29 March 2002

Tories attack cover-up in

F&Minquiries evidence

By Philip Clarke and

Isabel Davies

FURIOUS opposition MPs have branded governments evidence to two foot-and-mouth disease inquiries as a "cover-up" and a "shabby attempt at re-writing history".

Calls for a full public inquiry have been re-ignited after written evidence, defending the governments handling of the epidemic, was submitted to the Lessons Learned inquiry into F&M last Friday (Mar 22).

Remarks made by former farm minister Nick Brown on Tuesday (Mar 26) to the European Parliaments temporary committee, set up to assess the handling of the outbreak, have also drawn fire.

Mr Brown faced severe criticism from MEPs who questioned his governments refusal to hold a public inquiry and the UKs lax checks at airports.

But he defended the line taken on vaccination, stressing he had listened to all of the arguments and kept the possibility under constant review. "It is my firm belief that the approach we took saved the lives of many animals. Had we had done otherwise the disease would have spread further and lasted longer," he said.

As well as being opposed by farmers and supermarkets, vaccination would have compromised blood testing procedures which were crucial to regaining international F&M-free status, he added.

Tory MEP, Robert Sturdy, accused Mr Brown of giving an Oscar-winning performance for waffling. "He was blatantly covering up for the government, was very defensive of a poor policy and was evasive about animal welfare and slaughter policy."

Mr Browns appearance before the committee came only days after the government released its 141-page submission to the Lessons Learned inquiry.

The report, which takes the form of a government memorandum, describes what happened during the outbreak and explains why policy decisions were made.

In it the government admits there are things it would do differently if it happened again. Junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty said: "Undoubtedly there are some things that with hindsight we would do differently or better."

But the overall tone of the report is more positive, referring to "our success in controlling the disease". Lord Whitty also drew attention to the fact the outbreak was of an unprecedented scale. "The UK regaining F&M-free status less than a year after the start of such a major outbreak was a tremendous achievement for all concerned," he said.

But Peter Ainsworth Tory rural affairs spokesman described the document as "loaded with complacency and peppered with evasion".

"This government has the effrontery to imply it did a pretty good job. This is another shabby attempt at rewriting history through spin," said Mr Ainsworth.

Malcolm Bruce rural affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the submission was a whitewash as it failed to address key questions. &#42

"The failure of the gvernment to address these questions highlights the need for a public inquiry, despite the recent High Court ruling against this," he said.