Tourism (South-West)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:54 am on 28th March 2001.

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Photo of Mr David Atkinson Mr David Atkinson Conservative, Bournemouth East 11:54 am, 28th March 2001

I too congratulate Mr. Taylor. The debate could not be more timely.

My constituency--along with that of Mr. Butterfill, and those of Mr. Bruce and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser), who are also present--is well known to Members. We welcome the conferences of all three political parties nearly every year: we appreciate their business, and look forward to their return.

We in Bournemouth and Dorset have the greatest sympathy for our colleagues in tourism and farming in the south-west, who face devastation. No amount of compensation can make up for the trauma and loss that the rural economy is experiencing. Dorset has been fortunate so far, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West has said, we know from those who run smaller hotels and guest houses in Bournemouth that they are being hard hit by the closure of the New Forest, Hengistbury Head and the nature reserves along the River Stour.

I fear that the entire tourist industry will soon be hit as this national crisis develops. Given last year's fuel crisis, foot and mouth could not have come at a worse time for British tourism. Visitors to Britain are already in decline: there were 2 per cent. fewer last year than the year before, while the number continued to rise in Europe and throughout the world, by 6 and 7 per cent. respectively. Much of that is due to the strong pound, which I accept we can do little about. "You cannot buck the market," as someone once said. But the problem is also due to our high VAT, compared with the competition. We can do something about that, by doing what the French do and offering lower VAT rates for smaller hotels.

Having the most expensive petrol in the European Union does not help much either. The Government are, of course, entirely responsible for that.