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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I declare an interest as having had some cows with BSE--some of my cattle did not have BSE but were destroyed nevertheless. Perhaps I may put two questions to the Minister. It is known that new variant CJD is the human form of BSE, but does the report contain any evidence of a proven--not a possible or even a likely, but a proven--transference from BSE in cattle to CJD in humans? The noble Baroness quoted the report as stating that the manner of infection is not clear. Therefore, there would seem to be some doubt.

My second question is of a far more sensitive nature. The Minister said that 86 people had died from this terrible disease, and we all feel the deepest sympathy for their relatives. Those deaths have taken place over a period of 10 years--eight deaths per year, as compared with 3,000 per year as the result of motor accidents and 30,000 per year from lung cancer. The awful thing is that we all have to die some time; most of us do not look forward to it and we ought to take every conceivable preventive measures. But are the Government right to offer compensation to one sector of people, and with an open cheque? Would it not be better to spend the money on ensuring that people have less chance of catching the disease in future, and that those who do are properly and adequately looked after?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, in response to the noble Earl's last point, these are not either/or questions. It is absolutely appropriate in these extraordinary and terrible circumstances to offer a care and compensation package to the families involved. That is not at the expense of a wide research programme into preventive measures; nor is at the expense of proper regulation and proper safeguards in relation to food safety.

So far as concerns the link between BSE and new variant CJD, as part of its remit SEAC reviews emerging scientific data on a regular basis. It has considered the results of a number of separate experiments and has concluded that new variant CJD is an acquired prion disease caused by exposure to BSE or a BSE-like agent. The research does not provide information into other aspects of the disease, such as the route of exposure. The noble Earl is right: the route of transmission is not known for certain. It possibly never will be. However, it is believed that the most

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likely route is through food. As I said in repeating the Statement, the Government have decided to commission a study of the current state of understanding which will be considered by SEAC and published.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, am I right in thinking that, until comparatively recently, there was no means of diagnosing new variant CJD until a patient had died? Now, there clearly is a means of earlier diagnosis, as is confirmed by the paragraphs in the report on compensation. Did that slow up the realisation that there was a link between the two diseases? I recall, from the first contact I had with a family whose young son developed the disease, that it was not known what the disease was until after his death. Did that slow up the process in working out a connection?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I think that the main obstacle to working out a connection was the long incubation period of human TSEs, which means that it is extremely difficult to make the connection. Even now, there are no easy diagnostic tools. There is no satisfactory blood test, either for animals or for human beings. That makes for extreme difficulty on a number of fronts. That is why one of the research priorities is still to find an effective blood test in order to discover the disease.

Transport Bill

4.26 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Secretary of State's general duty]:

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 10, at beginning insert--

("(A1) The Secretary of State must exercise his functions under this Chapter so as to maintain a high standard of safety in the provision of air traffic services; and that duty is to have priority over the application of subsections (1) to (4).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these amendments all relate to safety. Noble Lords will recall the eloquent arguments put forward in Committee by the noble Lords, Lord Brett, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Hoyle, as well as by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and others. As a result, I agreed to consider again the case for putting additional reassurance on the face of the Bill about the leading role of safety.

These amendments do precisely that. Their effect will be to oblige the Secretary of State, the CAA and the Competition Commission, when exercising their functions under the Bill, to ensure that a high standard of safety is maintained before taking into account any other consideration.

Let me make it clear what "maintaining a high standard of safety" will mean in practice. It means that when the Secretary of State, the CAA and the commission exercise their functions, they must

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consider the safety standards in place at the time and ensure that those standards will not be reduced as a result of their exercising those functions.

This means that safety levels cannot be compromised, even if they are above the statutory minimum, as is the case in some areas of NATS' operations. I know that the latter point was a matter of concern for noble Lords, and I hope that this clear commitment to safety above all other factors in the Bill provides them with the reassurance that they sought. I hope that it will also reassure noble Lords that we are as concerned as they are to ensure that NATS will continue to strive for the highest standards of safety, rather than simply settling for the minimum.

I listened to noble Lords in Committee and agreed that safety should clearly be the first priority in this part of the Bill. These amendments put that beyond any doubt and I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, let me say from these Benches how much we welcome the government amendments. I spoke to our amendments in Committee and specifically asked the Minister whether he could put a safety amendment at the front of the Bill. That is what he has managed to do. We are grateful for this improvement in the Bill as it stands.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Brett: My Lords, I echo the gratitude to my noble friend the Minister for proposing these amendments. They go a long way to meeting the objectives of the amendments tabled in Committee. Speaking for the Government on Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Whitty said:

    "Safety in our regime will be paramount".--[Official Report, 5/6/00; col. 1026.]

We have sought both in Committee and in discussions outside the Chamber to establish how we get that "paramount" assurance into the Bill. Alas, we understand that that word is not a legally acceptable parliamentary term, but we accept that the wording of this amendment does in fact mean the same thing. We are grateful for the assurance given by my noble friend the Minster. I should like to express my appreciation and that of my colleagues for the way in which my noble friend has taken the matter on board. It will be a matter of some reassurance to those in the industry, especially the staff.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, as one of those who raised the issue in this place, I, too, am obliged to the Minister for referring to me and to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle. However, as the Minister knows, I wish that the Government had come to another conclusion. But having regard to what are the parameters of the Government's thoughts on the matter, I accept that the noble Lord has done all that he can in relation to the issue of safety. It is only right and proper that the issue of safety, which is a concern of the public, is recognised. That is what the amendment will achieve and what the Bill, as drafted, did not properly address.

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Like the noble Lord who preceded me, I am grateful for the changes that the Government have made. It is an example of the Minister listening. I do not think that he listened with both ears open, but one-and-three-quarters is better than none. That being the case, I thank the Minister for the concession that he has made. However, that is not to say that we are entirely satisfied about the remainder of the Bill.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I was not present during most of the Committee stage, so it is possible that my point may already have been addressed. Can the Minister tell the House whether the word "safety" for the purposes of these amendments relates not only to the obvious need to protect passengers, crew and those on the ground from accidents, but also to protecting passengers from the risks to their health--and, sometimes, their lives--arising from excessive crowding and inadequate oxygen and humidity in passenger cabins? Is it not a disgrace that airlines are still permitted to provide a seat pitch of as little as 26 inches in economy class? No adult should be expected to fly in such dangerously crowded conditions. Indeed, I submit that 29 inches for short flights, 31 inches for medium-length flights and 34 inches for long-distance flights should be the absolute minimum.

Lord Hoyle: I do not believe that the noble Lord's point is covered under this Bill. However, it is a matter that we ought to consider and perhaps we may do so at another time. I, too, join other noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend the Minister for the way that he has dealt with the matter of safety. We should have preferred to see the word "paramount" included in this provision; indeed, my noble friend the Minister used it in Committee. Nevertheless, he has gone as far as he possibly can. I, for one, am satisfied that safety, as it says in the amendment, will have priority over other measures. That is most important. I cannot stress too strongly how much we appreciated not only my noble friend's courtesy in receiving us but also the way in which he acted on this matter.

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