HC Deb 19 March 1993 vol 221 cc510-31

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

[Relevant documents: European Community Documents Nos. 5800/91, 5437/92 and the Decision of 13th July 1992 (Official Journal No. L231 of 13th August 1992) relating to a Community action plan to assist tourism.]

9.36 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Robert Key)

This is the first time that the House has had a debate on tourism since 17 June 1988. Business of the House permitting, I believe that we should now have an annual debate on tourism, as befits an industry which is of major importance to the prosperity of our nation—an importance which is set to grow as we approach the millennium.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage very much regrets his absence this morning. He is fulfilling long-standing engagements, including the opening of the Snibston discovery park in Leicestershire.

In 1988, the debate was opened by John Lee, the former Member of Parliament for Pendle, who is still my hon. Friend. He was one of the many people who believed in the future of tourism for this country. He contributes enormously to it to this day. Since he was the Minister responsible for tourism, my noble Friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Ullswater have been Ministers with responsibility for tourism. They, too, have played their part in a very vigorous way. I am delighted to see that for today's debate there are more Members present on both sides of the House than there were for the debate in 1988.

Tourism's importance to our country can be measured in hard facts. It represents about 4 per cent. of our gross domestic product. It contributes £25 billion annually to the economy and provides work for nearly 1.5 million people—more work than in construction or the health services. Even in a global market of ever-increasing competition for overseas visitors, the United Kingdom is sixth in the world in terms of the earnings from those visitors.

The size of the world market is simply astounding. The World Tourism Organisation calculates that international tourism arrivals rose from just 25 million in 1950 to 429 million in 1990. Overseas visits to the United Kingdom grew by 50 per cent. between 1980 and 1990, a truly remarkable decade for the industry. By the year 2000, tourism is set to be the world's biggest industry.

That emphasises the importance of inward tourism. Last year, a record 18.1 million overseas visitors came to our shores, spending £7.6 billion while here; and on the latest figures, United Kingdom carriers benefited to the tune of £1.9 billion by bringing them here and taking them back. Most visitors come on holiday, some visit kith and kin, but a significant number, around 25 per cent., visit on business.

Domestic tourism accounts for almost two thirds of our tourism earnings—£15.5 billion in 1991. That is not just long holidays of four nights duration or more, although they produce about £6 billion. An increasingly important sector is the short-break market, which is worth nearly £2 billion, and business travel, which produces nearly £1.5 billion. Day trippers spend more than £5 billion on visits to our resorts, attractions and heritage sites—and to the shops. Retailing should not be left out of the tourism equation. Increasingly, it is a leisure activity in its own right. Shopping accounts for about 30 per cent. of all expenditure on day trips, followed by outdoor activities or visits to attractions.

The creation of our Department has given new focus and stimulus to the work that the Government can do in helping the industry to meet the challenge. Tourism provides the opportunity for visitors, from home and abroad, to appreciate and enjoy the country's treasures. It breathes life into our culture and it provides a vital source of revenue to help our arts thrive, to maintain and improve our historic buildings and to help us add to the collections in our museums and galleries. About a third of the audiences for London's theatres are overseas visitors. In 1990, there were 74 million visits to museums and galleries. Last year, more than 5 million people visited English Heritage sites and more than 10 million visited National Trust properties.

In turn, tourism gains from almost everything that my Department does. The work that we undertake in support of the built heritage, museums, galleries, libraries, sport, the performing and visual arts, the royal parks and palaces, film making and the framework that we provide for broadcasting all contribute in a major way to tourism, both for our own citizens and in encouraging overseas visitors. Our heritage, in all its manifestations, is the magnet which draws visitors to these shores.

In the coming year, my Department will spend nearly £1 billion, much of which will directly enhance tourism. That very substantial support is all too often ignored when the Government's commitment to the industry is assessed. People frequently dwell on our support for the tourist boards and fail to see the big picture. Today, I want to shed light on that big picture.

In the Department of National Heritage, we are small in number—about 300 civil servants and two Ministers. We have brought under our one roof so much that interacts to create the quality of our life in these islands. We operate on an arm's-length principle, with 46 non-departmental public bodies, and in partnership with local authorities and the private sector.

My Department exists to facilitate. Let me bring this to life: in the south-west, the chairmen of the regional tourist board, sports, arts and museums bodies have come together to form the South-West Regional Heritage Agency. This is but the latest example of partnerships being formed for the benefit of all. Another is the Peak District partnership, a three-year programme of sustainable tourism. This brings together four regional tourist boards, which will work with local authorities, training and enterprise councils, the Rural Development Commission, the Countryside Commission and the Peak District national park. In addition, there is the Northern Arts initiative. Only recently, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched Chester's cultural strategy. It is a pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) here today.

New examples are springing to life regularly. The six major policy divisions that comprise my new Department have been brought together from different Departments of State around Whitehall, each with its own traditions and working practices. That has brought with it a challenging vitality, which is most refreshing for us all. Our national heritage is a seamless robe and, in order to ensure that the policy work in every division takes account of the importance of tourism, we have recently established a small and dedicated team to co-ordinate effort across my Department.

In the past year, Ministers and officials have visited every part of the United Kingdom to ensure a proper understanding of the responsibilities of our Department. I have criss-crossed the country from Newcastle to Torquay, from Weston-super-Mare to Brighton, from Manchester to the Isle of Wight. It is delightful to see my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) in his seat. He was here for the 1988 debate, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), who I see behind me.

I have pursued our interests in Brussels, Paris, Seville, Madrid, Barcelona and Rhodes. Next week, I will visit Antwerp and after Easter I will visit Copenhagen and Stockholm. My noble Friend Lord Astor visited New York to open the British Tourist Authority's office, and he will be there again before Easter.

In addition to our work with the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board, I have done business with regional tourist boards representing Northumbria, the north-west, the south, the west country, the east midlands, the west midlands, London and the south-east of England.

Since the creation of the Department, I have enjoyed meeting a large number of organisations representative of this massive industry, such as, and in no particular order, the British Hospitality Association, the Association of Larger Visitor Attractions, the Tourism Society, the British Association of Tourism Officers, the Association of British Travel Agents, the Association of Registered English Language Schools, the Association of District Councils, the British Self Catering Federation, the Rank Organisation, the Forte Group, Thomas Cook, the International Tourism and the Environment Conference, the World Travel Market, the World Tourism Organisation, the World Travel Forum, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the National Council of Hotel Associations, the Institute of Travel and Tourism, Gatwick Airport Tourist Information Centre, the London Forum, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the British Holiday and Home Parks Asssociation and the Association of Chief Leisure Officers. The list may be exhausting, but it is by no means exhaustive. There are almost as many organisations in our other areas of responsibility—the arts, sport, heritage, broadcasting, press and films.

Clearly, it is imperative that all these organisations should be aware of the importance of working together, and Ministers are developing ways of working in a co-ordinated and coherent way with our client groups. Accordingly, I can today announce that, starting in the summer, my Department will be sponsoring a series of regional conferences, chaired by Ministers, designed to bring together representatives of bodies and organisations that reflect Department of National Heritage responsibilities. We will endeavour to share best practice, listen to problems and develop joint approaches where appropriate.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

It is good to know that the hon. Gentleman is having such an enjoyable time as a Minister, tripping around the country eating these lunches and dinners. I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to him. He mentioned the London Forum. Will he say something about that in his speech and, if not, may I ask him a question? I understand that the London Forum will be launched next Monday with a breakfast that will cost the taxpayer £15,000. How can that be justified? It sounds like a good breakfast—one can get a lot of bacon and eggs for £15,000.

Mr. Key

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be there. I have no idea of the cost of the launch of the London Forum, but I shall make inquiries. It is an extremely important initiative and it would be uncharacteristic of the hon. Gentleman if he were to think that anything but the best will do for London.

I should like to spend a little time outlining our general policy and how we seek to implement it. First, we fund and support the work of the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board in helping the industry to develop the tourism product to its full potential and market it both at home and overseas.

Secondly, we work to ensure that all parts of government take full account of the implications of their policies to the tourism industry, and that unnecessary barriers to its development are removed. We should also recognise that tourism is a partner in the wider leisure and recreation industry. That is increasingly recognised in the new partnership projects that are emerging. For example, last September I launched in Exeter a sport and active recreation initiative sponsored by the Sports Council (South West) and the South-West regional tourist board. There is good reason for optimism when considering the leisure market. The Kleinwort Benson leisure analyst, Paul Slattery, is quoted in the Caterer and Hotelkeeper as saying: At the onset of the recession the industry had a knee jerk reaction and thought frivolous spending would be cut. But we believe that the recession has had hardly any impact on leisure demand, which is still growing. That report pointed out that 23 per cent. of hotels have leisure facilities. With only about 20 per cent. of adults staying in hotels annually, there is a major market to be tapped. The analysts see leisure demand rising to new heights as the decade progresses.

At a time when public spending is under such pressure, our critics ask why we should provide any support to such a successful industry, demonstrably full of entrepreneurs and innovators and, if we are to invest taxpayers' money, how will it be used to best effect.

I recognise that international tourism is fiercely competitive and I have no doubt that Britain will lose out to competitors if we do not continue to promote ourselves abroad. Ideally, the costs of this marketing should be borne by the industry—by the businesses that stand to reap the rewards. But overseas promotion is difficult to organise and the returns to individual businesses may be quite small and unpredictable—not worth the investment, they would say. The industry, unaided, would not put sufficient money and effort into overseas promotion. The tourism industry is particularly fragmented; it covers many sectors and it is not in the direct interests of any one private sector company to promote Britain as a destination.

We therefore recognised the need to maintain the Exchequer grant to the BTA at planned levels for the next three years. The BTA runs an effective overseas operation. It constantly scoops awards for best tourist office, most recently in Ireland. It is held in very high esteem by its counterparts and the industry in other countries. Its campaigns are first class. The "Britain is Great" campaign recently won a silver medal in Belgium and the BTA's "Glimpses of Britain" video won three awards in New York. The BTA is very good at attracting contributions from the industry—around £18 million in the current year, not counting the value of the considerable "in kind" support it receives. The BTA has partnership schemes with British Airways, Virgin, P and O, Sealink, British Rail and Eurotunnel among many others.

Our review led us to conclude that the case for continuing to fund domestic tourism was less strong. British residents are, of course, much more aware of what their country has to offer. There is also some criticism of duplication of effort by the English tourist board, regional tourist boards, local authorities and private sector initiatives. This will be one of the issues that the English tourist board will be examining in assessing its priorities across all its programmes.

We also considered the extent to which the industry has developed since the ETB was established in 1969. The ETB itself has played a crucial role in the establishment of a network of regional tourist boards, forging partnerships between players in the industry and between public and private sector bodies. The scope and effectiveness of trade associations have increased, and new ones have come on the scene. The industry is now in a much better position to take care of itself. At the same time, the ETB, like the BTA, is attracting private sector support for its individual initiatives. For example, more than half the funding for Industrial Heritage Year comes from sponsors such as Grand Metropolitan, Marks and Spencer, British Telecom and Hanson plc.

We therefore concluded that it was now right to reduce gradually the funding we provide for the ETB. We do not underestimate the ETB's achievements, which are considerable and which have helped bring about this change in the nature of the industry. The ETB has also worked to improve standards of service in tourist information centres, which now do an excellent job throughout the land. In accommodation—through the crown classification scheme, the key scheme for self-catering and the Q scheme for caravan, chalet and camping parks—the ETB encourages quality and better consumer information. It has been in the forefront of the development of new products, taken forward initiatives on sustainable, or green, tourism and supported tourism for all, to the benefit of disabled people. Holidays and leisure activity for disabled people represent an important specialist market, as yet relatively undeveloped. Another is business incentive travel, and many more niche markets await attention by entrepreneurs.

Much has been achieved. We believe that the ETB should continue to have an important, but more strategic role. Increasingly, it should focus its resources on particular areas where tourism potential will not be realised without it as catalyst.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said about funding for the English tourist board. I have studied the figures for 1995–96 and wonder how he can begin to justify the fact that the English tourist board will receive central Government funds of £9 million, whereas the Wales tourist board will receive £13.8 million and the Scottish tourist board £14.2 million. Why is the English tourist board to be treated as the poor relation?

Mr. Key

I was coming to that, but I shall answer my right hon. Friend directly. A number of factors come into play. First, the ETB operates in a market which is substantially more sophisticated, developed and mature than the markets in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to the judgment of their Secretaries of State. Secondly, the Secretaries of State for those countries have the responsibility of deciding for themselves what support they should give to their tourist boards. I urge my right hon. Friend to put his question to them as well as to me.

We have concluded that the time is right gradually to reduce the funding that we provide to the ETB. We believe that it should focus its resources on areas in which it can act as a catalyst. It has meant hard decisions for the board and the staff of the ETB, but we have to be sure that taxpayers' money is needed and is being used effectively. We have agreed that the board should take time to reassess its role and its programmes—indeed, we have given it some extra money this year to help it—and I look forward to seeing its plans later in the year. I hope that it will display the vision and enthusiasm that the industry deserves, and has come to expect, from its statutory board.

We are actively involved in a very thorough search to find a new chairman for the BTA and the ETB. This is a very important post and we are determined to find the right person.

In Scotland, the Government remain committed to supporting the tourism industry. Ministers are concerned to ensure that the means by which that support is delivered are still appropriate. They have, therefore, consulted those involved in the tourism industry in Scotland on whether the existing arrangements are effective and, if not, on how they might be improved. I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland has received some 350 responses to his invitation to the industry to comment. He is considering carefully the opinions that have been expressed, with a view to making an announcement in the summer.

In Wales, a number of policy reviews have confirmed that the relatively undeveloped nature of its tourism sector justifies continuing Government support for the Wales tourist board. The board is currently undertaking a major consultative exercise with the industry and other interested parties, with the aim of drawing up a national integrated tourism strategy, to be announced later this year.

In Northern Ireland, a major review of the tourism industry in 1989 concluded that tourism could make a greater contribution to the local economy. The Northern Ireland tourist board has now been given an enhanced role in developing tourism in Northern Ireland.

Tourism is subject to a tremendous range of policy influences from a broad cross-section of Departments of State, and from the European Community; immigration policy, fire safety, food hygiene, air traffic, road policy, health and safety, licensing laws and Sunday trading all impact to a greater or lesser degree upon tourism. A year ago, the Government published "Tourism in the UK—Realising the Potential", which set out comprehensively the range of activities underpinning tourism, some of which were incorporated into our Department when it was set up a month after publication. I am glad that the undertakings in that document have been addressed.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I constantly impress on colleagues the need for tourism interests to be recognised in the development of policy in other areas. A good example of what we can achieve through this was the recently published tourism planning policy guidance note, which aims to ensure that development plans should contain clearer, tourism-related policies and proposals, with decisions based on up-to-date advice on tourism development policy. Indeed, only the day before yesterday, in Weston-super-Mare, I heard how well the initiative had been welcomed. It is good to see the guidance on tourism development carried forward into regional development plans, which themselves provide an ideal opportunity for the tourism industry to comment.

We need to rid the industry of those unnecessary pieces of legislation which still litter the statute book. Proposals to abolish wages councils are a good example of how the Government have responded positively to industry overtures. That is why I hope that the industry and the House will join me in welcoming the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's initiative to give a new impetus to deregulation, in which the Prime Minister has a great personal interest. Task forces—including one on tourism and retailing—are being established to review carefully and meticulously the need for the thousands of regulations that impact on business. This will supplement the work already going on right across Whitehall to re-examine regulations, to search for ways to simplify them or simply to abolish them. I have invited the industry to help us. We have had many positive responses, and I repeat that invitation today.

For the future, the requirement to publish compliance cost assessment for all new regulations that affect business will very much focus attention on those who are too keen to regulate. We also want consistent and practical enforcement of the regulations. The risk-related approach to enforcement, which my right hon. Friend and Secretary of State for Health is encouraging environmental health officers to adopt, must be right.

Yes, we can help the industry through our funding for our national heritage, and through our contribution to tourism promotion.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

I very much welcome what my hon. Friend has just said about deregulation and about advice to environmental health officers, who often bring a heavy hand to these matters. My hon. Friend will be aware that there is great concern in the tourism industry about the impact of what are known as the food safety measures. Does he agree that individual members of the tourism industry, those running bed-and-breakfast accommodation and other representatives of the industry, should be specific in their complaints? It is no use making generalised complaints. They must be specific so that my hon. Friend and his colleagues can do something about the problems.

Mr. Key

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation. I agree with everything he said. We all receive general whinges and moans in the course of our duty as Members of Parliament, and it is just the same for Ministers. What really counts is when people complain about a specific problem, as a number of my hon. Friends have done. I have received a number of delegations on these issues in the past few weeks alone. When people are specific, we can usually help. I should be delighted to hear of individual problems. We can then take action. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) has highlighted a number of issues. It is in response to such pressures that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has formally initiated a review of the way in which health regulations are implemented. That can only be good for the tourism industry.

My Department can perform at least an equal service by ensuring that the framework is in place to enable the industry to flourish through the initiative, skills and enterprise of those working in it. A sound economy with low interest rates and low inflation is a prerequisite of a brighter future as we move out of recession. Since September, many foreign tourists have effectively had discounts of 20 per cent. on holidays in the United Kingdom. The lower value of the exchange rate is undoubtedly beneficial. It may also persuade domestic holidaymakers to look again at what Britain has to offer. The answer, they will find, is a great deal.

It is essential that, as in the United Kingdom, European Community policies take full account of the tourism industry's interests, whether those are concerned with transport, with fiscal issues, with data protection, with social affairs or with consumer protection—the list could go on.

That is why the United Kingdom has emphasised the horizontal approach which features so strongly in the Commission's tourism action plan agreed last June. It is also why provision for consultation with industry professionals is included. I wanted to ensure that the plan presented value for taxpayers' money and that it was not so ambitious that it would be impossible to deliver.

I believe that we negotiated modest, but useful, measures to stimulate tourism throughout the Community—measures which respect subsidiarity. For example, the Community is undertaking a programme of studies to inform the industry about current developments. The Community promotes the exchange of ideas and best practice in a number of areas, including visitor management, which is vital in sustainable tourism, and the promotion of tourism by people with disabilities. The main tourism plank of the United Kingdom presidency of the EC, the conference "Tourism and the Environment—Challenges and Choices for the 90s", was widely commended. It was the culmination of two years' pioneering work which has given the United Kingdom a richly deserved reputation for producing the best work available in the world in sustainable tourism. The leading expert, Professor Jost Krippendorf, has said that the United Kingdom's work in this area deserves the tourism equivalent of a Nobel prize.

I now turn to the challenges facing the industry.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of the European Community and subsidiarity in relation to tourism, may I ask him whether he recalls that last summer, he told some of us of a rumour, which had begun to gain ground in Brussels and elsewhere, that some of the Community authorities might be asked to bring about a unified promotion of tourism for Europe as a whole in the United States and in other markets for European tourism where we currently have British Tourist Authority offices of our own? Any such policy would be in sharp conflict with the doctrine of subsidiarity. My hon. Friend said that he intended to look into the matter. Will he be kind enough to tell us of the outcome?

Mr. Key

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who has a long memory. Fortunately I have as well, so I remember our conversation. The outcome is enshrined in the agreement we signed, which respects subsidiarity. I was sceptical of the idea that the European Community should promote Europe as a destination in North America and in Japan, for example. I felt that it would be more in Britain's interests if we were there promoting inward tourism to our shores, rather than tourism in southern Europe, for example. That was the outcome of those discussions. It is an argument which, yet again, we have won because we are at the heart of Europe.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Have we not reached a sorry state of affairs in Britain when a Minister who is talking about tourism tells us that in commendation he has received acknowledgements from somebody with a name like Dr. Krippendorf? Have we not reached a sorry state of affairs, as we are caught up in this Maastricht and European Community wrangle, when we have to beg to people like Dr. Krippendorf? What a sorry state of affairs.

Mr. Key

My goodness, the walls of Bolsover castle will crumble at the voice of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The fact is that because of our supremacy in environmental tourism, we have been widely acknowledged in that area. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to sneer just because someone has a foreign name. That is not a very enterprising way in which to carry on. I am very proud of the fact that Britain has shown that it is rather better than the Germans, whom the hon. Gentleman is running down yet again. I hope that we can have a more serious debate now.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Key

I certainly will not give way. I want to get on with a serious debate. We can have another exchange on the matter.

Mr. Skinner

We have got another Maastricht debate next week.

Mr. Key

I am delighted. The challenges facing the industry are well exemplified by the hon. Member for Bolsover.

The marketplace is increasingly competitive. Tourists are becoming more selective and more sophisticated. They know what they want and if they do not get it, they will not buy again—they will go elsewhere. Incidentally, there is an urgent need for better communication between providers and consumers in the tourism industry. The industry needs to do more to explain to British as well as to overseas customers how much the product has changed recently. What is the point of the ETB producing its excellent crown grading system if the industry does not explain it to the public?

Our broadcasters and publishers produce popular travel programmes and features which help to spread the word. We are grateful and hope that they will do more. But we must be willing to help them by, for example, facilitating the making of films and television programmes. The industry, local government and, indeed, central Government can all play their part.

What tourists want—what we all want, for we are all of us experts in the art of pleasing ourselves—is quality and value for money. We want a product and service appropriate to the cash we have laid out—and, ideally, just a little bit more. That may mean simple, straightforward cooking and clean sheets—but with a smile accompanying the toast and marmalade, and flowers in the bedroom. It may mean organised and guided tours with a well-informed and entertaining commentary. In the case of Japanese visitors, it means not allocating them room numbers that include the figure 4. It may mean thinking about taking the kids back to that attraction they enjoyed so much in the summer holidays—and finding it is open in the February half-term, at a reduced price and with more staff and shorter queues.

How much better for the visitor to be greeted with a broad smile of welcome at ports of entry, on renting a car, on checking into a hotel or on entering a shop or restaurant. How much better still if this is reinforced by being able to converse in the visitor's own language. The BTA's "Winning Words" campaign has been well received by the industry as a blueprint for adopting good practices in an area in which we have traditionally been weak.

Of course, language is a two-way process. One of our greatest advantages as a tourist destination is our language. We also play host to large numbers of people—particularly young people—who come here to learn English. That sector of the tourism market is worth up to £500 million a year. We must remember that, for young people, the appeal of the country may not be so much for its heritage but in comtemporary music and pop and jazz—and, of course, fashion. And for heaven's sake, let us all be more polite and cheerful to each other and to tourists.

How many people know that it is perfectly possible to fly the Union Jack without any need for planning consent? I have it on the authority of Sir Humphrey himself that, in general, the national flag of any country displayed on a single vertical flagstaff, without any additional inscription beyond the approved design of the national flag, is exempt from planning control—if in doubt, consult the local planning authority. The rest of the countries of Europe fly their national flags; why do we not? Look around. Count the empty flag poles. Too often, even the flagpoles are missing. It is time for us to bring out the flagpoles—and fly our flag with pride.

Tourism is all about finding out what consumers want, and providing it at a price that they can afford. At our best, we can be very good at that. I have already referred to the unique opportunity for the industry to exploit the very favourable sterling exchange rate.

Caterer & Hotelkeeper got it right when it said recently: The survivors of the recession…are going to be the people and businesses who have listened to what their customers say to them, and have responded to what they hear; who have thought about the way they run their businesses and revisited all their rules and working methods…who are ready to tear up the rule book and start again if that enables them to give the customers what they want. That is the sort of commonsense advice to which I subscribe. So do others, such as the Meetings Industry Association and the English tourist board, both of which have issued codes of practice—an excellent way of setting and maintaining necessary standards.

There is, of course, a need to get the industry's messages right in terms of both content and audience. I commend the ETB's work with the industry on the seaside resorts campaign—showing people in this country exactly what good-quality holidays exist at home. Local associations can also play their part. Through the "Value Rutland Group", potential visitors to the ancient county receive a "Rutland passport", which is stamped when they make purchases at different retailers and restaurants. The inducement lies in a prize draw for those with sufficient stamps on the passport. That is a splendid example of local co-operation aimed at marketing a relatively small area in a novel and innovative way.

Success can be as simple as sightseeing or farm visits. Sightseeing visits in the United Kingdom generated a record expenditure of £880 million in 1991. Revenue rose by 10 per cent. that year. Visits to farms rose by 5 per cent., and this is the second year running that farms have had the fastest visitor growth rate amongst the 10-day visit categories mentioned. Some 81 per cent. have opened since 1980—a much higher proportion than for any other type of attraction.

Of the 345 million day visits made in 1991, 76 million were to historic properties, 58 million to museums, 49 million to country parks, 34 million to leisure parks, 23 million to wildlife attractions and 19 million to art galleries. Visits to garden centres, workplaces, farms and steam railways ranged between 5 million and 15 million.

Many people believe that theme parks are not quite the thing. I think that that is misplaced snobbery. There is a balance to be struck. Neither I nor any serious player in the tourism industry would wish to see the United Kingdom turned into a large theme park. But the best theme parks have an impeccable academic provenance and respectability. Many are endorsed by leading figures in the world of archaeology and history. Just two that would fall into that category are Jorvik and the White Cliffs experience at Dover. I entirely accept that theme parks, along with visitor centres, can do much to quench the mighty thirst for education about and understanding of our historic heritage. In fact, it is increasingly difficult to draw the distinction between a traditional, museum-based approach—for example the dinosaur exhibition at the natural history museum—the entertainment-based approach of, say, Madame Tussauds, and the wider explanation that is so often demanded at world heritage sites such as Stonehenge.

I said that I hoped more Britons would decide to take their holidays at home. Apart from the relative value of the pound, the factors most likely to influence such decisions lie within the control of the industry itself. The last time a Government tried directly to stop holidaymakers going abroad, banks were required to limit foreign currency issued. I well remember my passport being stamped, and all the fiddles that went on. Did it work? Of course it did not. I have no intention of encouraging such a banana-republic mentality, which would achieve little—except, perhaps, flotillas of small boats setting off from our shores, under cover of darkness.

As a former teacher myself, I believe firmly that the future success of the industry depends on a well-trained and flexible work force, able to provide the quality and standards demanded by visitors, and increasingly familiar with the best available internationally.

The education and training system that we now have in place is responding to that need. All those hours some of us spent in the Standing Committee that considered the Education Reform Act 1988 are bearing fruit at last. The national curriculum allows students to study tourism-related topics within main subjects. Study of a foreign language, so important in welcoming the overseas visitor, is now compulsory for students up to the age of 16.

Provision of further and higher education places on tourism courses has risen considerably in recent years. In 1986, just two institutions offered tourism degree courses, with a total enrolment of just over 100 students. By 1991, 13 courses were available offering tourism, either as a single subject or as a major component of the degree, with a take-up of well over 750 students. The Council for National Academic Awards has forecast a remarkable rise to possibly 23 courses by the beginning of the 1993–94 academic year, with upwards of 1,400 students enrolled.

General national and general Scottish vocational qualifications give a broadly based vocational qualification for people working in the industry. A wide range of NVQs relevant to the industry are available from level 1 to level 4. To ensure their continued and coherent development, the Government have funded the Tourism and Leisure Consortium to bring together lead bodies and main players in the development of occupational standards. The consortium will promote those qualifications and ensure their take-up throughout the industry.

I am urging the regional tourist boards and individual businesses—where they do not do so already—to work closely with their local training and enterprise councils to ensure that tourism issues are taken up at local level. That will mean that employers are investing in their own success and employees will have a coherent career structure.

Our tourism industry is indeed big business. But it is about small enterprise. Above all, there cannot be any industry in Britain that relies more on people—people as providers and people as customers. I do not underestimate the recent difficult trading conditions that have affected the industry, not just in the United Kingdom but throughout the world. There is, however, an undoubted enthusiasm and a strong determination to succeed.

It is very much in the nature of a debate such as this that we dwell on the problems. We can never eliminate the negative—and it would be wrong to try to do so. In seeking to accentuate the positive, however, I acknowledge the numerous messages and letters that have come from those throughout the tourist industry and across the country who have expressed a welcome for the establishment of the Department of National Heritage, and great confidence in their own ability to succeed. That includes interests based in those parts of the country that have felt the chill winds of recession most severely.

In its regional strategy for the south-west, the South-West Regional Planning Conference has articulated its key strategic principle of tourism: Encouragement, renewal and promotion of the region's tourist industry must be focused on the achievement of quality and the regeneration of existing resorts, with recognition of the varying physical and environmental capacity of different areas to accommodate the pressures The Government will indeed encourage the industry and recognise the pressures. But not according to yesterday's sepia-tinted rule book. That is not in the interests of the small businesses that make up the back-bone of the industry. Nor is it in the national interest. The Government have created the first new Department of State for 30 years specifically to uprate the importance of all those features of our national life that make Britain world famous. Tourism is the golden thread which runs through all our Department's areas of responsibility. In proposing a new blueprint for the future, we offer new partnerships and new horizons.

The tourism industry has come of age. It is a huge success. Its rich diversity and maturity are envied across the globe—and our achievements are widely imitated. It is our purpose to ensure it keeps its place, with pride, as a world-class industry.

10.19 am
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

The Opposition very much welcome this debate on tourism which, as the Minister said, is the first such debate for five years. It would be churlish of Opposition Members not to recognise the part played by many Conservative Back Benchers who have helped to bring the debate about. After hearing the Minister, I am sure that many of them are wondering whether their efforts were really worth while and whether the Minister's journey was necessary.

The Minister promised us the big picture, and he gave us the small screen. Simply trotting out figures and statistics that we could have obtained from the House of Commons Library is no substitute for Government policy which should relate to the problems facing the industry.

The Minister gave us an impressive shopping list of future visits. My colleagues who are shadow National Heritage Ministers would very much like to participate in some of those visits. However, when my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) wanted to go to Dover to see some heritage sites, the Fees Office asked her to pay her own fare. We are therefore limited. It is a disgrace that the Opposition cannot pursue their proper function without having to pay the fares involved. I hope that the Minister will rally to our cause because very soon, of course, he will be in opposition himself.

People, particularly those in the tourist industry, must have been bitterly disappointed by this week's Budget which gave the industry very little. I did not hear the Minister bemoan that fact. I need hardly tell him that there is great foreboding, despite the picture he painted, within the tourist industry about the Government's lack of commitment, and in particular the lack of commitment of the National Heritage Department, for the industry.

Morale within the English tourist board and the British Tourist Authority is at an all-time low. The English tourist board in particular, with 40 redundancies recently declared, is at a low ebb. Is it any wonder that William Davis has resigned from the chairmanship of both the ETB and the BTA in utter disgust at the way in which the Government view tourism in this country? He believes that a fragmented industry like tourism, made up mostly of small business men, needs Government help if it is to prosper. The Opposition share that view.

I accept that the Minister cannot be blamed for all the ills facing the industry. In the past decade, there have been numerous acts of treachery by a host of Ministers responsible for tourism.

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

The hon. Gentleman said that the industry is very fragmented and comprises many small businesses. Those are the very businesses that will have welcomed the Budget, as it was a deregulating Budget, which modified VAT thresholds and increased the loan guarantee scheme. It was actually a Budget for small businesses. The tourist industry reflects the economic climate. As that economic climate improves—and the Budget will help that—so the tourist industry will benefit.

Mr. Pendry

Once more, the hon. Gentleman shows that he is absolutely out of touch with reality. Those of us who have been in touch with people in the industry over the past few days since the Budget know that that is not the case. At best, many of them are saying that it is neutral. However, the Budget is certainly not welcomed.

During the decade in which the treacherous acts occurred, every sponsoring Department cut funding and reduced staffing levels at the BTA and ETB. Therefore, perhaps we should not have been surprised that the Chancellor did not do overmuch for the industry in his Budget. When the Chancellor was the Trade and Industry Minister responsible for tourism in 1983, he cut the grant to the BTA and the ETB. That resulted in 50 job losses.

In 1989, the current chairman of the Conservative party, then the Secretary of State for Employment, announced changes that resulted in 150 job losses. Now, in 1993, out of a total United Kingdom establishment in those boards of 340, 72 posts have been lost as a result of cuts in funding by the current patron of tourism—the Department of National Heritage.

The situation is bound to worsen this year and next unless the projected grants in aid to the ETB for 1994–95 and 1995–96 is restored to current levels. Any cut in funding to the ETB is bound to have a dramatic effect on the BTA. I accept the praise that the Minister heaped on the British Tourist Authority, but it is no use his playing one off against the other.

Both organisations have been inextricably linked for more than a decade through the establishment of common services departments. That relationship has had to change this year, with the BTA increasing its share of the common costs. If the funding for the ETB continues to decrease, it is obvious that the BTA will be forced to absorb the whole cost of common services—a cost which it cannot afford to bear.

Those additional costs come on top of the reduced spending potential of the BTA's grant in aid following the devaluation of the pound. That will dramatically reduce the BTA's overseas spending capacity by, some say, up to 15 per cent., as most of its expenditure, as the Minister is aware, occurs overseas and is payable in local currency.

Even a Select Committee on Employment report in 1990 recommended that an increase in funding for the BTA's overseas marketing would produce significant returns. Without adequate resources for the BTA, the United Kingdom is unable to compete effectively for the international tourist trade. In 1991, Aruba—a small South American country in the Cayman islands—spent more on destination advertising in the USA than Britain. That is a disgrace.

The way in which tourism has been shunted around from Department to Department and from Minister to Minister has not helped to stabilise the industry or helped its morale problems, However, the buck now stops with the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage. He must carry the can from now on. To show the feeling out in the real world, I want to quote from an editorial in the latest publication of Travel GBI: The government is supporting neither tourism in general, nor England in particular. No-one in Cabinet is fighting tourism's—or England's—corner. Ministers need to be made aware that the patience of the United Kingdom tourism industry is exhausted and that the time has come for action. Perhaps withdrawing Robert Key's invitation to British Travel Trade Fair, where he would bask in the reflected glory of a battered but still remarkably successful industry which neither he nor his colleagues have done anything to support, would be a start. I do not know whether that invitation has been withdrawn, but an invitation to that fair is winging itself to me as I speak.

What are the major casualties of the current cuts? They include the elimination of the common services division set up by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) in 1983. I am told that its director and a number of staff have been made redundant, and were given five days to clear their desks. That is, of course, no way to behave towards staff who served tourism so loyally over the years. However, what is worse, they have taken with them a wealth of knowledge and experience, particularly in areas of information collection. Perhaps the Minister would inform the House whether the future of £2.5 million tourism database is secure.

Another casualty of the cuts has been the tourism resource library—a net revenue earner, and the only tourism reference resource if its kind in the country—which is invaluable to industry and educational bodies. The abolition of the post of resource manager threatens the continued publication of three widely used research reports. I understand that messages of concern are flooding into the boards in respect of the future of those reports. Will the Minister give the assurance that that fine service will not be eroded along with the jobs?

The tourism information centre network is one of the ETB's major achievements. It has taken 21 years to build it up, and it has been instrumental in spreading the benefits of tourism throughout the country. However, many at the ETB believe that the network cannot survive with so many of its team being made redundant. The loss of the BTA's product marketing department will affect the board's ability to stimulate the marketing campaigns which have so often generated a huge amount of free press coverage for Britain.

The list that I could recount to the House of the important areas of activity that will be affected by Government cuts is indeed long. I hope that other hon. Members will deal with areas of concern other than those that I have highlighted. However, it is clearly absurd for the Secretary of State to maintain: the case is now much less strong for central Government funding of the promotion of tourism in England."—[Official Report, 13 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 997.] I know that Conservative Members, who perhaps are being rather loyal today, nevertheless share that view.

Is it any wonder that the staff of the English tourist board, who were not given the opportunity to contribute to the review to which the Minister referred, reached that conclusion and are at a loss to understand how the Government, who purport to support the tourist industry, can allow such destructive cuts to be made?

Is it not ironic that, at the time that the Government were announcing a reduction of £6 million in their funding to the English tourist board over the next three years, they managed to find £6 million to support an arts festival in celebration of the Prime Minister's uneventful presidency of the EC? Why were not the commercial friends of the Tory party asked to stump up that cash, instead of taking it from tourism? I bet that the hon. Members for Cornwall, North (Mr. Tyler) and Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks), who is not in his place, would have loved to see a slice of that money, as would other hon. Members from both sides of the House. It is amazing how easily the Government can abandon their commercial principles in such situations.

The March edition of Holiday Which? graphically points out that the historical sights of Britain leave a lot to be desired, yet we have relied on the historical significance of those sights in the past to attract visitors. It is clear that there is an urgent need to face ever-increasing competition from abroad.

As the Minister said, it was a welcome initiative of the English tourist board to launch its £650,000 campaign to promote English seaside resorts in 1992. It is vital that our domestic tourist market be promoted, but £650,000 is a relatively small figure when set against the £100 million which tour companies and overseas Governments spent last year in persuading Britons to holiday abroad.

With the Minister commending the English tourist board's initiative, it is disgraceful that the Government turned down a request to give a mere £150,000—the same amount as that provided in 1992—for this year's initiative. I hope that the Minister will reconsider that matter and perhaps do something about matching those funds.

Britain's tourist industry needs resources to develop its considerable potential for growth. Let us face it: how many potential areas of growth are there at present? The Government must invest more if Britain is to maintain its share of tourist receipts in the face of increasing competition from abroad—especially from the United States, France, Italy and Spain. While it is right and proper that Britain needs to spend substantial sums on promotion overseas to maintain the increasing incoming tourism to this country, it is equally important that the Government increase funding for the promotion of United Kingdom holidays to the domestic market, because it helps to create and maintain jobs and naturally has a positive effect on the balance of payments.

As Baroness Young pointed out in another place, the tourist industry is the fourth highest earner of invisible exports. Indeed, if restaurant and theatre earnings were included, tourism would be the highest invisible export earner. In 1991, invisible earnings grossed £109 billion, producing a surplus of £7.5 billion, compared with a £10.3 billion deficit on visibles.

Clearly, the cuts to the English tourist board and the British Tourist Authority will not help the situation in future. Many small hoteliers do not have the clout to promote themselves in domestic or overseas marketplaces. Of course, the Government may well feel that the recent devaluation of sterling and the general recessionary pressures will camouflage the underlying problems of our tourist industry, but is it not ironic that the biggest boost to United Kingdom tourism comes from the Government's own economic failings?

The proportion of overseas visitors to the United Kingdom is not all good news, either. Recent figures show that a high proportion of overseas visitors are here, as the Minister acknowledged, on business and not pleasure. One might surmise that they are foreign salesmen engaged in activities that will increase the United Kingdom's import bill. From any close analysis, it becomes abundantly clear that the economic potential of the tourism industry is not being realised, and that the United Kingdom's competitive performance is in decline, despite what the Minister said this morning.

I hope that the Minister had an opportunity to read the fine publication from the National Economic Development Council's working party on competitiveness in tourism and leisure. That body gave an informative insight into the current state of the British tourist industry, which is perhaps why it was abolished in June 1992. Figures from the report highlighted the fact that the United Kingdom's share of world arrivals was the same in 1990 as it was in 1970. Indeed, the share in receipts generated from those arrivals declined from 6.1 per cent. in 1970 to 5.6 per cent. in 1990. [Interruption.] It is no good the Minister chuckling at those figures.

Mr. Key

That is an entirely false way of looking at those arguments. If one is looking at the massive development in the world market, it is not surprising in the least. The hon. Gentleman should address the fact that Britain remains one of the top six destinations in the world. He should be proud of that fact, not denigrate it.

Mr. Pendry

I will not give way too much to the Minister, who distorts the argument. I shall continue with my speech. I shall make a much more constructive speech than he gave.

According to the provisional figures issued by the World Tourism Organisation, the picture has worsened in 1991 with the United Kingdom's share of world arrivals falling to 3.7 per cent. while its share in receipts fell to 4.9 per cent.——

Mr. Brandreth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pendry

No, not again. I know that many hon. Members want to speak, including the hon. Gentleman.

Overall, investment in the tourist industry for the first half of 1992 declined by £2 billion compared with the same period in 1990. That is happening at a time when capital values for hotels have fallen dramatically throughout the country. A record number of hotels are in receivership. Soon, the banks will own more hotels than the major hotel chains.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pendry

No, I will not. One of the most significant reasons for the lack of investment and development in new tourist facilities is the withdrawal of section 4 grants to England in 1989. The Scottish and Welsh tourist boards operate with rather more help from central Government. They receive a constant level of grant in aid, as well as section 4 assistance. Also, the national boards for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have independent powers to market overseas: England does not.

I read in the current edition of Tourism Enterprise that, following a delegation to the Minister, the hon. Member for Cornwall, North said: When asked why it was that tourism in Scotland and Wales had maintained their funding levels whereas the ETB funding had been drastically cut", the Minister allegedly said: they had a Minister batting for them". If that is true, it is a disgracefully complacent remark. We had hoped that the Minister was batting for England when his colleagues were batting for their boards.

Mr. Key


Mr. Pendry

I am glad that the Minister is denying that. I hope that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North will put his own point of view if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the Minister will address the remarks of William Davis, who said: The Ministers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland clearly take a different view of the domestic market than the Department of National Heritage. In the next financial year, for example, Scotland and Wales will each receive almost as much money from the Government the ETB and the 11 English regions combined. It is a pity that there cannot be an agreement on a common policy. I concur with that, because many regions of England are every bit as deserving of those grants as Scotland and Wales. There seems to be a clear lack of fairness and balance in the allocation of those grants. The Minister must address that imbalance, as there has been an increasing fragmentation of the tourist industry in recent years.

If the United Kingdom is to improve its competitiveness, every organisation that is contributing an element of the total holiday experience must play its part. Mr. John Lee, who is a former Member of the House and a former tourist Minister, stressed, in an article in this month's Leisure Management, that he favoured an increasing partnership between the private sector, local authorities and the Government. If ever he was considered—rumour has it that he was—as a replacement for William Davis as chairman of the BTA and ETB, he blew it when he stated in that article: There is a clear need to convince government of the importance of increasing tourism funding, and that means making individual MPs more aware of the role of tourism in their own constituencies…I have always argued for government to give more funds to the industry. He also shared a belief with the National Economic Development Council that a national body is needed to co-ordinate and bring the regional tourist boards together, ensure participation in national schemes and also lobby and advise Government on tourism in England.

Mr. Waterson

In his discussions with hoteliers and the like in his constituency or other constituencies, has the hon. Gentleman ever made clear to them the implications for their businesses of his support for the social chapter, the continuation of the wages councils and other anti-competitive measures which would effectively put many hoteliers out of business?

Mr. Pendry

I am amazed by that intervention. If the hon. Gentleman were to look at some of our competitor nations in Europe who have the social chapter and a minimum wage and at the graph in Holiday Which? this month, he would see that those nations are much more competitive than we are, even with those wage levels. Anyone can go to the Library and read that; it is a fact.

Some local authorities within my region of the north-west are already working with the private sector to market and develop their tourist attractions, but, without adequate funding at national level, the regions cannot co-ordinate their efforts. The potential success of implementing a policy that pulls all the tourist attractions in a region together and selling that region to tourists across a wide range of attractions is clearly the way forward.

We really do live in a beautiful country, and we do undersell it. If one looks at the north-west, for example, where my constituency lies, we can see the North-West tourist board actively working closely with local authorities and the ETB to develop new tourist site opportunities, as well as infrastructure improvements on existing areas of interest.

Let us take Blackpool. I am sure that, if the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will expand on the tourist industry in Blackpool. I understand that Blackpool is embarking on a scheme such as I have described. Blackpool council is working with Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Blackpool Leisure Co-operative—two of the area's major private leisure industries. Blackpool football club is developing a super-stadium for not only its soccer team—which is not doing quite so well as it should at the moment—but for Pavarotti or Madonna concerts. It is also developing a new built-in hotel complex.

Liverpool council is also working with the private sector and British Rail to provide visitors to the city with complete tourist packages. Those exciting developments, coupled with the natural beauty of the Pennine range and the nearby Lake district, should be expanded upon in a regional context, but we need an English tourist board with resources to bring them together within a national strategy.

While I am dealing with the north-west, and perhaps wearing the shadow Minister for Sport hat, I must ask how the Government can be committed to the Manchester 2000 bid and not develop the tourist industry to the full in that region. I can tell the Minister from my experience that the International Olympic Committee members, and particularly their wives, have to be sold a diverse and interesting package of tourist and leisure facilities alongside the sporting ones on offer.

Opposition Members and, I suspect, many Conservative Members believe that investment in Britain's tourist industry is vital. It may well be that the sun, sea and sand sightseeing tour which dominated the 1980s is in decline. The forms of tourism that are expected to grow faster in the next decade are cultural tourism, active sport-related tourism and rural tourism related to local crafts and products. Those forms of tourism can make Britain's climate less of a drawback and its historical heritage an even greater asset.

We need a tourist policy that takes advantage of the EC action plan, because it is chiefly in the context of regional development plans that EC funds can be accessed. The debate gives us all the opportunity to give the Government notice of the hon. Members who represent constituencies throughout the land want—indeed, they are determined to ensure that tourism is taken seriously and funded properly. I certainly welcome the Minister's statement that we shall now have an annual debate on tourist. The more debates we have the better. The tourism industry deserves nothing less.

10.44 am
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I begin' by commenting on two of the points that my old friend the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) made. First, I associate myself with his welcome for the creation of the Department of National Heritage to embrace tourism. That seems a logical place to put tourism. In recent years, as the hon. Gentleman said, we have had too much of tourism being bandied from Department to Department simply because a Secretary of State felt that he did not have enough work to do or enough responsibility. That is no way to treat tourism.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team are now looking after tourism within the context of their overall responsibility. However. I did not agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments on the Budget. It is appropriate that the debate on tourism comes in the middle of the wider debates on the Budget in which the House is engaged. The Budget has been warmly welcomed by many people, especially people in the tourist industry, who largely own small businesses.

I quote as an example a letter that I received, funnily enough, only yesterday from the chairman and managing director of one of Lake district's largest hotel groups. He said: On a personal note, I thought the Chancellor's budget was strategically very sound for the long term interests of the country. To demonstrate his impartiality, he followed that up by saying: This is the first kind thing I have said these last 3 years of either him or his predecessor. The Budget was good for the tourist industry.

Of course, I am principally interested in the tourism industry in the Lake district, which I have supported for many years in the House and about which I have spoken on many occasions. It is by far the most important industry in the Lake district. It involves 40,000 jobs directly and indirectly, and has a turnover of £364 million.

The Budget has been warmly welcomed. That comes on top of the welcome given to the abolition of the wages councils. The various VAT concessions in the Budget are warmly welcomed. So, too, are the new arrangements for capital gains tax, which will be helpful to many of my constituents.

The third particularly welcome factor is the freezing of transitional help with the uniform business rate. That has been warmly welcomed. However, in that context, I wish to make a point that is not the direct responsibility of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage. I shall take it up in the next day or two with the Treasury. However, I should like my hon. Friend to look into the problem, which I regard as serious. It is summed up in a letter that I was handed literally on my way to the Chamber this morning. It is from one of the largest firms of chartered surveyors, which is a specialist hotel rating valuer in the north of England. The firm, which is based in Leeds, expressed to me its serious anxiety about the way in which its appeals against rating assessments, in the hotel industry in particular, are being dealt with in Cumbria. First, it refers to the delays at the Cumbria valuation offices. The letter states: We had a period of 18 months when the valuer who had dealt with hotel business rating was taken off that work to carry out Council Tax work and in that period, no progress was made. The revaluations have caused my constituents great difficulties and for their appeals to be delayed in that way is very serious.

I apologise for raising this subject in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), but the same firm has brought another factor to my attention. The letter states: The Lake District rateable values represent a disproportionate comparison with potential trade, and as compared to other areas such as York and Harrogate where we have successfully obtained reductions of between 25 per cent. and 50 per cent. of rateable values, the Valuation Office in the Cumbrian area seems not to be prepared to listen to logical and realistic argument. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that those are serious allegations and that they are harmful to the tourist industry. I hope that, with me, he will look into them with the Treasury.

Mr. Key

My right hon. Friend will recall that I had the honour of serving as a Minister with responsibility for local government finance and I understand the importance of those issues and the way in which they can, we hope, be sorted out. I will draw those important matters to the attention of the Minister responsible for local government and I very much hope that a solution will be found.

Mr. Jopling

; The Minister is exceptionally helpful. Finally, perhaps my hon. Friend might be good enough to take up, or bear in mind, a third matter that has been drawn to my attention by the same firm, which told me that some people in the hotel industry are paying too much. The letter says: but what I am also concerned about are the people that do not seek professional advice and I am finding in many cases are paying far more in rates than should be necessary. That is a serious matter, which causes me a great deal of concern.

In an admirable opening speech, the Minister said that the tourist industry is fiercely competitive, and so it is. Countries throughout the world are spending huge budgets to try to entice tourists. We know how popular foreign travel is becoming. We also know that, with the coming of the channel tunnel, more of our citizens are likely to be tempted into the delights of foreign travel, which will put pressure on our domestic tourist industry. Small fragmented businesses—many family controlled—face face the problem of massive bills for publicity, which is essential for the success of the tourist industry.

I speak for all of the north of England, and I believe that a massive publicity effort is essential to publicise the region. I am frequently amazed that so many people in London and the south of England have a negligible knowledge of the north of England. Too often, overseas tourists and many of our citizens spend time visiting London, Stratford, and perhaps Oxford and Cambridge, but then take a jump up to Edinburgh, ignoring the north of England.

I shall give two examples of what they are missing. I am astonished at how few people in this country are aware of Durham, which is one of the almost unknown glories of England. Anyone who has been there never forgets it. Also, few people know the English Lake district where, as the House knows, we have one of the world's greatest heritage sites. Apart from the beauties of the lakes and mountains, there is the rich heritage of Wordsworth, De Quincey, Coleridge, Ruskin, Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome, to meet all tastes. I do not need to explain that to the Secretary of State, whose knowledge, interest and participation in the Lake district is so well known—especially his active participation in Dove cottage, the old Wordsworth home.

How are those massive and essential publicity schemes to be financed by businesses that are generally small and family run? That question demonstrates why the role of the regional tourist boards is so vital. Cumbria is well served by the Cumbria tourist board, which does a fine job under the presidency of our old friend Willie Whitelaw and the chairmanship of Mrs. Sheila Hensman. They get only one quarter of their £1.8 million budget from the Government and the rest is raised locally, so there is no question of the Cumbria tourist board lying back and expecting the Government to do everything for it.

I welcomed the Secretary of State's statement that central Government support for the regional tourist boards will be maintained, as that is essential and it is not as though the Government are supporting everything. They are making a vital, minority contribution and most of the money is being raised locally. What concerns me is that the continuation of such support is likely to denude the English tourist board of much of the budget that it needs to do all the other things besides supporting regional tourist boards.

I have been told that as a consequence of the new arrangements, the budget of the English tourist board, after it has financed the regional tourist boards, will be reduced from about £8 million to about £2 million. I know that many of my constituents are worried—they have told me so—about the effects of such a large reduction in the activity of the English tourist board. Again, I shall quote from a letter that I received yesterday from the chairman of one of the largest hotel groups in the Lake district. Speaking of the importance of the English tourist board he says: Because of this fragmentation"— of the industry— it is vital that there is a 'central' organisation to look at standards; education and training; product development". I am alarmed about the reduction in available money, but, above all, my constituents are outraged about the issue on which the Minister was kind enough to give way to me during his speech—the totally dispropotionate amount of money that will be available to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the financial year 1995–96. They can see no justice in the English tourist board getting £9 million from central Government when Wales gets £13.8 million, Scotland £14.2 million and Northern Ireland £11.5 million. It has been suggested, for example by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, that the reasons for the discrepancy are that the Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are more enthusiastic and vigorous in their support for tourism, and my hon. Friend the Minister did not dispel my suspicions in his reply to my intervention. That simply will not do. There is no reason to treat England in a niggardly way. I hope that the Government will look at the matter again, because my constituents see no reason whatever for such disparities.

10.59 am
Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I am about to be interrupted by the forthcoming statement, but I shall start. I welcome this opportunity to raise an issue that has caused me some concern since last summer, when one of my constituents visited my surgery. It is the issue of holiday insurance, especially as it relates to coverage for accidents and illness abroad. Ironically, by raising the matter, I may do something for the home tourist industry, which is obviously important. I shall disgress slightly.

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