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Mr. Paterson: My right hon. Friend touches on cash flow, which is surely the most pressing issue facing those businesses. In the equestrian sector, a large riding school in my constituency, with 70 horses, has no cash flow at all. The arrangements for rates will be helpful down the road, but such businesses need a cash injection fast.
Above all, we need the restoration of normality as fast as possible. However, we need to look beyond that, at the exit strategies from the crisis. There will have to be a recovery strategy. In agriculture, the costs of stock replacement may exceed the levels of compensation paid for stock. There will be a period before farms can be restocked, in which farmers must have a livelihood.
A great deal of nonsense has been and will be spoken about the impact of all this on the common agricultural policy. The Liberal Democrats' Ruritanian naivety--cliche-ridden naivety at that--was a singular non- contribution to this debate.
Diseases such as BSE and foot and mouth will push agriculture further in the direction in which it already knows that it must go. It must move into the environmental market, it must move into the recreational market, and it must move upstream and produce more quality food. In other words, the task of public policy makers is to define what those public goods are and how we pay for them, so that we are not dependent upon contradictory policies that promote production while also seeking to promote and support policies that militate against production.
When we come to that debate, I hope that people will show some sense and realism about the directions in which agriculture must go, and will not chase some new form of Elysian dream that will not have the faintest bearing on reality. In the meantime, very many businesses are suffering acutely. They will continue to do so for the rest of this year and beyond, and the aid must stretch to them while the crisis lasts.
Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who as usual spoke a great deal of sense--if he does not mind my saying so. I was also pleased that he broadened the debate a little beyond the immediate impact of foot and mouth. The debate is on the rural economy, and if we were not holding it against the backdrop of that disease it might be rather different. For example, in my part of the world--Devon and Cornwall--unemployment is at a record low, whether in urban or rural areas. There is still big migration from urban to rural areas--those people are not moving to rural areas because life there is intolerable, but it is understandable that we are holding this sad debate against the backdrop of the current crisis; I shall restrict my remarks to that.
I was pleased with what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, said about the trends of the outbreak. However, I am slightly puzzled by the approach of the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), who constantly lectures the Government that they need to learn the lessons of 1967. I fear that he may have to eat his words. According to the current epidemiological projections, if the present trend continues, this outbreak will have been far more successfully and quickly contained and eradicated than the 1967 outbreak, which went on for eight months with far more cases. The hon. Gentleman should be more careful when he draws parallels with 1967.
There seems to be some general confusion in the House about the meaning of the term "under control". My understanding is that the scientific definition of a disease being "under control" is when one outbreak generates fewer than one further outbreak. Under that definition, the disease has been under control for at least two weeks--even in somewhere like Devon--contrary to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk.
That is not to say that we do not have enormous problems. My right hon. Friends the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Minister for the Environment will be aware of the particular problem in Devon of carcase disposal. However, although the hon. Member for South Suffolk says that he has visited Devon, he does not seem to have learned very much. He displayed the most extraordinary ignorance of our geology and of the fact that, after the wettest year for 300 years, our water table is at a record high. In the constituencies that are most badly affected, such as that of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), there is the highest proportion of people with private water supplies. All the experts and the Environment Agency say that the suggestion made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk for on-farm burial is the worst possible environmental solution to the problem. I do not know where he gets his ideas.
During this crisis, most Members have learned that often there are no simple solutions and no easy answers. I know that, in Devon, the Army and MAFF have been working around the clock to try to find appropriate disposal sites. It has been incredibly difficult. We have not had the luxury of the large disposal sites in Cumbria. Sites have now been found, but as the Government and authorities have--rightly--listened to the concerns of local people, there has been a delay in the sites coming on-stream.
I associate myself with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon that the Government should consider the possibility of taking away some of our carcases. I realise that Ministers would tell me, "You would say that, wouldn't you?", but there is now spare capacity in other parts of the country. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), who, sadly, is no longer in the Chamber, seemed rather reluctant to receive any of our carcases. I point out that, during a large part of the outbreak, we in Devon were taking carcases from his area into our rendering capacity, so there could be a generous quid pro quo. I urge the Government to consider that proposal. The situation is terrible. Human health problems could arise--as they have already done in some cases--with all those undisposed carcases left in the Devon countryside.
The crisis has been devastating and distressing for the farming community. It has also been hugely devastating for other industries--especially tourism, as has already been said. I am especially sorry for the small tourism industries in the areas most immediately affected and on Dartmoor, which do not automatically receive compensation. They face going out of business during the next few weeks unless more is done.
That relative success masks a huge disparity. In cities like mine, Exeter, takings were up on the previous Easter; indeed, during the Easter weekend, one of the hotels had to send away 30 couples because it was full. The coastal resorts did extremely well. I spent much of the recess walking around the coastal path, where there were crowds. However, on Dartmoor and in the rural areas immediately affected by the disease businesses had a terrible time.
I associate myself 100 per cent. with the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who, as usual, made a wholly constructive speech. It was full of practical, constructive suggestions, which I hope the Government will take on board. If they do not do so, some excellent tourism businesses on Dartmoor and in the rural areas of Devon will go to the wall. We have built up a high quality tourism industry during recent years; it brings enormous benefit not only to people from outside the region, but to people who live in cities such as Exeter, who like to go out and enjoy the countryside.
Those businesses will go to the wall unless they are offered some short-term help. More than anything, businesses want their customers back; they must get their customers back. We need a vigorous and well-funded marketing campaign for the rest of the year. Easter may have been better than we anticipated, but another bank holiday is coming soon, with another one after that. One swallow does not a summer make.
We need a vigorous marketing campaign--we also need access. I spent some time during the Easter recess trying to walk in Devon. I say "trying" because far too many footpaths and public rights of way are still unnecessarily closed--as is too much of our woodland. I implore the Government to step up pressure on local authorities, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission--or Forestry Enterprise, as it has been renamed--to open much more land to public access. That must happen in time for the May day bank holiday weekend in 10 days time. The limited reopening of footpaths just before Easter was crucial. If that had not happened in Devon, we would have experienced a far worse Easter and everyone would have gone to Cornwall or Dorset instead. I am sure people in those counties would have been pleased, but we would not have been.
I implore my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment to keep up the pressure on the Department of Trade and Industry for at least one extra bank holiday--preferably in the autumn. I know that it is not on the Government's agenda--as he repeats each time I ask him--but will he tell the DTI that we in Britain have fewer bank holidays than people in any country in the European Union except the Netherlands? Furthermore, our workers take less holiday--by an average of about a week. It is a complete myth to suggest that giving people more holidays makes them less productive; the opposite is the case. All the research shows that productivity is associated far more with investment in technology and training than with holidays. A work force who are not
The medium and long-term situation also needs to be addressed. At present, I think it is too soon to put a price tag on how much the crisis will affect us. Two conflicting reports have been produced by universities in Devon. The first was issued by the university of Exeter early in the outbreak--when we all thought that it would be far worse than it probably will be--and suggested that it would cost the county 10,000 jobs. Since then, research has been carried out by the university of Plymouth, which is much less pessimistic. However, I urge the Government to make a close study of what they think the impact will be, and to listen to the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington.
I am sure that on both sides of the House we all hope that the medium and long-term impact of the disease will not be as bad as we feared at the beginning. It is very good that the disease has been brought under control and eradicated more quickly than many of us--even the most optimistic--expected two or three weeks ago, but we are certainly not yet out of the woods.
May I make a plea for a couple of things? The first may not be popular in the countryside, but we need to hold such debates openly during times of crisis such as this: we need planning in rural areas. It is extraordinary that 75 per cent. of our land is in agricultural use, but accounts for only 1 per cent. of our gross domestic product--as the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon pointed out. Yet there is a housing shortage. It is not a popular thing to say, but we need more homes. Ministers may be aware of the storyline on the BBC Radio 4 programme, "The Archers", in which there is a big debate about a new housing development in Ambridge. I am with Roy and Hayley on this one. They are a young couple who are about to get married and desperately need a home, but the NIMBYs in Ambridge are trying to stop them getting one.
Our rural economy would be helped if we could have more homes. Farmers would also be helped if they were allowed to build two or three homes on their land. They would not then need taxpayers to compensate them for some of the losses that they have incurred. I hope that Ministers will take that on board. I know that it is a controversial suggestion, but we should debate such things; we should not be shut up by organisations such as the Council for the Protection of Rural England.
We need to restructure the Departments. That is not a slight on the work done by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, nor on that done by the Ministry. She is absolutely right--her staff have been working absolutely tirelessly in incredibly difficult conditions. They have worked miracles and, with hindsight, they will be judged much more fairly and favourably than they are currently being judged in the media.
It seems to be nonsense that a Department is dedicated to an industry that is responsible for just 1 per cent. of our gross domestic product, whereas tourism, which is far more important economically, is the responsibility of a small part of another Department, with no budget and very little clout. I hope that the Government will grasp that
Finally, on the reform of the CAP, all power to my right hon. Friend's elbow. I agree with her that the change of Minister in Germany is hugely important. I know Renate Kunast from my time as the BBC correspondent in Berlin. She is a very sensible woman, and I am sure that the Minister can do business with her. If we can get the Germans on board for a radical reform of the CAP, despite all the clouds and the gloom of this crisis, there could be a very bright silver lining.