A compilation of the FMD articles by Christopher Booker (and Dr Richard North) in the Telegraph newspaper.
Pleas to stop cull Sunday 25 March 2001
By Christopher Booker and David Harrison
THE planned mass slaughter of animals should be scrapped and replaced with a widespread programme of vaccination for cattle, according to a group of leading vets involved in the 1967 foot and mouth crisis.
They said that mass culling was no longer appropriate and that a different approach was needed to forestall an even greater disaster when cattle are moved out of their winter quarters on to grass in the coming weeks.
Ken Tyrrell, Shropshire's former chief vet and one of the group of veterans of the 1967 epidemic, said: "The cost of losing livestock exports from the ending of our disease-free status would be far lower than the price we would pay for losing a large part of our national cattle herd. But that is what could now happen unless action is taken very soon."
The vets said that the disease in sheep should be allowed to run its course. This would put an end to the horrific scenes in Cumbria where hundreds of thousands of sheep are now due to be burned. At the same time there should be an emergency vaccination programme to build a "firewall" around the most vulnerable cattle herds, beginning in the South of England, where the exhaustion of winter feed supplies means that cattle will have to go out on grass within the next two weeks.
The vets from Shropshire and Cheshire, which were at the heart of the 1967 epidemic, agreed that the Government's chaotic handling of the epidemic was in stark contrast to 32 years ago. Brian Wilson, former president of the Lancashire and Cheshire Veterinary Association, supported the "firewall" vaccination proposal and accused the Government of "gross ineptitude" in its handling of the crisis.
Hugues Inizan, a Devon dealer, told the vets that the foot and mouth infection had been found in 402 sheep shipped from Britain to France on January 31 - three weeks before the outbreak was recognised in Essex on February 19. Allowing for a two-week incubation period this meant that the virus was present five weeks before it was discovered at an abattoir in Essex, the vets were told at a meeting on Friday.
The sheep, brought from the Brecon hills in South Wales, were diagnosed with foot and mouth on March 7 and slaughtered. But the fact that they were infected before shipment indicated that the disease must have been around for at least two weeks.
The significance of this, it is claimed, is that if foot and mouth has been widely established in Britain's sheep for over two months then in many flocks the disease may have run its course. Foot and mouth in sheep is much less serious than it is in cattle and most sheep, after experiencing some days of discomfort, will recover.
The most obvious disadvantage of the change of strategy would be Britain's loss of its disease-free status, putting an end to a livestock export trade worth #1.2 billion a year. But this is already dwarfed by the likely cost of culling and compensation. The new strategy could save most of Britain's sheep, pigs and cattle. It would also mean that within only a week or two life in the countryside could return to near-normality.
Permission for such a dramatic change of policy would have to be given by the European Commission, since the strategy for containing foot and mouth is dictated by Brussels. But as fears mount that the disease could spread across the EU, it is likely that any proposals to save Europe's livestock from the disaster now facing Britain would be given much more serious consideration than was likely even a week ago.
Christopher Booker: 'Killing by stealth' hides true scale of slaughter
By Christopher Booker
BY the greatest conjuring trick of this election campaign, the Government is concealing the fact that it is now killing more animals than at the height of the foot-and-mouth crisis two months ago. Last Thursday the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food proudly announced that the day's total of confirmed cases had dropped to zero.
Few would have guessed that in the preceding 10 days ministry and army death-squads had killed more than a quarter of a million animals on more than 1,000 farms. Between May 4 and May 12 alone, according to the ministry's own figures, it "killed out" 889 farms, an average of 125 a day. The daily average of animals slaughtered in that week was 32,000, nearly three times the figure for the previous week. The total number of animals killed may soon top six million, or nearly a tenth of all Britain's livestock.
But all this is being hidden from view by changes made to the way that Maff presents its figures, to support the Government's wish that the epidemic should be seen to be over by June 7. The vast majority of animals killed are no longer classified as "confirmed cases" but as "slaughtered on suspicion", "dangerous contacts" or "contiguous cull". The advantage of this is that these figures do not show in the daily "headline total".
It is only possible to estimate the scale on which the public is being misled by keeping a daily check on the total numbers of animals slaughtered and premises "killed out". Each day Maff now wipes the earlier figures, so that it is impossible to see by comparison how fast those totals are rising.
Certainly some of the recent rise may be accounted for by the retrospective adding-in of figures not collected accurately earlier. But this cannot explain all this month's huge rise in the number of culled farms, which Maff was last week attempting to minimise by counting all farms in a single ownership as one holding.
Another trick used to conceal the scale of the killing is a new Government edict, the Waste (Foot and Mouth Disease) (England) Regulations 2001. This forces waste management companies, under threat of criminal prosecution, to accept vast quantities of dead animals to be buried in ordinary landfill, much of this done at night. One company, Viridor, last week said that it had so far received "366 loads, 3,980 tonnes, of sheep and pig carcases" at its site at Heathfield, near Newton Abbot.
The slaughter is being carried out by special "task forces" of vets and soldiers, who move into an area and kill everything in sight, as they were doing last week in North Yorkshire, Brecon Beacons, Co Durham, Galloway and elsewhere.
Many soldiers are believed to be deeply unhappy at their role, as is reflected in a letter winging its way round the farming network claiming to be from a member of the Green Howards, involved in slaughter operations in Worcestershire. "My regiment," he writes, "has got all sorts of battle honours for fighting Britain's enemies all over the world, but we are now engaged in hand-to-hand combat with lambs."
He describes how his unit was ordered to finish off lambs by hitting them with "a blunt instrument" or drowning them in a river. "One of my mates," he goes on, "was detailed to stand by a pig which was giving birth; as each piglet was born and crawled away, he had to smash it with the back of a shovel." Worst of all was having to finish off cows shot by slaughtermen. "Some are still crawling around, others clearly still alive but unable to move. We have to beat them to death with lorry spanners. If people really knew what was going on I think there'd be a revolution."
A more public protest came last week from Anthony Gibson, head of the National Farmers' Union in the South-West, who described the "contiguous cull" of millions of healthy animals as "one of the most bloody, tragic and disgraceful misjudgments ever committed in the name of science". Although Maff admits that the number of animals destroyed or awaiting slaughter is now 4.5 million, this does not include as many as 1.5 million new-born lambs, piglets and calves, which raise the total to 6 million.
But so long as the continuing scale of the slaughter can be hushed up until June 7, the greatest political cover-up of modern times will have achieved its purpose.
Sunday 27 May 2001
Christopher Booker's Notebook
Maff taken to court over cull
British fishing will be wiped out in a decade
At last the European Commission has begun to reveal the masterstroke whereby, in two years' time, it can turn all the fishing waters round the coasts of western Europe into "a single European sea". And as some have long feared, this will deal a death-blow to what remains of Britain's fishing industry.
The plan, recently disclosed by Commissioner Franz Fischler in Strasbourg, is to abolish the present national quota system and to allow fishing permits to be bought and sold across national boundaries. This will finally allow the vast, massively subsidised Spanish fishing fleet to buy its way into that "equal access" to the North Sea and other northern waters to which it is entitled under the treaties. In recent years the Spanish fleet has received EU subsidies worth nearly #2 billion (including #230 million from British taxpayers); and with further state aid on the way, it will be in a strong position to buy out all those struggling, unsubsidised British, Danish and German fishermen who have been so relentlessly hamstrung by Brussels regulations.
For 10 more years, UK fishermen will be allowed a "derogation" to continue to fish within 12 miles of Britain's shoreline. After that, all waters up to the beaches will become "a common European resource". The only boats then allowed to fish will be those with enough support from subsidies to compete for permits. Almost the only boats left round our coasts will be Spanish, French, Belgian and Dutch. Thus we shall see the end of the story which began 30 years ago, when Edward Heath agreed to hand over the richest fishing waters in the world as a necessary sacrifice to realise his dream of taking us into that Common Market which, he said, would involve "no loss of essential sovereignty".
Maff taken to court over cull
One reason that we are unlikely to have any independent inquiry into the handling of the foot and mouth epidemic is that it represents one of the greatest acts of maladministration for which a British Government has ever been responsible. Apart from its shameless fiddling of the figures (last week the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food claimed that the reason why its website has hidden the destruction of millions of animals on 6,000 farms was that it is obliged to do this under the EU's Data Protection Act), it seems the ministry may in fact have been breaking the law on an unprecedented scale.
A west country law firm, Clarke Wilmott, has launched a test case against Maff, claiming that its "contiguous cull" scheme, under which more than two million healthy animals have already been slaughtered, is illegal under EU law. A separate legal opinion by the London barrister Stephen Tromans argues not only that it is "highly dubious" whether Maff has the power to slaughter uninfected animals under the Animal Health Act 1981; but it goes on to detail a long list of further respects in which British and EU environmental and health laws appear to have been breached by the methods used for disposing of dead animals.
Oddly, however, this opinion does not include what has perhaps been the most flagrant breach of the law, the disregard seemingly shown for the Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994, also enacting EU law, which lay down strict conditions on which animals can be slaughtered. Apart from many reports of sheep, lambs, pigs and cattle being bludgeoned to death with shovels and other blunt instruments, it is stipulated that animals stunned with "captive bolts" must subsequently be "pithed" with a rod to the brain, or bled, to ensure they are dead.
Witnesses claim to have seen Maff slaughter squads failing to comply with these requirements on numerous occasions, which is why there have been so many stories of sheep crawling out of burial pits, or lambs sticking their heads out of piles of corpses on the back of lorries. In normal times, if any of these offences had been committed by farmers or slaughtermen, Maff's legal department would have rushed to prosecute; as would the Environment Agency on all the instances where piles of carcases were left to putrefy for weeks; or blood has dripped from lorries along public roads; or Devon villagers have woken up to find their gardens inches deep in fragments of burnt flesh and animal skin, carried on the updraught of Maff pyres.
Yet so long as Maff itself is responsible for such horrors, the likelihood of criminal prosecution is no greater than that of Mr Blair allowing an independent inquiry into the most obscene catastrophe of his premiership.
How Blair's red tape has strangled Britain 3 June 2001
By Christopher Booker and Dr Richard North
IN the past four years, the Blair Government has broken all records by issuing 14,000 new regulations, and this year's figure looks set to be the highest yet.
For millions of people, red tape has become the biggest single headache of their working lives. It is costing Britain's economy anything up to #50 billion a year, half as much as the Government takes from income tax.
It is something that politicians of all parties have allowed to happen, although under Mr Blair it has become significantly worse. Yet it is a problem so vast and amorphous that no party has any idea what to do about it. So deeply is the canker of over-regulation eating into our national life that those not directly affected are hard pressed to grasp how far it has spread.
Consider what are supposedly the big four issues at this election: the health service, crime, schools and taxation. What have they in common? Study after study shows that the biggest obstacle preventing nurses and doctors from looking after patients, policemen from catching criminals or teachers from having time to teach pupils is the deluge of unnecessary red tape in which they are being engulfed.
When one inner London comprehensive was recently singled out as "the most improved school in the country", the Government was not pleased when its headmistress, Elizabeth Phillips, took the chance to protest that she and her colleagues were "overwhelmed with bureaucracy".
Even Mr Blair admitted last week that hospital doctors had told him that red tape was taking up 30 per cent of their time. The complaint most often heard about our tax system, particularly under Gordon Brown, is not just that it takes our money, but that it is sinking into a mire of bureaucratic incomprehensibility.
However, the most conspicuous explosion in regulation is that now affecting business. Surveys by all our leading business organisations, from the Confederation of British Industry to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, now put red tape way out at the top of all the problems facing Britain's businesses, as the greatest barrier to their future growth, or even their survival.
A recent study by the British Chambers of Commerce estimated that the cost of the additional regulatory burden imposed by the Blair Government, based on the Government's own figures, has been #15 billion. Yet this survey omitted several other important recent additions to regulatory costs, not to mention those of thousands of existing rules that bodies such as the Institute of Directors have estimated are costing as much as #25 billion a year.
Just as damaging to the national economy is the massive cost that unnecessary bureaucracy inflicts on every area of public administration. As doctors complain that red tape is wasting 30 per cent of their time, teachers report that they must spend "20 hours a week" on paperwork. The same applies to the police and local government, whose hidden costs must account for a sizeable chunk of our #400 billion-a-year public spending bill.
Take all this into account and that figure of #15 billion for just two dozen business regulations soon looks like only a fraction of the total cost to our productive economy, which cannot be far short of #50 billion a year.
Last Tuesday, when Arthur Downton, a pensioner aged 71, drove his car into the River Severn at Bridgnorth in Shropshire, no firemen were available to rescue him. One of the town's two fire engines was out of service, the other was busy on what turned out to be a hoax call and Mr Downton drowned. The police said that, had a fire crew been on hand, he would not have died.
This tragedy is an example of what is likely to happen ever more frequently, thanks to a wave of unfettered bureaucracy that now affects local authorities all over the country. It is also a chilling example of how officialdom in Blair's Britain is going off the rails.
Under Labour's "Best Value" programme, councils must spend millions of pounds on a review of their services, supposedly to make local government "more accountable" and to identify ways of saving money. What is happening in practice was exposed in a Commons debate last month, when two Tory MPs from Shropshire , Christopher Gill and Owen Paterson, gave an account of how Best Value is affecting their county.
Mr Gill reported how South Shropshire district council has already spent #243,500 on its Best Value study, or five per cent of its yearly budget, to achieve savings of just #97,264. Bridgnorth town council spent #15,000, 3.5 per cent of its budget, to achieve no savings at all. Mr Paterson told how the Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Service (motto: "Putting Shropshire's Safety First") had spent more than #100,000, including officials' time, on an elaborate study, which included a glossy brochure that was circulated to every household.
This is packed with verbiage about such matters as the need to improve the "gender and ethnic balance" of the firefighting force, yet it manages on its first page to misprint the 999 emergency number as "199". The result has been to identify possible savings of #90,000. But to the astonishment of local firemen, these savings are to be achieved by cutting the number of fire engines in each of five towns, including Bridgnorth and Whitchurch, from two to one.
Firemen point out that this will result in a devastating loss of efficiency. With just one appliance per station, it will take longer for them to to get to an incident, because the remaining engine will have to wait for the entire crew to be summoned from all over the area. Furthermore, the new engines will have room for less equipment and only three-fifths the amount of water. As last week's tragic incident showed, if that one engine is busy elsewhere, lives could be lost.
Multiplied thousands of times over, this type of bean-counting is a horrifying example of what runaway bureaucracy is doing to Blair's Britain. In each of our 12 new "Euro-regions" a permanent "Best Value Inspectorate" is now to be set up, employing at least 80 officials, at an average basic salary of #30,000. Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money will be spent, to achieve little except to provide more employment for bureaucrats, while services to the public continue their relentless spiral downward.
Blair the record-breaker
In the past 15 years the number of regulations (or statutory instruments) that have been spewed out of the Whitehall machine has soared, but never faster than in the four years since Tony Blair was elected. This year the Government is set to break its own record yet again, and the number of new regulations issued in one year is set to top 4,000 for the first time.
Although many of the most damaging burdens originate from the European Union, this does not explain them all. The real problem lies in a fundamental culture-change in the way that the state now uses regulation as its main instrument of policy.
At the top it has resulted in lawmaking passing out of the control of elected politicians into the hands of thousands of unaccountable officials in Whitehall and Brussels. At the bottom it has inflated the arrogance of whole armies of inspectors, who now have new powers to impose their will on almost every kind of business from trading standards officials bringing criminal charges against market traders for selling bananas by the pound, to the Blair Government's all-powerful new Financial Services Authority, which is wreaking damage on tens of thousands of firms.
A report last week by a City think-tank, the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, on the soaring costs of financial services regulation estimated that larger firms must now employ at least 10 "compliance personnel" for every 1,000 employees. The burden of over-regulation on smaller firms is so crippling that it is predicted that within a few years independent financial advisers, accountants, lawyers, insurance brokers or commodity traders will be wiped out.
It has long been notorious that versions of the EU directives produced by civil servants in Britain are more onerous than those introduced in other countries. Top of the list of oppressive regulations are those enforcing the EU's working time directive, to which Tony Blair rushed to sign up in 1997, after John Major refused to accept it.
The Government's own figure of #7.5 billion so far shows that the working time directive is the most expensive single item of legislation ever put on the British statute book. Yet it was never debated by Parliament. It was first published in August 1998, when MPs were on summer holiday and became law on October 1, before they returned.
Even in those shrinking areas of policy not yet controlled by Brussels, our civil servants are still capable of coming up with horrors of their own. And no one has any idea what to do about it.
Christopher Booker and Dr Richard North are the authors of The Mad Officials and The Castle of Lies
Mass cull could extend to one in five animals Sunday 10 June 2001
TONY BLAIR only just got away with his gamble that the spin doctors could hide away the foot and mouth crisis until after the election. The news on Friday of two new cases in cattle near Bridgwater and Langport in Somerset, and in Westerdale on the North York Moors, all several miles from the nearest previous outbreaks, seemed to confirm that the disease was still spreading out of control, not least into the nation's cattle herd.
The other widespread fear, which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and its chief vet, Jim Scudamore, were rushing to deny as polling day approached, was that Maff had made elaborate plans in various parts of the country for a huge new mass cull, which could result in the deaths of as many as six million more animals. This would be in addition to the six million killed so far, bringing the total to one in five of all farm animals in the country. (Maff admits to only 4.2 million, but, as Farmer's Weekly has confirmed, this figure does not include two million lambs, calves and piglets.)
For weeks there have been reports from the West Country, Yorkshire, Wales, Norfolk and elsewhere of fleets of lorries and diggers being held in reserve; of vets, slaughtermen, contractors and police being stood by, with all leave cancelled until August, as they prepare for a new post-election holocaust, affecting places from Dartmoor and Exmoor to Swaledale and Lincolnshire.
In a sense, as the careful wording of last week's denials reflected, Maff is right. It is planning not so much a new policy as simply a stepping-up of the old one. Maff has agreed with the European Commission and the EU's standing veterinary committee, the shadowy body that exercises ultimate control over foot and mouth policy, that, in order to regain Britain's "disease-free" export status, it will carry out a massive programme of blood-testing. The Pirbright Animal Health Institute has been stood by to process 60,000 samples a week. Any animals found positive for antibodies, showing that they have been exposed to the disease, will be slaughtered, as will those on adjoining farms.
Maff is well aware that the disease has spread much further than it has been publicly letting on (hence, for instance, its recent slaughter of 500 sheep on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent); and that, as the results come through, the killing could equal anything we have seen so far. This accounts for the mass-bookings of hotel rooms, the setting up of new regional nerve centres, and the standing-by of slaughter teams from Devon to Yorkshire.
When pressed whether this could eventually lead to the massacre of another six million animals, Mr Scudamore cautiously replied on the Today programme last week: "I don't think we'll get to that level." He did not offer an outright denial for the simple reason that he knows this might not be far wrong. As for Mr Blair, if in his hour of triumph he looked pensive, it might be because he is only too aware of estimates such as that from the Institute of Directors that the cost of foot and mouth to Britain's economy is already running at #20 billion. And if that knocks #8 billion off Gordon Brown's tax income, where will the Government's spending plans be then?
Make no mistake, this is not just a crisis for the countryside. Those millions of dead animals may yet have their revenge.
The election dog that did not bark
WHEN in years to come people look back on the 2001 election, they may find nothing odder than how small a part in it was played by discussion of the future of the European Union. Who, for instance, would have guessed from the way this issue was made to seem so boring and marginal that, by the time we next have an election, the EU will already have its own constitution, its own police force and armed forces, and will have taken further huge strides towards becoming a single, politically integrated state?
Nothing reflected this more clearly than the curious wrong - end - of - a - telescope view that the British were given during the campaign of those proposals for the EU's future put forward by Lionel Jospin, France's prime minister, and Gerhard Schroder, the German chancellor. These were presented as if they were totally different, just rival suggestions being thrown out for discussion. What was striking was just how much the two sets of proposals had in common.
Both, for instance, urged the need for a greatly enhanced role for a fully-fledged "European police force" and for a common EU-wide system of criminal justice (which Britain could do nothing to stop, since Mr Blair conceded the basic principles at Amsterdam and Nice). Both talked about the need for much more tax harmonisation, starting with business taxes. Both talked about the need to complete the EU's single foreign policy, so that any remaining vestiges of a British foreign policy would be a thing of the past. And both underlined the fact that, as agreed at Nice, the next treaty in 2004 should mark the adoption of an EU constitution, to mark the moment when our political integration into one country is complete.
Britain's politicians, Europhiles and Eurosceptics alike, seem to be so firmly in denial about what is actually going on that few people have yet woken up to how it involves Britain as much as it does the rest of Europe. One of the Tories' greatest failings in recent years has been their determination to limit discussion of Europe to little more than sound-bites about saving the pound. Almost totally lacking has been any attempt to give a full, grown-up explanation of just how "the European project" is now advancing towards its final goal; let alone how far our system of parliamentary and local government is becoming ever more enmeshed with this new system of government centred on Brussels with every month that passes.
It is true that the final key to our absorption into this new state will be whether or not we join the euro. You cannot be part of a country if you do not belong to its currency. But if and when that referendum battle is joined, possibly the "yes" camp's greatest asset will be the state of ignorance of the British people as to just how far they are being asked to become citizens of a totally different kind of country, ruled by a wholly different kind of state from anything they have known. In keeping them in that ignorance, our politicians of all parties are equally to blame, the Tories no less than the rest.
Council tree test stumps climbers
CHRIS BAKER, an electronics engineer on the island of Mull, was recently asked by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Scottish Heritage to rig up a television camera on a tree, to allow birdwatchers to spy on a pair of nesting golden eagles. As he prepared to climb the tree, watched by various officials, one asked if he had a Certificate of Competence in tree-climbing. When he said no, a fully-certificated tree-climber had to be brought from the Isle of Skye.
George Sassoon, son of the poet Siegfried and an old friend of this column, was so shocked to hear there was not a single person on the island qualified to climb trees that he wrote to the local Argyll and Bute council asking how he could attend a course to earn the necessary certificate. And could the council also please tell him where he could find "an EU Standard tree on which to practise".
British bureaucrats are still not the worst
DESPITE their best efforts, Britain's bureaucrats still fall behind some of their EU colleagues in certain respects. Peter Rust, who makes claims for VAT refunds on behalf of firms doing business on the continent, asked the British embassy in Rome why he still had not had any payments from the Italian government relating to claims made last year, although most countries pay up in less than six months.
The embassy replied that it had spoken to the director of the office that deals with VAT refunds to non-Italians. His department was still dealing with 9,000 applications from 1998, but was hoping to get round to 1999 refunds next September. With luck it seems that Mr Rust might see the money owed to his clients in two or three years' time.
It's no wonder Beckett has nothing to say Sunday 17 June 2001
THE curious silence from Margaret Beckett since she was appointed to run the new Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra - already known as the Destruction of English Farming Regulatory Agency) is hardly surprising.
She inherits from the late, unlamented Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the greatest act of maladministration perpetrated by any British government in modern times: the catastrophically mishandled foot and mouth disaster. (Another 80,000 animals were killed last week according to the ministry website.)
There is almost nothing she can usefully say, since almost every aspect of her new department's policy, from environmental laws to food safety, from agriculture to fishing, is now dictated by Brussels. All any British minister can now do, as the handling of foot and mouth has again demonstrated, is make a unique mess of the way those EU policies are implemented.
One of Mrs Beckett's priorities, we are told, will be to "work for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy". However since the last attempt at CAP reform was sabotaged by the French at Berlin in 1999, any further significant reform has been shelved until 2006, by which time even Mrs Beckett may no longer be in post.
Mrs Beckett's junior colleague, Elliot Morley, will similarly be able only to flap his hands impotently as attempts to reform the Common Fisheries Policy completes the ecological catastrophe that the policy has already brought about in the North Sea. The disaster can only get worse when Spain demands her treaty rights to "equal access" at the end of next year.
Almost the only policy area in which Defra still has the right to make its own laws is hunting, which it has taken over from the Home Office. A Bill to outlaw this is likely to be announced in this week's Queen's Speech.
Given any chance to ban, kill or destroy, Defra will doubtless seize it with both hands, like Maff before it, But as for doing anything constructive to improve Britain's environment, farming or fishing, Mrs Beckett no longer has the power to do anything. Worst of all, neither she nor her pliant Tory opposite number, Tim Yeo, will ever dare to admit it.
Why there is no independent inquiry Sunday 24 June 2001
IT may not have made headlines, but last week another 93,000 animals were slaughtered as the foot and mouth epidemic continued on its way. This may be by far the worst catastrophe ever to hit Britain's countryside, inflicting damage on the nation's economy estimated at #20 billion.
However, it was hardly surprising that ministers should have confirmed last week that the Government has no plans to commission a proper independent inquiry into this disaster, similar to the one that followed the much smaller outbreak in the 1960s, because it could not dare allow such a thing.
For a start, such an inquiry would have to ask why all the conclusions reached by that 1969 report were ignored, not least because ultimate control over foot and mouth policy had been handed over to the European Union.
It would have to investigate why the British Government itself then turned the 2001 epidemic into such an obscene shambles; why running of the crisis was handed over from vets to unqualified scientists and political spin-doctors; why the Government shamelessly fiddled the figures for electoral purposes; why officials were allowed to break the law on such a colossal scale, not least in killing millions of healthy animals under the "contiguous cull" policy; why, as Roger Windsor, a council member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, recently told his colleagues, vets were routinely blackmailed by ministry officials into breaking their professional code of conduct; above all why 95 per cent of all this chaos, horror and misery could have been avoided if the Government had heeded almost every leading foot and mouth expert in the world and switched, as soon as it was clear the epidemic was out of control, from mass slaughter to mass vaccination.
It was one thing for Mr Blair to spend #27 million on the largely pointless Phillips Inquiry into BSE, with its convenient cut-off date of March 20, 1996, so that any blame would attach to the previous Tory government. It would be quite another to allow a truly independent enquiry into what has been one of the worst acts of maladministration on record, for which no one was ultimately more responsible than Mr Blair himself.
Queen's Speech is hardly necessary
THE penny still has not dropped with those who were last week commenting on how "thin" was the Queen's Speech, with its promise of 20-odd Bills. By far the greater part of any government's legislation these days does not need to appear in the Queen's Speech because it is no longer made through Acts of Parliament.
This is because, thanks to the immense and largely unremarked revolution which has taken part in our system of government in recent years, the vast majority of our laws are no longer debated and voted on by Parliament. They are issued by civil servants, in the form of statutory instruments or regulations; the number of which this year, according to figures recently released by the Cabinet Office, is set to soar above 4,000, easily the highest figure ever.
When the British Chambers of Commerce recently published a list of the most costly pieces of legislation introduced by the present Government, all the items topping the list were Brussels directives, passed into law as statutory instruments; from the working time directive (cost on official figures, #2.3 billion each year) through the new data protection regulations (#3.1 billion) to the latest pollution directive (#1.6 billion). There was nothing Parliament could do about any of them.
It was noticeable last week how most of the proposed new Bills are concentrated in just those ever-shrinking areas of policy over which Westminster still has control, such as education, the health service and criminal justice; although even this last is becoming increasingly subject to the harmonisation of the criminal justice system throughout the EU. If anyone wonders why Parliament these days seems strangely irrelevant, this is where to start looking.
Although it scarcely helps that a third of the House of Lords now consists of appointees of Mr Blair, many complete nonentities; and that, if he continues in this vein, by the end of this Parliament well over half the members of his newly "democratic" and "reformed" upper chamber will simply be his nominees.