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BECKETT REJECTS MEPS' FINDINGS



09:00 - 22 November 2002

 Ministers yesterday sparked a fresh row about their handling of last year's
foot and mouth crisis when they dismissed the findings of a European
Parliament report into the disaster as an "anti-Government rant".

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret
Beckett claimed that the report had been hijacked for political purposes by
a coalition of Conservative and Green MEPs.

The report, which was published this week, was highly critical of the
Government's handling of last year's disaster.

In particular, it criticised the lack of effective contingency plans, the
use of the controversial contiguous cull policy, the failure to use
emergency vaccination and the failure to pay compensation to all affected
businesses.

Mrs Beckett said socialist MEPs on the committee had prepared "a fairly
sensible core report which did what the committee was set up to do and
looked at the lessons".

But she said that Conservatives and Greens had then worked hand in hand to
"turn this into a rant against the British Government and not something that
Europe could use".

The Animal Health Minister, Elliot Morley, also accused the Tories and
Greens of "wanting to make political points rather than learn the lessons of
disease control".

Neil Parish, a Conservative MEP for the South West, said it was
"disappointing" that the Ministers were attempting to belittle a report
which had received cross-party support in Europe.

He said the report had been written by a German socialist MEP, and that
although some amendments had been added to "toughen up" recommendations, the
final version had been unanimously backed by the committee, including one
Labour MEP from the UK.

He added: "This report is not about party politics - it is about making sure
that we learn the lessons.

"It had cross-party support within the committee and the final report was
unanimous.

"I don't want it to be seen as a party report, because it isn't - it is a
serious look at the issues and it has already led to the ban on the personal
import of meat.

"Ministers are trying to rubbish the report in order to ignore it, and I
think that is very disappointing."

Mrs Beckett's criticism of the European Parliament report surprised many
yesterday because its recommendations were broadly in line with those of the
Government's own "Lessons Learned" inquiry and those of the inquiry ordered
by Devon County Council.

Her comments looked even stranger when, later in the day, she told a
committee of MPs that although she was "aware" of the European report she
had "not had the chance to study it in any depth".

Quizzed about the Government's response to the various inquiry reports, Mrs
Beckett said she hoped the department was now "much better able to respond"
to a future outbreak, although she conceded there was still more work to do
in changing the culture of the department.

She said the Government hoped to put its foot and mouth contingency plan
before Parliament early next year. And she accepted a call to provide MPs
with regular updates on the latest science surrounding vaccination issues.

She also confirmed that new contingency planning teams would be introduced
in each region in January.