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Orders of the Day — BSE Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 17th February 1997.

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Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall 4:54 pm, 17th February 1997

Not now. I am about to complete my speech, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will wish to make his.

At the outset of the crisis in March last year, my right hon. Friend and I offered the Prime Minister and the Minister our co-operation, help and support. Even the Conservative research department acknowledges that we did not scaremonger. We made that offer because we represent, locally and nationally, some of the areas most affected by the devastation that has occurred since the crisis was triggered by the announcement in the House. The Prime Minister and the Minister ignored our offer and decided to go their own way. So be it.

It is nearly 50 years since a Minister of Agriculture took responsibility for a mistake in his Department, even though he was unaware of it at the time. He resigned. As a student of the British constitution, I was taught that Ministers of the Crown were accountable for everything that their Departments did or did not do. That used to be the proud claim of Ministers of honour and integrity. That is not so now. When the ministerial team at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food blundered with the negotiations abroad and the slaughter programme at home, the Prime Minister did not ask for their resignations. He simply took them out of the driving seat, and put the Foreign Secretary in charge of the first of those issues and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in charge of the second. Can one imagine Lord Hailsham suffering such a double indignity without resigning?

Through all the suffering of the past 11 months, we have heard a great deal of self-justification from the Minister and his colleagues. We have heard it again this afternoon. Until the National Farmers Union annual meeting a few weeks ago, when I managed to extract a half-hearted and muffled "sorry" from the Minister of State, there was no hint of acceptance of blame or responsibility. We and all the victims of the crisis might think differently about tonight's motion if the Minister had, just for once, substituted a note of apology for his usual arrogance.