Dr Cunningham called for all concerned to co-operate fully with the inquiry; and confirmed that serving and retired public officials would be expected to do so. He also informed the House that the Prime Minister had written to the leader of the Opposition, and to the Rt Hon the Lord Callaghan, the Rt Hon Baroness Thatcher and the Rt Hon Member for Huntingdon, John Major, about the release of papers of previous administrations to the inquiry.
Dr Cunningham said,
"BSE has had the gravest human consequences. The scientific evidence we now have provides convincing evidence that the agent which causes BSE is the same as that which causes the new variant of Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease. This dreadful disease has already cost the lives of more than 20 people, many of them young adults. BSE has also threatened the livelihood of thousands of people throughout the farming and food industries; it has cost the taxpayer huge sums; and it has caused considerable difficulties in our international relations. It has been, literally, a disaster."
Present Ministers will play no part in the presentation of evidence to the inquiry by officials of their departments. The Government will not expect to comment on the course of the inquiry until Lord Justice Phillips' report has been received.
Commenting on this announcement the Secretary of State for Health Frank Dobson said:
"The decision to hold an inquiry will be especially welcome to the families of people who have suffered from nvCJD. They want to know how their loved ones came to contract this terrible disease. So do the rest of the people of this country. That's why it must be thoroughly investigated"
The terms of reference of Lord Justice Phillips' Inquiry are:
"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 off that response, taking into account 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."
The Inquiry will begin its work early in January. Organisations and individuals wishing to make representations can write to the Inquiry at 3 Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2HH or telephone, after 12 January 1998, on 0845 602 1013 (local rate call charges will apply).
Lord Justice Phillips will be supported in the Inquiry by a scientific assessor and by an assessor experienced in public administration. Their names will be announced in the New Year.