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Mr. Brown: We need to learn the lessons from this. I give the right hon. Gentleman an absolute pledge that the report will not gather dust. Every single one of the recommendations that Lord Phillips makes to the Government is worthy of a response and should have a measured response, and that response should be subjected to the usual tests that we apply in this place, including robust debate, but the time for that response is not now. People want an opportunity to read the report, and I urge hon. Members to read it in its entirety rather than try to extrapolate its findings from extracts.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for our care package. He is right to make the point that, when dealing with science, the best possible way to ensure that it is dealt with properly within government is to put the information into the public domain at the same time, and the Government now do that.
The right hon. Gentleman is also right to draw the attention of the House to the substantial amount of secondary legislation that went through this place as the Government struggled to find a proportionate response to the emerging challenges of BSE. The report clearly draws to our attention the difficulties not just in getting the legislation through and making sure that the response was proportionate, but in ensuring that it was being implemented on the ground. There were major shortcomings in that area, as Lord Phillips says.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I loathe scapegoating and will not tolerate it. There are individual criticisms, but as I said in my opening statement, more than half of those who are individually criticised are also praised and in one or two cases--I shall not make specific reference to individuals--substantially praised, because the action that they took was both timely and would have resulted in the saving of lives. It is necessary that the report is considered in the round and that people do not pick out the parts that suit their point of view.
Does my right hon. Friend know that my late constituent, young Donnamaria McGivern, died as a teenager after two and a half years of traumatic experience? When I spoke to her mother this morning, she was not bitter. Indeed, she welcomed what we understood to be the Government's thinking, which my right hon. Friend has confirmed, on compensation. She was thinking of others, and the need for care packages. The openness that my right hon. Friend has introduced is apparent in the culture change in the Food Standards Agency. However, in welcoming that, my constituent's mother took the view, as I do, that it is important to continue to consult and involve the families when
Mr. Brown: I thank my right hon. Friend for those thoroughly decent remarks. I am sure that the House shares his concern about the care package and the compensation arrangements that are being put in place for the victims of CJD and their families.
Both elements of today's announcement--care and compensation--will be developed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health in consultation with those who represent the families and the victims. That is the Government's firm intention.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): I thank the Minister for giving me an early opportunity to consider the report. It reveals a sorry saga of complacency in the early years, incompetence when risks were emerging and complicity when matters started to go wrong. It betrays a culture of Whitehall secrecy and interdepartmental failure to communicate, which, when combined with party political expediency, results in a betrayal of the public and their interests.
Our thanks and gratitude must go to Lord Phillips and his team for producing such an extensive, excellent and balanced report, although reading 4,000 pages in two hours is a little difficult. Our hearts go out to all affected by the tragedy: those who are directly affected and their families.
I accept that criticism and blame of individuals must be tempered because we are considering these matters with the benefit of hindsight. That is an exact science. Lessons must be learned, and action taken promptly. Governments must learn to trust the public. By doing that, they will engender a reciprocal trust from the public.
While I am pleased that we shall have an early opportunity to discuss the full report, one of the criticisms was about timely action. Can we be certain that the report's recommendations will provide an opportunity for genuine, prompt action in a short time scale so that the precautionary principle, the need for which has been so clearly demonstrated, will apply?
Does the Minister believe that the arrangements for the regulation and reporting of the Food Standards Agency comply with all the report's recommendations? With specific regard to the reporting structures, does the Minister believe that it would be right for the Food Standards Agency to report directly to the House rather than to a Department?
Does the Minister agree that, as a matter of urgency, we must have a robust Freedom of Information Act, which would be a vital element in restoring and retaining public confidence in the Government and all their future pronouncements?
Mr. Brown: Trust is at the heart of this matter. That is why the Government have created a culture of openness and why we put the advice to Government--including the scientific advice--into the public domain. The Food Standards Agency is intended to be an independent agency and a non-ministerial Department, but it does report to the House, through the Secretary of State for
The hon. Gentleman refers to complacency, incompetence and complicity. As I said in my statement, I will not make the Government's response now, since Lord Phillips's recommendations--of which there are 167--deserve reflection. The report deserves to be discussed in the public domain and then the Government should respond, with our response conditioned by the views of others. However, the charge of complicity is a serious one and should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could set out the precise points where he thinks the Phillips report justifies that very serious charge.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Like many others in the House, the tragedy of CJD touched me directly when, in 1998, a young neighbour of mine died. I congratulate the Government on the package of care and compensation, but my question is this. In 1989, the Southwood report recommended to the Cabinet that offal be banned in the use of baby food, yet I understand that no Cabinet Minister asked the question, "If offal is unfit for babies, why is it safe for adults?" If that question had been asked, might my young neighbour be alive today?
Mr. Brown: One of the great tragedies of this matter is that it is not possible to answer the second part of my hon. Friend's question. However, on the question of why precautionary measures should be put in place for baby food but not for food eaten by adults, Lord Phillips had some strong things to say. Now is not the right moment for me to respond, but my hon. Friend is on to what Lord Phillips believes to be a strong point.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I very much welcome the report, which is manifestly an important document. There is no doubt that there are many lessons, both public and private, to be learned. I echo the words of the Minister when he says that this is a tragedy. I fully recognise what a tragedy it is for the victims and their families and I am deeply sorry for their suffering. I am deeply sorry also for many in agriculture who have suffered grave loss. In respect of the officials who advised myself and others, we believed that they gave their advice in good faith and very much to the best of their professional ability.
Speaking a little more directly about myself, does the Minister accept that I welcome the findings explicitly made at paragraphs 467 and 487 that the regime that I put in place as to the control of abattoirs in 1995 was effective in content and fully and effectively monitored? Will he confirm to the House the finding at paragraph 7.483 of volume 6 that the recommendations that I made in March 1996 as to how to address the crisis were "the right answers", were implemented by Government and--subject to natural evolution--remain the basis of Government policy today?