PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

FOOD PROTECTION (EMERGENCY PROHIBITIONS) ORDER 1989 (SI 1989, No. 3)

Wednesday 1 February 1989

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3 Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 1 February 1989

[SIR JOHN STRADLING THOMAS in the Chair]

Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) Order 1989

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989, No. 3). The order consolidates the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) Order 1988 and its amendments into a single order for ease of reference. The only alterations made are to remove the movement and slaughter restrictions on sheep painted green and to change from blue to apricot the normal colour with which sheep which have not passed the monitoring test are marked when they move from the restricted areas. Consequently, it also provides for slaughter restrictions on sheep painted red, blue or apricot until any sheep so marked has passed a re-monitoring test. I commend the order to the Committee.

10.31 am

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North): It is perhaps appropriate or fortuitous that the order is before us this week, in the immediate aftermath of reports which suggest that all might not be as well as we have been led to believe. The Government traded largely on public goodwill and trust in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl. The vast majority of people were dependent on the information which the Government provided—which presumably was based on information from their own scientists in the Department for Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We were variously assured and reassured about the modest extent of the problems. In that spirit, the farmers, crofters and others involved in agriculture in the areas perceived to be most affected accepted the regulations that were imposed and acted accordingly. That was so because there were no other sources of information. We had to rely on the Government. We accepted what we were told and people were prepared to go along with that. What is worrying is that, over the past two years, an element of doubt has emerged about whether the Government's information was adequate or accurate. This is not new. Perhaps I may quote from evidence given to the Select Committee on Agriculture in its investigations into the Government's reaction to Chernobyl. On Wednesday 25 May 1988 my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) told the Committee that, in his view: "the Government had no plan to deal with the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident." My hon. Friend told the Committee that the equipment for the effective radioactivity monitoring 4 of live animals was not ordered in England and Wales until September 1986. He said: "until that time all the monitoring was carried out on the tissues and organs of the dead sheep." My hon. Friend suggested, for example, that if there had been an accident in a French nuclear power station rather than in Chernobyl, the consequences could have been horrifying. In those circumstances, the Government's inability to react was especially worrying. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields maintained: "that sheep above the Government's 1,000 bq/kg limit entered the food chain" although, at that point, he did not put a number on it. The questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields at that time have increasingly proved to be perceptive. Doubts have increased about whether the Government were equipped to react to the disaster, whether they could adequately monitor the consequences and whether the results produced and the information provided to the public in the wake of Chernobyl were as accurate as we all hoped and trusted. The doubts expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) in his evidence to the Select Committee on Agriculture, which he subsequently put together in a report of his own, were given fresh force at the weekend through a television documentary, to which my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) will refer. The suggestion was that the levels of radioactivity that still existed, particularly in parts of Perthshire, were far above those conceded by anyone in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl. We are led to believe that those conclusions were reached by means of independently conducted research. There is no suggestion that the research was done by a pressure group, or by people with a vested interest in stimulating hysteria. As far as we know, that research was conducted independently, in different places and by different methodology from the research that was conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. We are entitled to ask how such spectacularly different results were achieved. In the light of the evidence in this new research, can the Minister give us any clues as to why it reached such widely differing conclusions from the Government's research? I say that in the spirit of wishing to hear a credible explanation. I have no wish to see agricultural production and the people who make their livelihoods from agricultural production in, for instance, the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir Nicholas Fairbairn) damaged in any way, but unless the Government can give a credible explanation for the disparity in the figures, the public will continue to have their doubts. In this area, where prejudice and suspicion thrives upon ignorance, it is in everyone's interests to have as much openness as possible. I shall be delighted to hear the Minister say today that there are perfectly reasonable grounds for assuming that the evidence adduced by the television documentary was nonsense, over the top and can be 5 scientifically disproven. Unless the Minister can offer grounds for the public to believe that, suspicion will persist that we were misinformed—I do not believe disinformed—in the wake of Chernobyl and that the levels of radioactivity were much higher. If that is true in Perthshire, where there has been little previous talk of high radioactivity levels, what is the truth about the conditions in those places that were identified as needing the order that we are considering today, which has existed since 1986 in one form or another? What is the truth of the matter in my constituency, for example, or in the Isle of Arran which continues to be covered by such orders? What is the position in the Outer Hebrides, the West Highland mainland and those areas that are covered by the order? If a part of Scotland that has not hitherto been identified as suffering from any degree of risk in the post-Chernobyl period is now identified, what is—and was—the real situation in the areas that were identified? If the Minister can stand up today and say that the results of that research are scaremongering, not a well-founded scientific fact, and if he can tell me that the Government's research is right and the other research wrong, I shall welcome his statement. The Minister should use this opportunity to try to set the record straight because there is no doubt—this is agreed by the Committee—that public alarm and concern thrives on rumour and conflicting information. It is the Government's duty to set the record straight and clarify the position.

10.39 am

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): There is something familiar about this sitting. The Chernobyl disaster occurred about three years ago. Repeatedly since then, Ministers have come to the Floor of the House or to a Statutory Instruments Committee such as this to extend, vary or impose restrictions controlling the movement and slaughter of various categories of livestock, on the ground that their meat may be dangerous for human consumption and could lead to a dangerous build-up of radioactive material that could be bad for human health. On each occasion that I have been in Committee, I have asked the Minister what advice his officials and the academic experts could give about how much longer the controls would have to remain effective. My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said that a number of farms in his constituency on the Isle of Arran have been subject to controls on movement for some time. I acknowledge that it is now accepted by all concerned that restrictions are being applied efficiently and fairly by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. We welcome that, and the fact that people receive compensation when they need it. Nevertheless, it must be a forlorn sort of business trying to run a farm producing sheep for the market or to move into the production chain further down the hill if people are required continually, year after year, to go through the business of marking batches of stock, keeping records of how long they have been 6 on the farm and having them monitored before they can be moved on to market. It must prove a great nuisance for farmers. While it is right that restrictions should apply in the public interest, the Government owe it to producers and to the general public who wish to buy lamb and other meat products to give consistent advice and information about how long the restrictions ought to continue in force. It is relevant that we are sitting 24 hours after the Government announced the construction of yet another nuclear power station at Sizewell. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North and I have nuclear power stations in our constituencies. We are not opposed root and branch to nuclear power. However, there is alarm about the possible consequences of accidents which may occur at nuclear power stations. An accident happened at Chernobyl, and the many assurances that have been given over the years that nothing can possibly go wrong have been undermined by the experiences of the past three years. We are talking of caesium, a material that has a half life of 30 years.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn: (Perth and Kinross): The problem that we are dealing with arose from an accident at a Russian nuclear power station. The Russian authorities have made it clear that they will not stop building nuclear power stations. It is not a question of whether we build safe ones; they will continue to build unsafe ones.

Mr. Home Robertson: Would to God that life was that simple. Power in all forms, nuclear or otherwise, is inherently dangerous, otherwise it would not be power. According to Murphy's law, which may have run through this House, what can happen will happen. It happened in the Soviet Union, and what happened there could happen at any nuclear installation anywhere. It came within an ace of happening in the United States. There were near misses in this country some years ago. However, I do not intend to be deflected into generalities about the danger of nuclear power stations. When accidents happen, we need to know the full implications for the environment, farming and food chains. In particular, we need guidance from the Government. They have had three years in which to study the physical and technical implications of Chernobyl and its knock-on effect in Britain. By now the Government must have a reasonable idea, on the basis of scientific studies, about the level of contamination of land and pasture, the nature of the contamination and how long it will be before contamination is reduced to an acceptable and safe level. I am still waiting for the Minister to answer that question. I have asked it repeatedly in the past. Now that another year has gone by, perhaps he can make an educated stab at it. Unfortunately I did not see the Channel 4 television programme to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North referred, but I have a report about the research for the programme from The Guardian of 28 January and if it is in order, Sir John, I shall read a few paragraphs. The report says: 7 "Radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl disaster nearly three years ago is up to 40 times greater than the Government has admitted, according to an independent radiation survey in Scotland. Aerial monitoring carried out last month by the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre at East Kilbride, near Glasgow, has discovered disturbingly high levels of radioactive caesium from the Russian accident in two selected areas. On the hillsides immediately to the north of Loch Rannoch and the village of Kinloch Rannoch in Perth and Kinross, levels of between 20,000 and 40,000 bq/sq m were detected. The Government's estimate for the area, based on rainfall patterns, is between 500 and 1,000 becquerels. In two small areas north of the loch, levels of between 40,000 and 47,000 bq/sq m were found. This is estimated to be about 10 times greater than the level which has led to a ban on the consumption of lamb." I understand that there is no ban affecting the neighbourhood to which the report referred. The article continues: "Deer graze in the area and there is concern about the possible long-term contamination of venison. Sheep and cattle are farmed on surrounding land, which has not been surveyed. In another rural area, between Tinto Hill and Carstairs, about 30 miles south-east of Glasgow." —in Clydesdale— "levels of between 5,000 and 15,000 bq sq m were found. The Government's figure is between 1,000 and 5,000." The Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre is an independent, highly respected and, I understand, Government-funded research body. It is not a bunch of wild-eyed people with an axe to grind—rather the contrary, in my experience. The centre is part of the nuclear set-up and it is not in its interests to go scaremongering about the nuclear industry and its problems. The survey carried out by the centre has found what appears to be a significantly high level of contamination not only in areas covered by the existing restrictions but in areas not covered by them. The results raise questions about whether the Government's method of research and surveying is as good as it should be, given that they could have used the facilities available at the East Kilbride centre. The centre undertook an aerial survey rather than the so-called radioactive incident monitoring network based on 80 fixed ground monitors around the country, which the Government are now installing. It appears that a better job is done by aerial surveying, which is used in Sweden. Three years on I ask the Minister whether it is too much to hope that the Government are learning by experience. Can they tell us a bit more about how long the restrictions are likely to continue? Can we hope for a more efficient method of surveying and a more prompt response to the sort of problems that were experienced after Chernobyl?

10.49 am

Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West): I am particularly concerned that the fact that the Soviet Union is the real culprit responsible has not been drawn to the Committee's attention. I can speak from experience. On 26 April 1986 I was in Poland. I travelled across Poland into East Germany and down to Berlin, and came through Berlin about four or five days later into the Western sector. It is an outrage that having arrived in West Berlin we were told only 8 then, five or six days later, of the Chernobyl disaster. It was not made public by the Soviet authorities and little opportunity was given officially to countries such as ours to implement measures. A full and frank exchange of information is needed when such disasters happen, because they do not recognise territorial boundaries. Having read the measure, I believe that Her Majesty's Government took immediate action when this event took place. They have continued monitoring, taken constructive measures and done everything possible to allay fears outside the designated areas. The measure is good, and should be renewed until the curse from Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 has been removed. I join the Minister in commending the measure to the Committee.

10.52 am

Mr. Forsyth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) who made a most important point, that one of the difficulties post-Chernobyl was in obtaining information about what had occurred. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) criticised the Rimmet System—the radioactive incidence monitoring network, which produces an early alarm bell should an accident which is not reported immediately occur in any country overseas. The purpose of the monitoring system is not to provide detailed information about levels of radiation in Scotland or in any other part of the United Kingdom. Its purpose—apart from providing an alarm should radiation levels rise above what would be expected from background counts—is to ensure that detailed, on-the-ground investigations can be carried out and taken together with meteorological data which will be available through the usual sources. The debate has concentrated on a television programme, a snippet of an article in The Guardian and sensational, irresponsible coverage in some Scottish Sunday newspapers, including Scotland on Sunday which had as its front-page headline, "Radiation cover-up row". The basis of that report and of the questions asked by the hon. Members for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and East Lothian was that the Scottish Office was wrong about information on the levels of radiation in the food chain. We are anxious about public health and the level of radiation in the food chain, which has something to do with, but is not the same, as levels of radiation in the ground. There may be a dispute at the margin about the exact figures, but there is no dispute that on the higher, mountainous areas where the soil substructure is thin and the rainfall deposition may have been higher, the levels of radiation in the ground would not be anything other than higher than the average levels in a particular area. That is a most important point and it was obviously not clear in the minds of the hon. Members for Cunninghame, North and for East Lothian. The question asked was, why is it that in remote areas where there appear to be high levels of radiation, the sheep are not subject to restriction. The answer is that this order and our 9 whole approach has been to look at the levels of radiation in the sheep rather than in the ground because it is the radiation level in the sheep that is important in terms of protecting the food chain. The monitoring work that has been carried out in those areas of Perthshire that have become such a focus of attention for some newspapers and the media shows that there are no problems in respect of radiation levels in the sheep and there is therefore, no risk to the public and no source of public concern. The only way the public can be affected by the radiation is either by ingesting food or by direct radiation coming out of the ground—and of course the levels of that are so low that it does not represent a threat.

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles): Is the Minister able to state categorically that no sheep outwith the designated areas where the sheep are being monitored but within the areas that have been cited in his reports as having high radiation in the ground go directly into the food chain without first going into one of the designated areas and being monitored? Is he able to give that assurance?

Mr. Forsyth: We have monitoring systems in place where sheep are going to go to slaughter which will protect the food chain. Areas where we know the levels of radiation in sheep to be in excess of the 1,000 becquerels figure are subject to proper restrictions to ensure that the sheep do not leave the area without being marked so that they are properly controlled. The hon. Gentleman needs to focus his attention on the point at which the sheep are slaughtered and become available to the food chain, and there are proper protections there. As a safeguard, monitoring has been carried out in areas where, we know that the levels of radiation in the ground are high. Monitoring of the area in Perthshire which has caused so much concern has shown that the levels are low and below what we would expect.

Mr. Wilson rose—

Mr. Forsyth: I shall finish the point. The research that has been subject to so much attention was carried out by Professor Baxter, who is also carrying out a whole body monitoring progamme. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is not with us today because I know he would ask me about it as he always uses such occasions to raise the matter. The results of that work—which were reported in Scotland on Sunday in the same article—show that the levels of caesium in people in Scotland is considerably below what would have been anticipated from the Government's figures for the levels of radiation arising from deposition. So, Professor Baxter's results are entirely consistent with the view that has been expressed by the Government on public health and underline our view that we have protected the food chain from being infected by meat which has a radiation level above 1,000 bq/kg—and it is important to stress that that in itself does not represent any danger to public health. If one eats 5 kilogrammes of lamb a year, which is the average, at 1,000 bq/kg, it is equivalent to half one normal X-ray.

10

Mr. Wilson: The Minister said that testing had been carried out on sheep from the areas in Perthshire referred to in the documentary which suggested high radioactivity levels in the ground. Can he tell us when that testing was carried out?

Mr. Forsyth: I shall answer first the hon. Gentleman's general question, which was also asked by the hon. Member for East Lothian: why the research conducted by Professor Baxter established values that are 40 times higher than the Government's published figures. I have explained the contextual problem, that the levels have to be seen in relation to the food chain. The constant uptake of radiocaesium through the vegetation to the food chain is the important factor. Extensive monitoring of sheep was carried out in 1987 by the Scottish Office in the area that was surveyed by Professor Baxter. In general it showed no levels which gave cause for concern. However, in some areas in my constituency and in Central Region near to where Professor Baxter carried out his survey it was necessary to introduce restrictions. One the reasons why the sheep were monitored was that independent research commissioned by the Scottish Office revealed levels of deposition somewhat higher than those given in earlier published predictions. The results of that commissioned research will be published shortly; it was not completed until the latter part of last year. The highest value recorded in the independent research was 20,000 bq/sq m which compares with Professor Baxter's highest value of 40,000 bq/sq m. The numbers are not comparable. Professor Baxter's instruments were calibrated against a greater soil course of 30 cm deep whereas the survey funded by the Scottish Office referred to a soil course of only 7.5 cm deep. There is no great dispute that there are hot spots around the country where the soil shows higher levels of radiation than the average, but the public interest and the public health matter is related to the food chain. The assurances which the Government have given in that respect should be taken at face value. The suggestion that there has been some kind of cover-up is wholly irresponsible. The early data that was published was based on rain gauge monitoring around the country. The Scottish Office has taken steps to ensure that where there is any evidence of higher levels, appropriate research is commissioned and that the necessary action is taken to ensure that the food chain remains safe.

Mr. Home Robertson: The Minister has acknowledged that there are hot spots. In response to the sensitivity of the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) I do not greatly care what caused those hot spots. The fact remains that they exist. I should like an assurance from the Minister that there has been a comprehensive survey of Scotland and that all the possible hot spots have now been located. Would he answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson): were the sheep from Rannoch and Carstairs monitored and tested before or after the newspaper reports came out?

11

Mr. Forsyth: As far as I am aware, the newspaper reports came out over the weekend. I have just told the hon. Gentleman that the monitoring was carried out in 1987, which would seem to be before the newspaper reports. I explained to the hon. Gentleman that we carried out sheep monitoring in those areas as soon as our research showed that there might be high levels of radiation there. My acknowledgement that there are hot spots around Scotland is no great revelation. The Scottish Office made it clear from the outset that the rain gauge monitoring was limited and that there would be further monitoring on the ground. It said that variations in the patterns of radiation level would take account of rainfall deposition, the nature of vegetation and the soil substructure. The fact that the radar system in Glasgow was not functioning when the plume came over made it more difficult for the scientists and the officials from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to identify likely hot spots. I am sure that the hon. Member for East Lothian was right to say that Professor Baxter had no axe to grind. Professor Baxter is, however, keen to obtain funding for aerial monitoring and will continue to press the case for it. In that respect he will find that the Government see some possibilities for aerial monitoring in emergencies such as the Chernobyl disaster, so that a picture of the position around the country could be obtained. However, there is no need to carry out aerial monitoring at present, as there is no problem other than the post-Chernobyl problem. As I said, we have commissioned the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology to carry out a survey, which we have extended from 79 to 156 sites. A progress report was submitted on that work in May 1988. The idea that there is a cover-up could not be further from the truth. We have a record for publishing material and for taking a responsible attitude in the presentation of that material.

Mr. Macdonald: The Minister rightly identified the key problem: to ensure that no sheepmeat containing radiation above the 1,000 becquerel level enters the food chain. In response to my earlier question, the Minister said that sheep from outwith designated areas but within areas that have recently registered radiation in the ground—the so-called hot spots—are tested before they enter the food chain. Those sheep may have moved into designated lowland areas or may have gone directly into the food chain. Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that, even if they go directly into the food chain, all sheep from outwith the designated areas but within the hot spots will enter slaughterhouses where radiation monitoring takes place before the meat enters the food chain?

Mr. Forsyth: Areas where radiation in the soil is higher than average will be investigated by officials and the sheep will be monitored. If levels of radiation in the sheep are too high, the area will be brought within the scope of the order that we are discussing. In one case, we had to designate some new areas because the radiation was taken up by the vegetation and ingested by the sheep.

12

Mr. Macdonald: Does that mean that the areas referred to as hot spots will be investigated in that way and that the sheep will be examined?

Mr. Forsyth: As soon as we were aware that high levels of radiation in the soil had hit the headlines, that area was monitored and no such problems were revealed. If a sheep with a higher level than 1,000 bq/kg were to get through all those protections, it would be monitored at the slaughterhouse. The last time that I considered this matter there had been one case out of the many thousands of sheep that go through the slaughterhouse, and that was at an early stage in this procedure. So the hon. Member for Western Isles can rest assured. I shall take the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North at his word. I hope that on the basis of the information I have given, he will tell those people in the media who have seen this as a good story and who have created unnecessary alarm that there is no cause for alarm and no question of any cover-up and that we shall continue the research that is necessary in the interests of public health. To answer the hon. Member for East Lothian, those arrangements will continue for as long as is necessary to protect the public's health.

11.11 am

Mr. Wilson: I shall try to be brief, but several points have to be made. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and I were clear about the difference between soil monitoring and radiation levels in sheep. Our understanding, which was confirmed by what the Minister said, was that soil monitoring was carried out. We were therefore comparing like with like when contrasting the figures adduced in the television document, based on research by the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre, and those which the Government had previously reported.

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman was not comparing like with like. The figures that we published initially were based on the rain gauge monitoring. From that we went on to consider particular areas of the country and to carry out monitoring on the ground. The Institute of Terrestrial Ecology's soil research at 176 sites in Scotland was with a slightly different depth of soil from the work of Professor Baxter, but it produced data that, although not comparable, was broadly consistent.

Mr. Wilson: That is helpful and confirms the point that I was going to make. We understand the difference between soil and animal readings, but we question the methodology used to obtain the soil readings and the published figures. The findings were roughly similar, but the contrast between 20,000 and 40,000 becquerels is—

Mr. Home Robertson: Significant.

Mr. Wilson: Yes, 100 per cent. People have difficulty in distinguishing one becquerel from a million becquerels, but when they hear about a 13 reported difference of 100 per cent. they sense, rightly or wrongly, that something is amiss. It would be reasonable for the public to assume that there is a correlation between soil readings and readings of the levels of radioactivity found in livestock. If there has been a disparity in soil readings between the findings of the Government and those of independent research, people might conclude, rightly or wrongly, that that should be reflected in the livestock findings. We have no intention of scaremongering, nor is there any suggestion of a cover-up, which the Minister seemed anxious to deny without that being suggested. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields suggested that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland was laid back and lax in the post-Chernobyl period. I shall not go into that, but there is nothing in our remarks this morning that implies a cover-up. However, we are entitled to question the methodology and the conclusions. Will the Minister tell us whether any monitoring of sheep from the apparent hot spots in Perthshire and Lanarkshire has been carried out since the newspaper reports? The levels could have built up since the original monitoring was carried out. It may be unreasonable to expect that to have happened already, so I shall ask whether such testing will be carried out in the future? It is worth pointing out that one of the hot spots in Yorkshire was only identified and acknowledged by the Government after the local media had drawn attention to it, so we must not rubbish the efforts of the media. There is public anxiety. Governments sometimes get it wrong, too. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian asked how long the restrictions will continue. That is a practical question that affects many farmers in Scotland and parts of England. Farmers in my constituency in the Isle of Arran want to know how long the considerable difficulties that such restrictions cause will continue. The Minister is far too busy disrupting the Health Service and so on to have a detailed understanding of such matters, but perhaps he will tell us how long scientists think that the restrictions should remain in force. I have no doubt that the record of our debate this morning will be scanned by people with a great deal more technical expertise than anyone in this Committee, except the civil servants. They will make judgments on whether what the Minister has said is adequate to meet the anxieties expressed in the press. It has been useful to have the debate. We should have failed in our duty if we had not tried to draw out a Government statement on their attitude to recent reports in the media. Whether their response is held to be accurate will be decided not so much by this Committee but by those who read the report of this debate.

Mr. Home Robertson: I do not wish to prolong the proceedings but will the Minister confirm that the Government are not concentrating all their monitoring and enforcement efforts on the existing restricted areas and that they are still examining sheep that are presented to slaughter houses from 14 other parts of Scotland where there is a risk of contamination?

11.20 am

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) made much play of the difference between 20,000 becquerels and 40,000 becquerels. I tried to explain that the results were consistent but not compatible. Professor Baxter's instruments were calibrated for a different part of the country and his survey was related to a soil depth of 30 cm, whereas that of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology related to a depth of 7.5 cm. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North says that the differences in levels amount to 100 per cent., but by the same token the differences in soil depths amount to 400 per cent., so there is not much mileage in his case. The hon. Gentleman said, too, that neither he and the rest of the Opposition nor anyone else had suggested a cover-up. Perhaps he would like to go to the Library and look up the edition of Scotland on Sunday that I mentioned. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North says that that is a dreadful paper. I repeat that charge so that it will appear on the record. The front-page article, which is headed, "Radiation 'cover-up' row", says: "As the Government quickly denied any failures in detecting radiation, the Shadow Agriculture Minister, Dr. David Clark, accused it of a cover-up." No doubt the hon. Gentleman will write to the newspaper saying that it is no part of the Opposition's view that there has been a cover-up. I shall try again to deal with the question about how long the situation will last. I can add nothing to what I have already said. It will last as long as is necessary in the interests of public health. I was asked whether there was any continuous monitoring. We have a number of marker farms. I take a considerable interest in the matter because my constituency is affected. Indeed, one of the marker farms is in my constituency. The monitoring has shown a fall in radiation levels, as one would expect. The problem is that the caesium was taken up from the subsoil by the plants, which concentrated it and were then eaten by the sheep. That produced a peak level. We should expect that process to have followed through now, causing levels to fall.

Mr. Home Robertson: The Minister has kindly explained that one of the marker farms is in his constituency. Is he prepared to disclose the locations of the marker farms, or at least the parishes in which they lie? He could write to us if he cannot tell us now.

Mr. Forsyth: If the hon. Gentleman tables a written question I shall try to answer it to the best of my ability. The results from the marker farms show a fall in radiation levels. We are committed to ensuring that we not only protect public health but learn the lessons of that unique experience. When I read all the stuff that is written and said about the scientists and officials who work so hard to protect the public interest I sometimes get a little depressed, because there is no acknowledgment of the fact that the 15 experience was unprecedented and unique. Even with the benefit of hindsight—always a great advantage—one can conclude that those people did a good job.

Mr. Macdonald: Before he finishes, will the Minister answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) about monitoring? Can he assure us that the monitoring of sheep to which he referred was not the monitoring that was referred to for 1987, and that since the hot spots have recently been identified there has been or will be further monitoring?

Mr. Forsyth: I was trying to make it clear that the evidence from the marker farms suggests that radiation levels are falling. There has been no direct monitoring, but all the indications are that there was no problem before and that the general profile is of declining radiation levels; so monitoring would not 16 be appropriate. Perhaps I can reassure the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) by saying that I shall discuss what he has said with the Department. On the basis of the information available to me I see no reason for such monitoring to be undertaken. I believe that the order protects the public interest. Everything possible has been done to learn the lessons of Chernobyl. I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989, No. 3).

Committee rose at twenty-four minutes past Eleven o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Stradling Thomas, Sir John (Chairman)

Blackburn, Dr.

Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas

Forsyth, Mr. Michael

Hampson, Dr.

Hanley, Mr.

Knowles, Mr.

Macdonald, Mr.

Maclean, Mr.

McTaggart, Mr.

Marland, Mr.

Oppenheim, Mr.

Wilson, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(2):

Home Robertson, Mr. John (East Lothian)