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Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): One of the first constituents to visit my surgery after my election was Shirley Warne, who was desperate to find out why her son Chris was lying in hospital dying from this dreadful disease. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if we do not learn fully all the lessons about openness and getting rid of any culture of secrecy, it will be a betrayal of the families who have suffered so much?
I welcome the fact that families will not have to struggle through the courts to get the compensation that they need and the package of care that is required. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that package will be sufficiently generous to meet those needs and fully to help those people who are struggling to care for their loved ones at home?
Mr. Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for her welcome for the care package and the compensation package. It has not been finally decided whether the trust structure is the right vehicle for delivering these measures. That will be the subject of discussions between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and those representing the families' interests. However, I am grateful that my hon. Friend welcomes this as an important new announcement and a step forward for the families concerned.
My hon. Friend spoke about secrecy. It is clearly right--certainly with the advantage of hindsight--to trust the public, put the advice available to the Government into the public domain and encourage a responsible debate around scientific advice. The previous Government did not wish to cause alarm, and were therefore not open about these matters because they feared causing a panic. They believed that the countervailing arguments were stronger. Lord Phillips's finding is very clear on this, as I said in my statement: he says that it was a mistake. He does not say that it was necessarily unreasonable at the time, which is why I urge people to read the report in its entirety.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Until the last election's boundary changes, the village of Queniborough was in my constituency. A cluster of CJD cases has been found there, as yet unexplained. Two years ago, I tabled a series of parliamentary questions seeking information about the risk of passing on the disease through the re-use of medical instruments which, it seems, cannot be adequately sterilised by conventional methods. What does
Mr. Brown: As I say, I do not want to give the Government's response now. Lord Phillips's report is comprehensive and he deals in a measured and thorough way with the routes of transmission. He looks at cosmetics, medical instruments and vaccines. It is a pretty thorough survey of all the possible routes of transmission and I urge the hon. Gentleman to look at those passages in the report if he can do no more. He is right about the cluster, which is still unexplained. It is unlikely that it was merely a statistical fluke, but no cause has yet been identified, although as he will know as a result of representing the area, a substantial amount of work is going on.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be widespread support for his announcement that all the individuals and families who have suffered as a result of new variant CJD will receive compensation? In view of the lengthy incubation period of the disease in humans, I am sure that we are right not to predict the likely total number of cases. Does he agree that, with 85 people known to have contracted the disease, 18 of whom have done so this year, a significant epidemic is still a possibility and that we need to be prepared for that?
Of course, we will need to read the report thoroughly. Can my right hon. Friend comment on the suggestion that the inadequacy of the research done during the 1980s may have resulted in the disaster being greater than it need have been? Some of the reasons for that may have been a lack of transparency, massive cuts in the number of Government scientists working in the area throughout the 1980s and, against that background, an insistence by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that the research be carried out in its establishments rather than in the public sector establishments best fitted to do the work.
Mr. Brown: In preparing for this debate, I re-read what my right hon. Friend said in 1996 when he was Opposition spokesman on agriculture--it reads very well in the light of what happened. My right hon. Friend certainly represented his party well. On the incubation period, he is right that, we do not know even the average incubation period of the prion protein agent in humans, so one cannot extrapolate from the statistical trends the eventual epidemic. I look forward to the day when the number of victims year on year will go steadily down, as I am sure everyone does, because that will tell us that we are through this. Until we get there, it is rash to predict.
On research, there has now been a substantial shift in expenditure towards research into transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Lord Phillips has something to say about which research institutions were used and whether a single director should have been appointed to oversee all BSE-CJD research. I do not want to paraphrase Lord Phillips because the finding is detailed, but I commend it to my right hon. Friend.
As for shortcomings, Lord Phillips has a lot to say on the implementation of the controls. Even where the scientific advice to Ministers--advice from professional civil servants--was timely and right, its translation into effective action is much criticised in the report.
Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): I welcome the Minister's statement. From what we have heard, the report is excellent as well as being fair and balanced. The BSE saga teaches us a salutary lesson. Despite the extent of our knowledge, we can suddenly be hit by a new disease that plays havoc with society, and that should humble us all. I welcome the enhanced care package because I know how tragic it is to see a young person cut down. These patients' parents have to watch them for a long time dying. That package is useful. On compensation, does this mean that the Government are reasonably sure that there will not be a large number of cases? Have we reached that stage yet?
Mr. Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his characteristically humane remarks about the victims of CJD and those who have to watch members of their family--usually the younger members--suffering in the most appalling circumstances. His views are echoed all around the House.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the package, which has two components: an enhanced care element and a compensation element. He is right to say that the Government have taken the difficult decision to put those arrangements in place regardless of the eventual outcome of the number of people who need to be cared for. They are our fellow citizens, and we shall have to care for them anyway--every Member would want to do so.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud): It is impossible to underestimate the tragedy for all the victims and their families, but a separate tragedy has affected the livestock industry. It is estimated that the Government have so far spent about £4 billion on anti-BSE measures, but that does not take account of the impact on the different communities in agricultural areas. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will continue to spend whatever it takes to eradicate BSE and to ensure that we learn from the mistakes that were made in the past so that we rebuild our livestock industry?
Mr. Brown: Just after the period covered by the Phillips report, and in response to the climate of opinion at the time, the Government introduced the over-30-months scheme, which is by far the most expensive part of our public protection measures and provides a floor in the market--indeed, the only market--for older animals. It is a market intervention measure, but its purpose is not market intervention; it exists to protect the public. It does so powerfully, and it will stay so long as it is needed to carry out that function. Who takes the decision on that? It is now a matter for the Food Standards Agency, which is leading a review of the measures now in place to protect the public from variant CJD. Everything that is recommended will be in the public domain so that we can all see what is recommended and why.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): An eminent scientist who is a constituent of mine is within a shade of initiating a diagnostic test for BSE. He is being hampered in his research by the fact that the Ministry will not allow access to infected cattle. Earlier this week, I tabled several parliamentary questions on that subject. May I ask the Minister please to consider them personally and reverse the Ministry's stance, which is hampering that vital research?
I promise to have the hon. Gentleman's constituency point looked at, but I cannot promise to intervene as the political head of a Department and alter the decisions, which are based on scientific judgment rather than political decision making.