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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 06:04 GMT 07:04 UK
Disease inquiry decision 'correct'
Dead sheep
Aftermath: Three separate inquiries will be held
The chairman of the inquiry into the handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis has defended the decision to hold three separate investigations into the outbreak.

Dr Iain Anderson rejected Conservative claims that the only way to uncover the truth of what happened would be to hold a single public inquiry.

He said he would have the freedom to call whoever he wanted as witnesses - including Prime Minister Tony Blair and environment secretary Margaret Beckett.


I will have the freedom to conduct this inquiry entirely as I see fit

Dr Iain Anderson
And he dismissed "silly" accusations that he would not be independent because he had previously worked as a special advisor to Mr Blair on millennium compliance issues.

Dr Anderson's comments came as the Tories renewed their attack on the government's decision to hold three inquiries into various aspects of the outbreak.

Tory leadership candidate Ian Duncan Smith said on Friday that the situation was a "mess".

But Dr Anderson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I will have the freedom to conduct this inquiry entirely as I see fit.

'Gaps'

"The judgment is that the best way to proceed now is to consult widely but not to do so in public. It is on these terms that I have agreed to undertake the inquiry.


The idea of separating them out smacks to me a little bit of evasion

Ian Duncan Smith

"I am satisfied that, following the approach I have outlined, we will have the best possible chance of extracting the lessons from the past and building on these lessons to set us out on the best track for the future."

He added: "I hardly think that chairing a previous task force rules one out from doing a job of this type."

Mr Duncan Smith, who is visiting the Devon County Show in Exeter, said that the idea of holding separate inquiries "smacks to me a little bit of evasion".

"We should have an inquiry which allows those inquiring to have full access to government ministers who were in charge of the foot-and-mouth outbreak at the time, and also the papers and officials.

"My concern about the three separate inquiries is there will be gaps between them. And some of those gaps are going to be the area that we want to know about.

"Information is going to fall between the gaps."

His visit to Devon comes after it emerged that 400 sheep have had to be culled in the county because they showed foot-and-mouth antibodies.

But a Defra spokesman said on Friday there were no signs of the live disease at the farm in Bideford, north Devon, which was therefore not being treated as an infected premise.

Inquiry details

The three inquiries into the government's handling of the outbreak, a scientific review and a commission on the future of farming and food, were announced on Thursday.

Margaret Beckett
Margaret Beckett: Resisted calls for public inquiry

The inquiry chaired by Dr Anderson will look at the handling of the crisis by the government in England, Scotland and Wales and whether any mistakes were made.

An inquiry into the future of farming and the balance between farming and rural communities in England will be undertaken by the policy commission.

There is already a similar review going on in Wales and the Scottish Executive are looking into having one of their own.

It was a manifesto promise by the government and will be chaired by Sir Don Curry, former head of the Meat and Livestock Commission.

The inquiry examining the scientific aspects of the disease will be carried out by the Royal Society and will look at how future epidemics can be prevented from breaking out in England, Scotland and Wales.

It will be chaired by Sir Brian Follett.

The president of the National Farmers Union, Ben Gill, has welcomed the fact that the inquiries were not just focusing on foot-and-mouth.

He said he did not see the need for a big public inquiry, which would, he said, ask lots of irrelevant questions.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
UK Agriculture Minister Elliot Morley
"Some people use inquiries to score points off the Government"
Prof Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University
"This is not going to satisfy all the people injured by foot-and-mouth"
See also:

03 Aug 01 | UK
Farm clean-ups to resume
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