HL Deb 27 January 1998 vol 585 cc104-60

3.15 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke rose to move to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to revoke the Beef Bones Regulations 1997 (S.I. 1997/2959), laid before the House on 15th December 1997, to allow further consultation with consumers and consumer organisations, farmers, trade representatives and the relevant enforcement agencies [19th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first opportunity either House has had to debate the inept measure known as the Beef Bones Regulations 1997. The use of a negative Instrument, which has always struck me as being first cousin to government by decree, cannot be the right way to deal with an issue which had the potential—and has more than fulfilled that potential—to infuriate so many people and make the Government look unusually foolish.

Why has it infuriated so many people? Because there is so much wrong with the reasoning, if it can be so dignified, behind the ban. First, the scientific basis for the ban is questionable. Secondly, even accepting that the scientific basis is sound, the risk involved is so small as to be almost invisible. Thirdly, there are practical difficulties in policing and enforcing a ban which is held in such contempt by the vast majority of people in this country. Finally, there is the suggestion implicit in the ban that none of us is capable of rational risk assessment, so the man in Whitehall must make up our minds for us, and from now on we must all have our meat cut up in small pieces.

Perhaps we could look a little closer at the science and the risk basis on which this beef bones ban has been announced and the sale of beef bones has been criminalised. The advice to Ministers on dorsal root ganglia is based on experiments wherein unrealistically large doses of BSE-infected feed have been given to cattle from the age of four months. These cattle force-fed this infected feed showed clinical signs of infection at 39 months of age. I now quote from paragraph 5 of the SEAC advice to Ministers: With the Over Thirty Month Scheme in place the only DRG [dorsal root ganglia] to pose a risk would be from animals which would have developed BSE before the age of 38 months. Using risk management techniques, and taking account of the 90 per cent. decline in the BSE epidemic since 1993. the numbers of such animals with BSE aged 30–38 months are shown to be very small. In 1997 it is estimated that there will be 6 animals in the latter category and 3 in 1998. Thus next year, of the approximately 2.2 million cattle to be slaughtered for human consumption only 3 will he near enough to the end of the incubation period to raise the possibility of infectivity in their DRG. (Note in the worst year in the past the figure was many thousand times greater).

I remind the House again that this is on the basis of infection discovered in cattle which had been deliberately fed very high doses of BSE-infected material from a very young age, material which has been banned from cattle feed since 1988.

The advice goes on at paragraph 6: On the basis of the risk assessment available to us it is estimated that there is a 95 per cent. chance of no cases and a 5 per cent. chance of one case of new variant CJD arising as a result of this exposure in 1998".

But as my noble friend Lord Ferrers pointed out in the debate on agriculture last Wednesday, there is no known proven connection between BSE in animals and CJD in humans … No one can say without doubt that new variant CJD can be contracted from BSE in animals".—[Official Report, 21/1/98; col. 1518–9.]

So what we have is a scientific assessment that there is a one in 20 chance that one person out of 58 million may contract CJD from eating beef on the bone; that is a more than one in a billion chance—and that only if you accept the presently scientifically unproven assumption that there is transmission of the disease from animals to humans.

So what was the Government's reaction? Did they pause for reflection? Did they consider the matter deliberately? Did they make the figures and the risks public and allow us to choose whether to eat beef on the bone? No, quicker than you can say dorsal root ganglia, they pushed the panic button. The SEAC advice was given on 3rd December, and by 16th December the Beef Bones Regulations came into force. There has, until now, been no opportunity for proper debate on this subject although there was a rushed and entirely inadequate consultation process. Your Lordships may be interested to learn that the consultees on the matter of the Beef Bones Regulations included some of the following: the British Fur Trade Association; the National Association of Tripe Processors; the European Documentation Centre; the Al Hasaniya Moroccan Womens Centre; the Goat Advisory Bureau, the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles; the British Ceramics Confederation—are we at risk from eating off bone china? Perhaps we should be told. The consultees also included the West Indian Standing Conference and finally, and crucially, the Association of Circus Proprietors. But the list did not include any of the beef herd book societies or breeders associations, such as the Aberdeen Angus, Hereford or any of the other principal suppliers of animals to farms.

I understand that all the meat industry bodies who were consulted opposed the ban. Can the Minister tell us which, if any, of the consultees supported this ban? With this valuable consultation under their belt and the odds against infection of more than a billion-to-one, the Government felt it sensible to move to criminalise the sale of beef on the bone with penalties of £2,000 or six months imprisonment or both—the same penalty as applies, as your Lordships are undoubtedly aware, for keeping a brothel.

There are also problems over enforceability of the Beef Bones Regulations. It is the responsibility of local authorities to enforce them through their environmental health officers. I have had an interesting conversation with a senior environmental health officer. He pointed out that no law is enforceable at no cost. The money for information, education and enforcement will have to come out of local authority budgets, which are already spoken for.

He told me that there had been no guidance on how these regulations should be enforced, therefore there would be no consistency throughout the country in application. He also told me that he and his team would hope to inspect the butchers' shops in his area, which is a large area, at most twice a year. Does that inspire confidence in the inspection procedure? I suggest that it does not. Unenforceable law is bad law, and surely effort should be proportional to the risk involved. Is it sensible to spend the time of skilled enforcement officers on a matter of such slender risk when their time should be spent on more immediate threats?

These regulations are really beyond parody. The Government case is based on the risk of contracting new variant CJD from eating beef on the bone, which is more than a billion-to-one against. But everything that we do has a risk factor attached to it. It would be hard to dream up a longer shot than eating beef on the bone. Smoking, driving, reading the latest European Commission directive, are all much higher risks and yet we are still allowed to take them. We are allowed—but for how long?—to decide for ourselves whether to drive to work and to take the risk of being maimed, which is 76,000 times more likely than eating beef on the bone; to play golf and risk a lightning strike, which is 120 times more likely, or to have lunch and to risk choking to death, which is 4,800 more likely or even to lead life on the cutting edge and do all three on the same day.

So although the Government started by pretending that risk to the consumers was the trigger for this legislation and as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Office of Public Service stated in another place, The Government's first priorities are the protection of the consumer". and later, we will not play fast and loose with public health", it is now apparent that the risk is now almost non-existent.

No, there must be another reason. What the Minister must tell the House is why the Government are making a special case, giving special treatment to the practically negligible risk from eating beef on the bone, as compared with the million or more cases of food poisoning nationwide from E-coli or salmonella which occur every year and cause hundreds of deaths. There is also the health risk involved from imported meat about whose origins and safety we know very little at all.

Are the Government saying that this is the best way to build consumer confidence in beef? What an odd method to build confidence in the beef sector by banning its flagship product. In any case, consumers have shown their contempt for the government measure by stocking up with ribs of beef, T-bone steaks and oxtail. I understand that there is a brisk trade in beef on the bone dinners in the more sensible type of pub.

The Government seem to have stumbled on a bizarre method of "confidence by ban". Or are the Government playing to the European gallery in the hope that the ban will persuade our European competitors—I shall read that again because I meant our European partners, of course—to lift the worldwide ban which they have slapped on British beef? If that is the rationale, surely the best way of buying their votes would be to go the whole hog and make it illegal to sell any British beef at all. Surely a mere beef on the bone ban hardly serves the case.

I end by reminding your Lordships of the importance of beef in the British way of life. The roast beef of old England is celebrated in our songs, our verse, our stories and our plays. It is part of our historical background. Our French friends have known us for centuries as les roast beef. Are we now to be known as les milk pudding? I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to revoke the Beef Bones Regulations 1997 (S.I. 1997/2959), laid before the House on 15th December 1997, to allow further consultation with consumers and consumer organisations, farmers, trade representatives and the relevant enforcement agencies [19th Report from the Joint Committed].—(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)

3.24 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I am sorry that, as on Wednesday of last week, my noble friend is again having to explain government policy to large numbers of disgruntled or, if that is too strong a word, at least not very gruntled, farmers. In fact, beef formed a large part of the agenda last Wednesday as now. I can fully understand the concerns of farmers and why they need to beef about beef. BSE/CJD has been a body blow to the prosperity of thousands of cattle farmers up and down the country and the whole beef industry, let alone the taxpayer. Now these regulations on deboning are seen as adding insult to injury. However, this cloud, as my noble friend will explain, may have a silver lining.

But first it is important to get the health reasons for these regulations into perspective. In the debate last week both the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and no doubt others—and now the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke—said that the link between BSE in cattle and new variant CJD was still unproven. Strictly speaking, they are right. But the circumstantial evidence is now so compelling that I believe that the link would be accepted in a court of law. In particular, the microscopic appearances in the brain of BSE in animals and new variant CJD are identical, while those of scrapie—mainly a disease of sheep—or the more common form of human CJD, which preceded the BSE epidemic, are not the same as those of BSE if one looks at them in great detail under a microscope. It is true that so far there were at the last count only 23 cases of the new variant CJD, for which we should be grateful. It could already have been a lot worse if the predictions of some prominent microbiologists had been correct.

But we are not yet out of the wood. The incubation period of this disease is very long and in some cases it may be a decade or more. Unfortunately. like HIV and AIDS, the incubation period—between infection and overt disease—is also very variable. So although, based on present cases, the risk is very small, the potential is still there. But the risk does not come from eating muscle meat. The great bulk of the meat eaten is of course muscle meat. The risk comes from those parts of the animal which are part of the central nervous system or consist of certain types of offal.

It is fairly certain that the small number of cases that we have seen arose from the consumption of meat products containing some of these products before they were banned from sale. The new findings—namely, that the dorsal root ganglia can also carry transmissible BSE prions—are not altogether surprising since these small nodules of nervous tissue lie very close to the spinal cord (a main source of the BSE agent) between the ribs where they join the spine. Bone marrow, also covered in these regulations, is closely allied to the lymphatic system, parts of which, such as the tonsils, count as specified offal which cannot be sold for human consumption under current regulations. So the regulations that we are discussing today are in fact a logical extension of the 1989 bovine offal (prohibition) regulations. The experiments which provide evidence of infection often take many years to show results and, as more evidence becomes available, the regulations lag behind. In fact, it could be held that not to include bone and bone marrow among the products banned from consumption would have been inconsistent and illogical.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I am very genuinely a seeker after truth on this matter. Why is it more dangerous to carve meat off the bone at home, having cooked it with the bone in in your oven, than to cook at home meat which has been taken off the bone at the butchers? I simply do not understand. The noble Lord is obviously very well informed and very clever, so he will undoubtedly be able to tell me why that is the case.

Lord Rea

My Lords, if the noble Earl will bear with me, I shall come to that point in a minute.

Decisions often have to be taken in the interests of public health before the scientific evidence is complete. Waiting for the scientific evidence risks allowing an epidemic to get out of control. I agree that in this case we are talking about very small numbers. The most famous example of why it is necessary to take action when the cause is not yet fully understood will be well known to your Lordships. I refer to the case of Dr. John Snow who observed an outbreak of cholera in London's West End in the middle of the last century. He suspected the water pump at Broad Street of being contaminated and the source of the outbreak, but he was puzzled by the outlying death from cholera of a woman in Hampstead—until he found out that she liked the taste of the Broad Street water and had it specially brought to her every day. That clinched the evidence as far as he was concerned, and he removed the handle of the offending pump, much to local people's annoyance. Shortly afterwards, the epidemic subsided. The point of the story is that that action was taken before the microbe causing cholera had been discovered.

The current CJD problem is, as the noble Lord described, much smaller and CJD develops much more slowly than cholera. The risk to any individual is vastly less, but the principle still applies. To answer the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, to leave the deboning of beef to individuals, having given them a warning, was one of the options open to my right honourable friend the Minister, but that would not have protected those who ate out or bought mince, sausages, or other meat products which could have come from carcases which had not been "deboned". Incidentally, the word "deboned" does not appear in the thesaurus on the lap-top which is supplied—or rather, lent—to me by your Lordships' House.

Finally, I come to the silver lining. Noble Lords will be pleased that I shall soon sit down. The silver lining is as much a reason for the regulations as the protection of public health. I am quite clear about that. If we had not brought in these regulations, or something very similar, the prospect of British beef being allowed back into Europe would have receded. The regulations are one more nail in the coffin of BSE as a source of human disease. As my noble friend will explain, they have been acknowledged by the European Commission—that body which all farmers love since it administers that golden egg, the CAP. The Commission's approval will undoubtedly bring forward the end of the export ban on British beef to Europe.

However, it is perfectly possible that there will never again be such a high demand for beef as there was before the BSE epidemic. Demand for beef was already falling previously, so it could be that the cattle farmers who are diversifying to other livestock or other use of their land in response to the present crisis will prove to have been wise. Although it was not an easy decision for my right honourable friend to make, as it puts an extra burden on an already hard-pressed industry, I am sure that it was the right decision. Those noble Lords who intend to oppose the regulations in the Division Lobbies this afternoon will, in fact, be doing the beef industry a disservice, and they should think again.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, the House has had the benefit of the expert medical knowledge and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, but he still has not answered the real question posed by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke which is, quite simply: Why are not the British public allowed to make up their own minds about the risk? The noble Lord's advice is there for all to read and see.

We cannot consider the beef regulations in isolation without also considering what are known as the "Specific Risk Material Orders" which also came into effect on 1st January 1998. They represent an additional burden on the farming community and pose a serious problem for the knacker trade and the collection of fallen stock. What is so annoying about the Specific Risk Material Orders is that they have been brought into force in this country by our excellent Civil Service on the ground that they bring us into line with Europe, but the Europeans do not even have a date for the introduction of their Specific Risk Material Orders although it is rumoured to be at the beginning of April.

Noble Lords will have read in Hansard how my noble friend Lord Vinson has pursued the point about whether BSE occurs in sheep which are over three years old. We all know that scrapie has occurred in sheep for hundreds of years. Many noble Lords will have seen a ewe going round and round in circles. Shepherds used to bore a hole in the wretched animal's head to let out the pressure and then block it up again with Archangel Tar. The sheep would then recover. Scrapie has been a fairly common complaint for some time. It is perfectly clear that there is no connection whatever—the noble Lord, Lord Rea, admitted this—between scrapie and BSE. On 19th January, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said, in answer to a Written Question that there is no evidence whatsoever that scrapie is a risk to human health.

The real problem with the beef regulations is that fallen stock can be fed to animals—to dogs and hounds—provided the head, spine and tail have been removed. The head, spine and oxtail go to the renderers. We have a further problem. The unacceptable parts of the animal have to be rendered, but the Government are month by month reducing the amount of money that they give to the renderers. That has put an enormous burden on the knacker trade to carry out its own rendering or, in some cases, where planning permission can be gained, to provide its own equipment for burning the surplus parts. Adding the Specific Risk Material Orders to that problem means that it is impossible to feed to a dog any material other than the legs of a dead sheep.

We are coming up to lambing time and we all know that throughout the countryside very many dead sheep will need to be collected and skinned and will be fed to the hounds. On Exmoor alone last year, 2,232 sheep were collected voluntarily by those responsible for the five packs of hounds on Exmoor. The sheep were skinned, incinerated and fed to the hounds. If all that can be fed to the hounds are the legs of dead sheep, who is going to collect and skin those sheep? Skinning a ewe that has been dead for two days is not a particularly pleasant prospect. It was done because, first, the remaining meat could be fed to the hounds and, secondly, the person who skinned it got an extra three quid for presenting a fleece. Today. the price of that skin has fallen to 50p. That makes it an even more unattractive job. Could we not come to some arrangement such as we had during the war when unclean meat was covered with a dye and all of it could then be fed to the hounds?

My noble friend Lord Willoughby made it perfectly clear that all noble Lords feel that in this case the Government have adopted the wrong option. The right option was to publish as much information as possible about the problem of BSE and let the public make up their own minds.

History always repeats itself. In 1795 Members of both Houses who were enthusiastic about the future of agriculture complained that Mr. Pitt and his government were far too interested in matters European to concentrate on the problems of British agriculture. In 1795 they agreed to dine together regularly and raise money for Smithfield Show and the improvement of agriculture throughout the United Kingdom. They have done so for the past 202 years. One way of helping agriculture was to insist that marrow bones and mutton pies were always on the menu. This has continued for some 202 years, except in 1862 when another cattle plague, rinderpest, swept through the countryside and marrow hones were withdrawn from the menu. It is recorded in the minutes of the Farmers' Club of 1795 that the then secretary was empowered to call upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to pray for deliverance from pestilence. The most reverend Primate succeeded and marrow bones and mutton pies were restored to the menu the following year. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, will be as successful.

3.41 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for not being in my place when my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke first rose to move his Motion. The Motion is a very good and apposite one. I had the temerity to address the House last Wednesday and give my views on BSE and CJD. I do not propose to rehearse all of those points, although frequently I do not remember what I have said and I have no reason to flatter myself that your Lordships should remember what I have said. The fact is that we have had a problem over BSE and CJD and that there is no known proven connection between them. However, both this Government and the previous government have been obliged to take certain measures.

The present Government have taken further measures to try to avoid people getting CJD. It has been pointed out on many occasions that there are only 23 such cases: three cases three years ago, 10 two years ago and 10 last year. The number is not great. But under the regulations now before your Lordships it is proposed to make illegal the sale of beef on the bone because of the prevalence of what is known as dorsal root ganglia. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, knows this but if not perhaps I can impress upon him that this year there are only three animals in the whole of the United Kingdom which could have this problem. Even if they do it does not mean that they will transmit it to human beings. And even if they transmit it it does not mean that human beings will be affected by it. Or, if they are affected, it does not mean that they will die.

As explained last week, by the time one has gone through that gamut, the chance of dying from beef on the bone is about one in 600 million. The regulations have been vilified by the farming community and by those who want to buy and cook beef on the bone. To be told that they should not do so is an absurdity. It is quite undesirable. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory committee never advised the Government to do this. The Government took the decision on their own without consultation. Their action has proved acutely unpopular not only within the farming community but in other circles.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, says that it is in the interests of public health. It is nothing of the kind. There is no public health interest if only three animals are likely to have the disease. The noble Lord also says that the purpose is that beef should be allowed back into Europe. We heard last Wednesday from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and from the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. that the intention was to placate Europe. That is a very bad reason for producing a very bad set of regulations. I see the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington—bless his heart—in his place. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. will be broad-minded and realise that the Government would not lose face if they accepted the Motion. All it suggests is that time should be allowed to consult people before the introduction of regulations on which there has been no consultation at all.

The Government would gain a great deal of credence and respect if they agreed to take away the regulations and consult further. Having consulted, they might consider it necessary to bring them back. I hope that the Government will do as I suggest. If they do not—I realise that that is only a minimal possibility—I hope that your Lordships will vote for the Motion. The Motion does not defeat the regulations but enables them to be taken away in order that more consultation can take place.

This Government of all governments like consultation. At least they say they do. There is no reason therefore why they should not have more consultation about something that is ridiculed throughout the country.

3.47 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, perhaps I may be forgiven for moving the debate in a slightly different direction down the food chain. I wish to speak first about the catering and hospitality industry. I declare an interest, albeit entirely honorary and non-pecuniary, as president of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain. Not unnaturally, restaurateurs are concerned about continual food scares. They have experienced many food scares in the past few years. It began with salmonella followed by the drama of irradiation when it was suggested that every menu in every establishment should list every ingredient going into every dish. We managed to annul that absurdity. Now we have BSE, leading to the beef bone ban, which means that we cannot have roast beef and T-bone steaks and chefs are unable to make stock from beef bones. That is an important ingredient in the catering industry.

All of this uncertainty has created a lack of confidence in the minds of the consumer and the industry, which is a huge one. The catering and hospitality industry is the fifth largest consumer industry in the country following food, cars, insurance and clothing. It employs more than 2 million people. Last year alone it generated nearly £2 billion in VAT on the food element alone, not counting drink and other products served to customers. It is a vast industry. Surely, it needs to be consulted much more extensively. Restaurants and the catering industry are not very interested in poisoning their customers. That would be rather bad for business. They need an era of confidence, not continual bans and scares.

Last year consumers bought over 9 billion meals in commercial establishments. That is a large number. These people are not stupid. They must be allowed some choice. The point was made cogently by my noble friend Lord Willoughby in opening the debate and by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. There are so many things that are harmful, for example cigarettes. Crossing the road is much more dangerous than eating beef, and always will be. Surely, the ban must represent one of the ultimate absurdities.

It should be left to consumers to decide what they want to eat. As we have heard from all sides, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, the health risk is absolutely minimal. I hope that the Government will think again, but I fear that is a triumph of hope over expectation. Let us hope I am proved wrong.

3.50 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. There is no doubt that this outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy will enter the annals of history as among the worst, if not the worst, disaster to affect the British cattle industry.

I have no desire to pre-empt the outcome of the public inquiry conducted by Lord Justice Phillips, but I am pleased that the Government have called it. I hope that, among the many lines of investigation Lord Justice Phillips will need to take, he will find time to review how the administration of science, and the dramatic changes in the way it has been handled since the mid-1970s, might have contributed to the crisis.

What presently excites my curiosity is outside the remit of Lord Justice Phillips' inquiry, which will investigate events only before 20th March 1996. It is the sequence of events that resulted in Beef Bones Regulations 1997. We know that the research that raised concern was conducted by the Central Veterinary Laboratory at Weybridge, an establishment that has dealt with much of the BSE crisis from the beginning. It is owed thanks for its tireless work. Ray Bradley, the BSE coordinator; John Wilesmith, the epidemiologist; and the pathologists, including Gerald Wells and Martin Jeffreys, have all done heroic work in the hardest of circumstances.

However, while thanking the CVL, we should perhaps also recognise its limits, and in this case its relative inexperience with diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. By force of the epidemic, it has been put on a dramatic learning curve. In the best of all possible worlds, BSE—the most disastrous of the TSEs—would be dealt with by specialist outposts dedicated to them, such as the group based at the Institute for Animal Health at Compton and its world respected satellite, the Neuropathogenesis Unit in Edinburgh.

We know that, for whatever reason—presumably space—the scientific trials behind the beef bone ban were conducted not at these outposts but at the Central Veterinary Laboratory. The work involved dosing live cattle with BSE, then searching for infectivity in carcasses of varying ages. We are told how its researchers found infectivity in the dorsal root ganglia of an animal of 32 months old, but not in one aged 30 months, the maximum age now legally permitted for beef animals. We are also told that the experimental animals were fed an extremely large amount—I understand three ounces—of infected brain material by mouth at the age of four months.

I appreciate that the researchers wished to accommodate a capacious margin of safety but this is many times more than a cow fed on concentrates which included meat and bone meal would have encountered. We are not told whether this material was left even more infectious by being used raw rather than after cooking at a minimum of 100 degrees Centigrade, as would be the case with meat and bone meal.

It is impossible to be more specific about the scientific evidence on which the bone ban is based. The paper involved has not yet been published. Indeed, at the time of the ban, it was not back from peer reviewers scrutinising the paper for its publisher, the Veterinary Record. Most curiously, the most apt "scrutineers", as the publication calls its expert readers, did not appear to include the researchers at Compton or the Neuropathogenesis Unit. When these establishments were questioned immediately after the announcement, they said that they did not know about the CVL paper.

Yet the paper, unreviewed, did go to a very much more general group, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC). This, we accept, was a vital step. It is the committee charged with giving the scientific advice that safeguards the country against the mystifying pathogen behind BSE, and it is a matter of public health that it sees what work is in progress. But what happened to this work in progress after it was discussed at a SEAC meeting on 2nd December 1997?

The committee noted, but appeared to reserve judgment on, reported evidence on infectivity in bone marrow. It is not clear whether the quality of the work is in doubt. Rather, focus was reserved for infectivity detected in dorsal root ganglia of heavily dosed cattle beyond the legal age ban. The committee deduced that there was a conceivable risk of the order of being hit by lightning.

Having identified the risk, or lack of it, the scientists then suggested three conceivable plans of action for the Government. It told the Minister for Agriculture that he had three choices: he could inform the public of a potential risk; meat from older animals could be deboned in special plants; or bones could be banned. Within hours of the Government receiving this advice, there was a leak to the media that the Minister for Agriculture was to take the most severe option, that bones be banned. This on the basis of an interim report of an unreviewed paper in the face of extremely low risk. I am told the choice surprised even members of SEAC.

It became clear days later that forcing Europeans to comply with this perhaps excessively severe regulation was a circuitous way to raise the slaughter standards for imported beef. One can see the logic here, while having reservations about applauding it.

I wonder, my Lords, during those late hours of 2nd December, whether the Minister for Agriculture realised that he had dealt another devastating blow to then UK beef industry? It would seem not, for he blithely announced, almost immediately afterwards, that it was time the stricken sector accepted that it was in need of reform. Does he realise that the main victims, the quality beef producers, are yet again paying for a disease that appears to be a result of the excesses of the dairy industry? His comment about how 95 per cent. of beef was already sold off the bone betrayed dangerous ignorance about the issues and economics involved.

At least two noble Lords have said that for a law to be a good law it must be acceptable to the people to whom it applies and it must be enforceable. No honourable farmer wishes to circumvent important safety regulations: no honourable scientist wishes unnecessary ruination on those riding out science in the making; and no honourable Minister wishes to hang his honour on a mistake.

Might not the Government admit that they have made a mistake? Might they not accept and grin at the spot of ridicule to which they have subjected themselves? Almost immediately after the announcement, risk analysts summoned up by the media remarked that it was such a low risk that effectively it was no risk. "Newsnight" erected a "risk-o-meter". The public rushed to stock up on T-bones and ribs of beef while they lasted. I did; I still have two in the freezer. The Government, science, and the issue of safety were made an ass; the beef industry was dealt a devastating blow.

These are serious criticisms. However, there is no condemnation. The Minister for Agriculture is also due congratulations. Without his support. the Phillips inquiry would not be happening. He has handled the formation of the Food Standards Agency with exceptional diplomacy and is convincing as an ambassador for change and growth. He is proving a tough representative in Europe. He is shaping up to be a very good Minister indeed. One can only hope that he will learn that while all Ministers make mistakes, only the very best admit to them.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, as you will know. I have been highly critical of the performances of both the previous and present governments in their handling of BSE. I am not going to repeat my arguments in the agricultural debate last week except to say again that it must be accepted that ultimately it is Ministers in both governments—starting with the then Health Minister, Mr. Stephen Dorrell, and now the Agriculture Minister, Dr. John Cunningham—who have been so alarmist in the whole matter, having unequivocally accepted the unquantified advice of their so-called experts. That successive governments should be responsible for such scaremongering is deplorable. It will go down in the annals of bad government. Meanwhile I hope that Lord Justice Phillips, who is today embarking on an inquiry into the whole BSE saga, will take full account of this debate.

My own inclination to vote for the Motion is because I am not satisfied that the cost, both to the taxpayer and the farming industry, is remotely justified by the risk of eating beef on the bone. The reason I say that is that I have not yet seen any figures to support the case for the regulation.

Has the appropriate cost benefit analysis been undertaken? There is nothing new in cost benefit analysis. It was first used in public policy some 40 years ago when the Victoria Line was being planned. In relation to BSE I should like to know whether a newer, but now well-developed, variant of cost benefit known as risk analysis has been used and, if so, with what result?

I have consulted a friend of mine, Mr. Gerald Orman of Orman Risk Analysts, who have an international practice in the field. In a letter to me he said that the definition of an "expert" in risk analysis is someone who understands the underlying mechanism of how a risk materialises sufficiently well to express a view on its probability without historical records. If he cannot he is not an expert. Decisions can only be taken based on probabilities, and Stephen Dorrell was most unwise not to have forced his experts to give them. In safety engineering as it is applied to the design of railways, which is a good example because people require a far higher level of safety in a medium over which they have no control compared with, say, motoring where they see themselves as in control, the limit of expenditure on a measure which would save one life is £2 million.

Risk analysis, as some of your Lordships will know, is a branch of mathematical modelling which applies probability theory to qualitative advice so as to quantify it. Once the risk analysis is complete then the decision analysis is used to follow it up so as to balance the costs of different actions against the assessed risk.

I must say that I was amazed to learn that it would appear that those techniques do not seem to have been used in relation to BSE and I have done my best to check that nothing meaningful has been published. First, I understand that in October Professor Lacy addressed the London meeting of the Geneva Association of Risk Management and produced none of the figures which his professional audience would have expected to hear. Secondly, I spoke to the Institute of Risk Management, which was unable to point to any published work. Thirdly, I spoke to AIRMIC (the Association of Insurance and Risk Managers) and it, too, was unaware of the existence of any proper analysis. I hope that if any proper risk analysis has been done the Minister will be able to give us details and will undertake that it will be published forthwith.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, said that public health has to be protected before the scientific evidence is available. I was most unimpressed by his cholera example. It was obviously a good idea to clean up London drinking water whatever the reason. The cost of the decision made to turn off that tap was negligible in comparison with the particular benefit.

Let us be clear that this measure will not affect, one way or the other, the attitude of the Europeans. They are keeping British beef out of world markets for quite different reasons. Indeed, some of them might even feel that the more Brits who go mad the better. Meanwhile, I hope that the House will have the courage to ask the Government to think again. If they did so, it would strike a strong echo with the British people who, not for the first time, would see the House of Lords as their protector against unwise and ill-considered measures proposed in another place. The Government might even be pleased to be saved from themselves. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should certainly welcome the annulment of the measure.

What, incidentally, has happened to the Treasury? In the days when I was in Whitehall it would never have allowed the Government to get away with such expensive and unjustified decisions.

4.5 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, one of the few pleasures of opposition is to be on this side of the House in a BSE debate. I do not envy the Minister his position. I have no interests to declare. I have spent most of my life avoiding farming, which occupied my father, brother and cousins extensively. Presumably that is why I was chosen to have Front Bench responsibility for agriculture, and the Minister will know how that goes.

I share the risk assessment of nvCJD put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. We clearly do not know the mechanisms, but we know enough to make it sensible to act as if there were a link and to base all our policy on the idea that there is a link between BSE and nvCJD. It is imperative that we see an early and conclusive end to the BSE epidemic as it has involved enormous costs for the UK, and farmers in particular. Any action to eliminate the risk of a continuation of the epidemic must be justified, even at low likelihoods of continuing infection.

If the Government were able to say that that is why they are introducing this beef bones ban I should give them my full support. but there is no truth in that at all. There is no way in which beef bones in a butcher shop or in someone's kitchen will get back into the cattle herd and produce continuing infection. That is not a risk.

We are dealing with something that is supposed to exist just to protect consumers, but, as has been said so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, we are dealing with a risk of one in a billion. which does not appear on anyone's scale of ordinary risks to be taken notice of and avoided. We are dealing with a regulation which is just a bit of flannel for the EU. It is a regulation which is unenforceable and which will not be enforced. It is a regulation which is intended not to be enforced. It is a sad day when we look at such legislation: we are, as it were, seeking to beat the Europeans at their own game of failing to enforce regulations. That is not the right way to go.

I return to my first comment. It is important that we ensure that there is no continuation of the epidemic in this country. I noted in the newspaper yesterday that there have been 12 cases of BSE in cattle imported into this country, principally from France and Belgium. That is more cases than those two countries have themselves declared, as I remember. It is extraordinary that we just happened to import the ones that were infected.

The risk for us is that those cattle will bring back BSE into the system when we have reached the point that only three cattle with that disease are likely to reach the human food chain in this country this year. That is an extraordinary improvement on the worst stages of the epidemic. Our tracking system must be in place to ensure that if a cow goes down with BSE, we know whether it has been imported and from where it has come so that we can demonstrate that our national herd is free of infection, even if we are still bringing in infected animals from European countries which have not implemented the controls that we have.

When we were in Government, with this epidemic we regularly found ourselves walking into the slurry pit. Whether that was due to us not noticing that it was there, or whether it was never pointed out to us that it was there, is a question which I shall leave to the Minister. I am sure that he is aware of the danger: we may not have looked at all of the ways in which infection may continue in the national herd.

I have been having a debate with the Minister. I am grateful for his reply yesterday to the effect that calves are still allowed to drink their mother's blood. One is allowed to put cow's blood into milk replacer for calves. We know that calves are much more likely to pick up the infection than adult cows. If there is some material which will come from cows to calves it will be that, because MBM is banned. It is extraordinary that we continue to accept that risk.

We have gone as far as banning all pig products in pig feed, although we have never demonstrated the existence of BSE in those animals. However, we are allowing that element of feedback among cattle. Might not other lacunae exist in our defences? Will it not be ridiculous to discover that one or two animals born this year or last suddenly develop BSE, putting back the whole eradication programme for six years? That would be another six years of slaughtering our old dairy cattle at the cost of £1 billion a year. That is unthinkable. Surely, a proper examination of the remaining risks is required. Would not that be an issue for Lord Justice Phillips to incorporate in his studies?

I turn to the subject of the debate. It is wonderful that we have reduced the risk of contracting nvCJD to one in a billion. Generally, food risks are much higher than that. As the Government have recently stated, fresh meat should generally be treated as though it were infected. Many samples of fresh meat will contain salmonella or E.coli. The Government's arguments about restaurants are ridiculous. The additional risk that would be posed if every restaurant in the land used beef bones is so small in relation to the volume of food poisoning and other risks associated with restaurants as to be insignificant. There is no argument for trying to protect the public against a risk which they do not know exists, even if it were one hundred times the supposed level.

When we discover better methods of detecting the prion proteins which are at the heart of the problem, what will happen when we follow on the work that is already being undertaken into the reproduction of prion protein in muscles? Let us suppose that it is established that there are low levels of prion in ordinary meat and that there is a one in 10 billion chance of contracting nvCJD if you happen to eat a steak. Would that cause the Government to ban the entire beef industry, which would be the only way of avoiding the risk? Would they close down the entire beef industry for a one in 10 billion risk? I hope that they would not. If they would not. why are they trying to avoid this one in a billion risk related to beef on the bone, which is only 5 per cent. of the beef that is eaten? I do not understand the Government's logic in going down that road.

I hope that they will not seek to impose that logic on the food safety standards agency when it is set up. Do they intend to impose the one in a billion risk on all food-related risks? If so, we will see a doubling or trebling of the price of every single meat product. Is that the Government's intention? Do they not believe that the correct way of dealing with such risks is by supplying information and allowing individuals to make their own decisions? If we achieve nothing else from the debate, I shall be delighted to have the Minister's reaffirmation that common sense will prevail when dealing with other risk-related food.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity to debate the beef bone regulations. I have no interest to declare. My ambition is to cover my farm with combinable crops and I find two dogs and two children quite enough to handle. I admire those who are seriously in the cattle business.

The sorry saga of BSE rolls on. I have yet to find anything creditable in the story. It will be interesting to see what the Government's committee of inquiry under Lord Justice Phillips comes up with. It will find the same problems. What is certain is that the subject continues to inflict damage not only on cattlemen hut also on reputations. As others have said and as I have found, no one, except for one or two Members opposite, supports the Government in this matter.

How far the BSE crisis has influenced the suicide rate in farming, which is currently about 50 farmers a year—that is almost one a week—we will probably never know. However, it is likely that suicide as a result of the BSE crisis accounts for more deaths than the new CJD. I accept that the strongly suspected link between BSE and CJD is the reason for the crisis. The question of whether the link can be absolutely proved to exist may continue for a long time. That is because of the long incubation period of the disease and also the long time required for the passing of each generation of both cattle and humans. We cannot accelerate that process.

However, it is certain that if it were not for a suspected link, the handling of the BSE crisis would have been different. It is probable that we would not have had the enormous expenditure on the present cull and the epidemic would have been allowed to run a more natural course. I accept the need for the cattle industry to get rid of the disease, but we do not need the accelerated panic.

With that in mind, it is not unreasonable to suggest that each nvCJD fatality has cost the Exchequer between £160 million and £170 million. That figure is the result of dividing the cost of the BSE eradication programme by the number of nvCJD fatalities. I may be accused of abusing statistics, but, to anyone involved in human health, that is a remarkable figure to play with.

The regulations we are debating prevent the retail sale of beef on the bone because those undertaking research on BSE have discovered the disease in two new parts of the beef carcass. Naturally, given the suspected link, that is cause for anxiety. The relevant committee, having considered matters carefully, duly contacted the Ministry. Its report makes interesting reading. If it were not wholly inappropriate, it would be tempting to read verbatim the report which I have received from the Library.

Be that as it may, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke—perhaps I may be forgiven the pun—covered the bones of the report extremely well. We understand that there might be one additional case of nvCJD as a result of recently acquired knowledge. To that can be added the possibility of cases already in incubation for which we will pay the annual cost of the over-30-months slaughter scheme. The life insurance industry and the courts, which are used to assessing the value of a life—it may be grisly, but they are—would be shocked by any suggestion that that is a sensible valuation. In a perverse way, I am pleased that the cost is so high because at least it is a strong indication of the relatively small number of cases of nvCJD.

The standing advisory committee on encephalopathy recommended that its findings, based on risk assessment, be made public. It said that the Government might consider two further actions: a soft option to remove all bones from carcasses of animals slaughtered over the age of 24 months; or, a harder option, to remove all bones from carcasses of those slaughtered over the age of six months. But the wording is instructive: We recommend that the information be made available to the public".

It goes on to say: If the Government decides that action is necessary to reduce this small risk further we recommend either".

I am quite clear that the standing advisory committee did not recommend the action taken.

I raise one separate issue. It is a small but important point of detail. I declare an interest as it affects my culinary wishes. I spoke to a Mr. John Brewster of Smithfield Market, one of the senior market people, who is very puzzled as to why oxtail has been included in the regulations. As all noble Lords will know, oxtail is an extension of the base of the spine but it begins way beyond the point where the spinal cord ceases. Therefore, there is no chance of there being dorsal root ganglia in the tail.

Paradoxically, too, the centre of the oxtail bone does not consist of marrow but of a form of light gristle. So there is no marrow in the oxtail either. We have a situation therefore in which the regulations ban a perfectly palatable aspect of the beef carcass from the market when there is no possibility of there being any infected material in it.

I must assume that the Minister will argue that the new regulations are necessary if the European Community ban on British beef exports is to be lifted. That may or may not be so. But I ask him to bear in mind in his negotiations over the water that the German and continental meat markets were collapsing rapidly before the beef crisis broke. The BSE crisis gave the mainland an excuse, for that is what it was, to ban a large volume of competing meat. The German market has made a less good recovery than ours. It is still in its interests to prevent additional sources of meat reaching that market. We can be confident that as a result of everything that has happened British meat is almost certainly vastly safer than anything which is slaughtered and cut up on the continent.

There is one final point I should like to introduce which arises from an article I read in the Financial Times today. The European Commission seems to be having to alter its attitude towards the whole question of BSE. It is in trouble with the United States because it has not given meat from that country the same BSE risk assessment—if the matter can be expressed in that way—as it has beef from Australia and New Zealand. If that is so and the European Commission is having to look at the issue in relation to the risk of BSE from other countries, it gives the lie to the fact that it is an exclusively British problem, a fact which farmers and others have tried to make on many occasions but one which falls on singularly deaf ears when one crosses the Channel. I await the outcome of the debate with great interest.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, before 1st May and before his elevation to the Ministry of Agriculture, I shared a room with my noble friend Lord Donoughue. He will have heard me denounce the hysteria of the previous government in relation to BSE and the ban on beef and so on in far less measured terms than I shall be able to use today. But he can be certain, because I have already told him, that I shall speak against this Government's policy, as I spoke against the previous government's policy. Therefore, he is in no doubt as to what is my attitude today.

This is the first opportunity that the House of Lords has had to discuss specifically this matter. The Statement on 3rd December was refused—which means that it was not repeated here—so unlike the House of Commons, we were unable to question the Minister when that decision was made. That was altogether unfortunate since noble Lords in this House have very great expertise in farming and related matters. Therefore, the Government and the country were denied the opportunity of having those views expressed and the benefit of advice given at an early stage.

Indeed, there has been no full-scale debate yet in the House of Commons about this ban, although that may still happen. It is right, therefore, that there should be a proper debate here and we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, for tabling this Motion. Indeed, had he not done so, I would have done so. I should have tabled a Motion because I believe that it is completely unacceptable that a Minister, without warning or proper consultation, should be able to ban a product on the flimsiest of evidence and after rejecting less extreme measures which were available on the advice of his experts. I had expected a Labour Minister to be more robust in defence of people's freedom and livelihoods than previous spineless Tory Ministers; and to exercise common sense rather than blindly follow official advice.

If Ministers are not prepared to exercise their own judgment on behalf of the great mass of people, what are they there for? Why do we have them? Let us just leave the experts to make the decision without any control. Ministers should have taken note of the fact that symptoms showed only after animals had been fed large doses of BSE-infected meat. We are not going to feed humans with large artificial doses of infected meat. That is one of the points that I should have taken into account when making a decision.

Even so, the Secretary of State, in his Statement, stated that British beef is safe but nevertheless he was instituting the ban as a precautionary measure and to maintain consumer confidence. That is what he said on 3rd December. But by 14th January, the story had changed somewhat, as we have heard recently. In a reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said something quite different. I shall quote what she said because it is worth having it on the record on this debate. She said: I would say to him", that is, to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that one of the factors has not so much to do with the area of concern with which I am primarily involved in public health, hut more to do with those delicate negotiations that my right honourable and noble friends arc undertaking in Europe. Had we allowed the sale of beef which was technically described as unsafe, it is unlikely that we would have made any progress in Brussels towards lifting the beef ban".—[Officia1 Report, 14/1/98; col. 1054.]

So between 3rd December and 14th January there was a different story. I think we should take due note of that. What is the real story'? Was the decision made on food safety grounds or as yet another grovelling sop to our real political masters in Europe? The health risk is not just small—as we have heard—but infinitesimal: one in about 600 million. That really is no risk at all.

As we have heard so many times, there are huge risks from other activities. Those risks are enormous compared with eating beef on the bone, or beef of any sort for that matter. So far there have been only 22 cases of CJD/BSE deaths since the beginning of the scare, yet every year 3,600 people are killed on the roads and 50,000 are seriously injured. There are 140 deaths every year from swimming, from jumping in the sea or a pool. There are 18 deaths from childbirth every year. There are 500 deaths every year from AIDS/HIV. There are 65 deaths from E.coli and salmonella poisoning. That is three times as many in one year as the total number of deaths so far from CJD/BSE. That puts the matter into perspective. Many of those E.coli and salmonella deaths may well be due to the unhygienic practices of officials of the Meat Hygiene Service at abattoirs. Indeed it seems to me under those circumstances that there is a better case for banning meat inspectors than beef on the bone!

The ban has been badly received not only by farmers and the meat trade but also by the general public, as was shown by the rush to buy beef on the bone, including oxtails,—people were trampled in the rush—before the ban was imposed. We have seen the flouting of the law by traders, aided and abetted by their customers who refuse to be intimidated by overweening Ministers. This sort of ban brings government into disrepute and induces the contempt of the electorate for laws which they see as ridiculous, unnecessary and harmful to large sections of people. They are simply fed up with knee-jerk reactions by Ministers and MPs to events, and the imposing of new laws, bans and other actions, without time being given for consultation, proper reflection and consideration of the wider implications of their actions which impinge on personal freedom and on people's livelihoods.

We hear a lot about the people so it is all right for me to talk about them. People are increasingly concerned about the growing arrogance and intolerance of the state. It is often described as a nanny state and that seems to me to be an apt term bearing in mind recent revelations about nannies' treatment of their charges. They beat them up and do other such things. I fear that the electorate is being beaten up by governments introducing legislation which is unnecessary, ill thought out and which should never reach the statute book. I have to say in conclusion that if the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, presses this amendment, I shall—and indeed not in fear and trembling of my Front Bench or the Whips—he pleased to join him in the Lobby.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, in his speech my noble friend Lord Kimball went back some 200 years when he described how marrow bones were preserved for the members of London clubs. 1 wish to go back just 20 years or so to the time when I took part in an evaluation visit to the Neuropathogenesis Unit in Edinburgh to assess the funding of scrapie, a disease which is related to BSE. At that time it was a model for the human disease of CJD or Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease.

At that meeting two important developments occurred. First, the members of the Medical Research Council felt that it was not worth carrying on with research into scrapie as a model of CJD because the number of cases of CJD that occurred in this country was low, and they felt that the money could be better spent elsewhere. However, the advice that prevailed was that the work should go on, and indeed it did. Thank heavens that it did because that sort of work is important now because of our CJD problem.

Those were the days when spongiform encephalopathies were of a low order of interest and only a few people in this country were working on them. It is long-term, chronic research that is difficult to fund and it takes a long time to obtain any research results. Secondly, however, everything changed when there was a report of a scrapie-like condition occurring in cattle in southern England. That was BSE. Since the mid-80s there have been 165,000 cases of BSE in the United Kingdom and more than 1.2 million cattle have been slaughtered in a control—and ultimately eradication—programme. The cause has been the feeding of animal waste, specific bovine offals—or specific bovine materials as they are now known—to cattle as a source of protein. That was prohibited in 1988. Over the succeeding years that prohibition and other regulation and control policies eventually led to a dramatic fall in the number of cases of BSE to the level of around 100 new infections in cattle in this country at the present time, as estimated by the Oxford epidemiological group, and some 300 animals under 30 months of age remaining in the whole country which are infected with BSE.

So shortly there will be fewer cases of BSE in the United Kingdom than there are in some other countries of the European Union. Whereas we are taking extraordinarily drastic measures as regards the control and slaughter of cattle and the treatment of meat and carcasses, as many noble Lords have said, these other countries with BSE in their herds—some of whom have admitted the problem and others of whom have not—are not taking similar measures.

Despite the criticism that this Government and the previous government have received, what we have done in this country is quite remarkable. It has rid the country of a pestilence which is slow to develop, difficult to understand and which we are still not entirely sure about in terms of the causal agent. That could have been done much more quickly. We are well aware that the ban on the feeding of specific bovine offals has not been as rigorously enforced as it might have been due to a shortage of manpower and certainly a shortage of funds to support that manpower. We admit that there has been contamination of animal feeds from other animal feeds, the use of material that is already in the pipeline, and, worst of all, the illegal production of animal feeds by knacker men and the use of that animal protein in dairy herds. Nevertheless, successful control, possibly leading to eradication, is near. It has been at great cost: £150 million as compensation for the destruction of animals; £52 million on research; and another £35 million on administration.

A circumstantial association between BSE and CJD is now accepted, although many would say that it is not absolutely proven. Although the prevalence internationally of CJD is as high in other countries without BSE as in this country, the incidence of BSE in this country, and in other countries without BSE, is rising. So in the United Kingdom we are making regulations, such as the Beef Bones Regulations, to prevent human infection with BSE.

However, I believe that there is a degree of confusion between hazard and risk. There is clearly a difference between the two. The hazard of getting new variant CJD from beef is, I think, accepted now by many people. The risk of doing so is an entirely different matter. If the Oxford figures are accepted, we shall have few animals that constitute the hazard. Is it realistic to apply the meat-off-the-bone regulations to all cattle slaughtered in this country to obviate the risk that that hazard will materialise? I believe that it is not.

I hope that the Minister will comment on this point. If the meat-off-the-bone regulations are to prevail, some consideration must be given to those herds where BSE has been absent for a number of years. In certain parts of the country herds are ready for certification that they are BSE free. Why should a herd where BSE has been absent for, say, five or more years suffer the same plight as a herd where recent cases of BSE have been identified?

Finally, I believe that there is an urgent need for a diagnostic test to identify freedom from BSE in a carcass at slaughter. Various proteins have been identified in affected animals and their use as possible indicator proteins may be useful markers that BSE and its byproducts are either present or absent in brain and spinal cord material. A confirmatory test that a carcass is free from BSE would greatly help our export efforts and would give that assurance to the consumer buying the beef. It would be especially welcome. I hope that the Minister will advise what progress is being made in developing such a test either in the laboratories at Weybridge, or elsewhere.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, I fear that he will think me a spineless Tory, because I have only some simple technical questions which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, will answer. They arise from some remarks made by the noble Lord in last Wednesday's debate. He supported the beef bone order by saying: It was made clear to us that without action to demonstrate publicly that our beef is completely safe … there would he no prospect of getting the beef ban lifted".—[Official Report; 21/1/98; col. 1579.]

Today those remarks were supported by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and destroyed by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I find those remarks extremely confusing, even worrying. Why does taking beef off the bone in the butcher's shop, not the abattoir, make British beef any safer for the consumer in Europe? Is the noble Lord saying that the Government expect to have the beef export ban lifted on pre-packaged meat only? If so, when, and by whom, has this been suggested? Can the noble Lord assure me that such packaged beef will be acceptable in export markets, in particular to the French housewife and chef; or, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, intimated, is there a commercial element or an element of cowardice in that decision?

The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, also said: Consumers continue to be given the highest protection against risks from BSE".—[Official Report; 21/1/98; col. 1579.]

Who are those consumers? For instance, I and my neighbour often kill one of our bullocks to consume ourselves. As I interpret the regulation, and I have taken advice, it will still be permissible for us to consume our own beef on the bone. Why are we allowed to take that enormous risk while the chefs, housewives, and so on, cannot? Are we expendable, second-class citizens? Are. too, all our friends and relations whom we offer our home-killed beef on the bone second-class citizens? Moreover, my neighbour is this year's president of the Royal Welsh Show. Is it legal for us to have, as he will make me have, I know, an ox roast in aid of the show when we do not charge for the ox roast? My neighbour and I would like an answer.

I was also intrigued by the answer of the noble Lord. Lord Donoughue, to my Question for Written Answer which stated that only sterilised bones should be given to dogs. As your Lordships know, I have a particular affinity to dogs. I have to tell the Minister that my terrier, Gerty, does not like sterilised bones. Moreover, she is no snob dog; she was a homeless mongrel. So is she, like the farmer with his home kill, a second-class citizen who should be allowed the exemption I have mentioned?

Moreover, as I interpret the noble Lord's written reply to me on 8th January, at col. 1394 of the Official Report, I can spread bonemeal on the garden. What happens if Gerty, my dog, eats it? Has she committed an offence, as suggested by the noble Lord in his written reply of 8th January?

I am sorry that this is the third time within a week that I have had to draw the Government's attention to the damage, which they say is supported by urban morality, that they are doing to farming and rural traditions and practices. When the order was made I thought it was yet another unnecessary blow directed against us. But, as has been said, I was wrong, for to my relief and surprise the screams of protest came not so much from farmers but from butchers, chefs, and, most importantly of all, the public and the housewife, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Marlesford.

I hope therefore that with the support of the public we may be able to encourage the Government to listen to the Motion so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I wrote to the Minister before Christmas on the subject that I am about to address briefly. However, I have not received a reply, so I expect that he has not had a chance to read my letter.

All through 1996 and the early part of last year, I was aware of the fact that in the great BSE disaster there was something missing. During the Summer Recess I gave the matter a lot of thought. I remembered an occasion when I had a chat with my brother-in-law, who was a distinguished professor of medicine, Charles Fletcher, who might be known to some noble Lords; sadly, he is no longer with us. He told me how he had become a member of ASH, the organisation set up to persuade us not to smoke cigarettes. The members of ASH had spent a lot of time trying to see how they could persuade the public not to smoke, particularly cigarettes. They had come to the conclusion that the best way of doing it was to show the ordinary citizen the odds against an early death, or against some nasty disease of the lungs. They thought that the best way of getting through to the public was to inform them of the odds. Incidentally—and this has only occurred to me since—there was no question about convincing the Government. The Government were somehow a step behind. They came into the picture regarding the prevention of smoking much later, when regulations were introduced relating to warnings on cigarette packets and such like.

Ever since the late 1950s, all through the 1960s and 1970s and onwards, each time ASH has entered the battle there has always been a reference to the odds. Furthermore, it has worked. There are enormous numbers of your Lordships who do not smoke now, but who did smoke 30 years ago. The same goes for all our contemporaries. That is because we have been persuaded by the odds.

As several noble Lords have remarked. the important feature of this particular argument regarding beef on the bone is that the decision so obviously works against freedom of choice for the ordinary individual. Surely freedom of choice is a matter of great importance to this country. We are proud of our freedoms. What is more, the present Government, given their record over the past 50 years or so, would claim to be among those who are most enthusiastic about freedom for the individual. Certainly on this side of the House we have always been keen on individual freedom. I do not think there is any Briton who would not feel that this was important.

Therefore, I strongly suggest to the Minister that, whenever particulars are announced of some threat to people from what they may eat, it should be obligatory within all government circles and departments that the odds, as they affect the average individual, are automatically included. They do not necessarily have to be promoted; nor do they have to be part of the argument as to why the Government are doing what they are doing. But if the odds are made available, people will know what they need to do to meet their own needs for living as ordinary and civilised a life as possible, without the threat of being prevented from eating this or that. They are then able to draw comparisons with other odds, such as those of being run over, and so on. If that information became a serious inclusion in every single report, the matter would be brought into balance; Ministers might hesitate and take what might turn out to be more sensible action.

In conclusion, I am pleased to see from the White Paper that the food standards agency is to have a risk assessment department. Risk assessments undertaken by scientists are not necessarily presented in terms that are understood by the ordinary betting public. I suggest that, in that agency, the Government should have on call an experienced, practising bookmaker, who could be called in to present the odds when any such events occur so that the best advice is available as to how to present the matter to the public.

4.55 p.m.

Viscount Bledisloe

My Lords, I declare an interest as a partner in a family farm which has some minor connection with beef production. Recently, I asked the Government to explain why they had taken the drastic action of banning the sale of beef on the bone rather than giving the public proper information and allowing individuals to make up their own mind—as is done, for example, in relation to the risk from smoking. I found the Government's answer so unconvincing and unsatisfactory that I am moved to return to the matter and take part in this debate.

One thing is plain. Nothing in life is entirely safe. Throughout life, people make up their own mind as to whether they wish to run a certain risk. I note that today's Times tells us that every one of us has a 1:125 chance of dying in a road accident. Yet we all leap into our motor cars and make pointless journeys in every direction, taking that very much greater risk. Smoking is a classic example of people taking risks of which they are aware. Governments have spent vast sums informing people of the dire consequences of smoking; yet people still choose to run those risks for the pleasures they are afforded. My personal view is that they are foolish to do so; but it is absolutely right that they should make their own decisions and not have those decisions made for them.

However, while the Government appear to accept that proposition, when an infinitely smaller risk is thought to exist from beef on the bone, all of us—except the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, on his own farm—are deprived of our right to choose. A nanny state says that the public is too silly to make up its own mind; they, the Government, know best.

What is the Government's explanation for this illogical attitude? They say that more is known about smoking, so people can make up their own mind. People can decide for themselves whether they wish to take the undoubted, proven risks of lung cancer and so on. But, say the Government, less is known about beef and CJD.

All that is uncertain on this topic is whether there is now any causal connection risk at all. But people know perfectly well what CJD is. It is Alice-in-Wonderland-speak to say that if the risk is certain and considerable you can decide for yourselves but if the risk is speculative and dubious the Government will decide for you.

The other reason advanced by the government spokesman, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, as to why they treat smoking and beef eating differently is that, in relation to smoking, tobacco has been around for a very long time. But surely even this Government realise that beef eating has been around for a great deal longer. It is much more an integral part of British life than smoking. Do the Government not realise that the yeoman warders of the Tower are called the Beefeaters, and not the "Woodbine-whiffers" or something of that kind? To many people the Sunday joint of beef is one of the established parts of life. The public deeply resent Ministers deciding for them whether or not they should be allowed to eat it.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, I deplore the fact that Ministers of every government seem to think that they are so much more intelligent and sensible than the public and that they should make up our minds. The opposition of the public to this theory is demonstrated by the rush to buy beef on the bone, even though many of those who bought it said that they did not regularly eat it, did not normally buy it, but were damned if they were going to be told by the Government what they could or could not eat.

The public are not less intelligent and sensible than Ministers. Ministers should stop playing Big Brother. Quite apart from the fact that it is all wrong that they should do so, surely by now the Government realise that telling other people what is best for them is not only arrogant but very rapidly becomes counter-productive. Surely the right course for the Government is to realise that they have totally misread public opinion and withdraw the regulations. The Motion today gives them an opportunity to do so. If they wish, they can replace them with rules which require clear labelling in shops, restaurants and so on as to the origins of the beef and whether it was cooked on the bone. People can then decide for themselves whether they do not want to eat beef at all, whether they want to risk some dubious foreign product or whether they want to eat British beef with its theoretical risk in one in a billion cases.

A law which most people regard as a silly interference with their lives is by definition bad law. If enacted as a sop to Europe, it is much worse unless it is made plain to the public that they are being subjected to unnecessary rules merely as a diplomatic ploy.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke for moving the Motion. If he takes it to a Division. I have already told him that I shall support him.

I start by quoting the old saying: There are lies, damned lies and statistics".

I add to that, "and research findings". That is not necessarily to impute dishonesty to research scientists in general. That is not my intention. But it is true that frequently scientists, like doctors and theologians, contradict each other. Also, the results of research are often incomplete and a year later the same scientists will come up with something that is absolutely different from, and indeed the opposite of, what they were saying before.

A fact to which attention has already been drawn is that food poisoning scares are often media-driven and are becoming too frequent. I do not accept that the public are as afraid of being poisoned as some politicians and some of the media suggest. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, that was borne out in the 10 days following the announcement of the ban on beef on the bone when, according to reports, the public rushed to buy before it was too late. I bought some oxtail myself.

There are well known risks associated with certain kinds of food. Quite recently my wife became ill through eating shellfish. We all know that that is possible in the case of oysters, lobster and prawns and that in certain cases shellfish poisoning can be fatal. We eat the foods, understanding the risks involved, because we like them. Heaven forbid that I should suggest a ban on shellfish because they are dangerous. We know that, and we are prepared to take the risk. So why can we not be allowed to take the much lesser risk associated with eating beef on the bone?

Her Majesty's Government and some noble Lords say that a lifting of the export ban by the European Union will be helped by the imposition of a ban on beef on the bone. I wonder. I may be wrong, but I think there is misapprehension about the reasons for the world-wide export ban. For climatic and other reasons, British beef is known to be the best in the world. None of our European partners produces anything approaching its quality. They obviously do not like that as it damages their own livestock industries. So although BSE is common in many European countries, they use the fact that we are more open in these matters to institute a ban on our world-wide exports. It is extraordinary to me and to many other people that they are even able to do that. How is it possible that the late government could have signed away such a vital right—the right to sell one's produce to willing buyers? Shortly after the ban was announced, I passed one of Garfunkel's restaurants. In the window was a notice: Only imported beef served here". There's patriotism for you.

At that time I believed, and I still believe, that sheep will be next. After all, our hills and pastures produce the best lamb in the world and Europe does not like it, as we saw when the French farmers attacked our sheep transports. The brutality of those attacks on innocent animals makes fox hunting a humanitarian exercise. But few animal lovers seemed to care or notice, any more than they care or notice that hundreds and thousands, indeed millions, of cattle have been slaughtered on the flimsiest of pretexts in order to satisfy continental vets. Some people are now apparently cooking up a dossier to enable them to do the same to our sheep as they did to our cattle.

Reverting to the way in which we have treated and are treating our cattle herds. I should like, for the first time in my life, to quote Gandhi. I do so not because I always agreed with him nor because I am a Hindu. This is what he said: The cow is the mother of the whole human race!

There is some truth in that. The cow and all cattle should be treated with respect. We use them and they deserve something better in return than wholesale massacre without good reason. There is an understanding between all good stockmen and their animals that they should be given the best care possible in return for the fact that they are milked and ultimately killed. Crucial to their care is that they should not be killed unnecessarily.

I am glad that the right reverend Prelate is present to hear what I shall say now. I believe strongly that by the slaughter of nearly 2 million cattle, we have broken that compact. I believe that God will judge us for what we have done.

How long have we got to wait before the Government and our Euro enthusiasts wake up to what is happening? Our livestock industry is being comprehensively destroyed and with it much of our traditional farming community. Neither this Government nor the last one are or were prepared to say to our European partners, "Enough is enough".

I have no interest to declare except to say that 25 years ago I was a livestock farmer. I thank God that I am spared from being one now. My sympathy is with the farmers and their families and their animals. To a lesser extent I sympathise with butchers and the public, including myself, who are now banned from eating T-bone steak and oxtail for no good reason and look like being banned from eating many other things and from doing many other things like smoking and fox hunting.

Finally, I ask one question of the noble Lord who is to reply. I thought it was to be the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, but he is not in his place. Are we allowed to buy foreign T-bone steak or oxtail, Dutch, French or wherever it comes from? If so, I hope that no one and certainly none of your Lordships will buy it.

5.8 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, first I wish to thank my noble friends Lord Kimball and Lord Willoughby de Broke for calling for this debate on the Motion. I would also like to declare an interest in so far as I am a landowner in Scotland and my farm tenant has around 100 prime beef cattle which have never suffered from BSE, as they have only been fed on grass or silage in the winter.

One of the things that puzzles me about the current legislation on the sale of beef on the bone is that imported bones can be used not only for soap, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals but also for bouillon, stock cubes and gravy granules. How do we know that they are from BSE-free herds? We in the British Isles now have the toughest rules in the world to eradicate BSE. No beef is sold to consumers that is over 30 months old.

In 1998, of the 2.2 million cattle to be slaughtered for human food only three beasts will be near enough to the end of the incubation period for there to be the possibility of infectivity in their dorsal root ganglia. The statistical risk to humans from eating meat on the bone is so infinitesimal as to be negligible.

Furthermore, "bone in beef" represents only 5 per cent. of home beef consumption. This tiny risk is not a basis for prescriptive legislation and is overcautious. Consumers should be able to make their own judgment, having been acquainted with all the facts.

This latest ban goes far beyond the advice given by SEAC. I see here a parallel with the Cullen Report on handguns, when an expert was appointed by the Government and then his advice was totally ignored. The result of this ban is further to damage confidence in the British beef industry, which has already been brought to its knees. It is my opinion, having read the findings of the various scientific bodies, that meat on the bone from cattle of six months old or less is totally safe and that meat on the bone from cattle up to 30 months old is for all practical purposes safe although there is in theory an infinitesimal risk.

This latest piece of legislation has brought us no nearer to getting the export ban lifted. We all know that other EU countries are affected by BSE, but they keep quiet about it while we in the British Isles have come clean and have used our best endeavours to eradicate it. Yet still the export ban persists.

In conclusion, the most vocal of the EU countries is of course Germany, seconded by its old ally Austria. Perhaps I am being oversensitive but I cannot help detecting an element of revenge in their current implacable attitude to British beef. This applies in particular to the case of Northern Ireland, where the tracing scheme can actually prove that individual animals are BSE free.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, it is now some 22 months since the government announcement of the possible link between BSE and the new variant CJD. The announcement had an immediate and devastating impact on the entire UK beef industry. Despite some recent encouraging signs of a recovery in beef consumption, due largely to the successful marketing campaign run by the Meat and Livestock Commission, the industry remains in crisis. Producer prices remain depressed, imports are being sucked in due to the strength of the pound, the beef export ban remains in place and the industry is faced with increasing costs which producers in other EU member states do not face. On top of all this came the announcement on 3rd December by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Jack Cunningham, that he had taken the decision to ban sales of beef on the bone. While no government can take chances when it comes to food safety, decisions which can have a massive financial impact on an industry must surely be based on risk assessment and not be governed by what will best suit our European partners.

SEAC's advice to the Minister on dorsal root ganglia clearly indicated that there was only an extremely remote risk of a case of nvCJD arising from exposure to infectivity in these ganglia in an animal entering the human food chain. In percentage terms there is only a one in 6 million chance of someone dying from eating beef on the bone. Faced with that minuscule risk, the Minister's decision to ban the sale of beef on the bone was not justified. If in future we abide by this principle without paying proper attention to risk assessment, we would stop many aspects of our industrial production on health grounds. Oysters, which have been mentioned, would certainly go; the processing of shell fish would stop; smoking certainly should finish because that definitely accounts for a great many deaths; motor cycles must be off the road; bicycles should not be allowed; and motor cars certainly should not be allowed. That is clearly not an acceptable position.

Although we understand the precautionary principle that the Ministry is trying to adopt, in future such action must take risks more seriously into account. Surely a more appropriate response would have been for consumers to have been provided with the facts and be allowed to make their own purchasing decisions. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that consumers resent being dictated to by the Government and wish to make their own decisions.

On a more positive note, I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the launch of Assured British Meat. This independent body, funded jointly by MAFF and the Meat and Livestock Commission, will provide independent assurance of basic standards for British meat. Assured British Meat will certify only those who adhere to specific standards, which cover food safety. animal welfare and environmental criteria. This new initiative is surely the best way of reassuring customers that British beef is of the highest quality and safe to eat.

5.15 p.m.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, I am somewhat saddened that the Minister is still not in his place and has missed so many speeches. Will the Minister be able to answer my questions, I wonder? I have a few interests to declare. First, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Secondly, as a consumer, there is nothing better than a good joint—of beef, my Lords! Thirdly, I have farmed extensively in arable dairy and beef production in Lincolnshire and have reared many hundreds of calves.

In the 1970s, farmers like me were supported in improving our farming systems with the aid of farm capital grant schemes. With that aid I built up a herd of 250 milking Friesians. On joining the Common Market, we, the farmers of Great Britain, were asked to "produce more food from our own resources". Following Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food advice, I built another dairy unit, and by the late 1970s was milking over 500 cows. Beef were finished at varying ages, with bullocks, late finishers at 12 hundredweight, going down to London for the kosher trade, having been fed on vegetable byproducts such as stock feed potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, pea haulm, with urea and straw as protein and fibre. Fishmeal, at that time, was going through the roof in price and compounders were looking for cheaper sources of protein. My Lords, we all know the story from there.

In last Wednesday's debate on agriculture, so ably introduced by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, there were many notable remarks made regarding BSE. The noble Lord the Minister, who is now in his place, said: On health grounds it would have been irresponsible for any government to act differently and to ignore the clear advice of its Chief Medical Officer on an important public health issue".—[Official Report, 21/1/98: col. 1579.]

The fact of the matter is that we were not given the opportunity to debate the other options offered by the Chief Medical Officer, one option being to give the public the choice. Like my noble friend Lord Ferrers, I was struck dumb by the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who said: The BSE issue is not one of risk but one of confidence within Europe about our ability to act sensibly and responsibly and to move forward cautiously. The rigorous approach of the beef-on-the-hone decision was necessitated by the need to build confidence in Europe and not based on the issue of risk".—[Official Report, 21/1/98: col. 1552.]

The Minister, in responding to the debate, made only one reference to his noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone, saying that he particularly wanted to thank her for being uniquely cheerful. By this, do we presume that the noble Baroness was not incorrect in her assumptions?

This morning I pondered a choice of two ties—the one given to me by my younger daughter, emblazoned with dairy cows; or a tie covered with ostriches whose heads were buried in the sand. My Lords, the cows have it!

Returning to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, we exist to scrutinise delegated legislation. The JCSI is the only body which scrutinises all delegated legislation. It is therefore vital that every Instrument placed before the committee is considered carefully. We are assisted by the Speaker's Counsel from the Commons and Counsel to the Chairmen of Committees from the Lords. The committee does not have the power to question the principle of an Instrument. The committee may report an Instrument to both Houses if, for example, it is defectively drafted or requires elucidation, or makes an unexpected use of powers contained in the parent Act, or even goes beyond the provisions of the parent Act.

I am therefore grateful to my noble friends Lord Kimball and Lord Willoughby de Broke for highlighting the Beef Bones Regulations 1997 for debate today. I was very much concerned about the drafting of these regulations and would have preferred a different drafting approach. Besides the Beef Bones Regulations, there are the Specified Risk Material Regulations, the Specified Risk Material (Amendment) Regulations and the Specified Risk Material Order, a raft of complexity, all mentioned by my noble friend Lord Kimball.

In Regulation 2 of the Beef Bones Regulations 1997, a "bovine animal" is any bovine animal over six months at slaughter unless the context otherwise requires. Why do not the regulations specify exactly where the definition applies and where it does not? Bones can still be left in calves under six months, such as veal calves. Does that not itself make a mockery of the regulations? Why is it that bone is safe up to six months and then suddenly—mysteriously almost—when removed from a seven month old bovine it has to be regarded as contaminated, with inherent storage and disposal problems? That applies across the board with no exceptions.

As it stands this Instrument is a nonsense. We have all heard of the more likely risks that we face each day of our lives. We all share deep sympathy for those who have lost a loved one through disease or affliction of any kind. When I first saw the letters CJD-BSE together I thought, "Could just die—Buy something else"; "Could just die by sniffing exhausts", and so on. We could just die from so many different causes. But we must look after ourselves and make our own decisions, be democratic in our decision-making and not be nannied by the state.

I have no doubt that there will be other scares equally harshly fuelled. There is a great case for saying that British beef is best, is safe, is healthy to eat, and I support the director-general of the Meat and Livestock Commission in his promotion of British beef. The fact that nearly three-quarters of consumers would prefer to eat British beef rather than imported beef speaks volumes.

For the benefit of the consumer, however, there is a greater need to declare war on misrepresentation within the meats industry and produce clear legislation demanding clear definitions of cuts of meat and ingredients, of processed meats and meat products and their origins.

How many of us noticed the unprecedented amount of Aberdeen Angus steaks being offered during the early days of BSE? Personally, I do not believe that there were that many Aberdeen Angus on the hoof to provide so much steak. Then it all became "Scottish beef". How often is lamb really mutton? When is lamb really lamb? Do hamburgers contain only pork? Do beefburgers contain only beef? What is prime beef, as mentioned by certain beefburger manufacturers? It is certainly not first quality cuts of sirloin or rump.

It is vital that Instruments brought before us have been properly thought through. For example. fridges, freezers, washing machines and tumble dryers have to be classified with an energy efficiency rating so that a buyer can ascertain which manufacture and which model will give him the lowest costs in energy consumption. In itself that is fine, but new houses do not have to have double glazing. Think of the long-term waste of energy involved in extra heating bills. Again, legislation must be properly thought through. The Beef Bones Regulations 1997 have not been properly thought through. More time must be given to every aspect of the legislation.

I fear that the Government will not annul the regulations and so I must support my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke.

5.23 p.m.

Lord Grantchester

My Lords, as I have done before, I should like, first, to declare an interest in that I own a dairy herd in Cheshire. The BSE debacle has been like a recurring nightmare to the livestock industry. Each development has sapped at the public's confidence and undermined the industry's prosperity. Finally, the announcements on 20th March 1996 isolated this country's beef products from world markets.

The new Minister and his team should be congratulated on the progress that has been made since the election in restoring confidence in our industry's ability to produce safe and wholesome food. In Europe the Council of Ministers has agreed to apply stringent controls on specified risk materials, to the same standards as apply in the United Kingdom.

The prospect of a relaxation of the beef ban is in sight with the tabling of a revised export certified herds scheme and date-based export scheme. The British cattle movement service is being set up and is on course to begin work in May this year. Hygiene standards in abattoirs are being driven up by the publication of hazard assessment system (HAS) scores. The food standards agency is soon to come into being. McDonalds and Burger King—the UK's biggest burger chains—have been persuaded to return to British beef.

Indeed, farmers have given the supermarket Tesco a clean bill of health following their mission to the Republic of Ireland to check the supermarket's beef supply controls after accusations that British supermarkets were sourcing beef products, which were of an inferior quality and standard to UK produced beef. All these and many other initiatives taken by this Government are helping to bring this nightmare to an end. The focus on health issues is the hallmark of this Government's approach to the food industry. This order to ban the sale of boned beef is consistent with that approach.

I will not reiterate the full reasoning behind this order. The findings of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) indicate that there is a risk, albeit theoretical, to human health. It was the previous government's failure to recognise that there was a problem and deal with it which put the beef industry in such a parlous state.

I applaud the Minister's bold decision to ban beef on the bone. It would have been ridiculous and irresponsible to issue a health warning about a food product and then just leave it to people to decide whether or not to eat it. Further, the political realities of persuading our European colleagues to lift the beef ban underline that we must be able to demonstrate that all steps have been taken to ensure British food is entirely safe. This is no small point.

The position on the lifting of the beef ban has been summed up best by Professor Philip James. He chairs a Brussels committee which is investigating whether the European Union should import life-saving medicines from the United States which use gelatine or tallow as binding agents. Professor James said he was struck by the almost irrational, political intensity of concern in Europe on BSE. He remarked that in these circumstances, the UK Government faced a series of almost paranoid arguments, in which they would have to prove every step of the way, that each minute detail of control was being implemented. EU inspectors' initial rejection of Northern Ireland's computer-based certified herd scheme is just such a case in point. They seem to be implying that Britain has to prove, well beyond reasonable doubt, that all its anti-BSE measures and controls have been effective.

As regards the precise details of this order, I understand from the Meat and Livestock Commission that there is concern regarding the inclusion of oxtail in the ban. Apparently none of the tissues associated with oxtail has been shown to have the BSE prion and there is no dorsal root ganglia in oxtail. I would be glad if the Minister can explain why it is included in the order. I also understand that soups, broths, stock cubes and gravy granules made from bones from animals reared outside the UK are still allowed to be consumed. I return to the point made last week in your Lordships' House during the debate on agriculture that strict controls must be applied even-handedly. Yes, the element of risk must be eliminated from all food, but BSE is not unknown outside the UK. The UK cannot compete effectively if it alone has to bear higher costs. Until the whole question of bovine material in products for human consumption, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals can be looked at, can the Minister confirm that all food products from bones, whatever their source, will be banned?

It is imperative that the scourge of BSE is eliminated from the national herd. While BSE is still present, food must be demonstrably safe. The plethora of control measures now in place is testament to that imperative. But to restore fully public confidence, we must begin to return to normality. This will, in turn, help us to get the beef ban lifted. In that regard, I should like to raise questions regarding the over thirty months, or OTM, scheme. This classifies, at great cost to the taxpayer, all cattle over 30 months old as waste and unfit for consumption.

Your Lordships will remember that fateful day, 20th March 1996, when trade stopped following the then Minister's statement on a link between BSE and new variant CJD. Following consultations with the supermarket trade during the days that followed, it was thought that the market would collapse if an order was to be made allowing only deboned beef to be sold for human consumption. Thus, the suggestion to ban all sales of boned beef was rejected.

Instead, the OTM scheme was born, eliminating all animals over 30 months old from the food chain. Notwithstanding that all heads, spinal columns and other parts that are collectively known as "specified risk material" are removed from all beef already, beef from animals of over 30 months is banned. There is no suggestion that beef itself carries any risk of the BSE agent. Well, we now have that ban on all boned beef. The question arises: why the continuation of the OTM scheme? Where is the risk to human health from older animals when every conceivable and theoretical risk has been eliminated?

The question is particularly relevant, as the total number of cattle killed under the scheme topped 2 million by the time of the 11th January announcement. The total cost of BSE to the nation is around £3.5 billion. Can the Minister state what is the total cost of this scheme, including cold-store storage, slaughtering and rendering, as well as compensation to the farmer? If the compensation cost to the farmer averages £500 per head of cattle—a not unreasonable assumption, since it was only recently that a lower cap was placed on the monetary value—a figure of £1 billion is arrived at for that element alone. What is the annual cost of this scheme? Can the Minister say what is the continuing need for this scheme and when it is going to end?

It is now time to examine the dismantling of the scheme, to signal the return to normality and to rebuild confidence in the United Kingdom's beef among our European neighbours. The process could begin by identifying herds with no history of BSE and which have pedigree records confirming traceability and that particular animals have not been present in any herd affected by BSE. At the very least, the rolling nature of the scheme could be halted by the announcement that animals born after 1st August 1996 will no longer be subject to its provisions. Can the Minister say what are his department's intentions? I fully support the order but does not the Minister agree that the OTM scheme should, as a consequence, be withdrawn?

The debate over this scheme must begin so that consumers can appreciate the full extent of safety procedures and have confidence in this country's livestock. This may seem ambitious, but the industry has been suffering long enough from this scourge and the cost to the Exchequer has been enormous. I have no doubt that the improvements brought about by this Government will continue, that consumers can have confidence that the safety of foodstuffs is paramount, and that the future of British agriculture is assured. These regulations are part of the process of restoring confidence in the British livestock industry and I urge the House to oppose the Motion.

5.33 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, let me at the outset declare my interest as a dairy farmer and thus as someone who approaches this debate with a certain bias. The debate centres around two issues: first, the extent to which a perceived risk should be regarded as significant; and, secondly, the manner in which government—responsible government—should react to that risk.

My noble friends Lord Kimball and Lord Willoughby de Broke and many other noble Lords have argued, with considerable persuasiveness, that these regulations are not a measured response to the advice given by SEAC, but rather an unthinking response—unthinking, in that it rests on an unbalanced two-legged stool, one leg of which says that if there is a risk to the public from eating a particular food, no matter how small that risk may be, it is the duty of government to eliminate it, while the other leg of the stool says that consumer confidence must he protected at all costs. In this case, the Government have banned the sale of beef on the bone not only, as they maintain, to protect the public, but also to ensure that there is absolutely no obstacle to the lifting of the European ban on British beef exports.

I believe that the Government's action is misconceived on both counts. The SEAC advice defines quite clearly what the risk is from dorsal root ganglia in beef entering the food chain in 1998; namely, that there is a 95 per cent. chance of no cases of new variant CJD and a 5 per cent. chance of one case arising as a result of such exposure. That is the risk from which the Government are seeking to protect us. Examples have been given throughout the debate of other risks that we encounter in our daily lives, but this poses less of a risk than selling paracetamol freely over the counter and far less of a risk than allowing unpasteurised "green top" milk to be sold to the public. These are risks about which the public expect to make up their own mind. The advice given to the Government by SEAC was to inform the public of the extent of the risk, such as it is, and to let the public decide. However, the Government felt compelled to regulate—and at very great cost to British industry.

One argument in defence of the Government, which the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, prayed in aid during last week's agriculture debate, was that the last government went beyond the advice given by SEAC in 1994. That is perfectly true. We did—and I own up to being one of the Ministers in MAFF at the time. But what was that decision in 1994 all about? It was about whether or not to include within the scope of the ban on the sale of specific bovine offals certain organs of calves under six months of age. We decided to adopt a cautious approach and to ban those organs. That was, indeed, a more restrictive policy than the wait-and-see approach favoured by SEAC.

However, that was in mid-1994—at a time when confirmed cases of BSE were running at 1,700 per month and when, with great respect to my noble friend Lord Marlesford, a counsel of caution was the inevitable response to what amounted to a vacuum in scientific and statistical knowledge. Although the risk as presented was theoretical and minuscule, we were only too aware that if Ministers maintained the status quo—and, in doing so, got it wrong—that might result in very serious consequences for the health of this nation and, indeed, of other nations because at that time we were still exporting our beef.

The present situation is not like that at all. The risk—if one can call it that—of BSE entering the food chain is known to be infinitesimal. There is no question of Ministers getting it wrong in the same sense as they might have got it wrong in 1994. If consumers are informed of the facts, they are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves what action they wish to take in response.

Further, one has to question whether the regulations will have any effect whatever on the attitude adopted by the European Commission and other member states. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said. the regulations look suspiciously like a diplomatic ploy—and a fruitless one at that. I do not believe that they will make any difference at all to the export ban. I cannot help recalling that, before that ban, much of the British beef consumed on the continent was deboned in any case. With other noble Lords, I regard the regulations as being of the worst possible kind: ill founded, extremely difficult to enforce, and held in contempt by the general public. I do not believe that they are worthy of support.

5.38 p.m.

Lord Rowallan

My Lords, I too must declare an interest, being a dairy farmer, a beef farmer and a sheep farmer in Scotland. We have had many food safety scares over the years. In Scotland particularly, Professor Hugh Pennington has been involved in many, mostly relating to E.coli (which unfortunately killed an awful lot of people) and to BSE and CJD. When I was young we were told that butter was bad for us, so everybody changed to margarine. We now learn that margarine is worse for you than butter. When I was a little older we had troubles with salmonella in chickens, and eggs with salmonella. There was the case of milk being terribly good for you, and then, suddenly, it was not so good for you. It is peculiar that in Scotland unpasteurised milk is now completely banned and yet in England it is still allowed. Now, of course, we have moved on to consider the situation relating to bones.

In his speech in the agricultural debate the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said that, if we had not taken the action that we did to demonstrate that our beef is completely safe, there would be no prospect of getting the beef ban lifted. I find myself continually asking why it is that this country suffers all the time from its efficiency, whereas the rest the Europe seems to manage to run roughshod over us through its own inefficiency.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, came up with an interesting fact in his speech: he said that the Cheshire farmers are happy. If they are, they must be the only ones in the country who are happy because, for the first time in my lifetime, which is now 51 years, I have seen farmers rioting at Stranraer and at Holyhead. I am fairly certain there would have been a lot of Cheshire farmers there. The farming community is not happy with the situation in which this Government have placed the beef industry.

In a further answer to the Starred Question of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, said, first, that less than one gram of infected meat may be fatal; secondly, eating in a restaurant or preparing in one's kitchen one's own stew or sauce out of bones might be a source of the infection; and, thirdly, if we are successful in eliminating BSE … Those are all "ifs", "mights" and "maybes".

Diseases, according to Professor Pennington, are mostly found not at the stage when farmers are in control but at the slaughterhouse, at the butcher's shop and in the kitchen. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, informed the House on 14th January that it is not known how these new prions are transmitted or in which part of the dorsal ganglia they are found. It is still to be proved that CJD has any connection with BSE, let alone that it is the human version. There is only a one in 20 chance of one person catching, not dying, from BSE and a one in 600 million chance of dying as a result of eating meat on the bone. Yet we find ourselves unable to make a choice about what we eat.

We are controlling diseases that we do not know enough about, but are allowing activities whose dangers we recognise. Many noble Lords have mentioned this: we know that smoking is extremely dangerous. It also increases one's chances of suffering systemic heart disease as a result of passive smoking by 25 per cent. In fact, there is more likelihood of winning the lottery twice than of catching anything from eating beef on the bone. As everybody knows, winning the lottery is not the easiest thing in the world, hard as I try each week.

The whole case, surely, is flawed. We are told that the ban might be removed if the situation can be proved to be satisfactory after further tests. We are told that it might increase confidence in British beef in the EU. but we, the consumers, in Britain, are not being given much choice. We only have one chance at this life. Sometimes we make very bad decisions, but they are as a result of our choice. We have human rights, freedom of choice, freedom of the individual. Those are all planks that this Government hold very dear. Then we have data protection, food safety agencies, etc.—or do we? In this case we certainly do not seem to have them. We are not told the reason for all this; it is just a hunch that there might be a connection. It is a minuscule possibility, but it is not a probability. There is a big difference.

Also, the regulations are not enforceable. Beef under six months of age is exempt. Is the Minister going to tell me that the average housewife in the country can tell whether a slab of meat is six months old? She cannot. Does the butcher know? He will probably have an inkling if he knows his job, purely from the size of the carcass. Does the restaurateur know? It depends on how the meat is packaged when it arrives at his restaurant. All every butcher has to do is claim that he is selling meat under the age of six months. Yes, he will have lots of hassle and lots of red tape. but the food industry is full of that. Yes, he will incur the wrath of the "anti" brigade, but they are everywhere: it does not matter whether the cause is good or bad, they are still against it. However, he will receive the blessing of the local population, as newspaper after newspaper has delighted in telling us. We have weekly stories of restaurants and butchers defying the rules with signs beckoning the passing motorist to pull in and buy beef on the bone.

Some say that all laws are made to be broken. But if the law is being made into an ass, if it is openly being flouted, it has to be a bad law, a very poor piece of legislation. I beg that we scrap it and save face. Return the decision to the people. If they are capable of voting a new government in every five years or so, then surely they are capable of deciding whether they want to eat meat on the bone or whether they do not. It tastes better, has a better flavour and also makes good side products, such as soup. It also keeps man's best friend, the dog, happy. Let us scrap this ban today. It was a knee-jerk reaction, in any event.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Harlech

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, for initiating discussion on the legitimacy of these regulations and whether they may or may not hold water. It is not a coincidence that in less than five days of parliamentary time we have had three debates closely associated with this matter.

Under the present Government's standards, one in five slaughter houses fail the current standards required by Brussels. What they are going to do about that and whether the public purse will initiate the payment of their upgrading it will be very interesting to know. This, however, says nothing of meat imported, the inspection of it and the system that then comes into effect. About 28 per cent. of our meat input is from overseas producers who have different standards, as we know. Of course, by the time it is frozen and has spent three weeks at sea, there is a very different form of inspection than occurs in an abattoir. I sense some double standards here.

A serious risk to health? While it is within the Government's gift of administration, and it is, it is an administration of proportionality. In other words, are the Government representing the first of the three devices on which they took advice? Yes, they had three. And they took one of the three, the scientific one. The scientific one said that it was dangerous. There was a possible chance that it was dangerous. So, from the three, they chose one. Again, I refer to proportionality.

Is this a populist decision, or is this a decision by government for the majority against the minority? One should be very wary when one defeats the minority. To make an educational association, educating people from a very young age as to how they prepare food, how they buy food, how they judge food and how they cook food is a critical part of how one explains to those who will be adults tomorrow what it is that one buys from a shop. Simply giving a diktat as a result of a populist rather than a political opinion is very important.

I am not sure that there is legal certainty behind the regulations.

One does not just cripple British beef producers but everybody. It affects people who make diesel engines or tyres; it affects women whose daughters have just left school working all night in a cheese-packing factory. One must be very careful about the 3 per cent. of the voting public who are farmers. This is not just an issue concerning farmers.

As to the link with CJD, we have heard that so far only 20 people have died. I believe that I take a higher risk walking out of this House to catch a tube train. I may get a knife in my back. Tests have been referred to. Supermarkets have announced that if 5p per kilo is added to the price of meat tests can be carried out to determine whether or not it is safe from BSE or CJD. That will add to the cost to the shopper.

Since December local authorities have charged a high street butcher between £60 and £170 per week to collect his bones. This means that people are disfranchised and put out of work because they must regularise their business by selling meat only off the bone and paying the environmental health authority to take away the bones. I should be delighted to hear the Government Front Bench explain where those bones go. Is the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, aware of what happens to the hones collected from every butcher up and down the land? What happens to them when they are processed?

My noble friend Lord Ferrers made an interesting speech in the debate last week. I noted that when my noble friend Lord Jopling, who was Minister of Agriculture for some time, had a similar problem on his hands in relation to TB in milk the advice was that all dairy cows might be affected. A survey was carried out to see whether it was possible for the Exchequer to pay for the elimination of that risk. It was not possible. The risk was so low that milk continued to flow and the public continued to buy it because they accepted that risk.

A £2 million campaign has been announced today. We hope that that will support farmers. It will have a minute effect. Are we to pay farmers to be gardeners? We may as well pay them to be gardeners and buy postcards. This is unrealistic. If this is populist politics and damage to millions is created by an attitude that is not well thought out—if, as my noble friend Lord Howe said, there is a vacuum of real knowledge—the regulations are not worthy of support. I do not support them.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, we all share the common aim of protecting human health and reassuring consumers as to the safety and quality of the food that they purchase. In this context BSE has caused governments a great dilemma. It is natural to have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, in dealing with this dilemma. However, the Government have acted with caution in the extreme over the beef-on-the-bone ban, bearing in mind that the chance of a person catching CJD from eating beef on the bone is 600 million to one, even though there is no positive proof that new-variant CJD is caused by BSE. I could give many more statistics, as have many other noble Lords, but it is now late and I shall not go down that route, but I shall proceed to ask questions similar to those raised by other noble Lords. For example, why have the Government treated beef food products so harshly when many other foodstuffs that regularly create health hazards are not treated in the same way?

There are some oddities. We are not allowed to use bones from British beef in our foodstuffs for human consumption but we are allowed to import bones from other European countries that have BSE. Why are their bones free from risk whereas ours are not? One also questions the speed with which these regulations have been brought forward. They came into force on 16th December 1997. Surely, more time could have been given to considering the matter before a decision was taken so that the opinion of the general public could be measured. As my noble friend Lord Kimball said, Europe has taken nearly a year to conform to the requirement to take out specific risk material. They have taken the time to think through these difficult matters. Why could we not have taken more time? Europe appears to be a law unto itself, with the bizarre situation that Germany claims to be in a BSE-free zone and thus should not be required to comply with the regulations, even though BSE has been identified in that country.

If the banning of beef bones had resulted in the dropping of the UK beef export ban one suspects that there would have been more sympathy for it, but we have heard little to suggest that the beef on the bone regulations have had any effect. Surely, it comes down to choice. Should the consumer be given the choice or should he be nannied by the state? The best government is the one that governs the least. Surely, a bone in beef is pretty obvious and a consumer should have little difficulty in making his or her own choice.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Lowry

My Lords, I must first declare that I am very fond of oxtail. Further, my wife is very good at cooking it. Those two facts by themselves do not constitute an overwhelming argument for revoking these regulations. However, when noble Lords take those matters in conjunction with the facts and arguments in this debate, I believe they will agree that they make a very strong case. The risk to consumers is so minute that I can scarcely imagine any rational person taking that risk as being the inspiration for these regulations. Perhaps understandably, I am not able to say what inspired the regulations, but if the object was to impress governments on mainland Europe, as has been suggested, it is difficult to entertain the idea that preventing people in this country from buying and eating beef on the bone is likely to diminish or eliminate BSE in herds of cattle in this country. I support the Motion.

6 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I intervene to raise one general question about our meat hygiene regulations which has not been mentioned. There has been a thread of consensus running through the debate to the effect that the bulk of our meat hygiene regulations are a good thing; that, on the whole, they protect the public from food poisoning of one kind or another. Only the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, has taken the opposite view, to the effect that he would ban the meat inspectors instead because their poor standards of hygiene are now known to cause much of the food poisoning that they are supposed to prevent. Many of us would agree, not least because so many of the smaller slaughter houses have been forced to close with the result that animals have to travel much further to slaughter in larger and more slipshod premises.

My intervention is inspired by something said at a conference on venison in Scotland five years ago. A leading regional environmental health officer—no names, no pack-drill—publicly announced that food poisoning from meat had gone up by 47 per cent. in his region since the meat hygiene regulations had been introduced. He concluded that it was the regulations which had caused the poisoning. He said that the new hygiene regime was preventing the ancient organisms with which our digestive systems are familiar from entering and developing in the meat. Instead, other, more virulent organisms were doing so, against which our digestive systems had no defence, with the result that food poisoning was increasing sharply.

I hope that that is the kind of professional opinion which the new foods standards agency and Lord Justice Phillips's inquiry will examine carefully. If so, we may come nearer to knowing what the risks are in the way we treat and eat our meat instead of being forced to put up with such mind-boggling, idiotic and destructive regulations as those before us this evening.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, there are at least two brave men in the House tonight; they are those who intervened in the gap after 25 other speakers. I cannot say that I have enjoyed the whole debate, but I have enjoyed some of it. The Minister can be proud of having behind him the noble Lords, Lord Rea and Lord Grantchester, who have endeavoured to support him. Those were noble efforts. In particular the noble Lord, Lord Rea, actually found a silver lining. I do not know where, but it was nice of him to try. Loyalty is a thing that the Tory party always go on about; so there should be satisfaction over that.

However, the best speech from the other side came from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. He spoke with a passion which made me think at one point that he was speaking against the European Union. However, a number of the remainder of the speeches were terribly repetitive. People do not seem to be able to stop repeating what they have on their paper. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, did a good job and talked a lot of sense, except when he spoke about the roast beef of old England which everyone knows is an inferior article to that of Scotland.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, made very informed speeches. I was tickled pink by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. He must have been studying the chances of infection with close attention. Perhaps he will tell us how to use this risk assessment in order to place bets in a more favourable way.

The history of the BSE crisis is very sad. All the mistakes have been delineated. It has had a curious effect on the habitants of the Ministry of Agriculture. I remember hearing the former Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Hogg, say on television that he would slaughter every cow in Great Britain if necessary. He terrified me. He obviously terrified the Germans because the reaction there has been one of the main causes of the trouble we have experienced. Why he and Mr. Dorrell needed to go to such lengths nobody will ever know.

It must be something in the air; something about the Ministry. Dr. Cunningham, while in opposition, gave every sign of being a sensible, level-headed chap. There is something wrong in the Ministry of Agriculture; there is some evil spirit there that upsets all judgment. I appeal to the right reverend Prelate to get along there and exorcise.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln

My Lords, I feel I have no more success with cattle than I have in my own cathedral.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I am sure that the right reverend Prelate is right but it is worth a try.

The history of this matter is ridiculous. We all know that the decision is wrong; we know that the effect on the Continent must have been entirely the opposite. A sensible position would have been to say that there is a minute risk, so minute that we are simply leaving it for people in this country to judge. That would have been far less harmful than slapping a ban on meat on the bone. It is stupid, ridiculous and has been very good for the sale of sirloins in certain quarters. Quite seriously, though, it has not been good for the beef trade; it has been another severe blow.

I have a great deal of time for the Minister and this Government. They should take the chance to go back and talk to their friends and say "Right, we accept the fact that we have perhaps made a mistake. On the other hand we have been careful." There are all sorts of things he can say but this stupid ban of beef on the bone has to be lifted. That is a chance he should take.

The Minister has done great harm by sticking to his position because he will force me into the Lobby with the Tory party, which I am not very fond of doing.

6.9 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Kimball and Lord Willoughby de Broke for giving us the opportunity to discuss these regulations in detail. I apologise for the sound of my voice. Obviously the evil aura that hangs over the Ministry of Agriculture has managed to spread over the Opposition Benches and got into my throat. We on these Benches have always supported measures to ensure the safety of public health where we believe them to be warranted. This country now has the toughest food safety regulations in the world.

When the Minister of Agriculture made his statement in another place on the 3rd December, my right honourable friend Michael Jack stated that it was essential that discussions were held on the impact of the Government's decision, before casting the measures absolutely in stone".—[Official Report Commons. 3/12/97; col. 3731.]

If the Minister of Agriculture had in fact taken my right honourable friend's advice and had a more extensive consultation, many of the questions raised in the debate tonight would have been resolved.

The Government should have followed the principal advice given by SEAC in paragraph 7: to inform the public of the risk posed by eating beef on the bone, and to allow individuals to make their own decision about whether or not to eat it.

We reached that conclusion only after giving due consideration to the impact that the ban on beef on the bone would have on the beef industry in Britain and confidence in beef in general, against the minute risk of infection. Details of that were given authoritatively by my noble friends Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior and Lord Willoughby de Broke.

The Government's position is fraught with inconsistencies and anomalies. Many of my noble friends have proved that beyond doubt today. I am grateful to MAFF for its website which is honest because it tells the world: SEAC concluded that the risk is very small and did not say that the Government needed to act at all other than to make the results public. On this basis the action proposed by the Government is precautionary in the extreme and there is no need to clear existing stocks. The Government has spelled out the risks to consumers so they can make up their own minds about stocks in the kitchen or in the freezer".

If the ban were so essential, why was there a delay in imposing it until 16th December during which time consumers were given the chance to exercise choice? Why do the regulations allow a transitional period until 15th March for manufactured goods such as stock cubes and soups, and full choice about food already in the consumer's store cupboard and freezer? Why are consumers being allowed to make up their own minds about some products associated with beef on the bone but not about others?

Why did the Government ignore the results of the consultation exercise which was carried out hurriedly during the few days after the beef bones ban had already been announced? The vast majority of those who responded to the consultation would have preferred the Government to follow the SEAC's main recommendation—publish the information and let the people decide.

There are oddities about that consultation exercise which give rise to questions that I should like to put to the Minister. My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke referred to some aspects of that consultation. Like my noble friend, I have read through the responses to the exercise which MAFF placed in the Library of the House. My mathematics may not be too great but I think that 334 organisations and individuals were on the consultation list. I say "think", because one person was in brackets, and I am not too sure what that says about that person. Of those 334 organisations and individuals, 39 replied. I make no criticism of the others for not taking the action that they should have taken, because they would have received that consultation document, at best, by first post on Monday morning, and they had to get their replies hack by 4 p.m. on the Friday. I am sure that noble Lords, as I have, have taken part in consultation exercises and know that it is difficult within such a short space of time for an organisation to be able to gather together effective information.

There were a further 56 organisations and individuals who were not on the original list who sent in their comments. Taking them all together, at best, and being generous to the Government—I am sure that the Minister recognises that I am being as generous as I can be—of those, six were in favour of the regulations; 56 were against; and 33 expressed what I would term a neutral or technical view about the matter. They did not say whether they believed the regulations to be right or wrong; they were explaining to the Government how difficult it would be to implement the regulations or what impact those regulations would have upon them, whether they be a butcher or someone involved in the beef trade.

Common themes run through those responses—from real people responding to a real crisis. Consumers say that they want to be given the choice to buy beef on the bone—or not. The National Housewives Association said that such reactions from members as it had been able to obtain in the time were, "hardly printable". It was essential for consumers to be given information and the chance to make their own decision. The National Federation of Women's Institutes said: We are seriously concerned that the public should he denied the freedom of informed choice in this matter. The public needs access to all scientific evidence and information in order that they can make their own decisions based on known facts".

Many individuals wrote in expressing their view that it was vital for consumers to be able to make a choice. They included Mrs. Diana Smith, and Mr. John Atkins who stated: [Aged 60.] I am as capable of making sensible decisions as to whether to buy a T-bone steak…as I am of whether to buy a packet of cigarettes, take my car on the M.25 or go on a boat in a Force 6, all of which, if the Minister is to be believed, carry risks several orders of magnitudes greater than those involved in choosing to eat bone in beef".

The Government say that it is a matter of risk assessment. That is correct. But this afternoon my noble friends have proved that the Government have got their risk assessment wrong. Expert organisations which responded to the consultation exercise also believe that the Government have got their risk assessment wrong. The responses are littered with comments such as: The Government reacted with panic, MAFF acted with insufficient judgment; they over-reacted, and with poor judgment in risk assessment".

Many questions were raised about the enforceability of the ban. The Chartered Institute on Environmental Health pointed out: It may be prudent to consider re-drafting this legislation to ensure the measures required by the Government can actually he achieved and enforced by the authorities".

Have the Government taken any action to redraft the regulations? Are they legal? Like other noble Lords, I noticed an article in the newspapers last week in which a Member of the other place claimed that the regulations were illegal because of the poor way in which they are drafted. Will the Minister reassure us about that?

There is also what I would call the "Scottish question". Under the terms of the Scotland Bill, could a Scottish parliament revoke this legislation? If so, what arrangements will be made to stop illegal imports across the Border? I hold no brief for Scotland, of course, but I recognise that many noble Lords on both Benches reflect the intellectual acuity of the Scots. So I am surprised that few Scottish organisations appeared on MAFF's original consultation list. But the Scots were not to be denied. Even if they were not asked to respond, many of them did.

I take just one example which reflects the response from all the Scottish organisations about which I read in the Library. The BMA Scottish office states: It would be sensible to let the public choose whether they are prepared to take what appears a minuscule risk".

That must be the right course of action.

The Motion gives the Government the opportunity to consult widely and more effectively than they did the first time around. Noble Lords have today proved that that would be the best course of action for the Government to take. The debate is an example of the House of Lords working constructively to assist the Government to think again. I support the Motion.

6.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue)

My Lords, I feel that I have been here before. 1, too, thank the noble Lords, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Kimball, for so entertainingly and pungently opening the debate. They have given us all the opportunity to raise questions, and they have given me the opportunity to answer them, on an issue which, we all know, has excited some interest, as reflected by the exhausting list of speakers today. It shows how well represented some interests are in this House, although perhaps concentrated on one side. I welcome that because it makes my life so interesting.

The issue goes much wider than Sunday lunch. Many speakers touched on the broader BSE crisis and its terrible cost, including specifics ranging from the scientific basis and the BSE/CJD link to the tragic number of farming suicides. I cannot respond to all the points made. However, looking back over a long debate, I believe that it is possible to condense my reply into half a dozen main areas of concern. Among them are the nature of the scientific advice on BSE/CJD; the nature of the health risk to consumers; the decision to ban (I shall begin with that); the so-called "nanny state" and whether the consumer decides; and enforcement. Several misunderstandings have been revealed and I shall try to deal with the main issues together with some other points that have been raised.

The first issue is the recurring suggestion that the decision was rushed and ill-considered. That is denied by the facts. The suggestion was made by the noble Lords, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Rotherwick. It was as long ago as 1st July that the Minister was advised of the initial SEAC results. By the autumn, the preliminary results were confirmed to Ministers. In late November Ministers from MAFF and the Department of Health met to consider the likely recommendations and our reaction to them. On 1st December, Dr. Cunningham reported SEAC's findings to the Prime Minister and discussed what we had been considering—that beef should be boned out. He received the Prime Minister's full support. On 3rd December, Dr. Cunningham received the final recommendations. The ministerial position had already been well considered and the Minister made his Statement to Parliament. Therefore, there was no rushed decision.

Your Lordships will be aware that SEAC reported the results from its ongoing research; that BSE infectivity had been found in the dorsal root ganglia of bovine animals and that there were indications, still being evaluated, that infectivity may also be found in bone marrow. SEAC advised that consumers should be warned of the risk and that the research findings should be published. That was done immediately. SEAC also recommended that if the Government decided that further action was necessary in order to reduce the small risk further—and the Government did so decide—either no beef with the bone should be sold from cattle over six months old or a more complex alternative should be adopted, which we rejected.

As regards the further action of de-boning, I point out that, ever since the introduction in 1989 of the ban on specified bovine offal, governments—that is we and our Conservative predecessors—have always excluded from the human food chain any tissue in which BSE infectivity has been identified. I appreciated the points made about that by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

The only way to ensure that that was done in the light of the new SEAC findings was to prevent hone in beef from cattle more than six months old being sold to consumers. That was one of the options SEAC recommended. We did not take the other option.

In deciding to take that further action, consistent with the actions of the previous government, we were particularly and properly influenced by the views of the Chief Medical Officer responsible for public health. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, confused the advice of the CMO with that of SEAC. His advice was: We have a responsibility to take into account new information which emerges from research, especially when it has a direct bearing on public health. This must apply even when any risk involved k very small. That is why, in our efforts to protect public health, all tissues"—

I repeat "all tissues"— in which BSE infectivity has been detected have been excluded from the human food chain. Infectivity has now been detected in the dorsal root ganglia, a tissue which is not currently covered by the Specified Bovine Materials Regulations. It is, therefore, right that this tissue should be excluded as well. I would be very concerned if any tissues that have been shown to transmit BSE were knowingly allowed to remain in the human food chain".

Therefore, our action was fully in line with previous practice and with the firm views of the Chief Medical Officer. It has always been our policy, and that of our predecessors, to act to remove tissues where infection is detected.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, the Chief Medical Officer's comments are relevant, but, surely, the number of beasts in which BSE will be present should have influenced the Government.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, that fact was clearly taken into account.

To reply to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, we are applying the principles of deep caution which she rightly asks us to apply in respect of pesticides. I fully support her in that.

Many experts on the theory of risk probability have emerged in this House. I should also tell the noble Countess that I have known of two people who have been killed by lightning

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, the noble Lord says that he supports me. Why does he not show that support by action in respect of pesticides? The Government do one thing for one problem and something else for another.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, as the noble Countess knows, I say, "Give us time".

I acknowledge important points made in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. It is true that all of us—those of us who buy lottery tickets and those of us in government—take decisions according to an assessment of risk, which is often erratic. I agree with the noble Lord that often there is no uniformity in the way in which we apply risk. Sometimes there is an insufficient statistical basis. Governments and their advisers could well read that and think about it. However, on this issue, sadly. I must disappoint noble Lords opposite by informing them that a risk analysis was carried out. An assessment of risk from possible BSE infectivity in dorsal root ganglia was carried out by an independent autonomous foundation called Det Norske Veritas. The assessment was commissioned by MAFF at SEAC's request and has been published by the company. SEAC considered the report before formulating its advice.

As regards the risks, it struck me that, in general, noble Lords opposite seemed more optimistic than Members on this side of the House. I recall the famous Hungarian saying, which my noble friend Lord Parry quoted, that the only difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that the pessimist is usually better informed. We admit that the risk to consumers is small: the numbers have been pointed out. However, our scientific advice was clear. It was expanded on by my noble friend Lord Rea, who is a distinguished practising doctor. I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, that no one has recovered from CID. We believe that risky infective tissue should be removed. Do noble Lords opposite seriously believe and advise that this Government, unlike our predecessors, should ignore the advice of both SEAC and the Chief Medical Officer? I cannot believe that. What confidence would the public then have in our food and in the Government's responsibility as regards protecting public health?

To fully protect public health, all material which may be BSE infective must be removed from the human food chain. That applies to dorsal root ganglia and bone marrow and thus affects all beef bones from animals over six months old. A key point is that, with BSE, the risk is hidden; and that is the answer to a number of questions.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, perhaps I may return to a point that I made in my speech. Does what the Minister has just said mean logically that if infectivity, at however low a level, were discovered in muscle—however few cattle still had BSE and were likely to enter the food chain—this Government would ban all beef from United Kingdom origins?

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, that is clearly a hypothetical question and so far no infectivity has been discovered in muscle or blood. But all beef meat or bone looks exactly the same whether or not it is BSE infective. It would be impossible to identify reliably meat and meat products from BSE-free herds, whether of UK origin or imports, once it has entered the human food chain.

The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, asked why we do not exclude BSE-free herds. The food uses to which meat and bones are put are diverse. Sometimes there is no way in which consumers can know whether a food ingredient contains something which originates from beef; for example, food served in restaurants and beef origin substances included in composite ingredients used in manufactured foods. It is not possible to identify bones from one herd as opposed to another. That is very different from the Government not seeking further regulation in other areas of consumption where the risks are well known and where the risky activity or substance is clear so that individuals are able to choose whether or not to accept that risk; for example, as mentioned at Question Time, whether or not to smoke. People will know when they light up a Woodbine. But one cannot always recognise the presence or origins of beef and bones in, for example, manufactured foods. That is why we cannot leave the matter to the consumer.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, who eats bones? I have never eaten a bone. Who does?

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, bones are frequently used in the stock for soup so the noble Lord may have eaten them without realising it.

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, waxed eloquent on the nanny state, which is a very easy phrase to throw around, or the freedom of the individual, as did my noble friend Lord Stoddart, who expressed his support for the Government in his characteristic way. As my noble friend knows from our long period of living together—I do not know whether we were considered designated partners or something—he and I share similar views on this broad subject. We happily created an anti-politically correct oasis in the bowels of the Palace. Neither of us shared the youthful experience of nannying which many noble Lords opposite enjoyed and which seems to have turned most of them against it. I start from a more primitive position. As I stated in this House, in principle the only ban that I could support enthusiastically would be a ban on bans. But that is not real life. Responsible government must intervene to protect the public, however reluctantly. I accept that this ban is in the public interest. That is not the nanny state but responsible government. Although the risk to consumers is small, the Chief Medical Officer's advice was firm and there were very good reasons to take precautionary action.

That is broadly the public health reason for our action. But it is not only a question of health. There are other reasons for taking action. The first reason that I mention in passing is the legal reason. The Government might have laid themselves open to legal challenge that they had been irresponsible or negligent if action had not been taken. To have ignored the advice of the Chief Medical Officer might have appeared to be both politically and legally irresponsible.

Even more important to Ministers is their priority of seeking the lifting of the beef ban, to which reference has often been made. In that regard I say especially to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, that the European Union has made it clear that the beef ban will be lifted only when we have met the Florence obligations and that our beef must be seen to be completely safe. SEAC and the CMO have concluded that beef on the bone is not completely safe. Therefore, in my view, we have no option if we wish, as we certainly do, to achieve a lifting of the beef ban other than to ban beef on the bone.

I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that he seems as optimistic about the reactions of our European partners as he is about the powers of Anglican bishops. That action was taken in the interests of British farmers. I trust in time that they will appreciate that. I must ask whether noble Lords opposite wish to be identified as willing to jeopardise the lifting of the ban. I agree that it is irritating to appear to be in the position of a supplicant in Brussels. But that is a position which we inherited.

The issue of allowing consumers to decide was addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, the noble Viscounts, Lord Montgomery of Alamein and Lord Bledisloe, and pressed particularly hard by the noble Baroness opposite. I should say to her that she was wrong to say that that is the main SEAC recommendation.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, at paragraph 7, SEAC starts by recommending that the information should be published so that people can decide. At the end of that paragraph it gives options (a) and (b). Therefore, I read those options as being subordinate, and it is those subordinate paragraphs which the Government adopted. That is why I make that statement, which is of course borne out by MAFF's own Internet site, from which I quoted earlier.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I was referring to the actual SEAC advice. It is not true that that was the main recommendation. It offered what it believed to be some logical options. I thought that that point was well answered by my noble friend Lord Grantchester.

But the answer to this matter is clear. As regards letting consumers decide, as I said, consumers often do not and cannot have the necessary information to make informed decisions on the origins of the meat which they may be eating. It is often impossible to know whether the meat, processed food or soup contains beef and whether that beef is on the bone or not. Therefore, in my view, that argument falls at the first base. The consumer does not have the information necessary to decide.

But secondly, as I said, to have allowed unsafe beef, however small the risk—and nobody questions that the risk is there—would have destroyed our crusade to achieve the lifting of the ban on British beef. If those two arguments are taken together, in our view they make an overwhelming case for the action we have taken.

Enforcement was mentioned by a number of noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned it. I thought that I detected some scepticism about the powers of enforcement. In licensed slaughterhouses and cutting plants, enforcement is the responsibility of the Meat Hygiene Service. In all other premises, including retail butchers, pubs and restaurants it falls to local authorities. Normal levels of supervision will apply, although enforcement officers will be required additionally to check that boning requirements are being met.

It has been suggested that the controls are unenforceable. However, we do not accept that: that is wrong. They are as enforceable as other public health and consumer protection measures. Guidance is being issued to local authorities and the Meat Hygiene Service to help them in this task. Some breaches of the regulations have been reported but the vast majority of food manufacturing, distributing and retailing businesses are complying willingly. Equally most consumers seem to have accepted the controls.

I stress that any businesses that are found to be acting illegally will be advised of their obligations and warned to stop. The normal process is to give a warning before taking action. But thereafter court action may follow. I understand that already the Procurator Fiscal is considering whether a case should be brought in Scotland.

The noble Lord who opened the debate and the noble Baroness opposite criticised our process of consultation. More than 300 representative bodies and individuals were consulted. They constitute the normal list of those consulted on BSE. Some 104 responded and their responses were considered before the regulations were drawn up. The noble Lord who opened the debate referred to some rather amusing examples. Those bodies were included at their request. In our view the response to the consultation did not provide sufficient grounds to change the scope of the regulations, although of course many vested interests expressed reservations.

The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, asked why it was more risky to cook beef on the bone than to remove the bone before cooking. The cooking process could allow infectivity to leach out and contaminate the meat or other food, such as gravy made with the cooking juices. Once cooked, dorsal root ganglia cannot be distinguished from meat and could be eaten in error. The subject of oxtail seemed to agitate many. Our measure on oxtail was basically a practical measure because had it been excluded it would not be possible to distinguish one bovine bone from another in cuts of meat. However, it is not true to suggest that it cannot contain bone marrow; it can and that is a potential source of infectivity.

The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, referred, I believe, to diagnostic testing. I can assure him that a great deal of effort is being put into developing a diagnostic test for BSE. It appears that the key is to develop a test which can detect subclinical infection; that is, before the symptoms appear. So far no test has been developed which has been shown to do that. It is likely to be some time before that is achieved. As regards the OTMS, I must stress to my noble friend Lord Grantchester that that scheme plays an important role in the protection of human health. The number of animals incubating BSE and going into the food chain would be significantly increased without it.

The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, surprised us a little by suggesting, I believe, that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments was somehow not in agreement with us as regards this debate or the regulations. The regulations were made in accordance with the powers available to Ministers to make regulations in the interests of public health. They were considered by the Joint Committee, which made only one comment about drafting style. It did not make any criticism of the regulations to be drawn to the attention of Parliament.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. In no way was I trying to say that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments was doing anything but its job. We discussed between ourselves the problems within the Statutory Instrument, but in no way were we criticising—as I said in my speech; perhaps that was while the Minister was outside the Chamber—legislation because that is not our remit.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for those comments. I am sorry that I was missing from the Chamber for a while owing to reasons of nature. I have spoken for rather a long time but I have tried to deal with many of the points that have been raised.

I refer again to the words of my noble friend Lord Parry, who reminded me that the South African Marquess of Salisbury stated that, if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe; and if you believe the physicians, nothing is healthy. I add that if you believe the Opposition, nothing done in government is right, including when they were in government.

Our latest action was deeply precautionary and was fully in line with the need to protect public health and maintain the confidence of beef consumers. We believe that the controls are fully justified to protect public health and enhance consumer confidence. In doing so they help the farming industry and support strongly the Government's efforts to get the beef export ban lifted in the European Union. They will be kept under regular review, as is the case with all BSE control measures. I hope that before too long we shall revisit that happy experience of 1795 which the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, so vividly remembers.

Any future decision to lift the ban will be taken in the light of scientific developments and progress with the eradication of BSE. I urge the House to support the regulations and not to support any vote against them which would, in my view, suggest that this House is careless of public health and content to delay the lifting of the beef ban. I am bound to point out that although I did—and always do—listen to the many points that were made today, and learnt much from them, because of the priority we attach to public health and to lifting the beef ban, these regulations will remain in force, how ever the Opposition may use their built-in majority tonight.

6.48 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate. I was overwhelmed by the number of speakers and the great support that the Motion received. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to give a compendious or portmanteau thank you to everyone who took part and to the many noble Lords who listened to the arguments without taking part.

I believe that it was an informed, rational debate. The Government's rationale for the regulations was, I believe, comprehensively demolished. In spite of the best efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, I do not think that he managed to put them together again. I am, however, grateful to him for all the effort he put into giving answers to a large number of points and questions raised during the debate. When he left the Chamber for a few minutes I thought that he might be undergoing some sort of Pauline conversion on the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie; namely, that he might have reconsidered the position. I was disappointed to hear the noble Lord say that the regulations would remain in force regardless. In view of the overwhelming support the Motion has received, I now wish to test the opinion of the House.

6.50 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 207; Not-Contents, 97.

Division No. 1
Aberdare, L. Gainford, L.
Abinger, L. Garel-Jones, L.
Ackner, L. Geddes, L.
Addington, L. Geraint, L.
Addison, V. Gisborough, L.
Aldington, L. Gormanston, V.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Greenway, L.
Alport, L. Grey, E.
Alton of Liverpool, L. Haddington, E.
Ampthill, L. Haig, E.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Halsbury, E.
Annaly, L. Hampton, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Hamwee, B.
Baker of Dorking, L. Harding of Petherton, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Harlech, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Belstead, L. Harmsworth, L.
Berners, B. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Blaker, L. Harrowby, E.
Bledisloe, V. Hayhoe, L.
Boardman, L. Hemphill, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Higgins, L.
Broadbridge, L. Hogg, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Holderness, L.
Burnham, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Byford, B. Howe, E.
Cadman, L. Hussey of North Bradley, L
Caithness, E. Hylton-Foster, B.
Calverley, L. Inchyra, L.
Carew, L. Jacobs, L.
Camegy of Lour, B. Jeffreys, L.
Camock, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Jopling, L.
Chesham, L. Kimball, L. [Teller.]
Clanwilliam, E. Kinloss, Ly.
Clark of Kempston, L. Kinnoull, E.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Kintore, E.
Colwyn. L. Kitchener, E.
Congleton, L. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Knutsford, V.
Courtown, E. Lauderdale, E.
Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L. Leigh, L.
Craigavon, V. Lincoln, Bp.
Cranbome, V. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Crickhowell, L. Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Davidson, V. Liverpool, E.
Dean of Harptree, L. Long, V.
Deedes, L. Lowry, L.
Denbigh, E. Lucas, L.
Denham, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Dholakia, L. Ludford, B.
Dixon-Smith, L. Lyell, L.
Donegall, M. Macclesfield, E.
Dundonald, E. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Eden of Winton, L. McConnell, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Ellenborough, L. McNair, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Mar, C.
Exmouth, V. Marlesford, L.
Falkland, V. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Ferrers, E. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Fookes, B. Mersey, V.
Freyberg, L. Middleton, L.
Gage. V. Miller of Hendon, B.
Monson, L. Seccombe, B.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L. Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Monteagle of Brandon, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Shuttleworth, L.
Moran, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Mottistone, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Munster, E. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Murton of Lindisfame, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Newton of Braintree. L. Steel of Aikwood, L.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B. Stewartby, L.
Northesk, E. Stodart of Leaston, L.
O'Cathain, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Ogmore, L. Strafford, E.
Onslow, E. Strange, B.
Onslow of Woking, L. Strathalmond, L.
Oxfuird, V. Strathcarron, L.
Park of Monmouth, B. Strathclyde, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L. Sudeley, L.
Pym, L. Suffolk and Berkshire, E.
Quinton, L. Swinfen, L.
Radnor, E. Taverne, L.
Rankeillour, L. Tebbit, L.
Rathcavan, L. Teviot, L.
Rawlings, B. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Razzall, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Redesdale, L. Thurlow, L.
Rees, L. Thurso, V.
Rennell, L. Tordoff, L.
Renton, L. Ullswater, V.
Renton of Mount Harry, L. Vivian, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Robson of Kiddington, B. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L. Westbury, L.
Romney, E. Wharton, B.
Rotherwick, L. Wilberforce, L.
Rowallan, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
St. John of Bletso, L. Willoughby de Broke, L. [Teller.]
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Wynford, L.
Acton, L. Glenamara, L.
Amos, B. Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Gould of Pottemewton, B.
Barnett, L. Grantchester, L.
Berkeley, L. Gregson, L.
Blackstone, B. Hardie, L.
Blease, L. Hardy of Wath, L.
Borrie, L. Haskel, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Hayman, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Healey, L.
Burlison, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Hogg of Cumbemauld, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Hollic, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Hollis of Heigham, L.
Castle of Blackburn, B. Howie of Troon, L.
Chandos, V. Hoyle, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Hughes, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Hunt of Kings Health, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Islwyn, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Janner of Braunstone, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Dean of Thomton-le-Fylde, B. Jeger, B.
Desai, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Dixon, L. Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Donoughue, L. kilbracken, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Levy, L.
Eatwell, L. Lockwood, B.
Evans of Parkside, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Falconer of Thornton, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. [Teller.]
Gallacher, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Gilbert, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Glenamara, L.
Molloy, L. Sewel, L.
Monkswell, L. Shepherd.L.
Montague of Oxford, L. Simon, V.
Moms of Manchester, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Nicol, B. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Orme, L. Strabolgi, L.
Parry, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Prys-Davies, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Randall of St.Budeaux, L. Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Rea, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Rendell of Babergh, B. Varley, L.
Renwick of Clifton, L. Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.] Wedderbum of Charlton, L.
Sefton of Garston, L. Whitty, L.
Serota, B. Williams of Mostyn, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.

7.1 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, before we proceed to the next Business, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether he remembers the last occasion when a government were defeated on what I think is technically a non-fatal Motion. Since the noble Lord's memory is, I know, extremely good, perhaps I may refer him to col. 575 of the Official Report dated 8th March 1996, when the then government suffered a defeat on a non-fatal Motion.

The noble Lord, with his usual courtesy, made a request that, in view of the vote that has just taken place and the firm expression of the view of this House, will the Government now consider whether this matter should be referred to a Select Committee either of this House or of Parliament?"—[Official Report, 8/3/96; col. 575.]

I am not wedded to that device, but since the noble Lord is clearly a fair man, and since he feels strongly that the expressions of opinion of this House, fatal or otherwise, should be taken careful note of, I wonder whether he will allow me to ask him how the Government intend to react to this vote.

Lord Richard

My Lords, it was said of Abraham Lincoln that, as an advocate in the courts of Illinois, he once appeared in the morning and argued one point; when he appeared in the afternoon he tried to advance the precise opposite of what he had argued in the morning. The judge said to him: "But Mr. Lincoln, you said this this morning, you are now trying to argue this this afternoon". He replied: "Well, Judge, I was convinced by the arguments against me this morning".

Since we are into the realm of precedent, I am sure the noble Viscount will remember that on 6th July 1992 a Motion was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, in relation to the Income Support (General Regulations) 1987. There was a Motion on Hong Kong on 15th July 1993. There was one on the sheep annual premium and suckler cow premium quota regulations in 1993. We will be behaving precisely as the previous government did.

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