Council Leader announces details of Cumbrian Foot and Mouth Inquiry

County Councillor Rex Toft, Leader of Cumbria County Council and Chairman of the Cumbrian Foot and Mouth Taskforce today announced details of the forthcoming Cumbrian Foot and Mouth Inquiry. The Inquiry starts in May and will visit various locations around the County. An independent Chairman will lead the Inquiry and be supported by an independent panel of local experts. No Councillor, or other Politician, will be included in the panel, which will be independent, impartial and objective.

County Councillor Toft explains,

"Considerable progress has been made in setting up Cumbria's Foot and Mouth Disease Inquiry since I announced our intention to hold one at the last Council Meeting on the 21st February.

We have appointed Professor Phil Thomas as the Independent Chair of the Inquiry. Professor Thomas has a distinguished academic career. He was Principal and Chief Executive of the Scottish Agricultural College as well as being Professor of Agriculture at Glasgow University and Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh. He has held some distinguished appointments including Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Animal Feed Stuffs from 1999-2001 and Chairman of the Consensus Working Party on Rural Land Use (2000-2001).

I am delighted that someone of Professor Thomas's expertise and reputation has agreed to lead our Inquiry. Professor Thomas has agreed to attend the meeting of the Foot and Mouth Taskforce on Monday, 25th March in Kendal. I'm sure representatives from the many organisations and agencies who have worked so well together in tackling the effects of the Disease will welcome this early opportunity to meet him.

We are also seeking nominations for an Independent Panel to support Professor Thomas. On the recommendation of Professor Thomas we have identified that we will need expertise in the following areas - agriculture; tourism; agricultural support and other rural businesses; rural community; health; and environment.

We are setting up an FMD Inquiry Support Team within the County Council. We will work closely with the Cumbrian Foot and Mouth Taskforce. Nominations to be on the Independent Panel need to be with that Team by 5 April 2002. Professor Thomas will then select his independent and expert Panel from those nominations, he can supplement it with others if he feels there is a specific need to do so.

The Inquiry itself will focus on the following areas

The FMD Inquiry will sit to hear evidence in Kendal 7-10 May and in Carlisle 28-31 May. The FMD Inquiry will also spend another 2-3 days in local communities to hear further evidence. In addition evidence will be able to be submitted to the Inquiry both in writing and electronically.

To enable us to plan the detail arrangements we will be widely advertising that we are looking for expressions of interest from those who would like to give evidence by the 12 April 2002, with the detail of that evidence being sent to the Inquiry by 26 April 2002. The panel will then make final arrangements for the calling of witnesses. Our aim is to have the findings and conclusions of the Inquiry reported to the meeting of the County Council on 25 July 2002.

I firmly believe the Cumbrian Foot and Mouth Inquiry is of National and European significance. We now know, reinforced by the recent High Court Judgement, that the Government will not be holding a public inquiry and cannot be required to do so. But Cumbria deserves a thorough public inquiry. This county had over 44% of the national total of FMD cases, considerably higher than any other part of the country. The impact on Cumbria was and remains significantly higher than anywhere else. The experiences, views and future proposals of the people of this county are crucial in planning for any future outbreak, learning lessons from the last twelve months and developing strategies to regenerate communities and economies that were so badly affected. The recent Anderson Inquiry visited Cumbria for two days, we know that the EU Inquiry will also visit the county for a similar length of time. This is not long enough. It fails to take account of the scale of the FMD impact on Cumbria.

A year on we are beginning to see the lifting of the last DEFRA of restrictions on Cumbrian farms. It is entirely appropriate therefore to hold a Cumbrian inquiry this spring, both to learn the lessons of the past and consider the opportunities offered for future renewal and regeneration."