9 August 2001
Beckett defends inquiry decision

By FWi staff

RURAL Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett has defended the governments decision not to hold a public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Holding three independent inquiries will be quicker and cheaper than a single public inquiry, she told journalists in London on Thursday (09 August).

“People have tended focus on the public inquiry which has a specific legal meaning, takes a long time and costs a lot of money,” she said.

An “inquiry process” rather than an “all-singing all-dancing public inquiry” was “the most effective way, the speediest way and the most cost-effective way.”

The three inquiries will focus on the governments handling of the epidemic, a scientific review and a commission on the future of the farming industry.

A three-pronged approach will make information available sooner, rather than having to wait for the results of an over-arching public inquiry, said Mrs Beckett.

The epidemic inquiry will be completed within six months of starting but will not begin until it is clear it will not distract from the eradication foot-and-mouth

It may include some public sessions and findings will be published.

But the three inquiries fall short of the full public inquiry demanded by many farmers and it is unlikely that all the evidence will be made public.

Mrs Beckett said this had been the case in previous inquiries and rejected accusations that her decision amounted to a government cover-up.

“There will be some people who say there is a cover-up whatever sort of inquiry we have,” she said.

The scientific study should be ready by the end of the year. The commission on the future of farming is due to present its conclusions by next summer.