Tourism (South-West)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:47 am on 28th March 2001.

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Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton 11:47 am, 28th March 2001

I congratulate Mr. Taylor on initiating a debate on a matter that is crucial to all our constituencies in the south-west. Reference has been made to Cornwall, the South Hams and Torbay being disease free. That is true for the bulk of the end of the far south-west peninsula, including my constituency.

I want to make some brief points about the role of cities in the south-west in re-establishing confidence in tourism in a way that helps the countryside. Often, town is set against country, but nothing could better illustrate the way in which each relies on the other for a thriving economy than the current circumstances. The hon. Gentleman emphasised the scale of the tourism industry in the south-west, which is second to none in the United Kingdom in its importance to the economy.

The health of the economies of cities such as Plymouth depends on a thriving economy in the surrounding area. An example that came to my attention over the weekend was featured in our regional BBC television programme "Spotlight on Westminster". A fishing tackle business in Exeter street has just been decimated by the impact of the crisis on fishing in the surrounding area. There will be many more such examples unless we can get some confidence back in our tourism industry, but there is every reason to expect that we can achieve that, and the historic cities of the south-west have a key role to play.

Disease-free areas such as those to which hon. Members have referred can become bases from which tourists can undertake visits with confidence and we must provide imaginative, up-to-date signposts to the other facilities that are open for business in affected areas. I recommend that my hon. Friend the Minister work with all the people who, I know, are beavering away on the local taskforce to emphasise that ours is not a can't-do peninsula, but a can-do peninsula. I often refer to Plymouth as a can-do city and I shall give brief examples to illustrate that.

I believe that the Minister visited our area recently, and is aware of the importance of the national marine aquarium. The aquarium, which attracts some 400,000 visitors a year, demonstrates more than any other attraction in our city the magnificent experience that can be had. On 7 April, there will be a presentation entitled "The Jewels of Plymouth Sound", showing some of the creatures that can be seen on the shores of the west country--octopus, cuttlefish and, I understand, a fish called "Tom Pot blenny". The aquarium was featured in last Monday's edition of The Daily Telegraph.

Opposite the aquarium is Dartington Glass, which provides an important industry in Mr. Burnett.

I want the Minister to realise that such tourist attractions can be promoted in an upbeat way. They can serve as can-do signposts, encouraging people to visit Plymouth and Cornwall with confidence. Perhaps there could even be a twinning arrangement between industries and tourist attractions that are open for business, and others that are not so evidently in that position. Perhaps the aquarium and Dartington Glass, for instance, could signpost that Buckland Monochorum is very definitely open. It is a beautiful garden centre with one of the United Kingdom's finest gardens, which will be featured throughout the country on gardening programmes this summer.

Plymouth also offers much in the way of water sports, and, in the evenings, one of the country's pre-eminent regional theatres, the Theatre Royal. We should make much more use of such amenities. People often try to set town against country, but in the present circumstances we can help each other by being imaginative in promoting our area. The same is probably true of all Ms Drown said that hers had much to offer, but so have Bath, Bristol--with its splendid millennium projects--and Wells.

Let me make a final suggestion, which arises from an experience that I had. Earlier, someone referred to the advice that is given abroad. When I visited Turkey at about this time last year, I met members of the Turkish tourist industry. They were extremely concerned about information that we had posted on our Foreign Office site describing the state of tourism in Istanbul, and mentioning the dangers of mugging and theft on the streets. They were at pains to demonstrate that that simply was not true.

I hope that the Minister can reassure us that not only our own sites and advice, but all web and internet information that is available across the world, are being monitored to identify both inaccurate information and opportunities to promote the can-do approach that we must make every effort to implement in the south-west peninsula in the next few days and weeks.