27th March 2001

Q5 Alison Halford:

Will the Minister make a statement on how he will co-ordinate economic, agricultural and tourism policies to combat the effects of foot and mouth disease in areas of north Wales? (OAQ10581)

The First Minister:

The Cabinet, and the Deputy First Minister and the Minister for Rural Affairs in particular, has day-to-day responsibility for the co-ordination of the National Assembly’s response to the impact of foot and mouth disease on agriculture and tourism. We are attempting to relaunch the tourism industry. There are resorts in north Wales that are a long way from the nearest outbreak, such as Llandudno, Rhyl and Prestatyn. There are also such areas along the Cardigan Bay coast, such as Portmeirion, where the Welsh Affairs Select Committee launched its report, ‘Wales in the World: the Role of the UK Government in Promoting Wales Abroad’, this morning. Parts of Snowdonia have been fenced off to allow some mountaineering and hillwalking to resume. Even in Anglesey, some attractions such as Pili Palas, the butterfly farm and exhibition centre, are open. There are many places to visit and things to do in north Wales. We must relaunch the tourism industry before Easter if possible. If not, it must be done as soon thereafter as possible.

Alison Halford:

Do you agree that the time has come to work together as a united Assembly in a balanced and sensitive way, rather than some of our colleagues mounting unhelpful and unconstructive attacks that do not help anyone?

The First Minister:

I agree. People want to hear objective facts. Media coverage of the disease has been overdone. That is partly because of the nature of the media, as television pictures are terribly dramatic. Pictures of burning pyres of sheep and pig carcasses have been transmitted across the world and are now imprinted on people’s minds. It takes a long time to rebuild confidence. In the United States, it is said that it can sometimes take five years to rebuild an image once people have seen those kinds of pictures on television. It will take the devil’s own job to regain people’s interest in the UK and, in particular, in Wales. When the time is right, we will start to do that. The Wales Tourist Board’s budget has been doubled this year. We have increased its budget from £14.5 million to £30 million for the new financial year that starts next week. It is just a matter of when to relaunch the tourism industry. We must hit the industry in a united way to persuade tourists—within Wales, the rest of the UK, Europe and the United States of America—to return to Wales.

Dafydd Wigley:

I endorse the First Minister’s earlier comments. We appreciate the leadership given by the farming unions and people in the tourism sector who are under tremendous pressure as a result of this crisis. I also thank the veterinarians who have been working long hours. Does the First Minister accept that we must advertise urgently to attract visitors back for Easter to the attractions that are already open and to others that could be open by then? Will he examine what happened in Brittany after the oil-spill there last year? The Government in Paris provided tens of millions of pounds in additional money for television adverts to attract people back to Brittany. Can we have money in addition to the Wales Tourist Board’s basic budget to enable it to lead such a campaign?

The First Minister:

There is an interesting comparison between this crisis and what happened after the Sea Empress disaster in Pembrokeshire or after a ship spilled so much oil along Brittany’s coast and beaches. What is more difficult with this crisis is that the results of the clean-up are not tangible. In a physical sense, a successful clean-up is more obvious following a crisis such as oil spilling onto beaches. With this crisis, you cannot see that things have been cleaned up.

It is important that we wait for the right moment to relaunch our tourism industry. Perhaps we can do so before Easter but, if that is not possible, we will do so straight after Easter. We must ensure that we can attract visitors and rebuild Wales’s image as a clean, green and attractive country. When the time comes, we will relaunch the tourism industry using the additional money that we have. It is the British Tourist Authority’s responsibility to advertise Wales’s attractions in the United States. I am not sure of the details at the moment, so I will write to Dafydd. As I understand things, the authority will have additional resources to relaunch Great Britain’s tourism industry in order to attract tourists back to Wales, Scotland and England when the time is right and when we have the basis for spending the additional money on advertising.

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