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Mr. Stevenson: I am aware of that and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, which has adequately answered that of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce).

Mr. Ian Bruce: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stevenson: I will not give way again. I wish to make some progress. The point has been adequately answered.

Mr. William Ross: As was rightly pointed out by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), there was a change in process from batch treatment to a continuous treatment. Do any other countries in Europe still use the batch treatment? Is that treatment still dealing with the problem not only of the BSE prion, but of other diseases such as salmonella?

Mr. Stevenson: I do not claim to be an expert on agricultural and rural affairs in the United Kingdom and therefore I cannot answer hon. Gentleman's question. I apologise for that, but my remarks were dealing with what happened in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Welsh: The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) knows the answer.

Mr. Stevenson: He probably does and he will probably tell me later.

The second element that runs through what happened in the 1980s is a growing perception that the Government were never in control of the position, no matter what they did. I recognise that perception and I do not blame our European counterparts for having it. Between 1986 and 1988, there were two and a half years of inaction. Some people argue that the reason why the Government took no action in that time was that they hoped that the matter would go away, and they wanted to cover it up and protect the producer. I am not sure whether that is true, but it is a serious concern that many people have and it is not good enough for the Government to stand up time after time and say, "It was nothing to do with us."

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On the issue of the 50 per cent. compensation, the Government were told at the time what would happen and it proved to be true. They were told that, some people, if faced with a marginal decision, would send their animals to market rather than face a 50 per cent. reduction in the value of those animals. It was as inevitable as night follows day, but, for 18 months, the Government took not a blind bit of notice. The Government then had to increase the compensation to 100 per cent., which they were told they would have to do in the first place. By then, whatever damage was to be done, had been done.

Throughout the 1980s, we were consistently told, "Do not worry. This cannot be transferred from one animal species to another." I do not know whether it can or not. I am not a scientist; I have read what scientific information is available. I know, however, that BSE has been identified in other animal species. The Government said, "Do not worry, it cannot be transferred from one animal species to another", but the fact is that it can. That affected consumer and public confidence.

Then the Government rightly said--I have not seen any conclusive scientific evidence to the contrary--that, given that the disease had occurred in other animal species, even though they thought that it could not and said that it could not, we should not worry because it could not affect humans. They said that time and again. I do not have to remind hon. Members that, not so many weeks ago, the same Government said that there was a new strain of CJD and the most likely cause of it was infected beef. The point that I am making, without apportioning blame, is that no time during that crucial decade of the 1980s, were the Government in control. They reacted to situations rather than being proactive.

When one puts all those factors together, is it any wonder that consumers do not believe the Government any more? If one thing needs to be done to restore consumer confidence it is for us to be frank with ourselves. The Government should be frank and not try, as the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Baker) did, to give the impression that the newspapers, the European Union and the Labour party are all to blame. It seems that everyone is to blame except the people who have been in power for the past 17 years. The Government might be able to fool themselves and, on the odd occasion, fool some Opposition Members, but they can no longer fool the consumer and the public--they have been rumbled.

I began by referring to the CAP and I shall end--

Mr. Ian Bruce: Hear, hear.

Mr. Stevenson: I hear the cry of "Hear, hear", which encourages me to continue a little longer, but I realise that I may fall foul of your good self, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There are pressures for change in the CAP, and they are building. The GATT round, which has been an integral part of the reforms and will continue to be so, the budgetary pressures in the United States and enlargement all mean that the CAP will be forced into change. It would be a tragedy if that change were forced on the United Kingdom without us having a definite and proactive input into it.

One of the basic elements that will fuel that change is the recognition of a fundamental and self-evident point about the whole tragic mess of the BSE crisis. The days when consumers were prepared to put up with agriculture

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being able to produce as much food as it wanted, be heavily subsidised and run risks to maximise income--who can deny that risks were taken which may have contributed to the present crisis--are long gone. There will be a sea change in consumers' demands. One thing that will change, which is long overdue, is that people will insist that their food is produced in a wholesome manner that never again opens themselves and their families to the sort of dangers that have played such an important part in the destruction of consumer confidence over recent months.

8.53 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding): The news from Brussels tonight seems not discouraging so far as it goes. I hope, as I think that all my hon. Friends do, that on Monday, when the meeting of the standing veterinary committee resumes, the Government are able to secure agreement that the ban on tallow, semen and gelatine can be lifted. If that is achieved, it will be an encouraging step forward and a first dividend from the very considerable effort that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has put into finding a solution to the problem since March. He and his colleagues are to be congratulated on that.

All of us who have faith in the democratic process and the value of a democratic assembly such as this House believe that one of its great virtues is that, as a result of open debate, eventually--not necessarily immediately, but certainly over the longer haul--nonsense and illusions can be sifted out and the truth can prevail. Public debate on issues of national importance can thereby be better informed and clearer and policy-making more effective as a result.

Some people may say that that is a rather idealistic notion. I very much cling to it and therefore feel that it is important to take the opportunity of this debate to refute clearly the extraordinary degree of nonsense that has been abroad on this subject. I noticed that, in his interview in Le Figaro yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked what I thought was a very pertinent question when he inquired what the press had to do with the real world.

I would like to think that all my constituents in Lincolnshire are far too intelligent to take very seriously what they read in the tabloids and that they would not fall into the trap of supposing that they would get a balanced picture of the facts on any issue on which a tabloid is running a campaign. Nevertheless, some people might be sufficiently naive to believe what they read in the tabloids or even rely on the national dailies as their only source of information. Anybody who depended on the national press, especially the Murdoch press, the Black press or the Rothermere press, to give them anything like a clear picture of the context in which the BSE and beef crisis has been evolving would have been extraordinarily ill-served by what proudly used to call itself the fourth estate.

In my time in politics, I cannot recall another occasion on which there has been such a systematic attempt to subvert the truth and hide reality from people than the one that we have seen over the past few weeks.

Anyone who took seriously the newspapers to which I have referred and had no independent source of information on the situation would regard three propositions as entirely established and absolutely axiomatic. The first is that the

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BSE crisis and the crisis in the beef industry have been caused by the European Union or by our membership in the European Union. Secondly, they would believe as a matter of established fact that the European Union had taken the initiative in banning British beef. Thirdly, they would believe as a platitude that our membership of the European Union was a factor that made the crisis more onerous and more difficult to resolve.

Those three propositions are not only wide of the truth, they are, in every case, the exact reverse of the truth. That needs to be said loud and clear. As has already been said by several hon. Members in this debate, there is sadly no question at all but that this crisis is a British crisis. It is a British problem. I take not the slightest pleasure in recognising that fact, but it behoves us to have the courage and the honesty to face facts, uncomfortable or otherwise. Honesty and recognition of the truth, after all, are the first prerequisites in effective policy-making. Not only claims of justice and truthfulness but a pragmatic sense of how one most effectively manages a country requires us to remove from our minds any wishful thinking and to face fully the facts as they are.

The facts have been set out on many occasions. I should like to pay tribute to the paper prepared by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on this matter because, of all the many bits of paper I have read on this subject in the past few weeks, it is quite the clearest and most succinct. The facts are that we have had in this country more than 150,000 cases of BSE. The country with the next highest "score", if that is the right word, is Switzerland, with 205. Ireland has had 123; Portugal, 31; France, 13; and numbers that can be counted on one's two hands have been reported in Denmark, Germany and Italy. I believe that those cases are, sadly, attributable to imports from this country or to imports of contaminated feed from this country.

So it is a British problem, and we had better face that fact. Moreover, it is a problem that has affected the beef market across the European Union. We must therefore understand that others feel that we have rather gratuitously caused them very considerable difficulties. So perhaps--rather than insult and defiance--some understanding of the problems faced by other countries might be in order, as they have found that their beef sales have fallen although they have no significant level of BSE.

It is a British problem in more senses than those that I have mentioned. I do not believe that it is fair or useful to be wise after the event, although it is always very tempting to do so. Nevertheless, there are lessons that we should learn from this sad case, to which it is now right to draw attention.

Looking back, it was extraordinary that we decided in 1988 to ban the future use of animal offal in feed for cattle, but that we did not ban the existing stock of those feeds. After all, if the offal was dangerous, presumably the stock was dangerous and should not have been used. The fact is that that stock appears to have continued to be used for some time.

There was the problem that feeds containing offal designed for other animals--pigs and chickens--somehow continued to leak into feed for cattle. That also raises issues. We then found that there have been abuses

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of the new regulations in abattoirs and feed mills--I am sure not since March, but in previous years. So there are lessons to be drawn, and we should draw them.

I am not one of those who think, even in retrospect, that it would have been a good idea to have adopted the severe French and Irish policy of slaughtering an entire herd whenever an animal with symptoms of BSE was discovered. But perhaps one could have considered an intermediate policy of slaughtering the relevant age cohort in a herd in which BSE had appeared. That would have been rather more logical. I think that the age cohort would very likely have come from the same farm or market at the same time, and might therefore have been likely to have been fed on contaminated feed at some point. However that may be, there are bound to be lessons to be learnt from this situation, and we should not avoid the responsibility of learning them.

This is also a British problem in a rather more profound and structured sense. For many years I have said in public--certainly in Lincolnshire--that it is a matter of concern that the British beef industry, which was for centuries world famous for the roast beef of England or of Scotland, in recent generations or decades has become, to far too great a degree, a by-product of the dairy industry. In this country it is extremely difficult to find genuine pedigree beef--beef from a pure beef herd, whether the old-fashioned British breeds such as Angus or Hereford, or Charolais or Limousin. It is possible, but it is difficult.

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