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Orders of the Day — BSE Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 17th February 1997.

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Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian 5:34 pm, 17th February 1997

The right hon. Gentleman is playing the part of the third wise monkey. I understand that BSE had been heard of in 1985—certainly in 1986—and perhaps he should have paid more attention to the papers circulating in his Ministry at that time.

I have to declare an interest in the subject. Only this morning, I was out in the rain feeding cattle. Many other people have an interest—some 600,000 jobs are directly involved in the production and processing of beef, ranging from farm workers, through hauliers and butchers, to caterers. Of course, we all, as consumers, also have an interest in British beef. The purpose of the debate is to make the point that the Government have abdicated their responsibility to all those interests in the past few years. The Government's response to BSE has been characterised by waste, incompetence and prevarication.

The Government's response has been characterised by waste, because £3.5 billion has been spent dealing with the crisis. I do not complain that the money has been spent, but it has not been spent effectively. The crisis is still here even after all that money has been spent. The resources should have been applied more prudently and effectively.

The Government's response has been characterised by incompetence, because Ministers have repeatedly failed to ensure that their stated policies are implemented properly. For example, the feed ban was introduced and then it was discovered, again and again, that the feed mills and merchants were not sticking to the rules. It has also taken far too long to ensure that the standards for slaughterhouses were applied and enforced effectively.

The Government's response has also been characterised by prevarication. For example, we saw a six-month delay in the accelerated cull agreed by the Prime Minister in Florence in June. From June to December, nothing was done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) said, the Government could have started to identify the cattle. In Northern Ireland, it would have been a straightforward matter to identify the 1,700 cattle that might have to be slaughtered under an accelerated cull scheme, because proper records are kept.

In Scotland, it is estimated that some 4,300 cattle will have to be culled, but they have started to be identified only in the past few weeks. In England and Wales, some 121,000 cattle need to be identified—heaven help us.