HL Deb 19 January 1998 vol 584 cc218-9WA
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will institute an inquiry into bovine spongiform encephalopathy and new variant CJD.


The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue)

Since the announcement by the then Secretary of State for Health and Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 20 March 1996 of the probable link with a new variant of Creutzfeld Jakob Disease, there have been many calls for a public inquiry into Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. These calls come from consumer opinion and from the scientific community, as well as from the families of nvCJD patients, for whom the Government have the deepest sympathy. Comparisons have been drawn with the full investigations which follow transport accidents and major commercial failures affecting the public, whose human and economic implications are often much less.

Further to the statement made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 22 December 1997, the Government have decided to invite Lord Justice Phillips to carry out a non-statutory inquiry with the following terms of reference:

"To establish and review the history of the emergence and identification of BSE and nvCJD in the United Kingdom, and of the action taken in response to it up to 20 March 1996; to reach conclusions on the adequacy of that response, taking account of the state of knowledge at the time; and to report on these matters by 31 December 1998 to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."

In carrying out the inquiry, Lord Justice Phillips will be supported by a scientific assessor and by an assessor experienced in public administration.

This will be a non-statutory inquiry, whose main purpose is to establish facts and the respective roles of a range of commercial players and public authorities, not to lay blame at the feet of individuals. The Government urge all concerned to co-operate fully with the inquiry; and will of course expect serving and retired public officials to do so.

The inquiry will begin its work this month. Parties wishing to make representations to the inquiry can write to them at 3 Whitehall Place, London, SW1A 2HH.