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Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Tuesday, the Government leaked details of their proposals on competitiveness to the press well before the documents were available to hon. Members. In answering a point of order from me, you said that you took the matter seriously, and you asked the Secretary of State to investigate the leak and report the results to the House.
Today, the Department of Trade and Industry has replied to a parliamentary written question. The answer is inadequate. It refers to the receipt of details only by the Financial Times. However, it was clear from my original point of order on the matter that other newspapers were given information. For example, The Daily Telegraph carried a full and detailed quote, which exactly matches page 5 of one of the documents.
Furthermore, the so-called investigation simply refers to the documents being "obtained by" the Financial Times. We know how they were obtained; the front page of the Financial Times refers to a DTI insider, who provided the information. The DTI investigation ignored that, and the reply therefore implies that the documents were stolen by the press rather than handed out by members of the Government or those who work for them.
The investigation is incomplete and partial. It is a further abuse, and shows contempt of the House. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, not to accept a brush-off, indeed, a defiance of your initial ruling, but to ask the Department to try a little harder to ascertain the way in which the leak happened, and who was responsible for leaking documents in advance and thus denying the House its scrutiny role.
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. As he said, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has answered a parliamentary question about the circumstances surrounding the publication of the White Paper. If the right hon. Gentleman is not satisfied with the response, he is entitled to pursue the matter through other
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to draw your attention to the Procedure Committee report on the election of a Speaker. It is an excellent report, to which I contributed. However, page xxxvi reports on the only Division that took place during our formal proceedings. The Division list shows that the majority of the Committee supported the proposal for an alternative vote. However, the report concludes that the exhaustive ballot proposal was the Committee's preferred option. Could you advise me, Mr. Speaker, on the way in which the conflict between the text of the report and the outcome of the Division, as reported in the proceedings, can be resolved? How can we proceed?
Mr. Speaker: The House knows that the report was published with great speed. Unfortunately an error was made in printing a Division list in the minutes of the proceedings. A correction is being issued.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you arrange to set the record straight? The Secretary of State for Health said that Whipps Cross hospital was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). Although the hospital serves the hon. Gentleman's constituents--who will benefit enormously--it is in my constituency of Leyton and Wanstead. I thank the Secretary of State on behalf of the constituents of Leyton and Wanstead and of all the surrounding areas for giving the go-ahead for that £184 million project.
Secretary Clare Short, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Cook, Mr. Andrew Smith, Mr. George Foulkes and Mr. Chris Mullin, presented a Bill to make provision relating to the provision of assistance for countries outside the United Kingdom; to make provision with respect to certain international financial institutions and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 26 February, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 49].
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown): On 26 October 2000, the Government published the report of the BSE inquiry. I set out the report's key conclusions and outlined a package of measures for the benefit of people suffering from variant CJD and the families of those who have already died of the disease. The House will want to know that, since that time, another six people have died of variant CJD, bringing the number who have died to 86. The variant CJD surveillance unit has identified eight people who are suffering from variant CJD.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced his intention to make interim compensation payments of £25,000 to each of the families of those who have died and to the families whose loved ones are still alive. He has already established a care package for people suffering from variant CJD which is intended to support patients in the community. The care package covers the elements of care that cannot be readily supplied by local health and social services. My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health will give further details of the care package and compensation arrangements when she replies to the debate.
Last Friday, the Government published their substantive interim response to the BSE inquiry report, with positive responses to each of the 167 recommendations. The response sets out what has already been done, what is under way, what more the Government intend to do, and how others will be involved in the final outcome. The interim response provides the basis for a wide-ranging public consultation before a comprehensive final response is published later this year. I published the response last Friday to give parliamentarians and others a chance to consider the proposals before today's debate.
The inquiry team found serious shortcomings in the previous Government's handling of BSE. The inquiry's report documents institutional and political failure up to the highest levels. There was an inability to focus clearly on the emerging problem of BSE in cattle and to take charge. Many of those dealing with the problem hoped and believed that a link between BSE and human health would never be found. No contingency plans were made in case a link was discovered. Public protection measures were not implemented and enforced with sufficient vigour.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Although I appreciate that the Minister did not have responsibility for agriculture at the time, does he recall that, as long ago as July 1992, I and others were asking questions about the reticence of the then Ministry about the precise issues to which he is now referring? Does he recognise that the Phillips report demonstrates that the answers that we were given in this place were misleading and inadequate? I do not know whether that was intentional or unintentional,
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman makes his points in his own way, and of course he anchors his remarks in the Phillips report. I am being very careful--the matter is of course contentious and enormously important--to ensure that, as I go through the criticisms of the Government's handling of BSE, every single point that I make is founded in the Phillips report. The issue of communication between Departments is clearly referred to in Phillips. Phillips said that a lack of communication led to delays in taking necessary action.
It is telling that, on issues of interdepartmental communication and contingency planning, not one but two former Cabinet Ministers had their evidence rejected by the inquiry. In some crucial spheres, BSE policy was slow in development, sometimes lagging behind the latest scientific developments. The official line, that the risk of transmissibility was remote and that beef was safe, did not recognise the possible validity of any other view. Dissident scientists tended to be treated with derision. Dispute displaced debate.
Ministers and officials tended to be over-reliant on scientific advisory committees for policy advice. They failed to recognise that the proper role of advisory committees is to advise on science, not to make decisions for the Government on issues of policy and implementation. The Government's scientific advisers were not always given a complete picture of what was happening "on the ground" in terms of enforcement and implementation. Consequently, on certain occasions, scientific advice was not based on the full facts as known to the then Conservative Government.