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Hague: Foot and Mouth 'Disaster' for Tourism

After weeks of underestimating the extent of the crisis the Government is being forced to face up to the devastating impact that the spread of foot and mouth is having on the British countryside and rural businesses.

As the crisis has spread out of control, and with the number of cases set to increase dramatically, it is clear that foot and mouth threatens the whole of the rural economy. I've seen in my own constituency in North Yorkshire that it's not just farmers who are being hit, but hoteliers, people running rural tourist attractions and small shopkeepers. All of them are facing increasing financial strain.

The English Tourist Council have said that the cost to the tourist industry - worth £12 billion to the economy - is already £100 million and could rise to £250 million a week.

Take Cumbria, which I visited some ten days ago. Last year tourism was worth £964 million, while 25 per cent of the working population are employed in the tourist industry. In all, tourism accounts for 18 per cent of local GDP

As a result of the crisis the Cumbrian Tourist Board estimates that losses in the tourist industry are running at around £10.5-£11million a week. Some 350 jobs a week are being lost. Seasonal staff are not being taken on, making the probable figure much higher.

These are not big businesses that can take these losses in their stride. For small hotels or tourist attractions this is a disaster.

One estimate last week even put the potential overall cost of foot and mouth to the British economy of some £9 billion.

So the cases of hardship are real and they need urgent attention. Regrettably that is still not happening.

Last week, the Conservative Party put forward proposals for an emergency loan scheme to help rural businesses with their cash flow crisis. Under our plans, businesses most affected by the crisis would be eligible for loans of up to £10,000 with the qualifying amount based on turnover.

This would offer immediate and practical help to hundreds of hard-pressed businesses throughout the country. The Prime Minister said he would look at it. Yet we are still waiting for an answer.

Rural businesses cannot wait any longer. They need help and they need it urgently. And I say to the Prime Minister, if you can't adopt our plan in every detail, then come forward with proposals of your own. But to do nothing while businesses face going to the wall is not an option.

It's time to stop dithering, and it's time to get a grip.

Watch William Hague's speech courtesy of 'Communicating Live'

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