Monthly newsletter Edition 19 Sir Robert reports:- Page 1

I was delighted to learn late last month that the Special Parliamentary Committee on Foot & Mouth Disease has heard my plea and will visit Cumbria on April 18th. This high-powered Committee, you may recall, was set up by the European Parliament at the instigation of Conservative MEPs and in the face of outright opposition from British Labour MEPs. The Prime Minister did everything he could to prevent it but failed to persuade the majority in Strasbourg. Thus influential MEPs from all over the EU, will investigate the FMD outbreak in the various countries affected and report publicly on their findings.

At the behest of local County Councillor, Duncan Fairbairn, I visited the burial pits at Great Orton Aerodrome in Cumbria, where over  million sheep and cattle were dispatched and which featured so graphically in the national media at the height of the epidemic. This site is the repository of the livelihoods of many thousands of Cumbrian Farmers and there are obviously mixed feelings about its existence. However, the former airfield is now being professionally managed and landscaped and there is every expectation of it eventually becoming a wildlife park or Site of Special Scientific Interest. This would offer some small consolation to local people and perhaps, in its new guise, provide a positive environmental attraction for future generations.

Whilst on the subject of graves, I have initiated a campaign in the European Parliament to save the battlefield sites of Ypres/Passchendale and the Somme, together with their attendant War Graves, from two transport developments being proposed by the Belgian and French Governments. Having been both a Transport and a Planning Minister, I do understand that transport needs are ever on the increase but these are emotive and sensitive sites, some having been given to Britain in perpetuity. There must be alternatives which do not involve desecration and removal of sacred remains and I and my Conservative Colleagues will press the two Governments to let the gallant dead rest in peace.

We had some splendid news last week, in that the longest-serving British MEP, Richard Balfe, left the Labour Party and joined the Conservatives. He is one of the most distinguished and influential members of our Parliament, with a long career in his former Party. He has come to us because of the "sleaze, obsessive control and thuggish intolerance" of Labour and his appreciation of the more relaxed attitude and freedom of debate in the present Tory Party - even though he is a strong Europhile. This is testament to the leadership of our new Delegation Chairman, Jonathan Evans, and an indictment of Blair's Government.

I had a brief holiday in Sri Lanka last month but took the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister and several of his Ministerial colleagues whilst there. This was just at the time that he achieved the signal success of negotiating a cease-fire between his Government and the so-called Tamil Tigers. He was very interested to learn about my Northern Ireland Ministerial experiences and was keen to match them to his own country. The dividend that will result from this peace agreement, after twenty years of terrorism and 65,000 deaths, cannot be over-estimated and it became clear during our discussions just how the tourism industry, to name but one, now has the opportunity to expand very quickly. I shall do whatever I can to help this beautiful country and I recommend a visit!

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