Dr Julian Lewis: I draw the hon. Gentleman’s [John Hemming's] attention to the situation of my constituent Amanda Wooding, who is a child care specialist. She, of course, finds herself particularly in demand during the school holidays, but she has children of her own, so she can never take them on holiday at other times because of her profession.
[John Hemming: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. The issue is all about considering individual cases. ...]
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Dr Lewis: I fully appreciate my hon. Friend’s [Damian Hinds'] argument that the rich seasons help airlines and the tourist industry to function during the off-seasons. What does he think would happen if some flexibility were introduced so that schools in different areas took their school holidays at different times? Would he anticipate prices remaining low during those times, or would he anticipate the travel industry increasing prices to reflect such an expansion of the season?
[Damian Hinds: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The short answer is that such a measure would be welcomed by the travel business because it would extend the season, which would be good for capacity utilisation. There would be an effect, but the effect would not be nearly as big as many people anticipate. The season might be extended by a week or two, but those would still be shoulder periods. They would not be peak periods, so there would be a difference, but the difference would not be huge.]
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Dr Lewis: I am slightly conflicted over the whole issue. The hon. Gentleman [George Mudie] made the point about people needing to save money. A constituent of mine, Joy Drake, took her children on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday and saved £1,000 on the air fares. Does he not agree that, if the issue is left to individual head teachers and schools, they will be put in an invidious position in deciding which families get to save on the air fares and which families do not? Therefore, should we not look at something that enables the general discretion to be applied – other than, of course, bereavements and similar things – as to when the holiday is taken by everyone, rather than just flexibility on an individual case by an individual head teacher?
[Mr Mudie: That is an important point. One of the things that has come from this e-petition is a request from the travel and tourism industries to get together with the Government and local authorities to see if they can work something out to alleviate the problem. The option of regional staggering has been mentioned on more than a couple of occasions. That is one thing that the industry has suggested it wishes to talk about. It has asked for talks, and I look to BIS for an acceptance of that invitation and to get the industry around the table as soon as possible to start talks. I say that not because a quick solution would be forthcoming, but because it will take such a time to get a solution that the sooner they start, the better. ...]