Memorandum by the National Foot & Mouth Group (GBI 23)We would be grateful if the Committee would have regard to the following issues when preparing its report relating to the above matter.
The National Foot & Mouth Group submitted detailed written and oral evidence to all the Inquiries set up by the UK Government in relation to the UK Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001. We were also fully involved in the EU Parliament FMD Inquiry.
We submit the following in relation to the manner in which the Government's Lessons Learned Inquiry was conducted. It is our contention that the way the Inquiry was conducted militated against many of the key issues being raised, investigated and appraised. As a result the Inquiry procedure has not fulfilled its brief and many of the lessons of the 2001 FMD experience have not been learned.
Our representation is based on our experiences of that Inquiry.
1. CONTEXT AND PRINCIPLES
In order to fully identify and assess the relevant issues involved the Inquiry needed to be transparent and open. However from Day 1 we did not know who had been called to give evidence, what that evidence was, and whether it had been subject to the appropriate questioning to test and determine its validity.
Unlike a Public Inquiry process; where the scope and remit of an Inquiry is determined in a pre-inquiry meeting where statements of case are presented, with the Lessons Learned Inquiry we had no way of knowing what issues were to be raised by the Government in determining its response to the Inquiry, nor what the Government's position on these issues would be.
It should be noted that the only statements of the Government's stance prior to and during the Inquiry had been by way of press releases, statements to the House or press coverage of Ministerial statements and Government advisers during and since the epidemic.
Unlike a Public Inquiry process, there was no disclosure of written or oral evidence from any witnesses either in advance of the Inquiry—or even during the Inquiry.
Most importantly the Lessons Learned Inquiry allowed no examination or questioning of either written or oral statements of any of the Government representatives, advisers or agencies in order to assess their validity or veracity.
We are still of the view that much of the evidence presented on behalf of the Government has not been subject to objective analysis, examination and assessment by those competent so to do.
2. SELECTION OF THOSE CALLED TO GIVE EVIDENCE TO THE INQUIRY
We do not know what mechanism was used to select which witnesses were called to give evidence to the Inquiry.
However it is apparent that, with the exception of our organisation and one other, the remaining witnesses were all those that had been involved in delivering the Government's policies and responses to the epidemic.
We append at Appendix 1the list published by the Lessons Learned Inquiry of those called to give evidence. It is evident that the vast majority were drawn from Government offices, Government advisers or Government agencies.
Most notable in its exceptions is that of Dr Paul Kitching. As Head of FMD at the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright when the disease first appeared on 19 February 2001 he was immediately involved in advising the Government on disease control.
He continued to advise MAFF, the Chief Veterinary Officer and the Minister, Nicholas Brown, for the first eight critical weeks of the epidemic, until his departure to take up a pre-arranged post at Winnipeg University.
Dr Kitching presented evidence to the EU Inquiry which was critical of the UK handling of the disease—and yet he was not called to give evidence to Lessons Learned.
We append the transcript of this evidence—Appendix 2It was, and is, of fundamental importance in determining the lessons of the 2001 epidemic to establish whether the right policies had been pursued. It was therefore crucial to the Inquiry that such evidence should have been heard.
Our contention is that the Government Inquiry failed to take evidence from those with differing views to that of the Government.
In addition, there were several scientists and leading members of the veterinary profession who had expressed deep concerns and reservations at the policies adopted by the Government in controlling the epidemic, and they too were not called to give evidence. However they were called to the EU Inquiry. See our letter to the PM of 24 July 2002 already submitted to the Select Committee for details of this.
In failing to take account of differing and dissenting views than those that were being expressed by the Government and its advisers the Inquiry process has failed to fully assess many of the key issues.
Many of these issues were contentious during the outbreak and have continued to give rise to subsequent concerns; namely in relation to the costs of the epidemic and in regard to what actions would be taken in the event of a future outbreak.
As yet they still remain unresolved. It is worth noting that only in the past week the EU had determined not to pay the UK compensation for many of the costs incurred during 2001. Only one third of the sum claimed by the UK will now be paid by the EU.
In failing to take into consideration the expert witness of those who questioned the efficacy of the adopted policies and the manner in which those policies were executed, the Inquiry has omitted significant and relevant information from its investigation.
The Government Inquiry mechanism is not capable of delivering true and accurate findings if it cannot take into consideration and assess those views at variance to those of the Government.
3. LACK OF INDEPENDENCE
The Lessons Learned Inquiry was conducted under the auspices of the Cabinet Office. It never felt free of Government control or independent in exercising its duties. We have already raised the issues of those called to give evidence and the closed nature of the Inquiry. Our experience of dealing with the Lessons Learned Inquiry was in total contrast to that afforded by the European Parliament Inquiry.
The European Inquiry was accessible to all those wishing to submit evidence. All written evidence was made available on a dedicated web site. Oral sessions were held in public and were freely reported in the press. We were asked on two occasions to take part in EU Parliament Inquiry hearings. The EU Parliament also took oral evidence from us during two open sessions in the UK; extending its number of visits here to specifically take oral evidence from the Group.
By contrast it was extremely difficult to gain access to the Lessons Learned meetings, entrance was by invitation only and were not open to the press. We append two letters sent to the Inquiry on the matter. Firstly, that we had no notice of its private visit to Gloucestershire. We subsequently had to obtain tickets and travel to Builth Wells—a 200 mile round trip—to take part in the only meeting in the area. We then wrote again to the Inquiry asking for a meeting as we had only two minutes to raise our concerns in Builth Wells. Appendices 355 and 3a55.
When we were eventually afforded an oral session with the Inquiry we did not meet Dr Anderson, but the secretary and two assistants. The report that the Lessons Learned Inquiry then prepared of our two hour session was so brief as to be meaningless. It was sent to us for agreement only days before the report was published.
After several emails and phone calls the secretariat did eventually agree to an extended report—we append both the LLI draft and the final version to demonstrate this and to show the detail of issues raised and the cursory manner in which the LLI wished to represent them. Appendices 455 & 555.
This organisation, many others and individuals felt completely disillusioned and let down by the Lessons Learned Inquiry and its modus operandi. We were indeed very grateful to the EU Parliament for conducting such an open and transparent investigation which properly assessed the issues and addressed the concerns.
Having witnessed at first hand the economic, social and personal costs which ensued from the adopted policies none of us who presented evidence wanted to endure or undergo the experiences of 2001 ever again.
However the aspect which most concerns us is that the purpose of the Government's Lesson Learned Inquiry has not been met; ie to assess what lessons must be learnt to ensure we are in a better position to respond should another FMD outbreak occur.
In excluding so much expert witness evidence and by conducting the Inquiry in private the Inquiry failed to fully and properly investigate the efficacy and validity of the adopted policies and their execution.
In addition the Inquiry chose to completely ignore the empirical data which we submitted to demonstrate the failure of the adopted policies and their ensuing cost. Several scientific papers have now emerged, including those commissioned by Defra, which further demonstrate that the adopted control measures and, in particular, the contentious pre-emptive culls, were not the best way for the epidemic to have been handled in the 2001 epidemic.
It would indeed be timely for a proper, open and fully independent Inquiry to now be conducted to fully assess the matter—and for lessons truly to be learnt.
If Government inquiries are to have a meaningful role we urge that the Public Administration Select Committee ensures that future Government Inquiries are open, transparent and independent of Government influence and, most importantly, seen to be so.
We append the various documents referred to in our submission and would be grateful if the Select Committee would also have regard to our letter to the PM submitted by Nicholas Soames MP on our behalf and already presented to the Select Committee by Mr Liddell-Grainger