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Lord Lucas: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked me a large number of questions. I shall do my best to reply to them reasonably briefly. He asked why we had decided on September 1990. I should tell the noble Lord that that is the date from which we can run traceability. That is when we started to keep the records required by the European Union. Animals older than that which became infected as calves are likely to have developed the clinical disease already, so we do not anticipate there being any problem as regards that being the starting date. Traceability looks like being pretty good. It is not perhaps perfect and we have obviously not got into the nitty-gritty of the process. However, we have investigated it to the point where we are sure that we are offering the European Union a real and effective programme.
The noble Lord made the point about age cohorts being spread over several farms. Indeed, they may be. It is no more fair, as it were, that a farm loses its BSE-free status because it imports an animal which turns out to have the disease than that a farm keeps a BSE-free status because it happens to have exported all the animals which go down with BSE. That is clearly a matter which will need to be taken into account when we deal with the question of exemptions to which I shall turn in a moment. The noble Lord asked about flying herds. It seems to me that the noble Lord always knows something I do not. I thought that they only occurred in nursery rhymes.
So far as the question of lifting the ban is concerned, that is obviously a question of a quid pro quo. The proposed cull is not something which is, in scientific terms, strictly and absolutely necessary. In many ways it is arguably desirable in order to get BSE out of the herds more quickly but it is not essential for human health. It is therefore something which we are offering the European Union as a quid pro quo for its lifting of the ban and is something to enable it to have the necessary confidence in lifting the ban. It is a matter which we shall be discussing with an open heart and, I must say, after recent discussions with Commissioner Fischler, with great optimism. We have had some very constructive discussions with Commissioner Fischler and we go into the negotiations next week with no feeling that we need to spend time considering what happens if they fail, any more than we need to spend time considering what would happen if the ban were lifted tomorrow, before formal negotiations. We go in to achieve the object we wish to achieve. We are not allowing ourselves to be sidetracked by other thoughts.
Of course, compensation will be required for slaughtering animals under the cull, and it should be full and fair compensation. Exemptions are something we have been discussing with the Commission. This will be a matter to be set out in the negotiations. It may not emerge at absolutely the first stage, but it is clearly at least the second item that we should deal with--those parts of the United Kingdom, those herds in particular, which are free of BSE and demonstrably free of BSE.
The noble Lord asked whether the calves from culled cows will be included. That is entirely a matter of speculation at the moment. There is no question of evidence of vertical transmission and, therefore, no reason why they should be included in a scientific sense. As to the percentage of the costs which the European Union would meet, that is entirely a matter for negotiation.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, also asked about welfare. Of course, that is very high on our list of priorities and must be something we keep in mind at all times. I believe that I have replied to most of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I shall however read Hansard to see whether I need to write to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said that it was important to get rid of animals which have been in contact with animals that have gone down with the disease. That is not the right way of putting it. As far as we know--and we know pretty well--there is no risk of picking up BSE from the neighbouring cow which has it. It is a feed-transmitted disease. It is not therefore a question of contact with another animal; it is a question of whether you have eaten another animal and is entirely to do with whether the animals were sharing rations at that point rather than who their neighbours were.
Lord Hooson: My Lords, I referred to contact because an article which appeared this week talked about the possible transference of BSE by hay. There was a photograph of what we all know is the kind of shipment where hay is taken along from one cow to another. It was suggested that such contact could be relevant.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, there are all sorts of speculations in science and in the newspapers concerning this disease, about which we do not have perfect knowledge. But what we do have is a great deal of epidemiological evidence from this epidemic which gives us a very clear picture of the fact that it is a feed-borne epidemic and is not spread by other agencies.
Clearly, the cull will be done with all possible expedition, if and when it is agreed upon. Again, I cannot say how fast, but there would no reason to delay it or to slow it down. The noble Lord says that only now are effective measures being proposed. Effective measures were put in place immediately. These are additional measures which are necessary to restore consumer confidence. That is something which can only be established now when we are a decent distance from the panic and can look at things in a stable and rational manner and when consumers have had time to get used to the new information they have been presented with.
As to whether we will review matters, I do not believe that the science or information is moving fast enough for us usefully to review things in short order. I am sure that we shall do so in due course, but we do not know enough about the disease and there is not information which is developing fast enough to enable us to believe that an early review would serve any useful purpose.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will my noble friend indicate when the negotiations on the lifting of the ban are due to take place? On which day will they start, because each day, for obvious economic reasons, is a serious consideration. Secondly, will my noble friend indicate whether if, unhappily, the negotiations for raising the ban are a failure, it will mean rather fewer of the measures that he outlined would be undertaken by the British Government?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the negotiations, in the sense of discussions with the Commission, are well under way. The Council meets on Monday and the matter will be discussed then. As to the question of which measures would or would not happen if there was not agreement in Council, the measure which would not happen is the cull. The cull is proposed as part of an agreement with the European Union and is not something we would undertake for the protection of our own citizens.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, representations have been made concerning animals between two-and-a-half and three years old, coming either from organic herds or from certain late maturing beef breeds. I would be grateful if the noble Lord can say what consideration has been given to these arguments and whether the Government have made up their mind or when they will make up their mind about them. The noble Lord will appreciate, I am sure, that these animals come from long, intensive systems--extensive systems, as they are called. It would be a great pity if animals in this six months age range were not allowed to be used for human food when, in fact, they are perfectly healthy and perfectly edible. It would possibly save the Government a small sum in compensation.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the question of exemptions is very high on our list of priorities. It is something we have been actively discussing with the Commission. We would like to see early movement from the Council. Clearly, there are a number of specialist breeds and a number of particular areas of the country where BSE has had a very low incidence, where there is every reason to expect it should continue to have a very low incidence and where we should be able to put in place a scheme to allow beef from animals over 30 months old to be sold. That is a matter which will require discussion with
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is only 14 days since the Leader of the House, in notifying the position so far as the Commission is concerned, said that the Government would examine as a matter of urgency the legality of the steps taken by the Commission in bringing forward the decision it had made? Is he further aware that since that time it has emerged most certainly that the Commission's decision under which the various orders were made is in itself illegal, according to legal opinion? I refer the noble Lord to the recital of the Commission's decision of 27th March in the official journal No. L78, page 47.
I refer also to Article 1 of the same decision which indicates clearly that the Commission has exceeded its powers. Will the noble Lord explain how bringing forward proposals by Her Majesty's Government on this whole matter does anything other than weaken their position legally in the whole affair? Why is it that the Government did not initially decline to accept the decision of the Commission, which is quite illegal?
Nobody wishes to defend any action taken by the Government that would worsen the health position, even though the Commissioner concerned has long since abandoned the health grounds of the original decision. Can the Government explain those matters and say why they cannot adopt such action under their own powers at home to take what steps they like rather than obey cravenly a Commission decision which is illegal in the first instance?
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