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5.45 pm

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): It may seem presumptuous for me, as I am about to make my own maiden speech, to start by congratulating the hon. Member for Midlothian (David Hamilton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) on theirs—two excellent speeches, giving in their own way a vignette of their parts of the world, which the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend will clearly represent so ably in Parliament.

Anyone with political aspirations has rehearsed the moment of their maiden speech many times over. I am sure that I can rely on the indulgence of the House in making mine. The full terror of the occasion crosses the political divide.

It is the custom in a maiden speech to refer to those who have gone before. Even if that were not the case, I should anyway want to start my speech by paying tribute to my predecessor, Sir Peter Emery, who is well known to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to others in the House.

Sir Peter's political career, which was lengthy, began with the ritual blooding of fighting so-called unwinnable seats—in his case, Poplar, which he contested in 1951, and Lincoln in 1955. Unsuccessful but undeterred, like so many of us, he went on to win Reading by 3,942 votes from Ian Mikardo. He represented Reading from 1959—incidentally, the year in which I was born—until 1966, when he lost to John Lee by just over 4,000 votes. In 1967 Sir Peter succeeded Robert Mathew in a by-election as the Member for what was then the Honiton division, with a majority of 16,000. In 1997, following boundary changes, the major part of that seat became East Devon, which Sir Peter represented until the election.

Sir Peter's record is one of unstinting service to his constituents and to the House. He was, I believe, an important influence on the Modernisation Committee, and I know that the House found his advice, based on many years of parliamentary experience, to be of enormous help. His retirement is truly a loss to the House.

The House's loss is my gain, and I stand here humble and honoured to have been chosen as Sir Peter's successor to represent East Devon, which can lay claim to be one of the most beautiful parts of our countryside. From the River Exe in the west to the borders of Dorset in the east, it includes the coastal resorts of Exmouth, whose foundations lie in Roman times and which was originally a busy fishing village but is now more of a tourist resort; Budleigh Salterton, which takes its name from the salt pans that were used to collect local salt for preserving by the monks at nearby Otterton priory; and Hayes Barton, birthplace of that great Elizabethan explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh who, I suppose, in his own way did so much for the tobacco industry and who, if alive today, would almost certainly have just returned from an overseas trip promoting his product. Incidentally, I hope that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will support me in my ambition to relocate his statue from Raleigh green in Whitehall to his birthplace in East Budleigh.

The charming seaside town of Sidmouth, near which I live, with its Regency terraces and villas, was immortalised by Sir John Betjeman. The small village of

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Beer was once famed for fishing and smuggling. The waiting women made lace there and so contributed to the foundation of the Honiton lace industry. Seaton, where the Romans landed and the Fosse way started, and nearby Axmouth, which is thought to be the site of the major Roman station of Uxelis, and from which until the late 19th century trading vessels sailed regularly to and from London, are also situated in the area. Those towns, together with a largely rural hinterland, including the towns of Axminster, which is famous for the synonymous carpet factory, and Colyton, represent my constituency.

East Devon, which is so rich in history, is not only about landscape and coastline, although I shall return to those aspects shortly. In Lympstone, we are proud to have the training camp of the Royal Marines. Exmouth, our largest conurbation, is home to one of the country's biggest secondary schools, which is also the country's largest community college. That contrasts with Colyton grammar school, which always scores highly in Ofsted reports and has just achieved long overdue beacon school status.

If I am guilty of anything this afternoon, it is that I may have depicted East Devon as a place from an England of yesteryear rather than of today. To an extent, that is truthful. Mercifully, we do not suffer from some of the problems and tensions that have been seen in other parts of the country. Although crime is a recognisable problem, it is not out of control.

Beneath that bucolic veneer, however, lie some all-too-real problems, one of which is rural poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) articulated the problems of farmers yet again today. Throughout the foot and mouth crisis, he has articulated the suffering of my farmers better than anyone whom I can think of. Our farmers and suppliers are desperate in the wake of foot and mouth, although to date we have been relatively lucky in having had only one reported outbreak. Our local magistrates courts in Axminster and Exmouth have been closed. Our infrastructure, roads, local shops and post offices, all of which people in the countryside depend upon, are under constant threat, just as our countryside itself is threatened by over-development.

A great number of my constituents are on fixed incomes. Some 27 per cent. of the population of East Devon consists of people aged over 65, which puts a strain on the health service. In some parts of the constituency, more than 6 per cent. of the population is over 85. Although our cottage hospitals are as good as any in the land, the pressures on our privately run care and residential homes are now truly worrying.

In my constituency, the income of our four main coastal towns is based mainly on tourism-related employment. We have an extraordinary opportunity ahead of us if the bid to give world heritage status to the east Devon and Dorset coast is successful. We will learn the result in December. The United Kingdom currently has 20 world heritage sites, 11 of which are situated in England and one of which is the Palace of Westminster, together with the abbey and St. Margaret's church.

The proposed world heritage site is the 88 miles of coastline between Orcombe point near Exmouth and Old Harry rocks in Dorset, with some exceptions of coastline that do not exhibit important geological or geomorphic features. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has been campaigning vigorously along with

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my predecessor for world heritage recognition. The geomorphology of the coast is of global importance. There is a complex spectrum of every combination of landslide-forming rocks of the Triassic, Jurassic and cretaceous periods, which together provide an extraordinary teaching laboratory comparable to similarly important landslide areas to be found in New Zealand and the Black sea.

World heritage site status will lead to new opportunities for tourism, but we must address them in advance. It is vital that the gateway towns to this proposed new site do justice to it. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to providing funding for the restoration of Seaton Hole and the Alma bridge at Pennington Point, which have suffered as a result of coastal erosion and landslides. Their current condition is a source of great local concern.

We must ensure that the tourism industry offers suitable training, first-class accommodation and, indeed, sufficient accommodation. We must reverse the trend that we have seen recently in Sidmouth, for example, of losing hotel beds to residential development. We must improve access by road, which will mean improving the A303, the A30 and the A35. We must improve access by plane, which will involve a controlled expansion of Exeter international airport. We must also improve our train services on both the Paddington and Waterloo lines as a matter of urgency. None of this can be achieved without commitment and funding.

In today's world, agriculture and tourism are interlinked. People come to our part of the world and marvel at our landscape. Unlike our coastline, it has been man-made over the centuries by landowners and farmers. It looks as it does because it has been farmed, and it must continue to be farmed. The Government must recognise that, above all.

I urge the Government also to recognise that tourism in my part of the world will not recover of its own accord. It desperately needs help. The total revenue generated by tourism in the United Kingdom during 2000 was around £64 billion. Of that, £6 billion was spent by tourists and visitors to the south-west, which amounts to 10 per cent. of the gross domestic product of the region. However, investment by the Government in the English Tourism Council, which includes the allocation to the council and to the regional tourist boards, was £11.7 million, or 20p per head of the population, compared to £3.77 per head in Scotland and £4.03 per head in Wales. Moreover, none of that money can be used for marketing. The report published by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport in May 2001 states:

I urge the Government to provide at least £3 million so that we can develop a professional and effective campaign aimed at our home and near-overseas markets. I urge them to reconsider the inequalities in funding to which I have just alluded. I also urge them to take up South West Tourism's plea to set up an independent competitiveness review of the costs and profits position of the United Kingdom's tourism business, compared with our overseas competitors, so that we can best judge how to increase what is, after all, the fourth largest industry in the country.

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I make no apologies for promoting my part of the world. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who have not finally settled on their summer holiday destination will now think favourably of the south-west, but with one caveat: that none of my colleagues bring a leadership campaign down there. I can guarantee right hon. and hon. Members who come to the south-west a memorable holiday; I can equally guarantee them welcoming and appreciative hosts.

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