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Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:59 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe , Wakefield 6:59 pm, 25th June 1996

With the greatest respect, I say that I have only a few minutes left and cannot give way.

I also want to question current practices concerning the remains of potentially infected cattle. I have a letter that was sent by Prosper de Mulder Ltd., which is believed to be the company that produced the problem feed that resulted in the crisis. Incidentally, we found out the other week that it contributes to the Conservative party—what a surprise. It said to MAFF in October 1994: we … have been aware for several years of the unsatisfactory application of the existing legislative requirements for the segregation and handling of SBO by the slaughter and knacker industries as well as at rendering plants. In a debate on BSE and CJD on 10 June, I raised my concerns about certain practices concerning blood products in Yorkshire. The Parliamentary Secretary responded to that debate, and the Minister may be aware of the concerns. Following that, I received representations from people in Canterbury about what was going on at the Canterbury Mills site where, I understand, one of the nine rendering plants is located. I have mentioned out of courtesy to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) that I was concerned about the issue. Although the plant is one of those licensed to dispose of cull cows, the remains of cattle in a liquid effluent are being pumped on to the nearby field.

A report by Dr. Alan Colchester, a leading neurologist who treats patients suffering from CJD in that area, was given to Canterbury district council planning committee on 21 May. There is, of course, a cluster of cases in that area. I am not suggesting a link because it cannot be proved, but questions need to be asked. Dr. Colchester said: There is no doubt that the liquid effluent which results from the processing of animal remains could potentially be a potent route of transmission of prions to farm animals, wild animals, domestic pets and man. He spoke of a lack of knowledge of how such waste should be handled and inadequate regulation. Such concerns are serious, and I suspect that they are not only confined to Kent. Other developments to which I want to refer suggest possible problems elsewhere.

In April, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), answered a written question that I tabled about the volume of abattoir waste entering the United Kingdom sewerage system. He said: The specified bovine offals, which include all the tissues known to harbour BSE infectivity, are removed from cattle at slaughter and destroyed. As a result, it is unlikely that any BSE contaminated material could enter the sewerage system."—[Official Report, 3 April 1996; Vol. 275, c. 238.] Practices at Canterbury and, I suggest, possibly elsewhere, raise serious doubts about whether the Government's policy is being applied, and whether that answer is correct.

I discovered last weekend—other hon. Members probably did the same—that Anglian Water, for example, is insisting on fine filter systems at its BSE cull abattoirs to stop prions being released into the sewerage system. If the Under-Secretary's answer is correct, why is it having to do that? I would welcome some assurances from the Parliamentary Secretary on what I regard as a serious point.

I know that water that is used for drinking by my constituents, myself, my family and my children is extracted from many rivers that, on occasions, take sewage. I do not want to be alarmist or to scaremonger. All I want are common-sense answers to serious questions. If people had listened to those who raised such questions some years ago, we would not have the horrendous mess that we have today. For goodness sake, we must realise that there are millions of people in the country who, like me, are the parents of schoolchildren. They are anxious about what this problem could mean for their generation, their children and grandchildren and generations to come. The problem will not go away.

To understand why we have the problem, we must look at the way in which it has been handled, not just during the past 13 weeks—as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said in opening the debate—but during the past 13 years. We must look at some of the decisions that have been made and some of the points that were raised by scientists. We must find out why, for example, SEAC discarded evidence from the likes of Stephen Dealler. We must also consider the treatment of Dr. Harash Narang and others who criticised the Government's policy. Those people have been abused and marginalised. Now, sadly, the chickens are coming home to roost. If we had listened to those people, we would not be in the mess we are in today.