Foot and mouth Blair offers a 'proper' inquiry into epidemic

Foot and mouth Blair offers a 'proper' inquiry into epidemic

June 28, 2001 Daily Telegraph(London) by Michael Kallenbach

THE Government was again put under pressure to launch a full-scale public inquiry into the causes of foot and mouth so that lessons could be learnt.

It was the fourth time within a week that the Tories urged the Government to commit themselves to a "public" inquiry.

But Tony Blair instead offered a "proper" inquiry, without going into any details of its scope. He stopped short of making a commitment to a public inquiry on the outbreak.

William Hague said rural businesses faced ruin and urged the Government to make a commitment to a full public inquiry.

Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, he pointed out that losses to farmers were running at pounds 250 million a month. "It is the worst epidemic on record. Losses to tourism are estimated at pounds 5 billion this year and large parts of the countryside remain closed."

Mr Hague told Mr Blair: "There is huge suspicion in the countryside about how the epidemic began and how it was handled. The only way to allay those suspicions and find the truth is for a full, independent and public inquiry."

Mr Blair replied: "I have already said there will be a proper inquiry. The nature is a matter for a later time. The numbers of cases are way below what they were a few weeks ago."

He blamed the recent spread of new foot and mouth cases on movements of animals and agricultural trade vehicles from farm to farm.

Mr Blair added: "We can take every measure possible to eradicate the disease and we are doing that on the best scientific and veterinary advice. It is harder to do that unless every single proper measure of bio-security is taken." Mr Hague said: "It will not work to blame others if ministers are not prepared to be fully investigated in their own actions.

"Since the election, all ministers, except the Prime Minister himself, responsible for foot and mouth, have been removed and as a result are no longer accountable to this House for their previous actions.

"Without a full and independent public inquiry, the confidence of the countryside will not be restored and vital lessons for the future may not be learned."

Earlier, during Welsh Questions, the Tories accused the Government of not offering sufficient help to businesses affected by foot and mouth in Wales.

Nigel Evans, the Tory spokesman on Welsh issues, pointed out that companies relying on the tourist trade had seen business slump by 60 per cent and advance bookings had fallen by 63 per cent.

Paul Murphy, Welsh Minister, said: "I believe that the partnership between the Assembly, the Government and local authorities in Wales goes a long way to alleviate what is obviously a terrible situation in those areas."

Also during Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Hague and Mr Blair clashed on the issue of how to use the private sector in the Health Service.

"No wonder no one knows what the Government is really planning for the NHS," Mr Hague said.

He added that any reform of the NHS should be "straightforward and honest" and warned that Labour had raised such high expectations that it risked "deep disenchantment" if it failed.

Mr Blair told Mr Hague: "The distinction is between working with the private sector better to deliver health improvements and the privatisation you favour."

Charles Kennedy, the Lib Dem leader, said he was worried that the Government planned to "import the deficiencies" of the privatised Railtrack into other public services.

"Because nobody - and it's perfectly obvious looking at the faces of his own backbenchers at this first Prime Minister's Questions after the election victory - nobody, wants Railtrack issues imported into our wards and our classrooms." [PS]News: [ES]

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