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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, in the light of the last question put by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is

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my noble friend aware that the perpetrator of the National Guard bombing in Riyadh has admitted to being the disseminator of al-Mas'ari's faxes?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is just that sort of activity that caused us anxiety over this gentleman. Should evidence of any activity which damages security be forthcoming, we would consider it carefully.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that another issue is involved in this matter? We should not be concentrating solely on whether or not we believe that the activities of Mohammed al-Mas'ari will do our country damage; we should be concentrating on the fact that when someone is given asylum he becomes a guest and that guest has a duty in return for the hospitality given. That is widely recognised in every country. We should approach this matter in terms of expecting those who receive asylum from us to consider our interests because they have now become guests of our country. It is wrong that we should spend all this time urging commercial interests--though they are important--when there is a simple issue of the duty of a guest to return honest and decent behaviour for hospitality.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I know that a great deal of sympathy--which I share--is felt for what has been said by my noble friend. We have international obligations, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, under the convention that if asylum and/or exceptional leave to remain is granted, the United Kingdom law applies equally. But I repeat that it is a privilege to be given exceptional leave to remain and/or asylum and/or citizenship. It is extremely important that security is not threatened and that our relationships with other countries in the world are not threatened.

BSE (Health)

3.1 p.m.

Lord Carter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the imminent risk of injury to health which has led to the banning of meat from cattle over 30 months of age from entering the food chain.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, Section 13(1) of the Food Safety Act 1990 enables the Minister to make an emergency control order if it appears to him that, inter alia, there may be an imminent risk of injury to health.

The SEAC statement of 20th March outlined proposed new measures to counteract just such a potential risk. The SEAC recommended the deboning of all meat from animals over 30 months old and stated that, as long as all their recommendations were in place, the risk from eating beef would be extremely small. As it was not possible to put in place deboning measures immediately, the Government acted expeditiously to remove from the human food chain meat from animals over 30 months old as an interim measure.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, is he aware that the Government are

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widening the original powers that they took under the order? As the Minister said, correctly, Section 13(1) of the Food Safety Act requires an,

    "imminent risk of injury to health",
before the emergency control orders can be brought in. Ministers have continually told us over the past five weeks that beef is safe to eat. Where is the imminent risk to health, therefore, as required by the Act?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I pointed out the word "may" that appears in the Act. The possible imminent risk to health is that which we avoided by the measures that we have taken.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that the scope for calm and rational action in this field has been made much more difficult by the unjustified export ban on British beef by Brussels? That confirmed in the public's mind that the linkage between BSE and CJD is not a risk but is a fact. That thereby accelerated and deepened the collapse of the beef market across the whole of the continent of Europe.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, he who shoots before thinking should make sure that his own foot is not in the way.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, there has been research in this country on the possibility of a connection between BSE and the human disease CJD, as well as research in the United States and other European countries. Is it not possible, therefore, to produce an internationally agreed statement on what the risk really is?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, there is widespread scientific understanding of the risk in terms of eating beef, which is negligible. However, there is no political agreement to say that.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is there not a sharp contrast between the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the risk to health from BSE and the risk to health from the use of organophosphates? The Government require a high level of proof in the case of organophosphates and apparently a low level of proof in the case of BSE and CJD.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the level of proof required is that which we can best establish. There is a fundamental difference between a disease which has a definable course and a definable cause and which we know how to avoid and one about which, as in the case of the potential link between CJD and BSE, there is so much that is unknown and uncertain.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, cannot my noble friend confirm that the definitive political statement on the risk of eating beef has been made? It was made by the European Communities Commissioner for Agriculture

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who said that beef was safe to eat. Under those circumstances, why do we fly in the face of such an authoritative statement and say that it may not be?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we entirely agree with Commissioner Fischler that beef is safe to eat as a result of the measures that we have taken.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, in light of what has just been said, can the Minister comment on the news that came over the radio at 2 o'clock that all the other 14 European Union Ministers of Agriculture decided this afternoon to refuse to withdraw the ban on the export of British beef?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am afraid that I was busy doing other things at 2 o'clock.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, are not the only questions about health in this sorry tale the growing doubts about the mental health of the European Commission?

Lord Lucas: No, my Lords.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, the Minister must still explain why Her Majesty's Government obeyed a Commission decision which was in itself illegal, and everybody knows that it was illegal, including those who issued it. Why do we obey it when it is illegal?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we obey the law because it is the right thing to do and it is what we wish other people to do. If we disagree with the decision, as we do, the right action is to challenge it in the courts, as we intend to do.

Lord Carter: My Lords, if it is possible to argue that a selective procedure can produce a substantial reduction in the incidence of BSE, as the Government claim, can the Minister tell the House why the scheme was not introduced before?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, in our view it is not necessary for health or for the industry.

Lord Grantchester: My Lords, the consequences of the 30-month rule are of great concern to dairy farmers--the isolation of cull animals from the beef market. Bearing that in mind and the fact that several beef breeds are embarrassed by the rule, have the Government given consideration to altering the 30-month rule to a fixed date?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we shall give consideration to all such matters when the current interim order comes to be replaced by a permanent regulation under Section 16(1)(f)(ii) of the Food Safety Act 1990.

Business of the House: Defamation Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

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Since the terms of this Motion are unusual, it may be for the convenience of noble Lords if I take a moment to explain what it is that I am inviting the House to agree to.

At both Committee and Report stages of the Defamation Bill, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, tabled a new clause. At present the privilege conferred by Article IX of the Bill of Rights of 1689 means that a court may not inquire, even at the behest of a Member of Parliament, into anything that he has said or done in Parliament. The proposed new clause provides that an individual member may waive that historic privilege if he wishes the court to take account of proceedings in Parliament in considering a case of defamation. These are potentially grave matters for Parliament.

In debate, arguments were put both for and against the proposed new clause. At Committee it was withdrawn in order that further consideration could be given to those arguments. On Report, a Division was called; but when the Question was put a second time, there were no voices on either side, the Division could not take place and accordingly the amendment was negatived.

The Companion to the Standing Orders makes it quite clear that,

    "it is undesirable that an issue which has been fully debated and decided upon at a previous stage of a bill should be reopened by an amendment on Third Reading".
It is clear therefore that as matters stand your Lordships would have no further opportunity to debate the noble and learned Lord's proposed new clause. However, it was equally clear from debate in the House at Report stage that noble Lords wished and indeed expected that they would be invited to consider the amendment again on another occasion. It seems likely that this expectation contributed at least in part to the fact that the Division on the amendment did not take place.

In those circumstances, it seems desirable that we should seek to find a way of permitting the noble and learned Lord to table his amendment for Third Reading, if he should choose to do so. For that reason, I invite your Lordships to agree that on this occasion we should set aside the guidance of the Companion to the Standing Orders in relation to amendments at Third Reading. I hope that my explanation is of some help in asking your Lordships to agree to this Motion. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That, notwithstanding the practice of the House relating to consideration on Third Reading of amendments which have been fully debated and decided at a previous stage of the Bill, an amendment to insert a new clause (Evidence concerning proceedings in Parliament) may be considered on Third Reading of the Defamation Bill [h.l.].--(Viscount Cranborne.)

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