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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am sure that before taking any decision on this matter the National Assembly for Wales will take advice from its relevant medical officer and will act accordingly. I should point out to the House that the then Chief Medical Officer for Wales at the time of the decision to ban beef on the bone supported that decision. I am sure that in both areas the evidence will be considered again. We have already stated that the evidence will be considered again in a few months. The risk had declined when it was last assessed but was still considered by the Chief Medical Officer to be such as to justify the ban. That will be considered again in a few months. That advice will influence the decisions we take and I am certain will influence the decisions taken by the National Assembly. I cannot conceive that it will take decisions other than on the best medical advice.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord with regard to the complete integrity of my noble friend Lord Williams. That is not in question. Policies evolve, as indeed they evolved under previous governments. But we know what the policy is now. This position has been the public position since February. Candidates in the Welsh elections are or could be aware of that. It is certainly being discussed now. Though I have taken my noble friend's advice and have tried to take hold of myself, I do not see the matter in the same light as the noble Lord opposite.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister realise that he has my sympathy in having to come to the Dispatch Box to undo the words used by his noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn when the noble Lord himself should have come to undo the words he used? Those of us who were present for that debate remember that it went on for some time. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was very, very clear in what he said. Should not the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, have made arrangements to come to the House when this decision was changed in order to inform the House, which was totally misled on that evening? Furthermore, does this Welsh U-turn not open up the interesting position that in Wales beef on the bone will be allowed, in Scotland it will be allowed-- I can assure the noble Lord that it will most assuredly be allowed--whereas in England it will not be allowed? Is this a subtle plot to help Welsh and Scottish beef farmers and disadvantage English ones? Should I get a larger suitcase so that I can bring down beef on the bone every Monday morning for noble Lords here?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am sure that all decision-makers will approach that decision responsibly and will take on board the best scientific advice available. As I said, my noble friend Lord Williams is abroad. I have made a Statement on behalf of the Government. My noble friend did not mislead the House. That was the position at the time and that was his advice at the time he made the statement.
Lord Winston: My Lords, I had no intention of rising to speak on this issue. That was the last thing on my mind. But is it not the case that one of the misconceptions is that science is about certainty? The
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. We were dealing with uncertainty. We have scientific advice that there is risk. The Government's first priority is public health. Forty people have now died in the most horrendous circumstances from the related disease. The Government act, as my noble friend said, in a situation in which there is no certainty but there is risk. We were not prepared to take that risk with public health.
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, we have had 10 minutes on this Question which, as noble Lords will realise, is the normal practice when taking Starred Questions in an oral form. I think my noble friend has replied to the points which have been substantially made.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, with respect, I am advised that, except in a case where a Private Notice Question in another place is repeated as a Statement in this House, the normal practice is to follow the conventions which apply to Starred Questions and Oral Questions.
Moved, That this House do concur with the Commons in the order set out in their Message of yesterday that it be an instruction to the Joint Committee on Financial Services and Markets that it report by 27th May 1999 on Parts V (employment in regulated activities), VI (civil fines for market abuse) and XII (disciplinary measures) of the draft Bill in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly, and a Message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, in order for us to consider what has happened in the past few minutes, it would be appropriate for there to be a Motion before the House. I therefore beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure for 10 minutes. I have no intention of asking the House to consider that.
A very unusual procedure has just taken place. The House has voted on a purely procedural Motion. I understand from those who opposed the Motion that it was done because of the advice given a few moments ago by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on the Private Notice Question. It must be right for there to be an opportunity to put this matter entirely straight, and for the noble Baroness to explain the position more fully.
The House will know that I have maintained on many occasions that on purely House matters I support the Leader of the House. That was one of the reasons why I did not intervene when she said what she did. However, given the generosity that the noble Baroness had shown in agreeing that the PNQ could take place, I wonder whether she might have been rather hasty in her judgment, considering the tremendous interest on all sides of the House in this issue.
There was a substantial feeling that the House had been misled and that the Minister, for wholly understandable reasons, could not himself be here. There is an election in a few days and the issue has become enormously politicised. One wonders whether the situation could have been better handled either through the usual channels or by the noble Baroness showing the generosity that she had displayed earlier. I move the Motion to give the noble Baroness an opportunity to explain to the House why she reached the decision that she did.