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I emphasise that we would be wise to remind our European partners that our habit of adhering to the rule of law makes us slow to anger and that we have attempted, as always, to be as reasonable and co-operative as possible, despite what our opponents occasionally allege in this House and the other place. However, it is clear that there has been some evidence of ill faith, in stark contrast, if I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, to the extremely co-operative and helpful attitude of the Commission, which we have been only too happy to acknowledge. It is only when driven, if I may so put it, beyond endurance that we are forced to defend our interest in the only way left open to us.
On the hearing, as regards the interim measures we would hope to have some result within two to six weeks. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, expects it to be nearer six weeks than two weeks. But I would not venture down the road of prophecy with quite the same gay abandon as he does.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I listened to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. In Germany and in other countries the issue appears to be one of confidence. That confidence was severely dented by the Government's attitude. The noble Viscount said that the Government announced that there could be a link as soon as they had the facts in their possession. However, the Government asked the committee to sit over the weekend to give them the essential facts. I believe that that dented confidence more than anything else.
Two months have now passed and I hope that the Government will take measures to ensure that the scientists now give a reasonable answer. For example, two or three who appear to seek publicity more than anything else prophesied an enormous increase in cases of the new form of CJD. Can the noble Viscount tell us whether there is any rise in the normal incidence of CJD? That appears to be a factor which could be used in argument in Europe. I believe that it would help.
First, the confidence of farmers at home in the effectiveness of the Government's measures has been severely shaken. I realise that the issue is complicated. The organisation of slaughter on the scale talked about is difficult. However, the allocation of slaughterhouses to different tasks should have been carried out quickly. That would have given confidence to the marketing chains which sell beef.
Secondly, the Government should press ahead with a test; I know that there are tests. What are the Government doing to see whether we can have a test for BSE? Slaughter of animals would then be a logical process instead of the guessing game that it is at present.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for the constructive tenor of his remarks. I do not wish to swap anecdotal history with the noble Lord. However, I should point out to him that the first intimation that my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture had about the SEAC's revised views on the possible transmission of BSE to humans occurred the weekend before the weekend to which he referred. Therefore, it was important that the Government made as rapid a judgment and as rapid a Statement as they possibly could in order to keep the public informed. It was important, if, as these issues always do, the matter were to leak, that the Government came forward and were frank earlier rather than later. The penalty was obvious; it meant that we had to wait a little longer before we and the public could be fully informed about the further deliberations of the SEAC. This is the goldfish bowl in which we all live. We must do what we can to ensure that the situation does not lead to panic.
I believe that I am right in saying that at present we do not have a suitable test for BSE. Vast sums of money are now being spent on research into BSE in this country. The most obvious result is that in this country we probably know more about BSE than any other country in the world. That means that it is easier for people with a strong sense of sensationalism sometimes to build into scientific reports conclusions which they do not merit. Of course, if a test were to become available, it would be a very splendid result and we would hope to introduce it as soon as possible.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, can my noble friend help me on two points? First, there seems to be doubt about the link between the food and the cause of BSE. Many other countries, especially the Republic of Ireland, use the same food that we used and have not had a BSE epidemic. Secondly, the number of cattle with BSE does not seem to have been affected by the food ban in the bell curve of the epidemic. It fits more naturally into the phosnate use for warble fly eradication. The type that we used was, I believe, called Phthaladine. That was the active ingredient that caused the hassle as regards thalidomide babies. Will my noble friend please ask his scientists to look even more carefully at this issue? The logic that the food caused BSE seems to be broken by the fact that some places where such food is available do not have an epidemic. And the figure is not falling at the same rate as it should do had the feed ban worked.
The Government have stated consistently that there is no harm in any beef, even that over 30 months, and that they are doing this not for a public health reason but for a consumer protection reason. What possible legal authority do the Government have for killing many of our cattle so that the Germans will not be frightened? It seems more sensible not to pander to frightened Germans. If we say, "We're not going to kill the cattle. It's all right", and continue to eat the beef, eventually the Germans will not be frightened. They are so keen on being frightened, yet we seem to pander to their fear. Will my noble friend give the legal authority for the slaughter of healthy cattle when his colleague said that there is no health risk whatever?
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, although I should not be, I am constantly surprised by the breadth and variety of my noble friend's technical knowledge. I am sure that government scientists will have noted his point. I am glad that I have no ministerial responsibility for what beef cattle or any other kind of cattle are fed in the Republic of Ireland so I hope my noble friend will forgive me if I do not comment on that point.
As to the authority, it is plain that my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture has the authority to make the culls that he has suggested and to pay the proposed compensation. As regards the Germans, from my reading of the Spectator, I understand that, particularly in recent decades, the Germans have become almost obsessively keen on hygiene. It is greatly to their credit, but it is no business of mine to do anything but encourage my right honourable friends to do the best they can to restore confidence in the British beef market. If possible, despite hysterical claims to the contrary, they should try to reassure our German friends and allies that British beef is a great deal more health-giving than sausage.
Lord Desai: My Lords, although the Statement concerned European matters, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said, British beef is banned almost around the world. I believe I heard on a television programme that only Afghanistan and El Salvador have not banned British beef. First, what are the Government doing to lift the ban in countries other than those in Europe? Secondly, I am ignorant of such matters, but I heard that when a similar disease occurred in the Republic of Ireland, the culling was much more thorough and total and therefore the republic was able to restore confidence more quickly.
Lastly, if it is true that there have been 27,000 cases of BSE since the ban on the feed was introduced, do the Government know where the farms are? Should they be singled out not to receive compensation for their culling? After all, they broke the law and should therefore not be compensated for damage due to breaking the law.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, on the final point, it is by no means clear that it is always the farms' fault that BSE occurred after the ban on feed. There may be a number of reasons for the disease occurring. I agree
There is one aspect which we must examine, as I tried to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who knows a great deal about such matters. If we can find a sensible way of passporting cattle, it would be a better way of closely directing the cull than having a blanket cull of animals. None of us wishes to see that, particularly when we know that not only is there a small danger but also, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, the overwhelming likelihood is that the majority of animals would be unaffected by BSE.
As for non-European countries, I merely observe to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that one of the most effective ways in which we could reassure non-EU members as to the safety of British beef is for the European Union to lift the ban. That would be an enormous step forward. We shall continue to do the best we can to provide unbiased and sensible information to all inquirers and to press those in posts abroad to ensure that people are aware of the facts. The noble Lord has given me a chance to add that it is surprising how little foreign Ministers and some heads of government and state understand not only what is at stake but also what we have done so far. It is important that Her Majesty's Government should pursue a powerful information campaign. That is in the minds of a number of my right honourable friends.
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