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Foot and Mouth

4. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): If he will make a statement on the impact of foot and mouth disease on the number of visitors to the south-west over the Easter period. [158139]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): Early indications show that visitor numbers to the south-west over the Easter period were some 90 per cent. of what they were in 2000.

Mr. Heath: Whatever improvement there may have been in some resorts and main attractions, there certainly has not been a similar improvement in the rural areas. Since Easter, people have not been making the lengthier stays that we would wish, and there has been no improvement for the many farm businesses that have diversified to provide overnight accommodation. The Minister has already heard calls from Members in all parts of the House for an immediate package of interest-free loans and a proper promotion budget. That is what we in the west country want as a matter of urgency. When are the Government going to overcome the scruples of the Treasury and provide them?

Janet Anderson: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Can I reassure the House that the Government in no way underestimate the difficulties facing farm businesses in particular, as well as everyone else in rural areas? The hon. Gentleman is also correct that the impact of foot and mouth disease on visitor numbers at Easter appears to have been twofold. First, visitors made later bookings and took shorter breaks, and, secondly, there was a disparity

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in the areas visited. For example, compared to last year, visits to cities, towns and resorts were up by between 5 and 10 per cent., while visitor numbers in deeply rural areas were down by about one third.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government have already introduced a wide range of measures to assist affected businesses in these difficult times. The rural taskforce, which the Prime Minister set up under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, will continue to monitor the circumstances and ascertain whether enough is being done. However, all the current evidence suggests that deferments of statutory payments are being taken up and that the industry welcomes that.

Millennium Dome

5. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If he will make a statement on the preservation of the millennium dome. [158140]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): Like many others, including the London borough of Greenwich, the Government are committed to the dome staying in Greenwich. It is an important landmark on the London skyline and has made a major contribution to the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula. [Interruption.] If Conservative Members do not believe me, perhaps they would like to go and see for themselves.

The dome has also added to the quality and variety of the world-famous structures that were already so prominent in the area. Providing a successful future for the dome will build on that, ensure continued recognition worldwide and maintain the regeneration momentum that has been established.

Dr. Lewis: Given that the dome has cost the country more than £1 million a month since it closed, will the Minister try to prevail on the Prime Minister to reinstate his idea of referring to it in the first line of his general election manifesto? Is not the dome the perfect metaphor for the new Labour Government: flashy on the outside, hollow on the inside and costing the country a fortune long after it has ceased to serve any useful purpose?

Janet Anderson: I have no knowledge of the contents of the manifesto, but we shall be able to stand on our record better than Conservative Members could after their last term of office.

It is nonsense to claim that the dome costs £1 million a month to maintain, as press reports and Conservative Members have suggested. The cost of care and maintenance for the site and structures is approximately £600,000 and decreasing.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): Only £600,000 a month--that's okay then. The Minister claimed, as she has done on previous occasions, that the dome somehow contributes to regeneration in Greenwich. When will the Government realise that it is part of the problem, not the solution? When will they face the fact that it is an obstacle to the important task of creating jobs, prosperity and economic vitality in Greenwich?

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Having failed to sell it twice, the Government hope that everyone will forget it. People will not forget. The dome was supposed to be good for tourism, but when thousands of small businesses face ruin, is not it obscene that it sits there, closed but costing millions of pounds to the public purse? Is not that the price of new Labour's vanity?

Janet Anderson: The hon. Gentleman says that the dome was "supposed to be good" for tourism; I stress that it was. More than 6.5 million people visited the dome, which was the most popular pay-to-visit attraction in the United Kingdom in 2000. He is wrong to describe it as a lost cause. It has been a major catalyst for regeneration on the peninsula, which, less than a decade ago, was one of the most derelict sites in England. The benefits include new roads and other services on a grand scale, major retail outlets, a 162-bed hotel, a state of the art cinema complex, which is now open, and Greenwich millennium village. I advise Conservative Members to visit Greenwich and see how the area is being regenerated.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Will my hon. Friend remind hon. Members of the Conservative party's role, especially that of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), in creating the dome?

Janet Anderson: My hon. Friend is right. It is appropriate to remind hon. Members that the decision to build the dome at Greenwich was made under the previous Conservative Government and that the original chairman and chief executive of the dome company were appointed by them. They also determined the corporate structure, the use of lottery money to support the project and the role of the shareholder.


6. Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): What representations he has made to the Exchequer in respect of financial support for small businesses involved in tourism which have been affected by the foot and mouth outbreak. [158141]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): As members of the rural taskforce, we have been actively proposing measures to help small tourism businesses. A package of financial measures to help tourist businesses affected by foot and mouth was announced by the chairman of the taskforce on 20 March. As I said earlier, we have also announced an immediate package of help for the promotion of tourism to both the domestic and the international markets.

Mr. Evans: Tourism is vital to the north-west. It has a turnover of £1.5 billion, and supports 7 per cent. of the work force. I have received a letter from the chairman of the North West tourist board, Anthony Goldstone, who writes:

Support to date has been pretty useless. The letter makes some suggestions: at the top of the list are interest-free loans. Has the Secretary of State asked the

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Chancellor of the Exchequer to offer interest-free loans to industries involved in tourism? If so, has the Chancellor said no?

Mr. Smith: As I said earlier, what is essential is to bring visitors back to tourism businesses. We have already introduced measures to ensure that that can happen, but we are going further. I hope that later today we shall hear the announcement of a new initiative, involving a partnership between the Football Association Premier League and the British Tourist Authority, to provide a major boost for British tourism promotion abroad. I am delighted that the premier league is proposing to fly the flag for Britain overseas; it is a pity that the Opposition are not.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Inland Revenue in the north-west is doing a sterling job in helping all small businesses that require assistance with their considerable loans, and is producing very positive results? Some farm shops in exclusion areas, however, are suffering very badly. Although both the civil service and the Inland Revenue are trying hard, it would be helpful if we could convey further information to those who are particularly affected.

Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the assistance that is already available. I am pleased to tell her that today my Department's website will have full details for all affected businesses in tourism and connected with tourism about how to gain access to the various elements of help available to them.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): I welcome the impact on small businesses of the lifting of the quarantine on the royal parks, particularly Home park and Bushy park in my constituency; but is the Secretary of State aware of continued concern about the safety of the deer? Supposedly the infection has now entered the wild deer herd. Has the right hon. Gentleman any plans to vaccinate deer? If not, why not?

Mr. Smith: According to the best scientific advice that we have had so far, there is no evidence that foot and mouth has entered the wild deer herd, and certainly no evidence of any impact on the deer in the royal parks.

We have issued clear advisory and precautionary warnings to people entering the royal parks, and have specifically asked those who come from directly affected sources of foot and mouth to stay away. All the evidence suggests that people are heeding that advice responsibly.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): We are delighted to learn that the premier league in football is pulling its weight, but the question for the House is, what are the Government doing?

Earlier, the Secretary of State spoke of the importance of the regional tourist boards and their primary marketing role. Does he not recognise the growing funding crisis that is affecting our regional tourist boards? Does he not realise that small tourism businesses have no money with which to pay their contributions for marketing? Is he aware that the Government's failure to provide those adequate resources--described as "outrageous" by the chairman of the North West tourist board, who was

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mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans)--was condemned by the Yorkshire tourist board only last week as

and that lack of funds will mean the closure of the visitor information hotline?

It is no use simply saying that tourism businesses need customers and then denying the industry a budget for proper marketing. When will the Government grasp the seriousness of the situation and provide the resources needed to sustain that vital industry on which so many rural jobs depend?

Mr. Smith: The Government are, indeed, well aware of the needs for promotion and marketing in tourism. That is why we have already put in place some immediate measures to help, and it is also precisely why we have helped to foster the agreement between the British Tourist Authority and the premier league to which I have just referred. However, it is not only a matter of what the Government are doing, but a matter of what the Opposition are doing. When I read on the Opposition's internet site this very day that it is "not surprising" that holidaymakers

I have to say that that is a fine message to overseas visitors to this country.

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