HC Deb 06 July 1992 vol 211 cc77-118
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

I must announce to the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.15 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

I beg to move, That this House regards Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy as currently one of the greatest threats facing British agriculture; notes with regret that Her Majesty's Government's estimate of the cumulative total of cows dying of BSE was 20,000 and that to date more than 60,000 cows have succumbed to the disease and these numbers are rising; calls upon Her Majesty's Government as a matter of precaution to establish a working party of outside experts to undertake a strategic review of the current position and Her Majesty's Government's response to it, and to extend the ban on specified bovine offal, including the brain, for human consumption to offal from cows under six months of age; and, in order to ensure that no cows dying of BSE are slipping into the food chain, demands Her Majesty's Government undertake random sampling of routinely slaughtered cows. We make no apology whatsoever for raising the important issue of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. As stated in the opening lines of the motion, we regard BSE as currently one of the greatest threats facing British agriculture". It is now more than two years since we had a full-scale debate on it in the House, so that it is time for us to reassess the situation. I fully appreciate the fact that the Government are not worried about BSE, and that is all the more reason why the House should show concern. The Government's complacency is clearly an error on a scale that is plain to see if we care to look.

It is worth emphasising the fact that the problem is almost peculiarly a British problem, and it is a British problem largely because of the actions of Conservative Governments. Tragically, the world recognises that it is a British disease, with the result that many countries still refuse to accept British meat or British cattle. Even our partners and neighbours in Europe discriminate against British beef in that no British beef containing bones from BSE-infected herds is allowed into any European Community country. Their officials still believe that a question mark hangs over BSE.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Does the hon. Gentleman think that he is doing anything to help the British cattle industry by continually highlighting the problem in Parliament?

Dr. Clark

It is two years since we had a full-scale debate on the topic. Has society reached such a state that we are not allowed to discuss a serious aspect of Government policy or to question that policy seriously and responsibly without being charged with scaremongering by Conservative Members who have other interests, as he has made plain to the House?

Mr. Gill


Dr. Clark

I must continue, or we shall not make much progress.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) somehow linked to the industry? If so, does not he think that he should have declared to the House what that link is before he made that intervention? Would he care to do so now?

Madam Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order for the Chair. If hon. Members have an interest, it is incumbent on them to declare it.

Mr. Gill

I am happy to declare my interest, which is stated in the Register of Members' Interests. If I may continue, does the hon. Gentleman—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the declaration, or otherwise, of an interest and not pursue the previous point which was the subject of an intervention.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Ludlow alluded to an interest. As our proceedings are televised and the public witness our debate, will he tell the House precisely what his interest is? It may be that the hon. Gentleman's decision to intervene was motivated by that specific interest. Will he tell the House what his interest is?

Madam Deputy Speaker

If the hon. Member catches my eye he will have to declare any interest, but there is no requirement to declare an interest during an intervention.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

With great respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have to differ with you when you say that there is no requirement, in an intervention, to declare an interest. There is such a requirement. The hon. Gentleman was not putting a question to a Minister; he was making a statement, which will be recorded in Hansard. Again I ask whether he is prepared to make a specific declaration of his interest in this debate so that hon. Members may be aware of it. Perhaps you should take advice from the Clerks, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker

When I need to take advice I shall do so, but not at the behest of the hon. Member. The position that I have taken will stand until such time as I discover otherwise.

Dr. Clark

As this is a very serious and important matter, I hope that we shall be able to get on with the debate.

This disease did not simply happen, nor was it an act of God; it happened because the Conservative Government were incompetent. With their obsession—their continuing obsession—with deregulation, they have brought about this terrible disease. It is a generally accepted scientific explanation that originally the disease was introduced by cows eating meal containing scrapie from sheep. But, as that is a common practice throughout the world, why did this happen in Britain? It happened in Britain because of the Government's attitude to the rendering industry. Before 1979 the then Labour Government was concerned about the standards in the rendering industry, and they published tighter draft regulations. Unfortunately, the incoming Conservative Government, following the Conservatives' usual practice of rewarding their friends, including those in the rendering industry, scrapped those regulations. The rendering industry did not hide this; it was quite honest. Indeed, 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. Referring to the different technology permitted by the weakened regulations, he said: This was partly as a result of changes in animal feed technique, but the basic motive was profit. I repeat: the basic motive was profit. It is because of that obsession with profit, at whatever cost, that we have this terrible disease in Britain.

Faced with that situation, the Government did not know what to do. As usual, procrastination, coupled with their policy of being "economical with the truth", was the order of the day. The Government were obsessed with secrecy. It was a question of too little, too late. The Government took 18 months to make BSE a notifiable disease, and two and a half years to announce a ban on cattle offal. And, having announced the ban, they took five months to bring it into effect. After the disease was made notifiable, they took 20 months to introduce 100 per cent compensation.

All this has taken place against the background of the Government's deliberate running down of the state veterinary service. Between 1979 and this year the number of veterinary officers employed by the service has declined by 42 per cent. No wonder the veterinary service is hard done by in its attempts to deal with the BSE problem, which has now affected almost one third of the dairy herds in the United Kingdom—31 per cent. of herds having had at least one case of BSE.

But that is all in the past. The Labour party is here to focus attention on the present and, indeed, the future. It is our sincere hope that the Government's policies on BSE are effective and that their timetable for the disappearance of the disease is correct. However, we should be failing in our duty as the official Opposition if we were not to raise the public anxieties, and if we were not to seek to explore the full truth with a view to ascertaining the current position.

Until recently most people in Britain believed that BSE had gone away. They have been shocked by the news not only that BSE has not disappeared but that the situation has actually worsened. It is a matter for regret that, in respect of these matters, the Government have not always been as open as they should have been. For example, on 13 March this year the Minister flatly refused to give me the number of BSE cases. However, while we may disagree about details, there is one simple matter upon which the House can agree, for it is a matter of fact and of record. I refer to the fact that the Government got their estimates and their predictions badly wrong.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


Hon. Members

Here comes a farmer!

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Yes, I am a farmer.

The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the forecasts were not correct—it was difficult to forecast—but he seems to be trying to suggest that the disease is still spreading. That is not the case. The number of animals that were fed on this substance is finite, and there have been no cases of spread of the disease to the next generation. The hon. Gentleman is deliberately trying to dissuade people from eating beef, which is perfectly safe to eat.

Dr. Clark

The hon. Lady attends most of our debates on agriculture.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

All of them.

Dr. Clark

She attends all of our debates on agriculture. I will deal with some of these points in the course of my speech. Serious points must be addressed.

In February 1989 the Southwood report, which was published and endorsed by the Government, estimated that, given the usual lifespan of the milk cow and the nature of our dairy herd, there was a cumulative total of about 17,000 to 20,000 cases from cows currently alive and subclinically infected. If the hon. Lady were correct—if there were no new cases among cows born after that date, which is not so— Southwood would be adhered to. The maximum would be 20,000 cases. There is no doubt—the hon. Lady has conceded the point—that the Government got their figures wrong just over three years ago.

But they went further and said that the number of cases would peak at about 350 to 400 a month. I emphasise that the period referred to was a month. I do not quibble with those figures—they were the best available at the time— but we are concerned about the fact that the Government's whole strategy is based on that estimate, and, as the House knows, they got the figures wrong. For example, from the Government's own figures we know that, far from the total number of cows dying from BSE being 20,000, it is now more than 60,000 and is increasing literally every day. Far from being 350 to 400 cases a month, the latest confirmed figure is 1,080 a week—not a month—or, extrapolated on a monthly basis, 10 times higher than the Government's predicted figure. Even if that figure is an aberration, the weekly average for the first six months of 1992 is 703—and it is better to take six months rather than a week.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)

The hon. Gentleman will surely allow that there is a distinction to be drawn between a weekly rate of confirmations and a weekly rate of reporting. Attributing confirmations to the week in which they were reported shows that the actual rate is significantly lower than 1,000 a week.

Dr. Clark

It is for that very reason that I said that we must examine the figures over a decent period. When hon. Members look at Hansard tomorrow, they will find that the sentence that I used immediately before the Minister intervened was to the effect that it is much better to look at the figures over six months than to take one week at random. I stand by that.

The Government have been changing the goalposts— changing the rules and taking one week with another. Surely the best way of measuring the rate of incidence of BSE is to take the number of confirmed cases: actual cases of actual cows confirmed as having actual BSE. That must be done over a period.

It is not very ingenious of the Minister to play around with the figures and to muddy the waters with other figures when confirmed cases, taken over a period, are the best way of judging the scale of the problem.

Even on averages for a year the figures have risen. Up to the end of April there were 631 cases a week. The Government talk of 400 a month. By the end of June, the figure had risen from 631 to 703. So it is clear for all to see that the Government got the scale of the problem wrong; the figures are between five and 10 times worse than they predicted. Far from a total of 20,000, as the Government estimated, in all likelihood 100,000 will have died.

One reason why the Government got the scale of the problem wrong was that they got the science wrong in some areas as well. I mentioned at the outset that the original assumption was that the virus or agent was introduced to cows by their eating scrapie—contaminated meat, scrapie being endemic in our sheep flock. It was on that thesis that the Government made their predictions and based their strategy.

Now it is widely suggested, even by Ministry vets, that the disease increased dramatically because parts of the cows already infected with BSE by scrapie were then fed to other cows—straightforward cannibalism. Thus, although the original route for the virus was scrapie, most of the increase was due to BSE—infected feed being given to cattle. In other words, cows were more susceptible to catching BSE from meal made from cows already infected by BSE.

If this theory is correct, the Minister clearly has some aspects of the science wrong, and that raises what may form part of a hidden agenda behind tonight's debate—the transfer of related brain diseases species. The surprise initially was that spongiform encephalopathy had jumped species from sheep to cows; not quite as surprising was the transmissibility within a species. Similarly, an article published in The Guardian today reveals the transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease between humans as a result of injections from the pituitary glands of dead people We are at the edge of the unknown, and that is why this debate is so important.

Before I move on I want to ask the Minister a question about the disposal of carcases. The Minister has already agreed under pressure from the Opposition that all carcases should be disposed of by incineration. He told me in a parliamentary answer on 22 May that the capacity for incineration is about 1,000 a week, although there has already been one week in which there were more than 1,000 confirmed cases. Having visited incineration plants and discussed this with the operators, I think that the Minister's figure may be on the high side.

Will the Minister confirm that certain BSE carcases are being stored in the back of refrigerated lorries while awaiting incineration; and what is the longest time such carcases are held in such a fashion? It is clearly sensible that for incineration they should be moved in refrigerated wagons, but it is not sensible to hold them in those wagons.

The Government's sole response so far to this public debate has been to say that the problem will soon start diminishing; it will go away. I sincerely hope that they are right, but I suggest that policies based on a hope and prayer are not necessarily the best policies. They may be the Government's only response, but they are not necessarily the best.

The Government argue, rather misleadingly, that the pattern and the figures are exactly as they predicted. In that they are not being truthful. Mr. Keith Meldrum, the chief veterinary officer, has been precise on this point, as we would expect from such an eminent scientist. On 2 September 1991 he told a London conference, according to MAFF press release number 292/91: the latest predictions point to a rapid decline in the number of confirmed BSE cases within the next year. That is explicit enough. More than 10 months ago he asserted that in less than two months from today there would begin to be a rapid decline in BSE cases. I hope that he is right, but the Labour party asks: why wait for two, four or six months? The potential scale of the problem is so serious that precautionary steps should be taken now.

One of the tenets of all scientific inquiry is that of the examination of one's thesis and experiments by other scientists in one's peer group. We challenge the Government to allow that in the case of BSE. We believe that the time is ripe for a peer group review of the strategic implications of the Government's approach to BSE. We do not question the ability or integrity of the scientists advising the Ministry, but we do suggest that they have been so deeply involved in the project for two years that outside experts might prove of some further assistance. The problem is so threatening that there is nothing to lose —so why is the Minister so reluctant to follow this precautionary approach? Even the Farmers Weekly supports the Labour party's position on this.

I suggest that the Minister invite the Royal Society to undertake this strategic reassessment of the Government's role. As the Minister knows, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who sponsors science in the Cabinet, has shown his general support for giving the Royal Society this type of role. Indeed, he did so as recently as 11 June, as reported in column 493, during a debate on science and technology, in response to a suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), who has pursued this suggestion for some time, arguing that BSE would be an ideal topic for this type of review.

If the Minister is prepared to follow this line, he will have the wholehearted support of the Labour party and of most people outside. We believe it unwise to waste a further six months in the hope that the Government's policies will work. Too much is at risk for that.

Our second positive suggestion is that proscribed offal, including brains from cows, should be extended to that from calves under six months old. We think it ludicrous that the brains of calves can still be legally used in meat products such as mock turtle soup and meat pies. Of course we understand that it is unlikely that the BSE infection will have manifested itself in a calf, but the agent or virus may be present even in nascent form, and we cannot predict how it will react in different host species. We plead with the Government to take some action and to follow a precautionary line.

Finally, it really is time the Government acted on the suggestion of their own Tyrrell committee advisers and introduced random sampling of routinely slaughtered animals. We see no reason why Ministry scientists could not visit slaughterhouses and select routinely slaughtered cows' heads for examination. That too would be a precautionary measure, and, assuming no cows were found positive, it would provide the ultimate reassurance for the public. If infected cows were found to have slipped through into the animal food chain, other action might be necessary.

The public have a right to know, and if the Government are so sure of their ground I challenge them to take up the gauntlet and to introduce random sampling. When we put it to the Government originally, they said that they felt that they did not have the necessary scientific techniques to undertake that work. However, that problem has now been overcome. The Minister wrote to me on 18 April 1991 rejecting a move to support Dr. Narang in Newcastle because he was working on a simple post-mortem diagnostic test. The Minister said that that was unnecessary for Quite simply, an effective post mortem test for BSE already exists. The Government now have the techniques and there is no

reason why they should not act. They have the scientific evidence, but do they have the will? What are they afraid of'? If the Government are so confident, why not go ahead and undertake random testing?

I hope that I have made it clear that we earnestly and sincerely wish the Government well and hope that their policies are successful. However, the essence of our case is that they have got the scale of the problem wrong by a factor of between five and 10. We are urging a precautionary approach by suggesting another look to see whether we have got the science right.

7.40 pm
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'endorses Her Majesty's Government's vigorous and comprehensive action in response to the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy to bring the outbreak under control:. When discussing BSE it is important to start at the beginning and to consider the various steps that have been taken. It is my thesis that we have taken every measure that was recommended and that we have done that promptly and effectively. We have the disease under control and we will see the disease disappear. However, it is necessary to trace its cause to know why we took the actions that we did and why we took them at particular times.

BSE was first diagnosed at Weybridge in 1986. It had no known cause and the agent looked like scrapie. In order to define diagnostic criteria and to study the natural history of the disease, it was necessary to have a sample of around 200 cases. In the event, a study was carried out on the basis of 189 cases. That study showed that we had a genuinely new disease; that the first case probably dated back to 1985; that it was not imported and that all the animals had been infected from a single source. There was no evidence of transmission between animals or of maternal transmission.

The early outbreaks showed that we were not dealing with an infection. That is still the case because many herds had had only one case within the herd. They showed that the incidence was highest in the south of England and that it struck mainly, although not exclusively, at dairy herds. They showed that it hit mainly adult animals. There was no association with the sex of the animals, pregnancy, lactation, time of year or, within dairy breeds, the breed of the animal. The presence or absence of sheep on the farm was irrelevant. Those were the findings of the early studies.

Those findings led to the central hypothesis that has governed Government action: that BSE was a new disease; that it was caused by infected food; that the food was probably meat and bone meal, including the remains of sheep infected with scrapie; and that something had happened in 1981 or 1982 which permitted the infection to move across the species from sheep to cattle. We were subsequently able to identify that "something" as a change in rendering practice. In particular, most plants stopped using a process in which hydrocarbon solvent was used to remove extra fat from the processed material by applying wet heat at high temperatures. We believe that that application of wet heat was the effective destroyer of the agent. Significantly, the only two plants still using the technique are in Scotland and Scotland has had a very low incidence of BSE. Nothing which has happened since then has invalidated those conclusions. It is a remarkable tribute to the scientists concerned that, 60,000 animals later, the findings still hold good.

In April 1988, the Ministers of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food and for Health appointed Professor Sir Richard Southwood to inquire into the health implications of BSE. Before any recommendation from that committee was received, the first big control measure was put in place: the disease was made notifiable and a ban was introduced on the feeding of ruminant protein to ruminant animals. That measure was, is and will remain the keystone of the policy to combat BSE on all the evidence available to us.

Three weeks later, on the basis of an interim recommendation from the Southwood report that suspect animals should be taken out of the human food chain, and on a purely precautionary basis—the precautionary basis that has informed the whole of Government policy—we ordered the slaughter of suspect animals and their destruction.

The pattern of the Government's response was clear: to resort to the best scientific expertise available—and we could not get better than Professor Sir Richard Southwood; the acceptance of recommendations made on scientific grounds; the pursuit of a twin track policy to control the disease as an animal disease, and address, on an ultra-precautionary basis, any public health concerns; and, finally, the pursuit of epidemiological studies so that, if necessary, the Government would be informed and be able to adapt or change their controls.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

If, as we understand it, precautionary considerations are taken into account, why should a cow which has the disease and whose meat— according to what we hear—is uncontaminated be slaughtered, and a cow which is not showing any physical indications but which has the disease and which might be caught in the random sampling—to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) referred—not be slaughtered? What is the difference between the two? Is the difference simply the physical movement of the cow which shows that it has the problem? Why should one be slaughtered and not the other? Why should one be identified and not the other? I do not understand the distinction that the Minister has drawn.

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will reply to that in detail when he has had time to work out what the question means. I must confess that I have not managed to work out the nature of the hon. Gentleman's question. We undertook that a suspect animal would be slaughtered on a precautionary basis. That remains a sensible policy and it is one that we have always pursued.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

The Minister has said that the Government decided that the infected animals would be slaughtered, so why were the Government so slow at providing the appropriate incineration plants to dispose of the infected animals? Such facilities are still not yet in place.

Mr. Curry

That is not true. The incineration facilities are in place. Only two infected animals have not been incinerated this year and both of them were in the most extreme rural circumstances. Even if animals are not incinerated, they are buried 20 ft down. That is a safe means of disposal. However, all animals can now be incinerated except in the most exceptional circumstances that I have just described.

There are basically two important strands to policy. The first is the control of the disease in animals and the other is the prevention of any possible disease in humans on a precautionary basis. With regard to the disease in animals, the first important measure was the ban on feed. As I have said, that is still the fundamental measure to prevent recycling within the cattle chain. That alone will eliminate BSE on the evidence that we have.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Can the Minister confirm that there have been some cases of vertical transmission from cow to cow?

Mr. Curry

There has been only one case among the thousands of cases in which we have not been able to establish irrefutably that the animal was possibly exposed to contaminated feed. I will deal with that later.

The second important measure was the restrictions, on a precautionary basis, on pregnant cows about to calve again to prevent any possible spread to other animals, although, as I have said, there is no evidence that that can happen.

The third important measure was the ban on the feeding of specified bovine offals—brains, spinal cords, thymus, tonsils, spleen and intestine—and all proteins defined from them, to any animal species. That measure was taken in September 1990 following evidence that a pig could be infected after massive injections simultaneously into the brain, veins and abdomen of infected material. So of course it is possible to transmit the disease in laboratory conditions with the injection of enormous doses of heavily infected materials. We have not had any cases or been able to prove any cases of any transmission outside those conditions. That is a very important factor.

As for protecting human health, we have the slaughter and destruction of suspect animals and, of course now, as I have said, centralised incineration facilities, and, again on a precautionary basis, the prevention of the use of milk from suspect animals for human or animal consumption, except the feeding of the animal's own calf. Also, in June 1989, the Government announced and, later that year after the statutory consultation, implemented, the decision to ban the use of offals in human food—not a recommenda-tion of the Southwood report but something that the Government implemented, again in pursuit of their policy of precautionary action. That was done, of course, because it was based on identifying the tissues susceptible to the scrapie agent. The ban did not extend to calves under six months, because scrapie has never been found in sheep under 10 months, and young cattle will not have been fed the infected agent. That remains the policy.

There are, of course, two possibilities for spread which have to be and are being investigated, as I have said. One is maternal transmission. As I said to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), there is one case out of 60,000 where there is a possibility—an animal born in October 1988 which went down two years later. Even then, we cannot establish that it was not exposed to contaminated feed because we do not have all the information about conditions when it was a young animal. Even if there were maternal transmission, it would still not sustain the epidemic because to do so would require one new case for every existing case. On average, fewer than one of the calves born to dairy cows survive to enter the dairy herd. So there is no evidence of maternal transmission or of horizontal transmission. Forty six per cent. of herds which have had a case have had a single case, and in 80 per cent. of herds there has been no case at all.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am sorry to come back to this point, but I want to press the Minister to satisfy myself. Could a cow with BSE which is not showing the physical symptoms of BSE and which is not wobbling or whatever such cows do, enter an abattoir without any one knowing, be slaughtered and be subject to all the restrictions, constraints and controls and the meat of that cow enter the food chain? I am not suggesting that the meat will be contaminated, but simply asking whether that cow can be slaughtered and its meat get into the food chain when physical symptoms are not apparent but when it might have BSE.

Mr. Curry

Where there are no physical symptoms. the cow is a healthy cow. If it is a healthy cow, it is slaughtered —[Interruption.] Opposition Members cannot expect us to detect BSE by psychology. Where an animal has shown no symptoms—

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Curry

Let me finish my point. Where an animal shows no symptoms of BSE, it is deemed to be a healthy animal. Because we take the ultra-precautionary approach even to healthy animals, all those tissues and elements of an animal in which the scrapie agent might he found are removed. The agent has been found only in the brain, so we are doubly precautionary in our approach.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is a very important matter. Some might argue that, despite the fact that the animal does not show physical symptoms, it might have BSE in its early stages. Is the Minister actually saying that that animal can be slaughtered and that the meat, without restriction, can go into the food chain? I am not suggesting that the meat has BSE. Will the Minister confirm that, as that appears to be what he is saying?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that no beef should be eaten. That is the only conclusion to what he is saying. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that if an animal has no symptom, presumably it should not go to an abattoir, should not be slaughtered and the meat should not be eaten. That is the only conclusion to be drawn from what he has said. That policy would merely prevent anybody from consuming beef. I cannot see that that addresses the problem in any sense. It is important that, on the precautionary principle, those tissues of an animal which might harbour the agent, on the basis of the analogy with scrapie, are removed from all animals, and they are removed from all animals because we take such a cautious approach.

The Southwood report was published in February 1989 and it said that the chances of transmission to humans were remote. Since then, the Food Safety Advisory Centre has published a leaflet about BSE, and Professor Southwood has written a foreword to it, in which he states: here has naturally been much anxiety as to whether the disease could pass from cattle to humans. Even prior to the implementation of the current measures this risk was remote. With the present precautions, as explained in the following pages"— he goes on to refer to them— we have more reason to be concerned about being struck by lightning than catching BSE from eating beef and other products from cattle". That has been stated quite categorically by Professor Sir Richard Southwood, and I know of no reputable figure in the industry who would dispute those conclusions. Professor Southwood recommended that we set up a committee to examine research needs, and of course that is what led to the committee under the chairmanship of Dr. David Tyrrell, and that committee still exists in order to monitor and recommend on our research activity.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Knowing some of Sir Richard Southwood's colleagues and his distinguished department, may I ask what precisely is the remit that he now has? Does he have a continuing remit to monitor the situation? What precisely is his locus in the matter?

Mr. Curry

The continuing remit is with the committee that was set up by Dr. David Tyrrell, which monitors research activity and makes recommendations in relation to research into BSE. That report came out recently. He is also able to make continuing recommendations in this matter. We maintain contact with the scientific opinion which we called into being.

It has been suggested that we should opt for random testing for BSE in routinely slaughtered cattle. We already inspect a high proportion of cows at slaughterhouses for clinical signs of the disease. I do not think that it is worth while to keep pressing for something which the first Tyrrell committee saw as a very low priority. That has been confirmed by the current Tyrrell committee. It would not add to our comprehensive public health precautions or to our animal health measures. The offals ban already removes from the food chain the relevant tissues from any pre-clinically infected animals, and all that random testing would do is to direct resources in terms of expertise away from the more important work.

But what about the numbers? That is the nub of the case made by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). Professor Southwood made very heavily qualified forecasts. He said—it is stated quite clearly in his report —that his forecast assumed that the only cause of the infection was sheep-to-cattle transmission via bonemeal. In his calculations, he discounted, and said that he was discounting quite clearly, the recycling of material from infected cattle to cattle via meat and bonemeal. That has proved to be a significant factor. It is the main driving force of the epidemic and it accounts for the higher than anticipated numbers, particularly as meat and bonemeal rations were used in calf feeding.

It is important to remember the pattern of diagnosis. We need to know the date of infection. We do not know the date of infection; it is impossible to know the actual date of infection, but one needs an approximate time. Of course, the incidence has been most frequent in animals of a mean four to five years, and the minimum age at which any animal has gone down is just under two years. We need to know the date of the first symptoms, the date of notification, the date of slaughter and the date of confirmation. They are, of course, different dates because the rate of confirmation and the rate of incidence of the disease are not the same.

In 99.99 per cent. of cases, the animals were born before the feed ban and had the opportunity to eat the infected feed. We cannot prove that they did, of course, but we can prove that the feed was available for consumption. That is the important link. However, the key lies in cases born since the ban. There have been 101 of them and only two came from mothers with BSE. Eighty-nine out of those 101 were found in the course of investigation to have been born before the end of October 1988, within three months of the ban. We know that contaminated feed was still hanging around on farms at that time.

We are now seeing the results of what happened in 1987–88. The disease has an average incubation period approaching five years. In the early weeks of 1992 we averaged more than 900 suspected cases a week. In the past four weeks the average has been fewer than 700. We expect an increase in late summer and autumn, consistent with the pattern in previous years. But the increase will be much smaller than if the feed ban had not been introduced. In the youngest age group—two to three years—the number of cases is significantly smaller than it would have been if the epidemic had followed its earlier pattern. This year will see the peak, as we get over the 1988 hump, and then we shall be on the downward path.

We got it right from the start. We are still right in our actions. There is no hidden research. There are no secret findings. There is no hidden horror. There is no secret agenda. Our actions are based on expert advice implemented openly and a precautionary approach which is extreme in its carefulness. The policies are in place to control and eliminate the disease. There is no threat to human health. Our beef is safe.

We have acted promptly, wisely and openly. We have nothing to conceal and everything to be proud of. From the farmer to the processor to the supermarkets, we have an alliance for honesty, openness and effective action in this tragic business. We shall sustain that policy. It has been endorsed by the Select Committee and by national and international experts. We have nothing to learn from the Opposition in this valedictory debate introduced by the hon. Member for South Shields. I invite the House to endorse our policies.

8.1 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

It is important that we set the problem of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the context of the economic problems that face many livestock farmers.

I had the pleasure of attending the royal show today before coming back to the House for the debate. A Cornish farmer handed me an interesting equation on the back of a traditional envelope. It said that if in 1970 a livestock farmer had had £1,000 he could have bought six cows or one tractor; or he might have had the opportunity to invest it, perhaps more wisely, on the stock exchange or in another form of investment. Capital appreciation might have brought the total to £10,000.

Of course, today that £10,000 would be far less effective. If the farmer had stayed in agriculture during that period, he would need to sell 12 cows to make £10,000 but could buy only half a tractor. It is extremely important that we consider the problem of BSE in the context of the livestock industry as a whole.

As the Minister said, most of the traces of the extraordinary and sad tale of BSE can and have been detected. It cannot be a coincidence that major changes took place in the rendering plants in the late 1970s. The processing of meat and bonemeal for animal feeds changed dramatically. Instead of processing batches of carcase material at high temperature and removing the fat with solvents, many plants—indeed all except, as the Minister said, those in Scotland—went over to continuous processing at lower temperatures. The high temperatures to which the product was previously subjected to remove the solvents were also abandoned. That final heating surely must have been the reason why the disease did not occur previously. Certainly, William Reilly, the chair of the British Veterinary Association's committee, believes that that is what killed the scrapie virus.

The long incubation period is another problem that has made BSE difficult to deal with. It can be anything from two and a half years to eight years. The massively variable lead time makes it extremely difficult to deal with the disease, as the Minister acknowledged.

Some would say that the most effective way of dealing with the problem at the outset would have been simply to reverse the trend and go back to the previous systems of rendering. If the rendering processes had still achieved high temperatures, it might have killed off the virus.

We must take it into account that the disease has a limited impact on small parts of the carcase—the brains and spinal cord. It is absolutely clear from all the evidence that those are the parts which are affected, whether in pigs, marmoset monkeys or whatever. One of the most important immediate remedial actions that should have been taken when the disease first appeared was to ensure that all those parts were removed completely from the food chain until the disease disappeared. If that had happened, the knackers' :yards, which are currently going out of business at a fast rate, could have retained their position in local rural economies. The side effects on the knackers' yards are serious, as all of us who come from agricultural areas know. The fate of fallen stock is now a great conundrum. The answers to questions that we have put to Ministers have shown that the full pattern of the fate of fallen stock is not known.

Is there a public health risk—a human health risk? The major risk may be from the unknown consequences of the ending of the knackers' service and the effect on the fate of fallen stock. Even though scrapie has been around for about 200 years, it seems that there is no apparent link with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. There is certainly no evidence to suggest that people who work closely with sheep or in areas with a high incidence of scrapie are more likely to get the human version of the disease.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that in the 200 years that scrapie has existed—scrapie is a similar pathogen to BSE—a link has never been proven with the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease?

Mr. Tyler

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He underlines my point. So far as I am aware, there is no proven case. If there was a connection, one would have thought that the great searchlight of interest in the issue since BSE was discovered would have uncovered it.

It is also important to recognise that the period immediately after the changes in the rendering process was one of enormous expansion in the sheep flock, particularly in the west and south-west of the British Isles. During the 1970s and early 1980s the sheep flock increased from 13 million to more than 17 million. So the simple pro rata increase was bound to have its effect. The fact that it coincided with the changes in rendering methods cannot be seen as pure coincidence. It must have had some causal effect.

There are legitimate fears about the relationship between confirmed and reported cases of BSE, I noted the exchanges between Members on the two Front Benches. I hope that the Minister will refer again to that when he replies. There is naturally some anxiety that if all the attention is placed on confirmed cases it will not necessarily be the best test of what is happening to BSE.

We must all have noted the point made by the Minister about the number of cases which have been proved to be or could have been the result of maternal or vertical transmission. The possibility seems infinitesimally small. We can rule that out unless other evidence comes to light. But, of course, we must still be worried about the overall growth of the disease. I calculate that in 1987, before the disease became a major problem, we had eight confirmed cases a week. As we heard earlier, in 1992 we have 703 confirmed cases a week. Within that figure there are regional variations. For example, the south-west has a particularly large number of cases. But, of course, it is not the snapshot but the trend that is important. I understand that at the moment there are no figures for regional trends. However, we need to know what is happening region by region.

We can also justifiably ask the Minister to be specific about when he expects reported cases to stop rising, when the confirmed cases are expected to drop and what the total number of cases are projected to be by the end of 1992 and 1993. As we heard earlier, previous forecasts have proved to be wrong. Furthermore, when do we expect BSE to be wiped out?

We may need more research on the tests. At the moment, there is no viable test on a live animal. It is possible that one does not need a test on a live animal. However, if we could establish one, it would be possible to ensure that infected animals were taken out much more quickly and BSE could be identified earlier. I am not sure whether the Tyrrell committee is studying the viability of tests on live animals, but if it is I hope that its report will be made available as quickly as possible.

We should be grateful to the Minister for the information that he has given the House, but is it in the public interest that the information has to be dragged out of the Ministry? Should it not be in the public domain already? As I said earlier, I spent some time today at the royal show and I took the opportunity to go to the Department of Health stand in the food hall to gather all the information that I could on food and health matters. The stand had excellent documents and a lot of information and, on my train journey back to London, I read every word of it. The initials BSE do not appear in any context. There is no reference to it. It has been left to some of the supermarkets to produce a short guide to the problem and to identify the information available.

So far, this has been a useful debate and when other hon. Members on both sides of the House and representing many areas have contributed, we shall be the wiser. What a pity it is that the detailed information that we have from Ministers this evening was not available this afternoon to the industry and to the general public. Scaremongering breeds in an atmosphere of confusion and complacency, and when there is only limited information.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that all the figures that he could want are freely and readily available in the public domain?

Mr. Tyler

With respect, we have had information this evening that could have been on the stand at the royal show today and the public, who are legitimately interested in this issue, and the industry, which wants to see the right information in the public domain, had every reason to expect it to be there. It was not there, and we have a right, as consumers and producers, and as representatives of the agriculture industry and the backbone of England, to expect our Ministers to be more forthcoming.

8.12 pm
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

I am alarmed and horrified that this debate is taking place. The object of the Opposition is to undermine the confidence of not only the farmers but the meat trade and the consumers. The idea that the visitors to the royal show should want to go away weighed down with masses of technical and scientific information about BSE is nonsense. This small but detailed study makes it clear that everyone believes that beef is in no way damaging to health and that it is safe to eat.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on his quick reaction to this problem when it first arose. He took professional and scientific advice and relied on experts to give him advice to point the way forward. That was thoroughly responsible, and I cannot understand why, as matters are unfolding along the lines that they were predicted to follow, the Labour party is calling for more information. Advice on how the disease came about has been given and it has been made clear that the disease takes four years to develop. It occurs only in older dairy cattle, rather than in those cattle that go for slaughter for beef.

Others have spoken about the experiments on vertical and horizontal transferability and on infection between species, which have been encouraging because of the lack of evidence that that takes place. The slaughtering and disposal methods have been closely examined and recommendations have been made. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the Select Committee on Agriculture examined the problem and with only one partially dissenting voice produced a unanimous report that was accepted by the Government.

Mr. Martlew

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marland

Here comes that one voice.

Mr. Martlew

I agreed with the Select Committee report, which said that the Government had dealt with the matter much better than they had dealt with the salmonella problem. Let us remember that we thought that the way that they dealt with salmonella resulted in a shambles.

Mr. Marland

It is good to see that there has been some improvement. I shall not forget that point. However, I started by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on taking action quickly. and said that that action was based on proper scientific advice. The Select Committee was responsible enough to examine the problem and the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) will remember that we went to look at an incinerator to see how the process was carried out. It is not good enough to use one case, about which there may have been a misunderstanding, to try to prove that a whole policy is wrong. That is a favourite trick of the Opposition.

Dr. David Clark

Will the hon. Gentleman inform the House of the "one case" to which I presumably referred?

Mr. Marland

The hon. Gentleman tried to undermine the case that has been made by the Government and the Government's actions. He implied that there was some evidence that the situation was not under control, but I disagree.

The Government have taken advice from the chief medical officer, who said that beef could be eaten without risk. The Tyrrell report concluded that all safeguards were in place to stop the spread of BSE. The EC experts—that must be worth something—have endorsed the Government's action and confirmed that there is no risk to public health in eating beef. The Food Safety Advisory Centre leaflet with a foreword by Sir Richard Southwood, which was probably available at the royal show today, confirmed that steps are being taken that will lead to the disappearance of the disease by the end of the decade. That should answer the question from the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) about when the disease would be bred out of the system.

We examine a problem thoroughly and get the best advice that there is in the land. Not for us the cranks and quirky advisers who have found favour among those on the Opposition Benches, who may be peddling this information for their own ends rather than for the good of the public. Those of us on the Select Committee remember full well who those individuals are.

Recent figures forecast that the incubation period was four years and that the numbers of cattle infected with BSE will decline by the end of the decade. It had been forecast that there would be an increase in the number of BSE-affected animals during 1992 and early 1993, but that the number would start to decline thereafter. BSE will grow out of the system, and everything is happening more or less as predicted.

Public confidence has recently returned to beef sales. This debate shows that the Labour party does not give a damn about the facts but wants only to cause trouble. The holier-than-thou attitude that the Opposition like to adopt on certain occasions is of little constructive help to anybody. I hope that the House, to a man, throws out the motion.

8.19 pm
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

I took part in the debate on BSE two years ago and I detect in the Government and in Conservative Members the same complacency as there was then.

We had predictions then of the incidence of BSE for the early 1990s. We were told that the ban on ruminant protein from animal feed would solve the problem. The Southwood report estimated that there would be about 20,000 cases. The fact is, however, that the numbers are far higher than anything envisaged in the report, as the numbers given by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) show.

I have with me the figures for the past five years. In 1987, there were 460 cases; in 1988, 3,038; in 1989, 7,614; and, in 1990, 14,332— the figure doubled in each of those years—

Mr. Gill

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that it is possible to forecast with any accuracy the number of animals likely to be affected by the disease?

Mr. Williams

That was clearly the impression that the Government gave in the debate two years ago.

Mr. Gill

But what does the hon. Gentleman think?

Mr. Williams

The forecast was based on the best possible assumptions in 1990. The figures given were 400 a month and a total of 20,000.

Mr. Gill


Mr. Williams

I will not give way again on this point. I want to develop my argument.

We should like an explanation why the incidence is five times as high as the Southwood report suggested. To complete my figures, I should add that last year there were 17,997 incidents. I must confess that last year when I heard reports of those figures I thought that perhaps we had reached a plateau, because the number had not increased by as much as in previous years. Unfortunately, in the first six months of this year we already have 18,000 cases. When the Minister replies, he must explain why the numbers are five times as high as the projection.

I am concerned about farms where there are multiple cases of BSE. I have an article here about a farm in Pluckley, Kent where 12 milking cows have contracted the disease since 1988. That is by no means uncommon. Apparently, about 100 farms have more than 10 incidents each of BSE. It would be instructive to carry out tests at some of those farms on the animals that have contracted the disease. Where there is such a cluster, all the cows should be slaughtered and examined for sub-clinical symptoms of BSE. A pilot study might provide useful information. In that context, the Select Committee called for routine random sampling of cattle at slaughterhouses.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

As the hon. Gentleman has clearly studied the Select Committee report, will he acknowledge that we considered slaughtering whole herds to find clinical symptoms and that scientific advice and all the evidence concluded unanimously that, even if that information could be gathered, it would be perfectly useless in trying to reduce the incidence of this disastrous disease? If the hon. Gentleman knows of any merits in such a test, perhaps he can explain more fully what they may be.

Mr. Williams

I seriously question that judgment. It raises the very same question that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) put three times to the Minister in his opening remarks. The diagnosis of BSE is very crude. It is done simply by physical appearance, not by a biological test of any kind. Many cows that are being slaughtered may have sub-clinical symptoms of BSE, but how can they be told apart? It is not black and white, as the Minister seemed to suggest—that either a cow has or it does not have the physical manifestations. It is a progressive disease. Thousands of our cows may be without the physical manifestations of BSE, yet within a week or a month they will develop those symptoms. We need to find out more about that by conducting random sampling.

On 13th February 1992, The Guardian published information on the incidence of BSE in young cattle. It is important that the Government keep a sharp eye on the number of cows of two or three years of age that contract the disease. The numbers given for 1989 were 28 cows of two years and 586 cows of three years and, for 1991, 46 cows of two years and 3,000 cows of three years. Bearing in mind that the offal ban was introduced in July 1988, no two-year-old cows should have contracted BSE in 1991 if the sole cause was ruminant beef in offal. Why, then, has the number of cattle infected by BSE increased from 11 per cent. of the total in 1989 to 17 per cent. in 1991?

Although the Government will not like these comments, I must quote what Dr. Helen Grant, a recently retired consultant neuropathologist at Charing Cross hospital, said when those figures were put to her: Quite a number of these animals are so young that they may have got the disease after the offal ban was put in place. If that is the case, there may be another route of transmission other than that of offal. I note that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) shakes his head. I sincerely hope that his judgment is right. I know that he knows much more about this than I do, but that article has caused me serious doubts. The Government must look into that matter carefully.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for South Shields about the need for a new inquiry by independent top scientists. Obviously, eminent scientists at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and on the Southwood and Tyrrell committees have been investigating the problem for several years, but the Royal Society has in its good offices the expertise and manpower to investigate the whole array of social and technical problems. I hope that the Government will take up my hon. Friend's suggestion of asking it for a peer group review on this subject.

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman should know that Dr. David Tyrrell, the chairman of the Tyrrell committee, is himself a fellow of the Royal Society.

Mr. Williams

There are 800 fellows of the Royal Society. I suggested a peer group review. We should let the Royal Society appoint half a dozen eminent scientists from various relevant specialisms to look independently at the work of the Tyrrell committee and what has been happening in the past two or three years. There is much to explain. We need to assess the success of the control methods so far and to review the evidence on transmission, especially where young cattle that should never have caught the disease are victims of it. We must revise our projections. Is the curve exponential and is there no plateau? A new inquiry needs to recommend what further action can be taken to control the spread of this awful disease.

8.30 pm
Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

The Select Committee on Agriculture concluded that beef was safe. That has always been the Government's belief and it is my strong belief. There is no way in which the consumption of beef can affect humans, but BSE clearly has an effect upon the brain of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and his condition is getting worse by the hour. I am worried about that because if the disease progresses to its natural conclusion, I shall lose my pairing and no amount of compensation would be adequate for such a disaster.

This is the day on which agriculture leaders gather for a biannual event and it is unfortunate that the Opposition have chosen to stage this debate today. If the hon. Member for South Shields attended the royal show, he would learn a great deal more about agriculture and possibly about BSE than he will learn from the debate. To choose today for the debate was quite unsympathetic and unfeeling.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman says that there is no risk from eating beef, and I desperately want to believe him. I keep asking myself one question: how is it transmitted from the gut to the brain, assuming that it is transmitted orally?

Mr. Wiggin

The hon. Gentleman would do well to study the voluminous evidence presented to the Select Committee. I note that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) has that evidence with him. The evidence shows how much the scientists know or do not know about the disease. The Committee's unanimous view was that beef was safe and I have no evidence to show that it is not. The debate has once again brought the issue into the public forum at a time when the bogey had been laid and the public reassured.

Sales of beef have increased and the industry desperately needs those sales. Snide and ill-informed comments without basis are damaging. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) should study the evidence and discuss it properly. I am simply repeating what great scientific brains have concluded. The hon. Gentleman should put his questions to a better source. The Committee, which consisted of Conservative and Opposition Members, listened to the evidence and unanimously concluded that beef is safe.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. Wiggin

No, I shall not give way again. There is no point in throwing queries from one side of the House to the other. As I say, when we considered the evidence, the Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman concluded that beef was safe.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

All the latest scientific evidence suggests that the pathogen is incubated in the spinal cord and brain tissue and not in muscle tissue. Therefore, it is quite safe to eat beef.

Mr. Wiggin

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am not a scientist. The evidence was presented to the Select Committee two years ago and I regret that we did not have an opportunity to debate the Committee report. Such is the fate of many of our reports but perhaps this is an opportunity to comment on one or two of the issues.

The hon. Member for South Shields said that the cause was Government parsimony. He was right to say that there was a change in the rendering process. There is circumstantial but no clear evidence that the older, more expensive and slower process of rendering meat may well have dealt with the BSE agent. As far as I know—this was certainly the case at the time of the inquiry—no one has identified the true and final nature of that agent. That is one of the intriguing mysteries of this scientific puzzle. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the cause was Government parsimony. The cause was scrapie which was endemic in our sheep flock for several hundred years. The transfer from sheep to cattle, from one species to another, via rendering meant that cattle contracted a disease which to all intents and purposes was exactly the same as scrapie. The hon. Member for South Shields shakes his head, but what I have said is correct.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) made a valid point about tests. If we had a foolproof test on the live animal to show the presence of encephalopathy in cattle or sheep, it might be possible to eliminate scrapie. We all agree that that would be well worth while because scrapie prevents the export of sheep to some countries and causes a continual loss of sheep.

There is no connection whatever between the increase or onset of BSE and a decline in the number of people in the state veterinary service, which is still too large. The service should consist of a small handful of expert veterinary surgeons to advise Whitehall. Almost all the work carried out by the service could be contracted out to the private sector. I have experience of the way in which the state veterinary service and the private sector operate. In the foot and mouth outbreak in Worcestershire in the 1970s, a great many herds had to be slaughtered and many veterinary surgeons were immediately required, but there was no way in which the state veterinary service could provide such manpower at short notice. Many private sector vets were brought in and an extremely competent operation was conducted.

Everyone agrees that Sir Richard Southwood was a powerful and convincing witness before the Select Committee. His immense grasp of the intricacies of this difficult problem impressed every member of the Committee. We considered the evidence of many experts, but without difficulty we attached prime importance to what Sir Richard said.

I shall not trouble the House with all the Select Committee's recommendations, but it is appropriate to consider one or two because there was no debate on our report, although it was generally well accepted. We had our differences in Committee, but the report was unanimous. Perhaps we should now question our judgment on one or two of our weaker mutual recommendations—however, the report was prepared two years ago. We started by discussing the level of scientific knowledge on the subject. We said: We believe these measures should reassure people that eating beef is safe". That was the clear, definitive and fully agreed statement, and nothing that has happened since has led me to believe any differently.

The hon. Member for Carlisle represented the Opposition in Committee, and did so extremely well in that he spent much of his time opposing. We listened carefully to what he said and sometimes adopted his suggestions. He rightly said that we had commented on the fact that there had been a substantial improvement on the Government's handling of the salmonella crisis.

We were deeply concerned that, when the salmonella crisis broke, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was not able to convince the public or put forward a view without seeming to suggest that the Government were hand in glove with the producers and less interested in the consumers. That point was well taken by the Government, and our purpose in the phrase contained in the report was to show that the Government's handling of the BSE crisis—it was a serious crisis; we have no illusions about that—was considerably better. I do not think that there is any easy way for a Government Department to handle such a problem, but I believe that in this case it did so in a way that we were unable to fault.

However, the all-party recommendations of the Select Committee calmed down the general level of public concern. It took the issue out of the arena of sensation. I am deeply sorry that there are still some hon. Members who would seek to put it back in that category, given that we have done so much to try, in a reasonable and authoritative way, to take it out of such low-level debate.

We commended MAFF on relying on independent scientific advice. The more I think about the matter, the more I am absolutely certain that my right hon. Friend the Minister was right to do as he said he would: take advice from the scientists, then act on it. We are, by nature, a little big-headed and we thought that we knew more. We qualified my right hon. Friend's decision by saying that "in the interests" of reassuring the public, he could have taken one or two steps beyond the scientific advice. Such action, which would not have been too costly, would have gone a little way towards helping people such as the hon. Member for Workington to realise that the matter was being dealt with properly. However, my right hon. Friend stuck to his guns. He refuses to go beyond the scientific advice. That no longer matters, but at the time we rightly registered a note of criticism.

One of the virtues of my right hon. Friend's approach is that, in arguing our case with foreign countries, we can do so on a purely scientific and veterinary basis. It makes it much easier for us when dealing with matters of animal health to be able to say that we will act on the grounds of scientific evidence, not the grounds of political or commercial will. Those unfortunate influences can lead to difficulties, distrust and, eventually, disaster.

We were not told of any possibility of live tests and were informed that research on the issue would take a long time. If my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could say anything about testing in his winding-up speech, I think that the agricultural world would be extremely interested—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Hear, hear.

Mr. Wiggin

I am glad to hear my hon. Friend saying, "Hear, hear". I will remember this debate for an aside, which may not have been picked up by the Hansard reporters, to the effect that my hon. Friend was once a dairy maid. We respect her deep knowledge of such matters.

I have no hesitation in saying that the Government have played a straight bat; they have got it right in so far as one can get it right on such a national disaster. I am sorry that the Opposition should feel that there is any political difference over the issue. It is a matter of national concern, and it is a great pity that all hon. Members cannot come together to deal with what has been an unpleasant, damaging and unfortunate experience for the nation.

8.46 pm
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

I am sure that today is the right time to be re-examining the problems created by BSE. It is now two years since the crisis broke, and the media have lost interest in it. If people do not believe me, they should look at the Press Gallery. Today we can say things that we could not say two years ago for fear of fuelling the panic. If we were to ask the general public what they remember about the BSE scare they would say that they remembered the Minister of Agriculture trying to force-feed his delightful daughter with a couple of beefburgers.

The issue has disappeared from the public consciousness, but let us consider the cost. One reason for re-examining and debating the problem is the financial cost of compensating farmers that the taxpayer has had to pick up. In 1989, the figure was £1 million. In 1990, it was £4 million. In 1989, farmers were paid only half compensation, but by 1991 the figure was £10 million. It is estimated that the figure for 1992 will be £18 million in compensation. As estimates are normally wrong, that figures is likely to be £20 million—a staggering amount. The total compensation for farmers over the past four years is £40 million.

The Opposition do not begrudge the farmers that compensation. It was only through the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that the Government were forced into paying full compensation. Time and again Ministers came to the Dispatch Box and refused to authorise the payment of full compensation, and there was not much support among Conservative Back Benchers for our proposals at the time.

The Government's inaction caused the terrible plague among cattle. First, they decided to ignore the report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution in 1979. It warned the Government that there would be problems in feeding rendered animal pieces to animals. Were any layman to consider the idea of feeding pieces of animals to ruminants such as cows, he would be bound to agree that there would be side effects. The Royal Commission warned the Government of that in 1979, but the Government did nothing about it.

At that time there were also changes in the rendering regulations. The Government's inaction meant that the problems created through the new rendering processes— which reduced the temperature at which rendered sheep carcases were treated and so introduced scrapie into the cows' food chain—allowed the virus to persist. We are not sure that BSE is a virus—it is difficult to decide exactly what it is—but we know that it exists in scrapie, cattle and, unfortunately, man. Autopsies on all those show the disease looking the same.

References have been made to the Select Committee's handling of the BSE crisis. It was better than the Government's handling of the salmonella scare, but a Minister resigned over that. The Government's handling of that crisis was a shambles and a disaster, and anything would be better than that. However, they did not take all the advice. Were the Chairman of the Select Committee to read the recommendations on beef safety, he would see that he forgot to mention that it was stated that cast-iron guarantees could not be given. I accept that beef may be safe now, there can be no cast-iron guarantee for the future.

The Select Committee asked MAFF to discourage farmers from breeding from the offspring of cows with BSE, but it refused. It refused also to extend the offal ban to calves. There is growing evidence of vertical transmission. It is limited, but even the National Farmers Union brief makes mention of vertical transmission from cow to cow. If that exists, the disease is being kept alive, and offal from calves that could be affected continues to be sold for human consumption.

As to the random sampling of carcases, there has been some shifting about among Conservative Members tonight. The Government are obviously against random sampling. The reason is obvious. If they look for evidence of infected animals entering the food chain, they are likely to find it. Professor Mills of Cambridge says that only cattle visibly affected by BSE are destroyed, so apparently healthy animals can enter the food chain. Only cattle that look as though they have BSE are incinerated.

The Government are against random sampling because they know that if they look for BSE, they will find it—and then they will have to explain to the public why infected meat entered the food chain. I accept the logic of the argument that it does not matter much if the offal, brain, and spinal cord of infected carcases are removed. By the same logic, however, there is no sense in burning the carcase of an infected beast, because that part of it that remains will be perfectly safe.

The Government have got their facts wrong. One Conservative Member suggested that we should not accept any Government figures. I agree that the Government have a habit of getting their sums wrong—but to be wrong threefold is rather a lot, even for this Government.

If there is little evidence of vertical transmission—though there is some—at some point the Government must consider eradicating BSE from British cattle by a policy of culling. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is listening—he does not look as though he is. I repeat that the way to eradicate BSE will be at some point to decide that all cows born before 1988 must be destroyed, and full compensation paid.

Several Hon. Members

indicated dissent.

Mr. Martlew

That seems to be a problem. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary has done his sums, but I presume not. BSE has already cost £40 million. Our cattle cannot be exported live—no one wants to buy them at present. Britain has a terrible reputation throughout the world because of BSE. Before 1988, we had some of the finest dairy herds in the world. If we want to retrieve our good name, my suggestion represents one option.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Can the hon. Gentleman estimate the effect such a policy would have on the view held in this country and abroad on the safety of British beef to eat?

Mr. Martlew

I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, because I understand that he has only just entered the Chamber. We currently have a bad reputation, but if we cleared out BSE, we could only improve it.

I am convinced that there is little risk to humans from BSE. The point was made that more people are likely to be killed from being struck by lightning, and that is correct. Nevertheless, I remind the House that every year a few people are killed by lightning.

8.54 pm
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

I join those who criticise the Opposition's motion, and as declaring one's interests is currently fashionable, I must declare mine, in having many farmers in my constituency who make a living from rearing beef.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) gave as the feeble excuse for the motion the fact that the topic has not been debated for two years. I share the view of farmers in my constituency that Labour Members have been campaigning on it for a considerable time. Each time that the Opposition seek to make the headlines, it is a stab in the back for British farmers. Each time that the Opposition raise the matter, it threatens to reduce the income of farmers who are already considerably hard pressed.

Of the big restaurant chains, one in particular that buys beef in advance reduces the orders that it places with its wholesalers by 25 per cent. every time that BSE comes back into the news. That is the sum total of the damage done to farm incomes in this country by those who continue to harp on the subject.

As the hon. Member for South Shields knows, farmers in my constituency and in Scotland report a very low incidence of BSE, yet they are punished by continual references to the threat that it poses. Farmers and traditional butchers are baffled by the topic being raised yet again in this debate. Some unkind pundits may say that the Opposition are knackered and do not have any better ideas. Others may say that Opposition Members have been watching too much television. It is odd that this debate comes in the wake of the BBC television series "Natural Lies", which spread seriously damaging rumours about BSE and prompted the chief veterinary officer to say that the BBC is unwise, if not stupid, to put this on. I heartily agree. It was also disgraceful of The Guardian to make mention in an article today of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in connection with tonight's debate. That article has nothing to do with BSE in animals.

Where is the science in all this? One well-known professor suggested in 1990 that 6 million cattle ought to be slaughtered. Luckily, we did not listen to him. We know also of the views of Dr. Helen Grant, a retired consultant neuropathologist who served as the paid adviser to "Natural Lies". Against that, we have the advice of Dr. David Tyrrell; Keith Meldrum, the chief veterinary officer; Sir Richard Southwood; and many others. They have all shown that BSE is under control and will soon be on the way out.

There was talk of 600 or 700 cases a week. We should give credit to the Ministry for predicting in the late 1980s that the figure would rise to 1,000 a week. That has not happened, and over the past three years there has been a decline in the incidence of BSE, certainly in the case of two-year-olds. All the evidence suggests that the crisis is now abating.

I urge the Opposition not to continue to use the issue as such activity damages our farmers' interests. I believe that farmers should be allowed to get on with earning a living as best they can in these difficult times. I also believe that the final summary in the Tyrrell report is as true now as it was when it was published in 1990: We have no hesitation in saying that beef can be eaten safely by everyone, both adults and children.

8.59 pm
Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

There can be no doubt that the situation is deteriorating beyond the Government's expectations, and that it continues to raise fundamental issues. We need not apologise to hon. Members who criticise us for raising such issues.

In European Community terms, we are talking about the effectiveness of common policies and freedom of trade. In United Kingdom terms, we are talking about a continuing serious challenge to the livestock industry, and a cause for legitimate public concern. There is no doubt that the Government took action; that is not the issue. There is also no doubt, however, that the Government made mistakes. I hope to demonstrate that for the benefit of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland)—although I intend to quote from MAFF reports rather than refer to quirky advisers.

Undoubtedly, a delay in positive, direct action between 1986 and 1988 caused the present situation. The Minister shakes his head, but others disagree with him. Another factor is the extent to which the problem was underestimated. Government figures show that, between 1986 and 1991, 26,000 BSE cases were identified—an incidence of about 11.;6 per cent. in the total herd, or 3.9 cases per 1,000. The latest figures suggest that some 60,000 animals have been slaughtered; between 1991 and 1992, the number of cases has more than doubled, even according to Government figures. That is not a cause for complacency. At the time of the Southwood report there were 100 cases per week, and now even the Ministry suggests that there are between 600 and 700 cases per week.

I question the Government's continuing prediction that the incidence of BSE will peak towards the end of the year and will then fall rapidly. At best there is serious doubt about that, and I do not believe that it will happen. An important factor, of course, is the two-year delay between the identification of BSE in 1986 and the taking of action in July 1988. During that critical period, when the situation was deteriorating, no decisive direct action was taken. Why?

Many people—I do not count myself among them—believe that producer interests were the dominant factor. The Government did not want the matter to be brought into the public domain; meanwhile, consumers were blissfully unaware of the seriousness of the position. In 1988, the Government moved at last. I believe that the measures that were taken then had more to do with public pressure than with the Government's enthusiasm for taking steps.

Compulsory slaughter was introduced on 8 August. Again, mistakes were made; thankfully, they were righted later, but again that was a result of pressure. The introduction of 50 per cent. compensation had two inevitable results: first, it did not encourage producers to take their animals to slaughter, and, secondly, fewer cases were recorded and the real figure did not emerge. In February 1990, the Government saw the error of their ways and introduced 100 per cent. compensation.

Mr. Curry

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there was absolutely no change in the pattern of reporting the consequences of that move from 50 per cent. to 100 per cent. compensation? We introduced 100 per cent. compensation to assist the industry, not because we thought that farmers were holding back information that they should have given us.

Mr. Stevenson

I thank the Minister for offering that advice to me. I am always grateful for it, as he knows from our debates on these issues in other places. However, the Government were forced to change their mind. They did so reluctantly, after pressure from the Opposition forced them into it.

Reference has been made to changes in the processing and rendering industry. The use of lower temperatures may have led to more infection. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have suggested that that was probably so. There were other changes in the industry at that time. Even Ministry documents suggest that there was a significant reduction in the use of solvent extraction methods for removing fat from the meat and bonemeal. The report concluded that. This was one of the factors that caused an increase in exposure which resulted in critical cases of BSE in cattle. These were not quirky advisers; they were Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials. They concluded that changes were only for commercial reasons. Once again the clear evidence is that the Ministry did not take any notice of what was happening in the industry and that that led to an increase in identifiable BSE cases.

Despite the Government's efforts in 1988, two examples demonstrate that the Government's amendment is somewhat incredible. First, the ban on the feeding of specified bovine offals to pigs and poultry was a welcome development, but that important step had literally to be forced on a reluctant Government. In a January 1990 news release the Minister said: There is no scientific justification to extend the ruminant food ban to pigs and poultry. In May 1990 the same Minister said: I have, for example, been asked to ban the use of ruminant protein in pig and poultry diets. Doctors and scientists see no justification in that. This is entirely consistent with other feeding practices. Four months later—not a year later—the Government announced exactly that ban. Does that suggest that the Government had carefully considered the evidence? Not a bit of it. They reacted four months later because of public pressure. Any suggestion by Conservative Members that the Government had carefully considered the position is not borne out by the facts.

The second example is the latest action taken by the European Community to ban imports into the Community of embryos taken from cattle born before 1988 and the offspring of cows suspected of or confirmed as having BSE. That is another example of the Government having been forced to move by public opinion and pressure. In the press release of 25 September, to which I referred earlier, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: There are some who have suggested that there should be a ban on breeding from the offspring of BSE cattle. The Southwood committee did not recommend that, but I was concerned to ensure that all up-to-date information was taken into account and referred the question to the Tyrrell committee, and they confirmed fully what Southwood said. I am placing a full statement of their advice on this point in the Library. Again complacency forced the Government to agree on 14 May of this year that a ban on the export of the same embryos to which the Minister had referred should be put in place. Why is that? There is increasing concern in the European Community about the issue, where the view has been established that embryos represent an unacceptable risk. These instances of changes of mind reflect, in my view, an initial dogmatic refusal by the Government to accept the obvious.

I referred to the Government belatedly acting in 1988, but much remains to be done. Our motion should be accepted to make our task clear. We must take all measures to defeat this disease. The Government amendment is complacent in the extreme. They claim "rigorous and comprehensive action" to bring the disease under control, but the statistics show the falsehood of that claim.

There has been a massive increase in recorded cases of BSE. The Government's complacency simply will not do. The greatest precautions should be at the heart of the steps that are taken. The benefit of any doubt—hon. Members agree that there is some doubt—should come down in favour of public health and protection of the food chain. That should be the overriding consideration.

I hope that the House will accept the motion, because it proposes the measures that need to be taken and reflects the wider public interest.

9.10 pm
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I was interested to note that on 21 May I followed the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) when we both made our maiden speeches. I said then that he would be a trenchant contributor to debates, and he did nothing this evening to change my mind.

With great sadness, I part company with the hon. Gentleman in his support of the Opposition motion, the first clause of which says: That this House regards Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy as currently one of the great threats facing British agriculture". That underscores the Opposition's approach to this and many other matters of public concern. Hyperbole is the Labour party's watchword. Exaggeration beyond all logic may not win the scientific or intellectual arguments but it will frighten the public, especially the beef-eating and beef-buying public. BSE is not now and has not been in its development in the past four to six years one of the greatest threats facing agriculture. It may become so if the Opposition and the single-issue lobbies that sustain them continue unjustifiably to scare the public about the effect on public health of eating beef.

I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) said: that tonight of all nights is the worst possible occasion to debate BSE. We are in the middle of the royal show, when we should be supporting our agriculture industry rather than knocking it. I wish that we were not debating the subject tonight.

The chief medical officer said that there is no risk to public health from eating beef. EC experts agreed, said that the Government's action is correct and confirmed that beef is not a risk to public health. The Tyrrell report concluded that all safeguards are in place to prevent the spread of BSE and any possible risk of transmission to humans.

If the Labour party wants to damage the British beef farmer and the British beef industry and to give our overseas competitors a free hand, it should say so, but there is no justification for an exaggerated and irresponsible approach to the beef industry or the BSE issue. Its line this evening towards the Government and the recommendations of their advisers is to be deplored. From the outset, the Government have tackled the problem of BSE in dairy herds responsibly and according to the best advice available. If the Labour party had been in office since 1986, I very much doubt that its approach would have been any different. The scientific, veterinary and medical advice would have been exactly the same, regardless of the colour of the party in government. I suggest that the findings and recommendations would have been exactly the same, and we have been listening to them for the past few years.

I am told that BSE is caused by an unconventional living agent, an unclassified germ, which is not within the normal categories of germs that scientists come across. It is not, for example, from the protozoa family, the microscopic animal which causes diseases such as malaria; nor is it a fungus which causes, for example, farmer's lung; nor is it a bacteria which causes enteritis or pneumonia and nor is it a virus which causes diseases such as rabies.

The origins of BSE in cattle are to be found in the common extended feed source which transmitted the modified scrapie-like encephalopathy from sheep to cattle. The sheep disease scrapie has been known in the United Kingdom for more than 250 years with no established human connection. There is no proof of any link between BSE and any human encephalopathy, and any theoretical risk is still more remote because of the care taken in the slaughter of all cattle completely to separate and destroy— the brain tissue and central nervous system—the only parts of the body in which BSE has been found—from the rest of the animal. I therefore suggest that it is practically impossible for there to be a risk to human beings from eating beef.

From the first few baffling cases in 1986, through 1987 when the Government and their advisers were collecting and assessing the available data, until the ban on feeding ruminant protein to ruminants was implemented in July 1988, the Government have acted with common sense and sensitivity. It is not Government inaction or Government failure that underlies the rise in the estimated number of affected cows from 20,000 to more than 60,000.

We have been faced with a previously unknown problem in cattle husbandry and epizoology. As research continues under the Tyrrell committee, our knowledge becomes greater. We now know that BSE takes far longer to incubate than was thought or anticipated in 1986–88. We also know that there is no evidence that the disease is spreading. It is the cattle infected before the feed ban came into effect which are now presenting. The number of affected beasts may not begin to fall this year, but I believe that it has peaked or is on a plateau and, by the turn of 1992–93, the numbers will decrease. I venture further to suggest that in the decade 1986–96 the problem will be eradicated.

My constituency is famous for its grass and beef cattle and, traditionally, beef herds have been fattened for market on its rich pasture. We have perhaps no more than 20 dairy herds in the constituency but they are some of the finest not only in the county of Leicestershire but in the country as a whole. That under the ownership of the Co-operative Wholesale Society at Stoughton and Stretton is probably the biggest in the country and probably one of the best.

The CWS dairy herd, which, I believe, is made up of seven milking herds of about 200 cows and a breeding herd, contains cows of the very highest quality. As a result of being fed on a high nutrition diet, they can be milked three times a day. However, nothing could be better calculated to damage the reputation of that fine herd—especially the breeding herd—and of other fine dairy herds in the constituency than the alarmist attitude towards BSE exemplified in the motion and especially in its first sentence.

The CWS has traditionally been a good friend to the Labour party, but I wonder whether that will be the case after this evening. Not only will the dairy farmers be damaged by the Opposition's attitude to BSE and to the steps taken by the Government on the advice of their experts, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) said, as a direct result of the Opposition's decision to hold a debate on BSE tonight, one of the major restaurant chains has this week dramatically cut its order for beef.

What is more, it is not just the big butchers that will be affected; the small butchers, other small shops and small restaurants where beef is popular will also experience cuts.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government took speedy action after the discovery of BSE? The fact that they spent 10 million over the past three years—and they will spend £15 million over the next three years—made consumers sufficiently confident to go back to eating beef. This debate, which was instigated by the Opposition, will lead to a reduction in sales and to an erosion of the confidence that has been restored as a result of our action.

Mr. Gamier

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making my point for me. He did so much more eloquently than I could have done.

My final point, which echoes my hon. Friend's remarks, concerns public confidence. This is not a problem at the present, but it will be a problem in the coming weeks as parents queue up outside schools to tell headmasters and teachers that they do not want their children to eat beef in school dinners, and as worried relatives tell matrons, nurses and doctors that they do not want their sick or elderly relations to have beef in hospital meals. The residents of old people's homes too will be influenced against eating beef. A whole culture against eating beef is being encouraged by motions such as this. That is something that has to be staunched. I urge all hon. Members to reject the motion and to support the Government's amendment.

9.21 pm
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I refuse point-blank to be intimidated by an outside commercial lobby with representatives in the House of Commons into failing to address a matter that is legitimately a subject for debate in this Chamber. That is what the House of Commons is about. People outside who study the remarks made by my hon. Friends this evening will find that every one of them spoke with great care, very conscious of the need to avoid any adverse reaction from the public in its beef-eating habits.

Let me say what worries me about the commercial lobby. One of the members of the Select Committee was the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill). I am sure that he is a very honourable gentleman, but he must understand that, as he, a director of an abattoir and of a meat-processing company—I take that from the statement that he made to the Committee, published in the Committee's report—was taking evidence from senior civil servants and from experts in the field, I, like any member of the British public, am entitled to ask whether such action was proper.

Mr. Gill

That remark calls for some comment by me. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is showing a great deal of interest in this debate, and he has undoubtedly read the minutes of evidence given to the Select Committee. In case he has not done so in detail, let me refer him to evidence recorded on page 15 of the report of 23 May 1990. On that occasion, at the opening of the inquiry, my very first action was to declare an interest. Members of the Select Committee, some of whom are in the Chamber at present, will remember the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), who said—and there was more than a grain of truth in this—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. This is a rather lengthy intervention.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman has added nothing to what he said before. He should check my words, and what he said is a matter of record in the Committee minutes—

Mr. Gill


Mr. Campbell-Savours

I want to move on to what the Chairman of the Select Committee said—

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I have no intention of giving way; I have only six minutes.

Mr. Gill

On a point of order,Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right that the hon. Gentleman should make such allegations without accepting my explanation? I was halfway through that explanation when you ordered me to sit down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman's intervention was very lengthy—beyond what is acceptable to the House.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Member for Ludlow would do well to read the report of our proceedings tomorrow, when he will see that his intervention was unnecessary in the light of what I have said.

I come now to the remarks of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture. I do not profess to be an expert; until my train journey this morning I knew very little about these matters. But I have read the documents that I had with me. Today I asked the Chairman of the Select Committee a question about transmission from the gut to the brain. He said that all these matters had been dealt with during the course of the Select Committee's proceedings: in other words, he did not give me an answer. It was not until another Conservative Member intervened that my question got a response. He said that the pathogen is isolated in the spine. That is still not an answer to my simple question.

All I want to know is how the pathogen gets from the gut to the brain. Perhaps it is transmitted via some blood route—I do not know. If, however, that is the answer, surely the Chairman of the Select Committee could have given me it. It is not an answer to tell me that we heard experts in the Select Committee and discussed the matter in a general way. Laymen like me, and members of the British public, are entitled to ask these questions and have them answered, but they have not been dealt with in this debate.

Various matters have been misrepresented in this House over the years. My hen. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) offered two examples to which I believe the Minister should respond. Those who were here for our debates on Chernobyl will recall that Ministers made statements that turned out subsequently to be wrong. Farms within a few miles of my constituency are still subject to the post-Chernobyl restrictions six years on. We were not told that that would happen at the time. Last week the Parliamentary Secretary was able to release a number of farms in the county of Cumbria from those restrictions, for which I thank him.

The Minister of Agriculture also misrepresents certain issues—I do not know whether it is fair to say that he does so deliberately, but he does. After the so-called agricultural settlement of a few weeks ago, we were assured that the deal from Brussels was good for Britain and for our consumers and taxpayers. Within a matter of days a report by the Court of Auditors stated that that settlement was a recipe for fraud. Whom should we believe? A Minister gave us assurances at the Dispatch Box, but someone in Brussels said, "I'm sorry, but you have got it wrong. You have misunderstood what the farm settlement is about when it was represented to Parliament as a means of breaking the GATT deadlock."

Looking at the issue today as a layman and not as an expert, I tried to establish whether there is a threat to beef. I passionately want to believe what the Chairman of the Select Committee told the House. Indeed, I am sure all hon. Members would want to believe him. We want to believe that beef is safe and, hopefully, it is safe. However, I found a news release among my papers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which stated: As part of this programme of work designed to clarify the range of species susceptible to BSE, an experiment conducted by the Medical Research Council and MAFF has resulted in BSE being transmitted to a marmoset, following inoculation of cattle brain material from a BSE infected cow into its brain and body cavity. The report then refers to the Tyrrell committee and what it is doing. It continues: I am arranging for a copy of this advice to be placed in the Library of the House. That report was about transmission to the marmoset. I went to the Library expecting to read that very substantial document about transmission to marmosets. However, I found only one sentence about that which read: Marmosets exposed parenterally to scrapie or BSE have succumbed to spongiform encephalopathy. The problem is the way the information is presented. We are told by MAFF that a report has been published. However, when hon. Members go to satisfy themselves they find that there is only one sentence in the report about that matter.

If we are to have an honest debate, everything must he published. Let us read everything and then there will be no need for arguments and debates like this.

9.31 pm
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has captured the expressions from the Opposition Benches very well. I have listened to the debate with great interest and there seems to be as clear a divide as ever between the Government and the Opposition on the matter.

We have heard a succession of Conservative Members state that there should not be a debate on the matter and that Opposition Members are scaremongering or raising unjustified fears. However, Hansard will record some very informed and analytical speeches by Opposition Members and none more so than the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) and for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) who have studied the subject in great detail.

We heard a defence of vested interests from Conservative Members. If we consider those Conservative Members who have spoken, we should not be too surprised about that. That hoary old character, the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), was the first to lead the charge.

Mr. Martlew

Where is he now?

Mr. Davies

It is worth pointing out for the record that all the Opposition Members who participated in the debate remained in the Chamber throughout the evening and had the courtesy to listen to the contributions from the Conservative Benches. Several Conservative Members who made speeches or interventions have not had the courtesy to remain for the duration of the debate, let alone for its conclusion. Never mind, perhaps they will learn to do that.

It is worth remembering that the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) made the same intervention tonight that he made two years ago. He raised the same arguments. He wants no debate, discussion, deliberation or public information about BSE. That is not because he is a scientist. He was not speaking as a parent. He was speaking tonight as a butcher. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, who is from exactly the same background, was not concerned to protect the interests of consumers or of public health. He was concerned solely to represent the interests of the farming community. The prize went to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), who joined the farmer and the butcher. Of course, he is a failed Agriculture Minister. He was sacked from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and now he has been put in the chair of the Agriculture Select Committee. He had the audacity tonight to speak against the many recommendations of his own Select Committee. [Interruption.] I hear my hon. Friends—

Mr. Wiggin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

Let me finish. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, he had the opportunity to make his speech. He made a number of comments which my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) bitterly resented. That should not come as a surprise to Opposition Members, because I had a look at "Dods" and I saw the hon. Gentleman's interests. I found that he is a member of the Beefsteak club. That should not surprise us. [Interruption.] He is not only a member of the Beefsteak club; he is a member of Pratt's club as well. I leave it to my hon. Friends to decide which is a better qualification for speaking in the debate.

Conservative Members had some new recruits The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) claimed to represent the interests of farmers in his constituency. Where is he? He referred to the debate as a campaign which is a stab in the back to farmers in his constituency. It is a pity that he is not here now and it is a pity that he was not here during our debates in 1990 or 1989, because he will know that, without fail, every initiative that the Government have taken on BSE has been presaged by Opposition calls months and, in some cases, years before the Government took action. The hon. Gentleman lists his interests as a former director of the British Field Sports Society. As long as he spends his time chasing little furry animals across the countryside to deliver them a cruel death, he will not have much credibility in the House.

Let us consider the substance of the case. We are told by hon. Members who are trying to frustrate the debate that we do not need and should not have a debate. Let them read Hansard tomorrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington made this point very clear. Not one Opposition speech can in any way be construed as anti-farmer, anti-meat industry or anti-beef. We have tried to ensure that that message comes across very clearly. Of course, there are major grounds for concern, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields pointed out. In April alone, there were 4,000 cases of BSE. In 1989, about 4,000 cattle herds were affected by BSE. In 1990, that figure had nearly doubled to 7,590 cases. Last year, more than 11,000 herds were affected by BSE.

If Conservative Members are not prepared to stand up and speak for the interests of farmers whose livelihoods are directly affected by that plague, we are certainly not afraid to stand up in the House of Commons and say that the matter has to be debated. Nor will we shirk our responsibility to speak for consumers. Their choice has been restricted. As beef consumption figures show, many consumers are so concerned about the beef industry that they have changed their pattern of beef consumption. That is a matter of concern and we should be prepared to address it in the House of Commons.

If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a press office which takes cuttings for him, he will know that scarcely a week goes by in which specialist journals or our quality press do not mention BSE and consumers' real fears. Tim Lang, who is the director of Parents for Safe Food, is a very well respected nutritionist. [Interruption.] He is a very well respected nutritionist who speaks for a wide range of opinion. His view is quite clear and quite uncompromising. The Government—

Mr. Wiggin


Mr. Davies

I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am sorry. The Minister wants time to reply. The matter is on the record.

Tim Lang made it clear that the Government could not continue pretending that BSE was not an issue. The Southwood committee must be reconvened. It must be open and it must have consumer representation on it.

The scientific community and the veterinary profession are worried about many aspects of BSE. They are worried about the method of transmission, the range of animals affected, the geographical distribution of the disease and feeding offal of six-month old calves into the human food chain. We know that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has some strange habits. The incident of force-feeding hamburgers to his daughter told us as much about his search for publicity as his regard for the sensibilities of his family.

Let me put a direct point to the Parliamentary Secretary, who will reply to the debate. There is clear evidence that some calves and some cattle have contracted BSE since the ban on feeding infected offal to cattle was introduced. The number of cases is in at least double figures. The Minister said earlier that there was evidence that the animals might have had access to contaminated feed. The fact remains that they were born since the ban came into force. If BSE is vertically transmissible—there is considerable veterinary opinion that that is the case—is it not logical to ban the offal from six-month old calves from the human food chain? Vertical transmission might not have built up to critical proportions but the fact remains that the agent exists in the brain, the spleen and the thymus of those six-month old calves.

Why do not the Government accept their responsibility and ban such calves from the food chain? I will tell the House why. It is because there is a lucrative trade in under-age calves to the continent. The Minister realises that this is one occasion when he must put the vested financial interests that he represents before the interests of the consumers. That is why he will not take the action that we demand.

Various attacks have been made on the Opposition tonight. The fact remains that the Government do not want their record on BSE to be examined. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West has now returned to the Chamber. He did not defend the interest of farmers in his constituency by making the comments that he did tonight. He hid behind the farmers of his constituency.

The hon. Member for Hexham still has not had the courtesy to return to the Chamber. I say to him that the only debates in the House of Commons on BSE have been those initiated by the Opposition. The only action on BSE has been that which we have demanded. When we have specified what action must be taken, the Government have acted months and sometimes years later. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) did not remain in the Chamber for the debate. I do not know where he has been. I suggest that he takes the time to read the record in Hansard.

The information that we have on BSE has been obtained only as a result of the vigilance of Opposition Members who dragged it out of the Government. [Interruption.] Let us examine the Government's record as the Minister finds it so amusing. In his reply, let him challenge any of the statements that I am about to make. In 1985 the Ministry knew that cattle were being stricken by a mystery disease but covered it up. In 1987 the Ministry knew about a scientific paper which intended to refer to a scrapie-like disease in cattle and censored it. The Ministry suspected in 1987 that contaminated feed was the problem and did nothing until August 1988.

In June 1988 the BSE order made the disease notifiable and banned the feeding of ruminant protein to ruminant animals. But the Government did not implement it until July 1988. Ruminant protein continued to be used in pig and poultry feed until September 1990, yet two years previously we demanded that the practice be stopped. In June 1988 the Southwood report recommended introducing compulsory slaughter. The Government did not act until August 1988. For almost two years the Government resisted our calls for 100 per cent. compensation. Initially they paid farmers only 50 per cent. compensation for their animals. For nearly two years, they resisted our claims, and, despite all the public concern and our calls in the House for the banning of bovine offal for human consumption, they did not act until November 1989. Those facts are beyond dispute. I hope that the Minister will have the courtesy to do the House the honour of acknowledging them.

Let us have a look at our record on this matter, as we have been the subject of an attack. We initiated the first debate on this subject in May 1989, the second debate in May 1990 and the third debate tonight. On a whole range of issues, months before the Government took action we called for action. We called for the banning of offal for human consumption. Years later, they introduced a ban. We called for the banning of offal from meat and bone meal exports. Years later, they conceded that. We called for the banning of offals from feeds for pigs and poultry. Years later, they conceded. We called for the raising of compensation to 100 per cent. Years later, they conceded. Let us look at the omissions. We also called for compulsory antemortal inspection, so that all cattle going to a slaughterhouse would be inspected by a veterinary surgeon before slaughter. We also called for sampling, as did the Select Committee on Agriculture, so that the brains of 10 per cent. of cattle slaughtered would be tested to see whether they had the disease. That is the only sure way to find out about the distribution of the disease. We called for the banning of offals from calves under the age of six months. All those claims were supported by the Tyrrell committee, the Select Committee on Agriculture, European legislation, the British Veterinary Association, by a wide range of scientific opinion, by demands in the House of Commons and, above all, by common sense. On all those critical issues, the Government did nothing.

We have made it clear that the case for having random sampling is overwhelming, but the Government have resisted it. We have made it clear that, as the first line of defence, there should be veterinary inspection for all bovines destined for slaughter both at the livestock market and at the abattoir. Two and a half years ago, the Government promised that they would take action. Here we are in 1992, and 50 per cent. of the bovines slaughtered for human consumption are inspected by veterinary officers neither at a livestock market nor at an abattoir. Can the Government justify such a record?

The Government accuse us of scaremongering but we are not scaremongering. We are not looking to create scare stories—

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)


Mr. Davies

Despite what the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, that is not our aim. We are not taking an alarmist position. We want responsible government and responsible action for farmers, for consumers and for animal and public health. If the only way to get that responsible government is by having debates in the House, so be it. We shall not shirk our responsibility.

9.48 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nicholas Soames)

To wind up for the Government for the first time is the parliamentary equivalent of riding in the grand national, and in the short time available to me I intend to deal with some of the points raised this evening. The Minister of State—my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry)—took the House step by step through the chronology of this wicked disease and laid carefully before the House all the evidence and all the available facts. Labour Members criticised the Government, claiming that we had covered up or hidden the effect of this inimical disease. However, every piece of information that the Ministry has on BSE has been, and will continue to be, placed within the public domain immediately. I assure the House that that is so, and it is a disgraceful slur to suggest otherwise.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) in an intervention and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) in his speech asked about the difference between animals that are slaughtered and those that are not. Animals that are showing clinical signs of the disease are likely to harbour a relatively large amount of the infectious agent. That led to the Southwood working party's advice that they should be slaughtered and destroyed purely as a precautionary measure. The specified offals of all animals are now withdrawn from human and animal feed. These tissues are those in which the infective agent may be present in animals incubating the disease. It is not possible to identify a cow that is incubating BSE as no diagnostic test is available.

The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who is not here, asked about incineration and the holding of frozen carcases. The Ministry and all its independent scientific advisers are satisfied that the arrangements for incineration and the holding of carcases, if necessary prior to incineration, are entirely satisfactory. In far-off rural areas where facilities are not available, the disposal of carcases is done by deep burial, which is, in itself, satisfactory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), despite some unreasonable and unfortunate calumnies levelled against him, made a vigorous and effective defence of Government policy. He rightly deplored the scaremongering of the Labour party and the profound damage that it has done and continues to do to the industry.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen asked about the slaughter of whole herds on farms with numerous cases and mentioned a case of which he knew in Wales. Thankfully, herds with a high incidence of the disease are rare. That is encouraging, as it supports the view that transmission from one animal to another is not a significant problem. Government veterinarians carefully study herds with multiple cases and all the evidence supports the thesis that the animals were infected by feed.

The hon. Gentleman and others spoke about the disease in animals between two and three years old. There is nothing surprising in the existence of such cases in 1991. It is now clear, however, that the number of cases in two-year-old animals is low. Accurate details have been published in veterinary journals, if hon. Gentlemen could only get on and find them. The fact is that there have been only 101 cases in animals born after the ban and all but one of those animals had access to infected feed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). who was the Chairman of the Select Committee during its inquiry into this matter, was, rightly, listened to with great respect in this debate because of his knowledge. He spoke about the Committee's excellent report which has so well stood the test of time, as has the science. My hon. Friend asked about progress in research into a live test and said that our hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) wished to be associated with the question. A great deal of fundamental knowledge is being accumulated, but a test for the disease in the live animal is still a long way off. That is not for want of effort by the Government; the Ministry alone is spending £5 million a year on research and the Tyrrell committee recently confirmed that the necessary research is continuing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) represented with vigour the interests of his constituents and he spoke of his concern at the damage that might be done by the absurdity of the Opposition motion.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) raised two important points that I propose to deal with properly: offal from calves and random testing. Both were also mentioned by the hon. Member for Workington. Random testing for BSE, in routinely slaughtered cattle is a difficult issue and suggestions about it have been made many times. We already inspect for clinical signs of disease a high proportion of cows at slaughterhouses. I do not understand why Opposition Members continue to press for a process to which the first Tyrrell committee attached a low priority. The offals ban already removes from the food chain the relevant tissues from clinically infected animals, and random testing would merely direct valuable expert resources away from the main problem.

We were also asked about offals from cows aged under six months. The decision to exclude such animals was taken after careful consideration and in the light of advice from experts. The basis of that decision is that such young cattle have not been fed the infected agent in the first place. We also know from detailed work on scrapie that the agent has been found only in animals over the age of 10 months. Therefore, a six months limit for cattle gives a four-month safety margin and action on these offals is deemed unnecessary.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) spoke at length and grossly inaccurately about compensation. However, he asked one important question: why was no action taken earlier than 1988? Action could not be taken until we understood the epidemiology of the disease. That could not be done until enough cases had been studied, and only 189 had been diagnosed by the end of 1987. As soon as we were confident that we knew the cause, we took steps to remove it—hence the feed ban. The hon. Gentleman alleged that we were not careful about protecting food. We attach paramount importance not only to our treatment of BSE but to all that we do to protect the consumer and to maintain the integrity of the food chain and public confidence in it. What the hon. Gentleman said about that was idiotic.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) rightly attacked the Opposition for their sloppy thinking and the worrying side-effects of their scaremon-gering. I shall make sure that my hon. Friend's message is carried to the industry when I attend the royal show tomorrow. The hon. Member for Workington treated my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) in a most disagreeable and uncharacteristic manner. He showed a want of chivalry that was quite unlike him. However, he raised the serious issue of how the BSE agent is passed from the gut to the brain. [Interruption.] In my case, the transfer would take a long time. The answer is not known, but the agents of such a disease have never been detected in blood, muscle or any other tissue. The development of BSE research is one of the key targets of all the scientific work carried on by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) made his usual robust speech with which we all found ourselves in almost total disagreement. I shall deal with the numbers issues that he and other Opposition Members raised. Much stress has been laid on the number of cases currently being confirmed, and it is important to understand the meaning of those figures. The weekly figure of confirmed cases simply reflects the number of animals for which the confirmation process has been concluded. Obviously, that is a lengthy process. It is much more important to understand the comparison between those figures and the forecast in the early stages of the epidemic.

We are entirely satisfied, and it has been confirmed by independent specialists, that the Government's figures are entirely consistent with the initial expectations. Although the number of cases currently looks high, it simply reflects the number of animals infected before the feed ban became effective. There is no way of knowing how many such cases there were, but the important point is that there remains no reason to doubt that, through the feed ban, the Government have done all that is necessary to curb the epidemic.

We have heard tonight of the Government's vigorous and comprehensive response to BSE. Their response received endorsement from the Select Committee, the European Community and many other countries. The House will be much more impressed by that reception than by the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Shields that we should establish another committee. The Government's response has been prompt, resolute and effective. Surely—

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

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

The House divided: Ayes 241, Noes 310.

Division No. 51] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Allen, Graham
Adams, Mrs Irene Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Ainger, Nicholas Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Ashton, Joe
Austin-Walker, John Gerrard, Neil
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Barron, Kevin Godman, Dr Norman A.
Battle, John Godsiff, Roger
Bayley, Hugh Golding, Mrs Llin
Beckett, Margaret Gordon, Mildred
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Graham, Thomas
Bennett, Andrew F. Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Benton, Joe Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bermingham, Gerald Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Berry, Dr Roger Grocott, Bruce
Betts, Clive Gunnell, John
Blunkett, David Hain, Peter
Boateng, Paul Hall, Mike
Boyce, Jimmy Hanson, David
Boyes, Roland Hardy, Peter
Bradley, Keith Harman, Ms Harriet
Bray, Dr Jeremy Heppell, John
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Hinchliffe, David
Burden, Richard Hoey, Kate
Byers, Stephen Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Caborn, Richard Home Robertson, John
Callaghan, Jim Hood, Jimmy
Campbell, Ms Anne (C'bridge) Hoon, Geoff
Campbell, Ronald (Blyth V) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Cann, James Hoyle, Doug
Chisholm, Malcolm Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clapham, Michael Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hutton, John
Clelland, David Illsley, Eric
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Jackson, Ms Glenda (H'stead)
Coffey, Ms Ann Jackson, Ms Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cohen, Harry Jamieson, David
Connarty, Michael Janner, Greville
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Corbett, Robin Jones, Ms Lynne (B'ham S O)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Cousins, Jim Jowell, Ms Tessa
Cox, Tom Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cryer, Bob Keen, Alan
Cummings, John Kennedy, Ms Jane (L'p'l Br'g'n)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Khabra, Piara
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Kilfoyle, Peter
Dalyell, Tam Leighton, Ron
Darling, Alistair Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Davidson, Ian Lewis, Terry
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Litherland, Robert
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Livingstone, Ken
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Loyden, Eddie
Denham, John McAllion, John
Dewar, Donald McAvoy, Thomas
Dixon, Don McCartney, Ian
Dobson, Frank MacDonald, Calum
Donohoe, Brian McKelvey, William
Dunnachie, Jimmy Mackinlay, Andrew
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McLeish, Henry
Eagle, Ms Angela McMaster, Gordon
Enright, Derek McWilliam, John
Etherington, William Madden, Max
Evans, John (St Helens N) Mahon, Alice
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Mandelson, Peter
Fatchett, Derek Marek, Dr John
Faulds, Andrew Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Flynn, Paul Martlew, Eric
Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland) Maxton, John
Foulkes, George Meacher, Michael
Fraser, John Meale, Alan
Fyfe, Maria Michael, Alun
Galbraith, Sam Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Galloway, George Milburn, Alan
Gapes, Michael Miller, Andrew
Garrett, John Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
George, Bruce Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morley, Elliot Sheerman, Barry
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Short, Clare
Mowlam, Marjorie Simpson, Alan
Mudie, George Skinner, Dennis
Mullin, Chris Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Murphy, Paul Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
O'Brien, Michael (N Wkshire) Snape, Peter
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Soley, Clive
O'Hara, Edward Spearing, Nigel
Olner, William Spellar, John
O'Neill, Martin Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Steinberg, Gerry
Patchett, Terry Stevenson, George
Pendry, Tom Strang, Gavin
Pickthall, Colin Straw, Jack
Pike, Peter L. Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pope, Greg Tipping, Paddy
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Turner, Dennis
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Vaz, Keith
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Prescott, John Wareing, Robert N
Primarolo, Dawn Watson, Mike
Purchase, Ken Welsh, Andrew
Quin, Ms Joyce Wicks, Malcolm
Randall, Stuart Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Raynsford, Nick Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Redmond, Martin Wilson, Brian
Reid, Dr John Wise, Audrey
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Worthington, Tony
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Wray, Jimmy
Roche, Ms Barbara Wright, Tony
Rogers, Allan Young, David (Bolton SE)
Rooker, Jeff
Rooney, Terry Tellers for the Ayes:
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Mr. Ken Eastham and
Ruddock, Joan Mr. Jack Thompson.
Adley, Robert Budgen, Nicholas
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Burns, Simon
Aitken, Jonathan Burt, Alistair
Alexander, Richard Butler, Peter
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Butterfill, John
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Amess, David Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Ancram, Michael Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arbuthnot, James Carrington, Matthew
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carttiss, Michael
Ashby, David Cash, William
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Aspinwall, Jack Chaplin, Mrs Judith
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Chapman, Sydney
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clappison, James
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Baldry, Tony Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Coe, Sebastian
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Colvin, Michael
Bates, Michael Congdon, David
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Conway, Derek
Bendall, Vivian Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Beresford, Sir Paul Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cormack, Patrick
Blackburn, Dr John G. Cran, James
Body, Sir Richard Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Booth, Hartley Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Day, Stephen
Bowis, John Deva, Nirj Joseph
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Devlin, Tim
Brandreth, Gyles Dickens, Geoffrey
Brazier, Julian Dicks, Terry
Bright, Graham Dorrell, Stephen
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Browning, Mrs. Angela Dover, Den
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Duncan, Alan
Duncan-Smith, Iain Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Dunn, Bob Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Durant, Sir Anthony Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Eggar, Tim Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Elletson, Harold Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Emery, Sir Peter Hunter, Andrew
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Jack, Michael
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Jenkin, Bernard
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Jessel, Toby
Evennett, David Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Faber, David Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Fabricant, Michael Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Jones, Robert B. (W H'f'rdshire)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Fishburn, John Dudley Key, Robert
Forman, Nigel Kilfedder, Sir James
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Kirkhope, Timothy
Forth, Eric Knapman, Roger
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Freeman, Roger Knox, David
French, Douglas Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Fry, Peter Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Gale, Roger Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Gallie, Phil Legg, Barry
Gardiner, Sir George Leigh, Edward
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Garnier, Edward Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Gill, Christopher Lidington, David
Gillan, Ms Cheryl Lightbown, David
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Lord, Michael
Gorst, John Luff, Peter
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW) MacKay, Andrew
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Maclean, David
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Maclennan, Robert
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) McLoughlin, Patrick
Grylls, Sir Michael McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Hague, William Madel, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Maitland, Lady Olga
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Malone, Gerald
Hampson, Dr Keith Mans, Keith
Hanley, Jeremy Marland, Paul
Hannam, Sir John Marlow, Tony
Hargreaves, Andrew Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Harris, David Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Harvey, Nick Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Haselhurst, Alan Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hawkins, Nicholas Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hawksley, Warren Mellor, Rt Hon David
Hayes, Jerry Merchant, Piers
Heald, Oliver Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Milligan, Stephen
Hendry, Charles Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Moate, Roger
Hicks, Robert Monro, Sir Hector
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Moss, Malcolm
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Needham, Richard
Horam, John Nelson, Anthony
Hordern, Sir Peter Neubert, Sir Michael
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Nicholls, Patrick Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Steen, Anthony
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Stephen, Michael
Norris, Steve Stern, Michael
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Stewart, Allan
Ottaway, Richard Streeter, Gary
Page, Richard Sumberg, David
Paice, James Sweeney, Walter
Patten, Rt Hon John Tapsell, Sir Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Pawsey, James Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pickles, Eric Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Porter, David (Waveney) Thomason, Roy
Powell, William (Corby) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rathbone, Tim Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Redwood, John Thurnham, Peter
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Townend, John (Bridlington)
Richards, Rod Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Riddick, Graham Tracey, Richard
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Tredinnick, David
Robathan, Andrew Trend, Michael
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Trotter, Neville
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Twinn, Dr Ian
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Tyler, Paul
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Viggers, Peter
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Wallace, James
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Waller, Gary
Sackville, Tom Ward, John
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Waterson, Nigel
Shaw, David (Dover) Watts, John
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Wells, Bowen
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wheeler, Sir John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Whitney, Ray
Shersby, Michael Whittingdale, John
Sims, Roger Widdecombe, Ann
Skeet, Sir Trevor Wiggin, Jerry
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wilkinson, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Willetts, David
Soames, Nicholas Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Speed, Sir Keith Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Spencer, Sir Derek Wolfson, Mark
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Wood, Timothy
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Yeo, Tim
Spink, Dr Robert Young, Sir George (Acton)
Spring, Richard
Sproat, Iain Tellers for the Noes:
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Mr. Tim Boswell and
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Mr. Irvine Patnick.

Question accordingly negatived.

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

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


That this House endorses Her Majesty's Government's vigorous and comprehensive action in response to the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy to bring the outbreak under control.

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