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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
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
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
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.
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