Tories back call for Foot and Mouth Inquiry
Ministers are to face a fresh grilling over the Government's decision to suppress vital evidence from the official foot and mouth inquiry when the Conservatives stage a full Commons debate on the issue next week. Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Theresa May will renew calls for a full public inquiry into the 2001 disaster when she opens the debate on the Government's handling of animal health issues.
The debate will put a spotlight on the Government's decision to suppress a report in which state vet Jim Dring said he could have prevented the £8 billion disaster.
Mr Dring's report, which was exposed by the WMN last month, concluded that the foot and mouth crisis "would never have come about" if his inspection of Bobby Waugh's Northumberland pig farm in the weeks leading up to the outbreak had been "more rigorous".
But it was never submitted to the official "lessons learned" inquiry into foot and mouth chaired by Dr Iain Anderson, after officials at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) intervened.
This week, Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett said an internal Defra investigation had cleared ministers and officials of any attempt to "mislead" Dr Anderson.
However, Mrs May said many questions remained unanswered.
She said the decision to hold an internal inquiry without telling anyone was unlikely to inspire confidence.
She added: "The news that an internal investigation has cleared everyone will come as no reassurance at all to the many farmers who want to get to the truth.
"It is only a few weeks since another internal investigation cleared another Government minister (Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes) only for her to be forced to resign after fresh evidence came to light a few days later.
"The Government must now act to dispel the impression that there has been a cover-up by opening itself up to a truly independent inquiry into foot and mouth.
"We need the facts to be made available so that those in the rural community who suffered so much can make their own judgment."
Mrs May said the decision to hold the debate was the "direct result" of a meeting between Tory leader Michael Howard and WMN editor Barrie Williams earlier this month at which the Government's handling of Mr Dring's report was discussed. At the time Mr Howard told the WMN he was disturbed by the Government's behaviour.
"This is yet another example of a very familiar pattern with this Government," he said.
"When something is put to them which is inconvenient, first they deny it, then they try to cover it up, and finally they have to admit it."
The debate promises to be uncomfortable for ministers who have frequently changed their story on the handling of Mr Dring's report.
Mrs Beckett initially appeared to suggest that the report was never intended for the Anderson Inquiry, telling MPs the 12,000-word document was merely private "musings" or "notes he made for himself". But she has now conceded that it would have been "preferable" if Mr Dring's "statement" had been submitted to Dr Anderson.
Ministers are also likely to face questions about whether other documents were withheld from the Anderson Inquiry. Food and Farming Minister Lord Whitty told peers last month that he could not guarantee other documents had been suppressed.
Opposition MPs are likely to raise a series of questions about whether the Government has fully learned the lessons of the events of 2001. Despite widespread concerns about illegal meat imports only six sniffer dogs have been introduced to guard Britain's ports and airports.