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First Minister Henry McLeish
"That particular comment was taken completely out of context"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 20:24 GMT 21:24 UK
McLeish - Farm disease 'a little problem'
Henry McLeish
Mr McLeish said foot-and-mouth was "a little problem"
Scotland's First Minister has come under fire after he told an American audience that foot-and-mouth disease was "a little problem".

Henry McLeish was addressing an audience in Times Square, New York, at the start of the Tartan Week celebrations.

He said: "I want all of you to think about coming to Scotland.

"We've all read a great deal recently about a little problem that we have.

"But Scotland is open for business."

Foot-and-mouth in Scotland
126 confirmed cased on 4 April
Animals slaughtered:
82,000 sheep
1,000 cattle
Of these:
11,000 sheep with tracings to Longtown Market, Cumbria
66,000 at farms within 3km of infected sites
5,000 at adjacent farms
1,000 cattle in Dumfries and Galloway

Mr McLeish told prospective tourists that the problem was mainly restricted to one region.

With reference to Dumfries and Galloway, where all but two of Scotland's 126 cases are concentrated, he added: "There is a problem in one area of Scotland with minor inconvenience."

The first minister's comments were condemned by opposition parties.

Shadow rural affairs minister Fergus Ewing said: "Foot-and-mouth is not a 'little problem' - it is a national crisis, which is causing misery and havoc.

"No doubt the first minister was trying to say something to help the tourist industry, and that must be done.

"But describing the foot-and-mouth crisis in such frivolous terms was a gaffe which will help no-one."

Fergus Ewing MSP
Fergus Ewing MSP: "Frivolous"
Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie described Mr McLeish's comments as "astonishing".

He said: "I find it absolutely astonishing that the first minister has chosen to belittle the suffering that our rural communities are currently going through.

"For him to refer to this appalling foot-and-mouth epidemic as a 'little problem,' displays crass insensitivity towards those on the receiving end of its devastation.

"Not only do Scotland's rural communities need support at this time they need understanding."

Mr McLeish replied that the remark was taken out of context and said he was trying to make the point that the overwhelming majority of tourist attractions were open for business.

He is in the United States to urge Americans to ignore the "myths and misconceptions" surrounding foot-and-mouth disease and come to Scotland on holiday.

Tory leader David McLetchie
David McLetchie: "Crass insensitivity"
Mr McLeish has been keen to set the record straight over fears that Scotland is a no-go area in the wake of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Mr McLeish is accompanied by Tourism Minister Alasdair Morrison and visitscotland's deputy chairman Michael Cantlay.

Earlier he had delivered the message to leading travel writers at a visitscotland lunch in New York.

Mr McLeish also attended an event promoting Scottish-built double-decker buses which are launching sightseeing trips in New York.

Meanwhile, Scotland's Rural development minister Ross Finnie has cancelled the Easter holiday for the cabinet sub-committee set up to monitor foot-and-mouth.

Mr Finnie said it would not be "appropriate" for the body to stand down during the two-week recess at Holyrood, which begins next week.

The news came as Scotland's chief veterinary officer, Leslie Gardner, admitted that the State Veterinary Service was "not ahead of the disease".

Pre-emptive cull

Mr Gardner said that the 48-hour target for the slaughter of animals on premises which have been in contact with infected farms was not being met.

He also told the Rural Development Committee that work still had to be done to meet the two-day timescale under the mass pre-emptive cull.

He said: "We are not ahead of the disease yet. We are putting in place the steps which we believe will get us there - getting the cull finished, getting the firebreaks up.

"While the numbers of cases we are getting are not escalating, we are still getting cases in new areas and until we can stamp this out and stop that happening, I don't consider we are ahead of the disease."

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See also:

03 Apr 01 | Scotland
Pyres prompt health fears
03 Apr 01 | Scotland
Scotland launches tourism offensive
31 Mar 01 | Scotland
Blair praises foot-and-mouth efforts
28 Mar 01 | Scotland
Animal disease spreads in Scotland
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