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Orders of the Day — BSE Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:18 pm on 17th February 1997.

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Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale 5:18 pm, 17th February 1997

My only comment on the speech that we have just listened to is that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has a bare-faced cheek coming in five minutes before his spokesman makes a speech and then telling us what has been left out from the first hour and a quarter of the debate. If is he going to interfere in debates in that way, I hope that he will do us the courtesy of listening to the debate before telling us what has been left out. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is off."] That just shows how interested he and the Liberal Democrats are in this topic. We shall manage very well without him.

I must begin by declaring an interest. I am part owner of a herd of beef cattle. The breeding animals are bought in, not bred at home, and we have had two cases of BSE, the last of which occurred a little more than four and a half years ago.

This debate and the events since 20 March last year are a classic case of parliamentary mischief-making. When the end of a Parliament is approaching and a Government have an uncertain majority, all Oppositions search and scratch around for any opportunity to squeeze the Government. We all understand that, but when the Opposition irresponsibly exploit a tragic catastrophe—where events beyond the experience of science have caused large financial losses and, more important, widespread apprehension—and thereby encourage even greater apprehension among the public, and when they let loose parliamentary hatchet men on the House. I must agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister's description of this debate as a political stunt. It is no more and no less.

I was intrigued when the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) complained that the early statement made on 20 March was inconclusive and needed more information and suggested that it led to uncertainty. The Opposition, of course, ignore the fact that, as I understand it, the statement was made on the day that the Government formally received the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee's advice. I can just imagine the tempest on the Opposition Benches if it had not been made. Opposition spokesmen really want to have it both ways, and they ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.