HC Deb 09 July 1993 vol 228 cc575-97

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chapman.]

9.33 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat)

I very much welcome the chance today to talk about the important subject of tourism and deregulation. Before I do so, there are two general points to make about tourism. First, I emphasise the importance that we at the Department of National Heritage attach to tourism and the real seriousness with which we take it. One of the reasons why the Department of National Heritage was set up was that too many subjects in Government were not given enough weight and emphasis in the Departments in which they were located. We set up the Department of National Heritage so that the arts, sport, tourism and other matters would be given proper weight within Government thinking.

In some areas, tourism has been for too long an underrated industry perhaps the most underrated industry—in the country. It employs roughly 1.5 million people. Some £25 billion a year is spent on tourism, of which £7.7 billion comes from foreign tourists. We had 18 million foreign visitors last year and the figure for this year is likely to be even better. Some 4 per cent. of our gross domestic product is accounted for by tourism. However, because the industry is so fragmented—it is made up of so many small businesses which vary from one part of tourism to another—it has not always been taken with the seriousness that it requires. I assure the House today that our Department will be the champion of the tourism industry.

Secondly, before I turn to aspects of tourism and deregulation, I stress that I have no plans at this moment to hold yet another review of tourism. We want to get some certainty, security and stability into the tourism industry. Over the next few months, I want every regional tourist board to tell me what it has in mind for its own area. Before the House returns in October, I shall go to every region to see what the boards are doing on the ground.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

When the Minister goes round the regions, will he ask them what impact there would be on tourism within the regions if we opened regional airports more so that people could fly directly to places such as Manchester rather than always having to come via London?

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. I give him a pledge that I will ask that specific question of every relevant tourism body. Later in my speech, I shall come to the question of direct flights from abroad to this country.

I have a small idea on which I do not want to place too much weight. Hon. Members will know of the community action projects which, roughly speaking, are for people who draw unemployment benefit and who get an extra £10 if they work for the money that the taxpayer gives them. When the debate is over, I propose to write to every regional tourist board saying, "Will you look at your area and see what opportunities for community action projects there are to improve tourism projects?" There is a great deal of clearing up, cleaning, painting and archive research to be done. I should like the regional tourist boards to come back to me with half dozen or perhaps 10 suggestions of specific projects. We will then consider them and put whatever shove and push we can behind them.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

On the importance of tourism for employment, will my hon. Friend confirm that one of the best things about the expansion of the tourism industry is that over the past 10 years employment in the industry has grown by 28 per cent., compared with only 1 per cent. growth in employment in the country generally? That reinforces the importance of tourism, which is a great contributor to the development of this country. Is it not remarkable that although the Conservative Benches are so full, the Opposition Benches are almost completely empty? Does that not reinforce the fact that the Conservative party is the only party which cares about tourism and the jobs that it produces?

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend is right about the importance of jobs in tourism. As I have said, about 1.5 million people in this country are involved directly or indirectly in tourism. The figure is even greater in the world as a whole. The WTTO—the world travel organisation or whatever it is called—has produced figures which show that one in 15 people around the world and 6 per cent. of world GDP are involved in tourism. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) has made a very important point.

However, all of that is simply background to the central subject of this debate which is tourism and deregulation and the important link between them.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend says, "Hear, hear." I am afraid that the laws and customs of the House will not allow a Parliamentary Private Secretary to intervene in this debate. I am very sorry about that. However, I pay a sincere tribute to the great lead and contribution that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has made to the whole question of deregulation and tourism. He has introduced two ten-minute Bills and he has another to come. I am indebted to him for all that he has done.

The House will recall that during the first Question Time in which I had the honour to represent the Department, I said that I intended to conduct an urgent and detailed inquiry into the effects of regulation, interference and general bureaucracy on the tourism industry. I should like this morning to make an interim report on that important subject.

When I invited hon. Members, members of tourist boards, hoteliers and restaurateurs to let me know what they felt about bureaucracy and regulation in tourism, little did I know what I was doing. I have been overwhelmed by an avalanche of letters, requests for meetings and evidence of bureaucracy from the tourist trade. If I were asked whether the situation is as bad as I had suspected, I would have to say, "No, it's far, far worse."

We have uncorked an explosion of fury and frustration at the pettifogging burdens, bureaucracy, costs, waste of time and damage to tourists themselves. Every time an environmental health officer comes along and says, "You've got to spend another £4,000 smartening up your kitchen", that £4,000 is added directly to the price that the tourist pays and it lowers our competitiveness vis-à-vis other countries.

I want to give the House some idea of the initial findings that my civil servants and I discovered as a result of inviting the industry to let us know its feelings. I must emphasise that what I am about to tell the House—for what it is worth—is personal experience related to my civil servants and myself. It has nothing to do with newspaper cuttings or second-hand information. What I am about to recount is news directly from the battlefront.

Before I elaborate on the details, which will enrage and perhaps very occasionally entertain the House, I must stress that what has become clear is that regulations come in many forms and many guises and from many sources. It is not a matter of one monster coming from one place. With regard to the sources of regulations, we must take a great deal of the blame, because many of the regulations come from Parliament. Many of them come from the European Community—although, I am bound to say, not quite so many as people believe. The regulations come from local authorities, quangos and very often they come from individual officers of quangos who exceed their instructions.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Sproat

I will give way in a second.

The regulations come from quangos and often from officious and offensive officers of quangos. Sometimes, as I will show, they come entirely from the land of rumour and ignorance.

Mr. Allason

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not so much a matter of the rules and directives as the way in which they are enforced? Is it not the case that many people in the tourism industry in this country believe that we are the only country in Europe in which there is over-zealous regulation and enforcement of those regulations?

Mr. Sproat

Yes, my hon. Friend has made a very good point. I was about to dissect and analyse the different forms and guises that regulations take.

Sometimes regulations are just stupid, absurd and wrong. Sometimes enforcement between one part of the country and another is ludicrously inconsistent. Sometimes regulations are well meant in theory, but grotesquely impractical. On other occasions, they are just heavy-handed, officious or completely disproportionate to the alleged offence. Sometimes, they spring from a lack of knowledge and I will touch on that in a moment.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) has made the point so correctly and strongly, perhaps I should run through some of those headings and give examples, not of the worst or most expensive things, but simply to give the House some understanding of the range of absurdities, intrusion and offence and the range of regulations from which the burdens spring.

I said that, in the view of the tourist trade, some regulations are simply completely wrong, stupid or absurd. An example of that is the package travel directive. I am not sure whether I would have set up such a package. None the less, the package travel directive was set up to catch large organisations through which people travelled from abroad and were not absolutely certain what would happen in the country to which they were travelling. However, the package has extended far beyond that and small hotels in this country now suddenly find themselves involved in extremely expensive bonding exercises. That disrupts their cash flow or, in many cases, ruins their profits.

There is also a problem with signing. We seem to have a paranoia about signing in this country.

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)

My hon. Friend may be unaware of the fact that I act as an adviser on parliamentary affairs to the Association of British Travel Agents, which has been considerably involved with the implementation of the package travel directive to which my hon. Friend has just referred. There is considerable debate about the definitions that lie behind the directive. That affects the hotels to which my hon. Friend has just referred and the difficulties that they may face if they happen to offer extra facilities such as golf weekends or pony trekking.

If my hon. Friend could have those definitions examined and changed, because I do not believe that hotels or business travellers should have been caught by the package, he would incur the greatest debt of gratitude from the tourism industry and, by that one stroke, he would do more to deregulate the industry than any other action.

Mr. Sproat

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Gratitude is a rare commodity in politics and if I can catch a smidgen of it, I shall be very grateful. I entirely agree that we should consider the definitions to see whether the wrong people are being caught. In addition, the Foreign Office might like to consider the matter in relation to subsidiarity.

I referred to signing. We have an extraordinary attitude to signs in this country. It is very difficult—indeed, almost impossible—to erect a hotel sign on or near a road. Tourism is a very important industry, but if somone tries to put up a sign, he will almost certainly not succeed. Indeed, since 16 June, I have learnt of a hotel which had a sign up for 50 years but has been made to take it down.

I have to be very careful in this debate not to be too disagreeable about other Departments. I must keep my tongue under strict control. However, I believe that the Department of the Environment recently wrote to a hotelier who wanted to put up a sign. The matter was rejected on the grounds that the sign was in ugly black and white and that that would look nasty against the green fields behind it. That is the kind of absurdity that we must stop.

This country is the sixth—or perhaps the fifth, depending on one's definition—most visited country in the world.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

It seems astonishing for the Department of Transport to suggest that signs outside hotels distract drivers. How can a sign which gives positive information to a passing driver be distracting?

Mr. Sproat

I do not think that we should be as strict on signs. Too much is made of the distraction element. As a champion of the tourist industry, I will take up the matter with the Department of Transport and with local authorities—it is not always the Department of Transport; it is also local authorities—and say, "For goodness sake, get this sorted out."

Ours is the fifth or sixth most visited country in the world. From memory, the most visited country in Europe is France. Anybody who has been to a French town or village will remember that large signs outside the village actually direct people to hotels. If one wants to stay at the Hotel de Paris or the Hotel Plage, one will see the sign for it. If we are serious about tourism, we must do that too. I will look at what the French are doing during the recess—[Interruption.]—by photograph, and I will let the House know what progress we make.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Has my hon. Friend noticed, as he has driven around the country, how many farmers' fields have vehicles parked in them advertising hotels or giving directions to certain places? The law is so strict that people with imagination and initiative are trying to get around them by using such schemes. Is it not better to have sensible rules and regulations that can be properly applied, rather than making it impossible to erect signs and force farmers to do such things?

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend is exactly right. It is sad if the laws come into such disrespect that people who would otherwise never dream of breaking the law feel impelled to do so, I shall return to that point in a different context.

There is the famous sign of the zoo, which must be indicated by an elephant symbol. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) has rightly made a great fuss about the fact that he has a flamingo park in his constituency but was told that it had to be indicated by an elephant symbol. That is the kind of grotesquerie for which there can be no excuse, and it must go. I do not want to weary the House with too many examples. I was trying to give a spread of the difficulties and the stupidity. We have signposting that is stupidly in error, and we have the package travel directive.

Last year, a hotel in Gloucestershire wanted to hold a dance on new year's eve—a very simple addition to the tourist calendar. To be allowed to do that, the hotel had to fill in no fewer than 88 detailed forms before it could obtain permission to have its dance. That is another stupid example, which gives a flavour of the problem that was raised by one of my hon. Friends at Question Time recently.

If one likes Camembert cheese, one probably likes it reasonably warm and reasonably soft and runny. Under our batty regulations, one has to keep even Camembert cheese in a refrigerator so cold that the cheese comes out not warm and runny as it should but cold and hard like a piece of refrigerated rubber.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

That is how it should be eaten.

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his views, but they are unusual.

Inconsistent enforcement has been mentioned. That is a serious point. A famous London hotel, which has been established for more than 100 years, had its air conditioning system passed by Westminster council with no problems at all. Last year, along came a new environmental health officer who said, "I don't like this air conditioning. You will switch it off. Not a room in your hotel will be allowed to be air conditioned by this air conditioning system." The hotel could not operate. It took 100 hours of management time just to sort out that piece of officious, offensive little Hitlerdom. That is another example of inconsistent enforcement.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

I do not disagree with several examples that the Minister has given, but does he recognise that there are circumstances in which inefficient air conditioning systems can be a serious threat to people's health? Legionnaire's disease has been caused by contaminated water coming out of inappropriate systems. Does the Minister recognise that it would be a disaster for the tourist industry in London or, indeed, in Britain if there were rumours of disease being caused by malfunctioning air conditioning systems?

Mr. Sproat

Indeed, it would be. I certainly take the hon. Gentleman's point, which he properly made at a recent Question Time. There are regulations relating to fire and so on, and indeed air conditioning, that have to be properly enforced. My point was that, after years of environmental health officers passing the system and saying that it was perfectly acceptable—as, indeed, it was and has been so proved—an individual can come along and, off his own bat, cause the destruction of a hotel, restaurant or whatever.

There is the famous case of certain local authorities stopping restaurants using wooden spoons or wooden boards to chop tomatoes on, so they had to use plastic equipment or something else. They installed new chopping boards and so on, but it turned out that wood is better, because it includes an enzyme which makes it more hygienic than plastic or stainless steel. Thousands of pounds have been spent to implement regulations that have turned out to be faulty.

There are hundreds of examples. Some local authorities do not allow hotels to have a washing machine in the kitchen, whereas others do. We have done some research on this matter. It can cost £2,000 to £4,000 to build an extension to accommodate a washing machine. Those are petty burdens. For Trusthouse Forte, £2,000 for a new place for a washing machine is not a lot of money, but for a small hotel in the west country, it is an important part of its bottom line.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in some parts of the country such as mine, which is a national park, one would not get planning permission to build such an extension? Local authorities are incredibly strict on such matters. A hotel could therefore go out of business because, on the one hand, it is told to build an extension and, on the other hand, the authority refuses to allow it to do so.

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend makes another good point about inconsistency. In some parts of the country, hotels are told that they have to put fly-screens over the kitchen windows, but my Department then comes along and says, "This is a listed building—you are not allowed to put up fly-screens anyway." There are so many contradictions, which makes it even more worrying for the tourist trade.

I was reviewing the different guises of the regulations—the stupid ones, the inconsistent ones, and the ones that might be well meant but which in practice turn out to be absurd. For example, there are the electricity at work regulations. When one mentions them to hoteliers, strong men go pale. A hotelier said to me that the electrician who looked at his hotel sucked his breath betwen his teeth, shook his head sadly and said, "It is going to cost you £17,500 to have all the regulations checked." By the way, after he said that, he added, "I know that you can't afford it, so why don't I Just give you a certificate, and you give me £500 cash?" That is the criminal element which is encouraged by these mad regulations. They breed corruption and the attitude that my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) mentioned in respect of signs attached to vans in fields and so on.

Lady Olga Maitland

It costs £2.50 to have each electrical appliance checked. One hotel could spend £4,000 or £5,000 a year. That emphasises that small hotels go out of business because of just one tiny matter.

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It must be remembered that it is not just regulations such as those in respect of Camembert, which might seem piffling or not so piffling, but the accumulation of regulations—the fire officers, the environmental health officers, the small company audit requirements, and all the immigration forms that have to be filled in. I have yet to find, although I daresay they exist, a hotel that has been asked to send to the Home Office the forms that they have to fill in for every visitor and keep for a minimum of 12 months. The accumulation of regulations adds to the absurdity and the difficulty of the matter. There is heavy-handed, officious and disproportionate treatment. A publican was actually threatened with a criminal charge and possible imprisonment for smoking a pipe while he pulled a pint. Things have become fairly bad when one is threatened with imprisonment for smoking a pipe in one's own pub.

There are regulations saying that refrigerators must be tested three times a day for their coolness and those tests must be logged. In some parts of the country, every action of washing and cleaning in the kitchen must be logged. The action carried out must be logged and one must prove in writing that the person who washed the sink had been trained to do so. For heaven's sake! One must keep a list of the chemicals used and, if asked by the local authority, one must produce it.

Mr. Tony Banks

Did I miss the bit about tourism?

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)

The hon. Gentleman misses most things.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

The hon. Gentleman is a bit slow this morning—he should be put in the fridge. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that I have asked several parliamentary questions about electricity at work legislation. Over the past five years, between 10 and 16 fatalities have occurred from general electricity incidents throughout British industry. Is not the real point about these regulations that when a new regulation is introduced—or, indeed, when we withdraw an existing regulation—we should consider the cost benefit to the tourist industry and to British industry in general? It seems that we have got the whole ratio wrong in many of these regulations.

Mr. Sproat

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Later in my speech—if I am allowed time with not too many interruptions—I will turn to the whole question of compliance cost assessments, risk assessments and the necessity that the interests of tourism be taken into consideration when any new regulations are made.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who apparently likes his Camembert cheese cold and rubber hard, asked what all this has to do with tourism. We are trying to make our tourism industry competitive. We have been falling in the international league in getting visitors. We are still about fifth or sixth, which is very good, but we are falling. One of the reasons why we are falling is that we are not competitive. One of the reasons why we are not competitive is often because of the grotesque and absurd burden of regulation which so often adds to the cost of the holiday for the tourist and also lowers the quality.

Mr. Tony Banks

I apologise for missing the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech. A long series of humorous anecdotes about regulations, many of which his Government have been responsible for over the years, does not seem to address the fundamental problems of tourism. It is not simply a question of competitiveness. People come to our country because of the things that we can offer them. One of the things that happen when they come here is that they get ripped off by some of the most expensive hotels in the world.

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman used the word "humorous". I must tell him that these regulations are far from humorous for the people who suffer under them.

I shall give one more instance. I said that many of these regulations originate in the land of rumour and ignorance. A classic only this week came from a district council, which said that it was now apparently the law that one was not allowed to sell a sandwich with ham and tomato in it because one was a cooked substance and the other was an uncooked substance. I said to my officials, "Surely it cannot be against the law to sell a ham and tomato sandwich". They said, "It certainly did strike us as surprising".

Here is an efficient and competent district council. It was an official letter, not simply an individual, so we looked into the matter. For a long time, we were baffled—we could not find out whether it was against the law or not. Eventually, the latest advice from my wise officials is that it is not against the law to sell a tomato and ham sandwich but it is against the law to chop the tomato and the ham on the same board, which is possibly not even a board because one is not allowed to use wood in certain places.

That is the absurdity. It shows the difficulty for those people. If my officials and I find it difficult to discover whether one is allowed to have a ham and tomato sandwich, think how difficult it is for a small hotelier trying to serve in the hotel, run the books, get the immigration forms right and deal with the environmental health officers and the fire officers.

I have dealt with some of the regulations that emanate from this Government. I make no bones about it—in the view of the tourist industry, in many cases the Government have regulated too much, too often, too officiously and too stupidly. The regulations I have already mentioned were specifically and knowingly directed at the tourism industry.

The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), who intervened earlier about Manchester airport, raised a good point when he said that there are some areas of regulation where tourism is not considered at all. He said that there are regulations, laws and statutory instruments which are passed by the House that sharply, directly and forcefully affect the tourism industry but tourism is not allowed to make an input. He raised such an example in relation to aviation policy. I am about to say what the tourist industry has said to me on this matter. I do not directly criticise the Department of Transport in any way. Undoubtedly, it has good reasons and we shall come to them when the industry makes representations to it.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is a. keen reader of the Conservative party's manifesto at general election time. If he is a wise and comprehensive reader, he will remember that in our manifesto we pledged that we would put an end to the situation in which too many people who wanted to cross the Atlantic and who lived in the Manchester or Birmingham catchment areas had to leave Manchester or Birmingham, take a plane or train to London and fly across the Atlantic from Heathrow. We said that we wanted more direct flights point-to-point across the Atlantic. However, that still does not happen.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Manchester. I spoke to representatives of Manchester airport this week. They told me of no fewer than eight different routes across the Atlantic alone—not even mentioning the middle east or the far east—from which foreign airlines would love to fly into Manchester. They estimated that the traffic on each of those routes would be in excess of 100,000 passengers. That would mean another 1 million journeys coming into Manchester.

The same is true for Birmingham. The House may know that Birmingham is twinned with Chicago, yet the Government do not allow direct flights between Birmingham and Chicago. It is a question of the Government allowing them—it is a regulation. American and British airlines must get permission from the Government if they want to fly between the two points.

In the past, things such as aviation policy have been conducted almost entirely without proper tourist input. I wish to take the matter up with the Department of Transport. Undoubtedly, we shall have a constructive discussion about it and it will give me the powerful reasons why it thinks that we should not have quite so many tourists coming into Manchester, Birmingham or Stansted.

I have a letter from Sir John Egan saying that exactly the same thing is true of Stansted. He gave me an example of, for example, Nashville to Stansted which was turned down. He estimates that the decision to turn down a regular American Airlines flight from Nashville to Stansted cost the East Anglian tourist board £10 million. I do not know how he arrived at that figure, but it is the one that he gave me. Another TWA flight from Chicago to Stansted was turned down. Therefore, the hon. Member for Burnley makes an extremely important point about this matter.

My Department intends to examine those issues where tourism has not made an input in the past to see whether we can improve things for tourism so that matters are not always considered on the basis of whether they will affect an individual airline. They must be considered on the basis of whether they will affect tourism and places such as Manchester and the hinterland.

I shall give another example where the actions of other Government Departments, which were taken with the best of intentions, affect tourism without meaning to. I am sure that many of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches will be aware of use class orders. I shall explain use class orders, although there is probably no one in the House who does not know exactly what they mean. Basically, they mean that an existing hotel which sells up can be turned from a hotel into a hostel without the local authority having any chance to say no. This has become epidemic in places such as Eastbourne, Bournemouth, Clacton, Bridlington, Scarborough, Torquay and Blackpool. What was once a good small hotel becomes a hostel. It is filled not with guests who stay by the night or the week but with people, usually DSS claimants, who stay for months on end. It is essential that we find proper accommodation for DSS claimants or unemployed people, but it is idiotic to place a hostel next to a good hotel that is bringing in good tourist money and jobs to an area.

It is a disagreeable thing to say and it is a disagreeable phenomenon to contemplate, but is is important to consider the consequences of such a change of use. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay has told me of the regular traffic between places such as Liverpool and the south coast. People who are unemployed, no doubt for sad reasons, come down from Liverpool to Torquay. They move into a hostel, create disturbances and make a lot of noise at night. Such hostels attract drug addicts and become little nests of crime.

People who retire to somewhere like Scarborough hope to spend their retirement in peace and quiet. They suddenly find, however, that their home is next door to some noisy, drunk-infested, drug-infested hostel.

We should not say that the unemployed and DSS claimants should not have a proper place to live—of course they should—but it should be up to the local council to say no to such a hostel and to say that it will not give planning permission for a hostel. If a local council says it will welcome such a hostel, that is fine. That is local democracy and that represents proper accountability. At the moment, however, there is no control. The tourist industry believes that that control must be returned to local authorities.

Mr. Hawkins

My hon. Friend will be aware that this problem concerns not only my constituents in the tourist business in Blackpool, but many of my hon. Friends, who represent similar tourist areas. Will he accept my thanks for addressing the issue as he has today? Does he also accept that the tourist industry will be greatly heartened by his remarks? A balance must be struck and I look forward to the day when local authorities have the power to control the problem by requiring an application for change of use.

Mr. Sproat

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I assure him that my Department will take this matter up with the Department of the Environment at the earliest stage.

I have gone for longer than I intended as a result of interventions and my tongue running away with me. We shall never overcome the nightmare of over-regulation just by picking off the problems one by one and dealing with each regulatory conundrum and absurdity as it comes to light. Across Whitehall there must be a change of attitude in favour of not regulating rather than regulating. There will, of course, be occasions when we must regulate, but we must change the automatic reaction that dictates, "If in doubt, regulate". The opposite should be the case.

Changing that attitude does not, of course, mean lowering safety standards or giving the consumer a worse deal. Our regulatory approach must be governed by common sense. At this interim stage I suggest five guidelines and principles that I should like to see adopted.

First, before the regulator starts to draft he must be certain that he understands the nature of the problem or evil that the regulation is designed to curb. It is not enough to regulate "just in case". We should remember that old American saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". That should be the principle to follow.

Secondly, every new regulation should be subject not only to a cost compliance assessment, but to a risk assessment. Together, they will form a cost benefit analysis. Furthermore, each of those analyses should make particular reference to the impact that the regulation will have on the tourist industry specifically.

Thirdly, we need to know how each new regulation will fit into the body of existing rules. Will it be consistent? Will it complement those rules? Why are the existing rules insufficient? Can the new regulation replace some of the old ones? What will be the cumulative effect of related regulations? Will this be the last straw that breaks the camel's back?

Fourthly, we need a system of back checking. After each new regulation has been in force for some time, we should review it, root and branch, to see what good it has done and at what cost. We should consider whether it has achieved its original purpose and whether it is still necessary.

Fifthly, to follow those guidelines we need proper consultation machinery, which is not in place now. I want to know what the small hotelier, the entrepreneur running the small specialist restaurant and other members of the tourist trade have to say. Those people are the mainstay of the tourist industry. They must be consulted. They must give their views to Government and Government must take them seriously. Those views should be given to the respective trade association, the regional tourist board or the English tourist board—or individuals can come to see me or write to me directly. I promise the House that I will deal swiftly with anyone who brings a problem to me.

With those few but heartfelt words, I invite the House to comment on my speech.

10.15 am
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box in his new role. The Opposition did not disagree with everything that he said in his long speech. If he considers himself to be the champion of the tourist industry, however, that comes rich from a Minister of the Department of National Heritage, which has just cut the grant to the English trourist board and the British Tourist Authority. The hon. Gentleman said that that was a fine act by his predecessor, but I hope that he will retract that remark in due course.

The Opposition welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about signposts, because I am sure that we have all experienced problems with them in our constituencies. My council, Tameside, is taking on the Department of Transport about that.

The hon. Gentleman should not be surprised that he has received an avalanche of letters from those in the tourist industry since his invitation to them on 14 June to write to him. We have received such letters for months and that is why we are having such a meaningful dialogue with the tourist industry.

I welcome the fact that this is the second debate on tourism within four months. The debate in March was the first in five years. It is obvious to the Opposition that something is stirring within the Department of National Heritage. I suspect that that is due in some part to those Conservative Members who have recognised the Government's lack of concern about tourism. They are kicking from behind because they are obviously concerned about their marginal seats. After yesterday's poll, however, what is not a Tory marginal seat these days?

Most importantly, I believe that we are having this second debate because the Labour party has expressed a deep interest in the problems in the tourist industry. The Opposition have spearheaded the attack on the Government's disastrous policy towards the ETB and BTA, which has resulted, as the House is aware, in cuts in grant, the redundancies of key personnel and the loss of many valuable services to the tourist industry.

How can the Minister claim that the Government support the tourist industry when they have allowed such destructive cuts to it? As the chief executive of the ETB has said, unless the Minister gives a clear commitment to restore the damaging cuts made by his predecessor, there will be no meaningful services beyond 1994.

I also welcome the fact that this debate is concerned, primarily, with the regulations with which the tourist industry must live. In many cases, as the Minister said, those regulations are unreasonable. But not all regulations are bad. What the House must consider is the detrimental effect that some regulations have on consumer choice and the quality of the product on offer. Indiscriminate regulation, for example in the tour market, will lead to less consumer choice due to the restrictive practices in pricing and the inadequate consumer protection.

Although I welcome the debate, I must caution the Minister on extolling the virtues of a war on red tape. He must first tell the House why so much additional legislation has been passed by the Government since the introduction of the White Paper of 1985, entitled—wait for it—"Lifting the Burden." It is a bit rich of the Minister to complain about that burden when, since that date, many more regulations have been passed through the House. The industry was entitled to expect some reductions in bureaucracy and regulation before now. Conservative Members may condemn the Minister for some of his statements today. He has attacked many of his ministerial colleagues for their role in that problem.

As the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) said, the industry has had to wade through a multitude of complex measures with little guidance or clarification from the Ministers concerned. As the Minister rightly said, not all the regulations stem from Brussels. They include the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988, the food temperature monitoring regulations of 1990, the reporting of injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences regulations of 1985 and the Food Premises (Registration) Regulations 1991. The Opposition welcome legislation that benefits the consumer, especially in areas such as food hygiene and health. The Minister's speech will send the wrong signals to those concerned about that subject.

Which? magazine of June 1993 asked, "How safe is food?" It said: Food scare stories may not seem to be hitting the headlines as much just lately, but problems with the safety of our food have not gone away. There were 65,000 cases of food poisoning reported last year—11,000 more than in 1991. Experts believe that the real total may well be more like two million—many cases don't make the official statistics. It was, therefore, wrong of the Minister to make light of those regulations.

The main problem with the measures that I have mentioned is that the Government have not clarified their effects to the industry. It has been largely left to the English tourist board to do that by producing a number of advisory publications on bed and breakfast, business rates, package travel regulations and the recent pink guide, which covers a wide range of legislation. But how much longer will that be possible, given the cuts that have been imposed on the ETB by the Department of National Heritage? In any case, it is up to the Government, not the ETB, to provide the industry with the necessary information. If the Minister intends to do something about that, we shall applaud him.

The Government must look into ways of cutting red tape and reducing form filling, but the Minister, who is a deregulator par excellence—that fact came through this morning—might throw out the baby with the bath water. He must not be obsessed with deregulation for its own sake. By now, he must have received enough responses from within the industry, following his request for information on 14 June, to show the overwhelming desire for clarification rather than deregulation. He cannot expect the industry to comply with regulations of which much of the industry is not fully aware.

I should have liked—I shall not do so because of lack of time—to recite the wide range of regulations for which the Government have provided no help or guidance for the industry. That must be corrected. The Minister cannot escape blame because, having been the Minister responsible for tourism within the Department of Trade and Industry, he was directly responsible for setting in motion a review of the BTA and ETB, which resulted in the loss of the BTA's last tourist information centre in 1983, as well as 12 highly skilled staff. The Minister gave the BTA so little notice of that cutback that all its promotional material for that year referred to the Centre for Tourist Information which, incidentally, covered the whole of Britain. Imagine the impression that that left our overseas visitors when they arrived in this country to see the centre boarded up.

That review was responsible for the savage cuts in 1983, implemented by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), to the ETB and the BTA, resulting in 50 jobs losses. With that backgoound, is it any wonder that the tourist industry feels a little apprehensive about the new Minister?

When talking to London taxi drivers, most hon. Members get the usual agenda of chat. It includes, first, the nonsensical proposals to deregulate taxis in London, adding to congestion and confusion in the capital. Secondly, and not unrelated, taxi drivers say that they will never vote Tory again. Thirdly—more relevant to the debate—they complain about how many foreign visitors will not return next year because of the high cost of London hotels. The reason for that is not because hotels are paying high wages to their staff. Indeed, they should be subjected to the minimum wage legislation enjoyed by workers in our competitor countries, where the hotels are effectively doing much better.

For example, the owner of an hotel not far from here, which many of us frequent when we attend briefing lunches, has told me why Britain is perceived to be an expensive destination. He tells me that his hotel has cut prices to the bare minimum and his room rates are lower than in 1989. The few hotels that are still trading profitably are recording their lowest profits since the 1927 recession. His hotel made more profit in 1968, charging £5 a room, than it does today charging £170 a room. He says that VAT at 17.5 per cent. is a direct tourist tax because tourists do not benefit from the compensatory reduction in council tax and PAYE enjoyed by British subjects. France has a standard rate of 18.5 per cent., but, for hotel accommodation, it has a rate of 5.3 per cent. He points out that the cost of tour agents, foreign representatives and a flat £10 per person booking implant fee and a 2–5 per cent. card and transaction fee, all add up to a hefty burden on the hotel industry. He argues that, in addition, the red tape and how regulations are implemented and over regulated are a burden on time and money.

I do not wish to create the impression that all hotels in London and elsewhere act as honourably as that one. There are too many rogue hoteliers around, but I am convinced that the vast majority are playing the game.

The Minister must be aware of the low morale within the industry. That fact has come through in his speech. After all, the industry employs between 1.5 million and 1.6 million people and some 10 per cent. of our national work force. It is larger than the Scottish whisky and car industries put together. But it has had seven different Ministers responsible for tourism, all with their different approaches to the industry. It is no wonder that people within the industry are turning away from it in large numbers.

The Minister recognises that by far the most controversial measure within the industry is the EC package tour directive or, more specifically, the Package Travel Regulations, which came into force on 1 January. However, it is rich of the Minister not to take the blame for what has happened as a result because, since the regulations' introduction, there has been little short of a disaster within the tourist industry. A trade survey showed that 50 per cent. of independent travel agents do not know their legal position under the directive and 66 per cent. do not know how to interpret the directive in dealing with customers. Even the former ABTA president—I see that its adviser has left the Chamber, we hope, temporarily—was forced to conclude in a recent speech to British travel agents at a conference in Palma: Lewis Carroll at his most imaginative could never have invented anything as topsy turvy and through a cracked looking glass as Her Majesty's Government has concoted in enacting the European Directive on Package Holidays. If introducing flawed legislation were not enough, the Government have failed outright to publicise the measures. The problem has arisen from the most radical element of the new regulations—article 7—which require all operators, whether domestic or not, to have bonding protection for their customers. Originally, the DTI, in its consultation document of 24 July 1991, intended to implement that requirement by setting up a new licensing system for all organisers of packages with a requirement to be bonded, as well as establishing a national back-up fund to help out with the additional costs that those measures will inevitably impose on companies. Yet, to the utter dismay of ABTA, the Consumers Association and trading standards officers, the Government decided not to establish an authority to license all operators or, for that matter, a back-up fund and instead left it up to each organisation to have its own security for refunds and repatriation in the event of insolvency—[Interruption.] I should have thought that Conservative Members would be a bit more attentive, especially if they or their constituents are affected by the measure. The absence of an overall licensing system for all organisers of package holidays has left many companies unclear on how to implement the proposals and whether the new legislation applies to them.

Both the ETB and the BTA confirm the widely held view within the industry that many of the implications of the European Community package are simply not understood by domestic tourist operators, many of which will find them impossible to comply with. Perhaps the simplest solution at the time was to expand the air travel organisers licence to include packages involving overland travel arrangements. Many companies are finding it impossible to comply with the new regulations because there is no bonding product available for non-air travel packages and no regulatory organisation for bonding. Perhaps the Minister's colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry were biased against the measure because the successful scheme was introduced by a Labour Government in 1974.

I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to explain exactly why the licensing measures outlined in the original consultation paper of July 1991 were not introduced as initially intended. I hope that he will give a firm undertaking today to look at the proposals again. It is not just the domestic tourist operators who remain in the dark over the implications of the new proposals. According to the National Consumer Council, many customers are also ignorant of the regulations.

In April this year the chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators was quoted in The Times as saying: The Government admits that the only way for a member of the public to find out that his money is not protected is when a company goes bust and he does not get a refund. All hon. Members must recognise that that is a disgrace.

ABTA and the Association of Independent Tour Operators estimate that only 5,000 of the 30,000 travel organisations are known to provide financial protection. Only a few small companies are able to raise the money to participate in bonding schemes, while many others are unable to make the necessary arrangements through banks and insurance companies. That failure to provide insurance has been blamed on the speed with which the regulations were initially drawn up and implemented. Companies were give just three months to provide legal financial protection for holidaymakers in the form of insurance and bonding arrangements.

I hope that the Minister will explain why the Department of Trade and Industry has failed to provide a way of enforcing the legislation. Is he aware that trading standards officers who were handed the job of policing the regulations do not have the manpower or resources to do so? The Government should be taking steps actively to protect the consumer by introducing sensible measures without placing exorbitant costs on the small businesses in the industry which are already struggling to keep afloat in the recession.

Mr. Hendry

I am encouraged by the fact that the hon. Gentleman is taking advice from taxi drivers. Scarcely a day goes by when I am not told by a taxi driver that he had Tom Pendry in the back of his cab the other day. Conservative Members would find it encouraging if the Opposition started to promote the views of taxi drivers, which are normally more sensible than those of the official Opposition.

The hon. Gentleman talks of the costs on companies—in his consultation process did he consult hoteliers and others about Labour's policy for a minimum wage? Has he asked them whether that policy will create jobs? Every hotelier in my constituency with whom I have raised that issue—I have done so with many of them—says that the policy will destroy jobs rather than create them.

Mr. Pendry

It is always a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who was only elected because his constituents thought they were voting for me. I have answered his questions on many occasions. If what he says is true, why is it that all the hoteliers in France, Germany and other places in Europe are knocking the spots off our hoteliers while paying the right wages? That was a silly intervention, but doubtless the hon. Gentleman will tell his constituents that he was listening to me in today's debate. I am sure that the matter will be described in next week's edition of his local paper.

The hon. Gentleman has thrown me off course a little—I was making a serious point to which I shall return. I said that the Government should be taking steps to protect the consumer. Instead, the Department of Trade and Industry has undermined the new regulations to the detriment of 600 people who were left without a holiday or a refund when the French self-catering specialist, SFV Holidays, collapsed in May of this year.

In view of that collapse, I should like the Minister at least to give his view on the incorrect advice that the President of the Board of Trade gave in two letters to the Secretary of State for Education in which he said that the Oxfordshire-based holiday company was a borderline case, and so did not have to comply with the EC directive and ensure that travellers' deposits and payments were returned. If the DTI is confused about what constitutes a prearranged package holiday and which companies are covered by the legislation, how on earth can tourist organisations be expected to know?

On 28 May this year, the chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators was quoted in The Financial Times as saying that if the President of the Board of Trade's arguments were accepted, most of our members would not require bonding. On 13 June he was quoted as saying: I find it alarming that the Government can allow already flawed legislation to be cracked wide open so soon after implementation—consumers' money is seriously at risk. Those are the issues which the Minister must address when he considers the responses to his review on the problems facing the industry that arise front overregulation. Will the Minister confirm that the results of his review will, in his words, be made known before the House rises."—[Official Report, 14 June 1993; Vol. 226, c. 619] If that is true, why did the information desk at his Department state only a week ago that the review's findings were for the exclusive use of the Minister arid were not to be published? Who is right? The House and the industry demand to know, and I am sure that hon. Members from both sides of the House will look forward to discovering whether the Department's initiative has duplicated the work of the retail, tourism and other services task force.

Surely, the terms of reference of the DTI task force are to simplify measures and to minimise costs to business. I raised that issue with the Minister at the last National Heritage Question Time. He said that there would be no duplication. I hope that he will expand on that statement as it seems obvious that there will be some duplication. Why is the Minister asking those in the industry to take further time off to answer questions that should already have been covered by the original task force initiative?

It is a pity that the Minister did not include a question on the deregulation of British Rail in his letter to the trade associations. I am sure that he would have received some interesting replies had he done so. He must agree that the provision of good public transport is vital to the tourist industry, Plans to deregulate British Rail threaten the existence of rail rover tickets and British Rail's present inclusive tour ticketing arrangements. That could result in a considerable loss of income to the tourist industry.

The overseas visitor and the domestic traveller may not represent much income per route mile to the private sector rail finance operator, but the Minister must be aware of the considerable consumer expenditure that that brings to the United Kingdom. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has raised those issues with the Minister in parliamentary questions, but perhaps the Minister will be able today to give some more satisfactory answers than those that he gave to my hon. Friend.

Will the Minister also consider one of the more controversial recommendations of the working party of the National Economic Development Council on competitiveness in tourism and leisure which was put to the Government in June 1992? I refer to its proposal for the Government to implement a compulsory grading and classification system of hotels which may well serve to protect the good hotelier from the unscrupulous one which besmirches the reputation of the tourist sector, particularly with foreign tourists. As the report states, there are many communication problems between the existing different national rating systems, particularly between EC countries. Those problems have caused much chaos and confusion among tourists.

The council also suggests, as the Minister must know, that a mandatory scheme would be to the advantage of the industry, as it would enforce minimum quality standards. As I am sure the Minister also knows, the Development of Tourism Act 1969 provides for a compulsory scheme, should such a proposal be taken up.

I realise that this issue has caused some debate in the industry because of the fears of possible price controls being imposed—although it should be observed that other European countries, such as France, have statutory systems of hotel regulation, without price controls. The subject certainly needs further consideration, which I hope the Minister will undertake to give it in greater depth. He should also take note of the confusion and antagonism generated by the Fire Precautions Act 1971, as it affects the provision of bed spaces, and fire certificates. There is a good deal of unfairness in the application of the regulations. The Minister must agree that hotel fire precautions are far too important to be left as they are, the more so given the Government's controversial delay in implementing EC fire regulations for offices and businesses. These regulations are in need of urgent clarification, to ensure that no one's life is put at risk in an attempt to save money. If small hotels and boarding houses are forced to comply with the 1971 Act, grants to assist them with adapting their premises should be forthcoming from central Government.

Another subject for further ministerial thought is that of the tourist tax. The Minister may know that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has circulated a green paper for consultation among its members, on the merits of a tourist tax. Although I sympathise strongly with local authorities that are being hammered by the Government with tighter and tighter expenditure controls, I am not convinced at this stage that a tourist tax is the answer. But a consultative paper on the subject is no bad thing, and I hope that the Minister will make a contribution to the debate that the AMA has initiated.

Mr. Tony Banks

I hear what my hon. Friend says about a tourist tax. He must recognise that, in places like London, which attracts so many tourists, conflicts of interest may arise between those who live here all the time and those who come here as welcome visitors. That applies especially to charges for museums or to see Buckingham palace or the crown jewels. It might seem unfair that residents should have to pay the same prices as those charged to tourists, given that the former already make a contribution through their taxes. Does my hon. Friend have any thoughts on that?

Mr. Pendry

That is precisely why I have said that this consultation exercise should include a genuine debate, which would cover important points such as those that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I should like to listen to that debate and to take part in the exercise. Certainly, there are pros and cons in this argument—my hon. Friend has listed some.

I hope, too, that the Minister will take part in the exercise and not dismiss it out of hand, so that we will be able to reach sensible conclusions at the end of it all.

While we are on the subject of additional taxes, will the Minister confirm or deny a rumour to the effect that he is looking into the possibility of introducing a departure tax? A sum of £5 per person has been mentioned—it could yield about £150 million. Will the Minister guarantee that the money will be earmarked for the tourist industry, not swallowed up by the Treasury?

The Minister rightly pointed out how well this country has done in attracting record numbers of overseas tourists in recent years. We all applaud that. Although Britain remains fifth in the world in terms of tourist earnings, our position is under threat from competitors, which are recording higher levels of growth. According to the British Tourist Authority, Britain recorded an average growth of about 7 per cent. between 1980 and 1990 [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) should listen to this, because it is of interest to him.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pendry

No, I am in the middle of saying something—indeed, I am prepared to repeat it for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, who was not listening. We recorded an average growth rate of about 7 per cent. between 1980 and 1990. That compares with 15 per cent. for the United States, 9 per cent. for France, 9 per cent. for Italy and 10 per cent. for Spain—they are all pulling further ahead, and Austria and Germany are close on Britain's heels, so the recent reduction in ETB and BTA funding will inevitably lead to a reduction in our market share, although there could be a time lag of between two and three years. Unless the grants are restored, especially the grants for the BTA which, as the Secretary of State recently recognised, is doing a great deal of good work, all this will undoubtedly come about.

The BTA made this very point by illustrating how Britain's share of American visits to Europe fell during the 1980s, as the BTA's ability to maintain investment in the United States market declined. Without adequate resources for the BTA, the United Kingdom cannot compete effectively for the international tourist trade—a fact underlined by the Select Committee on Employment report of 1990.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)


Mr. Pendry

I conclude by welcoming this debate. I hope that the Minister will take note not only of what I have said but of the important points emanating from the industry and from other hon. Members today. Tourism is too important an industry to be ignored any longer by any Government. The Opposition have every intention of ensuring that the industry is neglected no longer. The Government have neglected it; the industry knows that it has been neglected. We are making inroads, as never before, into the tourist industry's thinking, and we shall continue to do so—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are Opposition Members?"] Some hon. Members are muttering that they are all off to Christchurch for the by-election, where this morning the Tory candidate refused to turn up to talk to hoteliers and small business men. The Labour party is the champion of the tourist industry and will continue to be so.

10.46 am
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

The speech made by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) represents a considerable change in the Opposition's thought processes. I recall that when I made my maiden speech during a tourism debate, an Opposition Member rose to say that the tourism industry was not a real industry: it was a Mickey Mouse industry. Today, the hon. Gentleman said that the industry is too important to be ignored. I wholly agree. In that debate five years ago I said that the Opposition Member who described the tourist industry thus was entirely correct. The height of professionalism—the acme of service in the tourist industry—is to be found in Disney World and the Epcot Centre in Florida. Those places show exactly how the tourist industry should be run.

I welcomed many of the Minister's remarks, and I am grateful for the time that he has spent with me when I have made representations to him. I would ask him to put himself in the position of a small business man trying to run a hotel who, before he can open his doors for business, has to comply with 44 regulations. When hoteliers make representations to the Minister I hope that he will consider the burden of bureaucracy that they have to endure.

In the past, I have brought to the attention of the House several examples of daft regulations—for instance, the food hygiene regulations, which certainly need to be looked at again. I have mentioned the case of the hotelier who was required to check the temperature of his fridge and deep freezers four times a day, and to log the results. I have mentioned how another hotelier told me that the ceiling of his kitchen had to be painted with disinfectant twice a day. We have already heard about the wooden chopping boards, but what about basins? Often, the basins required by the environmental health officers are knee operated. When environmental health officers are asked why hands cannot be washed in the existing basins in which food is prepared, they will say, "That is all right as far as I am concerned—but only after you have put in an extra wash basin. You can ignore it when I have left the room"

Over-regulation has gone to absurd lengths when hotels have to enforce crazy rules such as not allowing guests to bring their own electric shavers or other electrical appliances into hotel rooms. I have examples of health and safety at work and access for the disabled regulations being enforced in a crazy way. A property in a neighbouring constituency had to have a lift installed at great expense. It will never be used because nobody on that floor is disabled. That enormous investment had to be made, and the cost continues because, although the lift is not used, it has to be inspected every year. I welcome the fact that the debate is about deregulation.

Mr. Hendry

Does my hon. Friend agree that to tackle the cases that he has identified we need a strong Minister leading a strong Department? That would be much better than an independent commission, which is the Liberal party's proposal. Many Liberal Members represent tourist areas. Has my hon. Friend noted that the party has been represented in the debate by only one of its Members and sometimes by nobody?

Mr. Allason

That point was made during the last tourism debate when many of us from the west country were unable to be present. My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), was here throughout the debate, but, today, his elevated position in the Government prevents him from contributing. In the previous debate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) castigated the Government and made some unfair points. I welcome his presence, but he has not been here throughout the debate and did not hear the Minister's speech. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

I hope that when the Minister considers the question of deregulation he will also consider the hazards of deregulation. He spoke about use class orders, which have had a detrimental effect on many tourist areas. In Belgrave road in my constituency marvellous guest houses have in effect become doss houses. It is regrettable that no applications were made to the local authority for permission for the change to hostel accommodation. My local paper sought the views of the other hoteliers in Belgrave road and found that they were afraid of intimidation. Hoteliers were not prepared to make their views known because they feared that they would get a brick through the window. They have expressed their anxieties to me.

That is a manifestation of the criminal behaviour of people who take advantage of the welfare state and use guest house accommodation throughout the summer, thus preventing tourists who would contribute to the economy of the area from using that accommodation. I deplore that change and I urge the Minister to bang heads together in the Department of Social Security and the Department of the Environment so that we may have straight thinking on this issue.

I am worried about another aspect of deregulation. Many guest house owners who comply with the six-bed space rule feel that there is insufficient enforcement by the Inland Revenue of property owners who are thought to be cowboys. Rogue operators who flout the rules make life difficult for the respectable operators who provide a proper service for visitors, especially in Torbay.

I welcome the Minister's five principles. I suggest that he examines carefully the practical application of new legislation. I remind him of the draft regulation from Brussels that would have prevented smoked meal from being sent through the Royal Mail. That extraordinary measure would have put out of business all the salmon smokeries that rely on mail order. I asked the Department of Health whether at any time there had been a significant number of cases of poisoning as a result of eating contaminated food sent through the post. I was told that there had been none.

Why was the draft regulation produced? It was certainly drafted without any thought for the operators or for the fact that small businesses would be driven to bankruptcy. Therefore, we must have practical examination of legislation before it is introduced. Secondly, legislation should be reviewed with tourism in mind because what may be appropriate in one part of the country may be quite inappropriate for a small operator in another part who caters for just a few guests and struggles to run a small kitchen. It is absurd to require him to have two or three deep freezers and fridges and to have meat separated from vegetables. Such regulations are driving people out of business.

I have some special pleading. When new legislation is being reviewed, will the Minister bear the west country in mind? This issue has been raised with the Prime Minister. All too often, regulation and legislation that are appropriate for one part of the country are wholly inappropriate for the west country. We do things well there, but we depend on our tourist industry and any handicap to our efforts must be deplored.

If the Minister needs advice, I suggest that he sends a questionnaire and conducts a survey either through the regional tourist boards or through the chains of hotels. He could even approach the appropriate small operators and ask the straightforward question, "Which regulation costs you most? What handicap prevents you from being profitable and from being a success and employing more people?" Employment is the key to the future success of the industry.

The Minister should also look at dual rate VAT because the principle has been accepted by the Government and will clearly be applied next year. An examination of that would be welcomed by the tourist industry. There are many other issues that I should like to bring to the Minister's attention, but time is short. I thank him for his five principles and for his commitment to cutting red tape and slashing bureaucracy. I urge him to get rid of the May day bank holiday and respond to the tourist industry by introducing a holiday in the autumn to extend the season. Will he also consider British summer time? Extending it may not be of enormous benefit to lollipop people in the north of Scotland, but it could be enormously important to our tourist industry.

Mr. Nigel Evans

My hon. Friend speaks about scrapping May day, which has proved to be extremely unpopular. Perhaps we could replace it with deregulation day which could be held on 9 July to celebrate this debate. Bonfires could be lit throughout the country and could be used to burn all the forms that have to be completed by small businesses and hoteliers, and could include the speech by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry).

Mr. Allason

I would welcome a deregulation day; and I would regulate to have one.

My hon. Friend the Minister made some robust remarks and I welcome everything that he said. There has been a long tradition of rhetoric without a great deal of action and I look to him to go in there and cut the red tape, to slash bureaucracy and to light the bonfire on deregulation day.

10.59 am
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

On many occasions when I have spoken in debates about the importance of manufacturing industry, I have been wrongly accused by Conservative members of not being concerned about the tourist industry.

It being Eleven o'clock, MADAM SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 ( Friday Sittings).

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