Common Agricultural Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 15th May 1996.

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Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen 7:12 pm, 15th May 1996

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's interruption. As soon as I had said it, I realised my inaccuracy. Some of the animals to which I referred accidentally contracted the disease by consuming whatever is in their diet of beef products; most of the others were in laboratories in which their brains were injected with the virus to see whether they would develop the disease.

The Southwood committee and the Labour party in 1990 advocated beginning work on the risk of primates contracting BSE, both by consuming beef and by being injected. The work, however, was never done, because the Government did not want to know.

As I say, we still do not know the extent of the risk of the disease jumping species. This morning, I carefully read a document prepared for parliamentarians by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Three or four pages of this excellent 12-page document are given over to the risk of transmitting CJD. Hysterical figures are sometimes quoted in the popular press, but this careful academic analysis offers no real conclusions or solutions, and does not tell us the size of the problem.

On 20 March, 10 cases were announced. The Observer of 28 April listed another nine cases that had come to light in the past few weeks. Last week, I asked the Government how many confirmed and suspected cases there now were. They told me of 11 confirmed cases, but chose not to give any figure for suspected cases. My feeling is that there could be 100 or even 1,000 cases in the next few years. The media have carried figures as high as 100,000. If they are true, we are entering an appalling nightmare. My belief, for what it is worth, is that hundreds will be involved. I have told farmers in my constituency to be resilient as more and more stories of cases of the new strain of CJD come to light.

If it proves, in 10 years' time, that only 1,000 people have contracted the disease, I will agree with what the Minister for Health said a few weeks ago. If he had £100 million to hand, he said, he could save far more lives than that with preventive medicine. A thousand people are not many compared with the numbers who die of lung and breast cancer and heart disease, for instance.

It appears, then, that, because of a loss of customer confidence, we have been driven to a policy of slaughtering all cattle that would otherwise have gone into the food chain at the end of their lives, and compensating farmers for that will result in a bill of £1 billion a year. The tragedy is that that money will be spent for very little health gain, and that relatively few people will ever die of CJD.

The Government's blundering ineptitude throughout the past 10 years, in ignoring the problem and not tackling it—not doing research on transmission and so on—has caused the crisis. Their ineptitude has caused the appalling crisis of confidence, the difficult relations with the European Community and so on. We are paying the price for a decade of extremely bad government. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) wishes to intervene instead of making sedentary remarks, I shall be happy to give way.

It is very sad that the farming community—my constituents—are in deep despond as a result of a problem that should never have run out of control in the way that it has. The bills for this piece of appalling misgovernment will fall, for years, to an incoming Labour Government.