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Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): We welcome the publication of the report. We congratulate Lord Phillips and his team on producing a comprehensive document. I had my first chance to see it earlier this morning. Although I have had less than two hours to study the document, which runs to 16 volumes and which took more than two years to prepare, what I have seen is clear, comprehensive and, so far as I can judge, fair.

I welcome the Minister's statement, and I agree with much of it. I especially agree with his view that the report should be considered in its entirety. I believe that the report makes it clear that civil servants, other advisers and Ministers acted honourably and in good faith. I agree with the report that we must avoid judging individuals with the benefit of hindsight. Nevertheless, I recognise that mistakes were made, some of which had tragic consequences.

I accept the criticisms that are made in the report. I draw attention, as the Minister has done, to a section of paragraph 1292, which reads:


However, I am truly sorry for what has happened. I apologise to the families that have suffered bereavement and to those people who are still fighting a terrible illness.

Until I have studied the report more carefully, it would be wrong to try to comment on all its conclusions. Our task now is to find ways of minimising and alleviating the suffering and distress of victims of variant CJD and of their families. Secondly, we must identify and take all steps possible to reduce the risk of any similar crisis occurring in future.

I welcome the Government's decision to arrange compensation. I am sure that the Minister will give details of that as soon as he is able to do so. Does the Minister believe that Lord Phillips's conclusions have any implications for responsibilities now exercised by civil servants who may still be in post? Does he agree that one of the strongest messages from the report is about inadequate co-ordination between Government Departments, and sometimes inadequate communication between different branches of government? Does he believe that there are lessons to be learned, even now, about how relations between Whitehall Departments could be improved and about how the process of making decisions based on scientific advice could be made more transparent?

Will the Minister confirm that the report states that changes in rendering methods did not cause BSE? Is he satisfied that civil servants who may be worried about whether their advice is being wrongly ignored have the right channels for raising their concerns? Does he believe that the scientific advice given to Ministers should more frequently be made available to the public as well? When will the Government be giving their definitive response to the report? Finally, I assure the House that the Opposition are as keen as anybody else to ensure that the full lessons

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of the report and of the entire tragic episode are properly learned. I hope that there will a full debate as soon as possible.

Mr. Brown: I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be a full debate in the House as soon as possible. Discussions about that and the response will be held through the usual channels.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the tone of his response, for the welcome that he has given to Lord Phillips's report and for his congratulations to Lord Phillips. We shall not give the Government's full response now; we need time. There are approximately 167 different recommendations, which require a considered response and we want to think carefully about everything that Lord Phillips has said.

The hon. Gentleman acknowledges that mistakes were made. He is right to say that, with the benefit of hindsight, we can understand things that might not have been clear at the time when they were happening, but we must all learn the lessons, and that is why the report is so helpful. He has said that he is sorry for what has happened and I should like to identify the whole House with that expression of sorrow: our hearts go out to the victims, their friends and families and others who grieve for them.

The hon. Gentleman has welcomed our enhanced care package and the compensation element that goes with it. He is correct to assume that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will want to say more as discussions with the families and their representatives continue.

Serving members of the civil service have, of course, been isolated from BSE inquiry work since the establishment of the inquiry. It is right that the report's findings in relation to serving civil servants be reviewed, but it is for a civil service commissioner to do that, not for politicians. That is the constitutionally correct course of action and, whatever reservations hon. Members might have about it, I urge them to think about the alternatives; I think that they will find that they are worse.

On communication, a great deal has been done within Government to make sure that Departments talk to each other and agencies talk to the Departments with which they are supposed to work, but, as I said, that issue will form part of the Government's review. The use of science is certainly a topic that the Government will review and on which they will report back to the House. It raises some difficult questions, which is another reason for not responding immediately, but thinking about it carefully.

I confirm that the hon. Gentleman's reading of Lord Phillips's findings in respect of rendering methods is correct. Although Lord Phillips's findings on the change from batch production to throughput and his analysis of changes involving the use of solvents might come as a surprise to those coming fresh to the subject, they are clear.

As for civil servants' advice to Ministers, I make it clear to my civil servants that I should greatly prefer that they told me what they actually think, rather than what they want me to hear. I do not mind people being combative and disagreeing with me; what I find difficult is people not stating what they believe to be the truth. That is the approach taken by most responsible Ministers.

On the question of the science that is available to the Government, we have made it a matter of policy to put such information in the public domain wherever possible,

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by which I mean placing it on the MAFF website and making it available to Members of Parliament via the Library.

Mr. John Major (Huntingdon): Like every other hon. Member, I have not yet had an opportunity to study the many volumes of the report, but, from what I have read in the past few hours, it is clear that it is an impressive and objective report. We all owe our thanks to Lord Phillips and his colleagues for the way in which they conducted their inquiry. The Government were right to set up the inquiry and the House will be right to consider its report soberly and to take appropriate action.

All of us, as we read the report, must accept our responsibility for shortcomings and the problems that arose from them. BSE and its transmission to CJD has been a dreadful and scarring experience--above all, of course, for the victims of that terrible disease and their families, who must have suffered an agony of mind and body that we can barely begin to imagine. It has also, for different and lesser reasons, been a huge problem for the beef industry, and for the officials and Ministers who sought to deal with the problem, which, as the Minister honestly made clear today, even today remains at the frontiers of our knowledge.

Will the Minister confirm that many of the people who face individual criticisms in the annexe to the report are precisely the same people who are praised elsewhere in the report for other actions and are, by definition, those--officials predominantly, but also several Ministers--who were most active in challenging BSE, and, therefore, in the position of having to take difficult decisions? I am grateful to the Minister, on behalf of those officials and Ministers, for expressing, as the report does, that no "villains or scapegoats" emerge from the report.

Does the Minister recall that, even though it was believed, and passionately believed, on advice, by those dealing with it, that there was no threat to human life, more than 30 pieces of legislation were presented to the House and passed by the House to protect against the spread of BSE? Lord Phillips's balanced report emphasises that some mistakes were made, and emphasises also, in fairness, that they were not due to indolence but, in many cases, where they occurred, were due to overwhelming pressure on a few key officials who had particular knowledge in dealing with this. That is a point that I hope will be borne in mind when those officials face any possible disciplinary action in future.

Will the Minister confirm also that it has invariably been the case that those officials and Ministers accepted the advice of the Government's advisory body as, if I may quote the Prime Minister on genetically modified foods--I strongly agree with what he said--


This is a balanced report and I hope that it will help the House to focus on the lessons to be learned. That remains important for, as we have seen in the past few days on matters related to vaccines, BSE remains an appallingly difficult problem with which to deal. It was for the previous Government and it remains, in some respects, for the present Government and the Ministers and officials who must still deal with it.

Will the Minister endeavour to ensure that the provisions of the compensation scheme, which I strongly welcome, are enacted as speedily and fairly as he

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can arrange? Finally, I thank him for his promise that the Leader of the House will arrange a debate. Can we ensure that, within that debate, there is a proper opportunity to consider in detail the recommendations made by Lord Phillips so that the report does not gather dust but is an active and living document to ensure that such a tragedy does not occur again?


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