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Orders of the Day — BSE Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:59 pm on 17th February 1997.

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Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones , Clwyd South West 7:59 pm, 17th February 1997

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise.

Refusal to admit mistake after mistake has caused the Government to make even more errors—wasting billions of pounds and leaving farmers in ruin.

Conservative Members have accused the Opposition of using hindsight. Seven years ago, I demanded in the House that certain measures be taken. I demanded that the Government make Creutzfeld-Jakob disease notifiable; ensure that abattoir practice be examined; ensure that cattle brains be used for no purposes, and be burned and destroyed; stop offal such as brain, spleen and lymph glands being used in any animal foods; stop offal feeding to all animals immediately; create a genuinely independent food standards agency; instigate random testing at abattoirs; prevent the possibility of vertical transmission in cattle by culling calves and infected cattle with full compensation; and increase research on transmission.

That is on the record, in Hansard, in 1990. There is no use of hindsight. Years have passed, and despite denial and resistance, one by one many of those demands have, to the Government's embarrassment, been introduced—some too late, others half-heartedly. Amazingly, some are yet to be acted on.

The Opposition, of all political shades, have been proven consistently and entirely correct on BSE. Now, beef is safe, as we have acknowledged several times on the Opposition Benches. We are not trying to create another scare. Many people were, however, exposed to the agent in the 1980s, before the Government made beef safe. They could have made it safe earlier.

In my recent speech on BSE in November, I regaled the House with a joke that farmers tell in north Wales. The only safe meat is hog—but it is spelt H-O-G-G—as it is spineless, brainless, and gutless, and therefore contains no specified offal. There was a time when I thought that that was perhaps a little unkind, but that time has passed. In a previous debate on BSE, the Minister inspired me to coin the phrase, "to MAFF it up". For this debate, I had considered coining the phrase, "to make a Hogg of it", but in view of your reminding me of the conventions of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not do so. "To make a pig's ear" is an acceptable alternative.

In referring to north Wales farmers and their cutting humour, I used the word "spineless". I fear that that may now be said of hon. Members on the Government Benches, especially those who represent farmers but are not likely to vote for the motion. They must know that their farmers have no confidence in the ability of the Minister. Tory Members know too well that their farmers are correct in that assumption, yet they do not have the guts to stand up for what is right, vote down the Minister's performance or speak for their constituents. Their constituents will undoubtedly speak for themselves at the election.

I realise that hon. Members from Northern Ireland, who have in the past backed the Tory line, will not want to feel pushed into voting with the Opposition, but I fail to understand how they can be continuously pushed—or possibly bribed—by the Conservatives into voting with the Government or abstaining, against the wishes of their farmers. Additionally, I doubt very much that any Tory deals that they might squeeze out of them have the backing of reality.

If anyone is under the illusion that Conservative Ministers have any credibility in Europe, they are sadly deluded, and only fooling themselves. Any such Tory deal would be a worthless hand. Europe is waiting for change, and promises by the Conservatives on Europe are meaningless. We are indeed seeing a tired fag end of a Government. They have only weeks to go, with "go" the operative word. British people, like European Ministers, await that day. There is already evidence of tiredness on the Government Front Bench.

As I said at the outset, the Minister's handling of the crisis has cost £3.5 billion. If anything is worthy of a motion of censure, that is it. I ask that Members who represent Northern Ireland recognise the Minister's early replies on putting the case for a separate deal for Northern Ireland for what they were. I believe that they were just dissembling. Northern Ireland Members should do the best for their farmers and vote for the motion. Hon. Members know how their farmers would vote if they had the chance to do so. They should represent their farmers and support the motion.