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The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the reassurance that he sees in today's Statement and the measures which we have announced today. I genuinely agree with him that we have got a

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grip on a difficult situation. I repeat that over the past 28 days we have introduced a series of measures, some of which span consumer confidence, some of which cover market activity; others cover the farmers, renderers or slaughterhouse industry. Some specifically cover animal or human health. With the measures brought forward numbering between 20 and 30, we have sought urgently and positively to get a grip of the situation.

The ban is intolerable. We will not accept the status quo. We will seek to negotiate a rapid and fair removal of the ban. We will also seek legal action to remove it; at the end of the day there is no scientific basis for it. That fact has now been admitted by the agriculture commissioner himself.

Lord Winston: My Lords, I find myself puzzled by the Statement and wonder whether the Minister can help me. I ask this in all innocence as I know nothing about farming; I only understand human medicine somewhat imperfectly. It is extremely welcome to hear the Minister say that the intention is probably only to cull relatively few cattle, perhaps tens of thousands. Will the Minister explain to us how the cull is chosen? I do not understand how the diagnosis is made and on what basis the cull will be carried out. To what extent will the animals be examined to ascertain whether they are free of the disease? What risk is there of culling animals which are perfectly innocent of the infection? Forgive me for asking a naive question, but I do not understand the basis for the cull and I should be grateful for clarification.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the noble Lord asks an extremely good question. He was unnecessarily modest about his knowledge of human medicine which, as the House knows, is considerable. We have not committed ourselves to any selective cull. Although our colleagues among other European agriculture ministers would like us to produce a programme by 30th April, we will only produce such a programme if it makes sense. We are currently examining the possibility of a very tightly targeted culling of those animals that are most at risk of incubating BSE. If such a programme could deliver a very much accelerated decrease in the incidence of BSE--of course, it is already decreasing at a significant rate--taking us closer and closer to eradication, it may well be worth it. There will be a cost to the industry from any such programme. We want to make sure that that cost is also taken into account when one is seeking to measure the benefits.

At the centre of the noble Lord's contribution is the inescapable question which seems beyond the comprehension of some of our European colleagues; namely, the scientists have said there is no justification in pursuing such a policy. Therefore, we shall have to convince ourselves before we pursue it that there will be benefits not yet identified by veterinary advisers.

I stress to the House that a second, absolutely critical benefit without which we will not institute any such cull is the lifting of the ban.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, can my noble friend help me? I declare an interest as a farmer. I do not have

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any beef cattle, even though my farm has 350 fat cattle waiting to go to slaughter. What other hypotheses are the Government looking for in relation to the possible connection between BSE and CJD? So far as I am aware--and perhaps my noble friend will confirm this--there is absolutely no evidence whatever of species jump, except orally from scrapie-fed mice to mice.

Will the Government please look at other hypotheses? This is very important, considering the very small number of CJD cases that there have been. Furthermore, what evidence do they have that the 10 new cases of CJD in young people are CJD and not another encephalopathy disease? Considering that Creutzfeldt-Jakob's first discovery of CJD was, I believe, in a 28 year-old, it is possibly nothing new that it happens to young people.

Secondly, can my noble friend be of greater assistance on the legal basis for the ban on the selling of cattle over 30 months? He accepts, by the fact that some cattle over 30 months can be eaten, that it is not dangerous to eat cattle over 30 months. Therefore there can be no threat to human health. Presumably, therefore, the Food Safety Act does not apply.

If it is accepted that there is no danger to human health from BSE, what right at all had the European Community to introduce Decision 96/239? If it had no right, why do we not simply ignore it, in the same way as we are ignoring feeding Emtryl to pheasants? If the Community is doing something that is obviously and palpably extra-legal, why pay a blind bit of notice to it in the first place?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. No threat to human health has been identified by the scientists from eating beef that has come from animals over 30 months old where they have been processed in such a way that slaughterhouse rules have been followed and where, according to the first SEAC recommendation, they are deboned. The Government want to return to that position as quickly as possible. Therefore, as I stressed both today and on other occasions, we see the European ban on our exports as unjust, ludicrous and irrational, and as one that should be the target not only of negotiation but indeed of legal action by ourselves in the European Court of Justice.

I return with some trepidation to the scientific inquiries of my noble friend. As many in this House with a scientific background will be aware, scientists are slow to come forward with categoric assurances of 100 per cent. safety. I can tell my noble friend that SEAC has examined all the angles. An in-depth review of each of the cases of the new CJD variant and consideration of other possible causes--such as cases being identified merely because of increased awareness of the disease on the part of doctors--has failed to give an adequate explanation for the new form of CJD. On current data, and in the absence of any credible alternative, the most likely explanation is that cases are limited to BSE before the introduction of the SBO ban in 1989.

The Government accept what the scientists have told us; namely, that their conclusions are based on only a likelihood. There remains no direct evidence of a link between BSE and CJD--neither the initial CJD

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symptoms nor the new symptoms. In that sense, the risk is still theoretical. However, on the subject of BSE the Government have always undertaken to protect the public from any theoretical risk as well as any that is subsequently proven. Therefore we are happy to be guided by SEAC, which represents the greatest concentration of expertise on this subject. We are not happy, however, to be guided by some of the over-reactions that we have seen from our European colleagues, or indeed from some commentators in the media.

Lord Blease: My Lords, there is a question that I want to put to the Minister about the Intervention Board. However, first, may I say that I welcome the statement that the measures will apply to the United Kingdom as a whole. Those who know anything about farming will know the pronounced and very distinctive regional differences in farming practice in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Those practices throw up many problems in administration and in forms of legislation.

The fact that the Intervention Board is central to the present situation will not cure everything in connection with the present crisis. Will the Minister explain whether the Intervention Board will be governed by the Ministry of Agriculture and be subject to parliamentary control in all its aspects? That is important in respect of any equity, sense of justice or meeting demands in respect of regional difficulties as they appear today in this crisis.

The Earl of Lindsay: I can reassure the noble Lord, in that the Intervention Board is managed by the four agriculture departments: those of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Therefore the judgments they make and the management systems they devise to cope with the new programmes will reflect the circumstances so far as is possible in the different territories.

I am grateful that the noble Lord intervened. As I suggested earlier, the beef industry in Northern Ireland is of absolute importance to the economy there. It is therefore important that, so far as possible, the rescue packages we introduce for the farming community and the slaughter and processing community are applicable to the beneficiaries there.

There is always a balance to be struck between a system which is very complex and sophisticated in order to recognise every individual circumstance of every farmyard, versus a system that can be quickly implemented and seen through in terms of getting payments to beneficiaries and which involves some generalisations having to be made.

Everyone in the House will acknowledge the urgency of delivering aid as quickly as possible to those who are under pressure. Therefore, some generalisations and presumptions will have to be made about the width of circumstances to be found in different territories. But they will be aimed at the average recipient.

Lord Prior: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that in his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, he

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did not rule out the fact that cull cows will be slaughtered and disposed of; and that that is the main disposal that takes place under the scheme? Will he accept that I welcome the scheme and agree with him that, under the arrangements for fattening those cattle that are now over two and a half years-old, it should be possible for the system to be changed within the time limit he has laid down? In this horrendous business, which I suspect will not be the last, given what goes on in the food world at the moment and the scares that go around, it is absolutely vital that we think through what else may happen and how to communicate. Perhaps on top of all that politicians and others in the media should take a grip on themselves and realise the damage that can be done to people's living and confidence and that this is a much bigger issue than the terrible business we are in at the moment, which must be dealt with on a long-term basis.

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