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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): First, may I record my sympathy for those who have been affected? I am very conscious, however, that Lanarkshire is less than an hour away from Cumbria on the A74. Can the Secretary of State

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assure me that the health authorities in Cumbria have been kept up to date? Were any Cumbrian outlets supplied by the butcher involved infected? Will the Secretary of State also assure me that, if there is a campaign to educate people about food hygiene, it will not be restricted to Scotland, but will include the whole of Britain?

Mr. Forsyth: I have kept my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health well informed about developments. He is as keen as the hon. Gentleman and me to ensure that good practice in health and safety and the handling of food obtains throughout the United Kingdom; indeed, the guidance that has been issued was produced by the Department of Health. As for Cumbria being an hour away from Lanarkshire, I hope that the hon. Gentleman observes the speed limits when he is travelling down the A74.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Can the Secretary of State confirm that the one death in Forth valley that he mentioned occurred at Bonnybridge, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan)? I was informed of that yesterday evening, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would like the concern that he expressed then to be recorded in Hansard.

In fact, there have been a number of outbreaks of food poisoning in the Forth valley area--in the Falkirk council and environmental health department area. Will the Secretary of State confirm that Falkirk's environmental health department and Forth Valley health board are taking seriously the tracing of the Barr outlets, to see whether there are any in the Forth valley area, which is in my constituency and his? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he will co-ordinate any action with local Members of Parliament in the Forth valley area should outlets be traced to that area?

Mr. Forsyth: As the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say in my answer to the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell), the Scottish Office became involved when it was apparent that affected material was likely to go beyond the immediate area of Lanarkshire's health authorities and local authorities. That is the established procedure for dealing with matters such as this. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance. I should be happy to write to him, and to the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), who was quoted in this morning's newspapers as expressing concern. I am happy to give that assurance, and to ensure that action is taken.

I was told at 3.15 pm this afternoon that all premises that have been identified as having received material from the butcher's shop, either directly or through a third party, have now been visited by environmental health officers. The food material has been taken away, and is being subjected to analysis. Unfortunately, at the time when I came to the House, it was not possible to obtain further information about whether the E. coli bacterium had been identified in all of the material, but I can tell the House that it has now been established that some gravy in one of the pies from the butcher's shop has been identified as containing the bacterium, which makes the link. I understand that, through our clever DNA process, the bacterium can be typed so that the source can be identified. The cases in Forth valley and Lanarkshire appear to come from the same source, which should reassure the hon. Gentleman's constituents as well as mine.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): The Secretary of State has been generous in his comments about

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North Lanarkshire council, and in particular the environmental health officers who traced the source of affected products so speedily. On the question of guidelines and guidance for authorities, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the health board or the local authority is primarily responsible for informing the public of the sources of affected products? Is there some confusion about which authority is responsible? If he intends to issue extended guidelines, will he ensure that they clearly identify who is in the driving seat?

Mr. Forsyth: The environmental health officers are responsible for the enforcement of the regulations and the operation in the butcher's shop. When such an outbreak occurs and has wider public health considerations--as it clearly has in this circumstance--it is the health board's responsibility to deal with that. The measures that the hon. Gentleman has called for to alert people to the dangers to public health, and to the actions that they should take to avoid contamination, are matters for the health board. The health board is fully aware of that, and it has acted properly.

The health board's medical officers will work directly with the environmental health officers on the investigation of the line of route by which the bacteria may or may not have been transmitted. Environmental health officers in other local authorities will visit the premises of any other shops or outlets that are involved.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): If I heard him aright, the Secretary of State said that the local health board had placed warning advertisements in the media. Was he referring to newspaper advertisements? Given the fact that more people watch television and listen to local radio than read newspapers, if--and only if--he were approached by the local health board for funding for such advertisements to be carried by television and local radio, would he give such a request serious consideration?

Mr. Forsyth: I think that the health board is fully funded for that purpose, but if there were particular difficulties, of course I would give any request serious consideration. I do not often have an opportunity to pay tribute to the Scottish media, but I can do so now. I pay tribute to the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, The Herald, The Scotsman, The Courier--I can even bring myself to pay tribute to the Daily Record--and other broadcasting outlets, some of which have given details in the press today. Advertising will have to be paid for, and the health boards have funds for that purpose. If particular difficulties arise, I shall consider them.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen): I associate myself with the expressions of sympathy offered to the bereaved. I represent a large part of Lanarkshire, so I have an interest in the matter.

The Secretary of State fairly and rightly praised the performance of official bodies in response to this emergency, including the environmental health officers employed by local authorities. Does he accept that if he does not cease his war of attrition on local authorities, whose grants he has cut, he will damage their capacity to respond to such emergencies?

Mr. Forsyth: I am not aware of having cut the grant of any local authority. We increased local authority provision last year. The announcement that was made after the

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Chancellor's Budget provides for an increase on the published figures that we said would be the budgets for local authorities this year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Kynoch): An increase of £45 million.

Mr. Forsyth: My hon. Friend reminds me that the figure is £45 million. I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) will be concerned about the overall position. We have given a commitment to increase in real terms every year the expenditure of local health boards and the health service in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman has not yet been able to persuade his Front-Bench colleagues to make that commitment, but I look forward to his support when we try to enjoin them to do so.

To make that commitment, I must determine priorities, which means that local authorities must make the reductions in unnecessary expenditure and bureaucracy that, I am sad to say, Labour Members now accuse the health service of making.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South): Will the Secretary of State change the procedures today? We do not accept his explanation that, under present procedures, he has to leave the matter to hard-pressed local agencies, which are already trying to combat an outbreak that has reached crisis proportions. Should not the Scottish Office and Scottish Ministers, as soon as they know which outlets are involved in any outbreak, take responsibility for ensuring that the public also receive that information immediately? They should not leave it to the local agencies that are under too much pressure to make statements themselves, because that would mean days lost before the public received any warning. We do not want unnecessary delays.

Mr. Forsyth: I believe in devolution--devolution of power down to local agencies. North Lanarkshire council is best able to judge the circumstances in north Lanarkshire, not the Scottish Office in Edinburgh. Lanarkshire health authority is perfectly capable of discharging the duties placed upon it by Parliament. Where those bodies require the help and support of the Scottish Office, they will get it.

It is an odd circumstance that I should be at this Dispatch Box defending the conduct of a Labour-controlled local authority, while the hon. Gentleman suggests that it needs my help and support to carry out its duties. It has carried out its duties extremely well and it can hold its head high.

Regarding the position of the Scottish Office, when there are wider consequences of an outbreak--as occurred and became apparent later in the week--it will be involved. However, the suggestion that, in some way, the environmental health officers delayed in carrying out their duties is not founded on fact, but I am willing to await the outcome of the investigation by the expert group before making a judgment. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman shows the same patience.

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