22 June 2001

Independent F&M inquiry on cards

AN independent inquiry into the foot-and-mouth disease crisis could begin before the end of the year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister Margaret Beckett has said.

Mrs Beckett told journalists that farmers needed a thorough review of the problems that had occurred and they needed answers without delay. But she would not be drawn on whether a full public inquiry – similar to the BSE inquiry – would be called.

Meanwhile on a visit to the north-east newly-appointed government chief whip Hilary Armstrong dismissed the idea of a public inquiry as "a waste of money".

She said: "I will certainly be arguing that the epidemic is investigated thoroughly but public inquiries are expensive and they go on forever.

On his first outing as DEFRA junior minister Lord Whitty confirmed to Devon farmers that there would be an inquiry into the foot-and-mouth epidemic soon after the disease was cleared up, and a speedy conclusion would be demanded.

He added sympathetic words for those who were suffering saying he understood many farmers were in financial difficulties but was heartened by a generally positive attitude to the longer term. "The vast majority will survive", he said. &#42