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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:
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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