Dear Richard
 
Thank you for your courtesy in copying to me your letter to Mary Critchley, which at least gives me the opportunity to respond to your criticisms of me.   I have valued your help and support immensely, and I'm very sorry that you appear to have misunderstood my actions.
 
First, my visit to Devon. There is a very clear precedent for this: just a few weeks ago, the Liberal Group, including their Vice President Jan Mulder, also visited the South West in exactly the same way - and far from objecting to this, just about everyone I met was delighted that the European Parliament is taking this subject seriously, and was very appreciative of the visits. 
 
I see no conflict between my visit, and the later (inevitably shorter and less indepth) visit of the whole committee scheduled in June.  Indeed, I made it extremely clear that my visit was an informal one, and used it as a way of raising awareness of the full committee visit in June.   If you look at the media coverage, you'll see that this is indeed the case.  I feel quite confident that my visit will, if anything, have added to media interest in the later committee trip, not detracted from it.  
 
It is unfortunate that the only time I could free up 3 days in my diary coincided with the visit of the rest of the committee to Holland.  However, you might recall that I am one of just two Green MEPs for the whole of the UK, plus we have no representation at national Westminster level - that means that my diary is probably a lot more full than many other MEPs who have fewer responsibilities outside their own region.   When faced with a choice between the visit to the South West, or the one to Holland, I chose the South West one because I am elected as a British MEP, not a Dutch one, and because the formal committee process has scheduled relatively little time in the UK.  As you know, the Greens have a Dutch MEP on the committee, who I fully expected to be part of the Netherlands visit.   The Dutch experience can no doubt inform us in many ways, but again - as you know - we also have the opportunity of hearing direct from Dutch experts in Brussels and Strasbourg.  Indeed, the presentation by Dr Simon Barteling in the Committee in Brussels last week was - in my view - one of the highlights of our enquiry so far - it's a pity you missed it - you'd have enjoyed his demolition of Roy Anderson.
 
The Green Party of the South West has been active on the issue of FMD right from the start, and was at the forefront of calls for vaccination rather than slaughter, and for an end to the contiguous cull policy.  They have therefore been asking me to visit the South West ever since I was appointed Vice President of the Committee.  As you know, Michael Holmes - former UKIP, and now an independent MEP - also invited me to the region.  I hope the ongoing dispute between Michael and others in UKIP including yourself is not one of the reasons for your criticisms of my visit.

Second, you refer to the committee's visit to Northumberland.  It is simply and utterly untrue to say that I was absent "for many of the sessions."  I wasn't absent for ANY session.  I went to a TV station during a lunch break, while many of my colleagues were in the pub!  - and the reason I was asked to the studio was because I'm the only UK member to hold formal office in the Committee!  It's true that some of my colleagues were angry that I criticised the committee for not holding its "public meetings" in public - but I didn't do that for some cheap party political pointscoring, as you suggest - I did it because I strongly believe it was wrong and - worse - risked undermining the positive work the committee was doing.  Following the websites as closely as you do, you will know that many people were already criticising the committee for this.  I  have since paid the price for my criticism by being ignored by the rest of the committee, and then having a formal letter complaining of "my behaviour" being sent to the Green Group co-presidents - which to me seems a quite extraordinary response.
 
Third, I would be the first person to acknowledge the enormous amount you have contributed to the committee through your own indepth knowledge and experience of FMD.  Until now, I have always thought we have always worked well together.  It's true that, in the first few meetings in Brussels, you suggested supplementary questions for me (and others) to ask - but I assumed that was at least as much because your own member, Jeffrey Titford, was not always in the room, and that I was returning the favour by asking a question which - as a non-member of the committee - you would be unable to ask yourself.    At no time have I been aware of trying to take credit for other people's work.   Until now, my experience has been that everyone has shared information as fully and widely as possible, including myself - it never occurred to me that some of this information was "owned" by anyone.   The important thing seemed to be to get it out in the public domain.
 
Fourth, I take very seriously your point about raising people's expectations about what the Parliament's Committee can deliver, and have given it a lot of thought in recent weeks.  However, it seems to me that if the European Parliament report is to have any weight at all, it will be important that people know about it and, indeed, that they do have expectations of it - and of the government's obligation (moral, if not legal) to deliver on our recommendations.
 
Finally,  for me, the point about the visit to the South West was about trying to ensure that the views of farmers and rural communities in the UK are properly represented, and that the human cost, as well as the animal welfare implications, of the government's approach are fully understood.   These are the issues I was trying to get media coverage about, not about myself or the Greens - and I think that's also what comes over in the coverage of the visit.    It's clear that future responses to FMD, or to any other animal disease, must never be allowed to cause so much destruction and pain again.   I hope we can continue to work together to that end.
 
Best wishes
 
Caroline


Acknowledging this, Richard North wrote back....

Dear Caroline

Please take my letter as a compliment. You are considerably brighter than the average MEP and I had higher expectations of you. Thus, while I do take your point about the LibDims (and was equally caustic about them), you may take some consolation in my view that they were not significant enough to criticise publicly. And I have been equally critical of the Conservative members who seem more interested in attacking the current administration than they do getting to the bottom of the issue (such has been noted in that esteemed journal, Private Eye).

You may also take my letter as a cry of despair. In my view this whole inquiry is degenerating into a low-grade farce and I believe the likelihood of it achieving anything at all is getting increasingly remote by the day.

The point at issue is that this temporary committee is not and cannot hope to be a full public inquiry. It has limited resources, limited time and, more importantly, its mandate does not allow it to be. Primarily, we are supposed to be looking at the application of Community law and, while the animal welfare issue is part of that, it is but one part of a much broader scenario.

Crucially - as I have expressed before - there is good evidence now of major system failures for which both the Commission and HMG are responsible, in the context of contingency planning and preparation. In short, the Commission under-stated the threat, issues poor guidelines on how to construct contingency plans, and then failed to ensure that its more adequate guidance was implemented. Then it failed to carry out expeditiously a review of member state plans. On the part of HMG, its contingency planning was lamentable, the resources allocated wholly inadequate.

As to contingency planning in general, the very nature of a properly constructed plan is that it takes in the possibility of different scenarios - so you end up with a series plans (plan A, plan B, plan C and so on), not just one. In this context, it was clear that the approved plan did not take account of different scenarios and was thus fatally flawed.

In that context, one has to say that a crucial government function is contingency planning. No one, for instance, would expect a Boeing 747 to fall out of the sky and crash into a small Scottish village, but there was always a possibility. When it did happen, the emergency services were ready for it and performed quite well. In the order of things, an uncontained FMD epidemic was far from a remote possibility, and could easily have been predicted. Many specialist commentators were prediciting it.

The Commission and our Government should have been prepared - neither were and both are walking away unchallenged on this central issue (particularly the Commission which has so far escaped without a dent). What now worries me - and I have also referred to this earlier - is that the Committee (including yourself) is engaging in far too superficial an analysis, focusing on the downstream failures rather than the core failures which led to the mess in the first place. Thus, the major system failures at the heart of governance are not being studied effectively (or at all) nor understood, while less relevant issues are being pursued.

By doing this, we leave those core system weaknesses undetected and unchecked. The result is that we will could end up with a new policy which just as flawed - but in a different way - as the original, and no better mechanisms for dealing with the next crisis. As it stands, the Commission is preparing legislation which will seriously hamper farmers but which will essentially be preparation for another 2001 FMD epidemic, which is a waste of time and effort - the next one will be different; no epidemic is ever exactly the same as the previous one.

Thus, the failure to vaccinate - in this last epidemic - is of relatively little importance. It (the failure) was the consequence not of the various factions engaged in the debate - but of the failure of the two governments (EU and British) to conclude the debate and establish policy BEFORE the epidemic. In other words, instead of deciding and implementing a policy before the event, they waited until the event was upon them before they then engaged in the process, by which time it was too late and they had to make policy "on the hoof".

The need, therefore, is to re-examine the planning mechanisms to ensure that the contingency plans are properly structured for the future, in particular, that there is flexibility of response built into the plan, and that the planning mechanisms are in place.

As to the future conduct of the inquiry, my expectations are now so low that I do not intend to spend any serious amount of time in following the proceedings. I am going to concentrate (and have been so doing) on the contingency plan aspects and then - at the appropriate time - submit multiple amendments to the draft report. If appropriate subsequently, I will then (in the name of Titford) submit a minority report.

Finally, although I do not consider myself a politician, I do work for a political party - one which has been serious damaged by Holmes. He is a man without honour and my members look askance (rightly) at anyone who associates with him. That does make my position very difficult.

Best wishes

Richard