My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, who opened our debate, has great experience and expertise in agriculture in this country. Once again, he has provided the House with an opportunity to debate this crisis, this dreadful foot and mouth outbreak in the United Kingdom. However, I believe that the efforts of the noble Lord to turn what should be a serious debate about containing and reconstructing many areas of the countryside, especially Cumbria, the Solway Firth, Powys and Devon, into a highly political diatribe against the Government is to be regretted at a time of national crisis. It is hard to take such criticism coming from a party that presided over the disaster of BSE.
The Government are determined to eliminate foot and mouth disease. Indeed our thanks go to my noble friend Lady Hayman for the enormous personal effort that she, along with her Ministry officials, is putting into the eradication of this dreadful disease.
While many noble Lords today have rightly addressed the plight of the farming community, I declare an interest in that I chair the West Midlands Regional Cultural Consortium, with responsibility for encouraging the development of tourism in the West Midlands. In my short contribution, I shall pay tribute to the work that is going on day in and day out under the leadership of the West Midlands Regional Development Agency, "Advantage West Midlands" and The Heart of England Tourist Board to minimise as much as possible the damage to a thriving tourist industry.
The tourist industry in my region welcomes the efforts at national and regional level to respond to the plight of the industry. At present, an urgent £50,000 advertising campaign is being launched in the run-up to the Easter break in order to emphasise the fact that the region's great tourist attractions are indeed open for business and pleasure. There are attractions such as Shakespeare's birthplace, the Iron Bridge, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle and many many others.
Furthermore, the regional task force is also tackling issues that will be important for the future; for instance, restructuring assistance, soft loans and the right business rate relief. It is also concerned that information sent to businesses is accurate. In order to ensure the region's future tourism prospects, it is examining the future domestic market and ensuring that the right messages are sent to the overseas market.
The Prime Minister recently visited the region. Staffordshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire have all suffered confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease. The more the Government can continue to work with regional task forces in their sterling efforts to overcome the great threat to tourism as well as to farming, the more we as a country and as an economy will recover from this ghastly visitation of foot and mouth disease.