28 August 2001
NFU denies virus inquiry U-turn

By FWi staff

THE National Farmers Union has denied a U-turn after supporting a new campaign which aims to force a full public inquiry into foot-and-mouth.

NFU leaders are backing a campaign by Conservative MP Bill Cash who hopes to present a multi-million signature petition to Parliament later this year.

Mr Cash wants members of the public to sign their name to an official form of words which he will then formally put forward as a parliamentary petition.

The Tory MP for Stroud hopes other MPs from all parties will join him and force the government to bow to popular pressure on the issue.

The petition calls for an inquiry to be held under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act 1921 which could compel witnesses to give evidence on oath.

Mr Cash said the three inquiries already announced by the government were completely inadequate to deal with the situation.

His campaign, which was launched on Monday (28 August), already has the support of four rural organisations, including the National Farmers Union.

NFU head of parliamentary affairs Barney Holbeche denied that the union had conducted a U-turn by deciding to back the campaign.

Our position has developed over the last few weeks. We have been looking at this very carefully, he said.

Mr Holbeche said the union was particularly concerned about Dr Iain Andersons inquiry into the handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

This was because he would be sitting without a committee and his secretariat was from the Cabinet Office which was too close to home.

For all these reasons, there is some doubt that the inquiry which has been announced can do the job, said Mr Holbeche.

Organisations supporting the campaign will be mailing out 350,000 copies of the petition to their members over the coming weeks.

Organisers stress that only an official petition form can be used the rules of Public Petitions state that additional petition sheets must be uniform.

Errors, alterations and erasures are also not permitted.

Other backers are the Countryside Alliance, the Country Land and Business Association, and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation..

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