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Lord Lyell: My Lords, certainly not. My neighbour has a great deal more professional experience than I. I hope that when he makes his speech he will be able to correct me. However, I believe that honesty pays. All of us are grateful for the comments of the SEAC and the expertise shown not least in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and others.
Secondly, I believe that professionalism pays, in particular as regards communications. Some of your Lordships may remember that in December 1988 a remark was made by one of my honourable colleagues about eggs. I remember receiving many deputations from the Northern Ireland fowl industry. There was a great deal of similar hysteria and we received many comments. For two weeks not one member of the Government took a grip except, eventually, my noble friend Lady Trumpington. She happened to be a junior Minister in MAFF and thank goodness someone of her stature began to take a grip. That indicated that when a story such as this breaks professionalism is required. That is why we look to the Department of Health and to MAFF for calm, authoritative "debunkers" of the remarks.
It is notable that during the past three weeks some of the more zealous pundits have been mysteriously absent from the airwaves and television screens. Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Europe; not to a European Union country but to Switzerland. There I found hysteria over CJD. A marvellous newspaper called Blick, which one does not read but assimilates, had a headline stating, "My wife is dying from CJD". What did my Swiss colleagues give us? Lovely Swiss beef, two or three helpings of which were devoured by my excellent German colleagues. I was then given a huge dose of anglophobia--it is nice to be a Scotsman--by the wife of a member of the Bundesrat who said, "The whole of the BSE problem that you have in England is your fault. It's the fault of John Major. He deserves it all". I waited for the strains of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the European song of unity from Strasbourg. Alas, she could not wait to take her third portion of Swiss beef.
What is the case in Germany? A lady from Munich is being treated in Frankfurt for exactly the same strain of CJD. There are several cases in Lyon. We have mass hysteria but what is happening there? They are attacking the very industry that we are trying to support today. Yesterday the Meat and Livestock Committee gave figures for the sales of beef, which are higher than those in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. I wonder why. Perhaps there is a message: think before you speak. In other words, engage brain. Only last night I heard a Member of the European Parliament from Brandenburg telling us that all the farmers in Brandenburg are furious. I wonder why. I refer to their
My noble friend Lord Lindsay has raised his profile in Angus. I can hardly pick up the Courier, that notable paper which circulates in the area, without seeing the headline, "Earl visits". The noble Earl has received some excellent comments from the Angus farmers and I am delighted that he is here. We are delighted for what he has done and for the points that he made yesterday and for everything that has been done by the Government to try to alleviate the problem. I believe that professionalism and, above all, engaging brain before speaking, will produce the required benefits. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lucas will give us some encouraging news in winding up.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, the crisis is not caused by confusion and party bickering, as was suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. It is a matter of inconsistent and incoherent government policies. The whole sorry episode is riddled with inconsistencies. First, we had the loosening of the rendering laws in 1983. Then tighter regulations were introduced in 1989 regarding the use of offal in order to check the spread of possible infection. In 1993 the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food again introduced looser regulations designed to make meat hygiene enforcement less prescriptive.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, told us of the result of the loosening of regulations. In 1995 unannounced inspection by the state veterinary service showed that 48 per cent. of slaughterhouses failed to meet the bovine offal regulations. Obviously, inconsistent regulation has failed. Even the Government's assurances were inconsistent. For years we were given assurances that there was no scientific evidence that BSE could affect humans. When further scientific evidence cast doubt on those assurances the Government switched from "no scientific evidence" to "acting on the best scientific advice". Were the Government not acting on the best scientific advice all the time? I believe that we should have been told. No wonder consumer confidence collapsed.
With that collapse have come yet more inconsistencies. On the one hand, the Government speak of rebuilding consumer confidence. By that they mean the beef industry recovering to the same level of sales of British beef as existed before the crisis. On the other hand, consumers are concerned about safety and the spread of BSE to their children, born and unborn. That is hardly a meeting of minds. After such a series of inconsistencies, did the Government really believe that their assurances would be believed? Obviously they did because, as my noble friend Lord Richard told us, they totally failed to anticipate the public reaction to the Minister's announcement that BSE might be transmitted to humans. The Government had no comprehensive
My noble friend Lord Richard rightly calls for coherence. I presume he is referring to the incoherent way in which the Government, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Poole, and other noble Lords, blame everyone except themselves for this disaster to the beef industry. First, it was the fault of the scientists because their work did not produce precise answers. However, when it was pointed out that that is usually the case in ongoing research the Government decided to blame the scaremongering on the Labour Party. When the Government realised that the Labour Party was only expressing the fears of ordinary consumers, they decided to blame the press for the scaremongering and the consumers for listening to them. Now, of course, it is the European Union's fault because it is not allowing us to put our national interest above public health. What a shambles.
What lessons can be learnt from this? First, like the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, I believe that we must separate the interests of the consumer from MAFF. For years we have heard from many sources that MAFF is on the side of the farm and food manufacturing lobby and is less concerned about the consumer. The co-operation about which the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, spoke is obviously insufficient. There must be complete separation.
Secondly, I had hoped that that experience would encourage the Government to work with the European Union and the Commission and that we should have a joint approach, as the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, suggested. Much of this crisis is due to the Government keeping the Commission at arm's length. Sadly, it now appears that the beef industry is one more victim of the split in the Government over Europe.
Thirdly, the Government must question whether it is sustainable to produce cheap food using intensive farming methods. Part of the cost of that cheap food must now be recognised as a risk to humans because of the chemicals and other products used.
Next, I hope that the Government will become more respectful and careful of markets. It is no good blaming consumers' ease of choice, as the noble Lord, Lord Poole, did. Nowadays it is very easy for consumers to switch from one product to another. That is what the market is all about.
Finally, I agree with my noble friends Lord Winston and Lord Monkswell that we desperately need to understand more about prion-related diseases. Until fairly recently, the study of prions had little practical application. I echo the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Porter. Is our lack of knowledge due to encouraging near-market research instead of basic research? Is that ignorance the result of a short-term science policy? Also, is vertical transmission being researched properly? The noble Lord, Lord Burton, says that it is not a problem. Is he right?
Lord Harlech: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for bringing an extremely important debate to the House. There is an obvious and enormous interest in this and many other issues. They do not emanate merely from the UK but also from our European neighbours, who I fear are somewhat hiding their own light under a bushel. Indeed, the rest of the world has important lessons to learn in this respect and may possibly be pro-active. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, seemed to imply that it is possible to foresee everything which may happen. I do not believe that that situation exists in any element of human life.
This issue is not just about the UK farming community. It is extremely important to those who supply it and who consume the products from it. As we have heard from all quarters, for those people, this is a very serious problem indeed. It involves the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people and is not just about the rearing and husbandry of all livestock. It concerns also dairy products; confectionery products; industry and synthesised products from industry; steel; engineering; and research and development. In all those spheres, and many more, there arise issues in relation to health and disease. Thousands of lives are involved.
We must be extremely careful not to lay blame in any one area of either the manufacturing or administration side of the beef industry. I strongly support the Minister when he says that this must not be a party political issue. We must ensure that all shoulders are put to the plough in relation to this issue to make sure that we get it right.
During the 1984 miners' strike things were kept going in a small area of Nottinghamshire because stocks had been procured in advance. It took a responsible government to carry out those measures. In referring to the energy crisis of the 1970s, my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said that heat treatment levels were altered or lowered in the rendering industry. However, the evidence is scientifically very flimsy. But that was an active measure. It could not possibly have been pro-active.
Society must take its share of the blame in the way that it demands food--its type, quantity and price. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, should look to Europe, Russia and even China because in those regions, large quantities of food are eaten entirely as sausages. There are very few cases of BSE there or the human-related CJD, or JCB as we heard it has been called in France.
It cannot be that society should take no blame in the way that it demands food and its type and quantity. Even scientific evidence cannot guarantee that all food is always safe. Whether another mutation, another virus, creature or process may be around the corner, I do not think that mankind can stop its agricultural husbandry, just in case.
Viscount Gage: My Lords, I declare an interest as a shareholder in a dairy unit. I ask the Government whether it is felt that the introduction of still more surveillance of the content of animal feedstuffs would be a means by which to reinforce confidence in the meat industry.
Last year legislation provided for the listing of ingredients used on packaging by compounders. Could that welcome decision, which did at last allow the farmer a personal choice in his selection of feedstuffs, be improved upon? For example, some compounders give more information than others. Moreover, the National Farmers Union argues that farmers do not have the technical equipment to test those raw materials for their contractual quality and that a statutory declaration of those characteristics would be helpful. Will the Minister give guidance on that matter?
Although the additional knowledge now available is encouraging, one is still left with the impression that more might be done in monitoring the safety of animal feedstuffs. In contrast to the one committee, SCAN--the Scientific Committee of Animal Nutrition--which, among its other duties, has that of testing ingredients in animal feedstuffs, there are 14 different committees existing solely for the safety of food for human consumption. I mention a few. There are the committees of the Department of Health on toxicity, carcinogenicity and mutagenicity; the committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on novel food processes; and, additionally, there is a consumer panel. We know to our bitter cost that sources of protein once considered completely safe have had subsequently to be withdrawn from animal feedstuffs. For example, bonemeal was withdrawn only last month. It is entirely possible to imagine that other ingredients presently approved in the feeding stuff regulations might eventually be found to be unsafe and similarly withdrawn.
I conclude by asking my noble friend the Minister: whether he considers that bodies of experts, parallel to those which examine the safety of food for human consumption, should be convened to monitor that of animal consumption, in the expectation that such a move might do much to restore faith in the minds of national and international consumers.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I rise to speak fortieth in this galaxy of talent. I must say that, if I say anything new, it will be a blasted miracle. However, I greatly enjoyed today's debate. A little touch of party acrimony does no harm at all, although I did not believe that even this Government were as bad as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, painted them. Nevertheless, it does them a little good I dare say.
We have heard admirable speeches from people who know about such matters; for example, the noble Lords, Lord Soulsby and Lord Winston, and indeed other noble Lords with learning that I cannot emulate. Those speeches have been both useful and enjoyable. I also greatly enjoyed the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord
Everyone who has spoken has pushed his own particular line. Of course the anti-Europeans have had a field day and blown up the reasonable pursuit of their own interests into too great a state, although I must say that the way that some of our scientists picture the possible effects was enough to throw panic into many people. The organic farmers and the environmentalists have also had a field day and have done very well. I agree with much of what they said. There is no questioning the fact that there are features in our modern farming which need control and which need thinking about. That is perfectly true. I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, put it better than most people when he said that science cannot be rejected but that it must be used sensibly. That is also true; indeed, we need it if we are to feed the growing number of people in the world.
As I said yesterday--and as we all agreed--whether or not we believe that they could have been done better or earlier, the Government's measures are good and will do much to restore confidence. However, I believe that the great British public are the real people to be congratulated. I say that because: give them beef cut down to half price, and they will buy it. That is the sort of thing that does more good than any amount of talking in scientific terms. But although the beef market is recovering a little, we should remember, for example, the salmonella scare of lamented memory which resulted in a 50 per cent. drop or thereabouts in the total consumption of eggs.
Therefore, we must work very hard on the promotion of beef and in pushing its excellence, not the freedom from BSE. We should push the fact that, if you have an Aberdeen Angus steak which is well marbled with fat, it does you a power of good, especially if it is done to pink perfection. Indeed, it restores your faith in human nature. That is one of the lessons that we should learn; namely, that we can promote for excellence.
Of course, it is true that proper fears are aroused in the minds of scientists by new forms of CJD, and so on. However, as many people have said, there is no real absolute evidence that there is any link, although the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, seemed to produce a lot of evidence in that respect. I must say that I do not know why the noble Earl is sitting in the far corner rather than the corner at this end of the Chamber. I know that he is a "corner boy", but perhaps he is sitting there in order to conceal his shirt!
I should like to endorse the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, about the long breed of cattle--the hill cattle--Galloways, Welsh Blacks, Highlanders, and so on. I believe that the Government should think again on the matter. I say that because such measures take
There is no doubt that a policy of slaughter, especially to take suspect animals out of a range when they have finished their working life, is sensible. It may well come about without a great deal of extra expense if they are rendered into bonemeal which can be used for fertiliser; indeed, there is no better fertiliser on the market.
One of the essential requirements is to pursue a test which many noble Lords have mentioned. We know that the Americans are working on such a test. If they have something good to sell and are waiting for a patent, for goodness sake let us get over there and offer them money. Such a test would be the ultimate and sensible measure to have. It could be used in the same way as the test for TB many years ago which cleared up the herds.
I believe that the whole situation is moving towards a decent, common-sense resolution. As the noble Earl knows--and I cannot help mentioning Scotland-- the cattle industry is worth well over £500 million to Scotland. However, the vital point is that the export market is much more important in Scotland than anywhere else. That is because £180 million of that figure goes for export. Therefore, we should try to make it appear to our continental allies that the attitude they are taking is ludicrous. We should go to law, try every other method of flattery or ridicule, if so wished, scientific arguments; but we must get this ludicrous ban lifted. We should also assure them that our measures are real; that our slaughterhouses are up to the mark; and that no infected beef or offal is getting into the market. I think that we can make progress. We need to do so because a great many people not only in Scotland but in the west country and everywhere else depend on beef, have produced good beef, and deserve to go on doing so.
Lord Carter: My Lords, as always I declare an interest as someone who is involved in dairy farming. We have had an important debate on an important subject. The word "crisis" is somewhat overworked but if we do not agree about anything else I think we can all agree that the beef farming industry is in crisis, the worst any of us have known in our farming lifetimes.
We have heard many excellent speeches in the debate but none better than the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Biddulph. I have the pleasure of serving on the council of the Royal Agricultural Society with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. When he declared an interest he was much
The intention when we tabled the Motion was to enable the House to analyse the BSE crisis; to learn some lessons for food safety generally; and to pay particular attention to the all important aspect of consumer safety. As I never tire of telling the farming audiences I address, the consumer is not just our best customer. The consumer is our only customer. What we know as a result of salmonella, listeria, and, now, as a result of BSE, is that the concern about food--or, more pejoratively, food scares--can decimate whole sectors of the livestock industry overnight.
We have had six ministerial Statements in four weeks. There has been an adjournment debate in the other place and the debate here today. There has been endless coverage of the matter in the broadcast and print media. However, never once has there been the merest suggestion from the Government that they might just bear some responsibility for the present crisis. As other speakers have said, it has been the Opposition, the media, rogue scientists, the mad consumer, but never, ever, the Government. The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, in a contribution I thought well below his usual standard, was at it again. We heard about the irrationality and hysteria of the consumer. He mentioned the 60 per cent. throughput in the market. I do not know whether your Lordships heard the Farming Today programme this morning. An old friend of mine, Brian Pack, the chief executive of Aberdeen and Northern Marts, pointed out that his market is one of the largest in the country but now has a throughput of only 30 per cent.
If we believe the figures, 85 per cent. of consumer demand has been restored. However, exports, which account for 20 per cent. of the total market, are non-existent. Therefore it is likely that the whole market is only 65 per cent. of its former level. It is unfair to accuse us on this side of playing party politics on the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, was kind enough to say that I have tried to follow a responsible and bipartisan line. The noble Earl said that my noble friend Lord Richard did not condemn the EU ban. He did not, but he said that it was probably illegal. I think that is a much more productive approach than just condemning it outright, as so many noble Lords did.
Yesterday, the noble Earl was kind enough to give me the references from the relevant directives that I asked for. It looks as if the ban on intra-Community trade which the directives allow has been extended and that trade is probably illegal to third countries. The noble Earl referred to the malevolence and the ignorance of our European partners. That is not the way to get the Commission and the Council of Ministers on our side. I suggest that bluster is not a recommended form of diplomacy.
If the recent scientific evidence regarding the 10 new cases of CJD is correct, we shall not know whether there is a link between BSE and CJD for probably another three to five years because of the incubation period of the disease. It is possible that we were all eating
The Opposition have the right and the duty to point out to the Government where they think the Government have gone badly wrong. I entered this House nine years ago. As your Lordships will know, in all that time I have sat on the Front Bench and held the agricultural brief. I have dealt with BSE from the outset of the crisis; that is, from 1987 to date. The philosophers among your Lordships will know that a connection is not a cause. I wish to make a few brief remarks to show how we in the Opposition and others have expressed our concerns in the past. That gives us every right to criticise the Government now.
On 27th February 1989 my honourable friend Dr. David Clark--I was in his team--expressed the views of the Labour Party which called upon the Government to pay 100 per cent. compensation to farmers in order to ensure that there was no temptation for them to send suspected cattle to slaughter. A senior NFU official had been quoted as saying, "It is common knowledge in the industry that infected animals have gone into the food chain." Before the Minister replies to that point, I should say that I have mentioned before the 50 per cent. compensation which was paid for three years. At the time--this is not hindsight--we said that was wrong. The response from the Government is that when they paid 100 per cent. compensation the number of reported cases did not go up. But of course they would not because the compensation was only paid on the infected animals. To save £4 million the Government were prepared to run the risk of infected animals entering the food chain. That is the point. On 27th February 1989 we said that we wished to ban the sale of brains from cattle and sheep to the general public; investigate the whole question of feeding animal protein to animals; and increase the research and development into the effects of the disease.
On 12th July 1990 we produced a six-item package. The first item concerned the culling of calves from BSE-infected cows or restricting breeding. That was backed by the BVA, the Consumers' Association, the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, the National Consumer Council, the National Farmers' Union and the Women's Farming Union. The Government refused to implement the measure and the policy has remained unchanged. That left the farmers and their vets to decide whether they should breed from BSE-infected cows.
On 12th July 1990 we suggested the introduction of a tagging and recording system to enable cattle to be traced. The Government announced that measure yesterday. We also said that offal should be banned from pet food. That measure was introduced about four months later. We called for the banning of cattle and sheep protein in pig and poultry feed. That was in 1990. The measure was announced on 20th March this year. We asked for the random sampling of cattle heads. I shall return to that matter. We asked then, in 1990--we first asked for it in 1988 at the time of the salmonella crisis--for the establishment of an independent food standards agency in the following words,
The noble Earl was kind enough to pass me a letter a few moments ago from Mr. Hogg to Dr. Gavin Strang, our spokesman, in which he deals with the point about random sampling. I have had to read it extremely quickly. I believe the reason that the Government are against it is that from the onset of symptoms and death there is only a three-month time window in which one can detect BSE in the brain. I have only just received that information. If that is the case, I find it worrying. I have a letter from Mrs. Angela Browning to Mr. Ancram, my local MP. It was sent on to a local farmer. It states:
We also have the problem of the 25,000 cases of cattle which were born after the feed ban. A recent article in the Farmers Weekly quoted a speech from Mr. Kevin Taylor, the Ministry's assistant chief vet. He told the Veterinary Public Health association conference that in 1994 MAFF worked out how much SBO (specified bovine offals) there should be based on the number of cattle slaughtered. When officials checked the volumes, they found only 50 per cent. of the expected SBOs. We must ask ourselves where the other 50 per cent. ended up. The article stated:
Only two weeks ago, the "Food Programme" replayed some interviews from 1988. It cited Dr. Hugh Fraser, the great expert on scrapie, of the neuropathogenesis unit at Edinburgh. He said at that time that remote does not mean negative. He said that we must not be too complacent as regards the link between CJD and BSE. It was stated on the programme that after that interview it was never allowed to speak to Dr. Fraser again.
What can be learned about food safety generally? First, there must be an independent assessment of the safety of the whole food chain. We must separate the protection of the consumer from the protection of the producer. At the time of the salmonella scare in 1988 we produced our proposals for an independent food standards agency. For many years I have been saying on public platforms, to farming audiences and to this House, that the Ministry of Agriculture has lost the confidence of the consumer.
I have spent all my professional life working with that department. Some of my best friends are officials there. We all know that every department of Government has a doctrine, a culture, a mindset. I would say that we have now seen the results of that in the recent past. If farmers do not believe that they would be better off with an independent FSA, let them reflect on what has happened to them in the past four weeks when they have been in the tender care of the Ministry of Agriculture.
I give some brief examples away from BSE where I think that the attitude of the Government is made clear. I refer to the importation of meat with growth hormones. We are the only member state--it is one against 14--which would be prepared to allow the importation of hormone-implanted meat. The Government's answer is that we rely on science--until it comes to BSE when they ignore the science and introduce a slaughter policy even though the scientists tell them that it is not required. As I pointed out in a Starred Question, if we ban athletes who use a growth promoter, why are the
I feel at times that our negotiating stance in Europe can be summed up as everyone out of step except us. We must find a live test for BSE. I warned the Minister of this question. I refer to the test involving the use of cerebral spinal fluid in America. I believe that we have sent infected material to America. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister will tell us the state of play as regards that test.
We have heard already of the random testing of cattle brains at slaughter. We must have a quality assurance programme. That was suggested first by the Labour Party. We must have a system of traceability. We were asking for that in 1990. There must be adequate resources for the veterinary services. We all know the reduction in the numbers of vets in the state veterinary services. In December 1995, only four months ago, 112 out of 424 slaughterhouses were found to be failing to comply with the EC fresh meat directive.
As regards maternal transmission, what has happened to the test of New Zealand heifers which were imported for testing and the 600 calves that were taken at random to test for maternal transmission? It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could bring us up to date.
We heard yesterday that the Government are relying on the Food Safety Act as the power to introduce the over-30 month ban. I have had a quick look at that Act. It would be helpful to know which part of the Act gives the Government that power. There is not a public health risk because the Government have said that beef is safe. There is not an animal health risk because we all know that the disease cannot be transmitted horizontally.
To conclude, this is a sorry story. It is extraordinary that after salmonella and listeria there is no contingency planning in the department to deal with a food scare of this nature. It was a grave error of judgment to say that the Government would rely on the scientific advice, and within two days to ignore it and introduce a slaughter policy.
We have been accused of scaremongering. It has been referred to already, but I say it again. On Sunday 24th March Mr. Hogg's speculation on television about the mass slaughter of all the cattle in the country did more damage and caused more alarm than any other single statement. There was a failure to inform the Commission. We learned today that there will be a loss of 28,000 jobs. The cost of compensation this year is £550 million; plus the cost of unemployment for the 28,000 who will lose their jobs.
Arthur Young, the agricultural historian, wrote 200 years ago. He asked a farmer whether there had been an agricultural revolution. The farmer replied, "I don't know about that, but I know that last year I had a herd and a farm and this year I have none".
Lord Lucas: My Lords, let me first thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for giving us the chance to debate this extremely important subject. It was noble of him to choose one of the rare Labour days in this House to devote to a subject which was of interest to so few of his Back-Benchers although to many others in the House. It was perhaps appropriate that the Labour Party should have chosen as the person to present this debate the old bull of their Front Bench.
Next I must compliment our two maiden speakers who entertained us extremely well. If they follow the examples they have given us today in their future speeches we shall be happy and delighted, our whole proceedings will be enlivened by them. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is clearly as well bred as his dairy cows and my noble friend Lord Biddulph gave us a speech which was both short and sweet. I see that he shares with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, being an old Cheltonian, the origin of their mutual oratorical skills.
There were many other excellent speeches to which I shall be able to do scant justice. At the end of my list of compliments perhaps I had better hope for a few myself. There was a complimentary article in the Yorkshire Post headed "Lord Lucas and the Cattle Scourge". That was on 4th July 1912 and I hope to be able to follow the example of my noble forebear.
There has been much discussion on the nature of food scares. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, got it right when he said that our policy had been one of frankness, openness and concern for the nation's health. He got it wrong when he said that we had acted under a misapprehension on what the consequences of the announcement would be. I believe that we have seen enough of these scares in our time to know very well what they would be. We were under no misapprehension as to how the media would react. We were pleasantly surprised by the reaction of the Sun but I cannot say that the rest of the newspapers surprised us by their reaction. We were generally pleasantly surprised by the actions of the Opposition, particularly in this House, who have acted totally responsibly throughout. Unfortunately, some senior members of the Opposition seemed to put party ahead of country at a time when the opposite order of priorities would have been welcome. But that is no less than we expect.
When this kind of information comes to our notice, there is always the danger of it leaking. Leaking has become a feature of our national life. Data becomes public before it has been properly considered because when you reach the stage where you need a wide discussion, it is no longer possible to hold that discussion in private. If you mention something to
Our policy is to be open and honest, to provide as much information as we can to the people who need it in order to make their own decisions about what food they should eat. The information originates with a small group of scientists. Generally, that is pretty confidential. They then talk among themselves in the appropriate group, in this case SEAC. That course proceeded without there being widespread leaks. They then came to talk to Ministers, who were able to discuss the matter in detail. But beyond that there is no confidentiality. Beyond that our reaction was to bring the matter before Parliament and the public. I am astonished that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, should think that we should put Brussels before Westminster in our order of priorities. Of course we have been talking to Brussels all the way through the crisis and we have been keeping Brussels informed, but when something as dramatic and difficult as this announcement comes before us we wish to put it to Parliament rather than having it leak out from Brussels into the media.
As regards individuals, we feel that the great British public have acted entirely sensibly. I join the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, in congratulating them on their reaction. Of course they need time to assimilate the information. Of course they need to give proper consideration to the many and various arguments. They need time to recover from the scare stories in the media. We have done our best to provide them with information. I join my noble friend Lady Wilcox in championing the cause of the consumers. It is their views and reactions and not some diktat from the Government which bring about the consequences for the beef market that we must deal with. That is what we have been doing, dealing with it. It is our responsibility to deal with the crisis that has arisen, it is our responsibility not to fight panic with panic, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said in his excellent speech. We have acted carefully and competently and produced the right measures as soon as it was possible to do so.
What would the Labour Party have done differently? Would they have concealed information, dissimulated, presented disinformation? My noble friend Lord Wade asked that question and received no answer from the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I am not surprised.
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