HC Deb 17 July 2001 vol 372 cc135-7
2. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

If she will make a statement on the impact of foot and mouth on tourism in Scotland. [2639]

6. Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

What steps she has taken to facilitate cross-border co-operation over the handling of the foot and mouth crisis. [2643]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes)

The impact of the foot and mouth outbreak has been severe in Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom. There has, however, been active cross-border co-operation. The Scottish Executive have worked well with Whitehall Departments on both policy and operational aspects. All agencies, including the Scotland Office, have co-operated in getting across the message that Scotland is open for business.

Dr. Lewis

I am reassured by that response from the Secretary of State, but has he found in Scotland, as we have in the New Forest, that one effect of the crisis has been that many tourist centres and businesses that have never been closed have been shunned by people wrongly thinking that they were closed? Will he do everything in his power to advertise the fact that tourist centres in Scotland are not closed, in many cases never have been closed, and should be visited at every opportunity? The tourism industry—certainly in the New Forest, where foot and mouth did not even break out, and, I am sure, in Scotland—has been desperately hard hit.

Mr. Foulkes

The hon. Gentleman is right about everything except one point: I am only the Minister of State, not yet the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State and I have been very active in promoting the fact that Scotland is open for business. My right hon. Friend went to the Trossachs, Loch Lomond and Ben Nevis very soon after the crisis began, to illustrate the fact that they were open. I went to Stirling castle and Stirling jail—[Interruption.] The old jail. I went to Culzean country park, and spoke to journalists in Brussels—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That was my only overseas visit, apart from going to the Western Isles. I also met overseas journalists who came to Loch Lomond and other parts of Scotland. The Secretary of State and I, along with our colleagues in the Scottish Executive, will do everything that we can to get over the message that Scotland, like other parts of the UK, is very much open for business and welcomes tourists, wherever they come from.

Mr. Beith

Is the Minister aware that, whereas during earlier stages of the outbreak the Scottish Executive, as well as handling the crisis rather better than those in England did, were helpful to those of us who had to deal with problems on the English side of the border going into Scotland, there is now a limit on cross-border movements, so that farmers who have cattle in equivalent condition and want to send them to the abattoir in Ayr or Bathgate cannot do so, even though the limit seems to have no scientific basis? Will he arrange for civil servants of the two Administrations to talk to each other more, so that they can discuss the matter?

Mr. Foulkes

The civil servants of the two Administrations are in very close touch, on that and other matters. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to meet Rhona Brankin, the Minister responsible for such matters in the Scottish Executive, so there will be discussions at ministerial level later this afternoon. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take on board the point that the right hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries)

Will my hon. Friend listen sympathetically to the concerns of many hill sheep farmers whose markets have been closed off and closed down as a direct result of restrictions on animal movements designed to combat foot and mouth? Will he undertake to discuss with colleagues appropriate compensation arrangements?

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend is right; we are certainly taking that on board. There is a huge problem with 3.5 million hill lambs, which must be dealt with in one way or another, because they will suffer if left on the hills during the winter. They can be slaughtered and go into cold storage, and farmers can receive compensation. Alternatively, we could eat more lamb. We are considering all the options. I attended an ad hoc meeting on the matter on Wednesday, and the Secretary of State is attending another later this afternoon. We are treating it as a matter of great urgency.

I know that some regard suggestions such as that we should eat more lamb as a bit of a joke, but this is a serious matter. Eating more lamb would certainly help to solve the problem and reduce the amount of compensation that we would have to pay.

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the approval in Europe of a procedure called alkaline hydrolysis at elevated temperature—he does not need to remember all that—which would get rid of the need for mass burial and rendering? A firm in my constituency holds the licence for such a procedure, which would have obviated many of the problems of foot and mouth, and dealt with BSE, too. Does my hon. Friend welcome the tremendous opportunity for a major manufacturing facility in Scotland to deal with such crises?

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend has made that suggestion before, and it is one that we should take on board. I can assure him that there have been no new cases of foot and mouth in Scotland since 30 May. That is no cause for complacency, but things seem to be improving significantly. Cleaning and disinfecting of farms is well under way: we have already done more than half the infected farms in Scotland. The farms involved were in a small area around Dumfries and in parts of Galloway and the borders—the rest of Scotland was not affected. We have been trying to broadcast that message as widely as possible.

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