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House of Lords

Thursday, 7th May 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Beef Bones Regulations 1997

Lord Stanley of Alderley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any offence has been committed under the Beef Bones Regulations, if banned beef bones supplied by a butcher for dog consumption are subsequently used for human consumption; and, if so, by whom is the offence committed.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, yes. If the food prepared using the bones was sold or supplied in the course of a business, an offence would have been committed by the supplier of the food to the ultimate customer.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for yet another valiant attempt to defend these asinine and nannyish regulations. Does he agree that his Answers, particularly the second one, drive a bullock cart through the regulations? Will the Government give serious consideration to redrafting them so that every person is given the right--which a farmer has when he has a home kill--to choose whether or not to eat beef on the bone?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I always view with great seriousness everything that the distinguished noble Lord says and asks. I can reassure him that we constantly keep these regulations under review. If at an appropriate time they should be lifted, we shall be happy to do so; but for the time being it is our conviction that they are necessary for the protection of public health and in order to restore confidence in British beef.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, although noble Lords are always glad to know his opinion, it is not binding upon the courts in any criminal matter?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am aware of that fact. It would be quite inappropriate for me to comment on any court action that may be pending. The noble Lord may be interested to know that there is to be an appeal against a certain judgment on Thursday of next week.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I tabled a Question for Written Answer on this subject? When I studied the beef bone regulations I learnt that I could not give my dog a T-bone steak.

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Is the Minister aware that those regulations do not allow the sale of T-bone steaks with the bone to any person or any thing? Does the Minister agree that the bones relate only to humans? Can the Minister explain the anomaly between his first Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and the answer to my Question for Written Answer?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, there is no such anomaly. As far as concerns T-bone steak, under the regulations that cannot be supplied. The beef must be properly removed from the bone. If the beef has been so removed, the bone can in particular circumstances be provided to pets because that is not contrary to the regulations. The regulations are made under the Food Safety Act 1990 and apply to the human food chain, not to pets. There is no evidence of dogs being subject to CJD. There is no anomaly and the noble Countess is referring to two quite distinct situations.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it was the sensible sheriff in Selkirk who threw out the prosecution of a hotelier in my former constituency and described the regulations as utterly incompetent? In view of that, if the Government are not to redraft the regulations, will they at least pay attention to the opinion previously expressed by this House in its vote that the regulations should be withdrawn altogether?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that this matter is sub judice and subject to imminent appeal. It would be quite inappropriate for me to comment upon it, and I do not believe that much has been added by the comment of the noble Lord.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind that some pet cats have succumbed to a condition similar to mad cow disease, have the Government issued a circular to vets to watch out for this kind of disease in pet dogs as a result of their owners having fed them beef bones?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am not aware that the Government have received any scientific advice on this matter, but if they have I shall write to the noble Lord and inform him.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, can the noble Lord reassure me that neither I nor my dog committed an offence when we shared a T-bone steak recently? More to the point, does the noble Lord recollect that yesterday in a Written Answer the noble Lord confirmed that, while it was illegal for a butcher to sell oxtail for the making of soup, it was not illegal to sell soup made from oxtail, provided that that soup was made by commercial manufacture? Can the Minister inform the House whether a restaurant making oxtail soup is engaged in commercial manufacture?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the regulations are clear and I know that noble Lords opposite have had the pleasure of reading them. If in the restaurant the soup is prepared from meat that has been properly removed

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from the bone of the oxtail, which is normally the case in commercial manufacture, there is no danger and it is perfectly safe. The regulations protect consumers from the unsafe preparation of food. We wait with anticipation to see whether the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will suffer from his highly publicised meal.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, will the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that the judge in Selkirk recognised the virtue of the opinions expressed by your Lordships in January that the regulations were incompetent and unenforceable? How do the Government intend to persuade those whose job it is to enforce the regulations that they can do so, bearing in mind not only the Scottish result but the fact that East Sussex councillors have decided not to proceed with a pending prosecution or any other because they, too, recognise that the regulations are badly framed, bad in law and should be withdrawn?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am always interested in the views of Members of the Front Bench opposite. Our position is clear. I do not normally read from documents at the Dispatch Box because I believe that it tends to bore your Lordships. However, I will break the rule in order to ensure that the position on infected meat is on the record. I read from a document in the public domain which states:

    "We have concluded, while the assessment of SEAC and the Chief Medical Officer is that any risk to health is minuscule, the Government's policy of extreme caution in relation to BSE requires us to ensure that the tissues in which infectivity might potentially occur are removed from the human and animal food chain".

That statement of policy was made in 1994 by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the Conservative Administration, Gillian Shephard, and we stand by it.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, with respect, we should move on. We are in the ninth minute.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Richard: My Lords, I believe that we should move on. It is now nine minutes on the clock.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order! Go on!

Lord Richard: My Lords, I do not like this job of bobbing up and down at Question Time, but when it gets to nine minutes I think that the House should move on.

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Multilateral Institutions: Parliamentary Scrutiny

3.16 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy towards more systematic parliamentary scrutiny both of the policies and decisions of multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the IMF and the specialised agencies of the United Nations, and of the views expressed by representatives of the United Kingdom within such bodies.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): My Lords, the Government recognise the increasing importance of multilateral institutions and are committed to working for greater transparency in their operation. The policies which the Government pursue through these institutions are subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the same way as all other government policies. Where the UK's policies in these multilateral institutions are pursued through the European Union, the standard parliamentary scrutiny arrangements for EU matters apply.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree that the traditional secrecy surrounding multilateral institutions--for example, the IMF--may have aggravated the consequences of the recent East Asia crisis because of the absence of timely analysis and the right data for discussion and debate among those with political responsibility? Does he further agree that when there is so much concern about improving the quality of democracy within the United Kingdom, an immense question arises about the accountability of those making policy on our behalf in international institutions? I welcome the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on an evaluation unit--for example, in the IMF--does the Minister agree that that must be accompanied by improved parliamentary scrutiny across the world?

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