§ 4. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
If he will make a statement on the impact of foot and mouth disease on the number of visitors to the south-west over the Easter period. 
§ The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson)
Early indications show that visitor numbers to the south-west over the Easter period were some 90 per cent. of what they were in 2000.
§ Mr. Heath
Whatever improvement there may have been in some resorts and main attractions, there certainly has not been a similar improvement in the rural areas. Since Easter, people have not been making the lengthier stays that we would wish, and there has been no improvement for the many farm businesses that have diversified to provide overnight accommodation. The Minister has already heard calls from Members in all parts of the House for an immediate package of interest-free loans and a proper promotion budget. That is what we in the west country want as a matter of urgency. When are the Government going to overcome the scruples of the Treasury and provide them?
§ Janet Anderson
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Can I reassure the House that the Government in no way underestimate the difficulties facing farm businesses in particular, as well as everyone else in rural areas? The hon. Gentleman is also correct that the impact of foot and mouth disease on visitor numbers at Easter appears to have been twofold. First, visitors made later bookings and took shorter breaks, and, secondly, there was a disparity 633 in the areas visited. For example, compared to last year, visits to cities, towns and resorts were up by between 5 and 10 per cent., while visitor numbers in deeply rural areas were down by about one third.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government have already introduced a wide range of measures to assist affected businesses in these difficult times. The rural taskforce, which the Prime Minister set up under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, will continue to monitor the circumstances and ascertain whether enough is being done. However, all the current evidence suggests that deferments of statutory payments are being taken up and that the industry welcomes that.