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Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lesson of BSE is that top priority must be given to ensuring that those parts of the rural environment, such as Norfolk, where there have been scares but, as yet, no outbreak of the disease must remain disease free? Despite the commercial pressures, we must take care to balance the just demand for publicity for positive movements by people with our long-term interests. We know from the BSE crisis that getting that balance wrong can result in a very great cost.
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the primary duty of the Government lies, as it has since the first day of the outbreak, in making sure that the outbreak is brought under control. We must not let it expand beyond the cases that may have already incubated before it was identified.
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): Does the Secretary of State appreciate the contradiction in what he has said about containing the epidemic while encouraging people to go to the countryside? Farmers in my constituency--those who fear foot and mouth and those whose animals are suffering from it--do not want to see people tramping about. On the other hand, tourism and farming are intertwined because of bed and breakfast, farm shops and the diversification of farm industries. All those things are hit by the crisis, and it will take a long time to sort matters out. If the Government do not set up a compensation package to raise the pressure from incomes and cash flows, there will be no infrastructure for tourism in rural areas.
Mr. Smith: There is no contradistinction between containing the epidemic and encouraging people to visit the countryside. We will very clearly continue to insist that people do not walk across fields, come into close proximity to livestock or walk along country paths, but there is a whole host of activities that can be enjoyed in the countryside. The best possible thing that we can do for the rural economy at this precise moment is to encourage people still to visit the countryside, to engage
Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): My right hon. Friend knows only too well how important tourism is to my constituency. Indeed, both he and my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting have recognised the great work of the Scarborough tourism forum. With that in mind, will he comment on the possibility that small businesses, which, obviously, make up the bulk of tourism across the country, may be the best vehicle for marketing the better quality message about what is open?
In the terms of the Yorkshire Post, the start of the season is Easter. We really need to ensure a good start to the season--this year in particular. Will he have urgent discussions with people such as representatives of the Yorkshire tourism authority, to ensure that it works with small businesses?
Mr. Smith: Representatives of the Yorkshire tourist board, along with those of all other regional tourist boards, will be meeting my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting tomorrow to talk through some of the issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) is right to stress that the message on what can and cannot be done must be clear. That is why having a central and accessible point of advice is so important. We are urgently working on that.
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): The Minister will know that a quarter of all the foot and mouth outbreaks are in my constituency in the Lake district. Agriculture, tourism, and the haulage, retail and all other sectors have been ravaged. I understand that, across the border, Dumfries and Galloway unitary authority is issuing forms to all businesses that are affected, so that they can state their monetary losses in order that the Scottish Parliament may one day reimburse them. Will the Minister look carefully at that and ensure that we, just south of the border in the Lake district, who are suffering even more, are not at the end of the day at a financial disadvantage to our colleagues and friends just north of the border? Will he in the longer term consider a massive advertising campaign once again to attract people to Britain and to get people back into the countryside, when it is safe to do so?
Mr. Smith: As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said just a moment or two ago to the House, we will of course be looking with great care and very great sympathy at what more can be done to help the rural economy over the next few weeks.
On an advertising campaign, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must ensure that, as soon as the outbreak is over, the message "Come back to the countryside" is loud and clear, for both the overseas market and, even more important, because the vast majority of visitors to our countryside comprise domestic tourism, for British people who may be considering taking a holiday there.
Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): Does the Secretary of State agree that the ramifications for the tourist industry are not restricted to this island but also apply to Northern Ireland? It is now clear that the consequences in misery and financial loss far beyond the farming community are incalculable. At one time, the country enjoyed a high health status because restrictions were placed on movement of animals into and out of it. Those firm controls were swept away by Europe on the ground that they were a restriction of trade rather than a health issue. Is it not clear that such restrictions always have been and always will be a health issue? Will the Government go back to their colleagues in Europe and tell them that they wish to have the former strict conditions on movement of animals and plants restored?
Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the ramifications for tourism spread right the way across the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, tourism had been picking itself up dramatically in the wake of the Good Friday agreement and the maintenance of a more settled peace in Northern Ireland. To see that progress now put at risk is obviously extremely disappointing.
The hon. Gentleman's question about the movement of animals is of course a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I am sure that he will have noted carefully what the hon. Gentleman had to say.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I declare an interest as president of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway Preservation Society. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, especially as my constituency is at the moment completely free of foot and mouth, the Worth valley railway specifically and the Bronte; area more generally remain an excellent destination for Easter tourism?
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right. As I have said, there are many activities that can still safely be undertaken in the countryside, and we need to encourage as many people as possible to take up those opportunities.
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): My question is linked to the one asked by my namesake, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton). Leisure tourism linked to the inland waterways is important to my constituency and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but it has been halted by the closure of the towpaths. Was the
Mr. Smith: I shall of course draw the hon. Lady's point to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, the fact that those organisations have not attended a meeting does not mean that their concerns are going unnoticed. We are very concerned about the impact on inland waterway recreation. We will continue in close discussion with representatives of the inland waterway organisations.
Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire): Five years ago, my constituency suffered the devastation of the Sea Empress oil spill, which had a massive detrimental effect on our tourist economy. One of the ways in which the effects were ameliorated in the short term was significant increases in the tourism marketing budgets, funded both by the Wales tourist board and the insurers. That certainly had an impact and improved the situation quickly. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that Wales as well as England will benefit from any additional marketing? Will he reassure me that the rural economy taskforce will include representatives from not only the Wales Office but the National Assembly for Wales?