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Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : We have been exposed to substantial media scaremongering in recent weeks and months. One example of that is the so-called level of radiation said to be found in the Rannoch area of my constituency. At best that can be described as dangerous misinformation. It could have a damaging impact on the major industry-- tourism--of that area. No thought was given to that by those who appeared on television to talk about it.

It is interesting to hear that all the things that make us Scots so happy and enjoy being on this planet--whisky, haggis, lamb, red meat, fish and chips--are not good for one. What nonsense. We have to achieve a balance ; a balance about the risk.

Every aspect of human activity contains risk. We must look at the element of risk and what the choices are. In car driving, coach tours, travelling on ships, cycling or even walking on the roads there is a risk. We have to evaluate the risk and how we should deal with the problems. Sufficient levels of inspection and supervision are required, not repressive levels. Hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have leaned largely to repression.

There is no question whatever but that the housewife and the farmer have a joint interest in this matter. To put the record straight on some comments that were made

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earlier about farmers, the farmers in my constituency made it quite clear during the salmonella scare connected with eggs that the first thing that we had to do was to get the facts, the second was to deal with the facts when they were known and the third was, if any compensation was required in any area, to deal with that. The farmers approached the matter, as they have in my experience approached all such matters, responsibly and respectfully. I wish to put the record straight because I will not have Opposition Members calling the people in my constituency, who are the backbone of Scotland. 9.11 pm

Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : This has been an interesting debate, a debate of two halves. One half of the debate has been about facts and the other about false perceptions. I must say that from the beginning the majority of the facts came from the Opposition and the false perceptions from the Government.

I found it rather strange that we on the Opposition Benches were being attacked for considering bringing in legislation to ban green top milk. It is not our proposal to do that ; it is a proposal, if I understood correctly what he said as reported in the papers, that the Minister of Agriculture is considering. We were also attacked for making assertions about listeria in soft cheeses. It was not we who raised that matter ; it was none other than the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture.

I felt that Government Members were slightly unfair in accusing us on those points, but this emphasises perhaps the point that I am making, that they were talking about false perceptions and we were talking about facts.

We have had a good, wide-ranging debate in which a great many hon. Members have been able to participate. I regret that we did not have longer, because I know that many hon. Members would have liked a little more time to develop some other arguments.

I also think that it was unfair and unwarranted to accuse us of scaremongering. It is the duty of the Opposition to highlight the inadequacies of the Government. Indeed, if we had not done so, especially when public health is at risk, we would not have been doing our duty. So we reject and rebut absolutely the charge of scaremongering. My right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) made that point quite clear at the beginning of his excellent speech today.

We are not attacking the farmers or the food manufacturers. We accept that the overwhelming majority of those people are trying to provide us with food of a high quality. But we feel that the Government have been acting in a manner which is not beneficial to the consumers.

The theme that has come from all Opposition speakers is that we should really not be surprised at the Government's failure to protect food. Food safety and the basic philosophy of the Government are simply incompatible. For any Government to proclaim their priority to sweep away regulations and their ambition to reduce public expenditure and to cut the number of public servants in monitoring food, research and development is a recipe for an epidemic of food poisoning, and that is what we have in Britain. Incidents of food poisoning have doubled since 1985. That is a fact and we have approached the debate on the basis of facts.

I shall examine some of the points in a little more detail. I asserted that the Government do not like regulations.

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Ever since the Government came to office, they have made no pretence of their ambition to sweep away regulations because they have seen regulation as an unwarranted attack on free enterprise. The Opposition reject that view. We contend that, without minimal positive state intervention, the public will remain vulnerable in terms of safeguarding our food and the environment. Almost from their first day of office, the Government started dismantling and weakening the regulations that protect the general public.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn said that the chairman of the United Kingdom Renderers' Association, John Field, summarised the situation well in his comments on the Government's proposal to regulate protein processing plants. He said :

"There was a change of heart when the Conservatives came into office. They were happy to drop the idea of a code and settle for random testing."

As we now know, the result was that thousands of people suffered from salmonella poisoning as the regulations for protein processing plants were not strict enough.

For almost 10 years, the Government have continued their unremitting campaign. In July 1985, they were bold enough to publish a White Paper called "Lifting the Burden", in which they made no secret of their views. They argued :

"the impact of regulation takes its toll in diverting precious time and energy that would be far better used in generating products, services, sales."

I might add, "and profits". Their intentions were clear and, as a consequence, they continued the process of removing statutory protection, at the cost of the health of the general public. I put to the Minister the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) : is it right that the public health regulations have been changed and that people with a positive salmonella test result could be working in the food processing industry or serving in food shops? That is a serious matter which affects public health directly and we need to know whether that is the case.

Time and time again in the recent debate on the quality of food there have been examples of the Government pursuing that key theme and, by doing so, putting the public at risk. On listeria, we know that the Government had in preparation 20 months ago regulations that covered cook-chill foods. The Secretary of State for Health said that there was disagreement between scientists about that. Yes, there was, but the Secretary of State could have taken it further and said that there were disagreements between scientists in the Department of Health and scientists in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The two Departments were bickering and arguing and, as a result, we have not yet had those regulations. The sooner we have them the better.

Of course, not only consumers are concerned. Our evidence is that most progressive manufacturers and food retailers support sensible regulation because that is the only way in which they can retain the confidence of consumers and customers and, therefore, stay in business. However, our criticisms do not concern only regulations. The Government have been involved in delay and procrastination all the way. From the beginning, they had a deliberate policy of cutting back on research and development, as well as on monitoring. Tragically, the pace is quickening, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) argued accurately at some length.

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It is widely acknowledged that we are short of environmental health officers who are the first line of defence for the customer. However, although it may have gone largely unnoticed, there has been a swingeing decrease in the number of staff employed by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Between 1981 and 1984, there was a reduction in science staff of over 8 per cent. Between 1984 and 1988, there was a loss of a further 15 per cent. That means that since the Government came to office one quarter of the science posts in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have been axed. That is not good news for food safety.

Let us examine the picture in a little more detail. The state veterinary service is vital to animal and therefore to human health. Its role is critical to food safety because vets intervene at an earlier stage than environmental health officers. Although they are vital, in a written answer that I received yesterday from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I was informed that the number of veterinary officers permanently employed in Great Britain since this Government came to office has fallen by nearly one quarter.

Those drastic cuts have had an effect on food safety. They have resulted in a reduction in the level of abattoir monitoring for hygiene and welfare standards from 53 man years in 1983 to 45 man years in 1987. The monitoring of poultry slaughter premises over the same period shows a fall from 8.5 man years to 7.1 man years. Those are serious and significant reductions in the inspections undertaken in relation to meat and poultry slaughters.

In turning to further examples to make my point, I emphasise that we are talking about facts. We are not speculating. It is clear that, although there is a growing link between problems in animal health and human health, the Government are failing to recognise that. Although the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has the greatest difficulty in recruiting veterinary officers, the Treasury is forcing the University Grants Committee to cut the number of veterinary schools. The proposals to close the two schools at Cambridge and Glasgow are indefensible and are yet another example of the Government putting short-term financial considerations before the long-term health of the British people.

The Government's cuts in research and development are proceeding unabated. During the past four years, cuts in research and development in the Ministry have resulted in the loss of no fewer than 2,000 research posts--a reduction of 25 per cent. in staff numbers. On top of that, the Government are now proposing to cut research and development in agriculture by another 30 per cent., which will include vital research work in food and other environmental concerns.

It is true that

"public funding in this area has been significantly cut, and further reductions are in prospect. This is not in the long term interest of the United Kingdom."

Those are not my words, but were given in evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Agriculture and Food Research. That was a considered view shared by a Committee with a majority of Conservative Members.

Only last Friday the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issued a statement warning pregnant women to stay away from sheep and new-born lambs because they could be risking their own health and that of their unborn baby in a condition known as enzootic abortion. That was

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wise and sensible advice. The tragedy is that, while the right hand is issuing that advice, the left hand is making research cuts at the Moredun research institute in Edinburgh. What hypocrisy from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I shall not outline the cuts in research into salmonella but I feel that the Minister has been little more than disingenuous in his claims that research at the institute of food at Bristol has been completed. The research is complete but he knows that it will not be worth while until the development work takes place.

I shall repeat the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). He asked how the Minister could find £19 million at the drop of a hat to support the egg industry but not find £300,000 to allow this project to continue for another few years. That is the sort of question which I hope that the Minister will attempt to answer.

At the Moredun research institute, vital research into listeriosis has also been cut back. Why? The Opposition submit that it is another example of the Government's actions not matching their words. Furthermore, the Opposition know of a range of cuts in agriculture and food research into milk and cheese production. I would have thought that cheese production was one issue about which the Minister would like to know more.

The Government are culpable not only of cutting research and staffing but of delay in action. Their complacency in dealing with bovine spongiform encephalopathy--BSE--is little short of a scandal.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Donald Thompson) : Rubbish

Dr. Clark : The Minister shouts rubbish, but it took 18 months before the Ministry could summon enough courage in June 1988 even to make the disease notifiable. We then had to wait another two months before it introduced a compulsory slaughter and compensation scheme. Compensation of 50 per cent. of the estimated market value is not good enough. It means that farmers stand to lose between £350 and £400 per cow. What is most serious is that reports show that as a result some farmers sell animals for slaughter--hence into the food chain--as soon as the first suspicious signs appear.

In The Sunday Telegraph of 19 February, a senior National Farmers Union source is reported as saying :

"It is common knowledge in the industry that infected animals have gone into the food chain."

That could be lethal.

It should be noted that BSE is increasingly widely recognised as constituting, eventually, a possible risk to human health. It already appears to have jumped species from sheep to cattle. It is widely acknowledged in medical circles that it has jumped to humans in the form of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. All three forms of the disease affect the brain and the central nervous system. If hon. Members doubt that, I refer them to the British Medical Journal of 4 June--

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Half the Cabinet have spongybrain.

Dr. Clark : My hon. Friend appears to have other ideas.

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This species jump appears to occur when the brain or spinal cord of an affected animal is eaten, yet the Government refuse to take steps to stop meat products made from sheep and cattle brains entering the food chain. It must be noted that the incubation period before the disease manifests itself may be two or three years, and many animals with the latent disease inevitably enter the food chain. Why do not the Government ban the sale of animal brains in the United Kingdom? There is a lighter side to the matter. I know that the Minister occasionally eats in the House. Is he aware that mock turtle frequently appears on the menu of the House and that it is made from calves' brains? Does that make a lot of sense? I urge the Minister to ban the sale of calves' and sheep brains.

How can the Government justify cutbacks on research into BSE? Is the Minister aware that blood samples from infected herds are held in storage at the central veterinary laboratories because there are no resources to proceed with research projects jointly with the institute of animal health in Edinburgh? Why will the Government not release necessary monies for that vital research to go ahead? While we are on the subject of animal health, it is difficult for the public to assess accurately the extent of many of these events because of the excessive secrecy of the Ministry of Agriculture. We have seen this attitude especially during the drug trials by companies including Monsanto in which the milk-producing hormone BST has been tested. It is inexcusable that the Government have allowed 15 farms throughout the country to allow tests on cows to boost their milk production but then have allowed the milk to enter the food chain, so that consumers unwittingly drink milk produced in this way.

We appreciate that the public safeguard to this lies in the veterinary products committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, which advises Ministers on the safety of BST. The committee advised the Government to go ahead with field trials and we have no grumbles about that. But does the Minister deny to the House tonight that that same veterinary products committee has on two occasions advised the Minister against granting a product licence to Monsanto chemicals in respect of BST on grounds of safety? Will the Minister come clean and confirm to the House the accuracy of that information?

In the past few months the Government have been in a state of complete disarray and confusion. This would be amusing if public health had not been at risk. There can be no doubt that the Government have shown incompetence in handling this issue. They have been pushed in one direction by the powerful drug and chemical companies and in the other by the strength of public feeling. But the issue goes to the root of the Conservative party's approach to the quality of life. Food safety and environmental protection cannot be attained purely by market forces. The food issue proves that even wealth cannot guarantee food of safe quality. Increasingly, both prosperous and poor people in Britain are seeing a great reduction in their quality of life.-- [Interruption.] I am most amused by the ribaldry on the Government's side. I am sure that that is not shared by the commuters coming into our big cities who are caught up in the traffic when they travel by road or who experience overcrowding and cancellation if they travel by rail, for that is the order of the day. Anyone who travels on the London Underground knows that that service has deteriorated and that cuts in investment lead to delays, overcrowding and poor safety standards.

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The Government, in their bid to reward their friends by privatising water, not only openly announce that they do not intend to adopt the European Commission's standards of safety for water, but actively campaign for those safety standards to be lowered. They are condemning millions of people in Britain to inferior water standards. That is not accepted by the Opposition.

In essence, the debate has highlighted the differences between the Labour Opposition and the Government. The time has now come when the people see that the Government's fundamental approach is not in the interests of protecting the quality of life, whether that is the safety of our food, our water, our environment or our transport system. The events of the past few days illustrate clearly that people will demand better and higher standards with regard to their quality of life, especially for those essentials--food and water. It is clear that the Government, with their philosophical hang- up, are incapable of meeting the demands of the British people.

9.35 pm

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor) : We have had a debate-- [Interruption.] That shows how little the Opposition are prepared to listen. We allowed the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) who wound up for the Opposition to make his speech, and I hope that I will be allowed to reply to the many points that have been made in this debate. I will endeavour to reply to as many as possible, but at the beginning I should like to set the general background.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and with my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) and for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), who emphasised the very high standards of food safety we have in this country, both compared with any earlier period and compared with most other countries, and who insisted that it is right that the Government continue to deal with food safety issues in a logical, carefully thought out, clear and unhysterical manner. That is what we have been doing.

Let me start by stressing that we see it as our responsibility, first, to ensure the safety of all food supplies, regardless of their source ; secondly, to ensure that the interests of consumers and of the industry are taken fully into account ; and, thirdly, to ensure that, throughout the food chain, there is effective monitoring and a framework of fully adequate regulations and the right framework to enforce them.

In carrying out these responsibilities, we act on three principles, which I think it is very important to bear in mind : first, thorough surveillance and monitoring ; secondly, prompt action--

[Interruption.] On all the issues that have been raised today I will demonstrate that we have taken prompt action, but--and this is a critical point--it has been based on the best scientific, medical and technical advice, which, of course, means not acting on supposition or rumour but only when we have the clear information and evidence. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) talked about deregulation and about the Government's desire not to overburden the industry. We do not burden any industry with regulations unless there is good reason to do so, but we take the necessary action when the evidence is there.

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The third general principle is that the public should be given full information, including the results of research and monitoring, and timely health advice. I shall have something to say later about the substance--or, rather, the lack of it--of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Let me say straight away that there are three points on which I agree with him. First, the Government must set and maintain standards of protection--and that we have done and are doing. Secondly, as he accepted, consumers need to handle food properly. I was grateful to him for saying that, because some of his hon. Friends have suggested that when, this point is made, the Government are endeavouring to shuffle off responsibility. I do not think that that is the case at all, and he agreed that it was right to advise consumers of the need to handle food properly. We have to acknowledge the fact that food hygiene issues apply throughout the food chain. Dr. Reid rose--

Mr. MacGregor : I am not going to give way, because I have many points to answer.

We are carrying out the food hygiene education programme following market research that we undertook last year. That research indicated, among other things, that a surprisingly low proportion of consumers actually regard the home as a potential hazard for food. We agree on that, and we are taking action on it.

The third point on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman is the importance, as he put it, of the British people not over-reacting to panic headlines. This is a very important point. Many of my hon. Friends have emphasised the importance of keeping food issues in perspective. I only wish that some Labour Members had heeded their own leader's advice, including what the hon. Member for South Shields said in his winding-up speech.

Dr. Reid rose --

Mr. MacGregor : I have to give answers to many hon. Members who have raised questions in the debate, and I intend to do so. The right hon. Gentleman and some others spoke in exaggerated terms that do nothing to keep the matter in perspective. Let me emphasise that we are certainly not complacent. We recognise that we have some new and serious problems.

Dr. Reid rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. This has been a quiet debate so far. I hope that hon. Members who were not present during the debate will not now interrupt the Minister.

Mr. MacGregor : I have a lot to cover. Many important points were raised. If I can get through them, I will give way.

I want to emphasise that we are not complacent. We recognise that we have new and serious problems, which we have tackled and are tackling. Equally, there is no cover-up. We have always made public the information that is available to us. Indeed, one of the problems in the whole food issue is that we publish so much information it is sometimes difficult to get the key facts through consistently. So let me get the perspective clear.

Our consumers are better protected than ever before in terms of our knowledge of potential risks and the action taken to reduce them. I emphasise the point on reduction

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of risks since it is impossible to live in a risk-free environment. Those who ask that we should be salmonella-free do not understand the nature of the problem. Salmonella has existed ever since man can remember. [Interruption.] There is nothing odd in saying that. Salmonella is in the environment. It is not possible to eradicate it and no country has succeeded in doing so.

What we aim to do is to reduce salmonella to the absolute minimum. I am told, for example, that each gramme of soil contains 10 to 100 million bacteria. It is self-evident that we cannot control birds and rodents or avoid muck among livestock. So problems always exist. What we can do is to observe all rules that protect the food chain. This we have done by regulations on what animals eat, what additions can be made to their diet and what medicines they can be treated with. For arable and horticultural crops, we have greatly increased the controls and regulations over pesticides and the quantities in which they can be used on land. There are strict controls over diseased animals. There are controls at slaughterhouses and throughout the distribution chain down to the retail cabinet in the supermarket. That demonstrates that the Government are very active in pursuing a science-based reduction of risk. In all areas where improvements can be made we are seeking to enhance safety margins. Often safety margins are ultra-safe.

Dr. Reid rose --

Mr. MacGregor : That is a clear response to the charge of the right hon. Gentleman that our emphasis is on protecting producers. On the new legislation on pesticides, on the fact that we have 17 measures dealing with the new strain of salmonella-- [Interruption.] They are all in parliamentary answers. It would be pointless to reply to them now. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman does not do his homework. He does not read Hansard ; they are all there. I shall happily send him the parliamentary answers.

In all these ways, we have been taking measures to deal with the problems in the industry. On mineral hydrocarbons, despite the fact that the advice to us is that there is no food risk, to be ultra-safe we have taken further steps which the industry will have to follow. We are guided by various advisory bodies.

Dr. Reid rose--

Mr. MacGregor : We have a wide range of advisory bodies with outside experts on whose advice we act. I will demonstrate in answer to some of the issues that have been raised how quickly they have acted. These produce a stream of reports and we act on them promptly.

Dr. Reid rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman was listened to quietly. I hope that the Minister will be accorded the same courtesy.

Mr. MacGregor : With the background I have given, I come to some of the charges. We get advice and we publish reports. There was prompt action on Chernobyl lamb, on BSE, on dialdrin in eels, on salmonella and on mineral hydrocarbons, to give a few recent examples. Until very recently, we were constantly taking action based on the advice we received, but the reports of surveillance and the

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action that we took normally did not get much press coverage. That did not mean that they were ineffective. They were doing a job and appropriate action was being taken in the interests of consumers. Mr. Campbell-Savours rose--

Mr. MacGregor : I want to get through the points that were made and then I shall give way.

Of course, the industry, from the primary producers right through the food manufacturers to the retailers, has an equally strong interest, as some of my hon. Friends have been pointing out, in ensuring the highest possible standards of food safety and quality. After all, they depend on their customers, and increasingly their customers are demanding higher standards of quality. I believe that the industry has responded extremely well over recent years, and let me illustrate that by two points.

British food exports have increased by nearly 140 per cent. over the last 10 years--and in the added-value food sector exports rose by 20 per cent. in the last year alone. One does not get that standard of performance of increased exports unless our food standards and quality are of the highest. That is the proof. British industry is spending substantial sums on investment. One company is spending £200 million in two years to improve food standards and quality. Those hon. Members who mentioned the importance of what supermarkets do to ensure high standards were quite right. Much has been happening recently.

I would like to bring out a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen, when she drew attention to the fact that this country and Denmark are the only two member states in the European Community which have been accorded high standards of milk hygiene. When we reached that status at the end of last year it received a lot less publicity than a single food poisoning story, but I have to say that it was of much greater significance to the consumer. It was evidence of very high standards.

As to the charge that we do not take the consumer into account when we are considering food issues, let me make it clear that my Department takes full account of consumer interests across the whole range of its activities. We have always been ready to meet representatives of consumer organisations and Ministers have always responded when asked to do so. Last year, in addition, my officials had 31 meetings with consumer organisations. My Department also requests written consultation with consumer organisations on a wide variety of issues. Much of the consultation is and can be taken into account in writing. In 1988 we consulted 40 consumer organisations on no fewer than 225 occasions on 35 different issues. We always consult under the Food Act when subordinate legislation is being proposed and last year we did so on 38 occasions. So consultation with consumers is intense.

Now let me come to the salmonella issue, because I have indicated how we have taken prompt action on others. This is a new and growing problem, as everyone recognises. It is an international problem, which is being met in many other states. When the problem first came to the attention of our scientists, they had to investigate it carefully and closely towards the end of 1987 to be sure of the evidence before we acted. When it became clear that there was a problem with raw eggs, the Department of Health acted promptly both in relation to the hospital

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service and the consumer. When it became clear in November of last year--and it only became clear then--that there could, in addition, be a problem directly related to lightly cooked eggs, on 21 November a health notice and an announcement were issued straightaway. In the period from August until the end of November my officials were working flat out with the Department of Health and with the industry to develop the measures we now see. As I told the Select Committee, a package was put in front of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and myself in early November. We took decisions within a fortnight, strengthened them, and the first announcement was made in December. Since then we have taken 17 measures, and we can fairly claim that they are among the most comprehensive in any country in the world, because I have consulted all my ministerial colleagues in the Community, and I am confident that that is so.

Similarly, with mineral hydrocarbons, we received the advice of our food advisory committee on 2 February this year. Within a week we had not only taken a decision but announced it to Parliament. That is the promptness with which we act.

Let me turn now to BSE-- [Interruption.] I will answer the point that the hon. Gentleman asked earlier about food protein and salmonella. He is quite right that I owe him an answer on that. The answer, as with so many of the issues concerned with salmonella, is that until this new and growing strain became clear, it was not necessary to take the kind of measures we take now, and that applied also to food protein. Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman ought to know that there are very few cases of salmonella enteritidis virus type 4 coming from food protein, whether imported or domestic.

Nevertheless, one of the 17 measures that we have implemented is to take powers to stop the protein going from the plant. Those powers have been in operation since 2 February, and we will use them whenever the evidence is there. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours) must not start shouting from a sedentary position. He has had his questions answered.

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) raised the question of BSE. He is right to say that this is a new problem which must be taken seriously. Here, too, we acted promptly. The moment that it became clear that the probable source--not yet proved at that stage --was protein from other ruminants, namely sheep, we banned it. I also set up a committee under Sir Richard Southwood to advise us. Sir Richard will acknowledge that within days I accepted the exact advice and recommendations set out in his two interim reports and we took the necessary action.

Mr. Campbell-Savours rose --

Mr. MacGregor : I have a lot more to say.

Very recently, Sir Richard put before me his final report. Ministers are now examining the report and its recommendations. We shall take a very quick view of it and publish it in full : I give that promise to the House.

Hon. Members have given examples of food poisoning resulting from unpasteurised milk. The Government made a number of decisions to deal with the problem in England and Wales by limiting substantially the number of outlets for unpasteurised milk. We have a problem here. Let me

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say to some of my hon. Friends who are unhappy about my recent announcement that I thought long and hard. It could be argued that straightforward information enabling the consumer to take his own view about a product is sufficient, but there is increasing public concern about food safety and we are constantly seeking ever higher standards. That is why we decided that in this instance such considerations outweigh freedom of consumer choice in relation to the continued sale of untreated milk.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I do not think that the Secretary of State is going to give way.

Mr. MacGregor : I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me for not giving way. There will be other opportunities for them to speak, and I must get through the rest of my reply.

Effective heat treatment is known to be the only way in which to minimise the risks of transmitting milk-borne diseases to the consumer through unpasteurised milk. I therefore feel that it is right to take that step now. We shall be publishing-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members want issues such as research and development to be discussed, and I am anxious to deal with them.

We shall be publishing the consultative document later this week. Issues concerned with unpasteurised milk and other milk products will be included in that document. May I make it clear, however, that there is no intention of banning cheese.

Several Hon. Members rose --

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