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Mr. Meacher: My hon. Friend is quite right to say that confidence in the countryside is an issue of great importance. If confidence returns and people realise just how far they can take advantage of the attractions and the beauty of the countryside and return to it in complete safety in the knowledge that they are not transmitting the disease any further, there will be no better way of bringing relief to rural businesses in their thousands. People may not visit the countryside for that motive, but that will be the consequence. It is an extremely important lesson for everyone in the country to understand.
With regard to paragliding, the advice that I have received from the National Trust is that it intends to open 150 properties after it has carried out a case-by-case analysis. That is the way that everything is being done; there are no blanket restrictions and there will be no blanket openings. Those properties should open in the next week or two, so I suggest that my hon. Friend advises her constituents to contact the National Trust. It will give precise advice about local areas.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): Although I welcome part of the Minister's statement, does he really understand the true depth and extent of the fear, despondency and crisis in my constituency? I have questions on two specific issues. First, why will the Government not call out the Army in real numbers to bury the carcases that have been lying around for days in Devon? Why are they culling healthy animals in Cumbria and not dealing with the backlog in Devon? Secondly, how can we have county council elections in Devon on 3 May when many county councillors and many candidates from all parties are farmers? How can there be a proper democratic process in Devon? When will the Minister listen to the voice of Devon?
Mr. Meacher: We are listening to the voice of Devon; indeed, I intend to visit Devon for a whole next day Thursday. Of course, we are listening to Cumbria, to Powys and to Devon. Those areas are hardest hit and we take careful note of all the information that we have about them from MAFF and other sources.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that we should call out the Army to get rid of the backlog of carcases. I said in my statement that we recognise that that is a serious issue. However, we do not at this stage believe that that is the
With regard to elections, I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern when so many of his constituents and those in the surrounding area find it difficult to move around at this time. I repeat that I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I genuinely believe that to take such a decision at this point would be deeply irresponsible. If there is the widespread belief in the United States that BSE is exactly the same as foot and mouth, the message that some parts of England cannot even hold democratic elections will be taken extremely badly and it will be utterly counterproductive.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): There is a real crisis in my constituency and it is very hard to put into words what is happening in such towns as Keswick, where businesses, hotels, outdoor centres and shops have found that their turnover has dropped by 90 per cent. The whole turnover of some businesses in my constituency has been wiped out, so we cannot underestimate the significance of the package that my right hon. Friend has introduced. It will be appreciated in so far as it meets some of the central requirements and requests of the tourist authorities in the county.
In the detail of my hon. Friend's statement, he mentioned the countryside and rural areas. Can he assure us that the towns to which I referred will be included in those rural categories? There must be no mistake in the mind of the public, especially when it comes to taxation deferment and rates relief, which is what will concern people.
May I pass on a constituent's suggestion that was made to me on the telephone this morning? He has a simple solution, for which I think he has a case. He said, "Why not subsidise attractions?" My right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) referred to 100 attractions in our area. Why not subsidise those? That would bring people back to our areas to fill the boarding houses, hotels and restaurants and could well be a less expensive way of dealing with a problem that might turn out to be very costly in the long term.
Mr. Meacher: I do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation facing many farms and non-farm businesses, especially in Cumbria. When I was in the east and west midlands on Saturday, I met many representatives of small businesses who said that turnover had dropped by 50 or 70 per cent. and, in one case, by 90 per cent. I understand the problem. The question is how we can best respond to it quickly. That is what the Government have been addressing. There is no specific panacea; the package relies on a combination of measures that give well targeted, practical, short-term and effective help to tens of thousands of firms. That is our intention.
The package does apply to towns and small settlements in the countryside. Indeed, one matter under consideration is how far we can accelerate the application of the measures in the rural White Paper, especially in regard to parishes and small village settlements and the promotion
We will certainly consider promoting attractions, but we believe that it is much better to allow the local tourist board, under the direction of the English Tourism Council, to receive extra funding for that purpose, which we propose to provide. That is the best way to get more people to visit attractions and it will reduce the need for direct subsidies. No one wants subsidies; people just want to return to normal business. Carefully targeted extra funding can achieve that.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): Although I welcome the statement, which is a step in the right direction, may I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) said about the Army on Dartmoor? It is a permanent home to an enormous military contingent and there are three live firing ranges and dry training areas. The Army are all around the moor, in the moor and on the moor, but they are not helping the farmers. That is madness.
The South Hams, which is part of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend, has no foot and mouth disease and a huge tourism industry, but people from American and the midlands in particular believe that it is a no-go area. The attractions are open and people can walk on the sandy beaches. The Government could help by clearly stating that it is business as usual in the South Hams and that people from the midlands, the north and the United States in particular are most welcome.
Mr. Meacher: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the use of the Army on Dartmoor. I have already responded to that point. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will certainly be taking account of this exchange, and I am sure that he will have heard what the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) said. I repeat that we entirely accept that there is a serious problem and that it is totally unsatisfactory to have carcases lying around for several days. The question is how the problem is best dealt with, and that is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend. He will have heard those comments, which of course are not unique but have been made by many others, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will respond to them.
On the second point, it is precisely the aim of my statement and of the rural taskforce that the Government can open up the countryside where that can safely be done and so long as the basic rules are obeyed. My statement will be followed up with all the institutions that can assist, and there will be massive advertising campaigns so that the message is put across. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Government are doing their best not only in this country but abroad. The British Tourist Authority is increasing its advertising in areas that have seen the biggest drop in the numbers of tourists coming to the UK--the United States, the Republic of Ireland, Germany and France. There is a big campaign to set the record straight and to state that it is far from true that the countryside is out of bounds. In fact, the great majority of it is in absolutely no sense a no-go area.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): The measures offered by my right hon. Friend and the speed with which he has acted will be much appreciated by my constituents. The delegation that I led to the Wales Office last week to meet the Under-Secretary of State was seeking such actions. Will my right hon. Friend take note of the widespread effects that the cancellation of this year's Urdd National Eisteddfod in Cardiff will have? Will he note also the knock-on effects of the cancellation on Llandudno in my constituency? If the 2002 Eisteddfod is cancelled, the area will lose about £2 million. Will he therefore ensure that effects on the whole of Wales will be considered by the taskforce?