27 July 2001
Minister takes mid-crisis holiday

By Donald MacPhail and Mike Stones

MARGARET Beckett will be away from her desk for the next five weeks while Britain fights foot-and-mouth disease.

The Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has left on a fortnights holiday.

And when she returns Mrs Beckett is not scheduled to resume ministerial responsibilities until September.

A DEFRA spokeswoman said that there would be ministerial cover while Mrs Beckett was away, and that she could be recalled if required.

News of this emerged as the battle to control foot-and-mouth enters a critical stage and concerns grow that the disease may be spreading out of control.

Some 4000 sheep are being slaughtered on common land in the Brecon Beacons in Wales amid fears that the virus is widespread among hefted flocks there.

And there are reports that the government is considering vaccinating stock in Thirsk in North Yorkshire to halt the spread of foot-and-mouth.

In nearby Kirby Knowe government officials ordered a gamekeeper to shoot 12 wild deer following suspicions that they may have contracted the virus.

A DEFRA spokeswoman said: “It is true that Mrs Beckett will be away until September, but there will be a duty minister and if anything needs her attention she can be contacted.”

Conservative farming spokesman James Paice said Mrs Becketts extended break showed the governments contempt for farmers.

“If Margaret Beckett is not due to be working in her office until September, that shows the governments true attitude towards farming,” said Mr Paice.

The Cambridge south east MP was speaking at the Country Land and Business Association Game Fair, Shuttleworth, Old Warden Park, Bedfordshire on Friday (27 July).

He also criticised the DEFRA for failing to send a minister to the fair, the UKs largest outdoor countryside event this year.

The Game Fair continues over Saturday and Sunday.

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Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage