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Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): My hon. Friend raises an important point about the regeneration of some of our traditional seaside resorts, which currently have to cope with crumbling infrastructure and with being on the periphery, both geographically and economically. The danger is that many of them will become fixed-income economies unless more is done to boost economic

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activity. The debate has concentrated on foreign tourism, but less than 10 per cent. of tourists come from overseas. The problem for our seaside resorts is that most people in this country live within an hour of their regional airport, rather than their seaside resort. Will my hon. Friend urge the Government to do more to regenerate seaside economies?

Mr. Fearn: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The improvements that we have mentioned will be of no value if potential customers are prevented from having access to the resorts, most of which are located around the coast. Since the election, the Government's refusal to upgrade roads to the resorts has been a continuing problem. It would be an acceptable and even laudable policy if only public transport access to those towns were increased; sadly, no such improvements have materialised. It really is a case of putting the cart before the horse.

In my constituency, there is continued investment in infrastructure and in old and new attractions through the construction of the attractive new promenade, grants for the restoration of the pier and the new modern tourist entertainment site that is soon to be developed on the seafront. However, there has been no improvement in rail services or roads feeding into the area, despite our receiving more than 4 million day visitors per year. The story is the same throughout the country: even if resorts are developed, the congestion involving in getting to them and going home, which causes irritation and pollution, deters visitors from returning. Does that help or encourage the 40 per cent. of the population who do not even take holidays to visit our coast, or our attractive inland resorts and countryside?

I urge the Minister to ask her colleagues at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to rethink their current policies. I do not mean that they should tarmac everything in sight, but they should invest more in public transport that is geared to tourism areas and occasionally allow the placing of a strategic route to an unserved area whose economy depends on it. Reopening some of the excellent tourist rail routes closed by Beeching, such as the one that ran from Preston to Southport via the Burscough Curves, would be a real step towards making our railways a public asset once more; many such lines are still available for redevelopment.

The Government must do more to create the right economic climate for tourism to flourish. I have asked time and again what progress has been made in investigating the proposal to reduce value added tax on hotel accommodation to average European levels. That question has not been answered in the tourism document, or by the Minister.

Will the Minister vigorously fight the threat to impose air passenger duty both ways on internal flights in the United Kingdom? Tourism is the largest industry in Scotland and is essential to the economic future of Northern Ireland. As the great majority of international visitors to the UK arrive in London and then travel on within the UK, is not that tax an incentive to the tourist to stay in the London area, which already teems with tourists in summer? Surely, sustainable tourism involves encouraging visitors to spread throughout the country, rather than deterring them from doing so. The BTA and the BITOA are especially alarmed by that development and I ask the Minister to take the matter seriously.

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It cannot be handled by the new Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly, but must be dealt with here in Westminster; I urge her to support Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Finally, may I remind the Minister that, in spite of promises to do so, she has yet to visit Southport?

10.26 am

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): I shall be brief and raise only three points, as I know that other hon. Members want to speak.

The first point follows from the remarks aboutthe south-west by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill). Although there are indeed concerns about the borders of the south-west, even as they stand, it is worth pointing out to the Minister that the south-west, with its infinitesimal amount of grant per head compared with that of Wales and Scotland, takes nearly double the number of tourists as Wales and Scotland combined. That cannot make sense. Along the whole Devon coast, tourism is almost, if not outright, the largest employer and biggest industry in seaside towns. Without tourism, there would be a major collapse of infrastructure in those areas, so it is essential that the Government pay greater attention to the creation of jobs in the tourist industry. We have not heard about job creation so far in the debate, and I urge the Minister to take that into consideration.

My other two points relate to upgrading. We must take positive steps to upgrade the standing of those who work in the catering and hotel industries. A chef in France is a person of considerable standing, but a chef in a hotel in Sidmouth is just a chef, because those who work in the tourist industry have no standing in their community. Many people come from Italy and France to work in hotels in this country, but I should prefer that we raise the standing in the community of such work, so that English people can take pride in working in the catering and hotel industry.

Mr. Quinn: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many young people perceive a career in hospitality and catering--especially the culinary crafts--as being an attractive prospect? That enthusiasm is owed in part to the phenomenon of the television chef. As well as good English people, we have good Scottish, Irish and Welsh people, some of whom serve up fantastic dishes in Scarborough and Whitby in Yorkshire--I urge the right hon. Gentleman to come and try them.

Sir Peter Emery: We are doing better--no one would suggest that we are not on the up slope--but in most of the seaside resorts the number of people with good qualifications is extremely limited, so I want the Government to do more to upgrade in that area of work.

My last point relates to the upgrading of the standard of food and food preparation. One of the great features of France is the Michelin guide and the fact that one can go to nearly any town or village within France--the same applies to Italy--and enjoy food of the very highest standard. Unfortunately, that is not the position in Britain. However, Egon Ronay, with great ability, has raised the standard of cooking and the status of the chef, and amazingly in London we have two three-star Michelin restaurants. That would not have been thought possible a few years ago.

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One of the great pleasures for a tourist or a holidaymaker is to go to a restaurant and have a special meal of a high standard. The Government should pay much greater attention to upgrading the standard of food and the standard of restaurants throughout the tourist industry. If the Minister were to pay some attention to that, she would do well. I apologise to the hon. Lady because I may not be able to remain in the Chamber to hear her entire speech. Madam Speaker has a ceremony at 11 o'clock in the Royal Gallery and I have to be in attendance. I thank the Minister for paying attention to what I have had to say.

10.31 am

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to an extremely important debate about an extremely important industry. Indeed, it is the growth industry, as the Organisation for Co-operation and Development has indicated on many occasions. That applies not only to my area, the west country and especially Cornwall, but to the entire United Kingdom.

The trend towards a widening gap between support for the tourist industry in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the one hand and for England on the other has been apparent for a long time. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) may be forgiven for not recollecting what happened in the previous Parliament because he was not then a Member of this place. However, I thought I saw just now the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) in her place. Indeed, I thought that she got to her feet. I thought she said that she found this "deeply frustrating . . . differential funding" something to complain about and deplore.

I thought that the right hon. Lady was the Minister with responsibilities for tourism in the previous Government. I do not recall her making such a comment when I and many other hon. Members from other holiday industry areas complained about the widening gap. Indeed, the per capita figure, to which hon. Members have referred, widened dramatically during the period of the Conservative Government, to a point where mere pence were being used to promote the industry in important areas of England, while the pounds were increasing in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. During the right hon. Lady's period in office--if it was she who was here and not her ghost--the gap widened drastically.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the development of the Government's devolution policies have added a new dimension to the debate about the disparity in funding between the various parts of the United Kingdom?

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