§ Questioned again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.
§ Dr. Lynne Jones
Like many of those hon. Members who have spoken during the last half hour, I agree that the Home Secretary's proposals will help our tourist industry. Furthermore, as the mother of two young sons, I welcome them. During the 10 years that I have been a parent, it has become obvious to me that families with children are made much more welcome abroad when they visit cafés and restaurants than they are in this country. Anything that encourages families to spend more of their leisure time together is an excellent idea.
There can be no greater pleasure than seeing a parent playing snooker or darts with his or her 10, 11 or 12-year-old child. That is far better than children being left on their own on the streets, and being bored, while the parent goes off to drink with other adults. We in this country seem not to like children very much. Adults appear to think that, to get the most enjoyment out of life, their leisure time should be spent away from, rather than with, their children. Therefore, I welcome these proposals, which I hope will encourage families to spend more time together.
We all agree that tourism is important to our economy. Although that is not the main burden of my speech this morning, even a city such as Birmingham is conscious of the need to attract visitors.
My hon. Friends and I are, however, concerned about the low rates of pay that many workers in the service industries have to put up with. We do not agree that the introduction of a minimum wage would be harmful. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) said, countries such as France that have a minimum wage are the most popular tourist destinations. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, France attracts the largest amount of foreign investment. Growth in foreign investment there in recent years has outstripped growth in this country.
Therefore, we do not accept the pronouncements of those who sit on the Treasury Bench. The Department of Employment published information that linked minimum wages and employment and provided 26 references, of which only 10 established a link between minimum wages and unemployment. Most of the information showed that the opposite was the case. It suggested that, provided that minimum wages were not out of step with other wage rates in the economy, they could promote employment.
It is about time we knocked on the head the idea that our policies on the social chapter and a minimum wage are detrimental to the economy and employment. If some of the low-paid workers in my constituency were paid a little more, they might be able to buy some of the goods and services that their fellow citizens are producing and thus help to ensure that they keep their jobs.
I want to take this opportunity—something which has delayed my return to my children this morning—to refer to holiday insurance, particularly the insurance cover provided when British tourists fall ill or sustain injuries while abroad. Hon. Members may, like me, have been on package holidays abroad, for which they have taken out insurance. We often do so without thinking. We accept the 542 insurance policy that is offered by the travel agent, or which comes as part of the holiday package, without thinking too much of the consequences. The experiences of some of my constituents and others who have contacted me suggest that we should take more care.
Last year, 12 million people took out holiday insurance cover, and 800,000 of them made a claim—a quarter of them for medical bills. According to a survey carried out by the magazine Which?, of over 56,000 of their readers, 18 per cent. suffered illness or accident while abroad.
Many of us, when we go abroad, also heed the advice in the Department of Health booklet "Health Advice for Travellers". It explains the reciprocal arrangements, under form E111, for mainly European Community countries and also Gibraltar. The booklet refers to a range of medical care that is available under the reciprocal arrangements and says that, outside EC countries, the health services that are likely to be provided will be less than those we can expect under the national health service and that only urgent treatment is likely to be provided.
Quite rightly, that booklet encourages tourists to take out insurance. It says:No matter where you are travelling, the cost of medical treatment may not be fully covered by any existing reciprocal health care agreements—make sure you have adequate private medical insurance.Furthermore, it advises people to check the small print. The booklet gives the impression that to take out medical insurance is all one has to do for peace of mind.
Unfortunately, as my constituent, Dorothy Savage, found to her cost, that was not the case. This lady went to Malta for a Christmas holiday. While she was there, she unfortunately contracted gastro-enteritis. Apparently, there was an epidemic in the island at the time, about which she had not been warned. She was taken to St. Luke's hospital in Malta. In hospitals such as St. Luke's the standard of care that is available even to people who have taken out insurance is, unfortunately, far less that that which we might expect here.
I have seen photographs taken by Mrs. Savage's daughter of the conditions in that hospital. They were far from hygienic. The linen was torn and not in a very good state. Most important of all, the majority of nursing care in such hospitals has to be carried out by friends and relatives of the patient.
One evening, after Mrs. Savage's daughter had had an exhausting day looking after her mother and had decided that her mother was well settled and that she could go back to her hotel to get some rest, some problems unfortunately arose. Mrs. Savage was left without any attention. After she had called for a bed pan, she waited for six hours; she hoped for some assistance, but none came. Eventually, she tried to get out of bed on her own. Unfortunately, she slipped and broke her leg. When her daughter returned early next morning, she found that her mother was not in the usual place, and that she had undergone emergency treatment.
Miss Savage immediately contacted the tourist representative, who put her in touch with the medical insurance representative. Seven or eight days later, that representative contacted her, during which time her mother had been kept in quite appalling conditions without adequate care. She was left without a catheter in urine-soaked sheets, which would not have been changed 543 if her daughter had not changed them. When Mrs. Savage was provided with a catheter, it was not changed throughout her three-week stay.
Insurance policies often claim that air ambulance repatriation is available, which Miss Savage tried to arrange for her mother. It was not available, but Mrs. Savage was taken home on a scheduled flight on a stretcher across three seats that had been booked for the purpose. Unfortunately, when she arrived at the airport, Mrs. Savage started haemorrhaging and the pilot would not allow the necessary drip on to the plane. The medical adviser, Dr. Angel—unfortunately, he did not administer angelic treatment for Mrs. Savage—advised that she should not travel without a drip, which, I am sure hon. Members will agree, is fairly basic medical epuipment.
Mrs. Savage was flown home two weeks after the incident. Despite her broken leg, she was forced to sit upright, the medical adviser having instructed that her plaster be removed above the knee. Sadly, when she returned to the United Kingdom, her condition deteriorated rapidly and she died.
Mrs. Savage's family had expected their family holiday insurance to cover them for treatment in a better hospital and better transport home. Mrs. Savage is not alive—directly, in my view, as a result of the unfortunate events that took place during her holiday.
A couple from Perry Barr in Birmingham were on holiday in Malta. The lady was knocked down by a Maltese driver and admitted to the same hospital as Mrs. Savage. Nursing care, again, was non-existent. She suffered multiple fractures to her leg, which was operated on and put in plaster. She experienced severe pain following the operation due to excessive swelling. The stitches burst as a result and her leg became ulcerated.
Unfortunately, the insurance agent was not helpful. He tried to return the lady home more quickly than he should have, because he was worried that the couple might sue the driver who knocked them down, for which his company would have had to pay. That couple had to return on a scheduled flight, with the lady's leg in plaster. She still suffers problems as a result of the medical treatment that she received in Malta.
Vera Willey was admitted to Clinica Benidorm with a chest infection. Her companion was not allowed to stay with her and had to return to Britain. She was left alone for 13 days as her daughter, who was in the United Kingdom, was unable to arrange a flight home. She was finally flown home in a Swiss air ambulance 13 days later and admitted to Dudley road hospital. Her treatment was delayed because the only documentation that she had with her was in Spanish. Having seen a translation, the medical adviser recommended that Mrs. Willey should be transported by air ambulance, which took 13 days to arrange.
Again, sadly, that lady died a day after she returned to the United Kingdom. her bed sores were down to her bones, and her chest area and arms were bruised from flooded intravenous drips and injections. She had been very frightened during her stay, and had received no bilingual assistance.
Molly and Frank Hudman were on holiday in Sorrento when a wall collapsed on them. Mrs. Hudman was badly injured and had several broken ribs. Fortunately, her husband received only superficial injuries. When they were 544 in hospital in Sorrento, they had to rely on the relatives of other patients for basic medical care—to watch them during the night and to provide bed pans and drinks. They were able to communicate only because one of the patients in the ward spoke good English.
I have discovered that, in countries such as Malta, Italy and Greece, it is normal for nursing care to be provided by relatives and friends rather than by the hospital.
In other countries, it seems that people who are taken ill are almost forced to have unnecessary treatment. "Watchdog" recently broadcast cases in which people who had been on holiday in Tenerife and Spain were forced to undergo unnecessary medical treatment.
Ann Caldwell, a nurse, was admitted to Clinic San Eugenio in Tenerife suffering from a stomach infection. She was given an electrocardiograph and an abdominal X-ray without checking to see whether she was pregnant. She was an infectious patient, yet she was put in a ward next to a girl recovering from surgery.
George Deeley from Leamington Spa was admitted to the same clinic with a cut nose. He was put on a drip, confined to hospital for several days and given surgery against his will. Unfortunately, he had handed over his flight tickets and pasport to hospital officials, as requested, who refused to return them until he had complied with the treatment. He and his wife were frightened by the experience.
Another hospital in Spain sought permission from the medical assistance company to carry out a complicated operation for which the surgeon had received no training and had seen only a video tape. Spain has two types of hospital—the public hospitals, which generally offer high standards of medical care but perhaps less comfortable surroundings, and private clinics. It seems that British tourists who have medical insurance are encouraged to undergo private treatment, whereas they would probably receive better treatment under the normal reciprocal health care arrangements.
I have taken up those cases with the insurance industry, and would like to comment on some of the information that it has provided. The Association of British Insurers says that it is well known that medical facilities in some parts of the world may not always be of a standard that we have come to expect in this country. That is accepted, but, according to the advice issued by the Department of Health, it is the very reason why people take out medical insurance.
The association says that, although insurers will do all they can to ensure that the medical treatment arranged is of the highest standards available in the locality, it is not in a position to guarantee or influence the standard of health care available. It would be useful if it included that advice in the information that it gives its customers. The same applies to other aspects of the policies.
In responding to my questions about the use of air ambulances, Commercial Union said that there was a great deal of misunderstanding among the general public—including general practitioners—about exactly what an air ambulance is. The perceived impression of the policy holder is of an aircraft fitted with emergency medical equipment and constantly on standby, similar to road ambulances. In fact, that is not the case.
Air ambulances tend to be executive jets with the seats removed. The medical equipment taken on board the plane is exactly the same as if repatriation were to occur by 545 scheduled or even chartered air liners. Commercial Union also said that air ambulances should perhaps more correctly be termed "air taxis".
§ Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)
The hon. Lady makes an important point about repatriation from overseas. I have an interest in this issue, as declared in the Register of Members' Interests. She might be interested to know that the Foreign Office recommends only two companies for the repatriation of remains from overseas, which gives rise to a considerable increase in the costs to insurance companies. That is one reason why holiday insurance is becoming so expensive.
Despite the endeavours of myself and others to try to expand the information issued by consulates and embassies across the world, the Foreign Office has been quite difficult about allowing the information to be expanded to include other companies within the United Kingdom.
§ Dr. Jones
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. However, the Department of Health makes no recommendations about insurance companies. There are a number of policies available, and I shall refer later to the practice of companies when selling those policies.
A company called Home and Overseas Insurance also responded to my questions. It said that air ambulances are usually used only in life or death cases, and that patients can be transported on life support machines with the plane equipped as a mini-intensive care unit. I contacted one of the companies that provides such a service and was finally convinced that air ambulances really exist. The company in question runs three, which are executive turbo-props. About 150 cases a year are flown home using that service. That is rather different from the impression given about the availability of such a service.
The company states that air ambulance planes are usually very small and cramped and, for European journeys, often do not have even toilet facilities. It believes that some members of the public may have a "glamour vision" of what an air ambulance is, but such planes are less comfortable than scheduled flights and often have to make a couple of stops for refuelling, which can be unhelpful and perhaps even a matter of life and death in itself when transporting urgent cases. Other insurance companies to which we wrote responded in similar terms.
Why has that information, which the industry has made available to me, not been made more widely available? Why is it not contained in the brochures? Other services offered in many insurance policies and in many brochures include multi-language assistance and co-ordination. The cases that have been drawn to my attention suggest that such a service is not widely available, or, if it is, is used only in very rare cases or is available to a limited extent.
Under the package tour regulations, brochures are required to contain information about health formalities, including optional travel insurance, but those requirements need to be strengthened if the reality of the services available in the countries to which I have referred is to be brought home to people who, in the words of the insurance policies, believe that they have peace of mind when they pay their premium. It would also be welcome if the Government would consider providing local authorities with additional resources to enforce the regulations.
Only the day before yesterday, the Office of Fair Trading highlighted the malpractice occurring in the sale 546 of insurance policies. As I have done in the past, people often buy the insurance policy that comes with their package, not knowing that the tour organisation is getting up to 40 per cent. commission for arranging the policy. The travel agent may seem disinclined to point out that cheaper, and perhaps even more comprehensive, policies are available which really offer an air ambulance service.
There are also exclusions in many policies, which are not drawn to people's attention or which are in very small print. Under the Jetset comprehensive travel insurance, the definition of an injury is one which occurs fortuitously but does not include an injury caused by, or which results from, sickness, disease or a gradually degenerating illness. People with medical problems should have such exclusion clauses drawn to their attention, but, judging from the cases pointed out to me, that does not happen.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) said that cheaper policies were available. A reader of The Times wrote from London to say that, if she had booked her holiday insurance with her package, she would have been charged £29, plus £12 for an over-65 surcharge, but that, by shopping around, she was able to get insurance cover for £15.50. That individual was shopping around for a better price, not to find out exactly what cover would be provided if she were unfortunately to fall ill or have an accident.
Another letter that I received from a lady in Cheshire states that an insurance company refused to pay back a deposit of more than £300. She had unfortunately had to cancel her holiday because her husband was unwell after heart surgery. She had tried to complain to the insurance ombudsman, but the company was not a member of the insurance ombudsman's bureau, so she was unable to get help from that source. Perhaps the Government should reconsider their decision not to make an arbitration scheme similar to that run by the insurance ombudsman compulsory, so that citizens such as that lady receive a proper service.
I have attempted to draw attention to the problems that can occur when people go abroad. I have drawn attention to the fact that many hospitals abroad rely heavily on patients, family and friends for basic care such as washing or even feeding patients, for providing and changing bedpans and even for the provision of basic items such as toilet paper. I have mentioned the misleading and—to use the industry's words—"glamour" image created by the brochures of the availability of air ambulances. I hope that, as a result, the public at large will be more aware of the problems and that the industry itself will take note and provide better information.
I should like to encourage the Government to review the booklet containing information about travelling abroad and to ensure that it gives more information about the health services available abroad. The Government should also correct the impression given by the booklet that, by taking out medical insurance, a holidaymaker is not dependent on the medical care available for the rest of the population at their holiday destination.
Some of the issues that I have raised, especially about the way in which descriptions give misleading impressions and about the way in which insurance is sold—sometimes by agents who do not even have copies of the policy available—suggest that the Government should consider the operation of the holiday insurance industry. I hope that the Government will take note of those points and that they will take whatever action is needed to ensure 547 that, when British citizens go abroad, they get the treatment they would expect in this country, or, if that is not available, that they are flown back to the United Kingdom in suitable aircraft and in a way that is not detrimental to their health.
§ Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)
As the representative of Britain's, if not Europe's, leading tourist resort, I feel today rather like the king of the jungle. I am surrounded by hon. Friends and hon. Members who represent lesser tourist resorts. I feel like a lion surrounded by alley cats—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Elletson
I thought that it would. My comment went down well with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) who made kind remarks about the great resort of Blackpool. I know that he has often visited the town and I was especially grateful for what he said about the partnership between the local authority and the private sector. He mentioned a number of examples, especially the development of the new football super stadium. I know that the hon. Gentleman has visited Blackpool football club when the team have played somewhat better than has been the case recently.
As the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said, this is the first tourism debate in the House for five years. I and some of my hon. Friends are a little disappointed that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) should have spoken for almost half an hour on overseas tourism. That may be of great concern to many of her constituents, but her speech frustrated the opportunity for many of my hon. Friends to raise subjects relating to the far more important issue of the state of the British tourism industry.
§ Mr. Jessel
Is not the answer that the hon. Member for Selly Oak should tell her constituents to take their holidays in Britain? They could, thereby, if they fell ill, take advantage of our excellent national health service and boost the tourism industry in Britain, which is what we are supposed to be doing today.
§ Mr. Elletson
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It would have been more appropriate for the hon. Member for Selly Oak to raise the topic in an Adjournment debate.
§ Dr. Lynne Jones
By raising the issue, I may encourage more people to stay in this country, which would be welcome. However, many people choose to take their holidays abroad and it is important that when they do so, potential problems should be drawn to their attention. The information provided in booklets, such as that produced by the Government, should be adequate. The Government have a responsibility in the matter.
§ Mr. Elletson
I am sure that the hon. Lady has a point, but I believe that there are more appropriate occasions for making it than a debate on British tourism and the problems faced by the industry.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. I draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention the fact that the debate is not purely on British tourism.
§ Mr. Elletson
I understand that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the hon. Member for Selly Oak raised her concerns absolutely legitimately. None the less, the British tourist industry faces severe problems. It is a highly important industry and it is appropriate today that we should discuss those problems with the Minister, in the first debate on the subject in the House for five years.
I greatly welcome the Minister's statement that there will be a tourism debate once a year from now on. That will be greatly welcomed throughout the tourism industry and will do a great deal to dispel some of the increasingly widely felt disillusion in the industry, as will the Minister's undoubted enthusiasm for the subject. He gave us today a highly enthusiastic performance. So great was his enthusiasm that it seemed almost to conjure the Home Secretary out of the ether like some latter-day Ariel to give us a bit more good news. What the Home Secretary said about licensing regulations is good news for the tourism industry. What could be better than that people should be able to drink with greater freedom in an attractive tourist resort such as Blackpool, Eastbourne or even the Isle of Wight?
I mentioned that there were problems of which we were all aware in the tourism industry. Many of my hon. Friends have sought, and continue to seek, to raise them with the Minister, so I shall not delay the House unnecessarily. I shall refer to some of the problems, but I shall not be over-critical, because I do not want to dent the Minister's enthusiasm and because I know that he is aware of many of the problems. We must focus on those problems and on the opportunities that tourism provides for curing some of our greater economic ills.
People feel that there is a lack of leadership and that we do not quite know where the tourism industry is going. That feeling is reinforced by many people's concern about the fact that we do not now have a Minister for tourism. We have had such a Minister in the past and I hope that we shall have a dedicated Minister for tourism in the future.
§ Mr. Elletson
My hon. Friend says that there are two. It is true that tourism has a voice in the Cabinet through the Secretary of State for National Heritage. However, I believe that the Department of National Heritage should have a Minister for tourism. I know that my hon. Friend has a great work load. He is clearly able to cope with that, because he is a man who displays great enthusiasm and I have no doubt that his enthusiasm carries him through his work load on a great tide. None the less, people are concerned that tourism does not have its own dedicated Minister.
There is also concern about the way in which tourism has been shuffled from Department to Department over the years. It has moved from the Department of Employment to the Department of Trade and Industry. It has ended up in the Department of National Heritage. Who knows, next year it may be in the Department of the Environment or even in the Department for Education. I feel that the most appropriate place, in which we could really get to grips with the problems of the tourism industry, would be the Treasury. The Treasury could then see the problems that the tourism industry faces and the opportunities that it provides for increasing the Treasury's share of national economic receipts.
549 The other main reason for disillusion in the industry is the reduction in the grant to the English tourist board, to which the Minister and others have referred, and the fact that we have still not appointed a chairman for the British Tourist Authority and the ETB. I know that the Minister referred to the need not to look at the question of the ETB reductions in isolation, but to see it as part of a bigger picture. People do not see the matter like that. People who run small businesses are extremely worried about the cuts in the ETB and they are even more worried about the possibility of those cuts being passed on to the regional tourist boards. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reassurance that the cuts will not be passed on to the regional tourist boards. That will go some way towards reassuring many of my constituents who are deeply upset about the ETB's grant being cut.
I shall quote from a letter about the cuts in the ETB's budget, written by a constituent, Mrs. Lawrence, who runs a hotel on the Queen's promenade in Blackpool. She says:Recently we hear that the Government intends to cut funds to the English Tourist Board which in turn will affect the regional north-west offices. Many businesses, large and small, benefit from their membership of such tourist boards by way of advice, co-operative buying and advertising as well as many other services they provide. All this supports our survival and we cannot afford to lose any of it.That lady has a point, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take note of her remarks. The cuts in the English tourist board budget will cause problems for businesses like Mrs. Lawrence's and constituencies like mine, not least because it may affect the seaside resorts campaign, to which the Minister referred. The other week, we were told by the chief executive of the English tourist board that that campaign may well be a victim of the cuts in the English tourist board budget. I certainly hope that it will not, because the campaign has done an enormous amount of good for coastal resorts, which have seen a growth in business and significant job creation as a result.
§ Mr. Waterson
Is my hon. Friend aware of the considerable success in my constituency of the partnership between the ETB, the public sector and the private sector, which is mainly led by the excellent work of the Eastbourne marketing group?
§ Mr. Elletson
I was not aware of that, but I am sure that the campaign is especially valuable to Eastbourne. My hon. Friend further illustrates my point.
Conservative Members are concerned about high unemployment in many tourist resorts—particularly coastal resorts—and their apparent continuing ability to act as magnets for unemployment and other social problems. That is a significant problem in my constituency. At least four wards in the borough of Blackpool now have over 20 per cent. unemployment and over 30 per cent. male unemployment. The problem is worse in some other areas. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, wanted me to draw the Minister's attention to the problem in his constituency, where many guest houses and hotels act as a magnet for the unemployed from all over the north-west. That has a highly deleterious effect on the quality of the town.
The solution lies not merely in financial investment but in the way in which we structure our response to the problem in those areas. Much could be done, not necessarily by the Department of National Heritage but by 550 the Department of the Environment, particularly in respect of the change of use order. It should not be nearly so easy for a hotel or guest house to change its use to a Department of Social Security hostel, for example. Action on that matter would go some way to ensure that towns such as Blackpool, Morecambe and Eastbourne—our coastal resorts—maintained their high quality rather than simply turning into a dumping ground for social problems from all over the country.
Other problems continue to perplex tourist resorts—the strains on businesses caused by the attitude of unsympathetic banks and the over-regulation which threatens them at a local level, to name but two. I know that my hon. Friends will be delighted by many of the measures announced in the Budget—especially the Government's crusade to reduce bureaucracy. I am delighted by what the Minister said earlier about the establishment of the special task force to look at reducing bureaucracy in the tourism sector. That will be popular with small businesses, which are continually hampered by over-zealous local authority officials who make what comes out of Brussels look quite insignificant.
The fundamental problem that tourist resorts face, particularly in a recession—this applies both to small hotels and guest houses and to organisations and local authorities—is that they simply do not have the capital to reinvest in upgrading facilities. That has happened at a time when Britain's tourist industry faces more competition than ever before.
Take an organisation such as Blackpool Pleasure Beach, for example. That competitive, well-run private company now faces significant opposition from companies such as EuroDisney in northern France, which are not competing on a level playing field and which do not have to compete with the same sort of VAT burdens. EuroDisney is being charged a reduced rate of VAT by the French Government and that makes the competition all the stronger. I should be grateful if the Minister would consider that and take the matter up with the Treasury. At least if we can offer our domestic industry the possibility of competing on a level playing field with other businesses elsewhere in Europe, we may go some way towards alleviating the problem.
Despite all its problems, tourism presents significant opportunities. We have heard this morning of the scale of the British industry and its importance in the economy as a whole. It now accounts for some 4 per cent. of gross domestic product and creates £25 billion-worth of revenue each year. It is not a smokestack industry that has been gradually run down. It is one of the most important growth sectors in the economy of western Europe as a whole.
Within the European Community, expenditure and revenue from international tourism increased more than sixfold between 1970 and 1984 and continue to grow. The internal European Community market now has an estimated 180 million tourists—they are sitting on our doorstep. As we heard, after the financial services industry, tourism is the second biggest industry in the United Kingdom.
Much more significant, however, is the fact that tourism is a highly labour-intensive industry. If we support and develop tourism, we shall inevitably create jobs. It is entirely wrong that we should support industries that are being run down—which are essentially loss-making, no-hope industries. I do not believe in pumping public 551 money into industries that will lose it, simply as a means of saving jobs. I accept that the Government have a role to play and that it is entirely right to co-ordinate investment and develop a strategy of support for an industry that is capable of justifying such investment and support. I believe that tourism is such an industry. Indeed, we have seen that that is so, because the support that still exists in Wales and Scotland, but which, shamefully, England does not have, has been thoroughly justified. The gearing ratio of investment on the Welsh tourist industry is something like 1:5, which means that for every £1 invested, £5 is returned. That is pretty good, and we could do just the same with English tourism, precisely because it is a successful industry.
The argument that has traditionally been advanced for the removal of section 4 grant simply does not apply. The argument was that section 4 grant should no longer apply in England because the English industry was mature. It may well be approaching maturity, although what should concern us is not whether it is mature but whether it is successful and whether it continues to grow and to create jobs.
Faced with those problems and with the opportunities that tourism clearly presents for economic growth and job creation, what should we do? The Department of National Heritage should focus on a number of matters. The Minister should consider providing the leadership and clear strategic thinking that tourism requires to enable us to take advantage of the opportunities that tourism presents. He should develop the role of tourism and of his Department across the rest of the Government. We want to see a tourism Minister with wide-ranging powers across other Departments to co-ordinate a proper tourism strategy.
More importantly, tourism requires investment if we are to make the most of the opportunities. Some form of section 4 development grant must be reintroduced, particularly in view of the cuts in the ETB's budget and the severe discrimination against England. The only equitable way to balance the situation and to seize the opportunity for job creation and economic growth presented by tourism is for a return to section 4 development grants, but not in the comprehensive way in which they previously applied. Clearly, mistakes were made. Development grant money was snapped up by large organisations and it was not targeted effectively.
We need clear and effective targeting of development grants so that they provide development finance for projects specifically in areas of high unemployment or specifically to develop projects such as tourism for the disabled or tourism in areas where it is not self-evidently a mature part of the industry.
If we can provide a clear, targeted reintroduction of even a limited form of finance, even a paltry sum of £10 million, there would be a significant job creation and economic growth. My resort of Blackpool does not have assisted area status and it receives no outside assistance from the Government or from the EC because tourism has not yet been granted objective 2 status. If we can provide some form of limited assistance, and clearly money can now be found as a result of the savings being made in respect of the ETB budget, we shall go a long way towards solving some of the problems that we face.
552 Finance might also be found from the national lottery. I hope that the Minister will ensure that receipts from the national lottery will be used substantially to invest in our tourism infrastructure. I hope that the receipts will not simply be eaten up by the arts and sport, although they certainly have an important role to play in attracting tourists.
The Minister should carefully consider tourist-related projects such as the Blackpool illuminations, the Blackpool tram system and, even more importantly, the centenary of Blackpool tower which will be celebrated next year. That will be a very important event in the calendar of the north of England. Two or three years ago, when the far less significant Eiffel tower celebrated its centenary, the French Government managed to come up with something like £7 million or £8 million for a great jamboree to celebrate the event. We are not asking for anything like that sum. The mere presence of my hon. Friend the Minister at one of our humble celebrations would suffice.
§ Mr. Barry Field
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, unlike the constructor of the Eiffel tower, the constructor of the Blackpool tower did not throw himself off it when he completed it?
§ Mr. Elletson
It does not surprise me that the constructor of the Eiffel tower threw himself off it. The constructor of the Blackpool tower, as he looked out across the swathes of beautiful Lancashire countryside up to the Pennines, to the Welsh hills and to the Lake district and to Scotland, would have descended from the tower reinvigorated by all that he had seen. He would have understood that Blackpool was a magnificent tourist resort.
Those are some of the projects that I would like the Minister to consider when he decides where to spend the receipts from the national lottery. Those projects concern me and my constituentcy, which is an important tourist resort. People in other tourist resorts clearly have other priorities. However, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to remember and then to fight for tourism infrastructure projects, because that will pay enormous dividends for him.
We have seen great successes in our tourism industry. The Government have done much to encourage the development of tourism, most recently through the Budget. However, much more can be done for very little extra investment, at very little extra cost. I urge the Minister to give that some thought.
§ Mr. Jopling
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Do you agree that it is a very long-standing courtesy of this House that when one has made a speech, one sits and listens to the speech made by the hon. Member who follows? The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) who, to be fair, is a new Member of the House, walked out very soon after my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) began his speech. That is a growing and very unattractive habit which is creeping into the House. Would you be kind enough to point out gently to the hon. Lady, or any other hon. Member who may act in that way, that it is against a long-standing courtesy of the House as we have all understood it?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I confirm what he has said. I imagine that all hon. Members will read Hansard.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)
We have had a most interesting debate, which has taken us through the tourist delights of the whole of the United Kingdom. I congratulate the Minister on the enthusiasm that he displayed when he opened our debate. As he said, it is regrettable that we have not had a debate on tourism since 1988, almost five years ago. Many hon. Members have referred to the Northern Ireland tourist board and I wish to restrict my remarks to the tourism industry in Northern Ireland.
The news from Northern Ireland is very good with regard to tourism. I have heard some hon. Members complain about their tourism industry today and I listened to them with interest. However, I can be very upbeat about the progress of tourism in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is well known for its many attractive places such as the Giant's Causeway, for fishing and for the lakes of Fermanagh, the Mourne mountains and, I am glad to say, for Strangford lough, which is one of the most attractive areas in the whole island of Ireland. However, those places are not all that Northern Ireland provides. I want to give the House some facts and figures about how the tourist industry has progressed in the Province.
In Great Britain and across the world, one only hears of Northern Ireland from the occasional incidents of terrorism which are shown on television screens. One does not hear of the great progress that has been made in education, agriculture, industry—and tourism. Many people may find it suprising that tourism is advancing so well in Northern Ireland with the backcloth of terrorism. Of course, one must remember that terrorism is restricted to specific areas in Northern Ireland and is not widespread.
We have the figures for tourism in Northern Ireland up to March 1992. For the third consecutive year, our tourist industry has increased. Visits were made to the Province by 1.2 million people in 1992. When one considers that our population is only 1.6 million people, one can see that that is a fantastic number coming to visit Northern Ireland in a year. Many of those visits would have been family and business trips from Great Britain, but the number of purely holiday visitors was up by 18 per cent. to 263,000.
The Northern Ireland tourist board is well on target to achieve its 1994 figure of 1.6 million visitors, including 425,000 purely holiday visitors. It is interesting to see the source of those visitors. Recently, we have commenced, in co-operation between the Northern Ireland tourist board and the southern Irish tourist board, Bord Failte, to promote Ireland as a whole in Europe and North America as well as in London and Great Britain.
It is good to see that, in 1992, Northern Ireland got 380,000 visitors from the Republic of Ireland, which is an increase of 11 per cent. I welcome that increase because one of the problems in the whole island of Ireland is the lack of knowledge that many southern Irish people have of Northern Ireland. Only a small percentage of southern Irish people have ever visited northern Ireland; many others judge it by what they read in the newspapers. During the debate, hon. Members from the north of 554 England complained that many people from the south of England had never visited the north and, likewise, are ignorant of the tremendous tourist delights in northern England.
Despite those 380,000 visitors from the Republic of Ireland in 1992, Britain remains our main market. We had 650,000 visitors from Scotland, England and Wales, of which 75,000 came for holidays. That was an increase of 7 per cent. On the continent of Europe, we are advancing strongly, with people from Germany, France, Holland and Italy—in that order—being the main holidaymakers in Northern Ireland. Germany sent 23,000 holiday visitors to Northern Ireland in 1992, which was an increase of 10 per cent. Holland sent 7,600 holiday visitors and Italy, 6,700.
The North American market is important to Northern Ireland. There are 44 million people in the United States who claim Irish background. More than 50 per cent. of them claim Scots-Irish background which, of course, is Northern Ireland. A minority of the Irish claim Gaelic-Irish background—a fact which is sometimes overlooked. Traffic between Belfast and Canada is greater than that between Dublin and Canada. That shows the strength of the Ulster-Scot connection in Canada. In 1991, we had 51,000 visitors from North America, which was an increase of 9 per cent. on the previous year.
One can see that the news on tourism is good for Northern Ireland. We are attracting more tourists from the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain, Europe and North America. Much of that is the result of something to which the Minister referred—the reorganisation of the Northern Ireland tourist board. That reorganisation has taken effect and is in place. Much of the credit must go to the former Minister, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), for his enthusiasm in developing the tourist industry and reorganising the tourist board.
Today, the tourist board is chaired by the hon. Hugh O'Neill, who comes from a well-known Ulster family which has served the Province for hundreds of years. He carries on that tradition of service to the community with enthusiasm to develop our tourist industry. The recently appointed chief executive of the tourist board is Mr. Ian Henderson. He was employed by the board in other positions and, therefore, has been an important contributor to the development of the work of the tourist board and the growth of the tourist industry in the Province.
The tourist board is important in advertising tourism and giving grants to tourist projects in Northern Ireland. However, there is more to tourism than simply media coverage and grants. Transport and access to the area are important. Support and interest from the European Community, which is involved in the subject of our debate, is important, as is a special fund for Northern Ireland called the International Fund for Ireland. We benefit from that fund which does not exist elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Major projects are being developed across the Province at present. I think of the European Community scheme for the visitors' park at Millisle in my constituency which was aided under the cross-border tourist project. Unfortunately, I understand that the Community has ended that scheme. The scheme resulted in a £1 million project in the small village of Millisle. That was welcome investment.
European Community support has been given to the new St. Patrick's trian project in the ancient city of 555 Armagh. It is right in the centre of that city below the old St. Patrick's Church of Ireland cathedral. Armagh is the Canterbury and Durham combined of Northern Ireland. It is the ecclesiastical capital of all Ireland and a beautiful old city. The project will be a tremendous source of tourism for the city when it is completed at the end of this year.
The old Navan fort just outside the city of Armagh is being restored. [Interruption.] The Minister has been there. That is fairly impressive. The fort was the seat of the ancient kings and queens of Ireland, based once again at the city of Armagh. The project is being funded to a considerable extent by the International Fund for Ireland. The IFI and the EC are important sources of finance and have contributed to an impressive growth of tourism in the Province in recent years.
§ Mr. Taylor
I hope that the Minister will visit it. I look forward to meeting him there, because I live not far from the location.
The growth of tourism contributed £217 million in 1991—the last year for which figures are available to me—to the economy of Northern Ireland; hon. Members can see how important it is to a small Province of 1.5 million people that our tourist industry provides more than £200 million.
As I said, transport is important. It is no good advertising a place and obtaining IFI and EC grants if people cannot travel to the Province. The Government have a role to play in the various transport systems. I accept that the Government may not have a role to play in the ferry services by private operators, but they have a role in the development of the road and rail systems that lead to ferry ports.
The Larne-Stranraer ferry is the busiest ferry between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. We also now have an excellent Sea Cat and hovercraft service between Belfast and Stranraer. We hope that there will be a service between Belfast and Liverpool later this year. It is also important that we have road systems to service those ports. That is where the Government could help us more, by, for example, improving the road to Larne. The road to that major port—the largest in the island of Ireland—is still not dualled all the way to Larne. We need the Government to submit a programme to the European Community to upgrade that road so that we can benefit from European regional development fund finance.
Equally, it is no use having a good road to Lame and the best ferry service between Ireland and Great Britain, if there are not good roads to and from Stranraer in the west of Scotland. The main road is the A75. We hope that the Scottish Office will do its utmost to improve the roads in western Scotland because we find them a disappointment.
Many Northern Ireland people go to Scotland for their holidays. Probably more people go to Scotland than anywhere else. The roads and ferries in the west of Scotland are chock-a-block with Ulster motor cars and caravans. But the roads are not good and we need an improvement.
556 We also need an improvement of the road from Dublin to Belfast. That is not mainly the responsibility of the British Government. It is the responsibility of the Dublin Government. But the United Kingdom Government should make every effort to encourage Dublin to upgrade the road system from Dublin to the border and to apply for grants from the European Community to do so. Under the provisions of the Maastricht treaty, the Dublin Government will be able to benefit from EC funds as no one else can—through the cohesion fund. The Dublin Government should use that to improve the road system to Northern Ireland.
Railways are also important. I am glad to say that the Belfast-Dublin railway is being upgraded and will be a first-class communication system between the two cities. Likewise, the Northern Ireland Office is investing £75 million in a project, already under construction, for an impressive cross-city rail link in Belfast city to link the two railway systems of the north and south of the Province. Thereby, one will be able to travel by rail direct from Larne harbour to the centre of Belfast, which is to be commended and is a great step forward.
One worry is the Government's proposal for upgrading the railways in Great Britain and I again appeal for further consideration to be given to upgrading the railway system in the west of Britain up to Glasgow. Only when that is upgraded can we in the western part of Scotland and in Northern Ireland advance our tourist industry.
Aldergrove airport in Belfast is the sixth busiest airport in the United Kingdom and is advancing every year, reflecting the growth in the tourist industry. We now have international flights to France and the Netherlands and for about five years we have had direct flights to Amsterdam. I went there last weekend with the Round Table from my constituency and I was interested to see that the plane was packed—there was not an empty seat on the flight to Amsterdam and I could see only two empty seats on the way back, although I do not think that we lost any members of our party.
It is good to see a new service of that nature—operated by KLM through City Hopper—doing so well. I should like more European connections to be developed between Belfast and the continental mainland.
There has also been further growth in flights from Belfast to North America. Globespan has moved into the city and operates direct charter flights between Belfast and Toronto. Interestingly, one can fly from Belfast to Toronto for £160 return, but the return flight from Belfast to London costs up to £206. It is therefore cheaper to go on holiday to Toronto than to London, which is not good news for the British tourist industry.
Flights from the United States to the Republic of Ireland are important to North American tourism in Ireland. In these days of a single market, what happens in the Republic of Ireland is a legitimate concern of this House and of Europe. In Northern Ireland, we co-operate with the Republic to promote tourism. As I said, 44 million people in the United States of America have connections with Ireland, mostly with Northern Ireland.
Flights from America to Dublin are an important gateway for tourists coming to Northern Ireland, but the Dublin Government have rigidly refused permission for direct flights from the United States to Dublin and still make it a condition that no flight can come from America to Dublin unless it first stops at Shannon airport, which is 557 not what people want. People want to get to Dublin, and if they get there they will come to Northern Ireland, and assist our tourist industry.
A fortnight ago, I was in Washington and I met many prominent Irish Americans, including some senators and congressmen. Everywhere I went in the capital I promoted the idea of direct flights. In that respect, I am helping the Americans, as they want access to Dublin airport without having to stop elsewhere. Since we have an interest, and we have the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that is a matter on which the British Government could make representations to Dublin to ease restrictions on flights from North America to the Republic and especially to Dublin airport.
I have one somewhat critical comment on the International Fund for Ireland. I praised it earlier and its money has been most useful to Northern Ireland. I know many of the projects that it has assisted and have read in detail its annual reports for the six years that it has been in operation. I have also discussed those reports with members of the IFI board, who represent the Canadian and United States Governments. As the House knows the European Community also helps to finance the International Fund for Ireland.
Having placed on record the fact that the IFI does good work, I should like to mention a problem that is special to Northern Ireland. I must be careful about how I phrase this. Northern Ireland has a divided society. Some villages are predominantly Protestant while others are predominantly Catholic. It is always important for the Government and their agencies and for public authorities financed by the United States, Canada and the EC to ensure that the agencies and those who distribute the funds act in an even-handed manner.
The International Fund for Ireland recently proceeded with a scheme to regenerate 20 villages in Northern Ireland. That involves the provision of heritage centres or small museums or the improvement of buildings that have fallen into decay. One of the problems is that, although the majority community in Northern Ireland is Protestant, the IFI selected 20 villages that were all Catholic. That decision may have been made in all innocence, but it creates the wrong perception in Northern Ireland. It creates resentment, and that breeds other things that are bad for the Province.
I am using this occasion to appeal to the board of the International Fund for Ireland to look more carefully at how it selects villages in Northern Ireland and to ascertain how it ended up financing only villages that are lived in by one section of the overall community. The Governments of the United States and Canada and the European Community would be greatly embarrassed if an independent inquiry into the allocation of funds by the International Fund for Ireland concluded that they had been allocated on a sectarian basis.
§ Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)
I welcome the first debate in the House on tourism for five years. I join the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) in recognising the fine work of the Northern Ireland tourist board.
We are debating an industry which is worth £25 billion to the British economy. It is a successful industry, which employs 1.4 million people and competes fiercely with other countries. It is massively fragmented, with hotels, 558 heritage and leisure attractions, historic towns and houses, retail outlets and country and seaside resorts—to name but some of its constituent parts. The tourist industry is good for Britain and, with a little more help from its friends it could be even better. It is to be admired and should be discussed regularly in the House. In that context, I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's willingness to try to persuade the authorities to arrange for an annual debate on tourism.
The report on tourism produced by the Select Committee on Employment in July 1990 contained 25 recommendations to the Government and to bodies in the industry about how to improve the quality of tourism. It would be instructive for the House to dwell for a few moments on what has happened to those recommendations. I shall not refer to all of them, but I urge the Minister, if he has not already done so, to look at them and to weigh up the progress made in implementing some of those suggestions.
The first recommendation was that there should be no change in the structure of the tourist industry. There has been no change in that structure, but what will be the effect of cutting by one third the grant to the English tourist board? What will be left of the board?
Hon. Members have already mentioned the reduction in grant to the English tourist board. It is hard to see how a fragmented industry such as tourism can do as well when it needs co-ordination, organisation and a English tourist board that is strong and proactive, not emasculated, as I fear it will be if the grant is reduced by a third or more in years to come.
The Select Committee's second recommendation was that there should be no change in departmental responsibility. That was the consensus in 1990, and in 1992 the Department of Tourism was set up—sorry, the Department of National Heritage. It was interesting that the Minister referred to the golden thread of tourism running through the work of his Department. Some of us felt that it could have easily been called the Department of Tourism, but that was not to be. The Committee's recommendation in 1990 was borne out of the belief that inertia was inevitable. We were wrong, and the new Department is to be welcomed if it believes in the value of tourism to this country.
The Committee warned of the dangers of competitive subsidies for tourism. We were thinking of the need to keep up with the support given to tourist industries in other European countries and elsewhere in the world. In the past three years, support for our industry has declined in cash and real terms, while in other countries the support given to their industries has substantially increased.
§ Mr. Brandreth
Does my hon. Friend realise that what he is saying is not universally true? I think that I am right in saying that Canada and Australia, which also have mature tourist markets, concentrate on overseas promotion. When internal promotion is being considered, the need changes.
§ Mr. Coombs
If my hon. Friend will allow me to develop my argument, he will see that I am referring not only to the ETB, but to the BTA. I have an important point to make in that context, which will, I think, deal with my hon. Friend's observation.
We have seen a decline in cash and real terms. The grant to the ETB has been substantially reduced, while the BTA 559 has suffered a reduction in its grant in real terms, brought about by the decline in the value of the pound over the past six months. That means that the BTA's ability to spend in overseas markets to tell people in other countries about the glories of Britain has been reduced.
That issue should be directly addressed by the Department of National Heritage. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that matter to see whether he can find a means of restoring the value of the contribution made to the BTA by public funds to enable it to continue its vital work.
The Committee mentioned the tourism information centres, which have already been referred to in the debate. They make a tremendous contribution to the tourism infrastructure of this country. They need resources if they are to be an effective shop window for tourism in localities throughout the United Kingdom.
There is a danger that, as a result of the recession, those tourism information centres are having to bear financial pressures. It is important that all of us who admire the work of the industry recognise the tremendous contribution made by the tourist information centres and urge all those involved—whether the private sector, local authorities or the Government—to ensure that TICs survive and continue to do the excellent work made possible by their many dedicated staff.
The Committee tackled the thorny subject of section 4 grants. In this instance only, it may be helpful if I read to the House the recommendation we made, as nothing has changed since 1990:Circumstances in some areas of England are so similar to those in Wales and Scotland that no case could be mounted that would prove that section 4 offered a proper use of public funds in job creation and raising of standards for tourist facilities in Wales and Scotland, but nowhere in England. Therefore, we recommend that section 4 equity partnerships and revolving loan funds be offered on a trial basis to the tourist boards in disadvantaged parts of England. If funds could be made available for this purpose, and boards were required to make no loss on their use, profitability of projects entered into would make the funds grow without more Government input. It is our firm view that public support of tourism targeted to areas of high unemployment and tourist attraction, through judicious expenditure as outlined in these proposals, brings real jobs and lasting prosperity to areas of Britain where other industries find difficulty in flourishing".Nothing has changed since we made that recommendation to the Government.
We are told today that assisted area status could be conferred on some parts of England particularly associated with tourism—seaside resorts, for instance. It could be helpful if grants were provided for improving boarding houses and small hotels—installing ensuite bathrooms, better facilities and so on—but why cannot the Department of National Heritage take the initiative on this, since it is responsible for tourism? After all, it has a £1 billion budget, as the Minister said in his excellent speech, so surely a few million pounds could be found to assist in these areas.
The Committee report also dealt with the need to streamline the planning processes in rural areas. There has been no sign of that happening, although many local authorities have been more responsive.
I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to welcome the project at Longleat in Wiltshire, where Center Pares will be shortly embarking on the construction of its third 560 holiday village in the United Kingdom. Thanks to the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) and the positive approach to planning adopted by the district council, this exciting project is to go ahead.
The Committee went on to discuss the BTA and ETB campaign to lengthen the holiday season. It is crucial to do everything we can to tell the outside world that the British holiday season does not run just from the first gleam of sun in May to the last gleam in September. It is now an all-weather, all-season holiday package, and it is being promoted with vigour. I welcome the progress that has been made with the provision of wet weather activities and attractions—for example, Rock Circus at Piccadilly and the Center Pares holiday villages which I have already mentioned. Such places do a spendid job and are well known here, but they need to be more widely known overseas.
Many people come to London during the summer; more would come in the winter if they knew about attractions such as Rock Circus, Madame Tussaud's and other places that provide against the wet weather with which we are occasionally blessed in this part of the world.
The Committee also called for a more even distribution of bank holidays. I am delighted that the Department of Employment, which was responsible for tourism until only a short while ago, is consulting on the possibility of moving the May day bank holiday to October. There are differing views in the industry about that proposal. I recognise the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) and of Blackpool pleasure beach operators, who think that it would be advantageous to keep the holiday where it is, but many others in the industry believe that the chance to extend the season with a late October bank holiday would be beneficial. I hope that that will be the outcome of the consultations.
We called on the English tourist board to promote the dispersal of tourists outside London. That is not to say that we did not recognise the excellent work done by the London tourist board, now to be taken over by London Forum. In the past few years, the LTB has been enormously successful in boosting London's attractions, but the Committee wanted tourists to visit other parts of the United Kingdom, and I hope that the Government will continue to help with the infrastructure. Like the right hon. Member for Strangford, I believe that it is crucial to the well-being of the tourism industry.
I hope that my hon. Friend will also think carefully about the report "Tourism and the Environment" which was published a couple of years ago. If we are successful in dispersing tourists out of London, we shall inevitably send them to some of the historic towns of England—York, Canterbury, Oxford, Cambridge and so on—which already attract large numbers of tourists and which undoubtedly, if faced with more, will experience difficulties in managing them. When we talk about dispersal, therefore, it is important to look at the whole package.
As for accessibility for the disabled, I welcome very much the tourism for all campaign, which is bringing real benefits to the disabled, who represent one of the most important growth markets—both disabled people coming to this country and those who live here.
As for the Committee's recommendation about the need to encourage multilingualism among tourist industry 561 employees, I pay tribute to the British Tourist Authority for its "Winning Words" campaign, which has been enormously successful in the last two or three years.
I turn now to the need for resources for the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board. The ETB's case has already been made in the debate by a number of hon. Members. However, I wish to expand on what I said in answer to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth).
The BTA needs to spend substantial sums, raised from both the private sector—which, of course, we welcome—and public funds, if we are to compete in an increasingly ferocious and competitive international market for tourists. In the last six to nine months, the BTA has effectively been shorn of 15p in every pound of the money that it has available to it for below-the-line promotion of the English and United Kingdom tourist industry. That has created a very serious problem for the BTA.
My hon. Friend the Minister really must address this issue. If it was right and proper for the BTA to have a full pound last September to spend on overseas promotion, how can it now be right for it to have only 85p? I do not see the logic of not tackling that problem, if we believe that the BTA's overseas promotion work is good and worth while. I know that my hon. Friend believes that to be the case, so he must now address the question of where to find the missing 15p in every pound. The Committee was at pains to stress the importance of the BTA'S work overseas. Its importance has not diminished as the competition from other countries has grown fiercer and fiercer.
Implicit in many of the suggestions that I have made and in those to which I have referred in the Select Committee's report is the need for a strong and active ETB and BTA. We spend £2.5 billion a year on training. According to the Budget, a welcome £230 million is to be spent on the long-term unemployed. Nevertheless, the relatively small sums needed to make the ETB and the BTA effective in promoting the tourist industry have not been made available.
If we look back to the Committee's recommendations, I have in mind an additional £5 million for the BTA to spend overseas on tourist promotion. I have also in mind a sum of £5 million to restore the cut in grant that the ETB suffered recently, and also a small contribution to a revolving fund to replace the old section 4 scheme. That would be much more effective than the money that has been allocated in the last few days to training and the long-term unemployed.
Tourism is an industry which is highly geared to employment and to the use of small sums of money to generate large returns. If the Department of National Heritage is not prepared to take action to help the tourist industry in areas of high unemployment where the industry could, with marginal support and encouragement, do extremely well, we shall miss a great opportunity.
I conclude with one salient point about the tourist industry, which is facing tough times. This morning, I received a copy of this month's Holiday Which? Its contents page is revealing. On page 74, we are invited to read about Paris—A city that's ideal for a Spring weekend. Use our guide to plan your time and make your money go further—plus plenty of good hotels".Page 82 asks:How much for a room? Find out how much you'll pay for a hotel room this summer, and read why British hotels are so expensive.562 Page 90 is onWashington and Virginia. Visit the home of American presidents and tour through Civil War battlefields and countryside where European colonists settled.Page 96:Britain's top sites. Our inspections reveal that you could be getting a raw deal.I recognise that the Consumers Association and Holiday Which? have the interests of consumers at heart, but who speaks for the British tourist industry? Who is prepared to say that we are one of the best in the world, and that we are in the top six? The industry has done marvellously in the past and has gone through hard times in the past two or three years, but it will return to greatness with a little help from its friends. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister speaks up for the industry, but words are not always enough; it needs wholehearted encouragement and selective financial assistance.
I invite the Minister to consider some of the points that have been made, to see whether we can find a way of ensuring that British tourism not only keeps pace with that in other countries but moves ahead, of reducing the imbalance between inward and outward tourism potential, and of establishing the British industry at the top of the tree.
§ 1.7 pm
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
It is apparent from the debate that a number of Conservative Members do not share the Minister's hollow complacency. The hon. Members for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) and for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) and the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) showed that they share the concern of many Opposition Members.
The Minister has been invited to Cornwall, but has not yet been able to come. Fortunately, the Prime Minister visited Cornwall in recent weeks, recognising that the Cornish spring comes earlier than the Paris spring. 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 other places as somewhere to go.That was the rationale of the Prime Minister, who was seeking to explain to one of Britain's premier holiday destinations why he and his Government had decided to cut the promotional budget of the English tourist board and the British Tourist Authority. I believe that that cut is a grave mistake.
I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Blackpool, North said, but he was wrong in one regard. He said that the current contribution of the tourism industry to our GDP was about 4 per cent. It is not. It was almost 4 per cent. in 1989, but it has now slipped to 3.4 per cent. It is precisely because it appears that we shall lose our position in the top five or six international tourist economies that we should be so concerned.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development forecasts that, by the turn of the century, tourism will be the biggest single industry in the world. Britain, which founded or invented tourism, looks as if it will slip. It is an extremely important industry at the moment and makes a contribution to the United Kingdom economy three times the size of that of the motor industry. It is bigger than the food, drink and tobacco industries put together, but, let us be clear, we could slip.
563 Three major structural factors are causing that slip. First, as many hon. Members have said, we suffer from an uneven playing field in comparison with our competitors in the European Community. The holidaymaker reading Holiday Which? is faced with a simple fact. If he chooses an ordinary hotel in Greece, he will be charged 8 per cent. value added tax, in Spain 6 per cent., in France—our most immediate competitor—only 5.5 per cent., while in England our hotels are struggling with a rate of 17.5 per cent.
With the imminent opening of the channel tunnel and the nascent single market, the VAT rate differentials distort the picture. They will encourage the traditional short-break tourist to travel to France and the continent rather than to stay at home. The differentials are a distortion of the single market, which is unacceptable. If the industry had half the political muscle of the motor industry, it would be knocking on the door of No. 10 to make a change. It is a subject for derogation—it is open to Ministers to decide whether to assist the industry by changing VAT.
A second major structural problem facing the industry is the huge discrepancy in the application of fire, health, food and hygiene regulations in some other European Community countries and in Britain. Our competitors find it much easier to circumvent or modify those regulations. An example is the recently introduced regulation on kitchen utensils. To make a traditional club sandwich in a pub, hotel, restaurant or cafe in this country, one must have at least three knives and at least three chopping blocks. Such precautions are not only impractical but extremely costly. The Minister asked to hear about specific problems, and I am sure that the industry will supply him with many.
It is not enough for the Government to set up their own internal task forces to deal with the problem of regulation. Employing poachers to rewrite the game laws has never been a satisfactory basis for changing legislation. Why should there not be an independent commission to take evidence from the industry and others to ensure that there is practical scrutiny?
The third factor is the uniform business rate, to which a number of hon. Members have already referred. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale is no longer here. I raised the issue with the Treasury months ago when it become apparent that the Inland Revenue valuation regulations are paying little regard to the peculiar and special nature of the industry, and the changing and cyclical nature of its business. A business that is effectively open for only four months of the year—perhaps even only six weeks—pays the UBR on a valuation that takes account of a full 12 months' operation. That is inequitable and unfair. The Government need to consider urgently not only the specific questions asked by the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale but the general basis for valuation.
There are one or two other incredibly important factors for the industry which, although within the Government's purview, are perhaps not so much structural as tactical. For example, a number of the areas that have traditionally relied on the holiday industry are affected by disproportionately high water charges. The north-west and the 564 south-west come first to mind. Since privatisation, in the south-west 2 per cent. of the population are now paying for 10 per cent. of the coastline to be cleaned up. The effect has been a huge rise in water charges—16 per cent. in the current year—which are likely to double by the end of the century. The absence since privatisation of any effective national equalisation element and the reduced eligibility for European Community help have compounded the inequality. To some extent, such high charges are also charged for electricity, as many areas in the south-west are far away from the main sources of power generation.
Another issue that has been very much in the mind of the industry in recent months—I had a call from Bath last night which highlighted the matter—is that holiday businesses face the problem of bank costs. I am talking not just about bank charges and interest rates, but about bank costs generally. Since the late 1980s, when many businesses were encouraged by the Government and by the tourist industry's own boards to invest heavily both in property and in improvements, the industry has found itself heavily burdened by bank costs. Many businesses are now in severe financial trouble. It is estimated that the biggest single operator of hotel beds at present is a liquidator. Bank managers and business advisers fell over themselves to encourage wanton increases in indebtedness in the 1980s, yet those who were so ready to provide money then have been only too ready to pull the rug out since.
The industry now faces the threat of rail privatisation. As other hon. Members have said, the railways are extremely important, especially to the far-flung resorts that many of us here represent. British Rail has told me that in 1991–92, 100,000 British Rail passes were sold internationally. After privatisation, who will undertake such a function? The sales of passes doubled in Germany in 1991–92 and British Rail international sales grossed £89 million in that year. Bringing people to this country is precisely the sort of objective that one would think that the Government would have in mind. InterCity services have improved in a number of directions, although sadly, with the threat of privatisation, British Rail has already had to look at some of the through services to major resorts such as Newquay, the most famous, important and beautiful seaside holiday resort in the United Kingdom, and to other resorts that might try to vie with it, such as Blackpool.
There are other ways in which British Rail's activities to encourage the use of trains by holidaymakers have been extremely effective in taking pressure off the roads. A particular example are the park-and-ride schemes in operation for St. Ives, for Looe, in the Yorkshire Dales national park, and on the Settle to Carlisle line.
The tourist industry will be one of the first victims of the disintegration of the national railway system. Hon. Members of all parties, especially in the south-west, know that that is the case.
In that context, I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to the representations of hon. Members from all parties about the cuts in the English tourist board. It is not only the centralised board that is being massacred; the regional boards are also affected.
As other hon. Members have said, more than 70 jobs will go as a result of the cuts. Who will be left in the ETB to undertake the important examination to which the Minister referred? What skills will be left for that examination? The seaside resorts initiative, which is extremely important and valuable in a number of areas, is 565 likely to be downgraded. We already have a £4 billion trade deficit in tourism, which is damaging to the national economy as well as to the industry itself, yet the Department of National Heritage appears to be so obsessed with the national lottery that it is ignoring the developments that the industry so desperately needs.
It is in that context, too, that, without in any way criticising the support that the Secretaries of State for Scotland, for Northern Ireland and for Wales give to their tourist industries, we must view the extraordinary discrepancy between their enthusiasm for intervention and investment and the attitude that prevails in England. The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale gave some figures. I am sorry that he is not now in his place, because I should like to give him some additional figures, which the Minister was kind enough to pass to me earlier in the year. Expenditure on tourism per head of population is £6.26 in Northern Ireland; £5.06 in Wales and £3.20 in Scotland.
I do not criticise those figures because tourism is a proper priority. But for England—and in this context, I include the Duchy of Cornwall, even though Cornwall is a separate celtic country—we are talking about the princely sum of 42p.
That is bad enough, but matters are to get worse. By 1995–96, the figures will have increased to £8.60 in Northern Ireland and to £5.39 in Wales. In Scotland, there will be a modest reduction of 6p to £3.14. England and Cornwall, the biggest destinations for holidaymakers, will have the princely sum of 21p per head of population—precisely half the present figure. That is what the Prime Minister meant when he came to Cornwall and told the The Western Morning News that we did not need any promotion because everyone knew instinctively that we were there. How can we compete nationally, let alone internationally, on that basis?
Some 85 per cent. of tourism to the United Kingdom is to England. Nearly half the nights spent away from home by United Kingdom residents are spent in England. That is as high a figure as those for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together, yet we do not have a Department, a Minister or a Cabinet who are committed to the promotion of this vital industry.
The hon. Member for Swindon talked about the Select Committee report. I do not believe that we paid enough attention to its recommendations—in particular to the passage that the hon. Gentleman quoted concerning ways of adapting section 4 grants and making them into effective roll-over grants that did not cost a great deal of money. Rural economies such as Cumbria, Devon, Cornwall, Northumberland and North Yorkshire would benefit enormously from that targeted investment. I hope that the Minister will take that on board and give a firm assurance to all hon. Members that he will look at the matter again.
Tourism is still very vulnerable to the general state of the economy. The Minister himself said that survivors of the recession would be in a better state to take advantage of the new situation. Many people have not survived the recession, however, and we are vulnerable to any squeeze on disposable incomes. Expenditure on tourism is peculiarly subject to such pressures. If we have a national economic revival and if employment improves, it is in tourism that we can gain the most.
It is a sad fact that 11 of the top 20 unemployment black spots identified by the Department of Employment are in 566 areas that predominantly rely on the holiday industry. It is extraordinary that more work is not done to invest in those areas. I have a list, which includes Clacton, Newquay in my constituency, Skegness, Penzance, Torbay, Bideford, Hastings and the Isle of Wight. Those are areas where limited, targeted investment of Government funds would make the most tremendous difference to the local economy and the employment situation.
A number of matters need to be addressed urgently. In addition to the harmonisation of tax, regulations and controls in the European Community, which, sad to say, were totally neglected while the British Government were in the driving seat, we must do something about the inadequacy and inflexibility of the uniform business rate.
We must do something about the inequity of water charges and the way in which they cast especially great burdens on areas of low income and those affected by the tourism industry. In a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), the Prime Minister seemed to give that assurance. However, we have yet to see what the Prime Minister will do about that problem.
We need an emergency package, similar to that negotiated with the lending institutions by the Government on behalf of home owners, to help businesses in a similar position that face repossession at the worst possible moment in the cycle of the property value slump. Most importantly, in order to give new confidence to the industry, the question of funding the boards and the section 4 grants, or their modernised equivalents, is critical if we are to extend the season, to modernise facilities and to ensure that promotional budgets can stand up to international competition.
Even on a Friday, when most hon. Members who represent the more far flung holiday resorts find it difficult to cancel engagements in order to be present in the Chamber, it is clear that there is a groundswell of concern on both sides of the House about what is happening to one of our premier industries. It is vital that we have an annual debate and a Minister prepared to take on board the recommendations of the Select Committee. In addition, we must find another vehicle or mechanism to consider these extremely important issues.
During business questions last week, I suggested to the Leader of the House that tourism was an ideal and important subject in respect of which he could reconstitute for England the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs. A rather long-forgotten Standing Order, No. 100, on which dust seems to have settled, has prevented us from having that Standing Committee.
If we are to harness the all-party enthusiasm and concern for the industry, that Standing Committee would be a very important mechanism for achieving that. I invite the Minister to endorse that request so that we can have more discussion and more effective action on behalf of the industry.
§ Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)
I also welcome the Minister's recommendation that we should have an annual debate on tourism. I believe that the Department of National Heritage was born from my political loins. John Lee, who gave such distinguished service to the House and to tourism, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) and I went to see my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister before the last general election. 567 We asked him to combine the arts, tourism and our national heritage into one Department, so that we would have a great package for selling Great Britain. I am delighted that that suggestion fell on fertile ground and that the Minister is with us today.
I am very pleased that the Minister mentioned his visit to the Isle of Wight. I am certain that he will not have forgotten the great problem we have with the international sign for a zoo, which is an elephant. He will recall the difficulties that that has caused us when we have tried to use it to advertise a flamingo park.
However, it was of considerable comfort to me to see in today's Times that English Heritage is dealing with a very serious case of tooth decay in a unicorn. I am pleased to see that it is repairing the unicorn using funds from the Department of National Heritage. However, if English Heritage can get the unicorn to open wide to repair its tooth decay, I wonder why I have not been successful in getting English Heritage to open Osbourne house all year round so that our winter tourism can benefit from that wonderful attraction on the Isle of Wight.
As has already been said, tourism employs more than 1.4 million people in the United Kingdom. Of those, 1,115,000 are to be found in England, 185,000 in Scotland and 95,000 in Wales. Tourism accounts for more employment than construction and transport put together. I must also refer—as others have done today—to the fact that Scotland and Wales continue to receive section 4 grants. Scotland, which has only 9 per cent. of the nation's unemployment, gets a third of all taxpayers' assistance in the United Kingdom. That shows the imbalance. This was well alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) in his remarks about the English tourist board.
I recall when I made my contribution to a previous tourism review. In this debate, it has been said that tourism has moved from Department to Department. I also point out to my hon. Friend the Minister that tourism has had many reviews. The previous review was started by my right hon. Friend the party chairman when he was involved in employment. I asked him whether we would examine section 4 grants, and the answer was that they should follow unemployment. That was a much better, more scientific and more logical approach to the whole thing than simply peppering them around the countryside generally.
I think that the fact that section 4 grants were not always seen to be as wisely spent as they might have been was the reason why there was some denigration of the system. If they had followed unemployment, that would have met the point.
The party chairman and the Secretary of State for Health are two protagonists. They are leading members of our party, who take their annual holidays in the United Kingdom. Perhaps, when I greet them on the Isle of Wight in the future, I shall be wearing a kilt and eating a leek. Perhaps I shall have a piece of shamrock in my turban and a heavily nailed shillelagh in my hand to get my point across: does anybody still speak for England?
We must find niches in the holiday market. One has been well found by our tourism office on the island. I pay special tribute to Peter Holyoak and Hal Matthews for producing an excellent brochure only this week on 568 conference opportunities for the island. We have already had the social services conference at which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced the ring fencing for new community care. That was a great success, which went down well in local government.
The conference of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives is coming up later this year. We have the inter-island games which her Royal Highness Princess Anne will open for us. Every year, we have the round-the-island race—the biggest yacht race in the world—and we have Cowes week, which, alternately, is Admiral's cup year. We have the opportunity of attracting more business to fill us up during the shoulder months and to get conference business on to the Isle of Wight because it is profitable.
I have had a letter, as have many other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, about the English tourist board, its finances and so on. Martin Humphrey, the chairman of the commercial members group, makes a specific point which has perhaps not come out strongly in the debate—that the tourism industry has had put on it the EC travel package directive. My hon. Friend knows that the island's Euro Member and I went to see the Department of Trade and Industry. We met the solicitors to get the most difficult parts of the package ironed out.
I believe that Brussels never intended the package to apply to domestic tourism. It certainly was not meant to apply to a hotelier or guest house proprietor on the Isle of Wight who provides a ferry fare with the bedroom charge. We were not successful in that, but I think that we got some of the knobs knocked off it. They have the fire safety furniture regulations in self-catering accommodation—I see the Minister nodding because he knows about the problem—and food hygiene, to which reference has already been made.
I think that my hon. Friend has missed a trick today. We have heard about the VAT threshold being raised in the Budget and the fact that customs officers can now have discretion in misdirected penalties. That will be widely welcomed throughout the tourist industry. Of course, the business rate has been frozen for another year. I know that my hon. Friend, having been a local government finance Minister in the Department of the Environment, will know just how popular that will be with small business which predominate in the tourist industry.
My hon. Friend has missed a trick—the extension of VAT to the bloodstock industry. The bloodstock industry in the United Kingdom is a tremendous tourist attraction. When the Home Secretary came to the House this morning to make an announcement, he was challenged about where he was yesterday. He was at Cheltenham surrounded by Irish people who had come to England to watch the most excellent horse racing in the world. I am sure that that will make a major contribution to our tourism.
As the Minister will be aware, England attracted three quarters of all United Kingdom residents' spending on hotel and residential accommodation when staying away from home. The Isle of Wight has the greatest percentage of repeat holidays of any resort in the United Kingdom. I am sure that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that these days product loyalty—perhaps a little like party loyalty—is rather rarer than dodo manure, but the high level of repeat holidays shows the opportunity for increasing residential United Kingdom tourism. Some £4 billion was spent last year on going overseas. If that 569 money was spent on the Isle of Wight, every pound would be a pound saved from our balance of payments and a help for our balance of trade.
The Minister, a former teacher, mentioned education. I am sure that he will want me to remind the House that, when eventually hon. Members get their lunch today, it may be served by a waiter from the Isle of Wight. As a result of project initiated by me, and of the excellence of the Isle of Wight college of training and technology, five waiters who were trained in silver service on the Isle of Wight obtained jobs in the House. My initiative was in conjunction with Sir Charles Irving, who has given such distinguished service to the House.
When I first set out in politics to become a Member of Parliament, people on the Isle of Wight were displaying in the back of their motor cars a most miserable and nasty sticker which said, "Don't blame me, I'm not a tourist—I live here". I thought that it was awful. We spend a great deal of money attracting people to the island. The Isle of Wight has a great reputation for friendliness in England, Scotland and Wales and internationally. Everyone knows how friendly the Isle of Wight is.
I set out to alter the perception of tourism which that miserable sticker represented. In those days, my campaign was not perceived as a vote winner. My political opponents, the Liberal Democrats, did not see a natural parish for the ballot box, so my campaign was denigrated.
I started an initiative called the "island smile competition". The first prize was lunch at the House of Commons. The second prize was two lunches at the House of Commons. I gave a prize out of my own pocket so that we could find the person who had the most welcoming smile on the Isle of Wight and contributed most to the tourist industry. The competition has been revamped as the "courtesy awards". The tourism industry sponsors it, and it is a great opportunity to find the individual on the Isle of Wight who contributes most to people's enjoyment of their holiday.
One of the leading protagonists in tourism on the Isle of Wight and in changing perceptions is the Conservative-controlled Medina borough council. It has gone out of its way to show that things can be done on the island. It has ignored its detractors and the criticism of the Liberal Democrats to such an extent that the other authorities on the island are trying to follow suit. They are not nearly so successful as the Conservative-controlled Medina borough council. It has tarted up the sea front at Ryde and throughout the borough and built a new complex with a bowling alley and ice rink. Now South Wight council is following suit to some extent.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) made his usual carping criticism. He made a point about water charges in the south-west. The other day, when the matter was raised with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the Chamber, he should have replied that the hon. Gentleman's colleagues took part in demonstrations with "Surfers Against Sewage", the very organisation which has been the protagonist in the campaign throughout Cornwall to improve the water quality of the beaches. Now that the water industry is spending money to improve the quality of bathing water, it is typical of the Liberal Democrats to criticise it. They always want to have their cake and eat it.
§ Mr. Tyler
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Prime Minister should not review water charges in the 570 south-west? If so, many members of the Conservative party who currently represent seats there will be interested to hear it because they know that they are vulnerable to the Liberal Democrat advance.
§ Mr. Field
The hon. Gentleman heard precisely what I said, but, as he did not get the point, I shall repeat it. His colleagues have taken part in demonstrations with Surfers Against Sewage about the quality of bathing waters in Cornwall and have made a lot of publicity and noise about it. Now that the water industry is improving bathing water quality and recouping the capital costs, as always, the hon. Gentleman is the first on his feet to complain about it.
Finally, I must tell the House about a marvellous new Liberal Democrat policy for tourism on the Isle of Wight. They are so in love with cracked pavements that the Isle of Wight county council has spent £160,000 to buy a swimming pool with a crack so large that it is just like a Liberal Democrat policy—it will not hold water. We now have a dry and irreparable swimming pool, at a cost of £160,000. I hope that that will be my hon. Friend's answer to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Tyler) when he says, "We want more funds". If that is what Liberal Democrats would do with it, God help us.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. There are 50 minutes left and six hon. Members wish to catch my eye, so I appeal for some brevity.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
I note your suggestion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall try to follow it, but, with respect, it is a bit much when hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have spent the whole morning here, but others, who have taken part in the debate, have already departed. I think that that should be noted.
The debate has been interesting and we have heard from many hon. Members about the great advantages, in both revenue and employment, brought to this country by the tourist industry. I accept that argument and I am pleased that we have got away from the traditional tourist spots. Although I accept that London, Stratford and Edinburgh are still popular, other parts of the country equally offer a great deal to tourists from overseas or from this country.
I am the first Member representing a London constituency to take part in the debate; I hope that other colleagues will be able to participate. London is possibly the most popular tourist centre in the United Kingdom, so some aspects of London should be mentioned, because, with great respect to the Minister, he did not refer to them.
I have been an MP for some time, and I question the amount of planning and co-operation on tourism between the London boroughs. How does one borough interrelate with another? How do they decide to spend the money that the London boroughs contribute to tourism? I understand that the Minister will not reply to the debate, but perhaps he will find time to rise to answer some of my queries, as—to his credit—he has done when leading from the Front Bench in the past.
I understand that soon the London Forum and London First are to be established, to promote the affairs of London. One gets the feeling, however, that they will follow their own plans and policies. The London Forum and the London tourist board are certainly not flavour of 571 the month to many London boroughs. The London boroughs grants committee provides a large sum of money—something in the region of £300,000 a year—to the London tourist board to help to meet its running costs, yet I understand that neither that committee nor the local authorities were consulted about the establishment of the London Forum. It would be interesting to know what its exact role will be and whom it will consult as it starts to develop the function that we understand that it is to perform for London on tourism.
Many of our 32 London boroughs have a great deal to offer and could interrelate, but I wonder how much co-operation there has been within inner and outer London areas.
Hon. Members have spoken about Government Departments. The press handouts for the London Forum came from the Department of the Environment, and the Secretary of State for the Environment has loudly proclaimed the benefits that the forum will bring. The Department of Transport and the Department of National Heritage also have obvious roles. Does each of those Departments know what other Departments are doing?
§ Mr. Key
As always, there is no rancour between us on these issues. I am delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman that Departments know what other Departments are doing. One good reason for that is the establishment of the Cabinet Committee on London in which these issues, including relationships between the London boroughs, are co-ordinated and discussed in depth. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of relationships and I am glad to give him that assurance.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I thought that I had demonstrated during the Minister's speech that what he has just said in his intervention is not true. I asked why it was costing £15,000 of taxpayers' money to pay for the London Forum's breakfast launch. The Minister did not know anything about that. I do not know what his Department is talking about, but it is not talking about bacon and eggs.
§ Mr. Cox
The Minister will need to send a letter not only to me but to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) on the matter that my hon. Friend has again raised.
In view of the request for brevity, I shall just touch on some issues. If there were more time, I should go into them in more detail. Coach parking presents inner London with enormous problems. One has only to walk along Millbank any day of the week to see enormous congestion. Extra parking facilities have been provided, but are they sufficient? Not only British but ever-increasing numbers of European coaches come to London. They need to be able to park without hassle to the tourists on the coaches or the drivers. They should be able to park for an hour or two so that passengers can get off and see the parts of London that they want to see.
Hon. Members spoke about transport deregulation. It is interesting to read the comments of Saga, a world-famous travel organisation catering not only for British people but for people in all parts of the world. It has expressed enormous concern about the proposed 572 legislation on the privatisation of British Rail. Saga currently knows who it is trading with and can get good deals, but it is deeply concerned about the number of private operators it will be forced to deal with compared with the number that it deals with now. That issue must be considered.
Some Conservative Members have expressed concern about Government funding. I and other hon. Members have served on the Council of Europe. Places in Europe have twinning arrangements with places in this country and many others. Other European countries put a real effort into that and it brings life to twinned areas. However, British local authorities have a poor record on financing twinning arrangements. That also needs to be examined.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and other hon. Members spoke about hotel costs. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) asked how my hon. Friend could relate those issues to the Labour party's commitment to the social chapter. When a comparison was made between a hotel in Birmingham and a hotel in Rouen, France—a comparison of like with like—it was found that the hotel room in Rouen was £24 a night cheaper than the hotel room in Birmingham.
We hear much talk about our commitment to the social chapter and the enormous disadvantages that it would bring to this country were we to subscribe to it and accept the conditions to which the other 11 members of the European Community adhere. The article in Which? clearly outlines the difference between the costs of hotel rooms and shows the myth of that argument. We should face up to reality, not to the myths that some Conservative Members try to create.
The report of the National Economic Development Council published in July last year was highly critical of many aspects of the tourist industry. It stated:1. Quality…The industry must achieve world-class standards, and concentrate on the management of quality.2. Government and Industry. The industry must accept that it has much to do to make itself modern, efficient, competitive and attractive as a career.The report says of tourist information centres:These make a vital contribution to the industry. Arrangements have to ensure: that there are enough of them in the places where they are needed; that they provide high quality and consistent service".Sadly, we know that that is not the case.
The report continues:The uneven level of support by local authorities for tourism and its needs should be ended; they should be given a statutory duty to provide adequate, consistent tourism centres for their localities.I could give more and more examples from the report, which was published nine months ago, and much of which is still extremely relevant to our debate.
I shall bear in mind your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you have always been fair to me when I have sought to catch your eye, and I accept that other hon. Members want to participate in the debate. Therefore, I shall bring my speech to an end.
We have much to offer that could benefit us all. We must realise that we cannot just say, "The United Kingdom—what a great country." We face more and more competition from those countries that now call themselves central European—part of the old Russian empire of yesteryear. People are going to those countries in ever-increasing numbers, as there is much to be seen there.
573 Until last November when my term of office expired, I was treasurer of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Delegations came to this country and I spent many hours inquiring about the costs of hotel rooms. Many of the medium grade—not top-quality—hotel rooms in London are an absolute rip-off. They used to offer bed and breakfast, but now they offer only the room, at a heavy cost. If people want breakfast, as many of them do, they are required to pay a substantial additional charge over and above the cost of the room. Will the Minister use his influence with hotel organisers in London to persuade them to consider how they manage their costs? I speak from the experience of having been the treasurer of one of the major all-party organisations in this country.
This debate has been superb. There has not been much Government bashing, as the subject is of interest to us all. I look to the Minister to reply to my points and, so that I may keep in the good books of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West, to my hon. Friend's comments as well.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
Not only the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) but some of us Conservative Members should express gratitude to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for being so brief. We know that he would have liked to say a great deal more.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage on the tremendous record of the tourism industry that he set out the work, the enterprise and the activity which, together, amount to an annual turnover of £25 billion in terms of firms' incomes, of employment and of expenditure by the public. I also congratulate him on the 50 per cent. increase in tourism in Britain in the past 10 years, reaching a record in 1992 despite the recession; and on the fact that 1.5 million people work in tourism.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) disparaged the Budget in the context of tourism, but he did not mention the low tax announced by the Chancellor on the forthcoming national lottery. That relates to tourism, because the national lottery is designed to produce funds for sport, the arts, heritage, the millennium fund and charities. All those, with the possible exception of charities, help to generate tourism. By keeping the tax rate on the lottery low, the prospects for prizewinners will be increased and more money will be available for these good causes. There were fears a few months ago of a tax rate of 20 per cent. or even more, and it is a tremendous tribute to the Secretary of State for National Heritage and to the Under-Secretary, who have been making strong representations to the Treasury, that they have persuaded the Chancellor to keep the tax rate low, thereby making certain that the national lottery gets off to a good start. That will help the arts and other causes, and it will help to boost tourism.
It is remarkable that we are sixth in the world in terms of our income from tourism. Four of the first five have a lot more sunshine than we have; the fifth has a lot of alpine mountains—Austria—and a great deal of sunshine, too. People cannot count on fine weather in this country, but they do not come to Britain for our weather. They come for our heritage, arts, royal castles and palaces, museums, 574 galleries, villages and towns. They come to see our opera, ballet and orchestral concerts. In all these, we have a great deal to offer—far more than most other countries.
The hon. Member for Tooting referred to London. I am glad to see the English tourist board preparing for a London festival next year to boost London as one of the arts capitals of the world.
We must protect our heritage. English Heritage does a first-class job. If we do not protect it, future generations will curse us, and they will be right to do so.
One aspect of all this has been largely left out of the debate: the monarchy. I believe that the monarchy and the Queen are tremendous tourist attractions—a great draw. We have the best Queen in the world; she is hugely respected and admired, and she is a great draw for tourists. It is important for tourism that we keep our monarchy as it is. Tourists, as well as the British people, would rather we had a grand and splendid monarchy than a bicycle-riding monarchy of the sort favoured by Opposition Members and such as one might find in Scandinavian or Benelux countries.
The British people do not want us to become a banana republic. We should keep our royal yacht, our royal train and the Royal Mail. We should keep our military bands, which are trained at the Royal Military school of music at Kneller Hall in Twickenham. It produces the finest Army bands, whose standards of excellence are the envy of the world. They lift the spirits of, the nation. Who does not thrill to the sound of a British Army band?
§ Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)
My hon. Friend will agree, perhaps, that this House is a tourist attraction in itself. The messages that are taken back to many countries after people have listened to the speeches today will be a reflection of that fact. Does my hon. Friend agree that this House is itself a tourist attraction?
§ Mr. Jessel
Yes it is, and that should be fostered. Furthermore, this House should not hand any of its powers to any foreign body.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I should have loved to follow up many of the interesting strands in the speech of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). However, I do not have time to do so. All I would say is that if that speech does not get him a knighthood, I do not know what will.
I should also have liked to speak at some length about the attractions of the London borough of Newham to tourists. I remember people mocking me when I suggested that a long Sunday walk down the north London sewer outfall is a very pleasant occupation, but it is a very pleasant occupation for those who know it. Newham is an interesting part of London. It has a rich historic legacy. The area is steeped in Labour traditions. There are many things that are worth coming to Newham to see.
I jotted down some of our advantages. We have our own port on the Thames. We also have our own airport, football team—West Ham—a good motorway and railway links. Furthermore, the Greenwich meridian runs right through the constituency. When I come out of my constituency office I cross from the west to the eastern hemisphere. We are superbly poised to go for 575 independence, to stake our claim in the United Nations and to arbitrate in the world between east and west. There are so many advantages going for us in Newham.
With Government assistance, through the money that they provide for the city challenge programme, we are developing our tourist attractions. Other Ministers have been to Newham. If the Minister with responsibility for tourism has not already stepped into Newham, I hope that he will come and have a look at the things that we have got which could extend the tourist industry of London away from the centre, with which we here are associated, and move it to the east.
Many things need to be done for London generally. Tourism is an enormous industry for this capital city. It earned an estimated £4.4 billion for London in 1991—£3.6 billion being spent by overseas visitors and £720 million by British visitors. I only wish that we could offer them more facilities—more reliable transport, for example—and much higher quality souvenirs. I despair of some of the trash, brought here from Hong Kong and Taiwan, that is being sold not a few yards from the Palace of Westminster. I should like tourists to go away with souvenirs of a far higher quality than some of the trash that is hawked on the streets of London at the moment.
The London tourist board has done an excellent job of promoting tourism in the capital city. It has listed a number of problems. Unfortunately, I shall be unable to do them justice. However, the London tourist board refers to the fact that one of the problems in London is the growth of touting for theatre tickets and other events and also for hotel rooms and, most recently, hackney carriages. The LTB says that touting is undesirable and that it damages London's reputation for fairness, honesty and value for money.
We do not want visitors to our capital city to be ripped off by predators. It does nothing for the reputation of London. All it does is to lower it. We want people to leave our capital city having enjoyed their time here and wanting to come back, knowing that there are things here that they can see and enjoy and that they will not be ripped off while they are here.
The London tourist board suggests that ticket agencies should be licensed by the local authority and that it should be a legal requirement to inform the customer at the moment of purchase of the face value of a ticket so that an informed choice can be made. It suggests also that the touting of tickets outside major events should be banned. I know that the Minister will not reply to these points, but the London tourist board has made them and I assume that the Minister will be sympathetic towards them.
§ Mr. Banks
Splendid. I am glad to hear that in between dodging, ducking and diving around all these lunches, dinners and trips abroad, the Minister still has time to nail his feet for a little while in London and speak to the London tourist board.
I hope that the Minister is also doing something about another concern of the LTB: the need for fairly speedy 576 decisions on the big transport infrastructure investments that will also mean a great deal to tourism. The channel tunnel fast link is not part of the Minister's brief, but it touches very much on it as he is the Minister with responsibility for tourism. Decisions are also needed speedily on crossrail, the Thames link and the London underground system.
The London tourist board—keep nodding, Minister—said that deregulation is not a good thing. I do not see the Minister nodding in agreement with that. Those who know realise that deregulation will make it more difficult for tourists, never mind those who live here, to understand how the bus system operates. He should listen carefully to the advice that is being proffered.
The Minister would describe my last point as somewhat more carping. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned the London Forum, about which I am becoming very worried. Under the current financial arrangements, the London tourist board receives more than £300,000 from the London boroughs. Representatives of the major local authority associations—Conservative and Labour—sit on the London tourist board. The London Forum has been set up by the Government and consists, essentially, of unelected business men and one business woman. I find that disturbing.
Why are the Government always so suspicious of local authority representation? Why do they not like elected people? It is strange that elected people in this place are so mistrustful of other elected people, including members of their own party, on local authorities.
London Forum has been charged with the promotion of London tourism. It is effectively taking to itself the functions of the London tourist board, but without the accountability that we require. I tabled a series of questions to an environment Minister about the functions, responsibilities and remit of the London Forum, what expenses its members will be paid, how they were selected, whether he would give details of its budget, what it will be doing, why the Government found it necessary to set it up and why there are no local authority representatives on it when a substantial amount of its finance will come indirectly from local authorities. The reply stated that London Forumwill be a private sector company which will look to the private sector for its funding",except that it will receive money indirectly from local authorities.
The Minister informed me today that the breakfast to launch the London Forum will cost £15,000—not private sector money but public money. I still want to know how £15,000 can be spent on a breakfast. That can buy an awful lot of eggs and bacon, and many people in London would like to go to a breakfast that cost £15,000. It will be champagne all the way and I shall see the Minister there. But if we are to have a body responsible for tourism in London, it should be accountable to the people of London.
§ 2.7 pm
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
If there is one thing that should emerge from this debate it is that the tourism industry is a front-line industry and is recognised as such. Let there be no doubt again about the role of tourism in our economy. It employs 1.5 million people and has grown by about 27 per cent. in the past 10 years, compared with 577 growth of only 2 per cent. in other industries. It is the most important industry we have. It employs legions of people whose livelihoods depend on it.
I pay tribute to the British Tourist Authority—the overseas marketing arm that has made tourism so successful in this country. For three years running, it has won the National Tourist Office award in New York, which is a great credit to it. My hon. Friend the Minister, who spoke so well and with such ebullience and enthusiasm, referred to its award in Dublin. It receives about 1.5 million inquiries each year, operates in 65 countries and runs 400 joint schemes. That combination has yielded the enormous benefits of growth in our tourism.
I should like to pay a brief tribute to William Davis, who is retiring as chairman of the BTA and the English tourist board. He has always been wholly committed to his work for the BTA and the ETB and has undertaken it with enthusiasm and efficiency. He has always worked extremely hard for tourism in this country.
Last night I received a report from Mr. John Trickett, a senior director of one of the largest United States tour operators, which was flown over especially from California. He drew my attention to a number of complaints about the way tours of this country are put together for American tourists. However, he also said:The UK continues to be the largest European destination for American tourism, there is however a great untapped potential. Were Britain able to more effectively present itself in the American market… I feel there is opportunity for a much greater number of American visitors each year".That brings me to the shortfall in the BTA's budget because of the lower value of the pound, an issue which has already been mentioned. It affects our marketing offensive in the United States. With the £11 million highlighted for overseas marketing, coupled with £27 million raised in the private sector, the BTA has done a remarkable job, especially when one considers the £25 billion that the industry generates for this country. However, we need to put money into the marketing effort to take quick advantage of the lower exchange rate in order to get more visitors from America and elsewhere. We could achieve an immediate response if we went about it in the right way.
The Yorkshire and Humberside tourist board has an allocation of £500,000 a year. In addition, it raises £1 million a year, which is a great tribute to its director, Mr. Handley. It does a great job, but let us compare the money available to the English tourist board and, ultimately, to the regions, with that available to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for 1994–95. On a per capita basis, Wales will receive £5.39, Scotland will receive £3.14, Northern Ireland £8.60 and England 21p It is ridiculous that the Treasury allows such sums of money to go to Wales and Scotland, whereas the promotion funds for England, which has by far the largest tourist industry, are severely pruned. Let us remember that the Yorkshire and Humberside region itself is larger in population than Scotland.
Another issue that I believe should be reviewed is the number of tourist boards. On the map of the United Kingdom, there is a line through the centre, with boards to the left and to the right. There is a case for discussion to see whether we should amalgamate some of them, especially to draw the east and the west more closely 578 together. I suggest that that issue should be considered in the consultations, which I was so delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary announce.
Industrial Heritage Year is of major importance to this country. It will, of course, highlight our historic manufacturing base, but, more important, it will also allow and encourage more firms to cater for tourists to this country to show how modern Britain operates. The modern element of Britain is as great a tourist attraction as our museums and heritage. I welcome the fact that Tetleys of Leeds is spending £6 million to upgrade its tourist arrangements so that people visiting the brewery will have a much better demonstration of its functions.
Our catering industry has done us proud. I pay tribute to the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain and the Académie Culinaire de France. Those two organisations have worked miracles for food standards in restaurants the length and breadth of this country. The RAGB award schemes that they have introduced to encourage young chefs and waiters have been exceptionally well received. They have enhanced the standing of the catering industry and of the food that we enjoy. Let no one say that British food is not the best in the world.
§ Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)
I express my gratitude to hon. Members who have made it possible for some of us to find a slot in this very good debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and the business managers on finding time in which to have this debate, and I heartily endorse my hon. Friend's comment about making it a regular annual event. From the interest shown and the quality of speeches today, it is clear that tourism is of considerable interest to many hon. Members and to their constituents, so the more regularly we can have such debates the better.
There is great interest in tourism in all parties. The all-party group is ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) and there is also the Conservative Back-Bench tourism committee, of which I have the honour to be joint secretary. I am sure that there are equivalent bodies in other parties.
Tourism matters to our constituencies and to the country as a whole. In Eastbourne, which is a quality resort above all, tourism means £90 million a year and almost 6,000 jobs. Much has been and is being done by the Government and by others to help tourism. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) said that there was nothing in the Budget for tourism. He is wrong; there is much in the Budget for businesses, and especially for small businesses. About £1 billion-worth of burdens have been removed from businesses across the board, and many of the businesses affected are in the tourism sector.
I heartily endorse the abolition of the wages councils, which was mentioned earlier. For the first time—I mention this because a churlish note has crept into the debate at times—we have a Cabinet Minister with direct responsibility to speak for tourism.
I welcome the Minister's announcement about regional conferences. The change in the exchange rate has been advantageous and will continue to be so. Several of my hon. Friends have mentioned the exciting benefits of the English tourist board's seaside resorts campaign which, in its second year, involves 41 resorts, including Eastbourne. I draw attention to the partnership between the ETB and 579 the public and private sectors in my constituency, and to the important and pivotal role of the Eastbourne Marketing Group. Local initiatives are often the best.
What more can be done? Like most hon. Members, I have a few suggestions. We need another Minister in the Department of National Heritage to build on the success of the new Department. We need to work at cutting bureaucracy and over-regulation, whether on working hours, on the social chapter, on the package holidays directive or whatever. My hon. Friend the Minister should talk to our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that standard spending assessments for holiday resorts reflect more closely than they do now expenditure on promoting tourism and on providing facilities for tourists. The SSAs should also take proper account, as I believe they may do in the coming year, of day visitor statistics.
Other hon. Members have mentioned assisted area status, which is also important. The ETB's review of assisted areas in Britain in September 1992 says:Coastal Resort TTWAs tend to suffer from higher than average unemployment rates but below average long-term unemployment".It points out that such areas have a high reliance on seasonal employment. The redefining of the travel-to-work areas map for coastal resorts is long overdue; I hope that there will be some movement on that.
I do not intend to discuss the vexed question of section 4 grants at length. We have heard that 85 per cent. of United Kingdom tourism is in England. There is a need for something, perhaps a development beyond section 4 grants, to assist in upgrading hotels and the like. Perhaps we need a better funded alternative along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs). From talking to local hoteliers and others, I find that they regard section 4 grants as a litmus test of the Government's concern for and interest in tourism. A more highly targeted and more selective means of aiding tourism, especially in England, would be helpful.
I very much endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) who spoke with great authority about the need to create more jobs in this important area. The tourism industry does not need handouts or long-term subsidy. It is not an industry with no future: it has a great past and an even greater future.
The tourism industry is labour-intensive. The ETBBTA report on tourism and employment training pointed out that, between September 1985 and September 1991, the number of jobs in tourism-related industries increased on average by 17.8 per cent., with job opportunities in hotel and catering sectors rising by more than 40 and 25 per cent. respectively—and that at a time when the number of jobs in all other industries had increased by only 3.3 per cent. Tourism has the capacity to create jobs very fast as we start the economic recovery. Any investment now will be repaid many times over. It is a matter of pump priming. We also heard how, on the balance of payments, we still have a £4 billion tourism deficit.
I have no doubt whatever about the Minister's personal commitment to this vital sector of our economy and our national life. I have tried to suggest a few ways of developing that commitment and putting it to even better practical effect. I think that it was my hon. Friend the 580 Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) who once memorably described tourism as the mortar that binds the bricks of the Department of National Heritage together; and the expression "the golden thread" has been used today.
I firmly believe that tourism encompasses all that is best in Britain. Despite the occasional attempt by Opposition Members to talk down tourism and other sectors of our national life and industry and commerce, I believe that that is still very much the case. Tourism is still vibrant and competitive. It has been coming through the recession better than many other sectors, even though it has had its problems. I believe very strongly that, with a Cabinet Minister, with a new Department, and given the personal commitment of my hon. Friend the Minister, we have nothing but good to look forward to in British tourism, both locally and nationally.
§ Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)
I thank the occupants of the Front Benches for sacrificing their time to allow Back-Bench speeches to continue.
I must begin by revealing to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have two interests to declare. One is that I come from the city of Chester. Chester is to tourism what Maria Callas was to opera, what William Shakespeare was to language and what the Duke of Westminster is to the expression "comfortably well off". Chester is the ultimate, the acme, the jewel in the crown. This is not hyperbole; it is plain, unvarnished truth.
We have the lot—a splendid castle, a magnificent cathedral, just 900 years old, a matchless river. We have the Egon Ronay hotel of the year. This is for your information, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that you will be looking forward to your visit. We have a racecourse that is a gem, a theatre that plays to capacity houses, a town crier who never loses his voice. We really have the lot. I imagine that is why the Secretary of State for National Heritage chose to come to Chester a fortnight ago: he felt that he was not properly briefed for his duties in his new Department until he had visited that great historic city—a city which is truly as modern as tomorrow, yet has a lot of time for yesterday.
I have a further interest to declare. I have the honour to be the recipient of a British Tourist Authority "come to Britain" award. I have worked in the tourism industry and I know the challenges it faces, not just in the abstract but hands on. That is why I may be bringing a slightly different perspective to our proceedings. It is also one reason why I applaud the changing balance that the Government are introducing between what they give the BTA and the English tourist board respectively. I know that the balance is very important, and I shall return to that if I get the opportunity.
I received the award from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who was then Secretary of State for Employment. As we have made clear this morning, the tourist industry is one of the country's key employers. We have talked about how it employs 7 per cent. of those in employment in Great Britain. What was not mentioned today was the fact that the number of employees working in tourism has grown by 27 per cent. between 1982 and 1992.
That is the period during which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) told us that the ETB 581 was constantly attacked and the amount of money made available to it reduced. If that was the case, one would have thought that the number of people working in tourism would have fallen, but in fact the numbers have grown by 27 per cent.
I want to pay tribute to all the people who work in the industry at every level. They have, of course, been working recently in a very challenging environment. Although I have been singing the praises of my constituency, we too have our difficulties, particularly in relation to employment.
What does the tourism industry want from the Government? Above all, I believe that it wants the right economic climate. Low inflation, to which reference has not been made today, is critical. We now have low inflation. January's retail prices index was 1.7 per cent., which is the lowest since 1967.
When I began work in the tourism industry presenting son et lumiere, which I came to know as a history lesson in the rain—I had hoped to do one indoors, in Westminster Hall, but Mr. Speaker at the time did not think that that was a good idea for security reasons, although it may be a possibility during the summer months—when there was a Labour Government, inflation topped 26 per cent. That is quite a contrast with the present.
§ Mr. Brandreth
I am talking about 1976.
We have also achieved low interest rates. Interest rates have declined from 15 to 6 per cent., saving the industry about £11 billion. We also have a competitive pound. Reference was made earlier to the disadvantage to the BTA of a competitive pound, but what about the advantage to the British tourist industry? Let us salute everyone in the tourist industry in general, and hoteliers in Chester in particular, for taking full advantage of a competitive pound to bring good business to Britain—and, of course, the best business to Chester.
We had a good Budget for tourism. We must welcome the fact that there will be no real increases in business rates for properties next year. We must also welcome the improvements to the loan guarantee scheme and the modification in the VAT regime. The Budget was a deregulating Budget, and that is welcome.
Of course we want the highest standards of safety and hygiene in our industry. However, we want as few pettifogging rules as possible. I am particularly delighted that the Minister responsible for deregulation, my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) lives so close to Chester, because I am going to ring him about specifics. My hon. Friend the Minister was right. People should not just groan about the generalities: they should be specific. We must say, "This regulation is holding us up. Will you please do something about it?" It is very easy to maunder on about generalities. We want specific help for the industry.
There is, however, one specific area where I believe there should be more help from the Government. The Government acknowledge that the tourism element of the standard spending assessment should ideally take account of day visitors. I believe that I am right in saying that the 582 Departments of National Heritage and of the Environmment have commissioned a team at Newcastle university to develop a model to generate estimates of day visitors at district level. If that model proves to be sufficiently accurate, we will make progress on that front.
§ Mr. Brandreth
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for nodding so enthusiastically. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities for agreeing to see a delegation from Chester on that very issue.
What about money? We have millions of pounds of taxpayers' money——
§ Mr. Brandreth
We are giving it back. We are investing it in tourism: in the Royal Opera house, the national theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company—I am so relieved that the latest research has shown that it was Shakespeare who wrote those plays; there was talk that the author might have been Bacon. I feel that it would be very difficult to get people to work for the Royal Bacon Company. We have invested it in Windsor castle, English Heritage and the parks and galleries. I believe that the sum tops £1 billion.
What about the tricky question of the grants to the BTA and the ETB? I am clearly going to shock some of my friends inside and outside the House when I say that I am not so sure that the Government are not right to look afresh at such matters occasionally and to manage the change successfully. Despite what hon. Members have said, the funding of the BTA and the ETB has been constant in real terms over the past decade.
I think that I am right in saying that, in terms of funding spent in the European Community, the United Kingdom's spending is on a par as a proportion of tourist spend with any other country in the European Community. The marketing of tourism, in my experience—this is not theory; this is a practitioner speaking—must be led by those at the sharp end.
Recently, I had an interesting experience at the World Travel Market. I saw two counters. One was staffed by enthusiastic, well-meaning people from a local authority who sold professionally. The people staffing the next counter ran a hotel and a tourist attraction.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.