§ Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.11.14 am
§ Mr. Pike
I was saying that I have been wrongly accused by Conservative Members of dismissing the importance of tourism to the nation by concentrating at times on manufacturing industry. That is not true, and I welcome this opportunity to contribute to this debate.
While I do not in any way dismiss tourism's importance from the point of view of jobs and the economy, I may point out, as a Member of Parliament representing a constituency in the north-west, that we had 971,000 jobs in manufacturing industry in 1979 but only 525,000 in 1992. Tourism will, of course, never fill the jobs lost in the manufacturing base.
Having said that, I point out that tourism is important to the north-west, as it generates a large amount of money and provides employment for a substantial number of people. I am glad that the Minister, in response to my earlier intervention, placed emphasis on my point about regional airports. Although I was referring specifically to Manchester, my comments apply equally to other regional airports.
It is nonsense that people from the north-west who want to go abroad are forced to fly from London, and that people entering the United Kingdom are also forced to arrive in London. That compounds London's problems. That is no way meant as a criticism of London, because, as my mother came from Burnley and my father from London, I have a foot in both camps. Too many people are unnecessarily forced to fly to London, causing additional problems with the transport system, and so on. If that can be avoided, it will benefit not only London but the regions. I am not making an anti-London point, but we all know of the nonsensical situation. There are problems even within the London airports, and the present regulatory regime should be changed.
Anyone who knows Manchester airport will have seen the results of the massive investment made there over the years, including the new second terminal that was opened recently and the rail link for which I fought, together with a number of colleagues, a few years ago. It, too, is now open and is an important added feature.
The Minister's speech focused on deregulation and he gave examples of stupid controls and regulations. Everyone agrees that if there is no useful purpose for a regulation, it should he abolished. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) stressed the importance of ensuring that anything done is not at the risk of safety. We must ensure, for example, that the incidence of food poisoning is minimised. That must be done sensibly, but the Minister made the point that certain regulations are not sensible and cannot be justified, although he accepted the need for safety.
As for fire safety, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde also mentioned, one is often confronted in a hotel with a maze of corridors, which should be adequately signed in an emergency. Obstructions caused by furniture, for example, must be avoided, because if the way is blocked there could be a major disaster. The standards in this country are far better than those in many others, but we must ensure that they 602 are maintained and improved to avoid the tragedies that occur in other parts of the world. It is a question of sensible regulation.
No doubt the Government would describe the wages councils, which are now being abolished, as an unnecessary regulation. I do not agree. A report produced by the Manchester low pay unit for Lancashire county council shows that in Blackpool—where many people are employed in hotels and catering—the wages council underpinned the lowest incomes, while those incomes were even lower in parts of the county where wages councils had already been abolished. Low pay is a scandal, and it is disgraceful that the Government should be hell bent on preserving it. Unless we provide fair pay and working conditions, employment in tourism and other sectors will eventually be destroyed.
Tourism is very important in the north-west, and in Lancashire in particular. The county council has worked hard to promote tourism for a number of years, and has published a profile of every district council in Lancashire describing what it has to offer. The six local authorities in north-east Lancashire—Blackburn, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Ribble Valley and Rossendale—have got together, along with the Red Rose tourism consortium, to promote the area's hill country.
Some Conservative Members—and other people who appear regularly on television—seem to believe that they would need a passport to travel north of Watford gap. They will no doubt be surprised to learn that such places as Burnley have a tremendous amount to offer. The era of tall, dark chimneys, smoke and soot has gone; indeed, it was never as bad as it is said to have been. In Burnley, my constituency, the green hills of the Pennines and the surrounding country can be seen from every point. It is possible to walk from the central station into the countryside without crossing a single road, via a footpath that was constructed along a mineral railway, now long closed.
In 1991, a total of 469,620 tourist nights were clocked up, and £9.457 million was spent. That is not bad, and it can be built on. A total of 2.3 million nights and nearly £44 million was spent in the Lancashire hill country. Early this century, Burnley council acquired Towneley hall, which attracted 234,000 visitors in 1990–91. It was difficult to persuade the Department of Transport to allow the erection of a sign on the motorway showing drivers where to turn off for Towneley hall; the Department said that that could be done only if the hall attracted 300,000 visitors a year, changing the figure later to 600,000. The sign was eventually allowed, 'but only as a result of the efforts of the then chief executive of the council, Brian Whittle, who pursued the issue vigorously through me.
I do not advocate a proliferation of distracting motorway signs like the advertisements that appear on some countries' motorways and autoroutes; however, it would be sensible to produce a limited number indicating local tourist attractions. The current regulations are nonsensical, although I accept that some control must be exercised. Surely it is worth signposting such attractions, even if they are visited by only 50,000 people each year.
Burnley also contains Gawthorpe hall, a National Trust property. It is possible to walk along the Bronte trail through Burnley and Pendle into Haworth, in Yorkshire, where the Brontes lived. They were also connected with Gawthorpe.
603 The Leeds-Liverpool canal runs through Burnley. I have said many times that the Government should pay more attention to the canal system, which brought the nation prosperity at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, but has been neglected for many years. A positive approach could make the canals an asset again. The weavers triangle could be developed and an old wharfside museum can already be visited.
Burnley has pursued the policies advocated in the White Paper "This Common Inheritance", published in 1989–90. In its efforts to produce a sustainable tourist industry, it has given objective consideration to such matters as publicity, road signs, events, the development of leisure sites, camping and the conversion of historical buildings to maximise potential for both jobs and the economy. Some years ago, when I was leader of the council, we acquired Queen street mill. I hope that, if the Minister ever visits Burnley, he will go and see the mill: it is the only original cotton mill still working on a steam engine, and it is a major feature of the town. Prince Charles visited it a few years ago, and its future has now been secured through an agreement with English Heritage, the county council and Burnley council.
I believe that the Government should consider our industrial heritage, which, if sensibly marketed, can be a tourist attraction. Although people are unlikely to spend a week or a fortnight holidaying in Burnley—as they might in the constituency of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason)—it is within easy reach of the Yorkshire dales Blackpool and many other places, and it would be possible to market four or five-day holiday centres. I hope that the Government will co-operate with Burnley council, and other local authorities, to that end.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde mentioned railways and the marketing of tickets. He made some important points. The Minister should consider what happened after bus deregulation and privatisation. Tickets such as the red rose rambler tickets were immediately discontinued. Such tickets enabled people to travel anywhere within Lancashire at a sensible price. They could travel on any bus, whether a municipal bus or a national bus. It was t great tragedy that such tickets were discontinued. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde made the point that through tickets and combined tickets, which attract tourism, could be threatened by railway privatisation.
I do not intend to get involved in a debate on railway privatisation, because you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rightly rule me out of order. However, I make the point that we need investment in our railways for tourism. We need electrification of the line from Manchester through Preston to Blackpool. It is nonsense that such a major tourist centre as Blackpool has now lost its InterCity railway line. I can understand why it lost that service. One had to go to Preston and change there to a diesel locomotive for the final stretch of the journey. The delay caused made it an unattractive service. The line should be electrified.
§ Mr Nigel Evans
Does the hon. Genleman agree that if Richard Branson wished to run a service from London straight to Blackpool, he should be given the opportunity to do so through the privatisation of British Rail?
§ Mr. Pike
I do not think that that will happen. We shall all have to wait to see what happens to the Bill, and 604 whether the House agrees to the Lords amendment. I do not believe that ownership is the problem with the railways. The problem has been the Government's lack of investment in public transport.
We should consider regulations carefully. If regulations are a bar, they should go. However, we must ensure that our industry retains every aspect of safety. We have a good reputation because of the inspections that ensure safety and ensure that certain standards are met. Food hygiene must be considered as a matter of great urgency. We all know of the problems that can be caused if we do not have proper standards in restaurants and hotel kitchens. Regulations that cannot be proved to be needed should be scrapped, but let us not scrap regulations just for the sake of it.
I accept that tourism is an important industry. I want it to grow, especially in my area of Burnley and in Lancashire generally. Tourism can keep people in work and it can create wealth in the local economy.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) spoke for Burnley, which is a tourist destination that does not immediately spring to mind. His speech marked the sea change that is taking place throughout the country in terms of support for tourism.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) paid lip service to tourism. Nobody really believes that the Labour party is serious about tourism. The Conservative Party has had a total commitment to tourism and our job has always been to expound the fact that jobs in tourism are real jobs which require skill, which are successful and which are long term. We have largely been successful in that.
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Front Bench. I can think of no better champion of the tourist industry than him. He has already expressed his support for tourism with an energy and zeal that are not in question. We very much look forward to the results of his efforts, which I have no doubt will be wholly successful.
It is gratifying that the Government have demonstrated their commitment to tourism by holding a second debate so soon after the previous one. This debate comes at an important time, because the discussion about deregulation has made us aware that so much regulation is a hindrance to the development of the industry.
We take some satisfaction from the fact that the industry has displayed great resilience during a period of difficulties. There has been a great advance in the quality of catering. There are advances in terms of special offers and value for money which the tourist industry offers those who come here for enjoyment. I pay a warm tribute to the skills and dedication of those in the tourist industry who make it so successful.
In the first four months of this year, the number of overseas visitors has increased to a record 5.2 million—a 6 per cent. increase on the same period last year. Spending by overseas visitors has increased by 13 per cent. to a record £2.2 billion during the first four months of this year. That augurs well for a successful year.
I congratulate the Home Office on its review of the licensing laws. That review is fundamental to the tourist industry, especially for those in catering and for foreign visitors, who are still confused by the difference between our licensing laws and those on the continent and who find 605 it frustrating that they cannot buy drinks in some places, such as cafes and restaurants, as easily as they can on the continent.
If Manchester's bid for the Olympic games is successful, there will be enormous benefits for the whole of the north of England, including Yorkshire and Lancashire. We wish our negotiators every success. My constituency would benefit from the spin-off and a considerable number of jobs would be involved, not only in building, but in running the operation.
This debate is about removing excessive and unnecessary regulations. Over the years, we have tended to legislate too much. More often than not, we give wide powers to Ministers to lay regulations as they see fit. In the best interests of improving the quality of our services and ensuring that we have proper regulations to govern the industry, we have allowed matters to get out of hand. We have lost sight of common sense in dealing with everyday problems.
The point is highlighted by my constituent Mrs. Everett, chairman of the Harrogate District Hotels, Guest Houses and Restaurants Association. An inspector came to her hotel and said that she must have all her electrical appliances regularly tested by an electrician to fulfil the requirements of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, which have already been mentioned in the debate. She later discovered that the regulations merely recommend the regular inspection of appliances as best practice rather than as a full legal requirement. In the meantime, Mrs. Everett had forked out £400 for an inspection which she could well have done herself.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
Will my hon. Friend consider the regulations on hoists and lifts, under which the insurance industry is largely the regulator because it has a vested financial interest in the matter? Self-regulation, rather than over-zealous bureaucracy, is a much better way to enforce regulations.
§ Mr. Banks
My hon. Friend is right. The insurance industry plays a real role in assisting people and in ensuring that they comply with common-sense standards to meet the requirements of insurance policies.
These regulations have often been found to be confusing, misleading and inconsistent. Environmental health officers who work for different authorities work to different guidelines and different standards. Therefore, hotels and restaurants around the country are unwittingly involved in a regulatory lucky dip as to which environmental health standards are applied.
With more than 400 local authorities in the country, all with their own particular environmental health standards, it is unfair that what might be accepted by an environmental health officer in one part of the country might be rejected in another part. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will carefully consider that point. As a result of removing some of the regulations, the army of inspectors might be reduced.
I want to refer briefly to the Immigration (Hotel Records) Order 1972 which the Minister quite rightly mentioned. The order requires hotels to keep a detailed record of each guest for inspection by the police and to maintain such lists for 12 months. It is unlikely that many illegal immigrants will come to Harrogate and stay in our 606 hotels, some of which are quite expensive and some of which are very modest and reasonable in respect of cost. However, the whole concept is out of hand. That bureaucratic problem is completely unnecessary.
My hon. Friend the Minister gave a good example of the regulation governing sandwiches. Under a similar extraordinary regulation, one cannot cut up celery on a board on which one has cut up cheese. If one is making cheese and celery sandwiches or a salad with cheese and celery, one must not, according to the regulation about which I have been informed, use the same board. Frankly, that is ridiculous.
Can one use the same knife? The answer to that must be no. What happens if one wants to mix something else into the salad or the sandwiches? No doubt one must use another board for that. Clearly, matters have got out of hand. I have no doubt that we could dispense with many of those stupid regulations.
A moment ago, I referred to the number of environmental health inspectors. In 1990, the Health and Safety Executive employed 3,698 people. That figure rose to 4,321 last year. We must tackle the problem that that rise in the number of staff represents. I believe that that will occur naturally.
The hon. Member for Burnley and others referred to signs. Perhaps I can add weight to the point by referring to a lady in my constituency in Knaresborough who set up a very small dolls house museum. That is a tourist attraction. She has been battling with Harrogate borough council to have a sign erected. Very reluctantly, the council agreed that she could have a sign for just one month. To my mind, that is utterly ridiculous. Why could she not have a sign for three months because that is the period during which she wants to keep the museum open and it represents the tourism season? I hope that the council will change its mind.
That point illustrates the reluctance of local authorities to back tourism projects. We must get everyone working to support tourism. Local authorities can do so much in that respect and they must take full account of the communications to tell people where there are places to visit.
I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister and to the House as I cannot stay for the whole of the debate. I must fulfil commitments in my constituency. However, I very much welcome the enormous amount of work that is being done to get rid of the unnecessary regulations. It is even more important that the people in the industry have had an opportunity to make direct contact with the Minister through the various' task force groups. That is enormously important because it gives people a strong feeling that they can get through to Government and say, "For goodness sake, get this load of bureaucracy off our backs."
§ Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)
May I also take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to his new appointment and thank him for his helpful replies to representations that I have made on behalf of constituents? I wish him well in his campaign with regard to deregulation. I very much support the thrust of that campaign and I welcome his initiative.
The south-west is as heavily dependent on tourism as any other part of the country. As tourism and agriculture 607 are our two traditional industries and job providers, and both are in long-term decline although for different reasons, I thought it necessary to participate in this debate.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) made many valid points in addition to some rather silly points about where right hon. and hon. Members might be this morning. Hon. Members of all parties have long standing commitments on Friday mornings which prevent them attending debates of which we are notified only one week in advance.
§ Mr. Harvey
The remarks by the hon. Member for Torbay about my being absent from the Chamber for a minute or two while the Minister was speaking have just been alluded to by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford). It is notable that the hon. Member for Torbay slunk off within seconds of completing his speech.
It is clear that there is agreement on both sides of the House that the tourism industry is over-taxed, over-regulated, over-charged and over-burdened. If the Government are to set about the task of trying to remove some of the burdens, many of us on the Opposition Benches will be behind them.
I was pleased to hear Conservative Members exploding the myth that Brussels is to blame for all the problems. Few people are more ready than I am to blame Brussels for a variety of sins. However, the claim that Brussels is responsible for many of the regulations that are burdening the tourism industry is not true. The blame very largely lies with the United Kingdom and with this Chamber.
I welcome the strong remarks that have been made by the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). It is never too late for a sinner to repent, but one wonders how many of the regulations that the hon. Member for South Hams has castigated he actually voted for during their consideration in this House.
There are many examples, some of which have been referred to today, of regulations to do with fire, health, food and hygiene which cause problems for the very small businesses which typify the tourism industry. It is not always simply a question of how the regulations are framed. The problems are caused by their application.
In a recent survey that I conducted of hoteliers in my constituency, more than 40 per cent. said that the inspectors of those regulations were rude or arrogant. The Daily Telegraph, which publishes many useful things in addition to opinion polls, has said:Amid this regulatory chaos Environmental Health Officers have been running riot, behaving with a petty-minded arrogance which would not be out of place in a totalitarian state.It is easy to understand why that is so when we consider some of the things that have happened.
During the debate on 4 May, the hon. Member for South Hams said:Directives from Brussels are often quite sensible and come to Britain suggesting one way of dealing with a problem, but once the directive arrives here Whitehall officials occupy themselves by rewriting it, more often than not with the opposite effect, causing unnecessary and often immeasureable damage … Then there is legislation from our own Parliament."—[Official Report, 4 May 1993; Vol. 224, c. 20.]That is only too true. While our competitors in the rest of Europe find ways of getting round the various directives, it often seems that Whitehall is not satisfied if 608 documents have not trebled in length and complexity. Indeed, one often feels that one needs to be a member of MENSA to understand those directives. One wonders whether there is not some ingenious job creation scheme afoot in Whitehall whereby officials spend several years putting those burdens and directives together and then manage to promote a deregulating initiative so that they can spend more years taking them all apart.
Several hon. Members have referred to chopping boards. It seems that if one wants to put together a club sandwich, one needs three knives and three chopping boards. There have also been problems with refrigerators, and I entirely support the Minister's views on cheese. I think that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) must have been bringing his normal humour to bear on the matter.
However, there are small stores in small communities in my constituency on which not only tourists but the whole community are heavily dependent. People operate very much at the margins, make very small returns and just about manage to eke out an existence. When they are confronted with the shock of the uniform business rate and then the requirement to buy expensive new refrigeration units, some of which can cost several thousand pounds, which can be a large proportion of their income, that is an understandable burden for them.
§ Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye)
I, too, had exactly the same lobbying from my village shops until they got their first electricity bills. Their bills dropped very significantly because they were not trying to cool down the area around the cabinets. The attitude has completely changed.
§ Mr. Harvey
I am pleased to hear what the hon. Lady says. Unfortunately, the three shopkeepers who approached me in this regard have subsequently gone out of business and therefore have not received any further electricity bills to compare with earlier ones.
I have also been approached by constituents who have been running holiday flats in the town of Ilfracombe. They have been running them for about 12 years or so and have brought them up to a high standard which has been given the three-key mark by the tourist board. Suddenly they find themselves required to bring about all sorts of alterations in order to meet the fire control requirements. The property next door—the buildings are semi-detached—is subject to no such regulations, because the owners run-bed-and-breakfast accommodation rather than holiday flats. The buildings are architecturally identical, save that they are mirror images of each other. The owners are confronted with a bill for about £60,000. In recent years they have survived on profits of about £5,000. Clearly, it is impossible for them to try to meet those sudden requirements.
The matter was made more galling for the owners when the inspectors who visited them initially confused their property with another and did not mean to visit theirs at all. They agreed that the owners might reasonably raise the level of a patio so that a regulation about the number of rooms being more than 20 ft above ground level could be circumvented, and then heartily agreed that that would make matters entirely legal without improving the fire conditions of the building.
The matter was made even more galling for the owners when they learnt from the regional tourist board that local 609 authorities in other parts of the county have no plans to implement the legislation because the task would apparently be too great to contemplate, leaving other parts of south Devon at a great advantage over them. I agree that the insurance industry could contribute greatly to tightening up in that regard, and it should be given more of a rein to do so.
I have another example of people who own holiday flats and who put televisions in them. They rent out the flats for fewer than 140 days in a year in order to get around some of the local rating charges, but they have to pay the television licence fee for the full 365 days. Of course, they remove the television sets for fear of their being stolen when the flats are unoccupied. Something could be done in that regard to help tourism. Also, the business rate needs to be looked at more closely. In many cases, valuations assume 365 days of trade, and all too often that is not the case.
I hope that the Minister will comment on the high water charges in the south-west if he is trying to improve tourism in Devon and Cornwall. Beaches are fundamental to tourism in our part of the world. We have great difficulty in that a mere 3 per cent. of the population are trying to pay the costs of cleaning up 30 per cent. of the nation's beaches. Although we welcome the Prime Minister's recent interest in the subject, we regard his suggestion that the programme to clean up the beaches might be delayed as more of a threat than an assistance.
Surely, after water customers have had to go through the agonies of paying vastly increased water bills in recent years, the last thing that they want to hear is that the beaches will not be cleaned up. Tourists are becoming increasingly discerning in deciding where to go on holiday. They are becoming more aware of which beaches pass tests and win blue flags and which do not. That is vital to tourism-related industries that live off the back of beaches.
The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) referred to the Home Office review of the licensing laws. I agree with his comments. Another threat to tourism is the general tone of some of the options being floated by those who are seeking to alter the law on Sunday trading in general. I hope that we have successfully buried the idea that Sunday trading should apply differently in coastal resorts compared, with inland resorts. It clearly would be extremely damaging for coastal holiday resorts if businesses suddenly had to close their doors. What about Canterbury, Salisbury and South Molton in the middle of north Devon? They would be brutally affected if, suddenly, they had to close their tea rooms, antique rooms and so on. I hope that when the House considers Sunday trading next Session, no such distinction is built in.
Reference has been made to British Rail and the forthcoming privatisation. The year before last, 100,000 international passes were sold, enabling people to use the United Kingdom rail network. I hope that, under the new arrangements that the Government are introducing, it will be clearly demarcated that someone, somewhere—some organisation—has responsibility for marketing those passes.
VAT is another problem which afflicts small tourism businesses. They rightly feel aggrieved that, with the growing single market in Europe, VAT in France operates at 5.5 per cent. on hotel accommodation and meals.
610 The Minister has been helpful in his responses to representations from my constituency on road signing. Four years ago, a new road was opened, giving access into north Devon. It has done much to improve communications in the area, but it was hoped that it would greatly assist local businesses. Unfortunately, in the four years that it has been open, precisely the reverse has proved to be the case, and for the very reason that hon. Members have already referred to—the over-prescriptive regulations which appear to govern the erection of directional signs.
§ Mr. Waterson
As the hon. Gentleman is talking about planning matters, will he state his party's policy on the operation of the use classes regulation, which has already been canvassed, particularly in the light of the attack on my campaign by a Liberal Democrat county councillor in Eastbourne?
§ Mr. Harvey
I certainly cannot comment on remarks by a county councillor in Eastbourne, as I do not know what they are and I cannot stand by every remark made by every county councillor in every county. I can, however, tell the hon. Gentleman my own view, which, from the sound of it, concurs with his own. I have been lobbying Ministers in the Department of the Environment for some time to bring in precisely the change of use requirement, and I back that very strongly.
My party's housing spokesman would have to say more generally whether the party agreed with it, but I took the Minister's point that, by bringing in such a requirement one puts it back in the hands of the local council and local democracy to determine such matters. There would not appear to be any obligation on local authorities to act in one way or another. It would be hard to find that exceptionable.
The problem with the new road in north Devon is that it has been carved through countryside where there are no businesses, leaving the old road, which it largely superseded, as a barren wasteland.
The hotels, pubs, campsites, garages, shops and everything else that used to pick up a healthy passing trade are completely isolated and abandoned. When some of them started to put up signs on the new road pointing to what the area had to offer the passing tourists in the neighbouring villages, the local authority moved in. It interpreted the Department's regulations rigidly and demanded that the signs be taken down.
The result is that people are completely unaware of what north Devon has to offer them and they pass it by, carrying on at the great speed that they are able to achieve on the north Devon link road. In no time at all, they are in north Cornwall where there is a proliferation of signs on both sides of all the roads telling them precisely what is available.
§ Mr. Harvey
It is nothing to do with which political party has taken the view. The attitude started when the local authority was independent and it has continued under the authority with a Liberal Democrat grouping. My colleagues, who are Liberal Democrat councillors, regularly tell me that they want me to challenge the 611 Minister in the House on the fact that the regulations are over-prescriptive and the local authority has no choice but to implement them.
The problem has arisen in north Devon because the road is new. The regional office of the Department of Transport is more vigilant in north Devon because the road is new than it is in those of surrounding aurtthorities which are, in some cases, run by Liberal Democrats as well. It is not a party political problem—it is a problem of the regulations being over-prescriptive.
The solution that we think that we have found is one with which we hope the Department will agree—putting up some sort of uniform signs, perhaps with the use of symbols, along the road point out that there are local communities on either side where pubs, hotels, campsites and so on are available. The Department of Transport—I am sure that the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) will agree that it is run by the Conservatives—has thus far refused even to agree to that.
The suggestion that has come back is that small information boards could be put up in lay-bys. While that would certainly do no harm, I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that it would do little to inform passing motorists of what the area has to offer. With the full support of my Liberal Democrat-controlled local authority, I appeal to Ministers to make the regulations more flexible so that local authorities have more latitude in applying them.
In Devon, there has been a 5 per cent. drop in the number of tourists in each of the past three years—each drop coming on the one before. In the town of Ilfracombe, there are many hotels for sale. In many cases, elegant Victorian properties with 16, 18, 20 or more bedrooms are for sale for as little as £60,000 or £70,000. They are all much of an age and a great deal needs to be done to improve them. According to the inspector whom I quoted earlier, they are all getting into trouble in terms of the fire regulations.
Surely, the single greatest thing that would give a boost to a town such as Ilfracombe would be to reintroduce section 4 grants to England. Those grants are still available in Scotland and Wales. Good use was made of those grants in the past in Ilfracombe and elsewhere and it would be one of the single biggest things that could be done to boost those areas.
Another concern is the cuts in the grants to tourist boards. When the Prime Minister visited Cornwall recently, he said;The West Country in a sense is its own best advertisement for tourism; we do not need to tell people about the West Country as a tourist centre, it is instinctively there. When people think about holidays, they will instinctively think of the West Country among places as somewhere to go.I simply cannot begin to understand why that should be more true of the west country than of Scotland or Wales.
Expenditure on tourism per head of population is £6.26 in Northern Ireland, £5.06 in Wales and £3.20 in Scotland. However, the sum for England is a mere 42p. If that is not bad enough, it will get worse because, in 1995–96, the figures will have increased to £8.60 in Northern Ireland, £5.39 in Wales, a modest cut of 6p to £3.14 in Scotland and it will have halved to 21p per head in England. That is the real problem which the west country faces. We are operating at a gross disadvantage compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. I have already explained the great importance of tourism in Devon and Cornwall.
612 Shortly, the Government will announce their review of assisted areas. I know that there is a feeling in many coastal resorts represented by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Government's pledge at the start of their review—that they would examine the future trends as well as the past patterns of unemployment—will need to be recognised in the coastal areas if any alternative employment is to grow up. It is a sad fact that 11 of the 20 top unemployment black spots rely on the holiday industry.
The blame for the unsatisfactory state of affairs cannot fairly be laid in Brussels. Many regulations about which hon. Members have spoken eloquently have been passed by the House. In many cases, Conservative Members must have voted for them. The Government have set us at a disadvantage compared with the rest of the EC. I welcome the Minister's remarks and the initiatives that he has taken. They cannot come soon enough. The tourism industry is absolutely desperate. I wish the Minister well. I hope that he will make rapid headway in this regard.
§ 12.6 pm
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
I support the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) about getting more traffic into our regional airports, especially Manchester airport. I also throw my support behind the campaign to get the Olympic games into Manchester. If we were successful in getting the games, they would not simply be the north-west games; it would be a great success for the whole of the United Kingdom and British industry. The knock-on effect, with the number of tourists that would come into the region—tourists would not simply come to Manchester; they would come to all parts of the north-west—would be extremely beneficial.
§ Mr. Pendry
I concur with what the hon. Gentleman says. Does he think that it is a little ironic that the Government have given something like £50 million plus to the bid for the Olympic games at the same time as they have effectively cut the amount of money to the north-west tourist board? Surely, if we are to attract International Olympic Committee delegates and their wives to the north-west, we must ensure that it is presented in an attractive package. The Government should not be cutting back in that tourist area; they should be giving money on top of the capital expenditure that they are giving to the Olympic games bid.
§ Mr. Evans
I am extremely grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments. However, he must agree that the money that the Government are spending on ensuring that the games come to Manchester, irrespective of whether we are successful, will be spent in Manchester.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the expenditure of about £55 million for the new stadium in Manchester. That must be welcomed. As the British Tourist Authority is concerned, the amount of money is being maintained. We must ensure that the money that is being given to the regional tourist boards is more effectively targeted. I have no problem whatever with the sums of money that will be spent to support the tourist industry in the United Kingdom.
I welcome the Minister's five principles. I would prefer to call them the five steps to heaven. As far as the tourist industry is concerned, we need a cost-benefit analysis to 613 ensure that the benefits of any rules and regulations that are made are not outweighed by the massive costs incurred in implementing them.
Hon. Members have already referred to the need for sensible rules and regulations. Common sense must be applied to them. They must be consistent and clear so that their interpretation does not differ from area to area, or even within areas, according to which local authority officer enforces them. Few things can be easier than dreaming up new directives and rules to be imposed on our businesses, but somewhere along the line someone must work out the cost of their implementation. We must discover who benefits from that.
Reference has also been made to the new fire regulations that have been introduced. It has been estimated that it may cost £8 billion to implement them. That fantastic sum of money will have to be borne by businesses. We must be careful that we do not go overboard when enforcing the rules. For example, even small artists' workshops will be required to erect all sorts of fire doors and fire exit signs, even though they may be visited by few people. Similar regulations will be imposed on stately homes.
One officer may say that the owner of a property must do this, that and the other, but planning regulations may prevent the owner from complying. We must ensure that enterprise is not snuffed out. We must also ensure that guest houses and bed and breakfasts, which are national institutions, are protected and not forced out of business by the enforcement of certain rules that were never intended for such accommodation. The owners of such properties must be properly consulted before rules are introduced.
The likely benefit derived from some rules may be zero, and the cost of their implementation may be disproportionately high. One should not assume that many small businesses do not want to comply: they may not have the cash. Once the owner of a company had explained that, despite spending X thousands of pounds complying with certain regulations, no benefit would be gained by his customers, it would be difficult for him to borrow money from the bank.
§ Mr. Pike
The hon. Gentleman's constituency includes the Trough of Bowland, which is one of the most beautiful parts of the north-west. What does he think about the pressure being exerted on farmers as a result of the common agricultural policy and other regulations? Does he believe that the beauty of the Trough of Bowland may be endangered if some of those farmers go out of business?
§ Mr. Evans
That refers to a separate issue relating to the impact of rules and regulations on rural areas. I accept, however, that if some of my farmers were put out of business by some unwieldy European Community rules and regulations, that would have an impact on the beauty of my constituency. I believe that the Government and the European Community are looking towards more environmentally sensitive assistance for farmers. However, the money should be targeted more effectively at farmers instead of the middle men, because the great danger is that money is not getting to the right people. I know that the Government are considering that problem.
614 Food safety has been mentioned time and again. The stringent interpretation of the Food Safety Act 1990 has meant that those in the catering industry have incurred a bill of £1 billion. Such is the cost of buying new fridges and bringing premises up to the standard required. Restaurants, hotels and catering establishments live in fear of the knock on the door. It may not happen at midnight and it may not be the KGB: it is the EHO, the state Securitate. They will not be deflected from their task of enforcing the new rules.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
Many hon. Members have made repeated reference today to the food safety regulations. I am the first to accept that there are stupid regulations in all walks of life, but who has introduced them? Are they the result of Government legislation, EC legislation or local authority legislation? I do not want to hear about the British Securitate. Let us spell out who is introducing the regulations and forcing many businesses in the tourist industry to comply with them.
§ Mr. Evans
It has already been said that the regulations may come from Brussels, Westminster or local authorities. It is their interpretation, however, that causes the problem. A rule may be introduced for one reason, but when it is enforced it is screwed just a little too tight so that it is enforced in such a way as was never intended. We must be extremely careful about that.
Some EHOs are caring and helpful when it comes to helping businesses to comply with rules and regulations. Others display a clipboard mentality. They are extremely hard and tell the owners of businesses that they have to do this and that. We must be careful of that mentality. We must ensure that such maverick inspectors have their clipboards taken from them.
Nowadays, the temperature of fridges must be checked regularly and forms must be completed to prove that they have been checked. If an inspector turns up and an owner has not filled in those forms, woe betide him. The representatives of one hotel chain told me that, given the volume of paperwork as a result of the new regulations, they believe that they would be far better served if they got rid of one of their chefs and employed a secretary to cope with the forms. That must be wrong. Another hotel chain has estimated that its overall electricity bill has increased by 2 per cent. since it had to introduce new fridges; the regulations insist that hotels must have some fridges at one temperature and others at another for different food. We must consider those regulations again.
The Forte hotel chain has, informed me that since the new food safety regulations were introduced, it has had to deal with more than 1,000 different forms. One of the top agricultural shows, the Bath and West, reported a £91,000 loss due to the £250,000 cost of meeting the new hygiene safety requirements.
Another part of the problem is that many EHOs seem to try it on when ordering compliance with regulations. One survey recently revealed that of 2,000 pubs, 40 per cent. of compliance requests were not legally binding, but had cost each business, on average, £2,000. There are 500,000 food handlers in this country and if one multiplied that cost, the final bill would, all of a sudden, be £1 billion.
When I was last in Spain, I began to wonder whether food handlers were operating the same rules as our own. One may order some ham from a wonderful ham hanging on the wall and the flies are beaten off it before the meat 615 is cut. It then goes back on the stained wall. I am not too sure whether that practice has ever killed anyone, but standards in Spain do seem to be somewhat different from our own.
Many a time I have had a beer in France where the head has constituted a far larger part of the drink than the beer. In this country, we are about to introduce beer orders that may require larger glasses to be used so that one can still have a head on a pint of beer that does not constitute the pint.
It is quite crazy that we are going down one route while the rest of the European Community seems to be going down another. I am not saying that we should introduce Community-wide regulations that are so stringent that certain practices on the continent are ruled out. In many instances, our fellow Europeans may have a healthier outlook than we have.
I am sure that we are all aware that many village halls are now not allowed to prepare food on the premises because of the cost of sticking to the letter of the law of the health and food regulations. We need to save our village halls so that they can continue to provide their traditional service. Village halls are an integral part of the British way of life and many overseas visitors find them extremely attractive. They add to the charm of our villages, as does the Women's Institutes' jam and marmalade. Whenever I go to fetes I make a habit of buying jam and marmalade. Although I am not a great eater of them, the principle is at stake.
The Institute of Directors carried out a survey of its members. The Minister will be delighted to learn that 81 per cent. of those who responded felt that the initiative on deregulation was extremely important, but only 30 per cent. felt that we shall be successful in tackling the problem. That is alarming, so the Minister has the support of Conservative Members in his battle to deregulate.
We must show equal zeal against the army of clipboard bureaucrats, who in many cases are being weighed down by new rules and regulations. It may be difficult for environmental health officers to keep up with the pace of change. Few things are worse for a business than when, having just established good relations with an environmental health officer who is assisting the business, he is then changed and the whole process must be started again.
Several hon. Members have mentioned licensing laws. I should like them to be liberalised, because on the continent one can drink until midnight or 1 am, particularly in tourist areas, and it is a shame that in this country we cannot drink after 1 o'clock. Weekend licensing laws and licensing in tourist areas should be changed, as many tourists would like to be able to drink a little later into the night.
Music licensing laws are another problem. If more than two people play in an establishment, a licence must be acquired, but a loud discotheque does not require a licence.
§ Mr. Evans
That is another rule which places an unnecessary burden on businesses, in terms of both cost and time. Those running businesses must leave the 616 business to sort out the matter at the local town hall, and we all know how long that can take. The business person's time could be better spent.
I contacted the owner of a restaurant in my constituency, the Inn and Whitewell, which the hon. Member for Burnley probably knows well. The restaurant owner believes that the law on refrigeration of cheeses is a disaster because it ruins good cheeses. He said that processed cheeses carry listeria but traditional natural cheeses, such as Stilton and brie, lose much of their taste when taken straight from the fridge. He also said that the European Community is in the process of considering a law requiring all foodstuffs to be transported in refrigerated vehicles. An hon. Member has already mentioned smoked salmon being sent by post. That, too, may be covered by that regulation.
Another law will require restaurants to give a customer a clean glass whenever a drink is poured, even if the customer wants to keep his old glass. Again, should we consider such a regulation and employ officers to enforce it? It would be better to take a common-sense approach to the introduction of new rules and regulations.
Sometimes existing regulations are unused. For example, the long measure is illegal in this country. Under that silly rule, someone who pours more than a pint of beer could be prosecuted. It should be discarded.
The European Community has decided that beaches awarded its blue flag of excellence must deny access to all four-legged animals. I understand what is behind that rule, but it will mean the end of donkey rides, which have brought great happiness to many generations, and future generations should not be denied access to that wonderful entertainment on our beaches.
§ Mr. Evans
My hon. Friend is right. Should people be denied access to donkey rides simply because of that regulation? We must have a common-sense interpretation of such rules and regulations.
I am delighted that this debate is taking place. When scrapping May day, we should consider creating deregulation day on 9 July to celebrate the fact that this debate has taken place. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister, and wish him well in his efforts to bring about deregulation.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
This has been an interesting debate. I have great respect for the Minister and I hope that he will remain in his position for a while so that we can hear about the progress that he makes on the regulations in the tourist industry, which many of his hon. Friends feel are farcical.
However, we would pay close attention in our own homes to many of the rules and regulations that have been mentioned this morning, especially those involving appliances. When people go to hotels we must consider the fact that they will not know the layout and we must ensure that equipment that they may need to use is safe. It is so easy to knock authorities, at whatever level, for introducing regulations but we must look at the matter closely before making changes.
In the previous debate on tourism last March, I spoke about London local authorities' concern about their representation on the board of the London Forum. A little 617 progress has been made since March. I understand that two representatives from London authorities will sit on the board of the London Forum. However, many local authorities, irrespective of which party controls them, feel that they will not be adequately represented in a role which they have sought to expand for many years—the development of tourism in London.
The Minister may be in a position today to comment on the fact that, as I understand it, the London boroughs grants committee is still not represented on the board of the London Forum. If he cannot do so today, perhaps the Minister will write to me about that. As we have heard many times this morning, there must be proper representation on, and co-ordination between the London Forum, the London tourist board and London local authorities. I think that I am the first London Member to be called in the debate and I do not think that even the Minister made much reference to London.
I realise that in a debate such as today's it is always open to hon. Members to say that this district or that district was not mentioned, but we must not lose sight of the fact that London is one of the great tourist attractions in the United Kingdom. I agree that there are many other attractions, but London must be high on the list of places that people want to visit when they come to the United Kingdom. Evidence proves that London boroughs have played an extremely supportive role in seeking to develop tourism in London. I hope that we shall hear the Minister's views on how London is represented. I am sure that Conservative Members who represent London would also like to receive some answers on that issue.
This morning, the Minister stated that tourism is big business in terms of money spent and numbers of visitors. I sometimes feel that the tourism industry has become a rip-off. The expensive prices charged for hotels and meals in London has been mentioned. High prices may also apply in other parts of the country. Until last November, I had been for three years the treasurer of the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It was my job as treasurer to sign the cheques for the bills for hotel accommodation, meals and other expenses incurred by the British group when overseas delegations came to London. I was able to see how the hotel charges were calculated.
Despite repeated attempts by the staff of the IPU—to whom I give great credit—to ask the management of well-known London hotels whether they would give them, as good customers, a favourable rate, they received no help. They told the hotel management that there was not a one-off business transaction and that, in the course of the year, they would bring many people to London to stay at the hotels. However, they never received a favourable response and the hotel management never said, "As you are good customers, we shall give you a favourable rate which will benefit both you and us as it will ensure your continuing custom."
Employees of the hotel and tourist industry in London and, I am sure, in other parts of the country, work long hours. Their work is often seasonal. I have asked people who work in both the hotel and tourist industry about their conditions and salaries. They are certainly not overpaid; I do not believe that they are even reasonably 618 paid. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) mentioned the abolition of the wages councils. We know that a gulf divides opinion in the House on that subject.
Those of us who are members of the Council of Europe, travel to Europe fairly often and stay in European hotels know that the fears screamed about by the British Government and Conservative Members are not realised in Europe, where such a policy does not put people out of work or drive businesses out of business. Funnily enough, our competitors in Europe are able to apply a minimum wage. Why can they have such a policy while we cannot? We do not even allow people who want to adopt that policy to do so, in the hope that, as other organisations see the benefits to be gained from paying proper wages and operating proper working conditions, they will follow the lead.
While the tourist industry obviously brings benefits, it also brings problems. One only has to look around the Houses of Parliament to see those problems. One does not have to be a London Member to know what the problems are. In the debate on this subject in March, I mentioned the enormous numbers of coaches that come to this part of London. There is still no adequate parking for them, and, despite our representations to the Department of Transport and local authorities, there has never been any clear recognition that this is a problem which must and will be tackled. Large, modern coaches continue to park in bus lanes and side streets, often for hours on end. Something must be done about that. In the many years of this Government's term of office there has been little evidence to show that they are willing to tackle this sort of problem.
Tourists and residents of London all want an efficient public transport system that is safe to use and reasonably priced. Despite all the problems—imposed by the Government—that London Transport has had to put up with, and despite the savage cuts in investment programmes experienced by the London bus and underground network, London Transport has managed to build up a good system. This debate, however, is about deregulation, and London Members know that high on the priority list for privatisation come the London bus service and London's transport system generally, which is to be deregulated. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is interesting to hear those roars of approval from Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Cox
Even so, one assumes that many of them make use of London's public transport while they are here. I have a question for them: what surveys have been carried out to determine public opinion? How many people in the 32 Greater London boroughs have been asked for their views on the deregulation of transport services in London? We hear a great deal of talk from the Government about the citizens charter, about making the voice of the people heard and about ensuring that the Government respond to that voice. Earlier this morning, we heard Conservative Members saying that, despite the problems in their constituencies, the powers that be do not listen. I do not dispute the fact that there are problems in Conservative constituencies, but those who roar their approval of deregulation should ask themselves how much consultation has taken place with the people of London. There has been none—
§ Mr. Cox
The hon. Gentleman has not been in this place long. We are not so naive as to think that the manifesto, which contains hundreds of little comments, covers the point. During the general election campaign, Conservative candidates in London certainly made no attempt to bring up the issue, which the hon. Gentleman claims was in the manifesto. His senior colleagues, spokesmen and spokeswomen for the party in London, did not want to raise the issue or commit themselves to it. They did not try to find out what the people of London thought about it.
What will happen to London's transport system? There are now some outer-London Members in the Chamber. I am sure that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) has received scores of letters and cards of the type that my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) and I have received saying, "Protect the travelcard. We do not want to lose it."
The travelcard is extremely popular with London tourists because London Transport has given it great publicity. Research shows that about 75 per cent. of all overseas visitors to London make use of that card. That is because it offers great benefits. It not only takes people to places in central London to see the shops and visit the theatre, but allows them to travel to attractive outer London areas. People like to visit parks such as Richmond and Wimbledon or Kew gardens. When we visit countries overseas, we like to visit similar places.
The research showed that visitors did not like to have to fiddle with coins when paying the fare on the bus, the underground or the train. I am sure that all of us who have visited countries in which we cannot speak the language and do not understand the currency do not want to have to fiddle to find the correct sum to pay for a journey. That is the great benefit of travelcards.
We have not been given any assurance about how the travelcard will be protected. Many visitors to London make use of that card, as London tourist board research has clearly shown. The Minister spoke about developing tourism in London, so I hope that we shall hear more about that.
The London tourist board made representations to the Department of Transport after the publication of a paper called "A Bus Strategy for London" in March. The board said:Visitors and residents alike need an efficient transport network which provides for access into and out of London and for ease of travel in London, whether by rail, bus, taxi or coach. It should be efficient, reliable, and provided at reasonable cost. A network approach which allows for transfer between bus, underground and British Rail using a single ticket, is essential in a complex city like London.That view by the London tourist board sums it up. I do not think that any hon. Member would say, "Do not take too much notice of them because they are not really representative." We hope that we shall hear a little more about that today, or perhaps in correspondence.
There are other aspects. London Transport has set up an excellent information service. One can go not only to London tourist board offices but to London Transport offices and quickly get understandable information packs about the services provided. I am sure that when we go abroad, we want something similar. The packs give useful information such as where to board buses and what is required for every destination, and similar information 620 about underground trains and British Rail. What will happen to that service under the deregulation proposals for public transport in London?
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) naively said that the pledge was in the manifesto. Tory Members claim that everything can be left to the private operators, who will work together to ensure that operator A knows what operators B, C and D are doing, whatever they may be called and whatever routes they may be operating, so there will be no problem. I do not believe that for one minute, and neither do the people who have been running London Transport for many years or the people involved in the tourist industry in London.
We all know that if the new operators do not come together there will be congestion and chaos. Already, London has enormous traffic problems. Unless the current system developed by London Transport and British Rail is protected, I and many other hon. Members, the people who live in London and the people who come to London often and know it well, believe that there will be utter chaos. I hope that we shall hear a little more about that.
There are famous images in many parts of the country. People come here and say, "I have always seen or heard about this or that." Nothing highlights that point more than the London red bus. People who have never been here before, who have come from distant parts of the world, say the moment that they arrive, "Ah! There's a London bus." We all know that London's red buses are famous as tourist attractions in other parts of the world. All of that will be done away with.
Often—this goes back to an earlier point—one Department does not know what another is hoping to do. Those of us who take part in transport debates put those points to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), the Minister for Transport in London. He said, "We are not sure about that. We hope that, once deregulation comes about, the new operators will be willing to preserve the London red bus."
§ Mr. Tony Banks
My hon. Friend is on to a crucial and interesting point. He knows that companies spend vast amounts of money creating a corporate image, and that changing one is a big decision. The red bus is one of those things that people recognise as being part of London. There will not be red buses if deregulation comes in. Already, different coloured buses are appearing on the streets. My hon. Friend might like to mention the black cab. New York is characterised by its yellow cabs. More and more of London's black cabs are disappearing as they are covered in advertisements. Again, London is losing an international mark of recognition that has long been so important to it.
§ Mr. Cox
I welcome my hon. Friend's comments about London's red buses and black cabs. Hon. Members in all parts of the House acknowledge the significance of the London red bus. It will be interesting to hear the comments of Conservative Members who represent London constituencies [Interruption.] I did not hear the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), but if he wants me to give way, I shall willingly do so.
§ Mr. Hendry
The hon. Gentleman says that he wants to hear the comments of Conservative Members—but the way he is going on, we shall not have a chance to speak.
§ Mr. Cox
I made only one intervention, but the hon. Gentleman made several early in the debate. Those of us who have been Members of Parliament for any length of time know that if one jumps up and down like a yo-yo, one cannot complain if one is not called to speak. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament long enough to know our procedures. If he chooses to intervene on his Minister to score local press points, he should not expect an automatic right to be called later. The hon. Gentleman should give some thought to his general performance in such debates.
In such a debate, hon. Members raise various points of particular interest to them, and rightly so. That is what the House is about. Although the constituency that I represent does not have a large tourism industry, as do the constituencies of certain other hon. Members, other aspects of it are of crucial importance to my own. I have tried to highlight some of them. What is to happen to the travelcard and to the availability of concise information about the traffic systems that will operate after deregulation?
As to the future of the London red bus, hon. Members in all parts of the House know that, with hindsight, the Government would have introduced strict and tough regulations for those who took over industries that were privatised in the past. Any Government have the right, especially in the privatisation of state assets, to tell those who are to take over, "We are prepared to consider your bids, but we will impose conditions that you will be required to observe." The President of the Board of Trade might argue, "That would kill off the incentive. Potential bidders would not be interested in taking on the operation on those terms." We know that that is not the case. Operators have made so much money from past privatisations that they would willingly have taken them on even if certain conditions had been attached.
I hope that the Minister will have a chat with the Secretary of State for Transport and with the hon. Member for Epping Forest and tell them that the red bus has a fundamental role to play in the image of London and for the people who visit it. The Government must ensure that those who seek to run a deregulated bus service in London undertake that the red bus will continue to be part of London's traffic scene. If that opportunity is lost, it will have gone for ever, and enormous annoyance will be caused to Londoners and others. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West is even better qualified than I to talk of Londoners' reaction to the denial of their right to express their views about the development of county hall.
I hope that the Minister will impress on his colleagues the need to ensure that the London red bus will continue to run on London's streets, whichever organisations or individuals manage London's transport after deregulation.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
I am pleased that we are debating tourism for the second time in five months. I especially welcome the emphasis on deregulation, which allows me to express some concern on behalf of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill). My hon. 622 Friend has asked to be associated with my comments; a heavy programme of constituency engagements prevents him from being present.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his return to his old job, which has not been mentioned so far. [HON MEMBERS: "Yes, it has."] I shall mention it now in any case. My hon. Friend carried out the same duties with considerable flair and dynamism more than 10 years ago, and today's robust speech demonstrated that he has not changed a bit. However, he may not welcome my reminding him of a parliamentary answer that he gave me on July 1982 in response to anxieties that I had expressed, along with other hon. Members representing coastal resorts. He said then that grants under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 should no longer be tied to assisted areas, but should henceforth be distributed throughout the whole of England according to tourism need.
That far-sighted policy undoubtedly helped many seaside resorts, including my own, to resist the decline of the traditional British seaside holiday. As other hon. Members have pointed out, it enabled hotels and guest houses to upgrade their facilities, and helped resorts to improve their attractions and extend their seasons to withstand the competition from better, cheaper and hotter continental rivals. In Bournemouth, for example, more than 50 investment generating projects worth over £8 million were launched with section 4 grants worth one tenth of that figure.
I know that my hon. Friend is well aware of the widespread and continuing disappointment felt by the tourist industry about the abandoning of the section 4 scheme four year ago. The plug was pulled at exactly the wrong time—at the beginning of a recession that has hit the south coast, in particular, harder than any of its predecessors.
§ Mr. Stephen Milligan (Eastleigh)
Unfortunately, I cannot stay until the end of the debate. Following my hon. Friend's reference to the south coast, I take this opportunity to inform my hon. Friend the Minister of an exciting new project in my constituency. A heritage centre is being constructed to celebrate the area's railway and aviation history. I know that those two subjects are dear to my hon. Friend's heart; perhaps he will find time to visit my constituency during the next six months, and to consider how his Department could help further the project.
§ Mr. Atkinson
That interesting intervention reminds me of the problems that we are experiencing in trying to restore Bournemouth's central station to reflect its Victorian heritage. We are seeking grants from the Department of the Environment and elsewhere. I wish my hon. Friend well with his constituency's railway project. The forthcoming National Lottery Etc. Bill will enable such projects to apply for funds. Without modest Government encouragement and pump-priming help of that kind, a growing number of hotels and guest houses have turned to other methods outside tourism to survive. Many have become rest or retirement homes for the elderly. That shift represents a permanent loss of beds for visitors which must mean, in due course, a permanent loss of visitors.
Now there is a new concern, which my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) referred to earlier and 623 which was articulated so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) in his Adjournment debate on 26 February and on which my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West and myself have been making representations to the Minister.
I was delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister referred to the fact this morning that smaller hotels and guest houses are now becoming bed-and-breakfast hotels for social security claimants. It is becoming big business, to the extent that companies are advertising in inner cities for claimants to come and live and claim on the south coast. Instead of attracting holidaymakers, with money to spend that sustains local economies on which many thousands of jobs are based, we are attracting only those with little money to spend. The effect of that trend, if unchecked, will be to turn decline into decay. I was encouraged to hear, as was Bournemouth borough council, that my hon. Friend the Minister is making representations to the Department of the Environment for the Town and Country Planning Use Classes Order 1987 to be amended to allow local authorities to exercise a degree of control over the decline.
As the now reconfirmed champion of the English tourist industry, will the Minister reconsider including England in the scope of section 4 grants for all the good reasons that justified his initiative in July 1982? The increase in competition arising from the single European market this year and the opening of the channel tunnel next year add to the case for including England in that scope.
Despite all the difficulties that have faced our seaside resorts, I share my hon. Friend the Minister's optimism for the future. Holidaymakers from this country and abroad will still get great value for money from our small, owner-run hotels, certainly in Bournemouth. Our local authorities should ensure that visitors obtain value for money from local visitor attractions and facilities. A tourist can be ripped off only once; they will never come back again. A can of Coke that costs 60p on Bournemouth beach can only he described as a rip off.
I welcome the Government's new determination to eliminate all unnecessary regulations and frustrations by enterprise initiatives in tourism, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) reminded us. We have been in this situation before with the 1985 White Paper, "Lifting the Burden" which did much to help hotels and other businesses. We have relaxed the liquor licensing laws, abolished the wages councils and introduced the seaside resorts campaigns all in response to the demands of industry.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take this opportunity to review the gaming laws to bring them into line with those on the continent. While it is small in comparison with many other countries, the British casino industry generates some £2 billion worth of business a year, much of which, of course, goes to the Exchequer in taxes. Yet section 12 of the Gaming Act 1968 imposes a 48-hour rule that prevents members of other clubs from enjoying the facilities of clubs in areas that they may be visiting for a limited period. No such restrictions apply to members of social, drinking, Conservative or Labour clubs who visit clubs in other areas, providing that they show their affiliation card and abide by the local club rules. I ask the Minister to look into the restriction of opportunities in the gaming industry.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will review the working of the six-bed qualification for business rates for 624 bed-and-breakfast establishments that replaced the 100-day rule and I ask him to suggest a simpler calculation based on the number of weeks in the year that businesses open for trade. That was the old system under the old commercial rates; it worked well and better than the present system.
Now that the principle of subsidiarity has been firmly established by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I hope that, as other hon. Members have said, we shall see an end to the many unnecessary Community-imposed regulations on tourism. For example, it is nonsense to require trading standards officers to investigate those who advertise Dorset cream teas to ensure that they do not serve them with pump-action UHT cream.
Unfortunately, one of the proposals in the "Lifting the Burden" White Paper, which could have been of enormous assistance to small buisnesses and not simply to the tourism industry, has not been achieved yet. That proposal was to negotiate increased flexibility in the European Community to raise the VAT threshold above the rate of inflation.
Lifting the requirement for businesses to register for VAT to an annual turnover of £100,000 a year would relieve tens of thousands of small businesses in the tourism industry and elsewhere of the considerable burden of administering VAT without any loss of revenue to the Exchequer because of the departmental savings that would be made in administration costs.
I hope that the White Paper proposals published recently by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, on the future of funding of the police, will see an end to the burden on conference towns and their police authorities in respect of bearing the entire costs of policing and providing security for party conferences.
The Lancashire police authority will face a bill of more than £2 million this year as a result of the Conservative party conference in Blackpool in October. Dorset will face a similar bill next year. There will be considerable extra expense for the Blackpool local authority this year and for Bournemouth local authority next year as a result of that policing. It is totally unreasonable for local council taxpayers to bear the cost of protecting our national leaders in that way. I hope that the forthcoming changes in funding the police will reflect that situation.
§ 1.6 pm
§ Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)
This debate is timely and appropriate and it is right that every hon. Member who has spoken stressed the importance of tourism to Britain and to the national economy. It is certainly not a Mickey Mouse industry. I was slightly perturbed by the suggestion of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) that Disneyland was a model for tourism. That was not a very well-advised comment to make from an economic point of view bearing in mind the current situation of Euro Disney. I for one do not relish the idea of this country being festooned with more synthetic plastic theme parks when we have quite enough genuine and decent tourist attractions to bring people to this country and for them to enjoy.
As a country, we have a considerable range of tourist attractions. We have wonderful landscape, beautiful cities and towns and many historic sites. We also have great art collections. We have a huge variety of elements which will 625 bring people to this country and will cause people in Britain to visit other parts of the country. We should focus on those assets and make the most of them.
Some emphasis has been placed on the number of tourists coming to Britain. I believe that there is a danger of complacency. Some Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), referred to the record number of overseas visitors. If we take into account internal visits, the total number of visitors has still not returned to the levels achieved in the late 1980s.
We have begun to come out of the worst dip that occurred in the early 1990s as a result of the recession and there is an encouraging upward trend in overseas visitors. However, far fewer people from within the United Kingdom are taking holidays here. Many of them can no longer afford to do so because they have lost their jobs or their incomes have dropped during the recession. We still have a long way to go to pull our industry back to the levels that were achieved some years ago.
Figures show that there were 16.3 million visitors to London last year and that figure is expected to rise this year to perhaps 17.3 million. That will take us back to the level that we saw in 1990, but it still leaves London with approximately 1.5 million fewer visitors than there were in 1989, when there were 18.9 million visitors. That puts the issue in perspective. We have a long way to go to increase tourism and to put Britain once again in a leading role in the international tourist industry.
Tourism is an increasingly competitive industry. We should be very worried about the relative decline of Britain in relation to other European countries and certainly in relation to America throughout the 1980s. The figures that were quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) highlighted the fact that the growth of tourism in the 1980s lagged behind that of America, France and Spain. We cannot afford to allow our position to be further eroded by losses to other European countries which will increasingly be attractive magnets to tourists from all over the world. Even the Minister conceded that we have been falling down the international league and that that trend has to be reversed. Action is needed to reverse that trend, not just to encourage more international visitors to Britain but to encourage more British people to take their holidays in the United Kingdom.
It is an illusion that deregulation is the key to changing our competitive position, improving the strength of our tourism and encouraging more tourist visits to Britain. However much Conservative Members talk about deregulation and tell funny stories about anomalies—there are many anomalies; I am the first to agree that—deregulation will not solve the problem of Britain's position in the international tourist league. The removal of a few regulations and the easing of the financial position for some elements of our tourist business might be welcome, but it will not attract the huge increase in the number of overseas tourists and United Kingdom tourists that we need if we are to be able to strengthen our tourist industry.
Opposition Members rightly argue for a sensible balance. Of course, we do not want foolish and inappropriate regulations. We certainly do not want regulations that inhibit the promotion of tourism. We have 626 heard of many examples, including a ban on motorway signs pointing out important tourist attractions and the restrictions on advertising for hotels at the entrance to towns. There are obvious restrictions, the effect of which is to inhibit the benefit of information for the tourist industry. We need to consider those matters very seriously.
We also need to distinguish unnecessary and harmful regulations from those that are vital to the health and safety of the community and which help to promote good standards, which in turn will encourage more tourists to visit this country. I am glad to hear the recognition that fire regulations are vital and that we must be careful before abandoning regulations that protect individuals who stay or work in hotels from the risk of death or serious injury as a result of an unnecessary fire or a fire that is not properly contained for lack of controls and protections. We do not have—no pun is intended—to put people's lives at risk by calling for a bonfire of regulations. We still suffer too many deaths and injuries from fires in small hotels, boarding houses and houses in multiple occupation. Often the borderline is uncertain, as hon. Members have said.
We need to be absolutely sure that tourists and other people, including the staff who work in hotels and boarding houses, are properly protected by suitable fire regulations. However, it is not just a matter of fire; we need also to think about other safety angles. The Minister paid attention to an incident that caused considerable inconvenience to a hotel because of controls over its air conditioning unit.
There can be nothing more disastrous to the reputation of this country than any further outbreaks of legionnaire's disease attributable to malfunctioning or insanitary air conditioning units causing death or serious injury. That would have disastrous consequences for our ability to attract other people to Britain. Therefore, we must be careful before we abandon public health and fire controls. They are important to ensure the safety of the public and give assurances to tourists, as well as people in Britain, that we will maintain the highest safety and hygiene standards.
The maintenance of standards is an important issue. There is a problem for Britain in international tourism in that there is a growing perception that we are, in some respects, a country which is overpriced—we do not always offer good value for money. Hotel pricing, certainly in London, is an issue which has been highlighted by many of my hon. Friends in this debate—and rightly so. A comparison that one must inevitably make with hotel prices in comparable European countries, such as France and Germany, shows that the price levels in Britain are in a different league. That is a serious risk if people are talking about whether to come to Britain and spend a slightly longer time here or to visit another European country. They look at the prices and see that it is simply not feasible for them to afford such a price for hotel accommodation.
Another issue that endangers our reputation as a country is the incidence of touting for tickets for sporting events, theatres and other events. This is a serious issue. We joke about the ticket tout at Wimbledon every summer and measures are suggested to deal with the problem. However, we all know that the problem of touting in tourism is extensive. It leads to extensive rip-offs. People who are ripped off will not come back. It may be that the overpriced can of Coke on Bournemouth beach is enough to deter people from going back to Bournemouth. Certainly, a ticket at an absurd price for Wimbledon, a 627 sporting event or a theatre in London could be the deciding factor in discouraging an overseas visitor from coming back to this country. We need to examine seriously the whole issue of touting.
§ Mr. Pendry
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point,. perhaps he will reflect on one of the worst potential problems—the opening of Buckingham palace. Because the tickets were sold in advance, they are now selling on the black market at something like 10 times the face value of the ticket. That matter should be addressed by the Government. I hope that they will take note of my hon. Friend's comments.
§ Mr. Raynsford
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that appropriate intervention. It highlights a specific problem which will certainly cause immense damage if it is seen that the British monarchy is the subject of a rip-off by touts who are using the opportunity of a visit to Buckingham palace to make unjustified extortionate gains at the expense of tourists.
The London tourist board has drawn attention to touting as a serious problem in a briefing document issued by the London tourist board before today's debate. I quote:The growth of touting for theatre tickets and those for other events, hotel rooms and most recently taxis"—incidentally, it does not mention Buckingham palace, but I am glad that my hon. Friend highlighted that—is not simply undesirable, it also damages London's reputation for fairness, honesty and value for money.In the case of theatre and event tickets the practice is open to abuse for, frequently, the face value of tickets is not disclosed to the purchaser. The sale of such tickets does not benefit the venue or the arts activity as the difference in value is pocketed by the tout.The London tourist board then makes some proposals for dealing with the problem, including the licensing of ticket agencies and the need to make it a legal requirement to inform the customer at the moment of purchase of the face value of the ticket. In that way, a customer will be able to make an informed choice and will be aware whether he is being ripped off. It also suggests that the touting of tickets outside major events should be unlawful; Wimbledon is an obvious example.
Touting is damaging our reputation as a tourist centre and may therefore make it difficult for us to attract tourists. The London tourist board believes that more regulation is necessary to tackle that problem. I have not had a chance to consider the implications of the proposals with those in the tourist industry and I am not advocating that such regulation is, necessarily, the right solution. It is clear, however, that if we do not take steps to enforce proper standards and to stop the gross exploitation of tourists and others by touts, our reputation will be damaged. That cannot be in the best interests of our tourist industry. A balance must be struck. We need regulations to prevent abuse and to protect public safety, but they must be sensible and they must encourage initiative. They should not damage the tourist industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) was right to stress that transport is critical to tourism in London. While people cannot travel around London comfortably, with reasonable confidence that they will get to their destination on time and that they will benefit from a service that is reliable and frequent, the London tourist industry, will inevitably be harmed.
628 I represent Greenwich, which is one of London's main tourist attractions, and I am only too well aware of the damage caused to it by inadequate transport links with the rest of London. Network South East is a joke. The recent reduction in services on a Sunday, from two trains an hour, which was already inadequate, to one, will have a deplorable impact on an area which needs to attract more tourists to its considerable number of exhibitions and historic buildings and sites.
It is of fundamental importance that the quality of the existing rail services must be improved to assist Greenwich. We also need new rail services. We are still waiting for the promised Jubilee line extension. I wish that I could have received a pound for every time that Ministers have relaunched that project. Those of us who attended the debates on it would now be extremely rich, because that extension has been promised many times. When it is built, it will be the first tube link to Greenwich and it is long overdue.
The riverbus service has been clinging on by its fingernails for the past couple of years and the prospect of bankruptcy has hovered over it too many times. A reliable and regular river transport service will be an important feature in making London a more attractive environment for tourists in the 21st century.
What is needed for all transport is not deregulation but investment. The supposed competition that will flow from the privatisation of the railway services will not improve the rail service to Greenwich. That can be done only by investment in long-overdue new rolling stock and more reliable, regular services.
The riverbus service must also receive more investment to prevent its closure which would be a disaster for those who rely on it and would also damage London's overall transport network.
We need not deregulation, but investment in improved transport services. We must also ensure that our transport policies improve the environment for Londoners and tourists. One of the biggest problems that we face in Greenwich is the excessive volume of traffic that passes through an area that was never designed to cope with it. Greenwich and its residents are now under serious threat because of that traffic and the pollution that it causes.
We are urgently seeking a ban on heavy goods vehicles through our historic town centre and I hope that it will be in place before too long. If the Minister is keen to promote transport policies that will enable tourism to flourish in London, I hope that he will say a few words to his colleagues in the Department of Transport about the importance of measures that will make major tourist attractions like Greenwich a more pleasant environment for people to visit. Such policies will also avoid the risk of tourists suffering the risk of injury or death at the hands of 40-tonne lorries coming through the centre of an historic town which was never designed for that volume of heavy traffic. That measure could begin the process. We need more positive transport policies to improve the quality and appearance of tourist sites in London such as Greenwich.
One hon. Member suggested that local authorities were not always helpful in promoting tourism. The local authority in my constituency has been exceptionally keen to encourage and promote tourism and is doing its best to ensure that Greenwich becomes an even more important tourist attraction than it already is. However, it is hampered in one respect. It is a technical point, but I hope that the Minister will speak to his colleagues in the 629 Department of the Environment about it. It concerns the standard spending assessment provision for local government finance relating to tourism. Local authorities incur expenditure to promote tourism and cope with the consequences. This includes additional street cleansing, parks maintenance, traffic management and tourist information, which all cost money and should be provided for. However, the current formula is based entirely on the number of people who stay overnight in hotels, rather than on the number of day visitors. That is desperately unfair to the many tourist areas that attract large numbers of day visitors but do not have a large network of hotels and thus have a small number of overnight stays.
In Greenwich, we estimate that in 1991—the last year for which figures are available, because they were based on a survey rather than on regular monitoring, which reduces paperwork—the number of overnight stays represented just 7 per cent. of total tourist visits to the area. Those who know Greenwich will know that, because it is frequently visited by tourists who take a boat down the river or come by other means of transport to see the fine sights and tourist attractions, it is severely penalised by the SSA formula. Ironically, areas of London with a larger hotel network get the advantage of much more substantial expenditure in the form of hotel bills and the cost of meals, which are the most expensive items in tourists' total outgoings. Based on the 1991 survey of tourists coming to Greenwich, we estimate that tourists spend on average £9.59 a day, which is a small sum compared to the huge amounts spent by tourists staying in central London.
Authorities for which the SSA does not adequately reflect the need to cope with a considerable number of tourists, and which have the added disadvantage of not getting the financial benefit of tourists staying in the area, rightly feel aggrieved. I hope that the Department of the Environment, which is currently conducting a review of standard spending assessments, will reconsider the formula so that it reflects more accurately the pattern and cost of tourism, not just the number of overnight stays. I hope that the Minister will put in a good word with the Department of the Environment, as that issue concerns not only Greenwich but many other tourist areas with the phenomenon of a disproportionate number of day visitors to overnight stays.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde highlighted another issue relating to regulation in his opening speech from the Front Bench. It is an issue in which I have a constituency interest and it involved the collapse of the SFV Holidays travel company, and the problems encountered by people who booked holidays with it in the absence of bonding arrangements.
From the evidence that I have received, it appears that the DTI played a crucial role in giving guidance to SFV that, in the circumstances, the company did not have to comply with the bonding regulation. If that is true, the DTI has done no service to the many people who booked holidays with that company and lost substantial sums of money. One of my constituents lost more than £2,000 and his holiday as a result of booking with SFV. He rightly feels extremely aggrieved that the company, apparently on advice of the DTI, had no bonding arrangements in place to cover the eventuality.
630 That example emphasises the fact that we cannot be too relaxed about regulation. If we do not have appropriate regulations, which can be made to stick, some companies will always try to evade the provisions and, as a result, operate without proper safeguards. It is often just such companies which fail and, when they do so, innocent people suffer serious financial losses and have every right to feel aggrieved, not just about the treatment that they have received from the company, but about the British Government's failure to provide proper protection.
Tourism is crucial to Britain's economy, and there is considerable scope for growth in that industry, in terms of both internal tourism and the attraction of tourism from overseas. We need to encourage and support the tourist industry and to take measures to make it possible for all those involved to operate more effectively. The Government must give a lead and take more positive action. They should ensure that there is necessary infrastructure and investment, where necessary, to help tourism. They should be stamping out damaging practices such as touting and ensuring that regulation exists, where needed, to ensure high standards and public safety. They should look to change regulation where it is foolish and unnecessary.
Above all, our concern should be not with ideology and slogans, but with the promotion of tourism in Britain as a fundamental element in our economy. We should do everything that we can to put Britain back at the top of the league of international tourism.
§ Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)
I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in today's important debate on tourism and deregulation. We have heard precious little from the Labour Members present on the subject of deregulation. In some cases, they seemed to be proposing more regulations. It is not so much that they do not want to participate in the bonfire of regulations, but that they want to produce a regulation to supervise the bonfire. That is hardly surprising, as one does not have to scratch the surface very deeply to find the old Labour party which wants to control the lives of ordinary people and regulate for the sake of it.
I have a personal dream that one day in the not-too-distant future there will be a heritage theme park in London that is easily accessible to visitors and which is based on the history of the British Labour party. It will be populated with life-size working models of old Labour politicians—a sort of Jurassic park of the Labour party. It would be a tremendous tourism attraction—[Interruption.] I can hear some trumpeting from the dinosaurs opposite.
To be serious, I am not opposed to Government regulations, where appropriate. I would go so far as to say that I am opposed to deregulation when it leads to anomalies and problems for businesses. As my hon. Friend the Minister stressed, it is always a matter of judgment, although the burden of proof should always be on those who want more, rather than less, regulation.
Hon. Members have been good enough to refer to my Adjournment debate earlier this year on the use classes order. Relaxation of the regulations in that area of planning law may cause damage to the environment in various seaside resorts and other parts of the country, even though the Department of the Environment seems to 631 regard this as its contribution to deregulation—in which view it is sorely mistaken. In essence, the change came about because the 1987 regulations lump together hotels and hostels in the same use class, so planning permission is no longer required to change the use from a hotel to a hostel.
No one is trying to deny the rights of those who want or have to live in hostels for various reasons, but there must be proper planning zones in these towns. The heart of a town's economy, if it is tourism, must be preserved; and the whole process should brought within planning regulations, or there will always be the danger that has been realised in some towns—not, I am pleased to say, in Eastbourne so far—of a downward spiral of noise, nuisance, petty crime and even violence.
I am particularly grateful for the efforts of the Eastbourne Hotels Association, which has done a great deal to preserve the character of the town as a seaside tourist resort and has tried to resist some of the worst effects of this ill-conceived stroke of the legal draftsman's pen. I am indebted to Mr. Edward Lewis, chairman of the association, for giving me some of the examples to which I will refer later.
The Minister will know that later this month I shall be accompanying a delegation from the Eastbourne Hotels Association to see him to discuss some of these subjects.
Let us move on from poor deregulation to poor regulations. I have said that I recognise the importance of Government regulations where appropriate. In some circumstances, the Government have a positive duty to regulate, but only if the regulations comply with certain criteria. First, their drafting must identify a specific problem or risk. Secondly, they must be accurately and clearly drafted. Thirdly, they must be a proportionate response to the risk with which they are supposed to deal. Finally, there must be no alternative course of action that the Government can take in the circumstances.
When these criteria are applied to certain regulations affecting the tourist industry, they provide examples of the nanny state's ability to scold and cajole in every aspect of our lives. To quote a letter from Mr. Lewis:The amount of bureaucracy has increased, mainly, it appears, as a result of initiatives emanating from the European Community, but often compounded … by more rigorous application by our own Government and, similarly, it appears that British authorities are applying the EC regulations in a stricter fashion than the authorities in other EC countries.I join other hon. Members in commending my hon. Friend's initiative, announced on 14 June, to reduce bureaucracy and over-regulation. It has not surprised me in the least to learn that he has been almost overwhelmed with representations. We have heard something about the Food Hygiene (Amendment) Regulations 1990. I have to admit that I am not averse to a bit of cheese. Finely presented on an attractive cheeseboard, it can be the highlight of a delicious meal, but I draw the line at hard Brie and Camembert with the consistency of an ice hockey puck. Soft cheese is supposed to be soft cheese, but one would not think so looking at the 1990 regulations, which require that all relevant food, including such cheeses, can be displayed at catering premises for up to only four hourswhere such display is for the purpose of service to a purchaser for consumption on those premises".In short, the cheeseboard has a life of four hours. What nonsense! Although I acknowledge the concerns about listeria, judging by what I have read, the regulation is 632 disproportionate to the risk. In my grandfather's day the Stilton was kept for days, if not weeks, as more port was added to mature the cheese. He, like the cheese, lived to a ripe old age.
Then there are requirements upon hotels to keep record cards and registers. We have heard about that. The Immigration (Hotel Records) Order 1972 requires everyone over the age of 16 to register his name and nationality at the hotel. Those records must be kept for 12 months and be available for inspection by any police constable or any other person authorised by the Secretary of State. I have yet to find an hotelier in my constituency who can recall anyone authorised, or for that matter unauthorised, who has ever asked to see those records. It is absurd to restrict that duty to hotels or guest houses if it serves a purpose of keeping track of the movements of foreign visitors. It is yet another unnecessary bureaucratic burden on hotel owners and operators.
Not only visitors have to be logged in and logged out of hotels; items of food must be recorded and a history produced. That record of movements must be kept so that one can trace the journey of a lamb chop not only into the premises but into the freezer, out of it, into the refrigerator and on to the plate. It is another nightmare of records and log books for the small hotel keeper to contend with. The Food Safety Act 1990 requires individual itemised records of each item of food that is placed in the freezer, the checking of temperatures of fridges and freezers three times a day and the maintaining yet again of copious records. Even that is not the end of the story because when the food is ultimately thrown out—presumably after four hours if it happens to be cheese—precise records have to be kept of the rubbish collection.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 requires the filling of forms and the monitoring of waste collected from a hotel and it must be individually itemised, dustbin by dustbin, bag by bag, together with an assessment of the credentials of those collecting the waste from the hotel. That imposes enormous additional paperwork on the poor hotel keeper and, of course, it is all rigorously, if not ruthlessly, supervised by the food gestapo.
Then there is the hotel that tries to help parents by providing some entertainment for children so that the parents can take a break and go off to do something on their own. We could include in that category people such as the Butlin redcoats and that frequent resident of the kiddies' corner in McDonald restaurants, Ronald McDonald. Those people appear to be caught by the provisions of the Children Act 1989 which states that persons who provide any form of activity supervised by a responsible person, whether or not on a regular basis on non-domestic premises, for children under the age of eight years, must be registered as child minders. Give him a group of seven-year-olds and poor old Ronald loses his sense of fun. The additional requirement is that to be a child minder the person must perform the act for reward and must do so for more than two hours each day. I assume that Ronald McDonald does not provide his services free. Even he gets paid, as do the redcoats.
Perhaps even Father Christmas gets caught. Imagine the scene in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Children are left by their parents with Father Christmas, perhaps while the parents go to buy the very Christmas presents that the children are whispering, or seeking to whisper, into Father Christmas's ear. To the child seated on his knee Father Christmas asks, "How old are you, young 633 man?" The child answers, "Seven, Mister." Christmas spirit rapidly evaporates as Father Christmas says, "Well, I am afraid that pursuant to section 71 of the Children Act 1989 you will have to get off my knee." Those are all absurd examples, but they all add to the cost of running British tourist and leisure industries.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988 also impose great burdens on my constituents. We have also heard about the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, which seem to impose the most bizarre, complex and expensive requirements on hotel owners in my constituency and those of other hon. Members. There is also the issue of notices. When one enters a hotel reception lobby, one wants to see a welcoming notice or two, possibly something about the fire regulations or where to park one's car.
The difficulty is that one is now met with a panoply of different notices. There is the Tourism (Sleeping Accommodation Price Display) Order 1977, the Price Marking (Food and Drink on Premises) Order 1979, the Price Indications (Method of Payment) Regulations 1991, the Price Indications (Bureau de Change) Regulations—I could go on and on. All that means a proliferation of notices, which almost blots out the welcome of the receptionist. On top of that, there are the bizarre requirements of the Food Labelling (Amendment) Regulations 1989, notifying the alcoholic strength of drinks sold. I do not know what others in the Chamber today think, but that is not the sort of notice that I immediately seek out when I am ordering a drink in my favourite pub.
I ask the Minister to review, as soon as possible, the requirement—placed on all hotels and guest houses offering services to tourists—to establish bonding arrangements. I am glad that that point has already been raised. As we have heard from more than one hon. Member, the new EC directive imposes a sharp increase in overheads if a hotel includes within its prices golf or tennis lessons or tournaments. Such additional services can mean that the hotel is said to be providing a package. At a time when the British tourist industry is developing leisure and entertainment packages as an answer to the sunseeker-type holiday abroad, the regulations distort the market. The situation with package holidays abroad is quite different. Going abroad means that the tourist is subject to the vagaries of airlines, ferries, foreign hotels and so on. In those cases, I accept the argument for bonding.
My hoteliers in Eastbourne, and others elsewhere, do not need to be told how to look after their guests, to make them comfortable, safe and happy. They will provide them with hygienic food properly prepared in pleasant surroundings. Eastbourne provides a warm and hospitable welcome all year round and we are looking forward to welcoming my hon. Friend the Minister there at some time.
The wind of deregulation is blowing strongly. It is encouraged by the Prime Minister, and my hon. Friend the Minister is already performing tremendous tasks. The post-Maastricht mood here and throughout the Community is in favour of deregulation and abolishing unnecessary bureaucracy. Regulations are fine as long as they benefit the consumer. The unnecessary regulation, whether in Britain or in mainland Europe, is nothing less 634 than a curse to the consumer. This has been a timely debate and I have every confidence that my hon. Friend the Minister is the right man to be carrying the cause of deregulation forward.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I do not think that I am a pervert because I happen to prefer my Camembert and Brie cold out of the fridge. It is still a soft cheese in comparison with Cheddar and one can still get the taste of it—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, it is obviously a matter of taste. Clearly we shall not agree, but I refuse to back off because I prefer my cheese cold rather than oozing towards me like a glutinous threatening blob. However, enough about Tory Members.
The significance of tourism to the economy of London is undisputed. It is estimated to have earned the capital city about £4.4 billion in 1991—£3.6 billion having been spent by overseas visitors and £720 million by British citizens. London receives enormous benefits from visitors, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) said, even with the slightly declining number of 16 million, a lot of people come into the capital city annually.
Although that volume of tourists is welcome, it exerts enormous pressure on the centre of London in particular. That may be fun if one is a young and fit student backpacker from Germany or France, milling about on Victoria or Westminster station, but not if one is frail or a commuter trying to get to work—if one is lucky enough to have a job in the capital after 14 years of Conservative government. There are continuing incidents of friction between large parties of tourists and commuters on inadequate concourses and in ticketing areas on the London Underground and at British Rail's main stations.
It is great that large numbers of people still want to visit London, but we must do more to make them welcome and to help them get as much from their visit as they can so that they will want to return again and again.
The Minister made great play of the question of regulations and offered a whole series of anecdotes. He said that they were not amusing, but he played them for all that he could and raised laughs from Conservative Members. As I pointed out before, many of those regulations, if not all, were passed or left on the statute book by previous Conservative Governments—but also, I accept, by other Governments.
New regulations from Brussels have been agreed by British Ministers, so it is no use their blaming the Commission. British Ministers connived in those regulations, so, although the Minister may not take personal responsibility for them, he cannot detach himself entirely from the Government's actions. When the Government have constructed or helped to construct regulations, they cannot seek to win cheap cheers from their own supporters by attacking those measures.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich said, the right balance must be struck. Total deregulation would be even worse than total regulation. Neither is desirable, but we want to stop tourists being ripped off in London and elsewhere. There must be sensible regulations on quality and standards.
It has been said that London hotels are among the most expensive in the world. The Minister spoke of the high cost of staying in a London hotel, as if that could all be blamed 635 on regulation. That is nonsense. At worst, regulations impose inconvenience and a marginal cost element. If one asks hoteliers about the real reason for prices being forced up, they will cite value added tax, the business rate and all the other charges that licensing authorities, at the behest or connivance of Government, require hoteliers to make. It is nonsense for the Minister and Conservative Members to argue that high costs are all down to regulation and that abolishing all regulations will produce cheaper hotels stays in London and elsewhere. In London, a balance must be struck between the needs of tourists and those of residents and the desirability of protecting both categories.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred to the high cost of London's public transport. We have the highest urban fares in the world, but we do not have the best transport system. The service is poor, and bus deregulation is a nonsensical concept which ought to be scrapped. It has all to do with ideology, not with the needs of London's residents or visitors. A lousy transport system for London affects us all.
I do not approve of museum and art gallery charges; I view them as a charge on knowledge, especially in the case of museums. Other European capitals operate such charges, and I do not object to tourists being charged, but I do object to charges for residents. The science museum charges £4 for entry—unlike the Victoria and Albert, whose charge is optional—although it is perhaps the most important museum to which we can take our kids. I used to love going there; everything was free, and there was plenty to do and to learn about. There is much talk nowadays of single parents and social security. If you are a single parent on social security, just try to get the money to take your child to the science museum! We must try to find a way of getting around this nonsense.
A visit to the tower of London is a good trip, but it costs £6.70, including admission to the Crown jewels. I used to love going there, too. Londoners, however, do not visit such attractions as much as tourists. They tend to say to themselves, "It will always be there. I will go and see it tomorrow, or next week." Eventually, of course, they will die without visiting any of those places.
Admission to the tower of London used to be free, although there was a small charge for viewing the Crown jewels. I understand that Buckingham palace is about to impose a standard charge of £8—although some people may be stupid enough to pay 10 times that to a tout. Why should our citizens have to pay twice over? We already pay for the upkeep of the science museum, the tower of London and Buckingham palace through our taxes. During the consultation process, the Minister should consider introducing the differential charging system that operates in many other parts of the world. Those who can produce evidence of United Kingdom residency should be admitted free, or at a reduced rate: I consider it grotesquely unfair to charge tourists the same as residents.
Countries such as Greece have many western European visitors who can afford to pay reasonably high prices. Restaurants and food shops in such countries make a price distinction between tourists and residents, and I see no reason to object to such a system here. I want tourists to enjoy their time in the capital, but it is not just a question of saying that all regulations are nonsense and should be dispensed with; we should examine the products and the standards of service that tourists are offered. They should feel that they have got something out of their visit.
636 Souvenirs are a classic example. I did a bit of market research on the other side of Westminster bridge, by the station. I had a look at the trash that is on offer to tourists. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting cited red buses as one of the great features of London, along with red telephone boxes. It is regrettable that we are getting rid of such things. This may sound silly, but another London symbol is the copper's helmet. I pushed off quite a few of those in my day, during demonstrations, but it is possible to go out and buy one: they are all made in China. The same applies to dolls representing the royal family. I was told that there was a fairly well-upholstered Fergie doll—it was not on sale at the time—with a packet of pins that could be pushed into it, and a dazzling array of holiday clothes.
Looking around, I saw "Made in Taiwan", "Made in Bangladesh" and "Made in Hong Kong". I do not object to those economies selling us their products, but I feel that a souvenir from a capital city should be of local manufacture as well as local representation.
Looking on the brighter side, London Underground offers an excellent range of souvenirs, all of which are made in England. The London tourist centre in Victoria also has an excellent array of high-quality souvenirs which are made in this country. The work of the London tourist centre in Victoria has not been mentioned so far. It is helpful, friendly and informed, which is so important. It makes visitors feel welcome, and I hope that the Minister will consider the resources that it needs to extend the services and the personnel there who can greet visitors. We could assist visitors greatly by requiring quality standards for all souvenirs.
We could also help tourists far more by providing information booths around central London in which different languages are spoken. We are arrogant in this country. In other capital cities, one can speak English and always find someone who can give the required information. Try speaking a language other than English around London. People who speak another language in my area of London would probably get their faces kicked in. It is not noted for being a charming part. We need more bilingual notices on trains and buses and at stations to assist visitors. There are many signs in English in other European capitals. French and German should be far more in evidence at our stations and other places where people seek information. There should be more announcements in French and German at stations, rather than the language that many of us who were born here do not understand as it comes out of public address systems in London stations and elsewhere in Britain.
I move on to register my protest at the appalling public transport links between Heathrow and central London. To get on a train that is not a dedicated link is an atrocious introduction to visitors. I am glad to see that the British Airports Authority and British Rail have come to an agreement with regard to a dedicated link on that route, which will mean that communication from central London and Heathrow is more like the good connection between central London and Gatwick.
There are many wonderful places and many good tours in London for visitors to take, but a number of them are substandard. For example, try going on some of the river cruises and hearing the semi-literate, ill-informed and prejudiced commentaries given. Some of the comments, I might add, are about this place and may be justified. However, visitors hear those commentaries. The Circle 637 line trip in New York provides a professional commentary of the sort that visitors should hear on a river tour here. Such services are obvious targets for quality regulation.
There are some excellent organised sight-seeing tours in London, put on by private and public sector organisers, but there are a number of distasteful tours that commemorate past incidents of violence and brutality. London is one of the safest cities for tourists in the world. Obviously, plenty more needs to be done because London residents are as concerned about their safety as we are about the safety of tourists, but the idea of having "the bus trip to murder", for example, does not seem desirable. Jack the Ripper walks and the Jack the Ripper exhibition at the London Dungeon are, at the very least, in poor taste, but could be seen by many—and certainly by myself—as insulting to women, especially as the women concerned in a number of those murders were prostitutes. Such women, to this day, are still regarded by some as people who do not deserve protection from violent or murderous assailants. London should not be seen, and Londoners do not want it to be seen, as a place where we are proud of the horrific events in our past.
In conclusion—those are words that Conservative Members love hearing; I shall roll them round my tongue once again—in conclusion, London needs to welcome tourists and honoured guests to our capital city, but sensible measures are required to ensure that our visitors are not cheated or ripped off and that Londoners are not inconvenienced or penalised by tourists so that we regard them as a curse rather than as welcome paying guests.
§ 2.4 pm
§ Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye)
It is a pleasure to say a few words in this long debate about the deregulation of tourism. As I live in London and in my constituency of Hastings, I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the points raised by Opposition Members. However, I fear that their underlying answer to the problem is to regulate rather than to deregulate. Deregulation is the key to this debate so that we can offer an infinitely better reception to people from abroad and to people from this country who wish to spend a holiday in some of our most attractive tourist areas.
I agree with practically everything that was said by my colleagues, so I shall not repeat what they have said. My hon. Friend the Minister began to list some of the activities of the men with briefcases which affect the tourism industry. Mr. Michael Ann of the Department of Trade and Industry retail and tourism group listed them recently in a local business newspaper. The list includedenvironmental health, national insurance, VAT, weights and measures, building control, liquor licensing, swimming pool inspection, electrical safety, planning, trading standards, wages inspection, the English Tourist Board, the RAC and AA, insurance, performing rights and phonographic rights.The list also includedthe Lotteries and Amusements Act, the Theatres Act and the Data Protection Act.After dealing with all that, I cannot imagine that there is much time to run an hotel.
A hotelier in my constituency told me a tale, not of the ham and tomato sandwich, but of the beef and tomato sandwich. We have dealt with ham and tomato sandwiches at great length. However, to produce a beef and tomato sandwich, one would need four colour-coded chopping 638 boards with their matching colour-coded knives. The ingredients would have to be taken from a fridge so cold that the tomato, beef and butter would be solid. If one took that freezing cold concoction, wrapped in shrink-wrap paper, as it would have to be, to a client sitting in the bar who then wanted it warmed up, one could not toast it behind the bar because the bar is not a catering kitchen. That sums up fairly succinctly some of the problems that our hoteliers face.
There has been agreement in the debate about what needs to be done, but we have not heard many answers. In the few minutes that remain, I want to consider some of the ways in which we can deal with the problems posed by regulation and over-regulation. No Conservative Member would say that we should abandon all regulation instantly. There is clearly a need for a degree of sensible regulation. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister suggested, we must consider the cost of compliance and the risk analysis involved.
It is easy to say that, but it is considerably more difficult to put it into practice. There are instances when we ask Departments to consider compliance costs. The problem is that the science of compliance costs is not as well understood as it could be and our systems are exceedingly weak. I should like to see the National Audit Office or the Audit Commission, or both working together, produce considerably better systems of cost compliance related to, and involving, those who will have to comply rather than how much it would cost Government Departments.
I was also encouraged by the fact that the Minister wants better relations with the industries involved, although I was slightly disheartened when he said that he wanted to talk to trade associations. So many businesses in tourism are small. If they are dealing with the men with briefcases, they will certainly not have time to join trade associations, let alone be vocal members of them. It would benefit the industry enormously if we could devise consultation that helped people and did not take yet more time out of the business.
We have castigated environmental health officers at great length. I have a certain sympathy—not a great deal—with them because the poor souls do not understand what they are doing. There is a need for training in business methods, in the science of hygiene and in various other disciplines, which would include science and technology as it applies to many companies. If we could institute better training for our environmental health officers, we might obtain a better understanding of what we are trying to achieve.
I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister instigated the debate. It has given hon. Members an opportunity to air some of the concerns of businesses in our constituencies. We wish the Minister all power to the elbow to try to get the industry deregulated so that it can continue profitably.
§ 2.9 pm
§ Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the way in which he opened the debate. It was one of the most encouraging speeches that I have ever heard in the House. His robust presentation and understanding of the issues will comfort many of our constituents. They will know that the battle is being joined.
639 Tourism is vital to my constituency. The Peak district national park attracts 22 million visitors a year, which means that it attracts more visitors than Blackpool and Scarborough combined and more than any other national park in the world except Mount Fuji. In the Peak district national park, man has actually harnessed nature to create something even better. Natural facilities are used for sport and recreation, hang-gliding, caving and walking—as long as one is careful to avoid hang-gliders swooping down and catching one behind the neck. Man has improved the environment further by the introduction of reservoirs. People can sail, and there are trails such as the Longdendale trail, the Sett valley walk and the Pennine way, which starts in my constituency.
On top of that, community activities that have been introduced add another dimension which attracts tourists to our area. The Buxton festival, which starts next week, will attract many people, and this year's festival is expected to be better than ever. The Glossop Victorian weekend is due to be held in a couple of weeks. A host of small villages hold well-dressing festivals, country fairs, sheepdog shows, garland days and May queen festivals. That is what makes us one of the most attractive parts of the country and one of the reasons why so many people visit us.
I thank the Foundation for Sports and the Arts which has helped many organisations in my constituency to flourish by giving grants now in excess of £250,000.
I also thank the Department of National Heritage for the way in which it has already positively intervened in the case of the Buxton crescent. The Buxton crescent is one of the most spectacular and important buildings in the north of England. We have seen it decaying and falling apart, but, thanks to the actions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the former Minister and the current Minister, we are seeing it put right. We have reason to be optimistic that, this year, the builders will move in and start to restore the building. That owes more to the Department of National Heritage, backed by English Heritage and the national heritage memorial fund, than to anybody else. I welcome the fact that they are working so helpfully in conjunction with High Peak borough council.
But all is not well. There is a general problem facing businesses—too much red tape. Whereas we were once a nation of shopkeepers, many small businesses are being closed because we have become a nation of health inspectors. Partly, as we have heard, that is European Community-inspired, but all too often a three-page directive from the European Community is turned into a 30-page regulatory document by our own officials.
Over the past week, my office contacted many businesses to find out about the problems that they are facing. Many of those problems have been referred to. There has been massive investment in hygiene. As for the refrigeration of cheese, we have a delicatessen in Buxton, which The Times described as one of the best delicatessens in the north of England. But Pugsons of Buxton is facing a significant problem because of the need to keep quiches and cheeses at temperatures which destroy living enzymes. Cheese is a living food.
We have heard about sandwiches and the need for washing down. A new fear is creeping in about a European ruling that will require every hotel bedroom to have a bidet. Bidets are not part of the British culture and heritage, and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to resist that ruling as well.
640 Bureaucrats have gone into the Buxton opera house and said that a window must be changed because Judith Christian, who runs the opera house and who was appointed because she is so sensible, can reach that window and open it by standing on a chair. They said that the window was dangerous because she might throw herself out. However, she is not that sort of person. We need people who will not make such regulations for our buildings. There are too many petty rules.
The signposting issue must be tackled. We must get rid of the wretched elephants that appear on signposts up and down the country. I have an otter sanctuary and an owl haven in my constituency which should not be signposted by elephants. I like elephants: my tie is covered in elephants. I am an adviser to an elephant charity. When a five-year-old says, "Mummy and Daddy, let us go and see the elephants", how does one explain that it is not an elephant but an otter or an owl?
The only thing like an elephant that we have in High Peak is the remains of a mammoth in Buxton museum. But if one puts up an elephant to say that the Buxton museum has remains of a mammoth, one will be told to take it down because a different symbol is used to indicate a museum. We have bureaucracy gone mad.
I welcome what the Government are doing. I welcome the approach taken by the Minister, and I congratulate him on his initiative.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
I shall wind up a fruitful and useful morning by quoting a letter from the owner of the Manor hotel at Mundesley, Norfolk, which will be familiar to the Minister. At the end of a four-page fax, she says from the bottom of her heartHelp. We seem to be in the middle of the road with traffic coming at us from all angles with no way out. What do we do?She has been buried by regulation.
The law is an ass. This morning we heard such a catalogue of examples that it was almost impossible to cap each one with a better one. Unless we get this regulation under control, we shall never be able to manage the costs that have been raised by Labour Members—the price to the customer. It is not surprising that this country has become expensive for tourism.
There is no better place to see regulation at its worst than in Sutton. Sutton may not be the heart of everyone's touristic world, but in a sense we are a good example because we are perfect for business men wanting to go to Heathrow or Gatwick. We are in a light industrial area and we have good conference facilities.
The hotels that provide their facilities are drowning under paper work. Their greatest burden is overzealous town hall Hitlers driving them crazy. Those town hall Hitlers take European Community directives—which go via Whitehall and are meant to be guidelines—and then interpret them as fact and law and the poor miserable hotelier must comply with them. As a result, my leading hotel spent thousands of pounds complying with yet more fire regulations although it had been okayed only the year before. Every time another inspection officer comes to interview them, they duck—it costs money.
There are other examples of pettifogging. For example, my council insists that everyone in the catering trade—the chefs, stewards, stewardesses and even the chambermaids, because they must prepare a Teasmade—must attend an 641 expensive two-day course of basic food hygiene. They get a certificate at the end. What do they learn? They are told not to chew gum while preparing food.
The law is an ass. I could go on for a long time about the examples of what we must tackle. The tourism industry in this country has been regarded as a second show. It is time that we put tourism ahead of football. We should make it our first priority, bearing in mind that it is one of our largest and most important income earners. I congratulate the Minister on tackling this jungle of bureaucracy. He is my Tarzan and the Tarzan for all people in the tourist industry. I wish him well in his endeavours.
§ Mr. Pendry
With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate. The Minister and I agreed to take just a few moments to conclude, because we wanted those who turned up for the debate and who have a real interest in the subject to speak.
It has been a good debate. I know that the Minister will not have time to reply to all the good points made today, but I hope that he will reflect on them. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) made a particularly important point, which was picked up by other hon. Members, about the importance of promoting areas outside the capital, Oxford and Stratford. I agree with him that Burnley should be promoted, but other areas in the north, such as that represented by my neighbour and almost namesake, the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) and my area of Tameside should also be promoted. I hope that the Minister will consider that request.
There is no doubt that London is the focus for overseas visitors and my hon. Friends who represent London made typically thoughtful speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made a good point when he pleaded that red London buses should remain, whatever deregulation may be introduced. Those hon. Members who cheered deregulation when my hon. Friend referred to it would think again if they saw some of the clapped-out buses that those of us whose bus services have been deregulated must now endure.
I hope that the Minister will also respond to the point that my hon. Friend made about the parking problems encountered by buses and tour buses in London.
My hon. Friends the Members for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) put to rest the bogus claim that the Labour party is not interested in the tourist industry. They made a balanced case for good regulation over bad regulation. They also referred to other problems such as that caused by ticket touting. The Government resisted an attempt to make that an offence under the Criminal Justice Bill, which is now in Committee. I was surprised by that because I have two letters on the subject from the Prime Minister, who said that, as soon as parliamentary time allows, he will introduce legislation to prevent ticket touting at football matches. That also follows the recommendation contained in Lord Justice Taylor's report. Today's debate, however, has highlighted that that problem transcends football.
In conclusion—my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West has stressed that they are the 642 magical words in such debates—the tourist industry does not want us to indulge in petty party-political arguments when discussing its problems. The debate has, however, revealed genuine cross-party concerns. I hope that the debate will give the Minister the type of opportunity that he wants, new as he is to his post, to ensure that where regulation is necessary within the industry, it will be clarified and made relevant to those at the sharp end.
As has been pointed out today, much of the legislation that Conservative Members have complained about was voted for by them. Too many sloppy Acts have been passed since the White Paper "Lifting the Burden" was published in 1985.
I hope that we can have more debates on tourism. We have got to get the message through to that vital industry that the House cares about tourism. If there are some healthy punch ups between hon. Members on both sides of the House, I hope that the synthesis of such clashes will be good for the industry.
Although we have had two debates in four months on tourism, I hope that we will have many more.
§ Mr. Sproat
With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate and attempt to follow the wise advice given to me by the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown).
I thank the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for his welcome of the fact that this is the second debate on tourism in four months and for his call for many more.
Tourism is an extremely important industry and, although hon. Members on both sides of the House may place a different emphasis on what is the right balance to be struck between regulating and non-regulating, there is widespread agreement among hon. Members that the industry is subject to too much regulation overall. It is commonly held that too much of it is wrong and that where it is stupid, it should be repealed.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that a lot of the regulation that we have discussed and castigated as stupid or absurd had been passed by Tory Governments. That is exactly so. I do not care tuppence who passed them—if they are stupid, they should be changed and if they are not, they should be kept. That goes not only for the House but for local authorities, whether they are run by Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or Labour.
We are trying to lift a burden from the tourist industry. As Minister responsible for tourism I want, first, to subtract the measures that damage the industry—we have been discussing those today—and, secondly, to find measures that increase the industry's competitiveness. The latter is not a subject for this debate. Those matters constitute a double punch.
I am acutely aware of all the questions about funding the British Tourist Authority—by the way, it is the English tourist board which has had it money cut—and the relationship between the regional tourist boards and the English tourist board. We must see whether we can involve the Scottish and Welsh tourist boards in a more co-ordinated way in dealing with visitors within this country. We all understand that the Scots and Welsh want to keep their own tourist boards. Scotland is a very sellable tourist commodity and it is right that Scotland should wish 643 to sell it. However, while maintaining total control over its national tourist product, there may be room for more co-ordination between the English, Welsh and Northern Ireland tourist boards.
A sad aspect of this debate is that although the Department of National Heritage is responsible for tourism as a whole, it is not responsible for many of the problems that have been mentioned in this debate. I must work out how we can convince the Department of the Environment that use class orders should be changed. I have been convinced of that by hon. Members and representations that I have received from outside. I will send a powerful letter to the Department of the Environment setting out the arguments about why local councils should have a right to say whether buildings that were once hotels should be converted into hostels.
Similarly, I will write to the Department of Health on the Children Act 1989. One of my hon. Friends mentioned the anomaly that McDonald's wants to run children's parties but when more than eight children are in the party room, another so-called "qualified carer" must be present to ensure that the children do not misbehave themselves. That makes it uneconomical for McDonald's to run that helpful facility for parents.
§ Mrs. Lait
When my hon. Friend talks to the Department of Employment about the May day bank holiday, although I welcome a deregulation day bank holiday, will he bear in mind the fact that, in Hastings, May day is a valuable tourist day? It is one of our most successful weekends because we hold a Morris dancing festival.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am glad that my hon. Friend did not ask me to attend the Morris dancing festival, but I note what she said.
644 Hon. Members asked about hotel registers and the immigrations forms that must be filled in. Nobody has yet found an hotel that has been asked by the police or anybody else to return such a form. I shall probably now be flooded with letters from the Home Office saying that that is the most important measure that it has passed for a long time, but I look forward to hearing from it.
The Department of Transport is responsible for signs and I hope that we can get some movement on that. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) rightly asked about aviation and I hope that we can follow that up. Motorway service areas are part of the tourist product. We deregulated those last August; until a few months ago, one could land at Dover and try to reach Birmingham without seeing a single motorway station.
One hon. Member talked about pints of beer and whether it should be illegal to sell a pint of beer in a pint glass because the head constituted a tiny proportion of the beer at the top of the glass. The Department of Trade and Industry is considering whether to regulate that and place costs of £30 million on the pubs and clubs of the land, which would have to get rid of their old glasses and buy new glasses that can hold a pint plus the froth on top.
Those are all small issues in themselves, but they have clearly exercised the House today. I give a pledge that I will take up those matters with the appropriate Departments. I have been asked whether a statement will be made in the House, as I promised, about an interim report on the inquiry. I will certainly seek to provide one, probably by way of a written answer, which I will make as full as possible. The lengthy debate that we have had today shows the great interest that the House, as well as the industry, has in the subject.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.