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
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
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
Acknowledging this, Richard North wrote back....
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.