HL Deb 29 March 2001 vol 624 cc403-6

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their estimate of the impact of the foot and mouth outbreak on the tourism industry in England.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the best estimate by the English Tourism Council of the loss to the tourism industry in England is that it is in the order of £100 million a week and that it could reach £250 million a week if the consequential implications of the foot and mouth outbreak continue well into the summer season.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. In light of those worrying figures, will the Government ensure that interest-free loans are available as art emergency measure to tourism businesses that cannot pay their bills or keep on staff as a direct result of the catastrophe? Have the Government been successful in persuading the German agriculture ministry to drop its current advice, which is that people should not travel to this country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, on the noble Baroness's second point, the British Tourist Authority is working hard to persuade people from Germany that a very large part of Britain, including a very large part of its countryside, is open for tourism. However, Germany is not the worst case in this regard. If the noble Baroness has watched the news on CNN recently, she will know that some extraordinary ideas are circulating in the United States about the way in which foot and mouth disease is affecting Britain as a tourist destination. We are working hard to eradicate those: damaging ideas.

On the noble Baroness's first question, providing interest-free loans is one measure that the task force is considering. The list of measures was made available last week and I am sure that the matter will be followed up.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, the Minister may like to know that I held a university reunion at the Malvern Hills Hotel Fast weekend and that we drank Malvern water but did not trespass on the Malvern Hills. Will he comment on the fact that tourism is a more important industry economically to Britain that the agricultural sector?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, if my noble friend's university reunion was like other reunions. I rather assume that he was drinking more than just Malvern water, admirable though it may be to drink that water. When this issue was raised last week, I referred to the situation at Porlock in Somerset where it is said that 90 per cent of the land is agricultural but that 90 per cent of employment is from tourism. That is true of a large part of the country.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the division between tourism and agriculture is unfortunate? In most rural areas, tourism depends on the agricultural sector's contribution to the landscape and on its produce, and agriculture depends on tourism to a large extent now that farmers have diversified and because they sell their produce to tourists. Does he think that developing a false sense of competition about whom one should feel the most sorry for is not a constructive way forward?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness's comments. I hope that nobody in government or in any position of responsibility is helping to develop a sense of division between tourism and agriculture. The point is not just that the two sectors feed off each other, so to speak, but that a large number of people are engaged in both.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, can the Minister use his influence with our New Zealand cousins? My daughter-in-law's New Zealand family have said that they will not come over here next September because of foot and mouth disease. However, I have prevailed on them to come.

Also, to follow on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, does the Minister agree that British farm produce that is sold at farm shops and farmers' markets is essential? Will he do what he can to prevail on various ministries and agencies to sort out the provision of comprehensive advice to specialist cheese-makers?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, those are two very different points. On the noble Countess's point about New Zealand, the British Tourist Authority will work there as it does elsewhere. I am delighted to hear that she has persuaded her family to come. I hope that they will persuade their friends and neighbours to come as well.

The issue of specialist cheese manufacturers is slightly too precise for me to give a helpful response. There is a widespread misunderstanding in this context. Some claim that British farm produce of any kind is dangerous to health; it is not.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, did the figures in the Minister's original Answer include the cost of unemployment benefit, which, sadly, will become payable to a considerable extent in the affected industries?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the figures are intended to cover that as well. The noble Lord will recognise that it is very difficult to calculate those figures. One cannot simply use the price of a hotel room, for example. One has to examine the opportunity cost, the mix between fixed and variable costs and the public costs of losing jobs. Tourism is a highly labour-intensive industry. If one loses £30,000 in turnover one has probably lost a job.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, the Minister said in his Answer that the Government were working hard to counter misconceptions abroad. Would the Government consider making special funds available through the Central Office of Information and our embassies to aid in that task?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that could involve duplication of effort. The British Tourist Authority has that primary responsibility. In areas in which it does not have direct representation, it works through our posts overseas.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, can the Minister encourage the English Tourism Council to carry out regular surveys of the damage caused to the tourism industry? That would ensure that if financial help was forthcoming, it would be distributed quickly and effectively.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I think it is fair to say that more than regular surveys are carried out. Continuous surveys are carried out by the English Tourism Council, by economists and statisticians in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and by other departments that may have a contribution to make.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does the Minister think it would boost English and British tourism if some of our political leaders announced now that they were planning to holiday in England this year?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I heard a suggestion that Ministers should travel around the world in order to boost efforts to bring overseas tourists to Britain. The two are not incompatible.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the agricultural and tourist industries have exactly the same priority of ridding the country of this pestilence?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, yes. But there are differences of emphasis in the sense that those affected in the tourism industry are not necessarily in the same areas as those in the agricultural industry who are affected. The message we have to get across is that a large part of this country is not directly affected by foot and mouth disease and its tourist industry therefore should not have to suffer. That is far from being the case at the moment.

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