Monthly newsletter Edition 13 Sir Robert reports:- Page 1
At the forefront of everybody's mind have been the dreadful and virulent ravages of Foot & Mouth Disease and the devastating effect that it has had upon Cumbria, Cheshire and Lancashire - particularly the first. I have done whatever possible in the European Parliament to assist those affected. I met Tim Bennett, Vice-President of the NFU, in Strasbourgand discussed the crisis and subsequent compensation. Then I spoke to Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, to appraise him of the seriousness of the matter and wrote to Tourism Commissioner Liikanen about the consequent implications for the many small businesses in that important sector.
I have made contact, either by telephone or letter, with almost every farm that has gone down with Foot & Mouth Disease and offered support and assistance wherever possible. I am in regular touch with the NW NFU and am being briefed by them on matters where I can help. I attended the Cumbria County Council Task Force meeting in Kendal where progress and future plans were discussed. I have also discovered that there is about £3 billion of unused EU Grant Aid that has been floating around Brussels for the last few years - taxpayers' money which could be put to very good use in helping the farmers and tourism businesses poleaxed by the epidemic.
One thing is quite clear - the Government got it wrong, at least in the early stages. The unacceptable delay between diagnosis and slaughter and then between slaughter and disposal has been a significant cause of the explosive spread of the disease. The insensitive manner in which the proposed cull of healthy livestock was presented to the farming community and the failure to appreciate the environmental hazards of burning carcasses have contributed to the rural view that an obsession with banning hunting is the only real interest that Labour MPs have in the countryside.
I visited Cyprus last month, in my capacity as Vice-President of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Cyprus's Accession to the EU. I had many meetings and engagements during the five days, notably with President Clerides. I met also Foreign Minister Kasoulides and various other Ministers and Members of the Legislature. I had a particularly fascinating discussion with the Mayor of Nicosia, in the world's last divided capital city, and saw for myself the "Green Line" which represents the "border" between the (Greek) Republic of Cyprus and the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This is the point reached by the invading Turkish Forces in 1974 and , sadly, nothing much has changed since that day.