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Lord Jopling: My Lords, the noble Baroness will recall that the Government reacted to the previous advice in a more prudent way than your Lordships' House would have wished. Now, on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, the Government have removed the ban. We welcome that. Can we infer from that that it is now the Government's view that in the period ahead of us the incidence of CJD is unlikely to increase significantly from its current relatively modest levels?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I do not believe that the advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee as to predictions of the scale of the epidemic of CJD has changed in this period because of the uncertainty about incubation times.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, first, like all Members of the House, I welcome the announcement of the lifting of the ban on beef on the bone. However, it seems to me that we have heard for far too long the consequences of mad cow disease. We have perhaps been critical in apportioning blame too often. That is not to say that difficulties do not exist; they do. We are not out of the wood, but the announcement shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Government have tried, in spite of criticism, not to make an extremely difficult situation even worse. I believe that they will now be proved right in waiting for unity to exist among the Chief Medical Officers before taking the final decision.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He was something of a lone voice in the past on Questions in this House in supporting the Government's view that it was sensible to take the few extra weeks to ascertain whether we could achieve unanimity on the basis of the data to be published. I believe it is in the interests of both consumers and the beef industry to have achieved that unanimity. I am grateful for my noble friend's comments.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I wish to say how grateful I am for this better-late-than-never move. In future when I have English guests I shall be able to carve the sirloin off the bone, which is so much better.
However, it has taken a little time. The nanny option was the one taken. At the time, as the noble Baroness on the Conservative Front Bench said, there was the option to inform the public. We should trust the public more. When the odds against the disease are in the millions, the public are capable of deciding. After this decision, perhaps the Minister agrees with me that we should tell the public what the risk is and leave it to them.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. I have been in this job for only a few months, but it has not taken me long to find that you cannot do right by doing wrong with food safety. You are liable to criticism equally for being cavalier with dangers, however remote and, on other occasions, for over-implementing. It is sensible to rely on the professional advice. That is what we have done over the advice of the Chief Medical Officer. We must of course have proportionality--that is correct--but even when risks are remote we must take into account that the risk, however remote, is of a disease that can be fatal. It has invariably been fatal and we were dealing with it with variant CJD.
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I am sure that when the Minister of Agriculture originally made his decision, which he said was marginal based on the three options mentioned earlier, he acted far more prudently than was necessary in view of the infinitesimal risk. This ban has been in place far longer than it should have been. From what the Minister said, am I correct in understanding that the ban will be lifted throughout the United Kingdom on 17th December, or will Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland still have the opportunity to opt out?
Bearing in mind the figures published today showing the catastrophic drop in farm income, what step will the Government take to help? I do not believe that the complacent attitude taken by the Government during the debate on that part of the gracious Speech concerned with agriculture gave any encouragement that something would happen in the near future not only in relation to beef but to pigs, sheep and milk. Today every agricultural product is in crisis and yet the Government appear to be saying that no further help will be offered.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, probably as early as tomorrow we shall have an opportunity to debate at further length some of the broader issues of support for the agricultural industry, which is experiencing grave difficulties, as the noble Lord points out, and for which a number of initiatives involving substantial sums of aid have been taken by the Government, while looking in the longer term particularly to the restructuring of Community support for agriculture.
As to the ban itself, the timetable that I have outlined relates to the English legislation for which MAFF Ministers will be responsible. But my understanding is that the same timetable is achievable and will be aimed for by each of the other authorities. It is hoped that we shall all be consulting as from this evening and coming to the successful end point of that consultation at the same time. As has been made clear in the past, legislative competence in these areas lies with the devolved authorities and each in turn must take through its own legislation.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, as one of those who was vehemently and volubly opposed to the original imposition of the ban, I welcome the fact that it has now been lifted, and I hope that it will remain so. My recollection--perhaps my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong--is that the scientific advice was never that a ban on beef on the bone should be imposed. Is it not a fact that the real reason for the ban was to persuade the European Union to lift its ban on British beef? Even that now seems to have backfired since the French have used it in order to continue their illegal ban on British beef. I hope that in future my noble friends will be very careful about the imposition of restrictions to suit our European Union partners.
Perhaps I may put a question that has already been asked. Why have the English had to wait for Scotland and Wales to come into line? The English always seem to get the neck of the chicken or beef. Surely, this is a
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend who I know has taken a good deal of interest in the subject over the years. I do not believe that the English have been discriminated against and suffered during this period. Certainly, English beef producers will benefit from the fact that we have taken time to ensure that we achieve a UK approach to the problem. Frankly, I do not believe that it is sensible policy-making to show, for the sake of gesture, that it is possible to go it alone, with the uncertainties, difficulties and anomalies faced by consumers as a result of different regimes in different parts of the United Kingdom. I know that like others in this House my noble friend believes that the policy adopted on public health grounds was over-cautious. He is quite right that the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee made an assessment of risk rather than a policy proposal. The policy decision was that of Ministers, but it was taken on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer. That advice was maintained by his successor when he first considered this matter.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that her announcement will be welcomed throughout Wales and that Welsh farmers regard this as a British issue to be dealt with as quickly as possible in all four parts of the United Kingdom? Does she also recognise that there is now available the very elusive jewel of the united support of the whole industry? This would be a very fine moment for the Government to take the initiative to ensure that the export marketing of British beef is addressed as a high priority.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I believe that to go forward with the whole of the British beef industry gives us an advantage. I am grateful for the noble Lord's question. He is absolutely right. To have the platform of strong public health controls, and the confidence of our public health advisers that the safety of beef across the United Kingdom is now such that even this precautionary measure on one particular element can be lifted, gives us an important base on which to try to rebuild the export markets that have been so devastatingly damaged. I point out again that this market has been devastatingly damaged not by the policy decisions of the Government but by the reality of the BSE epidemic.
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