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Hague: The tragedy of foot and mouth

Campaigning in St. Ives, the Rt Hon William Hague, Leader of the Conservative Party:

"Today our countryside is in crisis. Agriculture was already going through its worst depression for sixty years. Farm incomes have halved and then halved again. 40,000 farming jobs have been lost over the past two years. All this before the scourge of foot and mouth hit.

The spread of Foot and Mouth has been a national tragedy but few areas of the country have suffered as much as the South West. Farms that have taken generations of hard work to build up have been all but wiped out in a matter of weeks. Tourism and other local businesses have seen their turnover collapse.

Communities and families have borne their misfortune with great dignity but many are on the brink of despair. They need help and they need it now. They need to know that just because the cameras have left, just because the media has moved on, that they haven't been forgotten.

I tell you this, the Conservatives have never forgotten you and will not forget you during this Election or after it.

Just as we were the first to argue for stronger steps to eradicate the foot and mouth outbreak more quickly, so we will take firm action to prevent this terrible disease from entering Britain again when we are in power.

Just as we were the first to call for food imports to meet the same high standards of hygiene and animal welfare as British products, so we will be the first Government to introduce honesty in labelling to guarantee that when something is labelled British it is in fact British.

Just as we were the first to urge this Government to introduce an interest free loan scheme to help businesses through their cashflow crisis, so we will introduce that scheme ourselves the day after we are elected.

Just as we were the first to address the need to make our rural economy viable again, so we will make that vision a reality by cutting business rates for rural shops, pubs, garages and village post offices.

And just as we pressed for a cut in Labour's hated stealth tax on fuel, so we will take 27p off a gallon of diesel and petrol in our first Budget because we know that in the countryside a car is a necessity not a luxury.

The next Conservative Government will put an end to the division between town and country that Labour and their Liberal allies have done so much to create.

We understand, as they do not, that preserving our rural way of life, its liberty and its livelihood, its beauty and its traditions, its farms and its businesses is about protecting a part of our national character which makes us all who we are, wherever we may live."

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