Chris Moncrieff – the corridors of power …

You might have thought from reading the papers that parliament has been overwhelmed by the disastrous foot and mouth outbreak.

But in what is now regarded as a dying parliament, little time has been devoted to what is one of the most dire domestic calamities for years.

Indeed, the Tories have been complaining that no debate has so far taken place on this issue in the Commons at all.

What exchanges have occurred have either been sponsored by the Tories or the result of ministerial statements, sometimes forced on them by the opposition.

The government seems to have been reluctant to mount a debate on their own initiative. Indeed, it is worse than that.

When the Conservatives said they were going to use some of the parliamentary time to debate foot and mouth, the agriculture minister, Nick Brown, grumbled he had more important things to do in trying to contain the disease than having to spend time preparing for a debate. This was seen as a cavalier and arrogant response.

What has been frustrating to all MPs who have a rural element in their constituencies is that they have had little opportunity to express their views in public – leaving their farming constituents to think they are not doing their job.

However, things may be looking up. The House of Lords is due to debate foot and mouth on Wednesday and there are questions to the minister of agriculture in the Commons the following day.

But had the prime minister decided to go for a general election on May 3, then parliament may have been dissolved before these two events could have taken place.

It is not often such a momentous issue has received such scant attention at Westminster. And what has angered the farmers is that the issue of foot and mouth has been reduced to little more than a nuisance to some who want to get on with a general election for their own purposes – while rural Britain is in the throes of despair.

– Chris Moncrieff is a senior political analyst at PA news.

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