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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK

UK Politics

Hysteria overshadowing eclipse - MP

The eclipse will plunge parts of Cornwall into darkness

The Cornish economy could be damaged by a "ridiculous and damaging level of hysteria" surrounding the eclipse of the sun in August, MPs have heard.

Cornwall will be one of the best places to see the eclipse of the sun on 11 August.

The moon will obscure the sun for two minutes and six seconds along a line between Penzance and Falmouth in the west of the county.

[ image: St Ives: Areas are expecting thousands of visitors]
St Ives: Areas are expecting thousands of visitors
But scaremongering and predictions of traffic gridlock and food shortages were overshadowing the event.

Tory MP Richard Spring said a "ridiculous and damaging level of hysteria" had surrounded the eclipse.

He said statistics showed that holiday bookings in the county have fallen to an all-time low, as tourists stay away from Cornwall in droves.

Farmers were also facing huge losses having arranged campsites to cope with the expected thousands of visitors who wanted to see the eclipse, Mr Spring told MPs during a short pre-recess debate.

Mr Spring said: "The fact is that tourists are not going to be fleeced in Cornwall and extensive and comprehensive arrangements have been put in place to minimise any problems that may arise, without the crackpot ideas that have been advanced, apparently, by some local councillors there of visitors road taxes, etc."

Closed circuit television cameras had been installed along major routes into the county and a Highways Agency helpline would be available during the period of the eclipse.

This weekend minor road diversions would be carried out to test the contingency plans.

[ image: Road diversions this weekend will test plans]
Road diversions this weekend will test plans
Mr Spring continued: "If indeed the figure of one million people plus, to be in the county in the month of August is realised - almost twice the normal population - then the matter looks clearly in hand from a contingency planning point of view.

"Cornwall remains one of the great jewels of the British Isles.

"It would be tragic if the negative comments about the effects of the eclipse actually damaged its hugely important tourism industry and also the tourism industry for the whole of the United Kingdom."

It was time that a positive message about Cornwall and the eclipse was sent out, he told MPs.

He said: "It would be good if all MPs from Cornwall could help the tourist industry there by projecting this positive image and message.

"This would be welcome to their constituents and indeed the whole county and it needs to be heard loud and clear."

The first total eclipse on UK mainland since 1927 will be visible across Cornwall and part of Devon on the morning of August 11.

Londoners will see a 95% eclipse, and those in the north of Scotland will see 75% of the sun hidden.

Replying, Deputy Commons Leader Paddy Tipping said he knew, appreciated and valued the tourist industry in Cornwall: "I think it is of high quality."

He told the House that he was going to Cornwall to see the eclipse.

The minister said the county council, police and Truro General Hospital were "working hard to ensure that everything will be right on August 11".

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