The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Mr Major’s Letter to the Daily Telegraph – 1 August 2001

The text of Mr Major’s letter to the Daily Telegraph on the subject of Foot and Mouth, published on 1st August 2001.


Dear Sir,

The cull of some 4,000 sheep at Brecon is a depressing reminder that Foot and Mouth is far from over. A second cull has now been ordered.

More culls seem possible, perhaps even probable.

After the BSE epidemic I took advice and demurred at the prospect of a Public as opposed to a Private Inquiry. In 1997, the new Labour Government decided differently. In the event the Public Inquiry produced – albeit after a long time – an excellent Report with valuable lessons for the future. In addition it knocked down much of the lurid scapegoating that had caused so much anguish to Officials and Ministers struggling, as they were, with unknown science.

With Foot and Mouth, of course, the science is familiar, yet we now have the longest and worst outbreak in our history. The Government seems to believe that a full Public Inquiry is not necessary and that, if they delay committing themselves to one, the demand for it will subside.

I disagree. It is evident that the recommendations given and lessons learned following the 1967 Inquiry have not been applied to the present epidemic and that Ministers’ and Officials’ advice has repeatedly proved to be wrong. This alone is sufficient justification for a Public Inquiry: why has so much gone wrong?

It is becoming the set belief of many country dwellers that action on Foot and Mouth has been geared more to the political interests of the Labour Government than to the economic interests of farmers and the rural community.

There was to be a General Election on 3rd May. It was essential, we were told, to avoid Britain being seen as “closed for business”. I warned there should be no election until we were certain Foot and Mouth had been eradicated, not least since the Government’s term had a further year to run. As public disquiet mounted, the proposed election date was shelved. We were told the Prime Minister was acting in the “national interest”. The Prime Minister took personal control and told us we were on the home straight. It was a glaring example of mis-information. The only home straight we were on was the one that led to the 7th June election.

If political self interest did predominate – and I stress if – then it was indefensible. This is a further reason for a full and comprehensive Inquiry to determine what solid fact and expectation underpinned those public assurances that have, in the event, proved to be so worthless.
We need to learn fresh lessons from this outbreak. How did it occur? Why did it spread so widely? Why is it lingering so long? Why were troops used so late and the carcass disposal instructions so confused? Why was vaccination thought of, rejected, and now under consideration again? This is by no means a comprehensive set of the questions to be answered: there are so many more.

I am content for the Prime Minister to take advice on the precise nature of the Inquiry but he should commit himself to it without delay and ensure that it will be held fully in public. Our rural communities – both present and future – deserve no less.

Yours faithfully,