9 March 2001
Royal Commission to probe farming?

By Johann Tasker

TONY BLAIR is considering setting up a Royal Commission on Agriculture to help overhaul British farming in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The revelation follows a recent speech at which the Prime Minister said he wanted to work out a sustainable way forward for the farming industry.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown has already announced a major review of safeguards to reduce disease risk once foot-and-mouth is under control.

That inquiry will focus heavily on livestock markets in the belief that the spread of foot-and-mouth is largely due to sheep movements through auctions.

But the government, which has proved unpopular with farmers since coming to power in 1997, is eager to build bridges as the General Election approaches.

Setting up a Royal Commission while farmers struggle with yet another crisis would allow Labour to be seen to deal with agriculture in a non-political manner.

A Royal Commission is an advisory committee set up by the government to investigate a specific topic which ministers believe warrants special attention.

A Downing Street spokesman said he was unaware of any plans for an inquiry into farming

But Mr Blair said during a speech at Hartpury Agricultural College, Gloucestershire last Thursday (1 March) that he wanted to review Britains farming industry.

“I think we need to sit down with the industry and really work out what is the basis on which we want sustainable farming for the long-term,” said Mr Blair.

One consultant with close links to MAFF said he had since received four separate inquiries asking how to submit evidence to a Royal Commission.

Some of the Prime Ministers closest advisers have already presented their own plans to rebuild Britains farming industry once foot-and-mouth is over.

Lord Haskins, the Labour peer and one of Mr Blairs closest advisers, made various suggestions in an article for The Guardian earlier this week.

Lord Haskins later told FARMERS WEEKLY: “I would be disappointed if a government review didnt take on board at least some of my recommendations.”

First, however, the government will investigate how increased world travel, trade globalisation and modern farming may have spread foot-and-mouth.

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