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Mr. Smith: On the benefit that Wales could get from a marketing campaign, the marketing of Wales specifically as a destination is a devolved matter and would be one for the WTB. However, the British Tourist Authority, which has oversight of the marketing of Britain as a whole, including the wonders of Wales, will ensure that Britain is marketed as soon as the outbreak is over. There is Welsh representation on the rural economy working party, and Welsh representatives attended the meeting that took place earlier today.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The Secretary of State will be aware of the coruscating impact and deep sense of foreboding in the Yorkshire dales among thousands of businesses that are wholly dependent upon tourism. There are two things that he can do in short order. First, he can give local authorities the means to relieve business rates. Secondly, he can instruct the regional development agencies, which the Government created, to help small businesses that fear that they may not meet their obligations. He will reassure people in the Yorkshire dales if he makes it clear that he does not want large numbers of people meandering around the area in their cars as if it were an open area where one could choose between the parts that were infected and those that were not.
Mr. Smith: We shall carefully consider issues such as business rates. As I said earlier, it will ultimately be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Regional development agencies may well have a good role to play, and we shall seek to discuss that with them.
The message must be crystal clear on the way in which visitors conduct themselves. We do not wish visitors to go on to farmland or into proximity with livestock. However, there are many other activities in which visitors can engage in the countryside, and we want to encourage them to do so.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): The Secretary of State knows that, unfortunately, my constituency has a huge infected area. He will be aware also that it is one of the most popular destinations for spring holidays. In those circumstances, I am confident that my constituents will share his view that it is important not to overreact.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the lending institutions, banks and building societies that are overreacting? I have evidence of a lending institution that has forthwith withdrawn funding facilities. Will he make urgent representations to banks, building societies and other lending institutions to take a more balanced view, as he has done?
Mr. Smith: Yes and yes. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important not to overreact. The message that can usefully go out from all parties in the House is that we should not do so. That would fundamentally undermine the very rural economy that we are trying to protect. I would want to make representations to lending institutions about the need to consider sympathetically the needs of rural businesses.
Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): May I welcome my right hon. Friend's recognition of the scale of the problem? Nowhere is that more relevant than in Plymouth, and the surrounding Devon and Cornwall area, where tourism is a vital activity. I thank him for sending the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting to Devon, including Plymouth, today. I believe that, as we speak, she is concluding her visit to one of the jewels among our tourist facilities: the national marine aquarium.
In promoting the important message that the public should consider what they can do in rural areas and cities such as Plymouth, I urge my right hon. Friend to take a leaf out of the book of local ramblers in the area that I represent, who instead of rambling across Dartmoor are donning their boots and walking along some of the roads in Plymouth, which have some of the most beautiful vistas in the United Kingdom, as he well knows.
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right. I remember my visit to the national marine aquarium a year or so ago. The message must be clear: there are plenty of activities for people to do; please come to rural Britain.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) mentioned the Yorkshire dales; the same problems exist in the Derbyshire dales. More than 20 million people usually visit the Peak district. At the weekend, a representative of the Peak park said on radio that people should not go into the towns. Why has not the Department issued clearer guidance so that everyone knows the exact criteria that the Secretary of State mentioned? This afternoon, he has conveyed mixed messages.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Does my right hon. Friend recall that the busiest weekend for hotels in my constituency has been ruined by foot and mouth disease, which led to the cancellation of the Wales-Ireland rugby match? Hotels in urban Newport are a centre for visitors to the area's hinterland, which includes the Wye valley and the Brecon beacons, and the other marvellous attractions of rural and urban south Wales. Is it not wrong to suggest that there is a division between rural and urban tourism, which are inextricably intertwined? If assistance is provided, is not it right to give it to those in rural and urban areas? We could get into the grotesque position whereby a large, prosperous rural hotel, which could be part of a multi-million pound international chain, receives assistance while small, struggling hotels in my constituency and other urban areas get nothing.
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right. There should not necessarily be a distinction between our approaches in urban and rural areas because some urban settings are also experiencing the impact of foot and mouth disease.
As I said earlier, it is up to the governing bodies of sport to decide whether events should go ahead. I am pleased to note that, so far, the France-Wales match, which is due to take place at the weekend, is still on.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): As of 11 am today, Cheshire has become unsafe. Our first confirmed case has occurred in Baddiley in the south of my constituency. The Secretary of State should carefully consider consulting the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about banning much more movement in rural areas. First and foremost, we must stop the spread of the disease. Travelling around the country, whether it is tourists or lorries carrying dead carcases from Devon to the Widnes rendering plant, should be restricted. We have a national emergency, and we should introduce measures accordingly.
Mr. Smith: It is important to follow strictly the veterinary advice that we receive. That advice is clear: in some circumstances, movement of people or animals is dangerous and poses a risk and should not therefore be permitted. However, other activities are perfectly safe and can be permitted. We must distinguish clearly between them.
Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): It is already possible for councils to provide relief on business rates in cases of hardship. Will my right hon. Friend remind his colleagues of those powers and encourage them to provide the resources to enable councils to do that?
We encourage diversification from pure farming activities in rural areas. Regrettably, some people, including some of my constituents, must consider that possibility earlier than they might have done. Will the
Mr. Smith: In relation to my hon. Friend's second point, much of the rural development money to which he refers will come on stream from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food quite rapidly--it will come on stream very soon. Many people may want to consider taking advantage of it.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): I do not think that the Secretary of State is fully aware of the nature and extent of the crisis that is developing in the countryside. If it continues into the Easter holiday period, thousands of rural businesses will go bankrupt. I was pleased to hear him say that he was looking into inland waterway holidays and narrow boat holidays, but is he aware that British Waterways has closed the whole of the inland waterway network and all towpaths? Although none of us wants to take undue risks with the spread of the disease, will he look, or have his Department look, into whether absolute closure is entirely necessary? Can there be some selective and progressive lifting of the restrictions, subject always, of course, to the fact that people must not walk on farm land and must stick to roads? If they do that, perhaps the risk of the spread of the disease in that way will be minimal and there could be some relaxation of the regime.