§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pope.]9.34 am
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the proceedings of the House, but I wonder whether you have had a request from a Minister to make a statement about the written answer that was snuck into Hansard yesterday in response to a planted question from the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), which is reported at column 213. It announces that the Government will not now implement part II of the Family Law Act 1996 in 2000, as had been previously expected.
As I understand it, the Act, which humanises and liberalises the law of divorce, was passed under the previous Government with the co-operation of the then Opposition and with the personal blessing of the then shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg. It now appears, as a consequence of the planted question, which was tabled on Wednesday for answer yesterday, that the Government have admitted that they are not prepared to put the resources into the necessary reconciliation procedures that would be required to make the Family Law Act 1996 work.
I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, or any other Minister, has had the decency to condescend to come to the House to tell us why the Government will not do what they said they would do in opposition.
§ Madam Speaker
I have not been informed so far today that any Minister is seeking to make a statement on that issue. The hon. and learned Gentleman will understand and appreciate that Ministers make statements either orally at the Dispatch Box or by written answer. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to pursue his point, he must find ways and means to do so through the Order Paper.
§ The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)
May I begin by offering many congratulations to the hon. Members for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) on the Opposition Front Bench on surviving the reshuffle? It is always a pleasure to see them in their places. I wish to apologise to the House and especially to the hon. Member for West Suffolk and to my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting for my inability to stay right to the end of the debate, because I have to be in Scotland this afternoon. I will read with great care what is said.
I am pleased that we are able to have this debate today. It is the second debate on tourism in a few weeks in the House and there have also been several debates recently in the other place. I am especially pleased to see with us this morning my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who played such an important part while we were in opposition in laying the foundations of a robust tourism policy which, I am pleased to say, we are now able to implement. The document "Breaking 667 New Ground", which my hon. Friend played an enormous role in producing, has been the foundation stone on which we have sought to build.
I note in passing that, during this Parliament so far, we have had far more debates on tourism than in any previous Parliament. That reflects a growing recognition by the Government and the House of the importance of tourism as an industry. It is of course a vital industry, which contributes £53 billion annually to earnings in the economy. It supports at least 1.7 million jobs and it accounts for some 18 per cent. of the increase in employment in all sectors of the economy since 1987. It is also set to grow still further over the next five to 10 years.
Our strategy, "Tomorrow's Tourism", was launched on 26 February, and I am pleased to say that it is already having an impact. Under the strategy, all branches of government involved in tourism or hospitality are helping to foster a modern, competitive tourism industry for the new millennium. We want that industry to contribute fully to economic prosperity and job creation, to improve quality of life for everyone while contributing to greater social inclusion; to contribute to sustainable development and urban and rural regeneration; to help sustain local communities and economies, particularly those that have depended traditionally on tourism-related employment; and to contribute to the appreciation and conservation of our natural and built heritage. All of those things are part of the effect that tourism can, and should, have.
"Tomorrow's Tourism" was developed with the help and co-operation of Departments across Whitehall and some 200 representatives of the tourism industry. It contains specific proposals for action by central and local government, the tourist boards and by the wider industry. The Government will ensure that we follow up those proposals, and we are committed to reviewing and reporting annually on the progress made in implementing the strategy. I am particularly pleased that we will ensure that there is co-ordination between all relevant Departments across Government by holding a high profile tourism summit each year where Ministers will review progress and consider future action.
We are beginning to implement several key and specific action points from the strategy. It refers to the need to provide effective support for tourism and to introduce a coherent approach across Government. We have already begun to do that. We are setting up the new English Tourism Council, which will provide strategic leadership to the industry in England. We interviewed recently for the position of chairman of the ETC, and we hope to make an announcement about that very soon. The establishment of the English Tourism Council will enable us to free up more money for the English regions to spend directly in support of their individual regional tourism needs. The balance of the money devoted to supporting tourism in England will shift from the centre to the regions, and I believe that that is right.
We are also starting to work with the regional development agencies, which became operational on 1 April, and we will establish shortly regional cultural consortiums that will bring together all cultural and tourism activities in a region to ensure that we can influence properly the work of the RDAs. We are already providing additional funds for the British Tourist 668 Authority's overseas marketing work, and we are taking up a wide range of policy and regulatory issues with other Whitehall Departments. At the same time, we are ensuring that tourism businesses—from large hotels to the many micro-operators within the industry—can benefit from Government initiatives such as the new deal and the forthcoming creation of the new small business service, and all the measures to support small business that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the Budget.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)
Can the right hon. Gentleman clear up a matter of some uncertainty? In the event of regional assemblies being established, does he believe that the regional cultural groupings to which he referred will report to the assemblies rather than to any national body?
§ Mr. Smith
That is not my view or intention. The role of regional assemblies—as and when they emerge—will obviously be extremely important. I hope that there will be cross-representation from the assemblies to the regional cultural consortiums. The consortiums will bring together all the bodies—mainly national or nationally derived bodies, such as the regional arts boards, the regional arms of the English Sports Council and regional tourist boards—to discuss what is needed to develop culture and cultural activities in the regions.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I raise this matter because, as the right hon. Gentleman may recall, I drew his attention recently in a written parliamentary question to an issue involving a castle in Wales. I received a reply that it was a matter not for him as Secretary of State—nor apparently for the Secretary of State for Wales—but for the Welsh Assembly.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman may have forgotten—I would be surprised if he has—that my writ does not run beyond Offa's dyke when it comes to built heritage. I am responsible for the oversight of built heritage in England, but I am afraid that I have no power or locus to intervene in relation to castles in Wales—attractive though that proposition might be.
At the heart of our published tourism strategy, "Tomorrow's Tourism", is the principle of ensuring quality in terms of both standards of accommodation and the service that visitors receive from the people running hotels or visitor attractions. Quality of accommodation and quality of service must lie at the heart of any approach to the development of tourism in this country. I recently read a most interesting piece about the results of work done at the behest of the British Tourist Authority, which sought the opinion of first-time visitors to Britain as they left the country about their impressions of tourism in the UK.
We scored very high marks for heritage—including Welsh castles—for history, pageantry, the performing arts and for visitor attractions, which achieved a 90 per cent. plus approval rating. We scored rather good marks—one might be surprised to hear this if one thinks back 10 or 15 years—for the quality of food. We scored rather good marks for the friendliness of people and the welcome that visitors had received. However, I am afraid that we received very poor marks for the quality and value for money of accommodation.
669 That is why the strategy places so much emphasis on the importance of getting quality in accommodation right. I am very pleased that the English tourist board, the Automobile Association and the RAC have almost completed their inspections under the new harmonised accommodation grading scheme for hotels and guest houses, which will be launched to consumers in September. My Department is working with the Department of Trade and Industry and with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to discover how we can use the spread of different Government support mechanisms to improve accommodation facilities.
Alongside the need to improve quality in accommodation sits the need to improve quality of service. For too long, people have regarded careers in tourism and hospitality as a second-best option: not real jobs, but temporary or casual employment without decent remuneration, career structures or training. I believe that that perception is now mistaken. Many of the larger players in tourism and hospitality are putting in place high-standard, good-quality training and career development for their staff. They appreciate that decent remuneration, good facilities and conditions of employment, decent training and good career opportunities make for a motivated work force who will provide good service and not only enable visitors to have a good experience during their stay but encourage them to return.
There was evidence of that change of mood within the industry at the hospitality careers festival, which I launched on Monday and which has lasted throughout the week. It has drawn thousands of young people from around the country to learn about careers in hospitality and tourism, and it is a good sign that the industry is keen to ensure that we reverse the old cycle of despair and turn it into a virtuous cycle of good employment and good service.
I am also pleased by the way in which the industry has responded to the new deal challenge issued by the Government. Of all the industries in this country, tourism and hospitality have so far responded best to the opportunities offered by the new deal. Many new deal entrants to the industry—including, I am pleased to say, several in my constituency—are making a success of their participation.
In addition to the provision of effective support through Government structures and the emphasis on quality of accommodation and staff training, a major issue facing tourism and hospitality is the onset of the millennium, which offers this country significant tourism opportunities. The British Tourism Authority estimates that the millennium will help to draw in an extra 2 million tourist visitors from overseas during the millennium year. The millennium dome—which, I am pleased to say, is now known around the world as the most impressive celebration of the millennium—and a wide range of millennium projects and festivities planned by communities throughout the country realise the BTA's slogan, "Britain, now is the time." The millennium offers the opportunity to draw in visitors who might not otherwise have thought of Britain as the destination of their choice.
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)
That is all lovely, touchy and feely, but what action is the Secretary of State 670 taking to ensure that people will not be exploited by excessive costs and charges if they want to go out and enjoy themselves on new year's eve?
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman does not strike me as being lovely, touchy or feely, but perhaps I am being a touch churlish, so I immediately withdraw that remark. We must balance the need to ensure that people are not exploited with the consideration that those who work through the millennium evening and night and the early hours of the next morning, when they might prefer to be out celebrating with their friends and family, should be properly and decently remunerated.
As well as providing the opportunity for a number of major capital projects—some £1.4 billion of capital has been spent on schemes throughout the country, not only on the millennium dome—the millennium offers us the chance to hold the millennium festival, in which £100 million is being invested by the Millennium Commission and other lottery distributors. More than £50 million has already been allocated to large projects and festivals around the country, including major arts festivals, youth sports competitions, oral history projects and local heritage projects. Many more such projects will be set up as smaller grants of up to £5,000 are distributed. That means that many exciting millennium activities will add to the major capital projects and attractions for visitors around the country.
There are of course other tasks to be undertaken. The first is the provision of better information for customers and businesses. If quality is the principal theme of "Tomorrow's Tourism", better information is its second most important one. I am pleased that the BTA is now using new technology to make it easier for tourists to find out about Britain. The majority of the BTA's 36 new websites will be launched this year. The BTA is also publishing themed information to appeal to tourists with specific interests. A few days ago, my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting helped to launch the movie map, which identifies Britain as the place where many film locations can be found. Many tourists want to come and see where a particular favourite movie was filmed. I note in passing that the four current biggest grossing films around the world, including "Star Wars", were all filmed in Britain, a fact of which the British film industry should be very proud.
The Government will also be exploring with the industry how it can give customers clearer pricing information; for example, on hotel accommodation. My hon. Friend has also been exploring the cost of telephone calls made from hotel rooms, many of which are charged at very high premium rates. We shall find out what can be done to help the consumer.
The new small business service aims to simplify and give coherence to the Government's support for small businesses, which constitute the bulk of businesses involved in the provision of tourism services and activities. The service will help them with many matters, including coping with regulations. My Department will be working very closely with the DTI to ensure that tourism truly benefits from the service.
As part of our work, we shall pay particular attention to the needs of traditional resort towns and communities, particularly, but not solely, in coastal areas. For many decades, tourism has been their staple industry, 671 but traditional forms of tourism may well be in decline. We shall assist the local authorities and regional tourist boards in those areas to develop strategies to transform their appeal and begin to expand their tourism industry in the modern world. That will be one of the major priorities of my Department and the new English Tourism Council in the coming years.
I am keen to ensure that, across government, the mainstream funding mechanisms for regeneration, ranging from support from the European regional development fund to the work of the single regeneration budget areas, are applicable to those resort towns where the impact on employment of changing patterns of visits and holidays can be very dramatic.
§ Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)
The Secretary of State mentioned seaside resorts; we are very concerned about the decline of some, but not all, of them. He mentioned that help will be given, and various methods are suggested, but has he any specific ideas on whether section IV grants, for example, will be reintroduced to enable the improvement of small hotels, for instance?
§ Mr. Smith
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the specific assurance that he seeks. However, we must ensure that all arms of government are working with the needs of seaside resorts and other resort towns very much in mind. I am pleased, for example, that, in his constituency, the heritage lottery fund has come through with support for the refurbishment of the pier, which will undoubtedly help to stimulate the regeneration of tourism in his area. We must consider all the different ways in which the Government can support such areas.
§ Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)
In pursuing that point, may I ask what the right hon. Gentleman is doing to encourage his Government to give seaside resorts objective 2 status?
§ Mr. Smith
That matter has not of course yet been finally determined, but I am in close discussion with my right hon. and hon. Friends across government about precisely how best objective 2 status can be applied and where the funds that flow from it can best be deployed.
As well as providing better information for customers, "Tomorrow's Tourism" focuses on the theme of encouraging the wise growth of tourism. Ensuring that that growth is sustainable is extremely important. One of the great debates in tourism around the world is on ensuring that, in encouraging people to visit attractions and places of interest, the quality of the natural environment, built heritage and attractions is not destroyed. Ensuring that the balance is right is therefore very important. That is why the English Tourism Council will be asked to report annually to me on progress on achieving more sustainable forms of tourism development.
We shall ensure that tourism features in the Government's forthcoming White Papers on urban and rural policy. The English Tourism Council will also undertake research on why 40 per cent. of the population do not take a long holiday. Obviously, for some, there may be physical or employment barriers to doing so. 672 Finding out why such a large proportion of the population do not take any long holiday during the year, and considering how we can ensure that opportunities for them to do so can be created, are some of the items on which—we hope—the English Tourism Council will focus.
We very much hope that the conditions for travellers with physical disabilities will continue to improve as the remaining provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 come into force over the next five years.
There is indeed a bright future for the tourism and hospitality industries in this country. "Tomorrow's Tourism", which we published in February, has been widely welcomed as the best and most comprehensive national tourism strategy ever produced. Over the next few weeks, our regional roll-out of that strategy, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting talks to people in the tourism industry in each region about how to implement it, will take that process further forward. The appointment of a chairman and chief executive of the new English Tourism Council is imminent, and the reconstitution of the tourism forum will maintain the momentum that we have gained.
As a country, we continue to attract visitors. On the provisional figures for the first two months of this year, inward visitor numbers and spending look very much like improving on those of last year. But we must strive to improve the quality of the overall tourist experience that Britain offers so that we can both maintain and improve our market share of international tourism as well as maximising domestic tourism—encouraging people to take some breaks during the year here in Britain even if they take their main holiday abroad. That is what our strategy seeks to do.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
Does the Secretary of State appreciate the growth over recent years in activity holidays, particularly for children, which stands to be diminished by the impact of the minimum wage, especially since employers are not allowed any abatement for the granting of full board to their employees?
§ Mr. Smith
I am pleased that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman; I did not think that he would make such a fool of himself. He is right to say that that activity tourism is on the increase—and rightly so. Intelligent and innovative hoteliers and facility operators are ensuring that they tailor what they have to offer to the activities in which people want to participate. He is completely wrong to say that the introduction of the minimum wage somehow diminishes the industry's ability to serve the visitor.
The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening to the remarks that I made about the importance of quality of service. Firm after firm in the tourism and hospitality industries readily recognises that decent remuneration of employees is an essential component of providing a good service. Well-remunerated, well-motivated staff provide a good service. That is what the visitor wants, and what the industry is increasingly providing. I am pleased to say that more and more firms are now far more attuned to the needs of their employees and of visitors than the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Smith
No, I am drawing to a conclusion.
673 Our strategy seeks to improve our market share of international tourism and to maximise domestic tourism. It will succeed if all key players—central Government, local government, the English Tourism Council, the BTA, the tourist boards and others—are committed to making it work. We have already begun to implement it; good progress is already in train. I look forward to a further flourishing of the industry in years to come.
§ 10.8 am
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)
I thank the Secretary of State for his kind remarks on my reappointment and that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) to our respective posts. This is my first public opportunity to thank the Leader of the Opposition for keeping us in our posts. It is a sad fact in politics that one spends much time getting to know a brief and then, all too often, just as one is beginning to know one's way around the terrain, one is moved to completely different terrain and someone else must start all over again. I am therefore delighted to have been given the opportunity to continue with what in many ways is the widest and most interesting brief on offer in Westminster.
I am also delighted to have the opportunity to debate this very important industry. The economic case for supporting tourism has often been stated, but it cannot be stated enough. The figures that the Secretary of State gave are worth repeating. If things are repeated, they occasionally sink in where it really matters. The travel and tourism industry is worth more than £50 billion to the economy every year—more than we spend on the national health service. It accounts for roughly 4 per cent. of England's gross domestic product and 7 per cent. of consumer spending. It is a huge employer, providing one in five of all new jobs and 1.75 million jobs overall.
Tourism is big business and it is set to become the biggest business in the world in the next few years. But if tourism were only about business, I would not be here today, and nor would the Secretary of State. If tourism were only about business, it would be sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry.
It is significant, and not a little depressing, that I have recently become aware of a growing body of opinion within tourism that the industry might be better served were it treated like any other business, such as car manufacturing or pharmaceuticals, and sponsored by the DTI—but tourism is different. We are constantly told that, in the next century, we shall work for less of our lives—that we shall have more time to spend on being ourselves. If that is the case—I think that it probably is—the age in which people have been very much defined by what they do as much as by who they are may be coming to an end.
The arts, television, film, the entertainment industry, sport and holidays—these are the things that fill our lives when we are not at work. These are the things that are sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Far from being a rag-bag of peripheral and politically marginal activities, these are the things that make life worth living. Some of those present may be aware of the memorable remark made by the actor Stephen Fry last year, when he said that he doubted that there were many people who would sit up on their deathbed and say, "Oh my God, I wish that I had spent more time in the office."
It has always seemed to me that one of the fundamental purposes of politics is to improve the quality of life. Improving the standard of living is only a part, albeit an 674 essential one, of that wider agenda. The issues collectively sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are by no means peripheral to our lives, and any political philosophy that treats them as a diversion or a curiosity is in danger of making itself marginal. Tourism is not only by far the largest industry in economic terms that comes under the DCMS banner, but the glue that holds the whole idea of the Department together.
I am acutely aware that the 25.5 million people who visit Britain every year do not do so for the weather. I was told last night that the managing director of a major German company, currently based in the United Kingdom, indirectly offered some advice for this debate. He said that if he were running the British tourist industry, the first thing that he would do would be to mount a major campaign to persuade people that London is not always foggy and that it is not always raining. Looking at the beautiful day outside the House today, it is hard to disagree, so I commend that policy to the British Tourist Authority.
At the moment, however, people do not come to Britain for the weather; they come for the theatres, the galleries, the museums, the historic buildings, the concerts, the sporting events and the fashion. They go to Notting Hill at the moment, too. Without those things, we would have very little to market to the world. The British Tourist Authority knows that, which is why it has published its film map, which the Secretary of State mentioned. Yes, we could do with a world-class modern visitor attraction near the capital; yes, the dome will be the focus of international attention next year—but without the complex, rich, historic and evolving hinterland that is our culture, we would have precious little to offer.
That view is shared by the chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents. Commenting on the Department's consultation exercise last year, which followed the comprehensive spending review, he said:We were … disappointed to note that tourism rates virtually no mention in the Secretary of State's preface to the consultation papers … The economic importance of travel and tourism dwarfs the rest of the DCMS's portfolio. Indeed, it is possible to argue that without the economic benefits that tourism brings much of the UK's cultural infrastructure would disappear.I know that that view is shared by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which published its very critical report last year. No doubt, the Secretary of State is well aware of its contents and looking forward to the outcome of the Select Committee's current review of the relationship between the Department and its quangos.
The idea of cool is cheap, transitory and based on a narrow perception of contemporary glitz. It is essentially very superficial. This seems an appropriate time at which to comment on the dome.
§ The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson):
You were there.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I was indeed there the other day; I am grateful to the Minister for pointing that out. I visit it quite regularly.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I enjoy visiting the dome, and I have seen a major transformation on that site since it was a 675 barren wasteland. The structure of the dome has been there for some months, but the contents are starting to be put in place. A huge amount of work is taking place and more than 700 people are employed on the site. I again take the opportunity to pay tribute to Jenny Page and all the people who are working on that project, who have done a terrific job to date to get the work done on time and to budget.
There are problems with the dome. There is a huge amount still to do and time is short. There are fewer than 200 days to go until the opening. I suspect that the really difficult bit, the introduction of the technology, involving moving parts—the sort of thing that the Health and Safety Executive gets excited by—has yet to be tackled.
There is another serious problem, which I wish to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State. That is the public attitude to the dome, which is still extremely negative. During my visit to the dome last Monday, I spent an hour with Talk Radio, which has been appointed official radio station to the dome—I am very pleased about that. Talk Radio found it difficult to discover a single caller in the whole country who would ring in to say that they thought that it was a great idea.
There is a real problem of perception. The other evening, one of Labour's distinguished Back Benchers described the whole project to me as a crock of something which I can assure the Secretary of State was not gold. The Government need to work on persuading people that the dome is not a waste of money. There is still a widespread perception that public money is going into the dome. Not a penny of public money is going into the dome, but no one yet seems to be aware of that. It falls on the Government to convince people that what is happening in Greenwich will be worth while, is not drawing money away from the national health service and will be an exciting celebration of Britain in the new millennium.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Is there not a perception—which, of course, is wrong—that the dome will be pulled down after a year? I believe that the most exciting aspect of the future of the dome is what it will be used for after 2001.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I accept that one of the key issues—decisions need to be taken on that pretty soon, because time is going by—is the after-use of that site. Invitations have been sent out to people to come up with ideas, and the response has been pretty good, but it is terribly important that the Government get on with that process because there is no time to waste. The Greenwich peninsula site offers a real opportunity for London if the right decision is taken, and could bring major benefits in terms of urban regeneration, use of the river and so on.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
Will the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that if the previous Government had had their way, the dome would indeed have been pulled down at the end of a year, and that our decision that it should stay and that we should invite expressions of interest in future use has saved it?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
The right hon. Gentleman thinks that he is making a clever party political point. I was trying to 676 be helpful to the Government by assisting them in persuading people that the dome is not the crock of something not gold that many Labour Members believe it to be. The fact that the dome—a building which I rather like—will remain in place complicates the after-use of the site and makes things more difficult.
I was pleased that the Secretary of State referred to other millennium projects that are under way, many of which are still looking for private sponsorship. It would be helpful if we could have an update today on the exact amount of private sponsorship that is still needed by millennium projects throughout the country. We do not want to end up with a lot of half-built white elephants with only one leg. It is true, as the British Tourist Authority will confirm, that the millennium programme—as the Secretary of State is in a party political mood, I remind him that the programme was put in place by the Conservative Government—will attract visitors from around the world. It is vital that it presents a compelling and attractive offer to the international public next year.
It seems to me that there is a profound communality of interest—an interdependence—between tourism and all the other industries sponsored by the Secretary of State's Department. Those who are dissatisfied with what the Government are doing to and for tourism should be campaigning for a stronger Department, not a different one, to represent their interests. I hope and believe that they will do so. I believe also that they will be campaigning increasingly for not only a stronger Department, but a different Government.
What should the Government be doing to help the tourism industry? I generally take the view that the capacity of politicians to be unhelpful is infinitely greater than their ability to be helpful. Usually the most useful thing that politicians can do is to get out of the way. In making the case for clearer political recognition of the centrality of the tourism, hospitality and leisure industries to the quality of life, I am not arguing for greater political control or interference. The Government may contribute strategies, but it is the work of 1.75 million people that contributes £53 billion a year to the economy.
I keep meeting people involved in the industry—there were 200 of them, so it is not surprising—who confess to having been contributors to the Government's tourism strategy. It is hard to meet anyone in the industry who has not felt the touch of Tony on his shoulder. I know that the Government have produced a well-intentioned document, but well-intentioned guff is guff all the same. It is still guff when it comes out a year late.
I am still trying to find someone in the industry who asked for the English tourist board to be abolished. I am still trying to find out why its abolition will be helpful to the industry. I have been reading the responses of some of those in the industry to the Government's consultation document of last year. The Government were sent a strong message. The executive director of the Council for Travel and Tourism said:We can see no intrinsic merit in … replacing the ETB with new bodies undertaking essentially a similar function".Robin Head, the head of Devon Farms Accommodation, said:There have been a number of occasions over the last few years when we have found the opportunity of talking directly to the ETB absolutely invaluable when trying to sort out problems.
§ Mr. Swayne
Is my hon. Friend not being a little churlish? Does he not think that the industry will today 677 welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that it will now be able to sort out problems by speaking to regional cultural consortiums?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
No, I do not. My hon. Friend makes an extremely compelling point in his inimitable way.
Devon Farms Accommodation is typical of a local organisation that does an enormous amount of work to promote tourism in its particular area. Its view about the abolition of the English tourist board was clear. It said:The options for an alternative structure to the existing ETB are all in danger of ending up with a body that will look remarkably similar to the ETB, but will lack the experience and expertise of current ETB staff.That is a fair point.
Finally on this issue, Richard Wilkin, the director of the Historic Houses Association, said:The Association considers that the existing ETB performs its functions well and wonders why it is necessary to replace them with another organisation to perform the same role.Unfortunately, as we have heard this morning, the new English tourism council has not been charged with performing the same role. It is not only a change of name, but a change of function. It strikes me—
§ Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)
If the Conservative party is such a fan of the English tourist board, will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Conservative Government reduced the income of the ETB from about £25 million in the 1980s to less than £10 million by the time of the general election?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient. I shall deal with funding later in my speech.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
The right hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see.
When the much-vaunted tourism strategy was eventually announced, the reaction of the majority of those involved in the industry was summed up by the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, which said:The regions will now be responsible for their own marketing and there is little doubt that competition will be directed against other regions rather than against our continental competitors … This is particularly disappointing".It continues:Clearly, we have a major task to convince Government that allocating funds for tourism development and marketing in England is an investment, not a cost. Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have bought into that premise: in England the Government seems to have lost the plot".That was the association's conclusion. Yet the Secretary of State continues to say that the Government have the full support of the industry for their tourism strategy. That is simply not true.
It is a pity that the Secretary of State was not able to announce the identity of the new chairman of the English Tourism Council. We would have very much welcomed the announcement. We look forward with bated breath to knowing who the chairman will be, and subsequently the chief executive.
678 With the English tourist board marginalised and with its marketing remit removed, who will handle the 300 or so calls that come in each month to the board from consumers and the media? Will it be the British Tourist Authority? If so, it has not been given the necessary resources. Given that the financial constraints on the BTA are already leading to the closure of offices around the world and that there is a growing number of questions even over its ability to fund its part of the splendid new visitors centre in Regent street, I rather doubt that it is willing to pick up the tab.
I understand that international meetings are being planned, at which Wales and Scotland will have a place at the table along with France, Germany and other countries. However, the chair that should be occupied by England will be empty. The unnecessary and unhelpful abolition of the English tourist board is really the only material consequence of the Government's much-vaunted tourism strategy. The promise of an annual tourism summit may sound rather grand, but we shall have to see whether it is more than a classic new Labour photo opportunity.
Ministers claim that the industry is pleased with the Government's document. That is about as convincing as saying that the collapse of the Labour vote in the Euro elections was a reflection of the Labour party's popularity, or as convincing as saying that the tourism budget has been increased when, in fact, it has been cut by £2 million in real terms.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
The Secretary of State seems to demur on the funding figures. The figures that I have quoted came from the Library. If the right hon. Gentleman takes exception to them, he should take up the matter with the Library.
The Opposition have spent a great deal of time listening to people in tourism over the past year. We set up our own tourism policy forum—which the Secretary of State was gracious enough to acknowledge when we last debated these matters—under the chairmanship of Sir Ron Watson. It is actively seeking ideas as we take our policies forward in this important area. It is doing so from a basis of considerable understanding of the industry and long experience of it.
It does not take long to find out what the industry thinks it needs from Government. There are several recurrent themes—excessive regulation and taxation; the so-called fairness at work proposals; transport problems; planning problems; an archaic licensing system; training and recruitment; the strength of sterling; and funding.
The extra costs of administering the minimum wage, the working time directive, the part-time workers directive, the parental leave directive and the thousands of other new regulations introduced since May 1997 all add up to a massive imposition on the tourism industry, which is in the front line of the regulatory assault that the Government have unleashed on the country.
The major companies can take most of that in their stride. They do not necessarily want to, but they can. However, an awful lot of companies in the tourism sector are small companies, and the burden on them is greatest.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
Is my hon. Friend aware that, on 4 November 1998, the right hon. Member 679 for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) told the Select Committee on Trade and Industry that the cost of the parental leave directive was "tiny" and "fractional". Does my hon. Friend agree that that illustrates the Government's ignorance of the fact that, for small businesses, such costs can make the difference between surviving and going under?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a good point. On a related issue, I was interested to note that, in a debate in another place a few days ago, Lord McIntosh, pressed by my noble Friend Lord Luke, admitted that the Government had got things wrong over the working time directive to a significant extent. He said that the Government could have done better. I hope that the Secretary of State will urge him not only to express regret, but to take effective action to ensure that the situation improves.
Seventy five per cent. of the tourism sector comprises small businesses, to which the tangle of red tape poses a real threat. The fixed on-costs of compliance in terms of extra clerical work, computer systems and so on are much the same, whether a business is turning over £50 million or £500,000 a year. Many of the businesses in tourism are very small indeed. Hugh Becker, the founder of Micro Millions, makes a compelling case for explicit recognition of the particular needs of the very small company.
It is estimated that about a quarter of a million jobs in tourism are in businesses employing fewer than 10 people. In rural communities in particular, such little businesses play a vital role in underpinning the local economy. There is nothing of practical value to those businesses in the Government's tourism strategy. More than most industries, tourism needs flexibility in the way that it works. Nowhere in the strategy do I see any commitment to reduce regulation.
In that regard, may I say how sorry I was at the dismissive way in which the Secretary of State treated the question from my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). He will know that the British Activity Holiday Association has expressed well-founded concern about the impact of the minimum wage on those businesses. The association takes no issue with the principle of a minimum wage. Its concern is specific and relates to the £20 accommodation offset.
I raised the matter with the Tourism Minister in the House on 5 May and asked for her reassurance that she was taking effective action on behalf of those businesses to ensure that activity holiday centres would not close as a result of the introduction of the national minimum wage. I received no reply. I offer the hon. Lady now another opportunity to provide reassurance to the House and to the British Activity Holiday Association that she is lobbying hard on its behalf.
§ Janet Anderson
I had intended to deal with the matter in my winding-up speech, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to respond now. As he knows, the Government have asked the Low Pay Commission to look again at the accommodation offset, which is set at a limit of £19.95 a week, as it could cause serious problems for the industry if set at the wrong level or discontinued. The commission proposes that the matter 680 be kept under review and it will deal with the longer-tem future in its report next September. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we understand the importance of that for activity holidays.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. In the light of what she said, I hope that the Secretary of State might think it proper to write a note of apology to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West—
§ Mr. Swayne
In response to me yesterday, the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), gave the latest position. He said:Following the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission, there is no offset allowed for the provision of board when calculating whether the national minimum wage has been paid. There is a limited offset of up to £19.95 a week allowed against the national minimum wage to recognise the benefit of the provision of accommodation.That is it. There will be no further concessions. The Minister of State's retort to me yesterday was:The hon. Gentleman's attitude of let them eat cake' is out of date."—[Official Report, 17 June 1999; Vol. 333, c. 548–49.]That is one better than the folly of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
The situation seems to be confused. I ask the Minister to write to me and to my hon. Friend, setting out the Government's present position and what they propose to do. There is considerable concern. I commend my hon. Friend for his work to secure the interests of activity holiday centres throughout the country and in his constituency.
§ Janet Anderson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It might have saved us all time if he had listened more carefully to what the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) said. He was simply stating the current position. As I said, and I repeat, the matter is being kept under review by the Low Pay Commission, which we have alerted to our concerns about the effect of the accommodation offset, if it were removed, on activity holiday centres.
§ Mr. Bercow
I must support my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). Unlike the hon. Lady and the Secretary of State, I was present for Trade and Industry questions yesterday. Will my hon. Friend take it from me that the tone, as well as the content, of the reply from the Minister of State brooked no misunderstanding. He stated the current position and gave every indication to my hon. Friend that that position would not, and should not, change. It is time that we had an apology from the weakest Secretary of State in the Cabinet.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
We shall have to return to the matter. What my hon. Friend tells us of questions to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry yesterday is typical of the arrogant and dismissive way in which the Government have treated our representations about the impact on businesses throughout the country of the imposition of the 681 minimum wage and a host of other regulations that they could well do without. The attempt to characterise the Conservative party as a party of people who wear stovepipe hats and want to water the workers' beer and grind the faces of the poor is ludicrous, far-fetched and insulting.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
The right hon. Gentleman is extremely inventive.
On the topic of transport, I do not see any attempt to solve the growing difficulty of simply moving round this country. All but 37 of the 140 road improvement schemes that the Government inherited have been dropped. Difficulties with road transport are a major issue for tourist centres such as Eastbourne, Scarborough and the south-west. The Secretary of State talks enthusiastically about coastal resorts—they indeed have many problems, and much needs to be done to help them—but if people cannot get to them no amount of effort from any Government will make much difference.
There is no doubt that the doubling of air passenger duty has been detrimental to the interests of tourism and it would be helpful to know exactly how robust the Government intend to be about the present European Commission moves to double it again on internal flights. It would be plainly ludicrous for up to two thirds of the cost of a cheap flight to Scotland to be tax, but, with £17 in every £20 spent by motorists at the fuel pump being taken in tax, almost anything is possible.
On 31 May, an article in The Daily Telegraph entitledBritain to fight EU flight tax demandsaid:The prospect of doubling domestic air passenger duty … which would raise £60 million for the Treasury, has alarmed the travel industry …However a spokesman for Customs and Excise said Britain was prepared to go all the way to the European Court to contest the commission's interpretation.That is encouraging, but unfortunately, a letter from Customs and Excise—a copy of which I have—to an industry representative who had inquired about this matter, following the article, says:Customs and Excise has yet to determine its final position in respect to the European Commission challenge to the domestic return leg exemption and there is, therefore, no basis to the content of the article.Which of those statements is true? Will the Minister say in her winding-up speech exactly how robust the Government intend to be?
If the tourism industry is to fulfil the central role in the economic and social environment of the next century, it must be allowed to expand and the significance of tourism needs to be better recognised in the planning system. I am not referring only to mega-projects such as terminal 5 or new large-scale visitor attractions. I have a constituency case in which a local man has gone to hell and back simply in an attempt to convert a Victorian house into a guest house.
The sustainable tourism section of the strategy is long on aspiration but short on proposals. I shall not dwell on the complex issue of licensing laws, partly because they 682 are so complex that I have difficulty in understanding them myself, but it strikes me as a good example of government that is not joined-up when the Department can publish a tourism strategy that does not even mention the laws governing how and when a tourist can buy a drink or a meal. However, I am pleased that, after 210 years, the Home Office has finally got round to reviewing the Sunday Observance Act 1780, which prevents dancing on Sundays. We will support that review if the consultation exercise produces a recommendation that is brought to the House in due course.
The strategy strikes a more positive note on training and recruitment. Here again, however, it remains to be seen whether aspiration can be converted into reality. I applaud the work that the industry is doing to improve its image as an employer and to raise the all-important standard of service, and only this week I was able to attend a gathering to celebrate the hospitality industry's first national careers festival. I pay tribute to the work being done on that by Springboard, the British Hospitality Association, the British Incoming Tour Operators Association and others.
Much remains to be done, however, and I know that there are those who think that there is unhelpful duplication and confusion in the way that the national vocational qualification system operates. Real joined-up government is needed to sort that out. I also understand that, despite what the Secretary of State said earlier, the take-up of the 40,000 places that have been offered by the industry under the new deal has so far been pretty dismal.
The quality of service that people receive from the tourism industry is improving, but it is still subject to some severe lapses. Mercifully, I was able to take only a glance at one episode of a television programme called "Tourist Troubles", but what I saw revealed rudeness, arrogance and ignorance from some people in the industry that left me aghast.
British tourism is operating in an intensely competitive world market and the level of sterling in any one year is probably the biggest single influence on it. The balance of trade deficit in tourism is worsening—it was minus £3.9 billion in 1996, minus £4.7 billion in 1997 and minus £6.6 billion in 1998, which substantially reflects not only mistakes made in the Chancellor's initial Budgets, but, latterly, problems in the far east and the 30 per cent. appreciation of sterling against leading European currencies.
To those who suggest that that justifies early entry into the euro, I suggest that the worst reason for joining would be to seek the benefits of devaluation. Given anything like the present disparity between sterling and euroland, we would simply be locking in long-term uncompetitiveness. However, there is no discussion of those issues in the Government's tourism strategy.
Finally, there is the issue of funding. To those who take an interest in history, and I know that Labour Members take a keen interest, I say that I am fully aware that I am on a slightly sticky wicket, but not as sticky a wicket as the New Zealand cricket team had to play on a couple of days ago. There are those who argue that a £53 billion industry should be able to do its own marketing—the industry spends £150 million a year on that—but I accept that destination marketing can be done properly only by central Government. Destination marketing is about selling the whole idea and the whole product, and the 683 Government are ultimately responsible for that. It is still far too early even for early pledges, but I am aware of the BTA's excellent work around the world and of its assertion that every £1 it spends yields a return of £27, of which £4 goes straight to the Treasury. One does not have to be an economic mastermind to work out that that is a magnificent return.
If the Government set the right framework, tourism will have an exciting future. It will grow in significance, both economically and socially, and provide new jobs in our cities and towns and, importantly, in our rural communities. However, the capacity of the Government to mess things up is substantially greater than their capacity to help. That will be especially true if they become obsessed with structures rather than encouraging output, if they show no genuine engagement in the issues that matter to the industry, if they continue with their naive faith in the power of regulation to enhance the quality of life, and if, despite having consulted, they put their own political agenda first.
I look forward to the months ahead as tourism strives to take advantage of the opportunities opening up with the new millennium and as Conservative Members develop new, positive policies based on the genuine needs and aspirations of this great industry.
§ Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I join the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) in welcoming the debate, and I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in congratulating the hon. Gentleman and his twin, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), on keeping their posts. When the hon. Member for East Surrey chided my right hon. Friend for being in party political mode, he clearly had his tongue in his cheek. The hon. Gentleman made a very party political speech, which was a pity because some Members of the House have been working across party lines to assist the tourism industry. I think that we were doing that work well.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have had many such debates in the House over the past few months. That highlights the Government's concerns for tourism and, as he pointed out, the expansion of tourism presents a huge economic and employment opportunity for this country. I shall not trot out all the figures, although I accept the remark of the hon. Member for East Surrey that we cannot possibly spell them out often enough because tourism is such an important industry.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Secretary of State on selecting this debate from his very busy departmental portfolio. It signifies the importance that the Government attach to tourism, which is backed up by the policy initiative, "Tomorrow's Tourism", about which we have heard. I am pleased to have played a part in raising the profile of tourism in the political sphere with the publication of "Breaking New Ground", Labour's pre-election tourism strategy. I also welcome the efforts made by my right hon. Friend and the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, to develop and build on that initial document once in office.
I shall use this opportunity to raise several important issues in the tourism portfolio, to which I hope both Ministers will turn their attention. As hon. Members 684 know, I am chairman of the all-party tourism group. I am pleased to see the secretary of that group, the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn), in his place. I am also fortunate enough to be the chairman of the all-party sports group. Until a moment ago, the secretary of that group, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), was in his place, but he has temporarily left the Chamber.
More still needs to be done to promote the synergies between sport and tourism. It is disappointing to note that only one reference is made to sports tourism in "Tomorrow's Tourism" because sport is one of the fastest growing areas of tourism—be it in respect of international visitors following major sports events, of which this country has a rich stock, or the taking up of activity holidays. The variety ranges from the Secretary of State's ilk favourite pastime, mountain climbing, to playing the links on the great Scottish golf courses, to pick just two examples.
The British Olympic Association reports that, between 1986 and 1998, the United Kingdom played host to some 34 senior world championships and 35 senior European championships in the sports that it represents. If we add to that the events of Euro 96, and the cricket and rugby world cups, we can see the potential. The British Tourist Authority has worked hard to promote the cricket and rugby world cups, which are being staged here this summer. It is now working on a more detailed sports strategy that it hopes to launch later this year. What a prize it would be for tourism if we were fortunate enough to host the soccer world cup in 2006—something that my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport is working hard to bring about.
May I make a plea that the Government get more actively involved in that area? There is much natural synergy between the Departments. Sport should be integrated into tourism thinking, as arts and heritage are integrated now. That could be achieved through the instigation of a special unit within the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to co-ordinate such opportunities. I understand that the former head—
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
May I pay tribute to the immense amount of work that the hon. Gentleman has put in to tourism and to sport over the years? He is a distinguished spokesman on both. Does he think that sufficient information is available about the value of sport to tourism in this country? There seems to be a dearth of statistics.
§ Mr. Pendry
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I agree—I do not think that sufficient information is available. Indeed, I was about to say that I understand that the former head of sport within the Department is to become the head of tourism—if he has not done so already—which could be a useful first step.
An issue that has only recently come to my attention is one that poses a significant threat to the growth opportunities that have been discussed this morning. It concerns the European Union's infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom Government over air passenger duty, to which the hon. Member for East Surrey referred.
The all-party tourism group recently received a delegation of leading figures from the travel and tourism industry. We were addressed by the heads of the 685 Association of British Travel Agents, the British Tourist Authority, the Federation of Tour Operators, the British Incoming Tour Operators—heavyweight representatives of both the inbound and outbound industries. They described to us the damage that that tax has caused and continues to cause to tourism. The BTA estimates that APD has reduced by at least 3 per cent. the number of tourists choosing to visit the UK. That is not surprising when one considers that even our European APD is double the airport tax in France and Italy and more than three times that in Spain. Those countries are our major competitors in tourism.
As we approach the millennium, Britain should be experiencing a tourism boom. It would be tragic if we squandered the potentially massive economic benefits of a boom by letting unfair and uncompetitive levels of APD squeeze tourist numbers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, ably supported by my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, has been strong in making the case in government for the need to keep APD as low as possible. We welcome the fact that it was not increased in the last budget, for which much credit goes to my ministerial colleagues.
However, we now face a new threat in the form of the EU's infraction proceedings against the UK's domestic return-leg APD exemption. Put simply, that means that the current level of £10 may rise to £20 on a return UK flight. That is hardly likely to encourage more visitors to London to visit our regions, or Scotland and Wales. Indeed, the consequences for Northern Ireland, which is struggling to develop its tourism, do not bear thinking about. Britain has led the way in the development of low-cost air travel and has seen a resulting tourism boom in the regions, particularly in Scotland. We must be careful to ensure that that strength is not lost and that those remarkable gains are not thrown away.
I recently undertook some research and tabled a series of questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the economics of the APD. The answers make interesting reading. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury confirmed that, if APD is charged on both legs of the domestic return flight—this is no doubt where The Daily Telegraph got its information from—an extra £60 million would accrue to the Treasury. That is a minor windfall by Treasury standards, but an extremely severe hit on an industry that must compete in the cut-throat international market of tourism.
I hope that my ministerial colleagues will make strong representations to the Chancellor, as I am sure that they have already. They are the industry's champions and this is one battle that I hope they win. If the EU infraction proceedings cannot be defeated, the Treasury should consider reducing the overall EU rate from the current £10 to about £8.50, which would be a revenue-neutral charge.
I take this opportunity to urge the Chancellor to go to every possible length to resist the imposition of that return-leg APD in the United Kingdom, but if we are legally obliged to introduce the tax, I urge that, at the very least, the European rate be lowered so that consumers, and therefore the industry, bear no increased tax burden as a result.
My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of the Association of Recognised English Language Services. An often forgotten but important sector of tourism are 686 the English language schools, which attract some 750,000 students to the UK each year and provide some £1 billion to the British economy. ARELS represents the quality end of the market. Its 224 members have all had to pass the British Council accreditation scheme, which guarantees high levels in both educational and pastoral care for all its students. Many of the issues with which it is concerned range across a number of departmental areas. I welcome the commitment in "Tomorrow's Tourism" for the DCMS to work with other Government Departments. We promised that before the last election, and it is a promise well kept. It should be of great benefit to organisations like ARELS, which seek closer co-operation with a number of Departments, especially the Department for Education and Employment and the Foreign Office.
I understand that the Government's tourism forum will continue its work as a conduit between the Government and the tourism industry, but I wonder why ARELS is not part of that. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will respond to that point when she winds up the debate.
Having been brought up in a seaside resort, I am pleased that the Government have recognised the social and economic importance of such resorts, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey said—I call him my hon. Friend, because he is, even though he is on the Opposition Benches. I know that the British Resorts Association is well pleased with the Government's tourism strategy. Indeed, in response to "Tomorrow's Tourism", it has produced its own document entitled "UK Seaside Resorts—Behind the Facade", which states the case clearly for the regeneration of our seaside resorts.
I should particularly like to commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), who chairs Labour's Back-Bench committee on seaside resorts. It has a large membership following the last election. My hon. Friend and his colleagues have highlighted the need for targeted assistance to regenerate resorts that have been neglected during a long and turbulent period of change for the domestic tourism industry.
The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary have been gracious enough to acknowledge the contribution that I have made towards tourism. The Secretary of State did so again today, and I am grateful for that. I do not want to spoil the party, but I think that, in some areas, the Government could have gone further. Their proposals fall short of some of those contained in "Breaking New Ground". I hope that the Secretary of State has not lost sight of some of the pledges to which a new Labour Government were committed, one of which was a new Development of Tourism Act. We made that commitment because we recognised that an Act that was more than 30-years-old needed updating to accommodate the structural changes and the different priorities of tourism.
Another important pledge was to harmonise quality hotel ratings across the United Kingdom. Scotland and Wales have gone their own way. Will the Minister tell us what is being done to adhere to the commitment that we made before the general election on a UK harmonisation scheme?
I congratulate the Secretary of State on initiating the debate. I sincerely hope that, with the coming of the millennium, we shall enjoy a significant number of extra tourism visitors as a result of the investment in quality proposed in "Tomorrow's Tourism".
§ 11.2 am
§ Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)
I am pleased that the Government have given the House this opportunity to debate tourism fully—we have had other debates, but not a full one. I hope that that is an indication that the Government now take tourism seriously, because it vital to our future.
The Government's strategy for tourism correctly identifies the challenges and problems faced by the tourism industry as it continues to develop. The key is to find solutions to those problems in the new millennium. Speaking of the millennium, I must say that I think the dome will be a great success during 2000 and afterwards. I have been amazed by the exciting progress that has been made: it will be a great attraction— indeed, as a result of skilful pre-publicity, it already is. We in the House should talk it up, not talk it down.
I welcome the tourism forum, which is much in line with the Liberal Democrat proposal for a tourism commission. The forum has drawn in many sectors of the industry: it covers everything. Only by working with people with experience on the ground will we eventually make progress.
I hope that regional development agencies will take the same inclusive approach, especially in the north-west of England. I am worried that they will take an autocratic approach, as quangos often do. Nowadays, the Local Government Association takes a co-operation approach to tourism. Tourism needs that spirit to overcome many challenges. What about the RDAs? What safeguards have the Government put into the RDA system to ensure proper consultation and co-operation?
The tourism forum sets high goals. I agree that standards must be raised. We must invest in the people who work in the industry and at our tourist attractions. We must market effectively at home and abroad. If we are to increase tourism yield without damaging the environment, quality must be the name of the game.
The Government's strategy document has identified many problems but does little by way of proposing solutions or alleviating some of the burdens on tourism. Taxes on tourism have gradually risen—new and increased taxes have already been imposed or proposed, such as air passenger duty and road pricing for London taxis—and will continue to rise unless the Treasury is made to understand how it is milking this important industry.
I do not know when the industry will buckle under the stress, but I fear that it will reach that point quite soon. I am pleased that, as a result of pressure, the Government have wisely decided not to impose a flat-rate tax on restaurants, cafes and bars to fund the Food Standards Agency. That would have been over-the-top taxation on tourism.
Tourists cannot always be relied on to come to Britain no matter what the price. Many British holidaymakers no longer take any holidays in Britain, because leaving Britain even for a short break has become cheaper than a short-break holiday in this country. The continued strength of the pound is a key cause for concern. In that respect, tourism is no different from all our other imports and exports. What of the 40 per cent. of Britons who do not take any holidays, whom the Secretary of State mentioned? With domestic prices so high, that type of social exclusion will continue even when the pound falls. 688 To help people who do not take holidays, investment in affordable public transport must be stepped up to improve access to our seaside resorts, some of which—including my constituency of Southport—now attract investment for tourism developments from many sources, such as the lottery, European objective 1 and the single regeneration budget. That investment is valuable, and I hope that RDAs will see the potential in our seaside resorts, and will take up their cause. If visitors cannot reach the resorts easily, private industry will not be prepared to put in the funding needed to operate new tourist developments. Southport receives 4 million day visitors a year, but investment in rail links is urgently required. That problem is duplicated all over the country.
London hotels are some of the most expensive in the world, yet their prices are sometimes not matched by standards and quality. Property prices are high, but so are taxes. VAT rates are among the highest in Europe. The Government must do more to create a climate in which tourism can flourish. I must again ask what progress the Treasury has made on its investigation into the proposal that VAT rates on tourist accommodation should be reduced to average European levels. That important question has not been answered in the tourism document, although the detailed report produced by Deloitte and Touche has been on the Chancellor's desk for over a year.
I am pleased that the Department of Trade and Industry consumer affairs department is at last trying to get to grips with the apparent overcharging and poor treatment of single guests. When will the investigation be completed? More important, will the treatment of single travellers be included as a feature in the criteria for the new grading system? I hope that the new grading system will be easily understood, relevant to the needs of guests and well-monitored. If the scheme takes off, it could really help to encourage hotels to raise standards. When does the Minister expect the scheme to be fully implemented? The Secretary of State said that it would be launched in September, but when will implementation commence?
§ Mr. Chris Smith
I can confirm that September will be the date of implementation. Gradings will be announced and published for individual hotels and guesthouses across the whole of England.
§ Mr. Fearn
I am pleased to hear that. If the regional tourist boards are to implement the scheme, can we have assurances that they will stick to the same criteria to monitor standards? If the same standard of accommodation is classed as two-star in one area and four-star in another, the system will fail.
London is a great tourism asset, and a gateway to the rest of Britain. It has wonderful heritage sites, and great innovations. It is very fragmented, however, and the lack of effective co-ordination and strategy has led to uncertainty. I am very hopeful that the new London assembly will have both the range of powers required and the will to take the lead. I am optimistic that it will adopt a positive approach, and will see the value of tourism rather than just seeing that which is superficial.
The mayor and the assembly must work with the London tourist board, giving it strategic support and facilitating negotiations rather than imposing hidden taxes. I refer to the threat to black cabs of having to pay extra taxes to go into the west end, as proposed in the 689 document "Breaking the Logjam", produced by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. That would be an additional tax on our theatre industry, which is a major tourism asset. I hope that improving all forms of public transport will be a priority. West end taxis really are part of our integrated public transport system, and a vital component of the tourism product—as the Government have already stated.
The Thames is also one of our biggest tourist attractions, drawing in more than 2 million visitors a year. The "partners in progress" initiative launched by the Port of London Authority in 1993 provided boat owners and operators with licences. It has invested £25 million in sightseeing and restaurant services, creating many new jobs. I am very much in favour of an improvement in public transport on the Thames. I also seek assurances that existing providers of tourist and leisure cruises will not be penalised, and that all agreements with existing boat operators will be honoured by London River Services. London Transport should be commended on any improvements that it can make in addition to, not at the expense of, existing operators.
For many years, successive Governments have neglected to recognise just how much tourism contributes to the economy, unless that is related to how much tax they can squeeze out of it. This Government must never forget that tourism is worth £53 billion a year, and employs 1.75 million people—7 per cent. of our work force. That makes it more important economically than all the other functions of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport put together.
Air transport is vital to our industry. Will the Minister vigorously fight the threat to impose air passenger duty both ways on internal flights in the United Kingdom? Will the Department safeguard the one-way rate for day return visitors? Tourism is the largest industry in Scotland, and is also essential to the economic future of Northern Ireland. The great majority of international visitors to the United Kingdom arrive in London and then travel on within the United Kingdom. Is not the proposed increase in air passenger duty an incentive to tourists to stay in the London area, which, in the summer, already teems with tourists paying over the odds? Sustainable tourism involves encouraging visitors to spread out to all other areas; this measure deters them from doing so.
§ Mr. Fabricant
My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) tells me that a return flight from London to Newcastle costs about £280. Would the hon. Gentleman be surprised to learn that it is possible to travel to Boston and back with American Airlines for about £210?
§ Mr. Fearn
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, having seen those prices. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has been to Boston himself. As I said earlier, people are making the choice to our detriment.
The British Tourist Authority and the British Incoming Tour Operators Association are particularly alarmed by this development. I ask the Minister to take the matter very seriously. It cannot be handled by the new Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly; it must be dealt with here in Westminster. I urge the Minister to support Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and also to ensure that the British Tourist Authority continues to 690 market and promote Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales abroad. Overseas marketing is still within their remit, despite the existence of their own Parliament and Assemblies.
I was pleased to be at the launch of the British Hospitality Association's careers festival this week. It is encouraging to see such a fragmented industry co-operating to produce such an event, and it is a signal that the tourism and hospitality business is now regarded as a good career option rather than casual work.
I hope that the days of low pay and high staff turnover are coming to an end. I believe that the minimum wage will give many workers a real living wage. Initial reports suggest that more businesses are beginning to invest in training their staff, and I am sure that that trend will raise standards of service in the medium to long term. Is the Minister taking any steps to verify the increase in training in tourism since the introduction of the minimum wage? What role will the regional tourist boards play in this regard? Will not the bidding system for funding encourage regions to compete rather than co-operating with each other? Finally, what will be the make-up of the regional tourist boards?
I have asked many questions. I hope that the Minister will answer many of them today; otherwise, I shall ask them again and again when she visits Southport on Monday.
§ 11.7 am
§ Mr. John Grogan (Selby)
Tourism authorities in Scotland have a distinct competitive advantage that gives them the edge over their colleagues in England and Wales. It is nothing to do with "Rob Roy", "Braveheart" or Sean Connery, or with the attractions that the Scottish Parliament may hold for tourists and visitors when it opens for business in a couple of weeks. In Edinburgh and Glasgow—as opposed to Birmingham and London—it is possible to get a drink after 11 pm. It is possible to have a drink with a meal in civilised surroundings without having to listen to loud dance music.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I share the hon. Gentleman's view about the abolition of licensing laws, but does he not agree that Scotland also enjoys a competitive advantage because it receives £3.76 per head in grant aid from the Government, whereas England gets only 20p?
§ Mr. Grogan
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall develop my argument about licensing laws a little further. I may make other comparisons later. My central contention is that any measures that the Government take to boost tourism in England and Wales—especially in the context of the figures mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—would be dwarfed by the impact of abolition, or rather reform, of the licensing laws. That would have a major effect on the tourism industry.
I am delighted to note that the Government have committed themselves to liberalising and modernising the licensing laws. On 5 May last year, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), said that it was time that the laws controlling pub and off-licence opening hours were 691 modernised. He said that new regulations should reflect changing social trends, and bolster the tourism and leisure industries. He did not call for total deregulation, but said thatpeople should be able to decide when they want to go out and where they want to go".A consultation paper has been promised early next year. It should be a White Paper, and "early next year" should mean January or February to allow the prospect of legislation in the current Parliament.
We all know that the licensing laws date back, if not to the middle ages, at least to the first world war, when Lloyd George famously said:We are fighting Germany, Austria and the drink and, as far as I can see, the greatest of these deadly foes is the drink".The restrictive licensing laws that he subsequently introduced during the war have hampered the growth of our night-time and evening economies ever since, for the last 80 years. Our hospitality and tourism industries have become far more important during that time thanks to our increasing affluence, but they have been hemmed in by the liquor licensing laws. It is a great shame because some of our most innovative young entrepreneurs are in the hospitality sector. They are involved in bars, clubs and restaurants.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the police in Lichfield tell me that they would prefer it if, instead of young people all streaming on to the streets just after 11 o'clock, the pubs were allowed to close at different times, so that there would be—dare I use the word—staggered closing times?
§ Mr. Grogan
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that everyone spills on to the streets at the same time, with many people having drunk far too much in the final half hour. They are all after fast food and transport home at the same time. That is when trouble on the streets and violence occur. The crime argument is powerful.
The English have always had an ambivalent attitude to nightlife and the night-time economy. As long ago as 1941, a social commentator, Thomas Burke, wrote a book entitled "English Nightlife: From Norman Curfew to Present Black Out". The language is a little arcane, but it is worth bringing to the attention of the House. It states:Nightlife, nightclub, nightbird. There is something about the word 'night' as about the word 'Paris' that sends through some Englishmen a shiver of misgiving, and through another type a current of undue delight. The latter never get over the excitement of sitting up late, the others see any happening after midnight, even a game of Snakes and Ladders, as something verging on the unholy, as though Satan were never abroad in sunlight. A club they can tolerate, call it a nightclub and they see it as the ante room to Hell. This attitude towards entertainment after dark is held by most officials. Whenever they hear of some new development of nightlife they get a prickling of the thumbs and give the impression that they would be happier if the Universe had so contrived its system as to give the whole globe perpetual day.That attitude has meant that, too often, our town and city centres after dark are the province of the young. Many people, citizens and tourists alike, are not catered for in towns and cities.
Our licensing law anomalies are not restricted just to those directly to do with hours. My local evening newspaper, the Evening Press in York—a city that 692 depends on tourism—has in the past year highlighted some of the anomalies in a series of editorials. I quote from the edition on 2 October 1998:Each time a York cafe-owner explains to a puzzled foreign tourist that he cannot simply sit and sip a beer on the premises, it sounds more absurd.There is no point in explaining that a restaurant licence only allows the holder to serve alcohol with food. The perplexed visitor will be confused enough already.On 13 February 1999, the newspaper commented on the attempts of York city council to develop a café culture to attract more tourists to York. It said:If cafe culture is good enough for families on the European mainland, then it should be good enough for ours in York.The support given by the licensing office to the notion of developing a sense of outdoor evening time bustle in England's ancient capital is to be applauded.Serving drinks at pavement tables is more than just a sop to foreign tourists.It is an opportunity to add excitement and colour to the grandeur of the architecture and street scenes of our historic city.But while we are shouting bravo to the police and City Council … unyielding licensing laws are putting a dampener on the idea.The price that has to be paid by enterprising cafés which have just received on-licences is that they must now bar from their premises all children aged under 14. That puts these premises out of reach for many families.Hours are the crux of the issue. It is clearly absurd that, in order for pubs to be able to stay open after 11 pm and for restaurants to stay open after midnight, they have to make more noise—they have to have a dance floor, food and entertainment, which is invariably loud dance music.
I chair an all-party panel that is examining the issue of liquor licensing reform. Some of our most powerful evidence has come from Scotland. Mr. David Smith, chairman of the British Institute of Innkeeping in Scotland, said:Coming from Scotland, I find it incredible to witness the out of date licensing hours that are imposed on English public houses, particularly in the capital. This is nothing short of remarkable, even Cinderella was allowed out until 12.00 pm!What do our visitors from Europe make of all this when they consider the sensible drinking hours they enjoy when spending their leisure time back home. These limitations will only serve to have a serious effect on tourism".
§ Mr. Grogan
The hon. Lady raises a good point. Only the House of Commons, railway trains and airlines are exempt.
Short-break tourism is affected. That sector is becoming more and more important as people want to pack as much as possible into 48 hours. In the Sunday supplements, there are articles on 48 hours in Barcelona and 48 hours in Milan. It is not possible to write such guides for many English cities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) mentioned attracting big national events to Britain. The licensing laws harm our case. London First, the campaigning organisation for business, has said that 693 those laws reduce London's ability to attract major international events. They put us at a competitive disadvantage to other European cities.
The crime issue is the one that might finally clinch it for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. It is obvious that change is needed. All the experiments—policies as well; they are more than experiments—show that. In Scotland, there was a relaxation during the garden festival in Glasgow in 1988. In some English cities, including Manchester and Leeds, there was some relaxation during the European football championships. There have been many experiments in Dutch cities. They always led chiefs of police to say that relaxation of the laws cuts crime. That is the most convincing argument.
Perversely, reforming the licensing laws is probably the only way in which we will improve the behaviour of some British tourists abroad. As the Evening Press pointed out on 10 June 1998:At a time when foreign travel has become the norm, our inflexible approach to the alcohol trade is looking increasingly ludicrous. Some Britons holidaying on the Continent can be so overwhelmed by the ability to drink as and when they like that they over-indulge, explaining the somewhat ambivalent attitude of Europeans to British tourists.The only way to change that is by changing our attitudes towards alcohol. Reforming our licensing laws is part of that.
I have allies in the Front-Bench team. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting to continue to press within Government the urgency of the case and to press for reform of the licensing laws before the next election.
§ Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)
The delights of Beckenham are manifold, but they are not a prime tourist attraction, despite Crystal palace park, which used to include Crystal palace, the home not of football on this occasion, but one of the predecessors of the dome. Tramlink will open soon, which will take the burghers of Beckenham directly to Croydon. We also have Eurostar, which helps to bring tourists both into and out of London passing by our back gardens. I wish that Eurostar were a bit more tourist conscious and that its marketing was more clever and flexible in terms of increasing the number of people who travel on that very good service and through that marvellous tunnel, of which I am proud and which I frequently use, particularly as I suffer from travel sickness.
The other joy and delight of Beckenham that brings in, or used to bring in, visitors, friends and relatives of my constituents is our green and open spaces. Since a Lib-Lab pact took over in local government and since central Government cut grants to Bromley borough, however, the parks and grass are no longer being cut; graffiti is not being cleaned up; and the streets are covered in litter. That is a strong recommendation for the Lib-Lab pact to resign, as well as the Government.
The dome is close to Bromley and Beckenham. We have watched with admiration, particularly those who have access to the closed circuit television screens, the dome being built. When one was bored and there was no crime on the streets of Bromley—something that happens fairly regularly—it was tempting to watch the construction of the dome, and fascinating it was too.
694 The knock-on effect is what concerns my constituents in Beckenham—the potential difficulties of arriving at the dome using any form of transport, and the extra clutter of parking on the streets that will inevitably affect the borough of Bromley and, I suspect, other nearby boroughs, although I would not wish to speak on their behalf.
The completion of the Jubilee line will, I hope, help those who live in constituencies north of the Thames, and it is a pleasure for me to be able to say that one of the major contracting engineers on the project is based in Beckenham, and the people there reassure me that the Jubilee line will be open in time for people to use it to travel to the dome.
Those of us who live south of the Thames, however, will still have problems getting there. I would be grateful for any reassurance that Ministers can give not only that there will be transport facilities for people south of the river to get to the dome, but that the streets of Beckenham and Bromley will not be further littered with cars left by people taking other means of transport to it.
My other connection with the dome is personal. I have an uncle in the United States, who lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was one of the pioneers of satellite and cable television, and he is in the process of trying to link up Greenwich borough and Greenwich, Connecticut for the millennium eve. He is having difficulty in encouraging the powers that be in Greenwich, London to participate in the event, so I hope that we can move that idea gently forward. It will be good public relations and good for tourism, and will build closer links between those two areas.
Most of the tourists who come to the United Kingdom go primarily to London, Oxford and Edinburgh. It is difficult to attract them beyond those three destinations. We all work in London, and some of us live there, and we all know about the sheer pressure of tourism in London, especially in the central areas.
I have listened and tried to evaluate the thinking behind the move towards regionalisation of the tourist boards. I do not have a problem with their being strengthened; there is a real need for that, but I do have a problem with the idea of the English tourist board being downgraded.
As one of our biggest problems is the difficulty of getting the bulk of tourists out of those three primary destinations, why do we not give the regional tourist boards the opportunity to advertise and market directly in other countries? Other countries allow that to happen. In some places it has evolved naturally through the market.
In France, which I know quite well, Maison de la France does most of the public relations and advertising within the UK for France as a destination—and extremely successful it is. Millions of us go to France every year. In France the regions, or rather the departements, can, if they wish, do their own marketing and advertising. I am aware of the efforts made by the Tarn and Picardy in particular, as those are both areas that I visit fairly regularly. Their marketing in the United Kingdom is not done under the auspices of Maison de la France. That allows those departements to reach out and attract tourists in different ways from those used by the bigger organisation, using different media, public relations and advertising.
I do not understand why we cannot give our regional tourist boards the same flexibility to market and advertise. It will not stop most of the tourists who come here for the 695 first time wanting to go to the three major destinations, but it may mitigate some of the effects, build up the opportunities for our regions and enable them to attract more tourists.
I do not want the regional development agencies to take that job on as their direct responsibility. That would be a bad idea—indeed, I do not think that the RDAs are a good idea anyway—but the regional tourist boards should have that flexibility.
I do not want to repeat the arguments put by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan). I commend his ideas thoroughly, and he put them in an entertaining and interesting way that made a major impact. I congratulate him on making that particular point. Indeed, it was ironic that the petition presented this morning by the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) was on a similar deregulatory theme, and I applaud and support his efforts, too.
It is sad that the present Government have not continued with the Conservative Government's proposal to increase the number of casino licences available throughout the United Kingdom. It is not only the British people who want the opportunity to go into casinos; casinos are also a tourist attraction. In the United Kingdom, with its well-developed form of regulation and its understanding of the high standards required of people who operate casinos, we could easily offer a high-quality casino product.
§ Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town)
Does the hon. Lady agree that docklands would be an appropriate area for a licence? The exhibition and conference centre now being constructed will be the biggest in the United Kingdom when it is finished. That, plus the number of hotels in the area, means that the clientele will be there to generate more income for that part of the leisure industry, which is important to us.
§ Mrs. Lait
I would have no problem in suggesting to the Government that I would have gone further than the Conservative Government's proposal. If there is a desire and a proven business plan for a casino in any area, then people of high standing and quality, who can manage the facility, should be allowed to do so. There is no need to consider casinos on a geographical basis, as happens now. I am relaxed about saying that the market should decide.
That is how I would approach the licensing laws, too. If people do not want to use a pub at midnight it will not open at that time. Let us try to match the provision to the demand. We can then build the licensing system round that, rather than allowing the licensing system to drive the provision.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) mentioned activity sports, and there was some discussion about them. I have long championed chess, and helped to get it moved from the Department of Education and Science, as it used to be called, to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, with the object of getting it recognised as a sport.
I am well aware, because of my previous incarnation representing Hastings and Rye, that chess is an international tourist attraction, and the United Kingdom is recognised as one of the countries that produces 696 high-quality chess players. At the moment, chess does not have access to the funding that would allow it to offer the high-quality facilities to match the quality of the playing and the players that we produce in this country.
I urge the Minister to take away my suggestion and those of many others, that the Department take a serious look at chess as a sport. I know about the argument that chess is a mind sport, not a physical activity, and the Sports Council is unhappy about that, and feels that it does not therefore have a locus in providing aid. However, there must be some ingenuity within the Department that would allow chess to be recognised as a sport and properly funded, so that, among its many other attributes, we could use it as a way of attracting more tourists.
There have been many references to the need to help the seaside resorts become more attractive to tourists. I have long believed that seaside resorts need to think more imaginatively because of the change in the pattern of British family holidays. Over the past 20 years, many have done so and are now offering a year-round product. However, as the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) said, getting to them is a nightmare.
Seaside resorts around the country have high unemployment rates and a low economic basis. They share a pattern of deprivation that matches objective 2 status. Shortly after the general election, I wrote to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who is now the Financial Secretary to the Treasury but was then a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, suggesting that the Government should consider designating the coastal strip as a region to meet objective 2 status. That is not impossible. The Secretary of State said that he was working with other Departments on objective 2 status. Perhaps the Minister will have another look at my suggestion. Seaside towns are not just for holidays. They need to provide industrial and commercial jobs throughout the year and must be well connected to the rest of the country. We have to tackle the problems of deprivation, because the communities are often remote. Objective 2 status would be one way of helping.
Our high rates of excise duty on tobacco and alcohol have created a growth area in the tourism business that I am sure that the Government did not intend when the rate imbalance first emerged with the creation of the single market in 1994. Anyone who stands in Dover docks for five minutes can see how many people use the ferries and trains to smuggle and bootleg tobacco and alcohol. They are no longer just the small local—dare I say it—entrepreneurs who used to pop over to Belgium for a haversack full of tobacco or to France for a white vanload of Blue Nun. Well organised criminal gangs are using mules recruited from the unemployment register, despite the alleged success of the new deal, to bring over large quantities of cheap tobacco and alcohol.
§ Mr. Fabricant
My hon. Friend will know that Burton is not a million miles from Lichfield and is a home of brewing in the United Kingdom. Is she aware that up to 15 per cent. of the alcohol consumed in the United Kingdom is reckoned to be brought in in the way that she has described? Brewers are not the only ones to suffer. A number of pubs are likely to close as a direct 697 consequence. Does she agree that pubs are a tourist attraction and, if they start to close, inward tourism will be damaged?
§ Mrs. Lait
My hon. Friend makes many of the points that I could make. This is a big issue that I could talk about for a long time, but I promise that I shall not. I am most grateful to him for adding to what I was going to say.
On the day that the Government announce that tobacco advertising will be banned before Christmas, they should be concerned about the fact that the number of people smoking is increasing by 2 per cent. a year. I suggest with the utmost humility that there is a correlation between the increase in smoking and the differences in excise duty. It is ironic that, in a debate on tourism, we can point out that the existence of different duty levels is creating tourism that none of us wants. I hope that the Department will make that point strongly in its next Budget submission to the Chancellor. We have to resolve the difference in duty. We cannot solve the problem merely by increasing the number of customs officers and police. That has never worked in the past and it will never work in the future. The only way to address the issue is by taking the profit out of smuggling and bootlegging.
I agree that everyone, including children under 12, should have their own passport. Unfortunately, the UK Passport Agency decided to introduce the change at a time of year when the largest number of people want a passport. Instead of making the change in the dog days of November to March, the agency has decided that everyone going on holiday should have their new passport in May, June, July and August. My brother—this is a relative-friendly speech—is trying to set up a business deal in France. His passport runs out in August. To try to help the agency, he thought that he would go and get his new passport in May, in time for his next business trip on 10 June. The agency promises speedy service. However, it cannot produce passports quickly at the moment because all the kids are getting passports and there is a real jam. My brother's business, which is tourism-related, is being affected by the agency's inability to produce passports quickly. Will someone please get a grip on the agency and tell it to leave the change for a year and do it in the dog days? Passports should be sent to the people who need them as fast as possible.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
I take it that my hon. Friend does not think that the situation is a secret ruse to try to redress the trade imbalance in tourism.
§ Mrs. Lait
No, by making a profitable investment. He does not have to smuggle or bootleg tobacco and alcohol.
I urge the Minister to try to make the UK Passport Agency get on top of the problem, because my brother is not the only one who is affected. I am receiving similar complaints from constituents. We have to provide an efficient service not just to tourists coming to this country, but, as we become richer and ever more of our people travel, to our constituents and the British people who wish to travel.
§ Miss Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate because I represent a seaside resort that depends heavily on tourism. It is important to us that British tourism reaches its full potential.
We are fortunate to live in a country rich in tradition, history and cultural diversity, with the ballet, the theatre, the opera and the cinema, as well as areas of outstanding natural beauty such as the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales; I could go on at length. So why do we not capture a better market share in tourism? Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the world, but we have lost out over the years. We are not getting our fair share, and I am glad that the Government have recognised that and are beginning to do something to tackle the serious difficulties that we face.
In some areas, we do well. Tourism in London is successful, although there are some difficulties. It has been said that the prices of hotels in the capital are very expensive compared with elsewhere in the world, and the quality of service is often sadly lacking. We must address those problems. However, millions of tourists come to London each year and it is well marketed overseas.
The same cannot always be said of other areas, especially the British seaside resorts. They have been left for years to stagnate and decline, with nothing done to help them. The response from the previous Government was, "Well, leave it to market forces. If people do not want to go to the seaside, tough." During the 1980s, I watched the place where I have lived for most of my life decline, and the Government did nothing to help. Unemployment rose and the only use for small hotels was as Department of Social Security hostels, as welfare dependency increased under the previous Government. That was the story for British seaside resorts in the 1980s: I do not want that to be the story in the new millennium.
The Government can do much to help. The new strategy is right to envisage a co-ordinated approach to marketing and greater use of new technology. Why is it that I can walk into a travel agents and book a holiday to any seaside resort on the continent, but I cannot book a holiday at a seaside resort in Great Britain? I could not get a late package deal to Morecambe or Scarborough. We must make the seaside resorts more accessible.
§ Miss Smith
That is helpful, but less than a third of people in this country have access to the internet. Those people who probably would be most likely to visit British seaside resorts—those with smaller incomes, who might want a short break—might not be connected to the internet. We must widen access, and one way to do that is through tourist information centres. There is no reason why people should not book holidays in different parts of the country.
§ Mr. Fabricant
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. Is not it a sad state of affairs that, for people who do not have a lot of income, it is probably cheaper to go to southern Spain on a package deal? Is that not ironic?
§ Miss Smith
It is a sad state of affairs, which is why more needs to be done to help the British tourism industry, so that we can get cheaper deals. I am sure that many hotels often have no guests. Perhaps if they reduced their prices and offered late deals, they could get more people in. The Conservative party does not recognise the benefits of the minimum wage but, if more people had a higher income, the 40 per cent. of people who do not take a holiday might be able to afford to do so. That could be very beneficial for the British tourism industry, but the Conservatives have not yet decided whether they would abolish the minimum wage.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
The hon. Lady has expressed eloquently the difficulties that many seaside resorts have had in attracting visitors in sufficient numbers. She will know that there is a long-term trend away from traditional seaside holidays. Does she think that the abolition of the English tourist board is helpful if the objective is to give people more information about where they can stay in England?
§ Miss Smith
I can judge only from my own experience, and I was involved in tourism for many years as a local councillor before I became a Member of Parliament. I have to look at my area and ask whether the English tourist board made Morecambe a successful seaside resort. What has it done for my area? The status quo is not good enough. The previous Government were willing to accept seaside resorts going into decline. We cannot afford to do that, because too many jobs depend on that not happening, including some 6,000 in my constituency.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
Is it not a little harsh to blame the previous Government, or indeed the present Government, for the problem, which is due to societal changes? Does the hon. Lady agree that those resorts that have tended to buck the trend are either ones that have turned themselves into caricatures of themselves in their marketing, such as Blackpool, or those that have aimed at a completely different clientele, such as Torquay? The basic problem is that there is no popular market for traditional holidays in seaside resorts. Unless people are prepared to think constructively and produce some alternatives to attract individuals to their resorts, no amount of Government money or tourist board activity will make any difference.
§ Miss Smith
That is precisely the attitude of the previous Government and that is why there are so many Labour Members of Parliament in seaside resorts.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I cannot resist asking the hon. Lady whether she thinks that tourism in Blackpool and Morecambe is helped by the fact that the Labour party has decided that the area is too down market ever again to hold its party conferences there.
§ Miss Smith
The last Labour party conference in Morecambe was in 1952, but I do not think that the Conservatives have ever been there. The problem is that we do not have the accommodation. We do not have the large hotels to take conference trade, but the Government can be helpful in directing hotel building to coastal areas to encourage regeneration through the planning process.
700 Problems with transport to seaside resorts has already been mentioned. There is a new fast Seacat service to Belfast from Heysham port in my constituency. The hardest part of the journey to that service is the last two miles, because there is no way to do it by bus and there is only one train a day. That service brings thousands of tourists into the area every year, but it might be stopped because people are tired of having to travel the last two miles by taxi. That is a simple problem that could be addressed with a bit of thought and co-operation.
One of the good aspects of the Government's strategy is that it involves people working together. It is about joined-up government at all levels—locally, regionally and nationally. We all know how fragmented the tourism industry is. Tourism affects planning, crime and disorder and licensing laws, so the Government must ensure that we make the necessary improvements.
The document, "Tomorrow's Tourism", refers to the regeneration of seaside resorts. Words are great, and I think that the strategy is a good one. However, the proof of the pudding will be in the delivery and in the resources allocated to back up that strategy. That is how the Government will be judged at the end of the day: it will be a matter not of whether we have a good strategy on paper, but of what has been achieved in my area and across Britain to promote tourism.
Seaside resorts face great problems. I have raised them with the Minister before, but I make no apologies for highlighting them again today. There is splendour and squalor side by side. People are trying to run small guesthouses that are situated next to DSS hostels. The problems in my constituency would match those of any inner-city area. We have pockets of deprivation and drug abuse and the urban poor have been attracted to the resort by the over-supply of cheap, rundown accommodation. An enormous number of absentee landlords who do not live in the area and have no connection with it make a lot of money out of housing benefit. Those issues must be addressed seriously. People who operate hotels, shops and all sorts of other small businesses must receive our assistance. They have struggled for years against the odds and they deserve our admiration. However, it is no good just admiring them: we must help them. I hope that the Government appreciate that fact.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) mentioned the possibility of objective 2 funding for coastal areas. That is a very good point, which I have also made to the Department of Trade and Industry. Coastal areas need Government funding. The coalfield communities received funding when mining and other traditional industries declined, yet tourism in seaside resorts has declined and we have so far received little assistance. We must find alternative means of employment for those who live in such areas. Seaside resorts are isolated, so we clearly require a great deal of assistance with transport—not just road transport, but good railway and bus networks. A fully integrated transport strategy is needed so that people can visit the coast more easily.
The Government's document, "Tomorrow's Tourism", mentions several case studies. I draw hon. Members' attention to a constituency case on which I seek the Minister's assistance. There has been talk recently about a movie map. The film "Brief Encounter" was filmed at Carnforth railway station in my constituency. It was a lovely, mainline station, with a motorway junction nearby. 701 However, the station does not have a mainline platform and trains run straight through Carnforth to the Lake district.
The Furness line runs around the coast to Carlisle and the station would be a terrific inter-junction for visitors to the Lake district. They could park their cars—huge areas of derelict land could provide massive park-and-ride facilities—and then travel by train to the Lake district or the Cumbrian coast. Developers want to make that plan a reality and the local council is very interested. However, we cannot secure the necessary funding. That practical suggestion could boost tourism in my area, help public transport and relieve much of the pressure caused by motorist numbers in the Lake district. It is a matter of receiving assistance when we need it on the ground.
At the end of the day, the Government will be judged on what we have done in those areas. The strategy says all the right things and I think that the Government are taking tourism seriously. However, we require the resources and the funding to back it up. Struggling business people in our seaside resorts need help if they are to make a go of it and create many more jobs in coastal areas.
§ 12.3 pm
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
It is relatively easy to develop a dislike of tourism. Those of us who appreciate the beauty of remote parts of the country are acutely aware that the tourist might destroy the very thing that he has come to see. Away from the remoter parts of the country, anyone who has been elbowed off the pavement in London by a hoard of Italian schoolchildren will be left questioning the benefits of this rather grisly trade.
However, one must temper those feelings with the knowledge that tourism provides employment for many of our constituents. It represents some 4 per cent. of gross national product, employs 1.5 million people directly and constitutes 6 per cent. of total expenditure. Many people—certainly those in my part of the world—will be acutely aware that, if it were not for tourism, parishes throughout my constituency would have no shops or commercial provision. Those small shops survive as economic concerns throughout the year because of tourist trade during the summer months. Tourism is therefore a vital industry.
To some extent, the Secretary of State paid tribute to the fact that in his speech. The problem is that there is a deficit between his words and his actions. The Government's policy has been a disaster. I sometimes wonder what is the purpose of the vendetta against an industry that is disproportionately made up of small concerns, private undertakings and sole traders. Of course, that fact might explain why there is a vendetta. Tourism does not consist of large corporate bureaucrats, who are now extremely sympathetic to the Labour party's aspirations and whose every expression of support for Labour is often a job application in disguise. Small firms lack compliance departments and, therefore, the ability to deal with, and welcome, the regulations and taxes that the Government have imposed on them.
The vendetta against tourism is evident not only in regulations and tax changes, but in some of the Government's principal acts of policy. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), the 702 Conservative Front-Bench spokesman, has already drawn attention to the Government's extraordinary decision to abolish the English tourist board. I certainly was not reassured by the rather dismal prospect of regional cultural consortiums. Does not the Secretary of State recognise the strength of the brand image of England as a whole as a holiday destination, with the attractions of history, tradition, culture and warm hospitality?
There is a lack of credibility and sales potential in the slogans, "Come to the south-east region for a true south-east region experience," and "Enjoy the history and traditions of the north-east region." That regionalisation owes a great deal more to the Government's determination to see England broken up into bite-sized chunks for a Brussels banquet than to the needs of the tourist industry.
I want to concentrate particularly on the Government's tax and regulatory changes, which have had a truly devastating effect on the smaller enterprises that are the mainstay of the tourist industry. I shall give two examples. The first, as hon. Members might expect from exchanges that have already taken place, relates to activity holidays. I know a thing or two about activity holidays. Even as I speak, my 10-year-old son is on an activity holiday. One might question how he comes to be on holiday during term time. Such is the benefit of activity holidays in promoting healthy living, citizenship, leadership, social education and environmental awareness—many of the things that Labour Members say they are in favour of—that class 3 of the Burley Village county school has, en masse, during term time, gone on such a holiday to promote those virtues.
Members of the British Activity Holiday Association provide such opportunities for some 200,000 children a year. Next year, however, the situation may be different because, in providing that service, they rely on being able to create jobs for some 4,000 young people, many of whom are students aged between 18 and 21, and most of whom are employed on temporary, seasonal contracts of between two and eight months.
We have been accused of being mean-minded and mean-spirited in questioning the operation of the national minimum wage in this respect, but I draw attention to the fact that a vital part of remuneration for such employment lies in the provision of full board and lodging. Without such provision, organisations would not be able to attract employees. Anyone who knows anything about activity holidays knows that their locations are often remote. There is no alternative accommodation—nor is there a transport network, or cafes and restaurants selling food at prices that employees could afford.
§ Mrs. Lait
I did not want to interrupt my hon. Friend while he was in such full flow on the national minimum wage, about which I absolutely agree with him, but is he aware that, potentially, organisations that provide activity holidays for eight to 14-year-olds will not be recognised under the Tax Credits Bill, and will therefore be unable to claim for child care facilities? That is yet another difficulty facing such organisations.
§ Mr. Swayne
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention because I was entirely unaware of that huge threat to the industry, which of course adds to the difficulty in which it already finds itself.
703 As I was saying, part of the remuneration offered by activity holiday organisations is full board and lodging. If they cannot offer that, they will be unable to acquire staff, for whom there is no alternative provision. So, they would naturally expect an abatement of the national minimum wage for the provision of full board—but none is allowable. For the provision of accommodation, the abatement is less than £20 a week. The Secretary of State called me a fool, but I am not such a fool as to believe that, anywhere in the land, accommodation can be had for £20 a week—especially with full board thrown in.
This problem is faced not only by activity holiday companies; such provision is a feature of many other contracts and remuneration for jobs in small hotels and restaurants throughout the south of England and elsewhere. I am absolutely certain that accommodation cannot be had during the summer in Lymington, Barton-on-Sea, Milford-on-Sea or anywhere else for £20 a week. People who work in such enterprises are well aware of the advantages of the provision of full board and accommodation.
I shall quote from a letter from my constituent, Mr. Alan Outhwaite, who runs Travel Class Ltd., an activity holiday organisation my constituency. He says:The national minimum wage has cost us an extra £25,000 for this season—all totally uncosted when we set out our prices"—and marketed them—in April 1999.He will have no doubt been mightily relieved to have heard the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting say that the matter is under review. That is a great help now that it has already cost my constituent £25,000. We have already begun to question whether the perception that the matter is under review is correct. There was certainly no evidence of it in a parliamentary answer I received yesterday.
The deputy chairman of the British Activity Holiday Association sent me a fax on 16 June, saying:In respect of the National Minimum Wage legislation, … the British Activity Holiday Association's representation about the negative impact of the minuscule accommodation allowance of just £20 per week, the Low Pay Commission did not recommend any change to this rate and … consequently, member companies of the British Activity Holiday Association have already had to reduce the numbers of students and young people employed in the industry, thereby denying them the highly-valued 'life-time skills' experience that the industry previously provided to them.This is a problem not only for organisers of activity holidays but for all those tourism enterprises, including small private hotels or restaurants, that provide board and lodging as part of remuneration. The latter have been hard hit by the Government's unwillingness to accept and act on representations that have been made by making a more generous provision for taking account of board and lodging in their regulations for the implementation of the national minimum wage.
As I have mentioned small hotels and restaurants, I wish to discuss another problem, which was drawn to my attention when I was visited at one of my constituency advice sessions by a Mr. Conway, who runs a small restaurant—the Candlesticks restaurant in Ringwood. Mr. Conway is 61 and his wife is 60. He has had the restaurant for 16 years, nursing it through two recessions, 704 and it was his intention to retire in the year 2003 when he reached the age of 65. Like most small business people, Mr. Conway does not have a pension plan because his pension is effectively the business that he runs. The disposal of that business has to provide him not only with sufficient income for his pension but with somewhere else to live because, like so many of those who operate in our tourism industry in the form of restaurants and hotels, Mr. and Mrs. Conway, in effect, live above the shop. The premises from which they trade are their home, and, when they retire, they expect to be able to sell those premises and generate sufficient income to buy an annuity to pay for their retirement and to buy somewhere else to live.
Selling the restaurant should realise about £250,000. Before Labour class warriors say, "That is a very large sum", they should bear in mind that Mr. Conway must buy another property with that and pay for his retirement. Last year, the tax arrangements would have enabled him to do so—to realise that £250,000 and pay no tax. Now, however, because of the tax changes that the Government have introduced by abolishing income tax relief for capital gains purposes, he will have to pay £55,000 in tax as a consequence of selling that restaurant and realising the £250,000 that he thought would pay for his retirement and buy him somewhere else to live.
These are the small enterprises that predominate in our tourism industry. One might say that they are the sort of people the Labour party used to care for before it became new Labour. I am not a great man for state intervention and I have reservations about a strategy of promoting tourism. I prefer to see enterprises make their own way, promote their own products and thrive as a consequence of their own initiative and enterprise, but the Government's policy is characterised by a determination to see those industries wiped out as a consequence of their regulation and taxation policies. It might not be an intention: it might simply be lack of care and attention to the consequence of their actions—but that makes no difference to those who are affected by it. The consequence for them is the same.
§ Gillian Merron (Lincoln)
I am fortunate to represent one of the top historic cathedral cities, where my constituents and I enjoy the benefits of living amid a wealth of heritage and culture that spans some 200 centuries across the city.
More than 1 million people have the opportunity to visit us each year to share in the benefits of living in a colourful city that has deep historic roots as well as a vibrant future. As we have heard, tourism is a growth industry and its economic importance cannot be underestimated. One in six of all new jobs created over the past 10 years has been in tourism, and it is the fifth largest industry in the United Kingdom. It is probably no surprise that tourism is our largest invisible export, but it is a disappointment, as we have heard today, to have to face the fact that our share of the world market is not all that we might like it to be. That is great waste but it is also clearly quite a challenge.
Tourism has had a reputation for providing a variable quality of service, with poorly trained and often low-paid temporary workers. It has been seen as a somewhat haphazard sector. However, I believe that that reputation is heading for a great change as a result of the efforts 705 of local authorities such as Lincoln city council; of the implementation of the Government's "Tomorrow's Tourism" strategy; and of the contribution and commitment of people within the industry.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of presenting an Investors in People award to the Hillcrest hotel. It is the first small hotel in Lincoln to receive the award. I believe that that represents a turning point, since the quality of training enjoyed by all the staff will make a major contribution to that hotel's prosperity and to the quality of service that is offered to tourists who come to Lincoln. Similarly, Government policies such as the national minimum wage have helped to put quality and standards at the very heart of tourism.
Many hon. Members have told me that they have enjoyed visits to Lincoln. Those Members who have not been blessed with the opportunity to make such a visit will be most welcome in future. Lincoln's appeal to tourists is predominantly in the uphill area of the city. It is an historic and unspoilt part of the city featuring the cathedral and the castle. The downhill area, separated by the aptly named Steep Hill, is lively with plenty of shops and places in which to socialise. It has the new university and an inland marina, the Brayford pool. A recent survey revealed the many plus points that visitors to Lincoln see and experience. However, the results of the survey highlighted the challenges that must be tackled.
Tourism needs to grow in a sustainable way so that it can contribute positively to the life and economy of Lincoln. People love to come to Lincoln but we must be mindful of the results of the survey, which are reflected in the city council's economic regeneration, tourism and arts strategy. It is right and proper to recognise that all those aspects are linked. In that context, we must examine the trends of tourism. Overwhelmingly, visitors to Lincoln are day visitors who travel by car. This puts tremendous pressure on car parks but there is also pressure on rail and bus stations. Those are areas that the city council has rightly identified as needing improvement.
Lincoln has a reputation for being difficult to reach, and this has contributed to it being too much of a well-kept secret. I am delighted that the Government have seen fit to address the problem, particularly by agreeing to dual the A46 from Newark to Lincoln. The work will begin in the early years of the new millennium. Its completion will be a tremendous boost to tourism and to Lincoln's prosperity.
It is also pleasing that there has been an improvement in the train services that connect Lincoln with the rest of the east midlands. However, we need much better rail links to draw in visitors from further afield. It is lamentable that the Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire county council has seen fit to cut rural bus services despite the Government's support for such services. These are important to tourism and to the quality of social and economic life within the county.
Lincoln city council's strategy rightly identifies the need to develop further visitor attractions downhill. A heated debate is going on in our city about the best location for a museum, which is an exciting and necessary development for the city and the county. There has already been an announcement by Lincolnshire county council—premature and unjustified, in my view—that uphill Lincoln castle is the council's preferred solution. That assessment has been much criticised by my 706 constituents and by organisations such as the museum action group, which brings together many esteemed experts.
There must be a serious evaluation of downhill sites, so that the nature and needs of the collection and its visitors—tourists and local residents alike—can be properly considered. The question of a suitable location for a much-needed museum is a taxing one. It must be approached openly and with imagination and vision, so that we get it right.
Lincoln's role as a specialist and regional shopping centre is a prime draw for many visitors, who enjoy the excellent array of shops such as Imperial Teas, whose teas and coffees from every corner of the world are a joy, or Goodies, a traditional sweetie shop where sherbet fountains and quarters of pear drops are sold in paper bags, or the House of Wines, which stocks a fabulous array of German wines, and which recently initiated Lincoln's first-ever German wine fair.
The annual programme of events goes from strength to strength in our city, attracting tourists from far afield. The Christmas market, which has been inspired by our German twin town, Neustadt is the highest profile event. Hon. Members might also be interested in the jousting tournament or the international clowns convention.
Roman heritage is perhaps the most significant of Lincoln's hidden assets. I shall raise some concerns about that with my hon. Friend the Minister. Most of the field work is carried out as a result of planning conditions and is funded by developers. There has to be monitoring to ensure the preservation of sites and appropriate recording. However, developers almost invariably look for the lowest price, which can mean lower quality.
There is a tendency to neglect the analysis of data, which is funded by developers, as funding covers only the preliminary assessment of the findings. Furthermore, specialists in local pottery and artefacts, for example, are being lost to the profession as there are not enough resources from project income to cover the cost of their employment.
There is much to be done. I pay tribute to the work of Mick Jones, director of the city of Lincoln archaeological unit, and his team for their dedication and professionalism. They have done much to enhance the role and relevance of archaeology in our city and across the country. I should welcome the Minister's comments on Government support for such work.
In Lincoln, we have many other achievements that promote the well-being of our tourist industry. The talented and energetic Lincoln Shakespeare company is celebrating its 20th production, and Lincoln city council recently won an east of England award in national tourist information week for its St. George's day celebrations, in which St. George galloped through the streets to rescue a damsel in distress, after slaying a fiendish dragon—a vision which, I am sure, will interest many Government Departments.
In Lincoln, we have the tourism cake and the icing on it. The cherry would be the granting of lord mayor status for the city, which would be conferred by decision of the Crown. That would be an appropriate way to mark the millennium for a city noted for being steeped more deeply in history and tradition than many others, while also having the brightest of futures.
707 The United Kingdom, like Lincoln, must not be a well-kept secret. We must aspire and work to be the most visited country. Tourism is about enjoyment, but it is also about education, appreciation and economic prosperity. I welcome the Government's understanding of that and of the need to link the quality and well-being of tourism to other policies such as transport, employment rights and training.
Like other Labour Members, I look forward to our heritage being preserved, our present being honoured and our future being developed through, and with, the tourism industry, which is vital to our country and its standing in the world. We can achieve that only by strategic leadership and partnership. I look forward to supporting that and to seeing it happen.
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)
It is a great pleasure to participate in this wide-ranging debate and it is apt that we are debating tourism because, looking at the Gallery and the people walking in and out of it, I see that the House of Commons is a tourist attraction in itself.
Tourism is relevant not only to the coastal regions, to which a number of hon. Members have referred, but to inland parts of the United Kingdom. We have heard from the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), and, before I get on to the main part of my speech, I want to say a little about Lichfield, which is about as far from the sea as it is possible to be in this country, although there is a lot of water in the city because of its many lakes.
People do not realise that Lichfield district has more than 4.5 million visitors each year, despite the fact that we do not have a good rail connection, and they spend about £73 million in the excellent restaurants and facilities in the area. Even though I was once accused by an ignorant journalist of being Member of Parliament for the M6, I can assure that House that neither the M6 nor the M1 nor the M40 come too close to Lichfield. I know that because driving back there on a Friday afternoon or evening takes about four hours.
If I may digress for a moment, I was delighted with the contribution of the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), who talked about licensing laws. There are a number of pedestrianised areas in the centre of Lichfield and, on a lovely sunny Sunday, I went to Colley's Yard restaurant to sit outside reading The Sunday Times with a glass of red wine. I was shocked to be told that I would be breaking the licensing laws if I sat outside drinking.
I will not tell the House whether I sat outside and drank the red wine despite that, because that might be admission of guilt, but, as an Englishman, such laws seem absolutely crazy to me. As the hon. Member for Selby said, would they not seem even more crazy to foreign visitors? We have archaic rules which, as the hon. Gentleman said, were introduced in 1916 to prevent munitions workers from blowing themselves up.
I have spoken about those laws with the chairman of the Lichfield licensing Bench, Mr. Bob White, who is a justice of the peace. He would like the legal position to be changed so that it would be acceptable for pubs and restaurants to serve liquor, as the Americans would say, any time at all. The presumption would be that 708 establishments could open 24 hours a day if they wanted—that should be up to the licensee—but local people could appeal to the licensing magistrates to define a closing time for a particular place that is, for example, next door to an old people's home or a hospital or in a residential area, where the slamming of doors would be a nuisance.
That would be reasonable and modern; after all, we are debating tourism in the new millennium. Good God, as we are entering the new millennium, it is time to wash away the laws that were introduced in 1916. I must pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who was seen pulling a pint in a pub several years ago, when he was Home Secretary. Shame upon shame, horror upon horror—would England fall as a consequence?—he was introducing all-day drinking. Have we seen drunks rolling in the streets as a consequence? Of course not. Indeed, there has been far less drunkenness at lunch time because people do not hurry to finish their drinks. As the hon. Member for Selby said, there are lessons to be learned from Scotland, where people do not have to finish their drinks by 11 o'clock because it is throwing-out time. That seems far more sensible.
It is not just in Lichfield where crowds of people appear on the streets. I see that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) is in his place. For a few years in the last decade, I was chairman of the Conservative party in Brighton, Pavilion. I went to Brighton, Hove and Sussex grammar school and took my masters degree at Sussex university. Those are my Brighton credentials. If the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that we shall hear that Brighton, too, would benefit from a more flexible licensing regime.
May I say a few more words about Lichfield? Lichfield enjoys a number of attractions, not only many restaurants. We attract some 5 per cent. of visitors from overseas. Those who come into the Lichfield tourist office are from Australia, the United States, Canada, South Africa and Germany. A significant number come to Lichfield district.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) was telling the House about her brother's aim to link—
§ Mr. Fabricant
My hon. Friend's uncle is trying to set up a telecom link between Greenwich in the UK and Greenwich in Connecticut. I am trying to do the same, because Lichfield is twinned, rather oddly in my opinion, with a town in France and one in Germany. I shall be politically incorrect and tell the House how that happened.
The original plan was to twin Lichfield with a cathedral city in Germany, Limburg. That made good sense. However, Limburg is twinned with a French town in the suburbs of Lyon. Residents of Lichfield had not visited that town, so they agreed to twin with the French town as well as with Limburg. They then visited the French town and discovered that it had little similarity with Lichfield because it was an industrial suburb. When they asked Limburg why it was twinned with that French town, they were told that in 1940 a Luftwaffe squadron from the Limburg region had bombed that French town because it was an industrial area. That is why the two towns twinned after the war—and it shows the danger of twinning.
I should like to see Lichfield in the United Kingdom twinned with Litchfield in Connecticut, which is not a million miles away from Greenwich in Connecticut. As I 709 said earlier, the irony is that, when representatives from Lichfield fly to Lyon, it costs them more than flying to Boston, which is the nearest international airport to Litchfield, Connecticut. That is because the Thatcher Government introduced freedom of the air and real competition between airlines, which is why so many American tourists visit the UK. However, there is no freedom of the air between France and the UK, which is why flights to France are so expensive.
I hope that the Minister will encourage the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to introduce more deregulation so that there is competition in travel to Europe. There are cheap flights to Spain and Italy, but not to France, which still has a subsidised airline.
I shall mention the interesting sites worth seeing in Lichfield. I claim credit for the fact that I moved to Lichfield. Usually, great men are born in Lichfield and move away. Dr. Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield, but left. David Garrick, the first knight of the theatre—some hon. Members may be members of the Garrick club and some will have gone to the Garrick theatre in London—was born in Lichfield, but left. Elias Ashmole, who founded the Ashmolean museum at Oxford, was born in Lichfield, but left. I want the House to note that Michael Fabricant was born in Rottingdean near Brighton, but moved to Lichfield by choice.
§ Mr. Grieve
It is all the more commendable that my hon. Friend moved to what was once one of the prettiest towns in the midlands in view of the destruction wrought on it by the planners between the 1960s and the 1980s. His intervention may be required in the future to preserve the little that is left.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I am not sure that that intervention will help tourism in Lichfield, so I shall not thank my hon. Friend for it. Huge areas of historic significance are left in Lichfield, and I invite him to visit the city, as I suspect that he has gone to Wolverhampton and thought that that was Lichfield. I live in a 500-year-old house by a cathedral that is more than 800 years old, although some of the outskirts of Lichfield may have been destroyed not by German bombers but by planners in the 1950s and 1960s. I can assure my hon. Friend and any tourists thinking of visiting Lichfield that there is still much of historic significance and interest to see there.
The Secretary of State's opening speech was filled with self-satisfaction and smugness, as is his nature. It is a shame that he had to leave early—he gave his apologies—to scuttle off to Scotland, no doubt paying a fortune because it is so expensive to travel internally in the United Kingdom. As the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport report pointed out, the problem with the Secretary of State is that, like the Government as a whole to some degree, he is full of good intentions but is highly and wholly ineffective. He introduced the idea of cool Britannia. There is nothing new about the phrase "cool Britannia". For those who are interested in rock music, it was a song in the 1960s by a punk rock band, whose name escapes me at the moment—just as the phrase "new deal" was first introduced by Roosevelt in the 1930s.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. It was far more helpful than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. This is a debate on the general topic of tourism. The hon. Gentleman is testing it to its furthest boundaries. It would be helpful if we talked about tourism policy.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Cool Britannia has everything to do with tourism policy. The Secretary of State used the phrase "cool Britannia" to try to attract visitors to the United Kingdom, but failed. I listened with great interest to his opening speech. He said—it will be recorded in Hansard—that people come to the United Kingdom not because of modern buildings, modern art or modern music, which is what cool Britannia was all about, but because of our heritage, our tradition, our theatre and our other attractions that could in no way be described as cool Britannia. That is why cool Britannia is not being promoted by the British Tourist Authority. The Department's marketing has been wholly ineffective in that regard, and has now had to be reversed. This has been one of the Department's weaknesses. When the Secretary of State visited China to discuss relations with that country and tourism there, he did not once raise the subject of the human rights problem that deters many people from visiting it. That reflects his own weakness.
Much has been said about the millennium dome. I congratulate the Government on achieving its sponsorship targets. I, along with many others, thought that they would not be able to do that, but I was wrong. I am not sure whether the year of the millennium experience will be a success; only time will tell. I certainly will not make any predictions now in regard to whether the 12 million visitors target will be achieved.
What I find very exciting and interesting is the fact that the dome is built to last for at least 80 years. The Government are asking companies to suggest what they could do with it after the millennium experience has closed. There could be a major impact on tourism in London. I used to work for the broadcast electronic industry. Every year, the industry holds a big exhibition somewhere in Europe: it is known as the international broadcasting convention. It cannot be held in London, because there is not enough space, at least not in a nice, prestigious area. I mean space for the exhibition itself, not hotel accommodation. The convention has therefore gone to Amsterdam, and it is not the only one not to be held in London.
A possible use for the dome after 2000 is as a major convention centre. Alternatively, as was suggested earlier, it could serve as a venue for the world cup if Wembley stadium cannot be used. It is certainly large enough.
Tourism is an important element of Britain's economy, and we should not be ashamed of it. It is the largest foreign currency earner in the United States, and also in the United Kingdom. There is nothing wrong with that—and it reflects badly on the Department that the most important area for which it is responsible is not included in its title. Culture, the media and sport are included but 711 tourism is not, which suggests that promoting tourism in the United Kingdom may be a low priority in the Department.
As I said earlier, England—for which the Department is responsible—loses out badly in terms of grant aid for tourism. Whereas £8.25 per person is spent on tourism in Northern Ireland and £3.76 is spent on it in Scotland, a mere 20p is spent in England on promoting tourism abroad. That has to be wrong. We cannot take it for granted that people will come here simply because of our heritage. Other countries, particularly Australia and Germany, are promoting themselves heavily abroad, and the United Kingdom must do the same.
There has been some talk about the minimum wage. One of the great advantages of being in opposition—there are few advantages, but here is one—and of being a Back Bencher is that I can speak for myself. I am not opposed in principle to a minimum wage, but when the Prime Minister announced that a minimum wage would be introduced, he said, "What is wrong with it? They have it in the United States of America." He is right, but there is a crucial difference: in the United States, tourism and other industries—which I will not bother to list, although, for some strange reason, broadcasters employed in radio are included—are exempt from the national minimum wage.
I am not suggesting that people should work in sweat shops, but we have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and, indeed, from Labour Members about how the minimum wage has impacted on people's lives. In some ways, it is very good, but we hear of some people going abroad, for example, to Marbella or Greece, because it is cheaper. One of the reasons is that pressures on small businesses in the UK are driving costs up; they are certainly not driving them down or keeping them stable.
§ Miss Geraldine Smith
I am aware of a case of someone working in an amusement arcade and being paid £1.50 per hour. Do you think that that is right and proper?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Once I am on my feet, the hon. Member must sit down. She is referring to someone in the second person. That means that she is addressing the Chair. I think that she meant to refer to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant).
§ Mr. Fabricant
Obviously, I do not know the circumstances, but supposing it was a student working in the arcade and doing it as a holiday job. Supposing the £3.60—
§ Mr. Fabricant
Let me finish. Supposing the £3.60 an hour rate means that that person will not be employed. When I was a student, I would rather have worked in an amusement arcade—in fact, for a short while, I worked on Brighton palace pier doing the turnstiles—for less than 712 the minimum wage and earn some money than have no job at all because I had been priced out of the market. That is the only point that I make.
Not having made a prediction about the future of the dome, I will make one about the minimum wage. The £3.60 an hour rate will be kept for a number of years. I do not think that it will go up with inflation. The Government will allow it to wither and to die.
There is a problem. In the United States, the minimum wage, which is about $5.50, varies from region to region. The £3.60 an hour rate may not be much in London, but it is a hell of a lot in Northern Ireland. That, too, is a big mistake.
§ Mr. Swayne
Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the British Activity Holiday Association submission to the Low Pay Commission was not a request to pay less than £3.60 an hour? It asked merely for a more realistic recognition of the value of full board and lodging. It asked that it should be accounted for at £35 a week, rather than less than £20 a week.
§ Mr. Fabricant
My hon. Friend makes his point well now, as he did in his speech. It is interesting to know that in the United States, too, similar provisions exist for that very purpose. The Government have not thought things through. They are good at coming up with marketing ideas but not at thinking the consequences through. By marketing ideas, I do not mean the marketing of Britain abroad—as I have said, "Cool Britannia" has not succeeded—but the Government marketing themselves to the British population. Their marketing was certainly effective in 1997, but it has not been so recently. We have all heard about the European elections, so I shall not bore the House with them now. It is, however, interesting to see how the tourist initiative in Lichfield is changing because both the city and the district are now Conservative controlled again, since the recent local elections.
The Labour Government have a lot to answer for. They have doubled air passenger duty—Members on both sides of the House have mentioned that—and increased fuel prices so that they are now the highest in Europe. Many people come to the United Kingdom for fly-drive holidays. In the United States petrol costs about $1.10 a gallon. The American gallon is only seven eighths of the imperial gallon, but even so, petrol there—or should I say gas?—costs only a third or a quarter as much as British petrol. In this country, it is expensive both to hire a car and to put petrol in it, and that will begin to deter tourists.
A dangerous trend is shown in the number of people who come here for the first time but do not visit again for a long time, simply because the costs in the United Kingdom are so high.
§ Dr. Whitehead
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that air passenger duty, so far as I recall, was implemented by the previous Government and set to come into force after the general election? The fuel price escalator, too, was a policy of the previous Government, so the hon. Gentleman is being a little careless when he tries to blame all that on the present Government.
§ Mr. Fabricant
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Conservative Government introduced those things, 713 but it is his memory that is a little careless. The Labour Government increased the fuel price escalator by 20 per cent. and doubled air passenger duty so, although I agree that it would be nice if those measures did not exist in the first place, the present Government have made a situation that was not good, far worse. Treasuries are always greedy, and our present Treasury is especially greedy.
Despite what was said by one of my hon. Friends, Lichfield is a pleasant place to visit. Despite the steps being taken by the Government to drive prices up, the United Kingdom as a whole, too is worth visiting—but the Department, and the Secretary of State, must do better.
§ Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion)
I welcome this debate, not least because it has enabled the Opposition to continue to explore the ambiguities of their position on the national minimum wage. The press reports last week led us to think that it had been settled once and for all, but now we see that that is not so.
Earlier this morning, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) asked me whether I had come here today to "boast for Brighton". As my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) talked about her town's bid to become a city, I shall take the opportunity to remind the House that Brighton and Hove has made a similar bid, and we have the same hopes.
Having heard what the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) said, before I go any further I must put in a disclaimer, in that the hon. Gentleman's place of birth, Rottingdean, and the Palace pier, where he worked as a young man, are, I am pleased to say, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), so I am not guilty by association.
§ Mr. Fabricant
The hon. Gentleman may be wrong about his own constituency. I think that he will find that the Palace pier is in Brighton, Pavilion.
§ Mr. Lepper
We could debate that point later, but as no voters live on the pier it is not an issue that I have come across in canvassing. I praise Nobles, the management of the Palace pier, who have made it a marvellous success that attracts 4 million visitors a year. I believe that it is the second most visited free tourist attraction in England, possibly in the United Kingdom.
I welcome the way in which the Government developed their tourism strategy. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister has fond memories of more than one day spent in my constituency, but particularly the day that she spent there as part of the consultation exercise, when she met hoteliers, restaurateurs and others involved in the tourism trade before we put our hard hats on and walked on the West pier. At the time we were still waiting for an announcement on our bid for lottery funding, which I am glad to say has now been agreed, to help refurbish and restore the West pier.
I should like to place on record my thanks and the thanks of many people in my constituency and in Kemptown and Hove to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who is not here today. Over many years in opposition and in government he was very supportive of many of the proposals that have enabled us to develop the cultural industries that have become such an important part of our local economy.
714 I welcome the tourism summit that was held to launch "Tomorrow's Tourism" and the fact that it is to be an annual event. That is one of the many ways in which the Government will remain responsive to the needs and wishes of the tourism industry. Despite all the dismissive comments about our strategy document, I remind Conservative Members that Leisure Opportunities began its article on the strategy by saying:Tourism professionals have welcomed the government's new strategy".Sussex Enterprise, my local training and enterprise council, joined in that welcome. Alan Brook from Sussex Enterprise wrote to me yesterday saying:The Government's 'Tomorrow's Tourism' document has been welcomed by the agencies involved with tourism strategy in Sussex. It marks a significant step towards the recognition of tourism as an important industry and highlights the main areas which need to be addressed in order to develop the UK's tourism potential.Tourism professionals and business professionals have welcomed the strategy.
To avoid disappointing my hon. Friend the Member for Test, I shall do a bit of boasting for Brighton. There are 55,000 jobs in the Sussex economy directly linked to tourism, with another 17,000 indirectly linked. The Brighton and Hove conurbation has an estimated income from tourism of £145 million, of which £65 million comes from the conference trade. I have already mentioned the 4 million visitors to the Palace pier. The area attracts a total of 5 million tourists a year.
High standards in the tourism industry are important to us. I welcome the fact that part of the strategy involves encouraging 500 firms in the industry to become Investors in People, which is a very worthwhile scheme. I should like to place on record the appreciation locally of the work done by Brighton college of technology to help develop training in all aspects of the tourism industry. If I were not in the Chamber today, I would be at the local launch by Brighton college of technology and Springboard of our careers advice initiative in hospitality, tourism and the leisure industries. Despite what has been said about the national minimum wage by some Conservative Members, it has been welcomed in my area, especially by those working in the tourism industry, as a sign of the worth—in monetary and status terms—that the Government attach to employees in that essential industry.
Thirty years ago, wisdom prevailed in Brighton—as it was then, not Brighton and Hove as it is now—about the need to diversify. We became aware of the demise of the two-week seaside holiday in the UK and that more people were travelling abroad. We began to specialise in short breaks and, in particular, in business tourism and the conference trade by investing in a conference centre. However, because we were a pioneer in the conference trade, our conference centre will soon be in need of real refurbishment. It has bookings way into the next century, but we will soon need to make the case for help with the funding for refurbishment.
I am glad that Brighton is mentioned in the Government's strategy document, together with Bournemouth, as those seaside towns that began the process of diversification ahead of many others. We have recently begun to explore other areas of niche marketing in tourism. We are now recognised by the BTA as one of the British art cities, and I am sure that the £10 million investment made mainly by local ratepayers in the refurbishment of the royal pavilion in Brighton helped us to achieve that status.
715 Gay tourism has become increasingly important. The gay pride event each summer now attracts some 60,000 to 100,000 visitors to the town, bringing in some £5 million in revenue. We have linked with the BTA's gay tourism initiative to explore the real value of the pink pound.
We have made investment locally for the new millennium, including work on the racecourse, improvements to the marina and a massive project to refurbish our Dome concert hall, the museum and the art gallery. We already have a virtual Brighton website. Hon. Members have already mentioned the importance of the internet in generating tourism markets and bringing people into areas. We estimate that the virtual Brighton website has some 250,000 visits a year.
§ Dr. Whitehead
Would my hon. Friend care to comment on the single regeneration budget, which is another important source of investment in the larger cities in the south-east that can have an impact on tourism? It is important in older seaside towns in the south-east to bring their amenities and domestic facilities up to scratch.
§ Mr. Lepper
I welcome that intervention and I agree with my hon. Friend. My local area has benefited from the single regeneration budget, and it has enabled us to lever in private investment required to match SRB funding to help to improve our chances as we move into the next millennium. However, reference has already been made to the fact that not all seaside resorts are in that happy situation and there is a real case to be made for objective 2 status for many of them, including my area and other parts of Sussex.
We are taking forward the initiatives that I have mentioned, but we need central Government and European funding to enable us to build on the investment that we have been able to make from other sources.
As I have said, the strategy document has been welcomed locally because it recognises the important role of local authorities in tourism. It gives a sharper focus to the work of the British Tourist Authority and recognises the importance of standardising destination management systems, including—and especially—the use of the internet. It suggests, and makes links with, many areas of Government policy other than those that are the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
I have a few concerns. The document refers to support for the London tourist board—and I do not detract from the importance of that assistance. However, the board will receive £1.5 million annually for three years because of London's role as a gateway to the rest of the United Kingdom. Those of us in other parts of the UK need to be assured and to see that a significant element of that additional funding for London is being used in relation to its gateway role to ensure that we also derive some benefits.
Similarly, reference has been made to the dome and its potential role as a conference centre. The strategy document talks about a new international conference centre for London. I do not decry the need for that facility, but I urge the Minister to bear in mind the importance of the conference trade to towns such as mine and many others across the country. We must ensure that the correct 716 balance is struck between attracting new conference business to London and sustaining existing conference industries in regional areas.
I have three additional points. Transport has been mentioned frequently in this debate, and Brighton and Hove could benefit from enhancements to our rail network, in particular. There is a fast rail link between Gatwick and London but not between Gatwick and the south coast. There is an abysmal rail link between Brighton and Hove and the channel tunnel at Ashford. That is to the detriment of not just the tourist industry but the economy generally in our part of the south-east. Sussex Enterprise, two county councils, Brighton and Hove council, BAA Gatwick and Connex have produced a strategy document on tourism, which I believe is being studied by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I urge the Minister to discuss with her colleagues in that Department—if she has not already done so—the importance of transport infrastructure for our tourism and other industries.
My final point relates to an aspect of sustainable tourism: the role of English Heritage. English Heritage performs an important function and it is vital that it provides advice and funds the maintenance of our historic buildings. Many of our historical buildings—I think particularly of the Palace pier in Brighton—are also working buildings. They have lives other than as museum pieces. I urge the Minister to ask English Heritage to consider—rather more than it does at present—when commenting on planning applications and funding decisions, the importance of buildings, such as the Palace pier, that continue to bring revenue to their areas even though they have listed status.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that English Heritage sometimes over-specifies work that might need to be done to change or repair a structure, whether it be a pier or a building, to the extent that the cost becomes prohibitive and the work does not get done?
§ Mr. Lepper
I cannot specify such a case, but I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman is wrong, and I know that he has a genuine concern. I hope that the Minister will take into account my point about the role of English Heritage.
In conclusion, let me say that the prospects for tourism in Brighton and Hove for the millennium are bright, but I emphasise the solutions that have already been suggested by my hon. Friends and the importance of assistance to seaside towns. Even towns that diversified early, such as Brighton, cannot always go it alone in making the most of that diversification.
§ Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)
First, I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and hon. Members on both Front Benches for not being here for the opening speeches.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Hon. Members may know of my previous career in retailing. Not only was I a shopkeeper, but I should declare my interest as a shareholder in a Hungarian eco-tourism company. I am still, as it were, on the books as a specialist ornithological tour leader for Limosa 717 Holidays. I must point out, with a certain degree of regret, that, since being elected to the House, I have not had the time to take any tours abroad.
Many of my constituents are actively engaged in the tourism industry because they are involved with Heathrow airport, which is a major employer in the area. The area also boasts many hotels, and although they are not all situated in my constituency, many of my constituents are employed by them. Uxbridge is fortunate in having a golden location with a very good transport system and easy access to central London. West London is a good place from which to visit many exciting places. Lichfield might be a little too far away, but one can go to Oxford, Stratford-on-Avon and those hidden gems of the southern British countryside, the Chilterns,
§ Mr. Randall
I am sure that my hon. Friend is often described as the gateway to the Chilterns.
Uxbridge has a vested interest in the promotion of tourism. If I had realised that so few hon. Members who represent London constituencies would be present, I would have concentrated my remarks on London. Only the two hon. Members who represent Harrow are here, but I had assumed that on a Friday the Labour Benches would be full of London Members putting forward London's case. I am therefore rather sorry that I shall concentrate my remarks on other matters. I hope that if either the hon. Members for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) or for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) are lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they will speak for London, and I should like to associate myself with their comments, which are always of a high standard.
I have been extremely lucky in that I have travelled extensively throughout the world and visited many exciting places on every continent but, as I came to the House on this wonderful June morning, I could not think of any destination in the world that could match this country on such a day. Having only a few weeks ago spent a very pleasant week on half term with my young family in north Norfolk, I can report that, by popular demand, I am actively trying to book our summer holiday there. The holiday was a great success; perhaps I feel a little uneasy in Tuscany. I do not know what it is but there is something very special about this country.
As I said, I have a particular interest in wildlife and its role in tourism. It is perhaps not generally recognised in the House that sensible, sustainable promotion of our extensive areas of natural history interest can often extend the natural holiday season. I think of the Isles of Scilly in particular, where many birdwatchers from all over the world go in September, October and into November, providing much welcome resource for local hoteliers and restaurateurs—although sometimes local farmers despair a little when an extremely rare bird appears in one of their fields.
There is similar great potential in the area represented by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith), who is not in her place at the moment. I am sure that she is aware of it; I remember reading her maiden speech, in which she acknowledged the many wildfowl and waders to be found in Morecambe bay.
Our greatest assets are often overlooked because familiarity breeds contempt. In Britain, we have not only some of the best scenery but some of the most spectacular 718 wildlife habitats. Our seabird cliffs, for example, are at top of the league in the world. Many ornithologists and holidaymakers generally would be very keen to see such a wildlife spectacular. It is something of which we should be proud and should give the opportunity to develop.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Will my hon. Friend concede that there is a danger of destroying beautiful areas and wildlife by attracting too many people to them?
§ Mr. Randall
I would concede that. That intervention, as in the one on my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), shows that my hon. Friend seems to be psychic, because I was about to make that point. His natural impatience is probably as a result of my inability to make my points quickly. I was about to point out that any development must be sensible and sensitive—otherwise, we are in grave danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
One side-track, which relates not just to wildlife and the environment but tourism generally, is that we have a great opportunity to promote growth in holidays and tourism for disabled people. We have a good record on which we may build. We could attract people from all over Europe, if not further afield.
We must not just guard natural areas against over-exploitation. Attractions that have introduced positive visitor-management schemes have shown that is it possible to increase a destination's capacity.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
On the question of holidays for disabled people, is my hon. Friend aware of the wonderful work that is being done by the Holiday Care Association, which is based in my constituency and which I had the privilege of visiting recently, in promoting access for disabled people to high-quality holidays throughout the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Randall
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was not aware of the association's work, but I am certainly very interested to learn of it. Even non-natural sites must be sensitive in the way in which they attract tourists; otherwise, the exploitation and the number of visitors can put people off.
I hope that the Minister will shed some light on Government thinking on the relationship between the taxation and the preservation of historic buildings. Obviously, if a building is repaired, renovated or brought back into use from dereliction, either a site is created or an existing one is improved. I wonder whether, as part of their approach to boosting tourism, the Government would consider zero-rating VAT on the repair and adaptive re-use of historic buildings.
Let me return to the general picture of tourism. We know that the business climate may well become increasingly difficult for tourism in Britain as it faces more competition and consumer expectations grow. The Government have not helped to reduce the burdens of the industry by introducing more regulation. To be fair, many Governments seem to spend more time adding to the weight of regulations than considering how to make life easier; but this Government's record is not at all good. I speak as a small business man.
Since the general election, the Government have introduced 2,600 additional regulations. I feel that that can only damage and hamper many of the small businesses that form the core of the tourism industry. Seventy-four per cent. of such businesses employ fewer than 10 people.
719 The working time directive is causing problems to an industry that requires a great deal of flexibility with shifts and hours generally. That initiative is causing a problem for small business because of the additional administrative costs associated with the directive. All companies find extra clerical costs and computer work unwelcome, but the bigger ones can absorb those costs more rapidly than small businesses can. Very often, those few extra costs can drive the final nail into the coffin of a small business.
We know from Library figures that the Government have increased costs on business to the tune of £40,700 million over the lifetime of this Parliament. Is the Minister prepared to give us some specific information, or promise to examine the impact of those measures specifically on the tourism sector of the economy? What impact does she believe that those extra costs will have on the tourism industry?
Unfortunately, I have my doubts. I remember reading the June 1998 report of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which criticised the Department for subordinating tourism in favour of more glamorous and trivial matters.
Tourism has been, and I hope will continue to be, a great success story, but I want the Government to confine their role to helping to promote the industry and its interests, instead of interfering in a rather damaging way, at a time that is likely to be a turning-point for British tourism's future success.
§ Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)
I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on wildlife because last week, on behalf of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, I performed the ceremony of topping out an otter holt, which was a des-res, three-bedroomed place for otters to move into. However, it had nothing to do with tourism. I was sworn to secrecy. I am not allowed to tell anyone where it is because we do not want any visitors to come and disturb the otters. Otters can cope with a railway nearby but not with visitors, so the wildlife issue can work both ways.
I am very pleased to speak in the debate because tourism is important in my constituency. Like others, I shall take the opportunity to celebrate tourism, because the promotion of tourism and of what is happening in our areas is obviously important to our success.
I shall start by commenting that many hon. Members, particularly on the Government Benches, become rather worried if they find themselves appearing in The Guardian diary columns. I cannot understand why. I was pleased when I was referred to in Simon Hoggart's column recently, not because of anything that I had said, thank goodness—there was nothing about me being ridiculous or that I had said something embarrassing—but because he said that I am the Member who represents the Labour interest in the most beautifully named constituency in England—Amber Valley. I have only one problem with that: Amber Valley is indeed as beautiful as it sounds, but I knew that I would have difficulties when, having just been selected to stand for the constituency, I met my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), who congratulated me on my beautiful Welsh constituency. He was not alone.
720 If anyone wants to attract industry or tourists to their area, it is rather difficult when they do not even know what country it is in. In that respect, I am envious of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron). However, she does know where Amber Valley is because she came from near by. I am envious also of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper). The areas represented by my hon. Friends are well known. If they wish to promote them, at least people know where they are.
One of the tasks that I set myself in my maiden speech was to put Amber Valley on the map. I was intent on telling people where it is. I think that I have made enough noise about Derbyshire since being in this place, along with my fellow Derbyshire Members, particularly about its funding problems, to ensure that hon. Members do not fall into the trap of believing that my constituency is in Wales. Amber Valley is in the heart of Derbyshire and in the heart of England.
It is not surprising that people think that Amber Valley may be in Wales. Both Wales and Derbyshire are mining areas. Mining country is often extremely beautiful, so long as we can keep it away from opencast mining, which is a complete blight on any area. It keeps tourists away without bringing any benefit to the local economy.
Last week, the English Heritage board toured my area and I met its members after they had visited the neighbouring constituency, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Hon. Members may be interested to know that my hon. Friend has his own castle—Bolsover castle is a wonderful tourist attraction. I do not think that it is often associated with him.
In my discussions with English Heritage, we agreed that there is a need to change people's perception of our industrial areas, which often combine glorious countryside, wonderful historic sites and fascinating and rich industrial heritage. Very often, people do not associate mining areas, for example, with anything other than gritty, horrible realism. In fact, these areas are usually beautiful and have considerable tourism attractions.
Promotion—telling people where we are and what attractions we have to offer—is essential to any tourism strategy. Traditionally, we have not put as much as we should into promoting tourism when we compare our efforts with those of other countries. I welcome the emphasis that is now put on tourism with the Government's strategy for tourism. That will be extremely helpful.
Amber Valley borough council has an active tourism strategy. The tourism information centre that was established in Ripley in 1994 registered 53,000 visits and 15,000 queries last year. However, it is still the case that only 11p per household per week goes into promoting tourism, which is an important industry within the area that I represent.
When I was using my computer last night, I was pleased to look at the website that has been developed by the borough council in recent months. It is excellent. It sets out many of the things that we have to offer. For anyone who wants to visit Amber Valley, the website is on www.ambervalley.gov.UK. It will help people to become aware of all the wonderful things that we have in the area. I hope that it will entice many hon. Members to visit us.
721 As I have said, Amber Valley has beautiful countryside. We are surrounded by the most amazing historic buildings, including Kedleston hall, Chatsworth, Hardwick hall and Wingfield manor. Visitors can go to the Belper river gardens or to Shipley country park, where recently a play was put on about the last rebellion in England. That rebellion was not very successful. The poor working people who were unemployed and starving in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire decided to march on London to demand their rights under the leadership of Jeremiah Brandreth, who was a rabble rouser. The rebellion lasted about 12 hours before those involved were rounded up. It had all been set up by agents provocateurs. Jeremiah was hanged and others were transported. The rebellion did not do very well, but it made a wonderful play in Shipley country park, which is part of our tourist attraction.
Visitors can go for white-knuckle rides at our adventure theme park, American Adventure, or ride on a tram with the national tramway museum. They can look at the photographic site of its archives on their computer. They can paint plates or make frogs at Denby pottery. People can visit the national tramway museum or the midland railway museum. If they decide that they like the railway museum enough and want to stay in our area, they can have their marriage ceremony there. Visitors can go up and down on the narrow-gauge light railway that I was pleased to open recently, on which railway enthusiasts have worked for the past 12 years. Children can see the Fat Controller there, and Thomas the Tank Engine. As hon. Members may have seen in the papers recently, people can even have their wake there when they die. Our tourism attractions will look after them from birth, through marriage and children, unto death.
Visitors can sample Thorntons chocolates, visit Heage windmill, an historic mill that has received support from the national lottery and English Heritage, or visit the birthplace of John Flamsteed, the first astronomer royal, who founded the Greenwich observatory and whom we hope to commemorate at the millennium. There are many, many attractions in our area.
There are many beautiful walks in our area, which is also the gateway to the Peak National Park. Other hon. Members have mentioned that it is important that we get people away from the honeypots. Our honeypot in Derbyshire is the Peak park, which is being eroded through over-walking. We should encourage visitors to go there for a couple of days of their holiday, and then to visit some of the other wonderful attractions throughout Derbyshire.
As has been said, it is essential to our local economy that we develop our tourism industry. We all have good examples that we can quote. The midland railway museum has 20 trainees through the new deal programme who are learning skills to assist them to get into work.
There has been much mention of the links with film and media. Seven series of "Peak Practice" have been filmed in my constituency. Carsdale is, in fact, Crich in my constituency. The filming brings much spending and revenue into the area, and a small production unit has recently been opened on one of our industrial estates.
There are a few issues that I wish to draw to the attention of Ministers. My initial point, that people do not know where Amber Valley is, is critical to our ability to promote the attractions in our area. There is a particular 722 problem relating to signposting, which needs to be dealt with by the Highways Agency, the county council and those who have responsibility for putting up signs.
We have had difficulty in obtaining permission to put up signposts on the boundary to Amber Valley, as opposed to the approach to a particular town. We also have problems with the signs at exits from the motorway. There are signs to Alton towers, which entails driving right through Derbyshire to get to Staffordshire, and signs to Matlock Bath, which is grossly overcrowded, but there are no signs to leave the motorway to go to the national tramway museum, which is one of only 26 museums throughout the country that is considered to be of sufficient national importance to be designated as such.
Like other hon. Members, I shall refer to transport. As has been said, many tourist attractions are not well linked to the transport infrastructure. It is often difficult for buses to travel within market towns as there is not a great deal of space for them, and the transport links are not very good. It is odd for me to say that, as Amber Valley is a transport heritage centre, with the midland railway museum and the national tramway museum.
When I visit the tramway museum, I look at the timetables for what was, I understand, the longest tram ride anywhere in the world, between Ripley and Nottingham. Travelling between the two places on the trams was an awful lot easier than it is now and perhaps link should be redeveloped. Nottingham has been given authority to develop its tramway up to Hucknall.
I would like us to reopen the railway line from Derby that goes through Ambergate, Matlock, Bakewell, Buxton and up to Manchester, as that would help to relieve the pressure on the Peak park. Our area has a good history of reopening lines—the Robin Hood line, for example—but further transport measures are essential to developing and promoting the tourism industry, to preventing us from having too many cars and to enable people to use public transport.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that the sustainable tourism issues that the Department considers are always compatible with the economic sustainability arguments put forward by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. For example, we have been trying unsuccessfully for years to develop a difficult brown-field site, but it is hard to unlock the site and get the necessary money in. We have a programme for developing the site, which is in the deprived Langley Mill area, which has single regeneration budget funding.
The site originally had planning permission for the sort of retail development that has now gone out of the window under the planning considerations that we want to operate. We have planning proposals to develop a cinema and the neighbouring canal basin and moorings as a tourism and leisure site, but they have been called in and will be the subject of a public inquiry. That is because the site is next to a settlement that is regarded as a small town in the structure plan. There are concerns about the car parking space that would be needed and that damage might be done to other town centres.
There seem to be some contradictions here, because we do not want people such as me to go by car to the cinemas in Nottingham and Derby. To my horror, because I am a great film fan, there is no cinema in my constituency and I have to travel a long way, usually by car, to get to one. However, planning decisions are taken which stop us 723 having a cinema because of what will supposedly happen in respect of car parking. The decision may or may not be right, but it is subject to a public inquiry. I wonder whether there is always consistency between the sustainable development arguments that we use in these two spheres.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion mentioned working buildings. The English Heritage board toured the east midlands last week, and was asked by the region to consider what is regarded as one of the board's most intractable problems—Wingfield manor, a building under the custodianship of English Heritage, but owned and lived in by a working farmer. Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned three times in this dramatic ruin and the Babington plot to free her and overthrow Elizabeth I was hatched there.
To sum up his visit, and after he had squared up to the farmer who lives in Wingfield manor, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, the chair of English Heritage, said it is a tragedy that English Heritage will be unable to deal properly with this wonderful romantic building which is owned and occupied by someone who does not like visitors. That is a serious problem. We looked at some of the equipment that the farmer has at Wingfield manor and it is clear that he is doing as much contracting as farming and he does not want to be there with the visitors.
There are difficulties in respect of achieving public access to buildings of historical interest to the nation when there are these other problems. I am not sure whether English Heritage has the ability to solve this problem, and I may come to Ministers with it. We have achieved public access to the building, but there are only 5,000 visitors a year to somewhere that I am sure could attract 50,000 visitors. The situation is unhappy from all sides.
I make a direct request to my hon. Friend the Minister on industrial heritage, which has not been referred to greatly in the debate. Industrial heritage visits are increasingly popular in my area and my local tourist information centre says that many people want to get involved with this.
Derbyshire has some of the finest scenery in England. Historically, in the valleys and hills of the county were found rich veins of minerals and an abundant water supply, which provided fuel for the industrial revolution. In many ways, the Derwent valley was the cradle of the industrial revolution. Jedediah Strutt built the famous Belper North mill for framework knitting in the cotton industry, and we have the Arkwright mill at Cromford. Jedediah Strutt's apprentice, Samuel Slater, developed the same industry in Pantucket, Rhode Island in the United States and the strong links that we have developed with that part of the US are valuable in attracting tourists to our area, and vice versa.
We have picked up the United States' concept of a heritage corridor. Amber Valley has trademarked the National Heritage Corridor, which has been created to try to preserve, protect and enhance the rich industrial heritage of the Derwent valley, based on the entrepreneurial skills in the area, particularly those of the Arkwrights and the Strutts. We were absolutely delighted that it was put on the tentative list of sites for consideration by UNESCO as world heritage sites. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister to visit our area 724 with the Secretary of State and make sure that our application is put forward early for the final list of heritage sites. That would be extremely valuable in promoting what is already a valuable, much enjoyed and appreciated part of our heritage.
Less reference has been made today than I would have liked to the value of our industrial heritage. The qualification conditions that UNESCO set for world heritage status reflected the fact that it wanted to celebrate industrial heritage as much as some of the buildings that had been recognised in previous years.
I have raised a number of issues to which the Minister might like to respond. I live in the most fantastic area, which everybody must visit. May I make one final plug? I suggest that visitors leave from St. Pancras station, which is the most wonderful station there is. It is identical to Bombay station—both were primarily built by Butterley Engineering in Ripley in my constituency. There are now 31 trains a day to Derby, although they do not all leave at the right time. I like to claim the heritage and tourism at both ends of the railway line.
This has been an interesting and useful debate, in which I have heard of other places that I shall now seek to visit. The more that we can do to promote our tourism industry—we must do so more than we have in the past—the more flourishing it will be. That will benefit our areas and those who seek jobs in our communities.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), whose speech I listened to with great interest. I was struck particularly forcefully by one of the points that she made, because I know the area that she represents a little. Notwithstanding the fact that we live on a crowded island with a great deal of industry, it is easy to find attractive places closely juxtaposed to areas that most people would never imagine were worth visiting.
Before I came into the House, I had the unpleasant duty of prosecuting a company for serious pollution offences in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). When I visited one of the dirtiest plants that I had ever seen in the United Kingdom, I was struck by the fields, the patchwork of lanes and the attraction of the local villages. It was a hidden jewel.
Tourism is about people going to places that they would not normally visit for pleasure. I hope that I will be forgiven if I was a little iconoclastic in my interventions earlier, but one cannot produce in this country whited sepulchres. Unless somewhere is attractive for people to visit, the economic benefits—and, indeed, the cultural benefits—that will flow from it simply will not occur. One or two of the speeches that have been made have expressed regret that certain places that may at one time have been attractive and popular no longer are. The first question that one must ask oneself before requesting state intervention is why that has come about.
Further to my somewhat rude intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant)—for which I apologise—I happen to think that Lichfield is one of the loveliest places in the country. The remarkable cultural ensemble of the cathedral, the close and the high street, which I know well, should be very attractive, but I cannot escape the fact that, if Lichfield had been better 725 treated by the planners in the 1960s and 1970s, it would now be regarded as one of the jewels of the midlands and would have the potential to be as attractive as York is today. We would do well to look in our own back gardens when we consider tourism, because, if we do not, we will not produce anything worthy of attracting people to this country.
The Minister is aware of my membership of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, which may shortly come to an end as I have been given other duties. How tourism fits with sustainable development is a material consideration, especially for the next millennium. As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) tellingly said, we could kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. There is no doubt in my mind that, in areas such as the Lake district, which are saturated by tourism, the balance of retaining the environmental attractions that draw people there in the first place is proving increasingly difficult to sustain.
In the past, because of the inevitable compartmentalisation within government, those put in charge of promoting tourism have seen themselves as an interest lobby on a single issue and have expected other areas of government to check them by saying, "You can't do that. You can't put this development here, because the environmental impact would be wholly negative." This is a non-partisan point, because that has been going on under successive Governments. Although things have improved slightly, there have still been problems. As a consequence, developments for tourism are extremely contentious.
I have serious doubts about the Cairngorm railway north of the border, even though the Secretary of State for Scotland wrote to assure me that the environmental impact assessment has been carefully taken into account. I have previously referred the Minister to the development in a forest outside Penrith, which was undertaken deliberately to promote tourism and attract tourists away from the Lake district. It has not been particularly successful commercially, but has implanted what is, in effect, an urban development in the middle of a deeply rural area with much biodiversity. I hope that the Minister will explain how tourism can be properly focused, so that, when carrying out their duties, those responsible for tourism will make environmental assessments to ensure sustainable development.
I am conscious of the time, so I shall not take up more than another minute or two. I want to leave time for the Minister's reply. However, I want to stress that, when we promote tourism and encourage development, deregulation and "small is beautiful" are the two key issues that we should emphasise. Tourist projects in my constituency close to London have been low key, but because the area is environmentally attractive, even though it is developed, they have been successful. People can visit farms and Beaconskot in Beaconsfield, which has been there for years; successive generations come back year after year to see the miniature village. The amenity of the Thames is an example of the difficulty of reconciling environmental considerations with leisure and recreation interests. Nevertheless, the Environment Agency is succeeding in striking a compelling balance.
I shall close my remarks because of time, but I ask the Minister to address those issues because they are of great importance to the promotion of tourism in the future. Many mistakes have been made, but they can be rectified. 726 The Government—to pay them a compliment—are showing signs of addressing them, and of that I am very glad.
§ Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)
I apologise to those on both Front Benches for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I have listened carefully to nearly all of it, and I consider it to have been very worth while.
We are now discussing far more dimensions of tourism than we used to. It is traditional to think simply in terms of more being good: we need more tourists, more money coming in, more attractions and so forth. Today, however—and, increasingly, in general—we are also considering quality. Additional factors now need to be taken into account.
The obvious requirement is for people to return to this country, enabling us to establish a sustainable tourism industry, which means maintaining the number of visitors and attractions over a period. There is, however, a new dimension of sustainability, about which we did not hear a great deal today until the speech of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). We do not tend to take it into account very much: we hear more about troops of tourists going off in safari wagons and killing the very last Mexican staring frog as they unload their hampers. I commend the consultative document "Tourism—Towards Sustainability", produced last year, and the more recent document "Tomorrow's Tourism", which features an appendix containing an interesting set of responses.
Nowadays, it seems to be fashionable to take ever-longer holidays abroad. As has been said today, our seaside resorts have suffered a decline. There are problems of accessibility. We must think carefully about what we want from sustainable tourism. If we are not careful, we will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs in such places as the New Forest and the Peak district. We must have a clear policy for the management of resources, to ensure that tourists still visit those places.
There have been encouraging developments. North Yorkshire national park, for instance, has made it possible for people to visit without having to drive their cars into the middle of the park. Moreover, natural attractions are being allied with the attractions of nearby towns and cities to remove some of the pressure.
My city of Southampton, which is not regarded as a natural tourist destination, has gone a long way towards becoming one by hosting the round-the-world yacht race, a film festival and a balloon and flower festival. A number of other activities bring people back into cities and, indeed, bring cities back into people's purview as "short break" destinations where they can use public transport without basing themselves in areas where there is too much pressure on facilities. Such combination holidays, enabling the use of both natural and urban facilities, are important to sustainability.
As has been said, the accessibility of tourist destinations is important. I am referring not just to dual carriageways, but to public transport. Can people go on holiday simply by using public transport? Increasingly, that is not possible in this country.
I recently visited Tintern. I noticed posters dating from the 1890s on the wall of the former station at Tintern. They offered tourist packages of days out on the train 727 going up and down the Wye valley to Tintern. That, of course, is no longer possible; the railway was closed in 1995. If people want to go to the Wye valley, they will have to go by car. Being able to use public transport to get around tourist destinations is important. Investment in public transport that allows those destinations to work well is important too. We need cycle routes in the New Forest to allow people from Southampton to undertake their holidays in and around the forest without recourse to the car, if that is what they wish.
I am conscious of the fact that time is pressing. I make the case for taking sustainable tourism seriously. Tourism should be part of the other policies on sustainability that the Government are developing and taking seriously. How can we bring people back to have holidays in our country, but, at the same time, ensure that the amenities of the country and, indeed, of the world are secure for the future? That is the challenge. I am delighted that the Government have taken it up in their consultative document and in their tourism document, which has just been published.
§ 2.1 pm
§ Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)
Sadly, lack of time prevents me from taking up the injunction of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) to promote London. I want to make one relatively obvious point and a second one. In the process, I want to celebrate the tourism potential of just one part of London: my constituency.
The relatively obvious point is the need for grant-making bodies such as English Heritage and various lottery funds to be fully signed up to implementing the Government's tourism strategy. I am delighted that Headstone manor, a 13th century moated manor house, the only one of its kind left in Middlesex, and in my constituency, has received a lottery grant of £1 million to secure its restoration and refurbishment and to enable the oldest parts of the building to be opened to visitors. I am delighted that the heritage lottery fund saw the good sense of the representations by Harrow heritage trust and the local Labour council, as well as me.
I am also delighted that English Heritage has started to shift its position in terms of how it allocates conservation area funding. In the Christmas Adjournment debate, I lamented its insistence that such funding should be directed primarily towards building repair, rather than, as is the need in Harrow on the Hill—an equally beautiful part of my constituency—the space between buildings, tackling the impact of traffic and improving the general street scene.
English Heritage is supporting a pilot project in my constituency. It is contributing some £30,000 to £35,000, which will be matched by the local authority. The final details of the scheme to help to slow and deter traffic and to improve the street scene are being worked up. I look forward to helping to facilitate the scheme's implementation. Nevertheless, the annual tourism summit needs to include representatives of such grant-making bodies to ensure that they continue to sign up to, and help to implement, the Government's tourism strategy.
The second key aspect of my comments is the need for the Government to recognise the importance of sport and event tourism. I mention in particular one of the lessons 728 that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport highlighted in its recent report on major events: the need for high-profile, active Government involvement in events. Obviously, the major event strategy and the new agency that my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport is chairing within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are welcome.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting will be able to say a little more about how the Government are working with the Manchester 2002 Games committee to ensure that the event is a huge success. I mention that point in the light of the bids to redevelop Wembley stadium and in the hope that, down the line, a redeveloped Wembley will be at the forefront of a world athletics championship—and, crucially, a British Olympic bid.
§ 2.5 pm
§ Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)
I thank the Secretary of State in absentia for his characteristic courtesy in noting the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and I are continuing in our present roles. When the dear and revered leader sits down with Alastair Campbell to plan the future of the Cabinet, I wish the right hon. Gentleman well for his future.
It is interesting that, despite the remarks made about the English weather, we have a beautiful day today for the tourism debate. I wonder whether hon. Members have noticed that the sudden improvement in the weather in this country seemed to take place on Sunday evening. There is a definite correlation out there somewhere between approval of what happened on Sunday and the excellent weather that we have had this week.
Before proceeding to the main part of my speech, may I ask the Minister about the quality assurance that the Secretary of State mentioned? It is our understanding that the harmonised rating system that will be applied with the help of both the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club will involve different systems in England, Scotland and Wales. I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that that will be very confusing for overseas tourists, and I hope that she can shed some light on the situation.
Despite the Minister's intervention, there is still some confusion about accommodation offset. Yesterday's reply by the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) suggested that the minimum wage would be added to accommodation and food prices. That would be serious for activity holidays, and I hope that the hon. Lady will deal with that. The British Activity Holiday Association, in a letter to me, mentioned a monitoring period lasting until December, whereas I think that I heard the hon. Lady mention September. Will she be kind enough to introduce some clarity on that important point?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) who, as chairman of the all-party tourism group, is a man of considerable distinction in the House. I entirely agree that the role of tourism and major sporting events is crucial, and that we ought to consider that role in the new millennium.
I agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn), especially about the strength of the pound, which has also been mentioned 729 with concern by the British Tourist Authority. I share his welcome for the removal of the threat of a levy on small businesses to pay for the Food Standards Agency, which would have had a serious effect on tourism.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) on a lively contribution to the debate. Many hon. Members will agree that our licensing laws are utterly anomalous and need reform. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) about the importance of getting tourists away from the three main tourist destinations and persuading them to see the attractions elsewhere. I especially endorse her references to seaside resorts.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith) mentioned the familiar problems of seaside resorts, and said that the facilities in her constituency were not adequate for the major political parties. I simply suggest to her that, in view of their recent results in both the local and the European elections, perhaps the Liberal Democrats could be invited to hold their annual conference in Morecambe bay.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West made a powerful point about activity holidays, and I am anxious to hear what the Minister has to say in response. I agree with what the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) said about her city. I recently visited Lincoln, and it is one of the great jewels of European civilisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), who is a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, referred to our anomalous licensing laws and the fact that the tourism industry in the United States is exempt from the national minimum wage. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) talked about the importance of seaside resorts. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) talked about holidays for the disabled and the burden of regulations. I agree with the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) that Kedleston and Hardwick, which I have visited, are wonderful places. She was right to point out that the pressures on the Peak district are enormous.
Several hon. Members have referred to sustainable tourism, including my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) who spoke eloquently about the pressures in different parts of the country. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) took up the point in respect of the Lake district. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) talked about the importance of sporting events and developments in his constituency.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport issued a press release on 21 May headed "Government support for tourism pays dividends". It was yet another smoke and mirrors exercise by the Department, because it talked about the 5 per cent. increase in tourists from abroad making the total more than 5 million. That contrasts with the figures put out by the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, which show a decline in the past year.
The Labour party's pre-election strategy document for tourism and hospitality, called "Breaking New Ground", implicitly criticised the previous Government for having a balance of payments deficit in tourism of £2.95 billion in 1996. The tragic truth is that, by the end of last year, that deficit had nearly doubled to more than £5.6 billion. That all-time record deficit is very regrettable. In the first 730 three months of this year, the deficit grew even more. There was a lot of talk before the election about closing the gap, but that is not happening. The gap is getting wider.
We have heard a great deal about the tourism strategy during the debate. The tourism industry in this country is not winning the battle against the competition. I hope that the Minister will make some specific comments about that.
Labour's pre-election document referred to encouraging investment in our infrastructure. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey and I know from our visits to places such as Eastbourne, Scarborough and Torbay, which are heavily dependent on tourism, the infrastructure problem is causing serious anxiety. The roads programme in rural areas is being slashed. Highways are being detrunked and the financing is being transferred to cash-starved county councils, which are already putting up council tax by more than three times the rate of inflation.
The Labour strategy document also referred to an integrated approach. We await with interest to see whether that will come about in practice. The Minister for Sport has been unable to persuade his colleagues at the Department for Education and Employment to work with him on vital issues such as the role of sport in the primary school curriculum, the role of competitive sport in secondary schools, school playing fields and the declining number of physical education teachers. What hope is there for tourism?
We have heard that the English tourist board is being replaced by the English Tourism Council. Its remit has been ill defined and we are anxious to hear more about it. When the BTA was established by the Development of Tourism Act 1969, it was envisaged that amendments to that Act would be necessary to set up a body such as the English Tourism Council. Can the Minister confirm whether that is the case? It is not clear, and we have heard conflicting evidence.
Several hon. Members made the point about small businesses being swamped by a floodtide of regulations. It is true that we have seen a huge increase in the number of statutory instruments coming from Whitehall, and the European Commission has also played its part. Since the general election, the Government have imposed 2,400 new regulations on businesses, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants has calculated that the average small business, with 100 employees, will suffer to the tune of an additional £5,000 in costs. We need sunset clauses and an independent body to prepare and audit compliance cost assessments of the burdensome regulations. The reverse is happening, and that is why we are seeing an increase in bankruptcies in the small business sector. The tourism industry is made up of thousands of small businesses that are dependent on the reduction of the burden of regulation. They do not want the enormous increase in regulation that we have seen in the past two years.
The Minister will be aware that Cornwall is one of the premier tourist destinations in this country. She will also know about the eclipse in August and of the anxiety and concern that has legitimately been expressed in Cornwall about the future of tourism because of the hysterical reports that tourists will be fleeced, that the transport infrastructure will break down and that there will be water 731 distribution problems. The result has been that bookings are down in Cornwall. In particular, farmers who have set aside areas for holiday camps are in real difficulties.
It is important that the Secretary of State visits Cornwall soon to assure the people that the Government support them. We need a positive message from the Government, otherwise Cornish tourism will be in real difficulties. However, I am fully satisfied that the planning co-ordination in Cornwall is more than adequate, and I hope that the Minister agrees.
Tourism has been hit by higher taxes, higher business rates, higher fuel bills and the strong pound. Tourism has been subjected to considerable pressure, including the floodtide of unwanted regulation. People in tourism earn their livelihoods in a practical way, and they need help. They do not believe that glossy documents will solve their problems and they do not want the ever-growing tide of taxation and regulation. They want a joined-up Government working in their interest, although the evidence from the Department on sport is so far disappointing.
Tourism waited and waited for the tourism strategy, but the best that can be said for it is that it is a curate's egg. By contrast, the Opposition have looked carefully at the tourism strategy, and we are working determinedly within our tourism policy forum to address all the issues that have arisen and worsened in the past two years to come up with some constructive ideas to address the concerns, hopes and aspirations of the millions of people employed in tourism and to make Britain the world-beating tourism destination that it thoroughly deserves to be.
§ The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson):
I wish to apologise if I do not refer by name to every Member who has contributed to the debate, but I have very little time left. I do not intend to give way, because I wish to try to answer as many of the points that have been raised as possible. I thank all those hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. The wide range of issues that has been raised shows how right the Government's strategy is and how important an industry tourism is.
As many hon. Members on both sides of the House pointed out, tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the world. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) referred to a tourism deficit in this country. He is quite right, and we aim to ensure that the United Kingdom gets its fair share of the growing international cake. That is precisely the reason for the Government's strategy, which was produced in February. As to the hon. Gentleman's specific point about Cornwall, I assure him that I intend to visit Cornwall shortly to see the situation for myself.
We decided to entitle this Government debate "Tourism in the new millennium" and the subtitle of the strategy document is "A growth industry for the new millennium". The millennium dome at Greenwich—which has been mentioned in this debate—the millennium experience and all the millennium projects going on around the country will put the United Kingdom at the front of the world stage as we enter the 21st century. It is clear that the dome is already an international symbol of the millennium, and the British Tourist Authority estimates that it will generate an additional 2 million to 3 million visitors to this country.
732 I hope the deal that the New Millennium Experience Company has entered into with National Express—whereby people around the country will be charged a flat rate of £29.95, which includes entry fee, to travel by the coach to the millennium dome—will resolve some of the potential transport problems mentioned by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait). I thank the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) for his congratulations on the fact that we have reached our sponsorship target for the dome—in fact, we have exceeded it. We are glad of his support.
The Government's strategy document, "Tomorrow's Tourism", contains a raft of initiatives, which I will not outline in detail. However, I shall briefly summarise its main points. The strategy seeks to promote improved career opportunities in tourism. This week is hospitality week and many hon. Members have participated in constituency events designed to encourage more young people to enter that industry. The document aims to increase access to tourism for those on low incomes, for families, the elderly and the disabled—to which the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) referred specifically. We know that 40 per cent. of people do not take a holiday of any kind, and one of the roles of the new English Tourism Council—to which I shall refer shortly—will be to conduct research in that area. It is important to discover why that is so.
The strategy aims to provide better information about tourism. Several hon. Members have said that it is often easier to gather information about holidays abroad than about holidays in this country. The British Tourist Authority is establishing 36 new websites in an attempt to improve that record. The document also seeks to promote the sustainable development of tourism, which is very important. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) pointed out that we are approaching the tourism issue differently. Of course we want more people to visit this country, but we are looking at what that means for the future development of the industry. We must ensure that future generations enjoy the benefits of tourism. The strategy also seeks to develop and promote quality tourism experiences—I shall give some specifics in a moment—and to provide a new and improved structure for the industry.
The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) asked why tourism was the responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and not of the Department of Trade and Industry. It is because my Department is the best Department to deal with that industry. Our portfolio comprises other sectors and activities that are directly linked with tourism. Many hon. Members have referred to museums and art galleries, sport and film. The Department and the BTA jointly produced the movie map this week, and we intend to look carefully at the link between sport and tourism. That link is important now and will be even more so in the future. The development such niche markets and products formed an important part of our strategy.
I assure the hon. Member for West Suffolk that we are serious about the joined-up approach to tourism across Whitehall. Many of the issues raised today are the responsibility of other Government Departments and that, of itself, proves that our annual tourism summit—involving representatives from all Government Departments and industry in planning future action in tourism—will be absolutely crucial. The first summit will take place early next year.
733 Matters raised today include transport planning and licensing laws. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) knows that I share many of his views on licensing laws, and I am grateful to him and his colleagues in the parliamentary beer club for keeping up the pressure for a proper review of the licensing laws in the near future. I have been working very closely with my colleague in the Department of Trade and Industry, the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs. We are examining carefully charges for telephone calls in hotels and the use of single person supplements, which the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) mentioned.
I was pleased to find out recently that the Office of Fair Trading is mounting an investigation into pricing at motorway service areas, where I know that many products are more expensive than those on the high street. That cannot be right.
An hon. Member—I believe it was my hon. Friend the Member for Test—referred to the Lake district. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is working on a transport strategy for that area. Anyone who knows what it is like to sit in a traffic jam near Lake Windermere on a Sunday will welcome the Department's actions. We are working with the DETR to ensure that our tourism strategy links in with its transport strategy.
I reassure the House that "Tomorrow's Tourism" is not a "here today, forgotten tomorrow" strategy, but a springboard to the future and a document to which we shall return regularly.
Many hon. Members have referred to the abolition of the English tourist board. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) asked in a timely intervention, if Opposition Members thought so much of the English tourist board, why during their tenure in office did they so substantially reduce its funding, from about £25 million to less than £10 million? Preparations are under way for the establishment of the English Tourism Council. I reassure the hon. Member for West Suffolk that we are considering how it should properly be constituted. The council is intended to provide better leadership to the industry. I was asked where people would go for information about the availability of holidays. They will be able to get such information from the regional tourist boards, which, as a result of our measures, will be able to bid for extra funding.
We want the English Tourism Council to concentrate on research, particularly on emerging markets and sectors. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) pointed out that not enough information was available about the link between sport and tourism. 734 Perhaps the council will consider that. It will also concentrate on quality, including work on accommodation schemes, attractions and seaside resorts. It will oversee systems of data collection; it will have an important role in championing sustainable tourism, and it will disseminate best practice and innovative ideas. The tourism forum's work will continue under the leadership of the council and it will be responsible to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
We believe that the new, voluntary, harmonised accommodation ratings scheme, which, as my right hon. Friend said, will be implemented in September, will allow rating of accommodation according to consistent standards. That scheme has our full support and we believe that it will work. We welcome the intention to streamline the inspection system. We have said that, because accommodation standards are so important, we shall consider introducing statutory measures if that voluntary approach does not work.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the role of regional tourist boards, which have often been critical of the funding arrangements with the English tourist board. In future, they will be able to bid for funds from the tourism council to support projects in their region which meet the aims of the strategy in "Tomorrow's Tourism". Regional development agencies will also play an important role, as will the regional cultural consortiums. One or two Conservative Members have implied that the regional cultural consortiums are not important, but I point out that the consortiums will have a very strong voice and are extremely important for tourism.
Many hon. Members have mentioned seaside resorts, which are already benefiting from single regeneration budget money, and we are making a strong case for them to be given serious consideration in the deliberations on objective 2 areas and assisted areas.
I have almost run out of time, and I have been unable to cover one or two of the points raised. Perhaps I could write to hon. Members—
It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.