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BSE

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:55 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall 4:55 pm, 25th June 1996

All the evidence from the scientists in Britain and elsewhere suggests that there is no direct causal link between organophosphates and BSE, but the impact of OPs on the central nervous system may well affect the immune characteristics of an animal and make it more susceptible to BSE. That appears to be the general view of many who have examined the issue. I shall return to the scientific and medical basis on which we are operating. The hon. and learned Gentleman is right. There are still some unanswered questions.

We were told in no uncertain terms by the Commission last week that we would have had a much better chance of securing support from the other Governments, as would the Commission, if there had been an early statement of our position. We would have been able to get a much more realistic cull if the Minister and his colleagues had presented their proposals in the first few weeks instead of resorting to the bully-boy blackmail that came later. That view was confirmed to my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and me by German and Dutch Ministers in Bonn and The Hague last Thursday.

Indeed, the Minister himself may have shared that view earlier. The House will recall that the Minister insisted throughout April and May that a modest selective cull would be sufficient to meet the anxieties of other EU Governments. He said that the number was in the lower tens of thousands. Even as late as 20 May, he said that 42,000 would be enough. Even after the failure of his frontal assault on the Standing Veterinary Committee on that date, he still argued that some 80,000 would be sufficient. Either the Minister misread the diplomatic signals from his EU colleagues or he attempted to mislead the House. Either way, he cannot be allowed to escape censure on that point.

It seems, therefore, that thousands of healthy cattle are to be slaughtered unnecessarily. The late, failed tactics of the Government have caused that situation. On 21 May, the Prime Minister was faced with the choice between sacking his Minister of Agriculture to appease his Back Benchers and causing a diversion abroad—he chose the latter. As a result, 60,000 extra cows will be wantonly sacrificed just to save the Hogg's bacon.

Is slaughter on that scale practical? At the Select Committee hearing last Tuesday—to which I have already referred—the Minister implied that it was not practical and he poured huge buckets of cold water on the very suggestion. Yesterday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had revised its opinion and said that it was technically feasible to extend the cull to 1989 and 1990 after all—up to 150,000 extra cattle could be added. Was the Minister right last week, or is he right this week? Was his statement a realistic appraisal? Has it now been overtaken by post-Florence soft soap?

The industry has every reason to be cautious—we must remember the continuing chaos within the current limited cattle cull programme. While Scotland is now making some progress—clearly, some of its quota should be redirected to areas of scarcity in England and in Wales— most areas are still subject to erratic and inexplicable variations and shortfalls. Farmers are desperate as the local backlog shows no sign of dispersing and costs mount.

Such was the embarrassment of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers about the chaos that it issued the following direction to its members on 23 May: Rumours and gossip verging on the scurrilous are widespread. If for short term reasons these are wound up to produce political pressure on Ministers, we are concerned that the option remains for them to take emergency powers, requisition a small number of plants and take total control of the cull themselves. Some hon. Members may have been under the misapprehension that the Government were already in control. However, that is not the evidence of those closest to the scheme. No wonder the Prime Minister decided that very week that MAFF could no longer be trusted with the cull.

If there is a silver lining to Florence, it is that the Ministers concerned must now concentrate on the crisis at home. The demotion of Agriculture Ministers and the promotion of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to be BSE supremo may have sorted out the worst of the shambles on the 30-month scheme—not before time, and I hope that it continues.

This morning, I had representations from abattoirs and auctioneers from as far afield as Helston in the south-west and Carlisle in the north-west. They are still expressing dismay at the continuing mismatch between regional demand and provision of allocation slaughter and processing capacity.