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12.16 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I hope to have time to respond to a number of contributions, not least the distressing case raised by the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner). First, however, I want to make my own contribution.

I make no apology for saying something about the holiday industry--not only because it is topical, but because my constituency is one of the most important holiday destinations, outside London, in the United Kingdom. Some 21 per cent. of the county of Cornwall's gross domestic product comes from the holiday industry--five or six times the national average.

In the week of the Concorde crash, it is a sobering fact that we are far more likely to suffer serious ill health--even fatal consequences--from the conditions in the aircraft cabin than we are to be victims of an air crash. The Aviation Health Institute, which I have consulted, and whose representative I met yesterday, tells me that of the 1,000 deaths that take place in flight and on board worldwide each year, more are due to heart attacks than to air crashes.

I became interested in the subject because it was discovered that organophosphates--the House may know that I chair an all-party group on that subject--are used as lubricants in aircraft engines. It was discovered that dangerous vapours from OPs can leak into the cabin in certain conditions, with a damaging effect on the short and long-term health of pilots, flight attendants and passengers. I have recently met Senator John Woodley from Australia, who is conducting an inquiry into the matter. There is also a House of Lords inquiry, and in a recent debate in Westminster Hall I referred to the lack of attention given by Ministers to the problem.

Recently, I became aware of other health conditions that can arise as a result of long-haul air travel in particular. Those include deep-vein thrombosis, infectious diseases, some cancers, and the effects of reduced oxygen supply. It is the last of those that most people are aware of. I am grateful to the Aviation Health Institute for drawing my attention to the experience of Lufthansa's medical director, Dr. Luntz Bergkau, who said:

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In those circumstances, it is ironic that our present Government and their predecessors seem to be pursuing policies that encourage holidaymakers from this country to fly abroad for their summer holidays. I shall highlight three examples of the way in which that seems to be happening: VAT, the differential between regulation and overhead costs in this country compared with our competitors, and the artificial value of the pound.

Until last year, there seemed to be a steady increase in overseas visitors to the United Kingdom; indeed, the number doubled in 20 years. There were an estimated 25.7 million visits, which made a major contribution to the economy. However, especially in parts of the country outside London, there is evidence of slackening growth, or possibly even a fall, in the number of overseas visitors this year.

Businesses that had already cut their prices to impossible margins during the Conservative recession, to try to survive, have had to cut still further until, unfortunately, many of them have gone out of business or have had to increase their prices. They simply could not pull their belts in any more tightly. That is particularly true in my county, Cornwall, and in the west of England.

I turn to the factors that seem to have caused the problem, of which the first is VAT. The House may know that value added tax on hotel accommodation in France is 5.5 per cent., in Greece 8 per cent., in Spain 7 per cent., in Portugal 5 per cent., in Ireland 12.5 per cent.--and in the United Kingdom, of course, it is 17.5 per cent. Anyone, whether in Berlin or Birmingham, who looks at a hotel brochure recognises the disparity between the tax that must be paid in any of those other countries and the tax payable in the UK. That has an effect on both our domestic tourists and our overseas visitors.

Deloitte and Touche was asked by the British Tourist Authority to examine the economic effects of changing VAT rates on the British tourism and leisure industry. It found that a cut from 17.5 to 8 per cent. would mean a loss of £400 million to the Treasury in the first year, but that the gains would be £400 million in that first year, going up to £700 million in 10 years' time, from increased income tax and corporation tax, and savings in social security. Perhaps just as importantly in areas such as mine, which still have relatively high unemployment, 50,000 new jobs would be created.

The report also highlighted the fact that in Ireland in the 1980s, having carefully considered the balance of advantage, the Government halved VAT on accommodation and meals, with a major impact on the holiday industry. That was confirmed to me when, with several of my Cornish colleagues, I met Government officials in Dublin this week.

The rate of VAT affects the relative value for money for UK and continental holidaymakers. Although there may be a good case for differences and discrepancies in the VAT rates on some commodities, people do not travel from London to France, or vice versa, to buy a newspaper simply because lower VAT makes it cheaper in one place than another. However, when it comes to holidays, the competition is intense.

Secondly, on regulation and overheads, it was extremely interesting to find that the Irish Government had tackled the matter with great alacrity and success.

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There are no water charges in Ireland. Compared with the south-west, where high water charges are imposed on our holiday industry, our competitors across the Irish sea have a major advantage. The same is true of local taxes. The uniform business rate can be a considerable imposition, particularly if it is set at a level that does not recognise the seasonal nature of the industry. The fire, hygiene and trade refuse charges imposed on the industry are a great deal higher than in other competitor countries on the continent or in Ireland.

Those penalties on legitimate businesses are made even worse because there is an degree of unfair competition at home. Any Member who represents a holiday area must know that the six-bed rule, and the pirates who exploit it, either by pretending that they have fewer than six beds or by ignoring the rule, are causing considerable difficulty. In opposition the Labour party said that it would deal with the discrepancy, but sadly, after three years of Labour government, the discrepancy still exists. The easiest way to deal with the problem would be to introduce local income tax. Account can then be taken of the ability to pay. Surely that must be at the root of a sensible local taxation policy.

Thirdly, there is the value of the pound. After agriculture, the industry worst affected by the failure to benefit from a stable currency environment must be the holiday industry. In Dublin I saw how well the holiday industry in that country was benefiting from being linked to the euro. That was very hard to take. There is a 20 per cent. competitive disadvantage to the United Kingdom holiday industry, and that is affecting a large part of the country--although perhaps not so much in London, where prices are higher anyway. It is certainly true of many of the more peripheral parts of the United Kingdom. The long delay in establishing a stable currency relationship will be devastating to the holiday industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), who takes a close interest in these matters, has asked the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting a number of questions. The Department has admitted that it is impossible to forecast the effects of exchange rates on the holiday industry. However, the omens are extremely bad. The evidence this year, in terms of the number of continental visitors to the south-west, including Cornwall, is that there is a real impact.

It is not all doom and gloom. I would hate to think that any right hon. or hon. Member leaving the Chamber today would not have his or her spirits lifted by the prospect of a happy holiday in Cornwall, so I shall be positive for a minute. First, we have a listening Minister. I pay tribute to her. The hon. Lady is coming to my constituency next week for at least the second time, and if I do not pay tribute to her, she might decide to go elsewhere. She is proving an effective advocate for what otherwise, I fear, is rather a Cinderella industry.

The three taskforces that have been set up--especially the resort taskforce, which my hon. Friends the Members for Torbay and for Southport (Mr. Fearn) have been urging to take action and to be more effective in getting real results--seem to be languishing in a bywater. There seems to be no effective reduction in regulation. Seaside resorts in particular have yet to see any real new investment or assistance.

The beach clean-up issue is in the news again this morning. It is a real problem. I absolve the occupants of the Government Front Bench from the problems that were

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caused by privatisation. Labour Members were on my side on that issue. We recognised from the outset that the privatisation of the water and sewage industry would impose intolerable burdens on some areas, not least because we are unable to take up the opportunities of EU funding that other countries, including Ireland, have had. The proposed legal action reported this morning must give the Government cause for real concern. I hope that it will mean that they will take action to help the worst affected areas.

On behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I shall respond briefly to some of the other points that have been made. I am struck by the way in which some themes have run through many speeches. Health and the environment have been mentioned very often today, as they have on previous occasions, as I am sure the Minister will acknowledge. The way in which we bring to Parliament our constituents' concerns on those subjects is important.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) talked about the health facilities for his constituents. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to Harefield hospital. I think that we all recognise that that is a centre of excellence. Some of my constituents have received excellent treatment there. I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the hon. Gentleman.

What the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) said about the link between leisure, sporting opportunities, fitness and health was interesting. That is extremely important, as are the concerns about mobile phone masts and the health of children.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) referred to the connection between the environment, health and a landfill site in his constituency. Again, other hon. Members will have had similar experiences.

I was struck by the fact that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) talked about patients' complaints before we heard the very harrowing experience recounted by the hon. Member for Brent, North. Clearly there is a major problem. Every hon. Member will recognise that unless we can improve the speed and efficiency of the complaints system, especially when something so serious as the death of a child is involved, our constituents will not be happy, whatever funding goes into the health service. Until that matter is dealt with, there will be something basically wrong at the heart of the health service.

Today's speeches have been dominated by the personal contributions and obvious heartfelt sincerity of several hon. Members. I cannot ignore the contribution of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who, sadly, is not now in his place. I pay tribute to him; he is absolutely right to say that this country's public services benefit greatly from the personal contribution of huge numbers of individuals. We do not recognise that sufficiently. His very sincere and thoughtful contribution strikes echoes on both sides of the House.

On a lighter note, I will cherish for some time the statement by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) that the new Conservative-led council in his borough was "restoring" the difficulties of a former era. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings!

I shall detain the House no longer; I simply wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and every other Member a very relaxing and refreshing recess before Parliament reassembles in the autumn. I know that there are other

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strains and stresses, and that most of us will have a great work load, but I hope that the recess will at least provide some Members with an opportunity to come to the delectable Duchy of Cornwall, where I can assure all Members that their health with be restored--and it does not have to be reached by aeroplane.


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