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Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): I commend my right hon. Friend on the frank and sensitive way in which he has dealt with the private notice question. May I remind him, however, of the seriousness of the situation? No mention has yet been made of tourism in the north- east of England, where we are trying to solve our unemployment problems in what is a rapidly growing and very job-intensive industry.
Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind the fact that there are now 160 Labour Members with a significant rural hinterland? This is an important issue for all Members; it is not cared about exclusively by the Opposition.
Over the past five to 10 years, the rural economy has become much more bound up with tourism. The growth of farm tourism, for example, has been a major element in the expansion of tourism activity in rural areas, and it has been almost completely wiped out during the foot and mouth epidemic. These issues are gravely affecting many parts of the country, and they need to be taken seriously.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): First, does the Secretary of State accept the BTA's estimate that if this goes on for another three weeks, the industry as a whole will have lost upwards of £2 billion? Whereas in many industries that loss would be concentrated, in the tourism industry 120,000 small businesses risk not just loss of profit but bankruptcy. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is no case for seeking to divide the interests of the farming community from those of the tourism industry, and that it is imperative to recognise that speedy eradication of the disease is in the interests of both?
Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Government have an immediate task to carry out--indeed, he has begun to carry it out this afternoon--in conveying the reassuring message that Britain is still open? That message, however, must be delivered abroad as well as domestically. At present, 45 per cent. of inquiries about foot and mouth disease are being made to our offices abroad.
Mr. Smith: The right hon. Gentleman is correct to identify the potential financial losses overall. According to our best estimates at the moment, around £100 million a week of business is being lost; but that figure will start to rise substantially during the Easter weekend, and subsequently during the main holiday season. If the present situation continues, there will be considerable financial losses.
The right hon. Gentleman is also correct to say that there is no case for dividing the interests of the farming community from those of the wider rural economy. The best answer for all in the rural economy, be they farmers or non-farmers, is for us to get the outbreak under control as rapidly as we can, and to see the back of foot and mouth disease so that we can restart both normal agricultural and normal tourism operations.
The right hon. Gentleman is right, however, to identify two tasks that are especially important. The first of them is immediate--getting the reassurance message across to people that there is no reason at all why they should cancel holidays in the countryside or not regard the countryside as a place to visit, enjoy and find recreation. We will be very strongly putting across that message in the coming days.
Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): I thank the Secretary of State for sending the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting to Devon today. However, may I stress to him that it is not only a rural problem? The city of Exeter depends on the tourism industry for 2,800 jobs and for £85 million a year. The south-west tourism industry is telling me that, first and foremost, it desperately wants accurate information to be disseminated from a central point. Although many parts of the south-west are not no-go areas, the impression is being given that people should not go there. We have wonderful beaches, wonderful coastal paths, and, as my right hon. Friend said, wonderful towns and cities. Will he therefore ensure that accurate information is disseminated so that people start coming back to areas that are not affected?
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right to say that this is not just a rural problem, as people who may have booked rural holidays would usually in the course of such a holiday seek to encompass visits to towns and cities. Additionally, much overseas business is being affected by the general impression that is being given, despite the BTA's best efforts to try to correct those impressions, and much overseas business comes to the towns and cities.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): The Secretary of State mentioned sporting events. He will be aware that, this week, my constituency has lost the biggest horse-racing programme in the entire racing year, which is costing the race course about £8 million. He will also be aware of the knock-on effect in my constituency, and in surrounding constituencies, on guest houses, hotels, restaurants and shops that have lost an entire week's business. Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition came to speak to some of those people in my constituency. What message can the Secretary of State give me to take back to people whose businesses, which rely on this week above all other weeks in the year, have been devastated?
Mr. Smith: I of course understand entirely the difficulties that are facing those businesses and to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Decisions on whether to proceed with sporting events, including racing events, are entirely a matter for the sporting authorities themselves. The Government have not insisted or recommended that any particular sporting event should not be held. That is a matter that the sporting authorities will have to consider carefully against the obvious common-sense rules about the proximity to livestock, the way in which people get there and so on. Those are the common-sense rules that should apply. I am afraid that they apply to everything, of whatever size and scale.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Will my right hon. Friend emphasise the fact that, despite all the bad publicity, the Lake district towns are still open for business and that those who have visited our towns historically should keep coming? There is no problem in the towns. However, may I also welcome his visit this weekend to the Lake district, particularly to my own constituency, and express support for the proposition that he fully consider the possibility of safe zones being introduced in the county of Cumbria?
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to identify the continuing roles that towns in areas such as the Lake district can play as tourism destinations. I look forward to meeting later this week some of his constituents who have been affected by the foot and mouth outbreak in Keswick.
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with his colleague the Minister for the Environment as he appears to know nothing about the safe zones that were being announced on the "Today" programme as I was getting up this morning? Would the Government please co-ordinate on that matter?
I received a fairly helpful reply during the Budget debate from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who said that the Government would consider using funds to begin returning the countryside to a proper structure at the end of this terrible epidemic. Will the Secretary of State consider how people can substantiate their losses? It is terribly difficult to do so, but those who produce accounts and who have had severe losses could present last year's accounts in comparison with the figures achieved this
Mr. Smith: As regards the right hon. Gentleman's comment on safe zones, I must tell him that there was no such announcement. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is considering what policy should be developed for the important areas of the country in which there have been no outbreaks. He will have something more to say to the House about that tomorrow.
The right hon. Gentleman made a second point about substantiating losses. Issues regarding direct or indirect compensation are ultimately matters for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We shall, of course, give those matters careful consideration, but our immediate tasks remain the dissemination of right and unbiased information to the public and ensuring that we do all that we can to stamp out the outbreak.