Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): I thank the Minister for giving way and the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) for initiating this debate. The single regeneration budget is important. Although it applies in Ryde in my constituency and has already applied to Cowes, we are looking forward to its roll-out to other coastal towns, such as Sandown and Ventnor, which suffer particularly.
Dr. Howells: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that I was subjected, in a very pleasant way, to a considerable amount of information about the help needed on the island at the Isle of Wight stand at the
I assure my hon. Friend that at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport we are concerned that the problems that she has highlighted are tackled, not merely by our Department but by all the other Departments. We are determined that the fall in visitor numbers that she so eloquently described shall be reversed. For far too many families, the word holiday is equated with a flight to Spain or some other country. The Department and I must convince people that we have great things to offer them in this country.
Morecambe will finally be returned to its former gloryand morewhen we get the visitors back there, so all the schemes and projects that my hon. Friend highlighted need to come to fruition. That is not easy; there are many competing claims. As she and my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye rightly said, seaside towns and resorts have special problems and their claims are many. Some of the poorest urban centres that I have visited are in seaside towns. I understand that, until recently, the poorest ward in the United Kingdom was in Plymouth, and there are many other poor wards in coastal towns.
The way out of this dilemma is to try to reverse the habit that has grown up in this country of assuming that people have to go abroad to have a real holiday, so the quality of the product must be improved in our country. We are trying to do that; we are absolutely determined to push up standards. There are some great hotels, bed and breakfasts and attractions in this country, but we have a far too lengthy tale of under-performers, and great improvements have to be made.
If we are to revive the fortunes of many of our seaside towns, we must ensure that the people who travel to themwhether for a day trip, a weekend stay, a short break or a fortnight's holidaywant to go back there afterwards. That is why I fully concur with my hon. Friend in saying that the problems that she and my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye have highlighted, which almost involve the ghettoisation of poverty and disadvantage, have to be tackled at the root, and we must work with other Departments to do that.
I hope very much that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale continues to alert the House to those problems, as she has done this evening. I also hope that she continues to alert not only the Department that most obviously has responsibility for tourism in this countrythe DCMSbut all the other Departments that deal with social inclusion and regeneration.
We have to consider planning very carefully, as well as the way in which the social security system works. Through the regional development agencies, the problem of investment in those areas must be tackled in a much more co-ordinated way. As my hon. Friend says, there can be no more urgent need for co-ordination than that for public and private transport links, which are very important.
Nevertheless, I hope that my hon. Friend will not leave the Chamber feeling gloomy about the prospects. The Government have put in place a lot of money, and we are very much aware of the difficulties that we face in trying to help communities such as hers. I can tell her that the coalfields faced an extraordinarily bleak prospect. A very short distance from the area where I live in south Wales, thousands of well-paid jobs, which propped up our communities, were lost in a matter of months, but, 10 years on, many of those communities are thriving. We have reinvented ourselves; we have got new industries. That has taken real co-ordination and a determination to win, and it has involved a lot of lobbying of respective Governments. Of course, those responsible have done us a great service. We benefited from the formation of the Welsh Development Agency, and this Government have introduced the RDAs, which are still in the process of inventing themselves.
The RDAs have no more important task than trying to ensure that the criticisms that my hon. Friend makes are addressed and that there is a proper and coherent response, so that we can lift the blight that hangs over towns such as Morecambe and use their great potential not only to develop new tourism industries, but to make them lovely places to live, because that is such an important variable in that economic equation. If we do that, we all benefitthe British tourism industry benefits and Morecambe benefitsand we start to create centres of excellence, which can be a model for many towns throughout the country.