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EU: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

3.29 pm

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, we welcome the flexibility this amendment would bring. However, the Government would need to consider very carefully whether the UK would want to apply for a derogation to delay the culling of cohorts. It is unlikely that any change would be made before 2008 at the very earliest. Meanwhile, we are required to enforce the legislation that is currently in place and which has created confidence in our beef.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. He is probably aware that I will ask him about Harriet, the Jersey cow. For noble Lords who do not know, Harriet was born about nine years ago on a holding in Oxford where another cow, born six months later, suffered from BSE and has been slaughtered. Harriet never ate any of the food that the previous cow ate. In fact, she never even shared any of the accommodation. Harriet is now a pet cow whose owners have given the department an assurance that she will never go into the food chain. In any case, she would not be able to because Defra holds her passport. Would the Minister consider asking his right honourable friend the Prime Minister to give Harriet the same treatment that he gave Phoenix, the calf who was saved from foot and mouth slaughter?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, with respect, those cases are not in any way comparable. The question of Harriet the cow has been looked at on several occasions and has been the subject of a special debate in the other place. All the evidence points to the fact that Harriet is a cohort. In the first year of her life, she was involved in eating the feed that a subsequent animal, designated as having BSE, ate. We have protected our beef chain through rigorous enforcement of BSE rules. We are now exporting 1,000 tonnes of beef a week because of that rigorous enforcement and confidence in our beef. That has been part of the process. There is no definition of pet cattle or a pet cow. If Harriet has been designated as a cohort by all the available evidence, which has been looked at on more than one occasion, she will have to go to slaughter.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I will not go down the route of Harriet’s slaughter. Our reliance on the country’s abattoirs in the derogation of orders considering BSE is a problem. We need to look also at

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a derogation for horned cattle otherwise it will soon be difficult, if not almost impossible, to slaughter highland cattle. Is provision being made in abattoirs for slaughtering horned cattle?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have not been briefed on that. Today is the last day of a European Union inspection on the UK’s BSE controls. With respect, it is not the day to start talking about relaxing those controls.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Meat Hygiene Service on how it has implemented the changes that thus far it has had to face and how it is facing further changes with great enthusiasm? I declare an interest as deputy chair of the Meat Hygiene Service.

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords, I congratulate everyone involved in the beef chain—the Meat Hygiene Service, farmers, cattle producers, abattoirs and feed merchants—on rigorously enforcing the controls, which have virtually eradicated BSE, from 37,000 cases in 1992 to fewer than 100 cases so far this year. That has involved the slaughter of an enormous number of animals, including the cohorts. I accept the argument that sometimes we have slaughtered too many, but the fact remains that, in 2005, of 3,043 cohorts that were slaughtered, only six had a confirmation rate of BSE, which is 0.2 per cent. But the confirmation rate in normal, healthy cattle born after 1996 was 0.0007 per cent. That is why the rules require the immediate slaughter of cohort cattle when they are identified. It is also why we have the cattle tracing system, so that when a cow with BSE is identified, we can check the other cattle that it was with in the early years of its life. That has protected the beef chain and given enormous confidence in British beef.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I, too, should like to reflect the Minister’s comments. Certainly, the return to our export market is enormously important, so I support that. What representation have the UK Government made to the European Commission, if the Minister feels as strongly as he has indicated today? There will be a risk if they move away from the current stance.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, they have moved away because the amendment was made on 23 November. As I said in my Answer, the UK Government will need to consider very carefully whether this country would want to apply for a derogation. Even if we did, it would not be done until 2008 at the earliest. However, we have no plans to do so.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, will the Minister join me in acknowledging the great sympathy of many people following the premature death of Mark Purdey, an amazing pioneer scientist in this field? Recognising his very serious work on the origins of BSE and the possible impact of warble-fly dressing and organophosphates, what is the Ministry’s current view on the causes of BSE?

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I share the sympathies of the noble Lord, Lord King. When I was at MAFF, some nine years ago, I spoke with Mark Purdey and know how committed he was. I was as distressed as others when I saw the obituaries last week. He was very sincere about this. In answer to the question what causes BSE, I suppose that the non-scientific answer is that we don’t know. However, controlling feed had the effect of eradication. Research over the past 10 years in Defra laboratories in Weybridge and Warwickshire, which involved giving contaminated feed to cattle as an experiment, has shown that contamination levels as low as one milligram can cause BSE. All the indications are that BSE was in the feed, but no one can be certain. However, the figures I have given show that it has been virtually eradicated, with fewer than 100 cases this year.

Corruption Bill [HL]

3.35 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision about corruption. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Investment Exchanges and Clearing Houses Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited (PARBUL)

Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

3.36 pm

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited (PARBUL)

Moved, That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed as members of the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited (PARBUL):

L Brabazon of Tara,

L Naseby,L Paul,L Thomson of Monifieth.

Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

Moved, That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be appointed to serve

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as members of the Board of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST):

L Broers,

B Greenfield,L Oxburgh,L Winston.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Tax Law Rewrite Bills Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That a Select Committee of six Members be appointed to join with the committee appointed by the Commons to consider tax law rewrite Bills, and in particular to consider whether each Bill committed to it preserves the effect of the existing law, subject to any minor changes which may be desirable;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members be appointed to the committee:

L Blackwell,

B Cohen of Pimlico,L Goodhart,L Haskel,L Millett,L Newton of Braintree;

That the committee have power to agree with the committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a chairman;

That the quorum of the committee shall be two;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the evidence taken by the committee shall, if the committee so wishes, be printed;

That the procedure of the Joint Committee shall follow the procedure of Select Committees of the House of Commons when such procedure differs from that of Select Committees of this House, and shall include the power of the Chairman to select amendments.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was sent to the Commons.

Liaison Committee: Third Report

3.37 pm

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara) rose to move, That the third report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 251, Session 2005-06).

The report can be found at http://www.publications .htm

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the report relates to the duration of appointment of Select Committees,

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to the review of committee work and to three proposals for new committees. The Liaison Committee’s report notes that sessional Select Committees, though reappointed sessionally, are in fact permanent committees. In the past, we have expressed reluctance to appoint new sessional committees in view of the permanent commitment of resources that this represents. We have now agreed that, unless there is a compelling reason to the contrary, in future we will not recommend the appointment of new sessional committees of open-ended duration. Instead, we will recommend the appointment of sessional committees for the duration or remaining duration of the Parliament. This will avoid the presumption that sessional committees will automatically be appointed every Session ad infinitum. I invite the House to take note of this intention.

In considering its own role in fulfilling its remit to review the Select Committee work of the House, the Liaison Committee found merit in the idea of reviewing the work of committees at the beginning of every Parliament. The committee will meet to review the work of policy Select Committees before the Motions of reappointment are tabled. In reaching this decision, we noted the importance of ensuring that the review does not delay the appointment of the European Union Committee. I am sure that the House will agree that it is desirable to review committee work from time to time. Indeed, many of our sessional committees are already doing this and are producing annual or sessional reports on their activities.

I also invite the House to take note of the criteria that we apply in determining whether to recommend the establishment of sessional or ad hoc committees. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list and other considerations may well apply, but I hope that the House finds it helpful.

Finally, the report relates to three requests to establish new committees: from the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for a sessional committee on broadcasting, the media and communications; from the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for a sessional committee on international organisations; and from the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, for an ad hoc committee on climate change.

It was the view of the Liaison Committee that a sessional Select Committee on communications be established for the remainder of the present Parliament. Given developments in technology and broadcasting and the importance of media industries, and following the work of the recent Select Committee on the BBC Charter Review and the expertise and independence of Members of the House in this area, we were persuaded of the merit of establishing a committee on communications. The Liaison Committee is firmly of the view that Lords Select Committees should complement and not duplicate the work of the Commons and that their remits should be cross-cutting rather than departmental. However, given the importance of the subject matter, we feel that, provided that the Lords committee is scrupulous in avoiding duplication of

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the work of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, there is value in establishing a committee in this field. The establishment of a new committee has considerable resource implications. Were the House to agree to the establishment of this committee, staff would have to be appointed to support it. I expect that a new committee could begin its work by Easter of next year.

It was the view of the Liaison Committee that neither of the proposals of the noble Lords, Lord Soley and Lord Renton of Mount Harry, should be supported. In the case of a Select Committee on international organisations, we felt that the range of organisations falling within the scope of the proposed committee was too wide. However, we have said that we will give sympathetic consideration to an application for an ad hoc committee to scrutinise a homogeneous group of organisations were the noble Lord, Lord Soley, to return to the Liaison Committee with such a request.

In the case of an ad hoc Select Committee on climate change beyond the Kyoto Protocol, the Liaison Committee noted that climate change issues had been considered on several occasions in recent years by committees of both Houses. Indeed, it is highly likely that the Economic Affairs Committee and the Science and Technology Committee will return to the subject in due course. We were therefore not convinced that the establishment of a further committee on this subject would add value. I beg to move.

Moved, That the third report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 251, Session 2005-06).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Fowler: My Lords, as I proposed an amendment to the second report of the Liaison Committee, I strongly welcome the report that the Lord Chairman has just spoken to. I am glad that the case for a communications committee has been accepted. I accept the concept that a Select Committee should be appointed for a Parliament and not in perpetuity. That is extremely sensible.

I do not wish to be churlish, but perhaps I could remind the House that, back in March, when we first set out our case for a permanent committee, we said that the state of independent television was,

We said:

We can claim to have been right in our judgment in March.

That brings me to my only point of concern—the issue of timing and when the committee can start work. The committee has been appointed for the remainder of this Parliament, but we are already 18 months into it. I hope that everything will be done to get the committee up and running as soon as possible and that we will be able to do this before Easter of next year. That seems a long time away and I very much hope that we can do it before then.

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Lord McNally: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. I do not want Easter to be the start of the preparations for this committee because we all know that that would probably mean that the committee would not start until the autumn. The events of recent weeks have proved beyond peradventure that there is a need for this committee. As to the need to avoid cutting across the work of any other committees, as far as I am aware no regulator or committee has ever looked at the anti-competitive behaviour of the Sky organisation, so this committee could safely get on with that.

Lord Soley: My Lords, I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the consideration that they gave to my proposal for a committee covering the international organisations, a committee that I have always felt has been seriously lacking in both Houses. I also thank him for the encouragement—I appreciate that it is without any commitment whatever—to narrow down my proposal and to return to the Liaison Committee at a future stage, which I will do.

The committee raised some important points, because the scope of the organisations covered was very wide. However, the amount of money that goes into these organisations, particularly the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to which we recently gave £3 billion, is an indication of the financial implications for the taxpayer.

This is a very important subject; I will certainly return to my proposal at the appropriate time and try to hone it into a more focused committee. Again, I thank the committee, but this subject is covered neither in the House of Commons nor here, and it urgently needs to be.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I support what the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord McNally, have said. It may appear rather odd for these Benches to oppose something to do with Easter. Nevertheless, Easter is about five months away and, for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has given and the continuing technological advances that speed by, I believe that the earlier this committee can meet, the better.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for his words. As the report says, we will look again at a more focused proposal if that were to come before the next meeting of the Liaison Committee. The noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord McNally, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, all want the new communications committee to start as soon as possible. I am well aware of the various developments in the industry, particularly in independent television, with a new chairman who has left the BBC, Sky bids, and so on. Quite possibly those developments would have taken place whether or not the House had the benefit of a committee looking into them. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, speaks to Mr Murdoch and finds out whether he was waiting for the House of Lords to report on this before he

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took his 20 per cent stake in ITV and whether Mr Grade would have been influenced by the committee when he switched from the BBC to ITV.

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