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BSE

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:48 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill , Ludlow 7:48 pm, 25th June 1996

I preface my remarks by declaring an interest in the meat and livestock industry and by referring to the comments of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). Obviously, he is trying to censure my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture. I remind him that in the sort of Europe that is contemplated by the hon. Gentleman and his party, it will become increasingly difficult to censure Ministers because, in many instances, they are already unaccountable to the House for many of their actions because the decisions are made in Brussels. It is not only unfair but impossible to censure Ministers for those decisions.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture came to the House on 20 March, they were correct to make a clean breast of it and inform hon. Members about the situation at that time. However, as this debate seems to be an occasion for exercising the wisdom of hindsight, it was perhaps remiss of them not to point out on that occasion that the measures that the Government had taken since 1988 in implementing the ruminant feed ban had been, and continue to be, effective in eliminating the incidence of BSE. I regret that they did not point that out at the time. I regret also that the Government were subsequently forced from that position and that they abandoned the science to which they had correctly stuck hitherto.

I think that it is generally agreed that the link between BSE and CJD is not proved. I remind the House that it is incredibly difficult to prove the negative. As I have said in the Chamber more than once, no scientist will give a categorical undertaking or assurance that there is no link. I believe that beef is safe and that British beef is as good as any, and better than most.

I come now to the question of the cull and must express concern on three counts. I am concerned about the cost. Given farmers' understandable opposition to culling their cattle, generous compensation must be provided to persuade them to do so. That compensation will be in addition to the enormous amount that is already being spent on the 30-month cattle scheme.

I am concerned about the needless slaughter of so many animals. Even as we speak, the Quality Meat and Livestock Alliance is taking the Government to court over the legality of that aspect of the scheme. I share farmers' concerns about the effect of the cull upon the country's herds. While the measures will accelerate the rate of decline of the incidence of BSE in our herds—about 15 animals will be slaughtered before one is found with symptoms of BSE—they will not bring forward the date of eradication of the disease.