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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I believe that the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, was not concerned with relatively minor schemes like scanners but with major hospital building programmes. In view of the promises that have been made, can the Minister confirm that, for example, the initial scheme for Carlisle Hospital was agreed in 1989, the one for Norwich was agreed in 1990 and the ones for Swindon and Amersham were agreed in 1993?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, no. This is a question of the limits of scientific knowledge. Scientific facts, in so far as they are known, have been published and an independent inquiry would not be able to generate new scientific information.
The Earl of Dudley: My Lords, while I thank my noble friend on the Front Bench for the courtesy of his reply, I simply wish to establish the relevant facts. Does my noble friend agree that there are precedents for tribunals of inquiry into disasters, such as Aberfan in 1966, and that the infection of British dairy and beef herds by BSE can be regarded as a disaster? Does he agree that, as the discussions and negotiations with other European governments and the European Commission which have encapsulated the Government's action in respect of BSE have been confidential, there is a need for further action to allay the anxiety of the British public, both as taxpayers in view of the billions which have been expended on BSE and as consumers in view of the unquantified contingent risk of infection by CJD?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that tribunals are a useful method of finding out the facts where they are not evident. Indeed, not long ago I announced one into child abuse in North Wales. That seems to me the type of situation in which tribunals and inquiries are justified. In this case, there is nothing to be discovered that is not already public. That is principally because our scientific knowledge of this disease is so limited that we have no tools with which to discover further facts. In those circumstances, a public inquiry could do nothing but delay the scientific inquiry which is already taking place.
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, does the Minister recall that nearly 30 years ago when there were outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and rabies, I set up an inquiry? Since then, there has been no foot and mouth and no rabies. Is there not a case here for setting up a public inquiry?
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, bearing in mind that there is a known connection between giving growth hormones to children and their later development of CJD, has any inquiry been made into the possibility of growth hormones being given to cattle causing them to develop BSE for onward spread to humans in the form of CJD?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the two situations are different. In the case of humans, the growth hormones were derived from dead bodies. Those dead bodies turned out to be carrying CJD. In the case of cattle, the growth hormones are derived from bacteria, and the opportunity to infect them with BSE does not arise.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is it not time that we got away from the idea that BSE is an infection? After 10 years of research no infective agent has been found. Would it not be better to use the term "causative agent"? Does the Minister agree that there are many neuro-degenerative diseases, both in animals and in humans, for which no cause has been found and which are much more prevalent than BSE or CJD?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, no, I believe that it is right to term at least the current epidemic of BSE as an infection. We can infect cattle by feeding them the brains of infected cattle. That, to my mind, is as good a definition of infection as one can get. The origin of the disease may be due to a causative agent, but the present epidemic is one of infection.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, no. I do not know the gentleman concerned, and I am not familiar with that case. Clearly the idea that prions are the infectious agent in this case is a hypothesis. It is a long way from being proved, and there are many reasons to doubt it, such as the existence of different strains of the disease which are not explained by the basic prion hypothesis. There is a great deal that we do not understand about this, including whether it is possible to transfer BSE to humans. That is something which is entirely unproven as yet. We may have some indication during the next year or two as a result of the experiments we are undertaking, but there is no evidence either way at the moment, merely supposition.
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that many thousands of cattle born after the imposition in 1988 of the BSE prohibition order on infected feedstuffs have become infected? Can he offer any clear explanation of why that should be so? It gives rise to concern that infected feedstuffs have continued to be used. I should have thought that that was a matter which would merit greater clarification than it has received. I should be grateful if my noble friend could offer it.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, within the imperfections that all these answers have, our best indications are that the continuing contamination arose from feed that continued to be stored on farms and, due to the design of their hoppers, was only released at a later date, and cross-contamination in the feed mills which were producing feed for both bovine animals, as they are called, and other species.
Lord Gallacher: My Lords, why do the Government refuse to investigate why so much contaminated feed reached cattle after the feed ban was imposed in 1988? Two thirds of the new cases of BSE occur in such cattle. Is there not a strong case here, as the noble Lord who preceded me has asked, for a public inquiry--not an extended inquiry? There is an obligation to consumers to probe the facts with a view at least to setting fears at rest, if no more than that.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is difficult to see how such things could be proved. It is a long time ago. This disease has such a long gestation period that we did not know until six years after the event that there was a problem. Looking back six years, and at such records as were kept, it is extremely difficult to establish--we have been trying to establish for our own scientific purposes--what happened. It is merely supposition. I do not believe that there is any evidence lying out there to which a scientific inquiry could address itself.
Clauses 151 to 163, Schedule 14, Clauses 164 to 197, Schedule 15, Clauses 198 to 203, Schedule 16, Clause 95, Schedule 7, Clauses 96 to 103, Schedule 8, Clauses 81 to 84, Schedule 4, Clauses 85 to 87, Schedule 5, Clauses 88 to 91, Schedule 6, Clauses 92 to 94, Clause 104, Schedule 9, Clause 105, Schedule 10, Clauses 106 to 116, Schedule 11, Clauses 117 and 118, Schedule 12, Clauses 119 to 135, Schedule 13, Clauses 136 to 150, Clauses 1 to 7, Schedule 1, Clauses 8 to 51, Schedule 2, Clauses 52 to 55, Schedule 3, Clauses 56 to 80, Clauses 204 to 208, Schedule 17, Clauses 209 to 214.--(Earl Ferrers.)