|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Does she accept that it is highly illogical? Are the Government saying that where it is known for certain that something has substantial and proven risk and the consumption of it has no benefit whatever the public shall make up its mind, but that where there is a possibility of a slight unproven risk and the substance being consumed is admirable protein necessary for human health the public cannot make up its mind? Surely, on the standards of the chief health
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I hesitate to reply to the final part of the noble Viscount's point. I hoped that I had made it clear, although perhaps I had not, that this was about comparative risk assessment, and that logic is difficult in that context. Many of us would agree--I certainly would--that if tobacco were introduced today it would almost certainly not have the remotest chance of being a legal product. We are talking about comparative risks over a length of time. The noble Viscount declared an interest as a meat producer. I would say to him 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, but more to do with those delicate negotiations that my right honourable and noble friends are 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. That decision was made on the basis and with the support of farmers as being their top agricultural priority. Today we have seen some movement which may indicate that there is a changed position in Europe. I should not be at all surprised if the decision we made about beef on the bone were not relevant.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, in view of the fact that the Minister mentioned the unacceptable risk which is beyond individual choice, does she agree that the premise upon which the Question is based is wrong in that people are inhaling other people's smoke all the time? What advice have the Government given to employers and the proprietors and operators of buildings in which people work, including the Palace of Westminster, on the dangers of the 25 per cent. increase in systemic heart disease, resulting from inhaling other people's smoke?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, we are concerned about it. It is part of the project on which my honourable friend the Minister for Public Health is engaged. She is formulating widespread action on the whole issue of smoking and public places. We are looking closely at the costs, both in human and NHS terms, of passive smoking. The White Paper which will be forthcoming with the broad anti-smoking strategy which the Government will be promoting later in the year will cover all those issues.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House and the public what is the different between a T-bone steak bought in the butchers, from which the butcher removes the bone on his counter, which the consumer takes home, and the
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the point is the one that I tried to explain in the original Answer: we do not know how these dangerous new prions--as they are described--are transmitted, and in which part of the dorsal ganglia--again to use an elaborate technical expression--they live. The noble Baroness asked that the point be made known more widely. One of the difficulties is that we are not talking just about T-bone steaks, which, as she rightly said, are obvious and identifiable, but about bones in general. One of the points which has not been so widely understood is that when one is talking, for example, about eating in a restaurant or preparing in one's kitchen one's own stew or sauce out of bones, that might equally be a source of the infectivity which can be so fatal.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many beef producers seem to be unaware of the fact that if the Minister of Agriculture had not taken his responsible decision, after receiving the highest level of medical advice, then the chances of the ban being removed would be slight? Does she further agree that if people wish to see beef and tobacco treated the same, then, just like every packet of cigarettes or tobacco, every piece of beef sold over the counter would have to bear the words that beef, "seriously damages your health"?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful for that advice. That may be taking the risk assessment too far. I take my noble friend's point about the way in which the decision taken before Christmas by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has made an impact in Europe. I shall re-emphasise what I said in answer to the previous question: the lifting of the ban by Europe was regarded as a top priority by farmers. Therefore it is plain that they need to make a clear assessment about where their best interests lie.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I speak as a smoker, which, alas, has not stunted my growth. Am I to understand that if I put bonemeal on my garden, and then eat the vegetables that I have grown in that bit of land, I risk getting BSE, or whatever the other awful disease is? Will the Minister please tell me what action the Government intend to take about bonemeal?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the number of cases of CJD related to BSE has been only 22 since the scare began? Does she understand and realise that the public, whether she applies logic or not, does itself apply logic? It will not see the logic of banning beef on the bone, where there is virtually no risk and where no deaths have been
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I raise again the subject of comparative risk. As my noble friend will know, because we have had both written and oral debates on this subject, what we learnt from the early stages of the HIV period of infection is relevant to today. At that stage we were widely told that far too many hysterical, over-the-top pieces of advice were being given to the public. On the basis of the full public education campaign conducted by the previous government, we now have one of the lowest rates of HIV infection in the Western world. It is certainly much lower than that of our immediate neighbours in France and Belgium. If we adopt the same position about the relative risks of CJD and eating beef on the bone, we may be equally impressive in protecting our public. There is nothing in the present regulations to suggest that, if we are successful in eliminating BSE from the British herd--that may take a number of years--this ban should be permanent.
Lord Carter: My Lords, between today's two short debates, my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the food standards agency White Paper. I should like to take the opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined:
Lord Carter: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, I beg to introduce a Bill to make new provision for the regulation of the processing of information relating to individuals, including the obtaining, holding, use or disclosure of such information. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.