of scientific evidence at the time they kept on allowing dead sheep to be fed to vegetarian cattle.

The Minister spoke recently about what is and what is not natural in terms of diet. I am not sure about the credibility of a man who invokes biblical authority one week and requires binding scientific proof the next. The Minister has said that if God had meant man to be a vegetarian he would have given him three stomachs like a cow. The theology is dubious and the biology is worse because a cow has four stomachs. Because the Minister did not have scientific evidence—not biblical guidance—that this was dangerous, he continued to allow what is, by his own standards, the very unnatural practice of feeding dead cows to vegetarian cattle.

It is little wonder that no one now takes the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food seriously. At every point of the developing saga the Ministry has been found wanting. The Ministry knew 20 years ago that scrapie was transmissible by ingestion to other species but it did nothing. It knew in 1985 that cattle were being stricken and it covered that up. It knew in 1987 about a scientific paper intended to refer to a scrapie-like disease in cattle and censored it. It must have suspected in 1987 that contaminated feed was the problem and it did nothing until August 1988. The Ministry must have realised early on the potential risk to humans. The Southwood committee confirmed it in February 1989, but the very offals which were the reservoir of infection were not banned until November 1989.

After 1988 when the disease was made notifiable the Ministry must have known that infected animals were being slaughtered for human consumption. On the Minister's own figures, 200 infected animals were plucked from slaughterhouses. If 200 were plucked out, how many went through? Farmers, veterinary surgeons and public health inspectors told the Government what was happening, but we had to wait until February this year when the Minister swapped the pulpit for the soap box. He went to the National Farmers Union conference and, to curry favour with the NFU and because he had precious little else to say, he increased the level of compensation by 200 per cent. He knows that he should have taken that measure at the outset because it would have stopped infected cattle entering the human food chain.

The Minister has shown similar scant regard for the health of workers in the industry. He still has not revised the practices for the handling of potentially infected bovine remains in slaughterhouses. The Government's action on health and safety guidelines and the monitori rig of the guidelines on the human equivalent, Creuzfeld-Jakob dementia, which came last month, three or four years after the Government knew about the start of the problem, were, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, too little too late.

The Minister may argue that that is wisdom with the benefit of hindsight. However, it represents the difference between what the Government have done and what Labour would do. The difference is between the minimum that the Government think they can get away with and that which we know is necessary to achieve and maintain minimum standards. The Minister has a steep hill to climb, and although I do not expect him to apologise for his past mistakes, we do expect him to take positive action to improve the outlook.

Why will not the Minister accept random sampling? The hon. Member for Daventry, who is an expert, and the hon. Member for Warrington, South, if he had spoken, would have joined us in calling for random sampling. The Minister has not given an answer to that and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will answer the question why does not the Minister require compulsory ante-mortem veterinary inspection of all bovines? He will be required to do that under EEC rules by January 1991 anyway. Why does he not bring it forward six months? If the Minister wants to restore public confidence in the beef industry, he should order that from tomorrow all cattle must be examined before slaughter. The Minister will not do that because he realises that there have been deficiencies in his policy for the past couple of years.

Why will not the Minister ban the use of specified offals in pet food and pig and poultry supplements? His explanation to date is that there is no example of scrapie having infected carnivorous animals. We are told that the Bible tells us that carnivores are naturally equipped to deal with scrapie. What about the cat that has scrapie? That is a carnivore. How can the Minister tell us that a cat can catch it but a pig or a chicken cannot. They are consuming what the Minister knows to be contaminated foodstuffs. If he wants to restore confidence in the British beef industry, he should now be taking such decisions.

Many hon. Members have spoken about monitoring the offspring of infected cattle. This crucial subject last week had the support of the president of the NFU and still has the continuing support of the Women's Farming Union. If BSE is the cattle equivalent of scrapie, all the characteristics in cattle will be the same as those in sheep with scrapie, and BSE will be vertically transmissible. The Minister must accept that there is a strong possibility that it is vertically transmissible.

Any Minister who knew of this matter when he knew of the problem of BSE two or three years ago would have said, as a matter of first policy, that if there is a possibility of BSE being vertically transmissible, although the Ministry would not go the whole way and slaughter every calf, it should at least start recording the movement of calves. Then, if it were so proved, the Ministry would know where the calves are and have the records to deal with the problem. As the Minister admitted to me on Friday last week, not only does he not know where they are; he does not know how many calves alive today were born from BSE-infected cattle. That is a shoddy record, and that is why we tabled the motion.

9.46 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr David Maclean)

This has been an interesting debate, not least because it has exposed those on the Opposition Benches who will seek to exploit public fear for political aims. The intemperate outburst that we heard at the end was a clear demonstration of that.

The debate has put the labour party on the spot. First, it has had to justify having the debate at all. No wonder so many Labour Back Benchers are questioning the judgment of the leader of the Labour party when he takes up one half of his precious Supply day for a debate on Ravenscraig and the other he devotes to this subject when the questions about it were fully answered last Thursday in the detailed statement on it by my right hon. Friend the Minister, numerous press releases and over 30 learned reports and publications, all in the public domain. The people of Scotland will not understand a Labour party that prefers to damage the Scotch beef industry rather than argue for jobs at Ravenscraig.

The Labour party must also justify, although it has not, its refusal to rely on the expert scientific advice of the Government's top independent scientific advisers. We have based our policy on that advice, and in its motion condemning the Government, it is condemning that advice. The Labour party has said that it knows better and would have done it differently, but on which scientific advice would it rely? It has produced not one shred of evidence or argument to show that there is better scientific advice that we have not used.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Has not Professor Lacey of Leeds grossly harmed the egg industry by an irresponsible campaign, and is he not now claiming to be an expert on this subject? Has Professor Lacey produced any in-depth scientific papers that have been subjected to the peer scrutiny that they so urgently require?

Mr. Maclean

I am not aware of any on this subject, but it is over a week since I called on Professor Lacey to say whether he has any evidence that he wishes to submit to our experts, or any advice on certain subjects about which he knows better. We have an open mind on this, and we keep all aspects of BSE policy under review. If anyone comes to us with any research, we will immediately pass it to Dr. Tyrrell and his experts for their advice. The Opposition rely on Dr. Lacey and the media, who, as I understand it, have done no research. We shall rely on Dr. Tyrrell and his experts, who have.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) dismissed the views of the chief medical officer. No doubt Sir Donald Acheson is now persona non grata among the Opposition because he committed the fatal mistake of saying: I therefore have no hesitation in saying that British beef can be eaten safely by everyone, both adults and children, including patients in hospital. That is why Opposition Members would not mention Sir Donald in tonight's debate.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen said that the incidence of the disease is higher than Southwood predicted, but failed to point out that the disease is following the path predicted by Southwood. The hon. Gentleman and others make the assumption that BSE has jumped species. That is the kind of scaremongering that my hon. Friends mean when they accuse the Opposition of scaremongering. According to the Opposition, if a form of encephalopathy is found in a cat, automatically it must be BSE. The hon. Member for Carmarthen called for the mass slaughter of cows, even though the expert evidence is against it. The hon. Gentleman dodged that point. The chief veterinary officer does not support the mass extermination of cows.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen also made the allegation that the temperature at which carcases are rendered has been lowered. I refer him to the Southwood report, which details in its final pages the various rendering processes that are available and reveals that the temperature for rendering has not been lowered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) was right to remind the Opposition that they should give any evidence they have to the Tyrrell committee. He was right also to accuse the Opposition of being irresponsible.

I welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), who agrees with our statement that the risk to humans is distant. I support his closing remark, that British beef is safe. He asked me about the labelling of feeding stuffs. As I said in the House last Thursday, the draft EEC directive on the labelling of feeding stuffs was agreed last January. The Government have not refused to introduce the regulations, but want to implement them in concert with our European partners. We are working on the detail of the regulations now. They will be a matter not for the Food Safety Bill but for the feeding stuffs regulations.

The hon. Member for Truro accepts the scientific advice generally, but asks us to ignore it in respect of pigs and poultry. The hon. Gentleman accepts advice to undertake research into one area, but rejects advice that other research should not be extended or begun.

Opposition Members make the assumption that cats have contracted BSE from pet food. I repeat: we have followed the best advice, but if further advice or information is available, I am sure that Dr. Tyrrell will bring it to our attention. I am glad that the hon. Member for Truro distanced himself from the mass slaughtering claims. We keep records of calves, and we will ensure that records of diseased animals will be kept for many years. We have acknowledged the possibility of maternal transmission, and do not work on the assumption that it will never occur. If it does, we have the safeguards in place to deal with it.

Heads are removed from animal carcases before the splitting of them for the extraction of head meat. Again, because we have an open mind, we will happily take any further advice that Tyrrell may give. It is right to keep an open mind when it comes to dealing with head splitting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) was also right to criticise the Opposition for creating newspaper headlines that, inadvertently or otherwise, cause food scares. The Opposition claim that they are not doing that deliberately, in which case I accuse them of a worse crime—that of total ignorance. My hon. Friend is right to insist that decisions are made on soundly based advice, which is our policy and that of our predecessors. A former Agriculture Minister urged to eliminate TB said, in the European context: We also wanted to ensure that the proposed Community action against swine fever was soundly based and that we should not have to introduce methods for eradicating bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis which were different from those we already use, other than for sound scientific reasons."—[Official Report, 11 May 1977; Vol. 931, col. 1502.] Who said that? They are the words of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) when he was an agriculture spokesman in the last Labour Government. All we are seeking is to ensure that our policy also is soundly based.

Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He will agree that we can assure the public that British beef can be eaten with confidence.

Mr. Maclean

I agree entirely. I can give that assurance. My right hon. Friend the Minister, the hon. Member for Truro and the chief medical officer have given that assurance.

The Government's policy is based on the best scientific advice available. Our safety precautions are like my famous belt and two pairs of braces. First, we destroy all the cows with BSE and do spot checks in markets and abattoirs. The ultimate precaution is that we cut out the brain, spinal cord and other specified offal from every cow in the slaugtherhouse to be ultra-safe. That is going further than the experts recommended. That is a belt-and-two-pairs-of-braces approach, and that is why we can say that British beef is safe.

The Opposition like to give the impression of an epidemic of unprecedented proportions ravaging through the land. Since the disease started, we have killed more than 13,000 cows in three years. When we were in the middle of the brucellosis eradication scheme and the TB eradication scheme, we were killing 30,000 and 50,000 animals each year. The extent of the disease should be kept in proportion.

The Opposition say, "Too little, too late." That is their usual line. If they continue to maintain it, they must explain why they would fly in the face of the expert advice of Professor Southwood and his committee and Dr. Tyrrell and his committee. I notice that they have precious little to say about the pronouncement by the chief medical officer that British beef is safe. They will not talk about it, because the CMO has shot their fox. They are not sure whether to imply that beef is not safe in the hope that it will gain them votes, or to say that we should do more to stop the panic that they stirred up in the first place in the hope that that will gain them votes.

The Opposition have been tabling questions trying to create a scare about pigs with bad legs in Yorkshire. They claim that we were secretive. The reason why they knew about the pigs was that they obtained the information from the press, which in turn obtained it from us. The press showed interest days before they started tabling questions. Giving information to the press is a mighty funny way to keep a secret.

Here are 27 reports, listed by the Southwood committee, on BSE; here is the Tyrrell report; and here are the countless press releases and statistics on BSE that we have issued. Hansard records the hundreds of written answers that I have given.

The present scare took off not because of any new BSE risk or because health was in jeopardy but because we published information on a cat with encephalopathy. We have nothing to hide and the public have nothing to fear, but they must reach their own judgment on the evidence.

Everything that should have been done has been done. Everything that can be done is being done. If we find that something should be done, it will be done, as throughout this saga, on the basis of the best scientific advice available. We will not take action based on emotion, political expediency or guesswork. This disease is too important to be treated in such a silly way as the Labour party would have us do. Its behaviour throughout, as it has tried to stir up one food scare after another, and its misjudgment in having the debate today show that it is not fit for government, and its refusal to back the judgment of Professor Southwood, Dr. Tyrrell and their independent experts exposes the shallowness of its thoughts. Worst of all, by ignoring the words of Sir Donald Acheson, the chief medical officer, who said I therefore have no hesitation in saying that beef can be eaten safely by everyone", the Labour party has condemned itself as a party of cynical opportunists, twisting and turning with every move of the opinion polls. How many votes does the Labour party expect to get out of this sordid little episode?

The Government, on the other hand, have taken the honourable position throughout to safeguard public health. Despite the clear evidence of top independent experts that the risk to humans is remote, and despite the historical evidence of the past 250 years of no danger to humans from scrapie in sheep, the Government have not taken any chances. That is why I urge the House to vote against the Opposition's motion and to back the Government.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 160, Noes 316.

Division No. 218] [10.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Bidwell, Sydney
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Blair, Tony
Allen, Graham Boateng, Paul
Alton, David Bradley, Keith
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Armstrong, Hilary Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Ashton, Joe Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Buchan, Norman
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Buckley, George J.
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Caborn, Richard
Barron, Kevin Callaghan, Jim
Beckett, Margaret Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Bell, Stuart Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Canavan, Dennis
Bermingham, Gerald Cartwright, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McAllion, John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) McAvoy, Thomas
Clay, Bob Macdonald, Calum A.
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McFall, John
Cohen, Harry McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Coleman, Donald McLeish, Henry
Corbett, Robin McWilliam, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Madden, Max
Cousins, Jim Mahon, Mrs Alice
Cox, Tom Marek, Dr John
Crowther, Stan Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Cryer, Bob Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Cunningham, Dr John Martlew, Eric
Dalyell, Tam Maxton, John
Darling, Alistair Meacher, Michael
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Meale, Alan
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Michael, Alun
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Dewar, Donald Morgan, Rhodri
Dixon, Don Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Dobson, Frank Mowlam, Marjorie
Dunnachie, Jimmy Mullin, Chris
Eastham, Ken Murphy, Paul
Evans, John (St Helens N) Nellist, Dave
Faulds, Andrew Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Patchett, Terry
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Fisher, Mark Quin, Ms Joyce
Flannery, Martin Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Reid, Dr John
Foster, Derek Richardson, Jo
Foulkes, George Robinson, Geoffrey
Fraser, John Rogers, Allan
Fyfe, Maria Rooker, Jeff
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
George, Bruce Rowlands, Ted
Godman, Dr Norman A. Sedgemore, Brian
Gould, Bryan Sheerman, Barry
Graham, Thomas Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Short, Clare
Grocott, Bruce Skinner, Dennis
Hardy, Peter Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Harman, Ms Harriet Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Soley, Clive
Henderson, Doug Spearing, Nigel
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Steinberg, Gerry
Home Robertson, John Strang, Gavin
Hood, Jimmy Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Vaz, Keith
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Walley, Joan
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Illsley, Eric Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Ingram, Adam Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Janner, Greville Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Wilson, Brian
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Winnick, David
Lambie, David Worthington, Tony
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Wray, Jimmy
Lewis, Terry
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Tellers for the Ayes:
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Mr. Frank Haynes and Mrs. Llin Golding.
Loyden, Eddie
Adley, Robert Aspinwall, Jack
Aitken, Jonathan Atkins, Robert
Alexander, Richard Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Baldry, Tony
Amess, David Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Amos, Alan Batiste, Spencer
Arbuthnot, James Beaumont-Dark, Anthony
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Beith, A. J.
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Bendall, Vivian
Ashby, David Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bevan, David Gilroy Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Biffen, Rt Hon John Goodhart, Sir Philip
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Body, Sir Richard Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gorst, John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gow, Ian
Boswell, Tim Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gregory, Conal
Bowis, John Ground, Patrick
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Grylls, Michael
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hague, William
Brazier, Julian Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bright, Graham Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Browne, John (Winchester) Hanley, Jeremy
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hannam, John
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hargreaves, Ken(Hyndburn)
Buck, Sir Antony Harris, David
Budgen, Nicholas Haselhurst, Alan
Burns, Simon Hawkins, Christopher
Burt, Alistair Hayes, Jerry
Butcher, John Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Butler, Chris Hayward, Robert
Butterfill, John Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hill, James
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hind, Kenneth
Carrington, Matthew Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Carttiss, Michael Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cash, William Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Chapman, Sydney Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Chope, Christopher Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Churchill, Mr Howells, Geraint
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Colvin, Michael Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Conway, Derek Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Irvine, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Irving, Sir Charles
Cormack, Patrick Jack, Michael
Couchman, James Janman, Tim
Cran, James Jessel, Toby
Critchley, Julian Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Day, Stephen Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Devlin, Tim Key, Robert
Dickens, Geoffrey Kilfedder, James
Dicks, Terry King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dorrell, Stephen Kirkhope, Timothy
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kirkwood, Archy
Dover, Den Knapman, Roger
Dunn, Bob Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Eggar, Tim Knowles, Michael
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Knox, David
Evennett, David Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lang, Ian
Fallon, Michael Latham, Michael
Favell, Tony Lawrence, Ivan
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lee, John (Pendle)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fishburn, John Dudley Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fookes, Dame Janet Lightbown, David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lilley, Peter
Forth, Eric Livsey, Richard
Fox, Sir Marcus Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Franks, Cecil Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Freeman, Roger Lord, Michael
French, Douglas Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Fry, Peter McCrindle, Robert
Gale, Roger Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Gardiner, George MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Garel-Jones, Tristan MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gill, Christopher Maclean, David
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McLoughlin, Patrick
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Sims, Roger
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Madel, David Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Major, Rt Hon John Soames, Hon Nicholas
Malins, Humfrey Speed, Keith
Mans, Keith Speller, Tony
Maples, John Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Marlow, Tony Squire, Robin
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stanbrook, Ivor
Mates, Michael Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Maude, Hon Francis Steen, Anthony
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stern, Michael
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stevens, Lewis
Mellor, David Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Miller, Sir Hal Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Mills, Iain Stokes, Sir John
Miscampbell, Norman Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Sumberg, David
Mitchell, Sir David Summerson, Hugo
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Tapsell, Sir Peter
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Morrison, Sir Charles Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Moynihan, Hon Colin Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Nelson, Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Neubert, Michael Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Nicholls, Patrick Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Thorne, Neil
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Thurnham, Peter
Norris, Steve Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Tracey, Richard
Oppenheim, Phillip Tredinnick, David
Page, Richard Trippier, David
Paice, James Trotter, Neville
Patnick, Irvine Twinn, Dr Ian
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Viggers, Peter
Pawsey, James Waddington, Rt Hon David
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Porter, David (Waveney) Walden, George
Portillo, Michael Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Price, Sir David Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Raffan, Keith Wallace, James
Rathbone, Tim Waller, Gary
Redwood, John Ward, John
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Rhodes James, Robert Watts, John
Riddick, Graham Wells, Bowen
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Wheeler, Sir John
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Whitney, Ray
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Widdecombe, Ann
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Wiggin, Jerry
Roe, Mrs Marion Wilkinson, John
Rowe, Andrew Wilshire, David
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Winterton, Mrs Ann
Ryder, Richard Winterton, Nicholas
Sackville, Hon Tom Wolfson, Mark
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Wood, Timothy
Sayeed, Jonathan Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Yeo, Tim
Shaw, David (Dover) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shelton, Sir William Tellers for the Noes:
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Mr. Alastair Goodlad and Mr. Tony Durant.
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Shersby, Michael

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 272, Noes 92.

Division No. 219] [10.14 pm
Adley, Robert Franks, Cecil
Alexander, Richard Freeman, Roger
Alison, Rt Hon Michael French, Douglas
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Gale, Roger
Amess, David Gardiner, George
Amos, Alan Gill, Christopher
Arbuthnot, James Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Goodlad, Alastair
Ashby, David Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Aspinwall, Jack Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Atkins, Robert Gorst, John
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Gow, Ian
Baldry, Tony Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Batiste, Spencer Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Beggs, Roy Gregory, Conal
Bendall, Vivian Ground, Patrick
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bevan, David Gilroy Hague, William
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Body, Sir Richard Hanley, Jeremy
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hannam, John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Boswell, Tim Harris, David
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Haselhurst, Alan
Bowis, John Hawkins, Christopher
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Hayes, Jerry
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hayward, Robert
Brazier, Julian Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Bright, Graham Hill, James
Browne, John (Winchester) Hind, Kenneth
Buck, Sir Antony Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Burns, Simon Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Burt, Alistair Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Butcher, John Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Butler, Chris Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Butterfill, John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Howells, Geraint
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Carrington, Matthew Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Carttiss, Michael Irvine, Michael
Cash, William Irving, Sir Charles
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Jack, Michael
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Janman, Tim
Chapman, Sydney Jessel, Toby
Chope, Christopher Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Churchill, Mr Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Conway, Derek Key, Robert
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Kilfedder, James
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Cormack, Patrick Kirkhope, Timothy
Couchman, James Knapman, Roger
Cran, James Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Knowles, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Knox, David
Day, Stephen Lang, Ian
Devlin, Tim Latham, Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Lawrence, Ivan
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lee, John (Pendle)
Dunn, Bob Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Eggar, Tim Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Evennett, David Lightbown, David
Fallon, Michael Livsey, Richard
Favell, Tony Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lord, Michael
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Fishburn, John Dudley MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fookes, Dame Janet MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Maclean, David
Forth, Eric McLoughlin, Patrick
Fox, Sir Marcus McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Soames, Hon Nicholas
Major, Rt Hon John Speller, Tony
Malins, Humfrey Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Mans, Keith Squire, Robin
Maples, John Stanbrook, Ivor
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mates, Michael Steen, Anthony
Maude, Hon Francis Stern, Michael
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stevens, Lewis
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mellor, David Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Miller, Sir Hal Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Mills, Iain Stokes, Sir John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Mitchell, Sir David Sumberg, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Summerson, Hugo
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Morrison, Sir Charles Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Moynihan, Hon Colin Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Nelson, Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Neubert, Michael Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Nicholls, Patrick Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Thorne, Neil
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Thurnham, Peter
Page, Richard Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Paice, James Tracey, Richard
Patnick, Irvine Tredinnick, David
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Trippier, David
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Trotter, Neville
Pawsey, James Twinn, Dr Ian
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Porter, David (Waveney) Viggers, Peter
Portillo, Michael Waddington, Rt Hon David
Price, Sir David Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Raffan, Keith Walden, George
Rathbone, Tim Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Redwood, John Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Waller, Gary
Rhodes James, Robert Ward, John
Riddick, Graham Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Watts, John
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Wells, Bowen
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Wheeler, Sir John
Roe, Mrs Marion Whitney, Ray
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Widdecombe, Ann
Rowe, Andrew Wiggin, Jerry
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Wilkinson, John
Ryder, Richard Wilshire, David
Sackville, Hon Tom Winterton, Mrs Ann
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Winterton, Nicholas
Sayeed, Jonathan Wolfson, Mark
Shaw, David (Dover) Wood, Timothy
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarf) Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Shelton, Sir William Yeo, Tim
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Shersby, Michael
Sims, Roger Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Mr. Tony Durant and Mr. Nicholas Baker.
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Abbott, Ms Diane Home Robertson, John
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Hood, Jimmy
Allen, Graham Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Alton, David Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Armstrong, Hilary Illsley, Eric
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Barron, Kevin Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Beckett, Margaret Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Benn, Rt Hon Tony McAvoy, Thomas
Bidwell, Sydney McFall, John
Blair, Tony McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Boateng, Paul McLeish, Henry
Bradley, Keith Madden, Max
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Marek, Dr John
Buchan, Norman Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Callaghan, Jim Martlew, Eric
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Maxton, John
Canavan, Dennis Meacher, Michael
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Meale, Alan
Cohen, Harry Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Corbyn, Jeremy Morgan, Rhodri
Cousins, Jim Mullin, Chris
Cox, Tom Murphy, Paul
Cryer, Bob Nellist, Dave
Cunliffe, Lawrence Patchett, Terry
Dalyell, Tam Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Quin, Ms Joyce
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Reid, Dr John
Dewar, Donald Rogers, Allan
Dixon, Don Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Sedgemore, Brian
Eastham, Ken Short, Clare
Evans, John (St Helens N) Skinner, Dennis
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Foster, Derek Soley, Clive
Foulkes, George Spearing, Nigel
Fraser, John Steinberg, Gerry
Fyfe, Maria Strang, Gavin
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Vaz, Keith
Godman, Dr Norman A. Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Golding, Mrs Llin Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Graham, Thomas Winnick, David
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce Tellers for the Noes:
Hardy, Peter Mr. Andrew Welsh and Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones.
Haynes, Frank

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House supports the Government's determination to eradicate bovine spongiform encephalopathy; and commends Her Majesty's Government for basing its policy and actions to secure the safety of food on the best scientific advice and for the prompt implementation of the recommendations of its independent expert committees as the best means of safeguarding public and animal health.