HC Deb 30 March 1995 vol 257 cc1241-80

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

7.10 pm
The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Stephen Dorrell)

I welcome the fact that we have a debate this evening on a key British economic interest—a sector that employs large numbers of people and represents an important source of wealth to this country.

I shall begin by giving a few key facts to set the tourist sector in context. It accounts for £33 billion of expenditure in the British economy—about 5 per cent. of our national income. It employs 1.5 million people and, perhaps even more importantly, the number of people employed in the tourist sector has grown by 25 per cent. in the past decade. That is why the tourist sector is part of the answer to the question: where will the jobs of the future come from?

We all know that, as an economy changes, employment in some sectors declines, and in other sectors it grows. The tourist sector is, overwhelmingly, one of growing employment and wealth creation opportunities. It is important to this country's economic interests and our constituents' job prospects for us to provide circumstances in Britain in which the tourist sector can grow strongly.

There are other important aspects of tourism. It is an industry that is geographically widely spread. It does not lead to great concentrations of people away from rural communities, small towns and provincial communities. It allows people to live where they want, and provides jobs in those communities without requiring people to move to places where they might not otherwise choose to live. The fact that the industry has a wide geographic spread is important.

The industry also provides attractive opportunities for the growth of small and family businesses. The success of the tourist sector over the past 25 years has been built on the success of small and family-owned businesses. It allows small business men and entrepreneurs the opportunity to build their own economic future through their own efforts.

As Secretary of State for National Heritage, I have a particular reason to attach importance to the tourist sector. Not only is it an important wealth-creating sector in its own right: it is also a key means of providing support to the national heritage, to the creative arts and to sporting activities in Britain. We in this country will increasingly be able to channel resources into our built heritage, theatres and museums. The tourist sector forms part of the answer to the question: where will the resources be found to develop those activities?

London's theatreland is the biggest concentration of English-speaking theatres to be found anywhere in the world. It is built on the number of visitors who buy theatre tickets in London. The pattern of sale shows that 60 per cent. of the tickets sold for London theatres are sold to people who do not live in London. Some visitors come from overseas to buy tickets for London theatres, and some come from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That is a good example of how the interests of national heritage are reinforced by the tourist sector, and how we are able to use tourism to expand our commitment to the heritage sector.

It was that analysis that led to the creation of the new unified Department of National Heritage after the last general election. The Prime Minister's determination to see the links between the different aspects that now constitute the Department of National Heritage formed the logic for originally establishing the Department. Visitors are part of the support mechanism for theatres, museums, sport and the wide range of activities that are gathered together under the Department of National Heritage.

It is because I regard tourism as one of my key responsibilities and one of the key means of underwriting the development of, and delivering growth in, sport, the built heritage and the creative arts, that I have, since becoming Secretary of State, attached so much importance to the development of the Department's sponsorship function in relation to tourism. I want to dwell on my concept of sponsorship of tourism and the reasons why I attach so much importance to developing that aspect of my Department's work.

The House will be aware of the work that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has done in the Department of Trade and Industry. He has worked to develop the Department's sponsorship function and to ensure that the Department understands the sectors for which it is responsible. He has worked to ensure that the Department acts as an ambassador and friend in Government and, more generally, in the industrial sectors for which it accepts a sponsorship responsibility.

In exactly the same way, responsibility for tourism falls on the Department of National Heritage. For that reason I have established a specific division in my Department charged with the development of a sponsorship function for the tourist industry. That is why we have made it clear that we wish to attract secondees from the industry into the Department, to ensure that we are properly informed about the concerns and up-to-date developments within that key industrial sector.

An important part of a Department of State's function, when it accepts a sponsorship role for a sector of the economy, is to ensure that Government accurately understand how development is driven within that industrial sector. When the Government make decisions about a sector, both the industry and the Government have their own reasons for attaching importance to ensuring that the Government understand and are well informed about what is happening in that sector.

Too often, repeatedly, through long periods of our history, Governments have been inadequately informed about what is happening in a specific economic sector. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has set out to remedy that problem in the sectors for which his Department accepts sponsorship responsibility. I am setting out, in the Department of National Heritage, to remedy that problem as it relates to tourism, for which my Department accepts sponsorship responsibility.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

My right hon. Friend says that he wants to know what is going on in the industry—presumably that covers the industry's concerns. Is he aware of the great concern in the south-west of England about the effects of revaluation of hotels, and particularly caravan and holiday parks? I am sure that that subject will be raised during tonight's debate.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of that concern and, if so, what representations is he making to his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has responsibility for local valuation officers? The proposal is causing dismay in some sectors of the tourism industry, particularly in Cornwall.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is quite correct to raise that point. I am well aware of the concern, particularly as it relates to the revaluation of caravan parks. The revaluation of hotels is part of a much broader issue involving the effect of revaluation under the unified business rates system. No element of that system relates specifically to hotels, but concern is certainly concentrated around the question of caravan parks.

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not answer directly his question about what representations I am making within the Government on the subject. I am old-fashioned enough to think that such matters are bound by the rules of collective responsibility. However, I assure him that I am well aware of the present concerns, particularly those of caravan park operators.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Has the Secretary of State's understanding of the industry's predicament been enhanced by the report of the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board that the Government's proposals for the privatisation of British Rail have evoked more widespread concern in the tourism industry than any other issue about which they have surveyed?

Mr. Dorrell

That view has been expressed by a large number of people. I would expect that anyone who is interested in the future of British tourism would want to see our railway system—indeed, our entire public transport network—develop in order to meet the demands of would-be travellers more effectively.

I have never understood how people can say in one breath that the railway system does not meet the needs of the travelling public, and in the next argue in favour of preserving the management system that has brought about that much-criticised state of affairs. Privatisation will improve the quality of the railway system and ensure that it matches passenger aspirations more effectively than it has done in the past.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

How can we match the aspirations of passengers who wish to travel on the sleeper from London to Fort William, when the train will no longer run after the end of May?

Mr. Dorrell

The key question is surely not whether it is absolutely essential to continue to provide a sleeper service which almost nobody uses, but how to ensure that those who want to travel from London to the north of Scotland can do so with maximum convenience. The evidence suggests that not enough people wish to take the journey to which the hon. Member attaches great importance, so it is not a reasonable economic proposition to continue to provide that service.

The hon. Gentleman should answer one question: if he wishes to continue to underwrite a service that the travelling public do not use, how does he defend that decision to those members of the travelling public who wish to use another service but who find that the resources that might otherwise be devoted to improving their service are being diverted to a service that the travelling public obviously do not want to use?

Mr. John Cummings (Easington)

Why does the Secretary of State assume that London must be the gateway to the regions? Why should not Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh or Prestwick be the gateway to London? Is the Minister aware that it is cheaper to travel on a return train ticket from Newcastle, Edinburgh or Glasgow to London than it is to travel to those centres from London? Why is the emphasis on London and not on the regions?

Mr. Dorrell

I was beginning to get concerned that my speech was being distracted to a debate about railway privatisation. However, the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) conveniently takes me to my next point. By developing the sponsorship function for tourism, I can champion the interests of that industry within the Government.

The Department of Transport also deals with tourism. In alluding to that Department, I was going to refer first to the Secretary of State for Transport's announcement today about tourist signs, but I will deal with that in a moment. The second point that I intended to make concerning the Department's responsibilities is precisely the one that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

In autumn last year, the Secretary of State for Transport announced the liberalisation of air transport. That means that, instead of flying directly to London—which was the usual route in the past—transatlantic flights can fly to Newcastle, Birmingham and Manchester on a liberalised basis. That avoids forcing people to fly to London when they wish to travel to Newcastle, Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow.

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in assuming that I see London as the only gateway for tourists into the United Kingdom. Not only do I think that that is untrue, but the Government have taken action to reverse the prevailing situation whereby people are forced to come to London when they wish to go somewhere else.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York)

I will resist the temptation to take up the right hon. Gentleman's points about rail privatisation, other than to say that the latest report from the British Tourist Authority contains a feature article with a photo and a caption which reads "Rail privatisation could hit overseas visitors". If it is clear to the Secretary of State that rail privatisation will benefit tourism, I am surprised that it is not also clear to the BTA.

On the issue of airports, will the promotion of the transatlantic trade stress the environmental advantages of using northern airports on transatlantic routes? Every plane that travels from London to the east coast of the United States flies directly over Liverpool and Manchester and, by using those airports, it would save 400 miles worth of fuel on the round trip.

Even those people who wish to travel to London, perhaps for a business conference, should be urged to fly to Manchester, spend a weekend in the lake district, Blackpool or the north as a tourist, and then catch the fast rail service to London. Surely that should be the way to promote Britain.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I remind the House—although it should not be necessary to do so—that interventions are supposed to be brief and to the point; they should not be mini-speeches.

Mr. Dorrell

It is a fairly basic rule that, if one wants to expand a business opportunity—as I have said I wish to expand the tourism business opportunity—one must ensure that one meets the demands of one's customers. If people wish to travel to the regions of Britain to enjoy the Lake District or the city of York, I want to make it as easy as possible for them to get there. If they wish to travel to London, I want to make it easy for them to get there as well. I certainly do not wish to introduce a planning principle which requires them to land at Manchester and board a train.

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

Before the Secretary of State moves on, will he join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) in recommending to the Department of Transport that it make it slightly easier for visitors to reach Blackpool in the summer season? The M6 is currently chock-a-block with motorway cones as part of a road-mending programme which apparently will continue until August—despite the fact that it has been going on for at least a year. Will the Secretary of State join me in telephoning the cones hotline to suggest that it might have overlooked that problem?

Mr. Dorrell

As a regular visitor to the north of Britain via the M6, I empathise with the plea by my hon. Friend about the cones on the M6. The M6 maintenance programme will ensure that that motorway is able to offer a high-quality service to users in the future.

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

It is a bit late.

Mr. Dorrell

Quite a lot of the backlog of motorway maintenance was built up between 1974 and 1979, when the hon. Gentleman's party was responsible for it. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will plan the motorway maintenance programme to ensure maximum quality of motorway service when tourists are travelling to the north-west of Britain for their summer holidays. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to take every opportunity to encourage them to do just that.

Before I leave the Department of Transport, I want to draw the attention of the House to the fruit of the sponsorship process—the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about the liberalisation of tourist signposting. It is the result of a substantial amount of work by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary who is responsible for deregulation within the Department of National Heritage, in pursuing the Department of Transport and making sure that that Department is aware of the interest throughout the tourist sector in improving signposting so that people are aware of tourist opportunities within Britain.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has today announced that there is to be a brief consultation on the details of liberalisation, but once those details have been decided, we shall widen eligibility for white-on-brown tourist signs and extend tourist signposting to hotels and restaurants, so that, as is the case in many countries on the continent, tourists will be able to rely on signposting not just to attractions, but to hotels and restaurants.

I hope that the House will welcome the liberalisation of rules that have become overly strict, with the effect of restraining the growth of a key sector. That is part of what sponsorship is about.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the welcome news about signs, will he work with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to liaise not only with the Department of Transport but with local authorities? There have been problems when local authorities restrict sensible signposting such as the proposed sign to wonderful Blackpool pleasure beach, which my right hon. Friend enjoyed only two weeks ago in the company of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) and myself. The new road that is about to be opened by Lancashire county council with Government money apparently will not have a sign, even though it will be the most direct route. I hope that my hon. Friend will get rid of that silly regulatory approach.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that, and to stress the importance of liberalising the rules operated by the Department of Transport and encouraging a flexible attitude from local authorities. We shall be doing exactly that. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to put a picture on the side of the road drawing attention to the Blackpool pleasure beach and to the Big One. For those who enjoy the thrill of such rides, it is the highest and most thrilling to be found anywhere in the world.

I want to move on from the relationship with the Department of Transport to the slightly broader view of what I believe the Department of National Heritage can do as the sponsoring Department for tourism.

In addition to acting as the champion of the industry within the Government, the Department has a responsibility to set out the context within which the industry operates, and a clear view of what Government can do to assist the development and expansion of that key sector. That is why, six weeks ago, I published the document "Tourism—Competing with the Best", which sets out the Government's programme for the coming months in seeking to ensure that Britain takes advantage of the economic opportunities in the tourist sector.

First, the document sets out some of the issues which the tourist industry has to address. It states that our share of world tourism earnings has declined over the past 10 years, from around 6 per cent. in 1985 to about 4.5 per cent. now. We should aim to reverse that decline. Every time our share of those earnings declines, it represents a lost economic opportunity for Britain.

Secondly, having identified the fact that, although our tourist sector has been successful, it has not been as successful as other tourist sectors elsewhere in the world, the document sets out a programme of Government activity to address some of the reasons for that decline in our share of world tourist earnings.

If one asks visitors to Britain which aspects of the tourist experience in Britain they found attractive and rewarding and which aspects they found less attractive, one gets some fairly clear answers.

There is concern about the quality of information available to people when they book accommodation. That is why I announced in that document that we are to review the crown classification scheme to ensure that, when people book hotel space, they have access to the best-quality information we can provide about the accommodation. The market works effectively if the information provided to it is as accurate as possible. That is the purpose of reviewing the crown classification scheme.

The document also sets out the Government's commitment to fund a benchmarking project in the accommodation sector, to try to generalise good experience and good practice in the management of high-quality tourist accommodation. We shall be working in partnership with the CBI, which is concentrating on the larger end of the accommodation market while the Government concentrate on the smaller end. We are picking up on the experience of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in seeking to generalise good practice in the efficient management of that type of business.

The third project set out in "Tourism—Competing with the Best" is a commitment to improve the performance of our overseas marketing. We shall be working with the British Tourist Authority to ensure that we continually apply rigorous tests on the value for money of our advertising promotions overseas through the BTA. The BTA will be seeking to ensure that its own work is subject to keen value-for-money testing, and we shall seek where we can to mobilise private money in support of the promotion programmes of the BTA.

The fourth project in the document involves the additional £2 million of Government money, backed by £2 million from the BTA, totalling £4 million of Government money over the next two years, to promote London as a tourist destination and to draw it to the attention of the world tourist markets. That is not to cut across the point I made in reply to the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings).

I make no apology for my view that we should be seeking to attract more visitors to London. London is one of the world's arts centres. It has more to offer the visitor than any other city anywhere in the world. It is an exciting place to visit, and offers a breadth of tourist experience that has no match anywhere in the world, and we shall he seeking to promote that around the world.

Finally, the document sets out our commitment to improve the accessibility of British holidays by improving the booking mechanisms and trying to address the concern we often hear expressed that it is easier to go into a travel agent on a high street and book a weekend or a holiday on the other side of the English channel than in Britain.

I make no pretence—indeed, I make a virtue of the fact—that the document is not an all-embracing plan for the tourist sector. I have made it clear in my introduction that I do not aspire to be—and it would be quite wrong for me to do so—chief executive of British Tourism plc. My job as Minister in charge of the sponsoring Department for the tourist sector is to create circumstances in Britain that are as favourable as I can make them for the continued growth of the industry, and for our share of world tourist earnings to grow again.

That is the objective we set. As a sponsoring Department, we do that, first, by ensuring that we properly understand the dynamic of the industry; secondly, by ensuring that the Government use the opportunities that are open to them to improve the conditions for the industry; and thirdly and most importantly, by recognising that the growth of the industry will be provided by the private sector entrepreneurs, the people who have made it the successful industry it already is and who can make it more successful still if the Government provide them with the right circumstances.

7.40 pm
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I agree entirely with the Secretary of State about the enormous importance of tourism to our economy. I have to say, however, that he and the Government are betraying too much complacency and self-congratulation about the current condition of that sector of our economy. The reality is that the United Kingdom is losing its global market share of international tourism.

In the decade from 1983 to 1993 world tourism grew by 13.4 per cent. per annum; United Kingdom tourism grew by only 11.9 per cent. per annum. Although of course growth is welcome, the Secretary of State should not be complacent about the fact that tourism in the rest of world is growing faster than tourism here. Britain has a £3.5 billion deficit in its tourism balance of payments. That, of course, contrasts with Britain's surplus in its tourism balance of payments when the Conservatives took office in 1979. Had Britain retained its share of the world tourism market over the past decade, nearly 200,000 additional jobs would have been created in that period.

Tourism is, of course, important. It is our third largest industry. It is our fourth largest source of export revenue. It employs directly and indirectly, as the Secretary of State pointed out, 1.5 million people. There is concern about what is happening, and that was demonstrated by the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry only three days ago, when he told a conference in Cardiff: A decade ago, 55 per cent. of holiday spending was at home. Today this has fallen to 45 per cent. and is still falling. The result is a balance of payments deficit in tourism". He continued: We are falling behind established industries"— tourism— in Europe. That is the verdict not of the Labour party but of the director-general of the CBI.

It is also important to remember that tourism is not only vital for our economy as a whole but crucial for communities up and down the country. For particular towns, cities, resorts and areas, tourism is undoubtedly a major source of employment, and it becomes doubly important for people living in those locations.

What has the Government's response been to the loss of global market share? Over the past three years, funding to the English tourist board has been cut by some 33 per cent. We have been told by the Secretary of State, on several occasions, that he has gallantly made available an extra £2 million for tourism in London. That more or less matches the extra amount that the British Tourist Authority now has to spend abroad because of the decline in the value of sterling over the past two years, so £2 million is not enormously generous.

Then, of course, we have the time bomb that the Chancellor released in his Budget in November—the imposition of VAT on recreational transport. It is estimated that the total cost to tourism will be some £45 million per year. The increased cost to the people who run Alton Towers will run into seven figures.

Mr. Hawkins

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it has been made clear, in subsequent statements on the original Budget statement, that a recreational transport facility such as a preserved steam railway—I declare my interest as an honorary unpaid consultant to the Association of Independent Railways—that has a route running from A to B is exempt? Even some of the lines in pleasure parks—for example, Blackpool pleasure beach, which I have already mentioned—may be exempt if they run a sufficient distance.

Mr. Smith

That may help in a limited number of cases, but it does not remove the basic problem, which has been clearly identified by people in the tourist industry. They have said that the additional cost to tourism in Britain is £45 million, so we need to take the Secretary of State's £2 million with a pinch of salt.

In terms of marketing ourselves abroad, we do not do terribly well by comparison with some other locations. I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who has been working on these issues assiduously on our behalf for many years, for pointing out that the island of Aruba in the Caribbean spends more on marketing itself in north America than does the whole of Britain. If that is the attention that we pay to the marketing needs of our tourism, perhaps it is no surprise that we are losing global market share.

Then we come to the Government's recent document "Tourism—Competing with the Best". It was trailed with considerable anticipation. As soon as it came out, I seized my copy and read it through with the expectation that it would be the answer to our problems. It would help if it were available to hon. Members in the Vote Office—it is not. It would be useful if the Department placed some copies there. The Secretary of State is guilty of the understatement of the year when he says that it is not an all-embracing document. It certainly is not. There is virtually nothing in it. It has 20 pages restating the current position, with no new proposals at all.

I am particularly concerned that the passage in the document relating to the crown classification scheme for accommodation is so weak. Yes, it says that the crown scheme has its merits and that it can be improved. Yes, it says that it is potentially a powerful weapon to raise hotel quality". We then learn that the English tourist board is conducting a comprehensive review. Labour Members are very clear on this: we want a statutory grading scheme for hotel accommodation. Such a scheme operates well in other countries. The Government should have been much bolder in seizing the initiative. Tourism as a whole would have greatly welcomed that. The document is deeply disappointing.

While we are on the subject of the quality of accommodation, let me remind the House that Opposition Members believe in the establishment of a national minimum wage, which would help hundreds of thousands of low-paid hotel and catering workers. On average, male employees earn £297 a week, while women earn £207 a week. The overall adult rate is £328 a week. Low pay leads to low morale, and lower-quality accommodation.

Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

What does the hon. Gentleman think the hourly minimum wage should be—now, not at some future stage?

Mr. Smith

I will not be tempted down that path. It is the principle that is important, and it is the principle that Conservative Members have rejected. I hear them murmur that a minimum wage would put people out of business, but that has not happened in continental countries where a statutory minimum wage already exists and the quality of accommodation is better. Staff motivation is also better in those countries, and they are not losing their market share in tourism as we are.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York)

Four years ago, York city council established a "York tourist employer of distinction" award for employers who pay above the going rate, train staff, go for quality, innovate and provide child care. In the first year, about 10 employers signed; now, employers are clamouring to do so. Two weeks ago, I presented awards to nearly 50 York businesses that wished their high quality of employment to be recognised. None of them is concerned about a possible minimum wage, because they are paying rather more than the rate that a Labour Government would set, whatever that rate might be.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend has made the case very clearly. Conservative Members favour poor-quality accommodation and shoddy wages, under employers who are not prepared to pay the going rate for the job.

Mr. Simon Coombs


Mr. Smith

We believe in high-quality accommodation, a statutory accommodation grading scheme and a minimum wage.

At present, the responsibilities of the British Tourist Authority, the regional tourist boards, the national tourist boards and local authorities overlap. All are doing good work in their own ways, many despite tight financial constraints; but there ought to be a better way of co-ordinating that work. I looked for that in the Government's document on tourism policy, but it was not there. I wish that the Government would turn their attention to ways of rationalising promotional activities.

The Government should also do something about the state of our beaches and bathing water. One fifth of our beaches currently fail to meet mandatory standards, and two thirds fail to meet guideline standards.

Mr. Dorrell

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are doing something about that. Ten years ago, half Britain's beaches did not meet the standards; now, only 20 per cent. do not meet them. By the end of the decade, all beaches will meet the standards and £2 billion will have been invested in the process. Does the hon. Gentleman want us to spend any more? Does he want us to do more than ensure that every beach meets those standards?

Mr. Smith

I would have appreciated the Secretary of State's point more if he had not omitted to mention that eight years ago, during the European elections, the Tory party said that all beaches would meet the mandatory standards within five years. Now, eight years later, one fifth still do not meet those standards. Of course progress is being made, but it is being made painfully slowly. Opposition Members have long argued that the water companies—whose primary responsibility this is—should be borrowing long to fund work that will last for 50 years, rather than placing virtually all the burden on today's customers. People living in the south-west feel particularly strongly about that.

Of course people do not come to Britain to sunbathe, but both international and domestic visitors like to stroll along a clear beach. They like to let the kids play in rock pools and paddle; perhaps they themselves like to go windsurfing or sailing. With the water and the beaches in their current state, that is not possible.

The state of our public transport networks also needs attention. In particular, the Secretary of State must not be so dismissive about the real concern felt by tourism about the prospect of rail privatisation. "Guidelines for Tourism to Britain", published by the British Tourist Authority in late 1993, puts it very clearly: The impact of British Rail privatisation on tourism (and on the marketing of it) is … of particular concern to BTA. If the rail facilities currently offered to overseas visitors are discontinued and/or the network becomes more fragmented, complex and expensive … for these visitors to use, valuable tourism earnings could be lost to nearby competitor countries". Precisely that complexity and fragmentation are being introduced to the public rail network by privatisation, which is bound to create further problems for the development of tourism.

The Secretary of State lightly dismissed the point about the Fort William sleeper, but it is a classic case in point. To travel on the sleeper, which I suspect the Secretary of State has never done, is to experience one of the great railway journeys of the world.

Mr. Simon Coombs

Not many people have done it.

Mr. Smith

In fact, those who try to book a place on the sleeper between now and the end of May will find that there is hardly a place left. People are only now learning of the existence of the service, because of all the publicity that has attended its threatened demise. If it had been marketed thoroughly and intelligently over the past five or 10 years, more people would have used it and we should have been able to retain that valuable service.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman has attacked the management of British Rail for failing to promote the service properly, but that is exactly the management model that he wishes to preserve. How does he reconcile the two arguments?

Mr. Smith

I have never argued that everything done by British Rail's management has been perfect, but it is not necessary to privatise British Rail to correct some its individual policies. The Government will not recognise that; what they will do is create a disaster from a service that works reasonably well, if imperfectly.

The Government should pay more attention to tourism's impact on the environment. The Council for the Protection of Rural England's recent report, entitled "Leisure Landscapes", raises serious concerns. The Government have not really begun to deal with them. Tourist activity and attractions do not need to be incompatible with environmental protection, but account must be taken, with careful planning, to ensure that they respect the needs of the environment in which they occur. Perhaps it would be sensible for the Government specifically to charge the English tourist board and the other national boards with the task of overseeing and of ensuring that that takes place.

On the Secretary of State's announcement today about tourism signpost deregulation, we are in favour of more signposting. Quite a number of tourist attractions could usefully be included among those that are signposted. We would strongly argue, however, that the familiar brown and white signpost format should be maintained and that it should not become a free-for-all. We do not want to see advertisements for McDonald's at every motorway turn-off.

Tourism related to sport is becoming increasingly important, but better information about sporting activities in Britain must be made available to people who would not normally automatically receive that information. It would be difficult, for example, for someone living in Europe to find out when and where test matches were taking place in Britain. Let us make that information more widely available.

Work can and should be done for Euro 96 next year. Many thousands of visitors will come to Britain for the football matches. Let us ensure that the people who come to the cities for the football matches will be informed of cultural and heritage programmes and other tourist activity. Again, little sign exists of the Government taking any initiative in that.

Finally, let us urge the Government to recognise that patterns of tourism and tourist activity are changing. There is more desire for activity-based holidaymaking. Visitors to Britain seek a wide range of activities. Some may want to visit Stratford, York, Cambridge and others of our fine heritage cities. Some may want to visit London's fashion shows and the Ministry of Sound. Others may want to enjoy the Edinburgh festival and, at the same time, discover some of Glasgow's delights. Others may want to walk the Pembrokeshire coastal path. They do not necessarily respond automatically to posters of beefeaters, the tower and London's red buses, the number of which is declining.

Marketing ourselves abroad, providing information about what is available and how to reach places, encouraging more people from Britain to sample the wonderful things in Britain and encouraging more visitors to explore outside London and the other honeypot centres are essential, important and rewarding tasks in the oversight of tourism in Britain. To be carried out, they require an overall vision and a sense of direction from the Government. At present, they are simply not getting that.

8.3 pm

Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

This is, I think, the fourth debate on tourism in the House since the last general election. I welcome the further opportunity to discuss this most important and growing world industry. Some of my hon. Friends are veterans of those debates. I welcome the newest arrival, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). He has clearly mastered some elements of his brief extremely well.

One could feel some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman on a number of points. I want to say a word, as he would not let me say one earlier. In debates of this sort, the normal courtesy is to give way more than once to Back Benchers. As he did not, let me say to him that Conservative Members are not in favour of low-paid jobs; we do not want cheap labour. As the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley) said, jobs in the tourist industry are not low paid.

Let me correct the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury on one point. In Spain, which has a powerful tourism industry, unemployment, both among the population and among young people, is 5 or 6 per cent. higher than in this country, and Spain has a national minimum wage. The issue is where one sets the level. The hon. Gentleman simply refused to answer that question. As he knew that I was going to ask it again, he would not allow me a second bite of the cherry.

If one sets the level, for example, at half average male earnings in this country, it is estimated that 750,000 jobs, many of which would be in the tourist industry, would disappear. Employers, small hotels and many other small operations in the industry would also disappear.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)

Many Conservative Members were dying to make that point during the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). In 1995, unemployment in Spain is up 33 per cent. because of the social chapter and the minimum wage. What would the hon. Gentleman say to hoteliers in my constituency who are having to compete with Spanish holidays costing £100 a week? Our hoteliers provide excellent service and accommodation at about £14 a night. What would the minimum wage do to those jobs? Please tell us.

Mr. Coombs

My hon. Friend is intervening on a different speech from mine. I agree with him. Perhaps he will have an opportunity to intervene on other hon. Members who might want to try to convince us that a national minimum wage would help tourism.

Mr. Bayley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Coombs

It is fair that I should demonstrate a willingness to give way.

Mr. Bayley

The hon. Gentleman was, I felt, scaremongering when, without any justification, he tossed out the figure of 750,000 jobs being at risk if the minimum wage was set at half national average earnings. How many people in tourism industry earn less than that? How many jobs in tourism would be at risk? How does he make his calculation?

Mr. Coombs

I should resist the temptation to get into an employment debate. It is a fair question, but the hon. Gentleman must realise that, if we debate a national minimum wage, tourism will lose out. Perhaps, in the time-honoured phrase, we could discuss it outside the Chamber. I would be happy to give him the detail. At this stage, it would be more sensible if I moved on. I simply say that he has a point. Of course there are many lower-paid jobs in tourism, but those jobs that would be most at risk from a national minimum wage. Many of them would disappear.

The precise proportion of the 750,000 jobs that would be affected does not immediately occur to me. I do not think that I know it, but that is hardly the point. We must be wary of the minimum wage's effect on jobs in the industry.

Tourism is a well developed—some would say, mature—industry. Both the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the Opposition spokesman quoted figures showing how Britain has lagged behind other countries. The figures tend to overlook the fact that this country has a mature, well-established tourist industry, in which a large proportion of our fellow countrymen and women are already engaged. Tourism in countries whose growth has overtaken ours is often not as well developed.

I shall take just one example. Austria has overtaken us to move into fifth place. Until just three or four years ago, the Austrian border with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary was closed. Immediately after the changes in eastern Europe, movement in and out of Austria increased dramatically. Therefore, it is not surprising that the tourist industry of such a country which, incidentally, counts every movement from one side of the country to the other even if a person is merely in transit to a third country, has increased to such an extent.

I accept that there is a strong case for helping tourism in this country to grow. We should welcome more visitors although there is always a need to consider the environmental impact, especially in areas of the country that already receive large numbers of people.

Let us welcome the fact that there is agreement on some issues and debate the points raised by the Government's recent agenda for action. The document entitled "Tourism—Competing with the Best" is to be warmly welcomed. It is right that, like the report, we should debate the supply of and demand for the United Kingdom product. How can we improve that product and increase demand for it?

The report emphasises the need to ensure quality, whether in accommodation, the welcome that we give to visitors or the range of attractions on offer. I fully support the proposal in the report to develop benchmarking and best practice in accommodation. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was quick to denounce the idea of a review. Over the years, I have had to deal with the difficulties caused by the operation of two systems—the star scheme run by the Automobile Association and the crown scheme run by the English tourist board—and I can tell him that it is a difficult issue.

It would not be right for the Government or the ETB to launch straight into major changes without considering carefully how best to go about ensuring that visitors to hotels and other forms of accommodation have the best possible information about the quality of the product on offer. I hope that the review will be conducted quickly and that changes will be made, but I stress that it is entirely right that we should have the review in the first place.

There is a need to consider how hotels and small guest houses and boarding houses in seaside resorts are to find the funding to make the necessary improvements. The Welsh tourist board, which is still able to use section 4 grants, turned £23 million of public money into £171 million of private sector capital. That is a ratio of 7.5:1, and anyone who has dealt with development corporations over the years will know that that is not a bad ratio to achieve. I rather wish that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would reconsider the whole issue and find a way, not necessarily in the form of section 4 grants, to give greater encouragement to small hotels and boarding houses to improve accommodation.

The effect of that investment in Wales was to increase the number of jobs in the Principality by 39 per cent. in 10 years, which is a substantial achievement. Tourism is a major creator of jobs.

Accessibility and affordability are two other aspects of accommodation that need to be considered. The report does not mention access for disabled people. I fear that disabled people are sometimes the forgotten ones of the tourist industry yet, if one is to believe the remarkable figures in the recently published Touche Ross report entitled "Tourism for all", there could be an additional £17 billion of additional expenditure available every year in Europe if disabled people were able to go on holiday, visit attractions and stay in hotels.

I know that the Government have moved a long way on how to make life better for disabled people—only this week the House gave a Third Reading to a Bill that will make a big difference to them—but it is important that they are not forgotten in the industry or left behind. We owe it to them to make accommodation and attractions accessible and they, in turn, will spend their money, thus helping the industry to become bigger and better.

We need more budget-price accommodation, especially in London. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to emphasise the importance of encouraging people to visit London but they have to stay somewhere and not all are so wealthy that they can afford the prices of some London hotels. Budget-price accommodation is, however, also needed elsewhere in the country and is important to tourism.

A French company, Accor, owns the Ibis hotel chain. There is a successful Ibis hotel in my constituency, which is always full of people who cannot afford the higher prices charged by some of the supposedly better hotels. The chain gives a good basic service that is well appreciated. It would be nice if British financiers examined this corner of the market and found ways to support it.

Mention has been made of the rating revaluation. There is great concern in the industry about the effect that the latest revaluation is already having, especially, as has been said, on caravan parks. They are likely to be hit especially hard. I have heard increases of 50 per cent. up to 400 per cent. in rateable values mentioned. The revaluation is based on the period between 1988, when the economy was extremely strong and such businesses were doing very well, and 1993, when the country was only just beginning to come out of recession and the market was somewhat depressed in this as in other spheres. I strongly urge my right hon. Friend to carry on his secret negotiations with the utmost vigour. I know that he will.

I am delighted with the news given to me today by the Minister for Railways and Roads in response to a parliamentary question. The Department is to examine tourism signing. My right hon. Friend said that he and the Under-Secretary of State have put a lot of effort into this in recent years. I was very much involved in the writing of a report by the Select Committee on Employment in 1990, which drew attention to the importance of signing and the need to expand it. I therefore welcome today's announcement.

It has been suggested that the new signs will need a name. Just as the beacons at pedestrian crossings became known as Belisha beacons, perhaps we are today heralding the arrival of the Sproat or the Dorrell sign. We must wait and see.

I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that, as well as flexibility, there must be some of caution to ensure that the quality of signing is maintained. It is my reading of the press statement that the brown and white signs will be the basis for the consultation and that we should not envisage a plethora of ugly signs for burger bars. I believe that that point will emerge in the consultation.

Clearly, the lottery is going to make a difference to tourism. According to the latest figures, lottery proceeds are now more than £60 million a week. The lottery is on course for a total of £1 billion in the first year of operation, and we should congratulate Camelot on the effective and efficient way in which it has got it started. I think that Camelot and the lottery will go from strength from strength. If the £1 billion target is reached in the first year, £225 million will be available for arts, sport, heritage and the millennium fund—four out of the five good causes from which tourism stands to a benefit.

Sport has been first off the mark with the announcement of the first awards, but perhaps it is the least likely to benefit. I agree again, however, with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that we most certainly want to ensure that we take advantage of important international sporting occasions and boost tourism attendances.

The arts will benefit. The creative arts, inevitably, will see major capital investment, principally at a local level. Apart from London, that investment will primarily affect British tourists. I look forward to seeing a concert hall in my constituency one day. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may remember that after three days of the lottery I was able to tell him that enough money had already been raised to satisfy all the wants in my constituency. He did not answer me, which perhaps is not surprising.

The heritage stands to gain. My constituency is very interested in the idea of a railway heritage centre to boost industrial tourism, which is sometimes forgotten but is of key importance. The public sector will also benefit from lottery proceeds going to heritage.

Private sector heritage sites and historic houses will face a problem as a result of the regulation that provides that the lottery's proceeds can go only to public or charitable bodies. Privately owned historic houses will have to achieve charitable status to benefit, which will create considerable problems for many of their owners. The tax regime burdens the owners of historic houses and, as a result, dilapidation is continuing and the heritage is suffering. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not lose sight of that problem and will continue to look at ways in which help can be given to preserve our national built heritage that is in private hands.

Of the lottery's causes, the millennium fund will benefit tourism most. It will make a major contribution, especially in London. Several imaginative schemes are already being talked about. One thinks of the proposals for Greenwich, the Bankside power station and Kensington. I hope that those schemes might catch the eye of the commissioners, although I realise that we can spend the likely total proceeds many times over on excellent schemes ultimately presented to them. I hope that those who are responsible for disbursing all lottery proceeds in the four areas that I have mentioned will keep the impact on tourism very much in mind.

I welcome the additional funding for the promotion of London as a tourism destination. I also welcome the report of the working party on the future of the River Thames. New attractions are important, such as—potentially—the Battersea power station, if it can be sorted out. Indeed, dare I say, the Palace of Westminster is a great attraction to tourists the world over and sadly, we do not pay it enough attention. We take a rather negative attitude to the attractions of the Palace of Westminster as a tourism destination.

Such attractions, lying alongside the River Thames, are likely to lead to an increase in the use of the Thames. Access is crucial. New services, such as that recently introduced by Catamaran Cruisers, the Symphony and the Bateaux Mouches, which some hon. Members may have seen from the Terrace, need encouragement. We need new and refurbished wharves along the Thames to take advantage of one of the world's most famous and most attractive rivers. They can do it in Paris and we should be able to do it in London. I hope that we shall.

Having said a great deal about the way in which we can improve our product—I could have spoken for much longer, but my hon. Friends will want to add many other examples—I shall briefly comment on the selling of United Kingdom tourism. I very much welcome the proposal in "Tourism—Competing with the Best" to look at bookability. It cannot be right that in any typical high street travel agent there are 15 times more brochures for overseas holidays than there are for holidays in Britain.

I warn my right hon. Friend that the margins on overseas holidays are very much greater. There is a financial inducement to travel agents to sell overseas package holidays—it is how travel agents make their money. We shall have to run very hard to stand still if we are to turn around the decline in the share of holidays that British people take in the United Kingdom.

We also need to consider vertical integration of the travel industry—the joining together of tour operators, travel agents and airlines into single companies, enabling travel agents to concentrate their efforts on package holidays requiring overseas aeroplane trips. That problem will definitely confront the British tourism industry.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the decline in United Kingdom holidays is related to the fall in funding for the English tourist board, just as the fall in the United Kingdom market share is related to the rapid rise in promotional expenditure by many other countries. That is not to say that we have not spent a great deal or worked very hard to boost British tourism—we have, but the simple fact is that others have done more.

I pay tribute to the British Tourist Authority, which has made the most of resources, sometimes squeezed from the ruins of currency fluctuations which have left the pound with less purchasing power overseas, to promote Britain in its principal overseas markets. The United Kingdom is an attractive destination, but there are many others and we must work hard to maintain our share. Direct marketing from the millions of inquiries that we receive every year is an important way forward. The Welsh tourist board has also shown a lead in that area, which is bearing fruit.

Many of the issues to which I have referred are the responsibility of other Departments. In the course of my speech I have mentioned five issues on which my right hon. Friend has to engage in discussions with other Departments. It is not easy to be Secretary of State for National Heritage when one knows that, all around, people have other responsibilities and considerations to bear in mind. The Secretary of State is very much on the side of UK tourism and I rely on him to continue to do his best, as a sponsoring Department with a co-ordinating role. The success of the effort on tourism signing is a good indication that progress is being made.

Despite some of the doom and gloom and some of the figures which are used to justify criticism of their work, the BTA and BTB do a good job and we must ensure that they have the resources and the backing to do an even better job so that UK tourism will continue to go from strength to strength.

8.27 pm
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

I am conscious of the constraints on time, so I shall try to be brief. In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State, even taking into account the fact that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat) holds the main responsibility, showed a less than committed approach to the tourism industry. His parliamentary private secretary getting upset is one thing that I am pleased about. The Secretary of State showed his lack of solid commitment to the tourism industry by, for instance, mentioning only Britain, in comparison with the breadth of knowledge shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who mentioning attractions for tourists in many parts of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State compounded his approach by referring to the M6 taking him to north Britain.

Mr. Dorrell

No, I did not.

Mr. McAvoy

Yes he did. He referred twice to the M6 taking him up to the north of Britain. Of course the M6 goes to the north of England and certainly does not go anywhere near the north of Britain. Although that is a minor point, it epitomises the Secretary of State's approach to this subject.

As the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) said, the debate takes place against the background of Britain's reduced share in the world tourism market. Rightly and fairly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the reduction in the grant to the English tourist board. I am afraid that the attitude that the tourist and travel trade is somehow not manly and not British, and that in order to work in an industry that people respect people have actually to make things, is not confined to the Government. The whole British nation, not just the Government, needs to change its attitude.

However, it is the Government's job to try to change that attitude, so that business and employment in the travel and tourist trade is every bit as valued as work in manufacturing industry. The Government fail to recognise the economic contribution made to the country by the tourist industry. It would serve us better if they did more to recognise and encourage that contribution.

When they try to change social attitudes towards work in the travel and tourism industries, the Government should ensure that the impact of those industries and their potential is understood across all Departments. They should help to develop a national strategy to integrate travel and tourism into their mainstream policies for job creation, export growth, infrastructure development and investment stimulation. There is a whole range of opportunities there for the Government to be involved in, and they should be doing just that bit more.

We should also ensure that the infrastructure is expanded. For instance, there should be more emphasis on expanding airports. Glasgow airport is a model of expansion within limited space—work that has been carried out by the BAA. Such activity should be encouraged.

The Government should also have a role in persuading schools, higher education programmes and career guidance schemes to cover travel and tourism, so that training for the industry has full access to public funding and job creation grants.

Of course transport is important, and airport departure tax, like all other taxes on travel and tourism, has a negative impact on a developing industry. Moreover, the impact of the privatisation of British Rail on rail services, especially to the regions of England and to the countries of Wales and Scotland, has not been fully taken on board by the Conservatives.

Anyone who comes to the United Kingdom as a tourist benefits the country as a whole. I certainly agree that London is a first-class attraction—but surely at some point the transport chaos, the traffic congestion and the time wasted in travelling will actively discourage people from visiting the city. However, there has to be a balance, and I strongly oppose any change in emphasis intended to fund London tourism better, to the detriment of other parts of the United Kingdom. A balance means spending in London, but spending in Scotland and Wales too.

The hon. Member for Swindon also talked about sport as an attraction. Some Conservative Members expressed ridicule when my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury mentioned the role of sport in attracting tourists into the country, but the hon. Member for Swindon did not associate himself with their attitude. I agree with him that sport can be a great attraction for tourists.

For example, there is no doubt that if we managed to get a new Hampden Park national stadium in Scotland for football and other sports, it would attract many tourists into Scotland and thus into the United Kingdom, and would help to secure us our share of the industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury talked about Edinburgh and Glasgow, and I shall spend some time talking about another part of the United Kingdom. I am very much in favour of Scotland, which I think has not been properly developed because of a lack of Government support to make it more attractive to tourists. Someone said earlier that people will not come to Scotland to get a sun tan. Nevertheless, Scotland has many attractions that could be a great draw and bring people into the country.

I shall now spend a few minutes on Northern Ireland; as a member of the Select Committee I have a particular interest in it. We should not neglect anywhere else in the kingdom, but Northern Ireland deserves a few minutes. The peace process in Northern Ireland presents the travel and tourism industries there with great opportunities and challenges. They could provide much employment, which as we all know will contribute to the peace process in its own way, by giving people a stake in their own country and giving them something that they can look forward to each day.

Between 1990 and 1993, visitor tourism to Northern Ireland grew at an average rate of 3 per cent. per year. Within that total, holiday visitors increased by about 5 per cent. That increase was achieved at a difficult period for the travel industry in general, and in spite of the problems that we all know were and are specific to Northern Ireland. The fact that, despite those difficult circumstances, the Northern Ireland tourist trade grew in real terms shows its great potential.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that one of the major growth areas in tourism to Northern Ireland consists of citizens of the Republic of Ireland, Eire, going there for their holidays?

Mr. McAvoy

That is right. It has been estimated that only 5 per cent. of the population of the Republic of Ireland have spent a night in Northern Ireland, so there is great potential there. And the potential goes two ways. So there is a practical basis for cross-border co-operation in the island of Ireland.

If we can achieve the peace dividend in Northern Ireland, that will present great opportunities, because there will be construction work and work in the hotel trade. As has been said, as well as the more luxurious type of hotel facilities, small businesses will be providing bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

All that needs support, and we need to give people who go to Northern Ireland as well as to other parts of the United Kingdom the benefit of a change in our attitudes to travel and tourism. There is hope—as I know, because during a recent Select Committee visit to Northern Ireland we visited some first-class structures and potential tourist attractions. One of those was the equestrian centre at Necarne castle at Irvinestown in County Fermanagh, where we met some young people involved in the hotel trade.

One young man, Stephen Conway, epitomised the change in attitude for which we hope. He is at Durham university studying travel, tourism and the leisure industry, although he originally thought of training as a teacher. That shows a realistic appreciation of the future job opportunities in Northern Ireland. Younger people may be a bit less inhibited in considering new ways of earning their living, and that says a lot about where we are going.

However, all that needs support, and the Government are reducing their support for the industry. I do not think that that is deliberately malicious, but it is short-sighted and shows their lack of recognition of the country's real potential for growth and earnings through the tourist trade.

8.38 pm
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) said, we have had several such debates so far during the life of this Parliament.

I have a major interest in tourism, as I represent Eastbourne, Britain's premier seaside resort, in which some 6,000 jobs and more than £100 million are accounted for by tourism. I am also a regular columnist for Travel Weekly, so I take a considerable interest in the industry as a whole.

I wish to say a few words about the great British holiday and to what extent we can preserve and enhance it in the latter part of this century. Eastbourne was originally laid out by the then Duke of Devonshire. It was described as a place built by a gentleman for gentlemen. With the advent of the railway and the growth of sea bathing as a leisure pursuit, it developed as a resort. Later, perhaps up to the mid to late 1950s, we had the bucket-and-spade type of holiday, which I believe is still popular in resorts such as Blackpool.

Like every seaside resort, we have seen basic structural changes over the years. To survive and prosper, we have to move with the times. Things have changed. It has become easier to travel abroad. With the abolition of exchange controls and the growth of package holidays to the Mediterranean, people's pattern of holidaymaking has changed, perhaps irrevocably, in many respects. Figures from the British Tourist Authority show that just over half of the 58 million holidays taken last year were spent in Britain, compared with 86 per cent. in 1965 and a staggering 93 per cent. in 1955. If that trend continued, more people would take a holiday abroad than at home by the end of the century. Perhaps even more relevant is the fact that the average sum spent on a British holiday was £146 while on a foreign holiday it was £564.

With exposure to foreign holidays, people's tastes have inevitably changed. I have described the old bucket-and-spade week by the seaside. That no longer has the attraction that it used to have. Many resorts like my constituency have had to move with the times. They see that the modern visitor is more sophisticated. They look not only for good value for money but a more interesting range of activities. One such example in my constituency is the Butterfly Centre, which has been an enormous success. My hon. Friend the Minister had the opportunity to visit it during his visit to Eastbourne. It also has similar tourist attractions.

Linked with the range of attractions is the question of quality accommodation, food and so on. We had a discussion earlier about the national minimum wage, which is part of Labour party policy, even if the party is coy about the level at which it would fix the minimum wage.

I appreciate the difficulty of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). I know his constituency intimately, having fought it in 1979, albeit unsuccessfully. It is a splendid constituency full of splendid people, but it is by no stretch of the imagination a regular and important tourist centre. The hon. Gentleman is labouring under the difficulty that he does not appreciate in a practical sense the problems that a minimum wage would bring. I invite him to come to Eastbourne and meet the hoteliers and guest house operators and hear from them at first hand how much they wish to see deregulation not only in the labour market but across the board so that their businesses can survive and grow. If the national minimum wage is imposed across the board we shall see job losses, especially in the tourist and leisure industry, and we will see businesses, particularly those on the margin, go out of business.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The only reason why I interrupt is that the hon. Gentleman does less than justice to the London borough of Islington. Camden passage, for example, has a wonderful array of antique shops which are regularly visited by large numbers of people who come to London. Sadler's Wells is also in Islington. The hon. Gentleman's comments about Islington clearly reveal that he does not know a great deal about a constituency and borough which he fought unsuccessfully. I now understand why he did not succeed.

Mr. Waterson

I was making the point not that Islington is not part of the exciting, vibrant London experience but that it is not, as a borough, a tourism centre in the same way as Eastbourne, any more than the hon. Gentleman's constituency could be so described by any stretch of even his imagination.

I move on from the national minimum wage to other exciting developments in terms of the product that Britain offers. A perfect example is the Centerparcs company, which provides modern, popular resorts dotted around the country, one of which I have had the pleasure of visiting.

The point that we must keep coming back to is the tourism deficit of some £3 billion or more. Inevitably, we are debating this evening the document "Tourism—Competing with the Best". I should like to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to my hon. Friend the Minister and to everyone involved in producing that superb document. It sets out some important landmarks—signposts, if I may use that expression, to the road ahead for British tourism.

The report tells us that United Kingdom revenues from domestic and in-bound tourism came to £33 billion last year and that we had more than 20 million visitors from overseas. However, the problem is that although tourism may be the world's fastest growing industry, growth in Britain has been significantly slower than that in many of our competitors. As the report points out: If Britain could restore the share to its 1980 level, earnings would increase by £3 billion. That equates almost exactly to the size of the current deficit.

We have heard about the importance of increasing the quality of accommodation and value for money and the issue of benchmarking, which is so important. I am delighted that the Government have mounted the initiative in co-operation with the Confederation of British Industry because I see benchmarking as the way ahead. Not that we do not have a large stock already of excellent accommodation, but there is always scope for improving what we have and getting more.

Bookability has rightly come to the fore. It is easier to book a hotel abroad than one in this country. Once people stumble across a good hotel here, they tend to go back to it over and over again on the basis that they have found one with which they are happy. Although there are many books and guides, often with their own registration and points system, it is often a lengthy process to find an appropriate hotel in the area that one particularly wants to visit. The English tourist board has recognised that. John East and his colleagues have recently announced a strengthening of the crown scheme for grading hotels. It needs to be simplified as well as extended and made more accessible to the general public. Some 11,400 establishments are already inspected under the crown scheme in England. That makes it the largest scheme of its type.

We have discussed the role of London. That issue will have some £8 million devoted to it over the next two years. That will consist partly of £2 million pump-priming in the way of extra grant in aid from the Government. The gateway argument is a powerful one. I seem to recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State once referred to London as our international trump card. How right he was. I inject a note of caution into the pre-eminence given to London. It is important and a recognised part of the policy that visitors should be encouraged to go to London as well as to the various regions of the country, to Scotland, to Wales and so on. That is vital.

Inherent in the scheme must be a recognition that there is some differentiation between first and second visits. I draw that to the attention of people such as Sir John Egan who are involved in the scheme. Almost invariably, people who come from America or the far east or wherever want to visit London and possibly nowhere else on their first visit. On second and subsequent visits there is ample scope for them either to visit London only briefly and move on somewhere else or not visit London at all.

The report places emphasis on short-break holidays and additional holidays. It rightly says:

we believe there is potential for growth in the short break/additional holiday market. Anyone can see that that is a fast-growing part of the market, particularly with the channel tunnel now in operation.

I would make the plea that the main family holiday of two weeks or more is still the one worth having. We have an excellent tourism and community services department in my constituency led by Ron Cussons, and I am indebted to Mark Smith, the tourism services manager, for some comments on the issue. He talks about the marketing of short breaks on the basis that while spending on long holidays is now flat, real spending on short breaks increased by nearly 15 per cent. between 1990 and 1993. That bold statistic fails to acknowledge the significance of the relative values of these different holidays, the effect of the recession and the return on marketing investment through additional business. The document shows that the value of the long-stay holiday business is three times that of the short-break market. Mr. Smith says that it would be 23 years before short breaks were equal in economic importance to long stay holidays. Figures set out in the Department's strategy document show the underlying trend for long-stay holidays abroad has been increasing since the low point in 1987, and that at a time of recession. It seems to me axiomatic that the long-stay holiday market is much more vulnerable to overseas competition.

It is important that we continue to recognise the importance of the traditional family holiday. Whatever the scope for expanding short breaks and the extra holidays which people can now afford, the main family holiday is the one which provides the most revenue to the resort. Bookability has a major effect on all of this, but we should remember that the market in UK holidays has always been predominantly direct-sell. There is scope for expanding the existing network of tourist information centres, but most people continue to book their hotels direct rather than through an agency.

Other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so I shall summarise. The Department's document is an excellent, well-thought-out and thought-provoking contribution to the debate. It is not claiming to be a comprehensive blueprint for every aspect of the tourism industry. But, among other things, it brings us back to the crucial fact that unless we arrest the relative decline in domestic and in-bound tourism, we shall slip further behind the rest of the world. Instead of the tourism deficit reducing, we will see it yawning ever wider. That is why the document, and this debate, is so important.

8.53 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) paid tribute to the paper which the Government published six weeks ago and which inevitably forms the background to this important debate on tourism. However, the hon. Gentleman also put his finger upon what seems to me a damning weakness of the paper, which is its failure to mention the decline in the family holiday.

It was notable that the Secretary of State in opening the debate did not choose to describe or deal with the problem of the decline in long-stay holidays. The most attractive aspect of the Secretary of State's speech was that he made no grand claims about the Government's ability and willingness to do a great deal about the tourist industry. The document is suitably modest in its statement that it is not a comprehensive strategy for the industry, but the beginning of a process of identifying some key issues. That is certainly not to inflate the document.

What the document does—this is useful—is to describe the depressing relative decline suffered by the United Kingdom tourist industry in the past 10 years. Tourism's importance is beyond question, and that is accepted on all sides. In 1994, tourism provided 7 per cent. of all United Kingdom jobs—the UK's fourth-largest employment sector. Some 5 per cent. of GDP—an estimated £33 billion—was provided by tourism. Tourism, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, is due to become the biggest single industry in the world by the year 2000 and, in the 10 years from 1982 to 1982, it grew by 70 per cent.

It must be noted that the UK's world market share has fallen from 5.6 per cent. to 4.3 per cent. in 10 years, a drop of nearly 20 per cent. The Department admitted in the paper that Britain's growth has been slower than most of our European competitors, and that our share of world markets is falling. If Britain restored its share to the 1980 level, earnings would increase by £3 billion. That would be a considerable achievement, but there is little evidence that the Government have any clear view on the role they can play in bringing about such an increase in activity.

It was notable that the Secretary of State gave few examples of direct Government help to the industry. He spoke of an additional £2 million per annum to be given to help market London abroad in the next two years. It must be said that that is a modest amount to assist London in international marketing, and it cannot compensate in the slightest for the absence of a properly elected, local authority for London which could carry out promotional work abroad. It seems monstrous that this great capital city is alone in the civilised western world in having no city government. Tourism is undoubtedly suffering as a result. The inability to tackle London's traffic and transport problems must, in major part, be due to the absence of such an authority. The responsibility lies far beyond that of the Secretary of State—the sponsoring Minister—but I hope that he will at least recognise that he should throw his weight behind the movement to democratise London, as it is very much in the interests of the industry that he says that he sponsors that he should do so.

It is interesting to consider some of the examples of Government sponsorship of the tourist industry in the paper. Some seem patently ridiculous, for example, the reference to immigration, which states: under the Citizens Charter, performance times exist to minimise the time a foreign visitor has to wait before seeing an immigration officer. In a month in which the European Union has removed border controls, that seems simply to point up this country's deficiencies in welcoming foreign visitors as compared with our rivals in continental Europe. It will also leave a rather sour taste in the mouths of the ethnic minorities, many of whom have had the unpleasant experience of trying to bring their families here for some family occasion, only for them to be turned away at the frontier, unable to join the celebration.

The truth is that those so-called sponsoring examples are the dross and the spin-offs from other policies, for example the dubious claims of benefits from macro-economic policy, including economic stability and low inflation. No one doubts that such economic management, were it to persist, would benefit the tourist industry, but it is plain that the Government's economic mismanagement, resulting in the massive increase in taxation, in particular in value added tax, has had a peculiarly adverse effect on tourism and the comparative costs of staying in British hotels and eating in British restaurants and other establishments. The Government's economic mismanagement has put our tourist industry at a direct competitive disadvantage.

Nor have the Government in any way sought to offset the disadvantages caused by economic mismanagement by increasing direct assistance to the industry, through grants in aid, notwithstanding their recognition of the importance of the British Tourist Authority and the national tourist boards. The English tourist board has had its grant in aid reduced from more than £23 million in 1988–89 to £11.3 million in the present financial year, and it is expected to drop by more than £1 million more in the next financial year. The boards play an important role in providing leadership and as a catalyst in marketing and making possible the marketing of an industry which, of its nature, depends on small businesses, which are incapable of conducting effective marketing overseas on their own behalf.

The omission in the paper, to which I alluded briefly, is that it has written off the coastal industry and the longer domestic holiday. In the words of Mr. Peter Hampson, the director of the British Resorts Association, the Government appear to have confused managed change with decline. There is no mention of seaside or coastal resorts in the report and I find it odd that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) could praise a report that is so defective.

Mr. Hampson states that the theory that coastal tourism has declined to a point where it is all but dead is nonsense, particularly when you consider that in both terms of volume and of value, the coast accounts for just under 50% of the UK's total internal holiday activity. It is the biggest sector by far". The paper emphasises the value of short breaks and is promoting them as a new avenue for the tourist industry for the future, but the value of short breaks—I do not underestimate it—remains less than a third of that of long breaks, despite the fact that it involves three times as many individual holidaymakers.

It is questionable whether the Government have even got their sights properly adjusted. A major cause of the relative decline in UK tourism is the vast increase in the number of holidays taken abroad. The paper records that, 10 years ago, 55 per cent. of total tourist spending by the British was in the United Kingdom—today it is only 45 per cent. Certainly, United Kingdom citizens are more likely to take short breaks in the UK for reasons of convenience and, therefore, the longer-stay breaks are more vulnerable to foreign competition. Unless the Department of National Heritage is simply happy to surrender the valuable long-stay market, strong marketing support for that sector is essential for continued prosperity.

The Government have had the benefit of a commissioned report by Mckinsey and Company, which found that the most substantial opportunities to improve performance in the domestic market lie in reinvigorating the accommodation sector and making it easier book a British holiday. None the less, there is no evidence that the Government are willing to make additional public resources available for that purpose. Fifty-nine per cent. of inbound visitors stay in hotel accommodation, which accounts for 30 per cent. of their expenditure. In a recent survey, 30 per cent. of visitors said that their hotel did not meet their expectations, so it must be right to tackle that problem. I hope that the review of the crown scheme, which the Government admit does not work as effectively as it might, to alter the perception of British hotels, will achieve substantial improvements.

I mentioned briefly the impact of value-added tax on the tourist industry. What is the Government's attitude to the harmonisation of VAT? We suffer seriously from being so far out of line with other European countries. In January 1993, EC directive 92/77 agreed transitional arrangements on VAT that will remain in force until 31 December 1996. Those allow member states to apply a minimum rate of 5 per cent. to a limited list of services, including hotels. Although the directive seeks to harmonise VAT rates, if the United Kingdom detaches itself from that process, Britain's international tourism competitiveness is in danger of suffering a further serious blow.

It is high time that the Government stood up to the pressure of the Euro-sceptics, which appears to stand in the way of harmonising this country's tax rates with those of other European countries. The argument against differential rates of VAT in the United Kingdom which might be invoked to assist the tourist industry's comparative difficulties has been exploded by the Government's decision on domestic fuel.

This is a short debate and, although I am the only spokesman for my party, I shall not speak for too long as a number of other hon. Members undoubtedly wish to speak. I must allude, however, to one of the most serious threats to tourism that this country has seen for many a day: the appallingly misconceived and mismanaged privatisation of British Rail. Its consequences on the tourist industry are not speculative. It is already clear that great damage is being done to tourism by the plans that are being announced and the franchises being proposed by the franchising director.

There are other occasions to debate what can and should be done for British Rail. I merely allude to Sir Bob Reid's clearly expressed view that it was madness to separate Railtrack from passenger service operations. It will certainly be deeply damaging to tourism and the use of railways to the more sparsely populated parts of the country such as my constituency, which has already seen the withdrawal of special tourist trains during the summer months, at great cost to local business.

That is not merely the view of a local Member of Parliament retailing some odd facts; it is the considered view of the chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Mr. Fraser Morrison, who was appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland. In a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, he made plain his concern and that of the body responsible for promoting tourism in the highlands. He said: With no airport at Fort William, the sleeper and Motorail services give direct links into the area from the south. We already have reports from local tourist operators of holidays being cancelled due to the loss of the sleeper service. The Department of National Heritage should raise its voice about that.

I ask the Minister, who has had knowledge of Scotland as a result of having represented a Scottish constituency for some years—one beyond the central belt—to recognise that that form of tourism is crucial in the development of tourism in the north.

The Minister must recognise that the numbers of people who travel in no way measure the input into the region that comes from sleepers and Motorail. Many of the people who travel by those modes of transport are long-term visitors who are going for a season's sport or to stay in the remoter parts for a long time. They bring into the region valued money, which is needed to sustain the fragile economies of the sparsely populated areas of scenic attractiveness.

The matter must not be dropped. Consultation should be embarked on properly, according to the statute, before the final dispositions for the summer timetables are made. It is a matter of the utmost urgency if there is not to be a sharp decline in tourism into the north of Scotland this year.

I believe that the industry is one of those with the greatest future, provided that it is handled with imagination and a willingness, not merely to point in a random way to some of the current problems, as I suggest that the report before us tonight does. It needs a strategy, but the Government have not evolved one.

I know that the Minister is aware of the importance of the arts and heritage in drawing people into this country. I am glad that new resources are entering the capital funding of some of our great artistic enterprises. However, I am deeply worried about the apparent impact that the national lottery is having on the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. Vernons has withdrawn from the scheme to the maximum extent of which it is capable, and there are fears about what Littlewoods may do.

In a short time, the scheme has brought £300 million investment into the arts. It is especially valued in some of the smaller communities, where the foundation has, without any bureaucratic fuss or difficulty, sustained extremely important local heritage, artistic and sporting activities.

I beg the Government to look with favour on the proposals for an adjustment in the current Finance Bill to relieve the pools industry of a proportion of betting duties, to offset the great losses that it has suffered as a result of the introduction of the national lottery.

9.13 pm
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke for 20 minutes. He is perfectly well aware that four other hon. Members hope to speak before the winding-up speeches from the Front Benchers, which are due to begin in 12 minutes, at 9.25 pm. He would receive more sympathy for the causes that he championed—he seems to want to say everything that he can think of—if he had been a little more brief.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said that, if the Greater London council were restored, it would promote tourism in London. I believe that turning the old county hall into a hotel as soon as possible would do a great deal more to promote tourism in London.

London has already figured prominently in the debate. If one is trying to sell British tourism abroad and to market it—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) made an eloquent reference—one must attract people here. We cannot attract them with the weather, but the one thing that they have heard of is London. Whether they come from Chicago, Houston, Tokyo or Osaka, they have all heard of London. A few tourists might have heard of Edinburgh, York or Oxford, but hardly any will have heard of Stonehenge or Stratford-on-Avon, let alone places like Norwich and Lincoln. What brings people here to Britain is London. Once we have got them here, by attracting them through London, we can try to disperse them around the country.

London has a serious accommodation problem; it has a serious hotel problem. It has a great many excellent restaurants. In the past 20 or 30 years, the variety and standard of food in London have improved out of all recognition. Perhaps we do not make enough of that. But there are not enough hotels. They are expensive, quite a lot of them do not give satisfaction and many of them are dull and must be sparkled up.

We must get more hotels; more must be built. Unfortunately, our planning law consists of a system, under which people apply for planning permission for a particular design of building such as a hotel. A local authority either has to accept or to reject that application. There is no leadership over what sort of hotels are likely to obtain planning permission. Many of the architects have bad taste; they produce tall hotels with blank-looking exteriors and flat tops, except for excrescences such as the top of lift shafts. They are unpleasing to look at. Whenever someone proposes to build a hotel, it is difficult for the local authority to grant planning permission because the plan is normally so ugly that it is hotly opposed by everyone living round about. That is one of the reasons why London is short of hotels.

The demand for hotels is not met and hoteliers are able to charge exorbitant prices. That is why London has such a bad reputation in terms of value for money in hotels. It is important that something is done about that. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage will assure me that the Government are getting a grip and providing a lead.

The key to the problem is the south bank. There are places all along the south bank, not just at county hall, where hotels could be put. Let us have some attractive designs with sloping roofs such as one might see on an alpine hotel. People would not be so opposed to such hotels, which could be put along the river where they would have views of St. Paul's cathedral. In that way, we shall begin to meet more of the demand for hotels in London. We shall provide what is needed as a basis for the expansion of tourism, which is so important to this country in terms of the employment, income and tax yield to the Government that it generates.

9.18 pm
Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

This is a timely debate because only last month the Back-Bench Labour tourism committee was formed. The debate gives us the first opportunity to participate in discussions on the subject.

One of the themes being discussed in the Back-Bench committee is to see London as a gateway to the United Kingdom, while ensuring that the regions also get their share of the action. Nobody minds extra money being used to promote London, but the concept of a gateway must include avenues that lead to the regions. We need to ensure that the regions receive their share of the action because, as we have heard, there is a declining market share of tourism. We need to set that against the background of cuts in grant in aid to the English tourist board and argue again about the relevance and importance of section 4 grants.

The Government could take other measures—for example, they could examine taxation policies. There has been discussion this evening about the non-domestic rating revaluation from 1 April, and I shall give the Under-Secretary an example from my constituency. The rateable value of a small snack bar near the major oak in Sherwood forest has increased by 100 per cent. That clearly cannot be right, and all tourist businesses in Nottinghamshire face increases well above the rate of inflation.

We must also examine the question of value added tax on accommodation. The rate of VAT on accommodation is well in excess of the taxation rates elsewhere in Europe, apart from Denmark. If the rate of VAT were reduced, there is a real chance that the tax take would increase. Currently, some 50 per cent. of hotel beds are unoccupied and something must be done to address that problem.

I welcome the liberalisation to which reference has been made tonight. There have also been changes in policy concerning tourist signs. The Under-Secretary might care to address the issue of liberalisation in pubs. Children's certificates were available for the first time last month, but the system is not working properly. There are different benchmarks all across the country and there are many unreal expectations. If pubs are to move from the sawdust days to being places where one would be proud to take one's family, we must focus on that problem and establish proper criteria nationwide. For example, in Birmingham licensing magistrates will not award children's certificates during term time. That interpretation must be wrong.

We have been told that the Department of National Heritage is keen to talk to other Departments. It should consider extending daylight hours. That would be a real shot in the arm for tourism. Lighter nights would mean more leisure time in the evening.

I do not wish to be a tourist in my own county of Nottinghamshire, but I must say something about the new Millennicom project, which is a private-public sector initiative—the sort of thing that the Government are always promoting. Nottinghamshire is moving away from the old coal tradition to new information technology. The scheme will involve more than £1 billion over 10 years and could create 14,000 jobs in the area. There will be pavilions for new technology. It is a good scheme for the future which will transform the landscape. Nottinghamshire is changing from coal to tourism; tourism can be a part of our new future.

9.22 pm
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

In the three minutes available, all that I can do is highlight some of the concerns that have been raised with me in a series of meetings with local hoteliers and representatives of tourism in my constituency. I have held three meetings in Penzance, St. Ives and Helston, which also covers the Lizard. At the top of the agenda was undoubtedly the topical issue of revaluation—a subject that I raised with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State during his speech.

The issue has surfaced again and again in the debate. There is real concern about the measure, particularly among the operators of caravan and holiday home parks. I urge my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to take seriously the points that have been made by the British Holiday and Home Parks Association. I am willing to join with colleagues on both sides of the House to try to right a clear wrong. Valuations do not affect only holiday parks, as there have also been valuations on some hotels.

My second point—I underline what the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) has said—deals with value added tax. In all my years in the House, I have never believed that we have had the right structure for the promotion of the tourism trade. I illustrate that, as I have before in the presence of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, by pointing out that the West Country tourist board stretches from the Isles of Scilly in my constituency to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs). That is an unmarketable area and there should be a radical review of the whole system of marketing and promoting holidays.

Transport is vital to areas that are a long way from London, such as my constituency. London certainly has a part to play. It must be the catalyst that brings in many people, but it is not the only centre of tourism in the United Kingdom. We must, therefore, have good transport links from the centre to the periphery. I am delighted that the sleeper—you have a vested interest in this, Madam Deputy Speaker—to the south-west and Penzance is safe for the foreseeable future, in my opinion as a result of privatisation.

We also need to develop flights right into the west country. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), a former Minister with responsibility for tourism, who proposed an idea which I back and on which we have been working—that Newquay airport should be developed for incoming flights. Nevertheless, he is the son of a late Bishop of Truro.

9.25 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I have fewer than five minutes to speak, which is more than for some and better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but I suggest that some hon. Members who spoke for a considerable time are very selfish. They know who they are and I hope they will bear that in mind in future.

I shall speak for a few moments about tourism in London. It is extremely important to the capital city. Last year, tourism earned more than £5.5 billion, 80 per cent. of which was in foreign exchange. Tourism ranks among the top three industries in terms of economic importance, employing more than 200,000 London residents and representing between 4 and 5 per cent. of the capital's gross domestic product. It is certainly one of our most significant industries, but one can voice many criticisms about tourism in London.

There is a scarcity of multi-language signposting around the capital city and a lack of announcements on the transport system that are understandable even to natives. There is an appalling lack of tourist information booths and offices in London. One gets the feeling that, all too often, tourists are regarded as a nuisance—a valuable nuisance but still a nuisance—and we must do far more to enhance standards of information, transport, accommodation and publicity.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) made some fairly inaccurate comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and the attractions of the borough of Islington, and I was able to correct him. He went on to compound his ignorance by talking rather disparagingly about the east end of London, where I come from, and suggesting that not even in the furthest extreme of my imagination could I say that it would attract tourists. He could not be further from the truth.

The hon. Gentleman should have been in Newham this morning when we took the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration to see the city challenge part of Stratford and the tidal mill at Three Mills—a wonderful tourist centre which has been developed with Government money through city challenge and English Heritage and which will provide an enormous tourist attraction for people not only in the east end but throughout London, if people get to know about it.

Many things going on in the east end of London, as opposed to the centre, are worthy of being developed for tourism purposes. I wish that the hon. Member for Eastbourne were in his place. Having told us about delights of his area, he could at least have listened to other hon. Members speaking about the delights of their constituencies.

Today, a new tourist map was unveiled in the east end of London: "Tour East London—what to do and how to get there", a fold-out guide to east London which lists more than 150 attractions and has an illustrated hand-drawn map on the reverse to help visitors.

The map sets out heritage sites, museums and galleries and urban farms and gives examples of the best in contemporary architecture. It provides details of opening hours, admission charges, the nearest bus, rail, tube or docklands light railway services and information on facilities for the disabled. It includes suggestions of places to eat and drink and lists the area's theatres, clubs and cinemas, while shopping includes the famous east end markets such as the Columbia road flower market, the cosmopolitan food stalls in Ridley road and the Sunday flea market around Brick lane. I am sure that there were quite a few tourists there the other day to see Ronnie Kray laid to rest. Ronnie is no longer with us—if indeed he ever was—and he is probably now up in heaven pulling the wings off angels. I am not suggesting that we should regularly bury gangsters as a way of attracting tourists to the east end of London, but many people were able to look around and see that there are many things in the east end that are so much more attractive than the Krays.

The House should have more information about what is available in London as a whole. If hon. Members knew more about London, we would be far better able to inform tourists who come to this great capital city that London is not just about Westminster in the centre and that it stretches right out to the east end to the wonderful London borough of Newham, which I have the honour to represent in this place.

9.30 pm
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

This has been a good debate but it has been too short. Some interesting and thoughtful speeches have been made. We heard a very long but thoughtful speech from the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs). I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) raised the importance of job creation in tourism and the potential of tourism in Northern Ireland. As a former Northern Ireland Minister, I fell in love with that beautiful Province. It is good that tourism is returning there in abundance.

Unfortunately, many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), and my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) had to make very short speeches because of the lack of time. Indeed, hon. Members will be sad to hear that I have had to reduce my speech.

We seldom have an opportunity to debate tourism, so I am sure that I am joined by many of my hon. Friends and, indeed, others on the Conservative Benches, in being disappointed that today's debate should be held in what was described to me last week by one Minister as the "black hole" of the weekly parliamentary timetable. Perhaps that is one of the telling signs of the industry's lack of importance on the Government's agenda. Tourism deserves better treatment than that. It seems to run contrary to what the Secretary of State—I am glad to see that he has arrived back in the Chamber—said last Monday at Question Time. He said: It is only right that the DNH should accord substantial importance to the sector."—[Official Report, 27 March 1995; Vol. 257, c. 677.] I am sure that all hon. Members present and all those who have spoken in the debate are like me—grateful that we have at least had an opportunity to debate tourism today. This evening's debate has served only to highlight further the differences of opinion between the parties on tourism, which seem to grow ever more pronounced. The contradictions in the Government's own message, or messages, are clear, and nowhere more so than in their document, "Tourism—Competing with the Best", which has been mentioned by many hon. Members, and the shortcomings of which were highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) in his forceful and timely opening remarks. What a damp squib it has turned out to be, especially when one considers that the management consultants' input works out at £10,000 a page—or to put it another way, £150,000 of taxpayers' money. It told us nothing that the industry did not know already.

Admittedly, the document is useful to a certain extent. It at least acknowledges that the rosy picture painted for the past 15 years was false, as throughout that time we were losing market share. I shall not go over the figures that my hon. Friend gave the House, but we have gone from trade surplus to deficit in a big way. The figures are well known to the House.

Here is the fundamental contradiction: the document recognises the Government's responsibility for an industry that is diverse and fragmented and where co-ordination is difficult. At the same time, it states that the industry must solve its own problems—a point repeated by the Secretary of State at Question Time on Monday and again this evening.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury pointed out, the document is notable for its omissions—no mention was made of the contribution of local authorities, the importance of visitor attractions or of self-catering accommodation, and many others as well.

In his thoughtful speech, the hon. Member for Swindon raised many important issues, such as access for disabled people and the rating of caravan sites. Having spoken recently at the Home Parks Association conference, I know of the fears that exist, and it is right that they should have been expressed in today's debate. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that we must watch the tendency to provide tourism signposts, but let me also put in a plea on behalf of the motor heritage museum on the M40, which needs a signpost because it is a worthwhile attraction.

It is clear that the hon. Member for Swindon has not spoken to representatives of the industry in any great depth. I met some of them at last week's British travel trade fair. The vast majority appeared to be unhappy with the document that we have discussed, which is not comprehensive and does not constitute a real step forward. It demonstrates once more that the Government are simply not prepared to listen.

For example, the management consultants who did the background work found that a majority in the industry favoured a statutory grading scheme. Resistance to the idea came from the Minister and the Department. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has already spelled out the Opposition's strategy, and we have heard a number of speeches rejecting the statutory scheme. When will those hon. Members realise that the idea is not driven by ideology, as seems to be the case with everything that they do? It is on our agenda because, while appealing to common sense, it also happens to be what the industry wants. I believe that it will also prove a valuable test in overcoming the problems of bookability raised by a number of hon. Members.

At the British travel trade fair last week, I was invited to take part in a brains trust organised by the Tourism Society with about 200 representatives from local authorities, visitor attractions, tourist boards, travel companies and, most important, hotel groups. When the question of a statutory grading scheme was put to that audience of 200 by Ken Robinson, the society's chairman, all but one voted in favour of such a scheme. The British Incoming Tour Operators Association—a highly respected professional body that was represented at the event—has cast its vote in favour of the scheme. How can Conservative Members deny that strength of opinion? How long can that continue?

I understand that the British Tourist Authority is currently studying the effect of a cut in VAT on hotel accommodation and its impact on the industry. Nearly all our European competitors enjoy a lower rate than ours. Will the Government at least take the arguments on board when the BTA's report is published, rather than dismissing them out of hand? I hope that the Minister will refer to that in his reply.

I recently asked the Secretary of State for his views on VAT in a written parliamentary question. He replied dismissively, pointing out that our employers did not have to pay the costs of the social chapter, which has already been mentioned in the debate. Hon. Members who support that line are usually those who set great store by the Government's deregulatory approach. We agree that there is duplication and unnecessary regulation—much of which stems from the last 15 years of Conservative government—and we, too, want to cut some of it, but we also recognise that quality is what will give us a competitive edge. In tourism most of all, perhaps, that quality will come from the quality of service provided by well-trained, well-paid and well-treated employees. Do Conservative Members really think we will win back our lost market share by under-investing in staff who are made to work in poor conditions?

On a similar note to the VAT argument, mention has been made of the multiplier effect that applies to the Government's spending on marketing. Studies such as those completed by McKinsey for the tourist boards make the case very clearly, as do regional studies for Cumbria and other areas. More spending on marketing equals greater returns for the Treasury.

When it comes to bringing in overseas visitors, which our competitors continue to do better than us, as was pointed out by many of my hon. Friends, the Secretary of State should be looking at more than just the confines of his own Department.

In the case of Russian visitors, for instance, the Department should be looking to encourage the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to take a stronger line on visa allocations. It seems, according to the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, that the British consulates in Moscow and St. Petersburg are processing visa applications very slowly. Because the officers are being so unrealistic with them, potential visitors are simply giving up and going elsewhere, spending their holiday money in our competitor countries.

I wonder what steps have been taken to alleviate that problem. I hope again that the Minister, when he replies, will at least say that he will enter into talks with Ministers in that other Department to find out whether that problem can be overcome. From my own encounters with industry representatives—I think that many hon. Members know that I frequently go around the industry—my impression is that people in tourism are most disappointed with the Government's lack of imagination and their failure to grasp the nettle of partnership action. That is increasingly what divides us and the Government, as was demonstrated by this evening's speeches.

The commitment to tourism of my hon. Friends has not gone unnoticed outside the House. Tonight, we have heard from the new secretary of the Back-Bench committee of Labour Members involved in tourism. The chairman of that committee is also in the Chamber. We had a meeting yesterday, which was addressed by John East of the English tourist board and Adele Biss, the chairwoman of both the ETB and the British Tourist Authority.

A little bird has told me—I am sure that the hon. Member for Swindon will want to know this—that there were five times more Labour Members at our meeting than Conservative Members at theirs two weeks ago. The fact that we have a keen Back-Bench committee demonstrates how seriously Labour Members take the industry.

Mr. Waterson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pendry

I shall not give way because of the time, but if the hon. Gentleman can persuade the Leader of the House to give us more time for debates on tourism, I shall certainly give way on another occasion.

Throughout the country—in Brighton and Blackpool, to name but two towns which we will win next time—that commitment is being recognised. Labour's imaginative and committed approach has won friends in seaside resorts across the country. Seaside problems, which other hon. Members have already referred to, are another element missing from the Secretary of State's document, I might add.

Tourism affects all our constituencies these days. It is not just about seaside resorts, Stratford, Bath or Oxford. There are many other regions. Stoke-on-Trent is rapidly catching up on Stratford-On-Avon as a visitor attraction. Stoke attracted about 1.8 million visitors, bringing £75 million to the local economy last year. Thirty-eight per cent. of overseas visitors were there for the first time. That was a high figure, as I am sure that the House will appreciate.

In Manchester, the regeneration of the Castlefield area, the G-MEX and the Granada studio tour are all examples of tourism bringing jobs to places that some narrow-minded people would have said were unlikely areas for tourism growth. In Wigan, the constituency of another member of our Back-Bench committee, the success of Wigan pier is exemplary of the kind of strategy that can succeed in reviving the local economy. Bradford, Halifax and Dudley are all places where tourism has contributed and still has more to give. I could go on because the list is almost endless.

In that regard, the Government have recently emphasised tourism in London. As a north-west Member of Parliament, I welcome the fact that extra money is going to London. However, I ask the Secretary of State to do as much as possible to ensure that, once they do their two or three days in London, visitors are steered to other parts of the country.

In places such as the ones that I have just mentioned, tourism has a great deal to offer. In this, there is an element of the wasted opportunity that underlines tonight's debate. The 150,000 to 200,000 extra jobs that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury referred to could have been squandered because our market share has declined over the past 15 years. That is an estimate by the English tourist board.

The Government have thrown up a smokescreen that runs to a 15-page document and a few conciliatory speeches, but we and the industry have seen through that smokescreen. Did the Government really think that they could hide the new £45 million tourism tax, brought in at the previous Budget, by putting value added tax on recreational transport? Perhaps they thought that they were doing just that when Customs and Excise glibly stated that making tourism in this country £45 million more expensive would have no effect on our international competitiveness.

The Government should tell that to the management at Alton Towers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, or to a number of other visitor attractions or to Sir John Egan who, as chairman of the Confederation of British Industry's tourism action group, wrote to me recently. He spoke of the

particular concern that yet again the tourism industry is being seen as a soft target for taxation purposes. Likewise, does the Secretary of State think that £150,000 on management consultants can possibly start to make up for the £1.3 million that he cut from the budget of the English tourist board? In the absence of any real commitment to improving matters, these are the policies that have marked the Government's approach to tourism.

Finally, the Government and the Ministers on the Treasury Bench had better believe it when I tell them that Labour means business for the tourist industry. The further bad news for them is that the industry is beginning to realise that only a Labour Government will give tourism the recognition and attention that it deserves.

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

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) said that this was the fourth tourism debate in this Parliament whereas, I think I am right in saying, we did not have one such debate in the previous Parliament. The fact that we have had four tourism debates is a tribute to the tourist industry and the importance that we now place on it.

The industry has a turnover of some £33 billion a year; it provides 1.5 million jobs; and produces something like 5 per cent. of the gross national product. This country had more than 20 million overseas visitors last years, which was a record. It was up 5 per cent. on the previous year and not only shows that the Government take tourism extremely seriously but that the industry itself is very successful.

The fact that we have had four tourism debates is a reflection on the power and influence of the Department of National Heritage now has. The Department was deliberately set up to give a voice in the Cabinet to aspects of Government policy which, important as they are—none more so than tourism—did not previously get enough of the House's time. I am, therefore, extremely glad that we have had this fourth debate, which is a tribute to the industry itself and to the Department, which has brought it to the forefront of consideration in government.

I shall deal with as many points as possible. I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), to whom I gave a fair old bit of time in the BBC debate the other day, will excuse me if I do not accord him quite so much time today. I mean no disrespect.

I thought, however, that the hon. Gentleman was a little grudging about the deregulation of tourism signposting. Almost the last thing that happened before I entered the Chamber was that I received a note from the British Hospitality Association saying that the announcement was absolutely marvellous. I had another note from the Federation of Small Businesses saying the same thing.

I remember how I was attacked during the first of the tourism debates to which my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon referred about the fact that tourism signposting was so restricted. I said then that I was determined to do all that I could to get that changed, and now it has been changed—more proof of the influence of the DNH within the Government.

Some hon. Members spoke as though more signposts meant giant signposts and billboards for MacDonald's, restaurants and pubs, but that is not the case. The truth is that the traditional white-on-brown signs will be available for tourist attractions that need pointing out to encourage visitors.

I shall cite just one interesting former regulation. I am speaking from memory, but I think that this is right. Unless an attraction had 250,000 visitors a year, it could not have a sign. The simple response is how on earth is it expected to get 250,000 visitors if it does not have a sign? All that has been swept away and it is a real advance for tourism.

With regard to deregulation in tourism, I know that, over a year ago, the Department conducted a review of the tourism industry and identified, with the help of the industry, more than 100 regulations which had a damaging impact on the tourism industry. We are negotiating to get rid of as many of those as we can, with proper and important regard to safety. Tourism signposting, which has been announced today, is but another success in a long line of successes.

We were successful with Department of Social Security hostels and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) and for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) who did so much work. We sorted out the rather more comic, not to say grotesque, frothy beer fuss last year. Also, if I may mention an Opposition Member, I well remember that in the debate in July 1993, the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) made the very important point about how ridiculous it was that airlines from the United States which wanted to fly into Manchester were not allowed to do so unless they got a tick of approval from the British Government and the United States Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has now swept that away. The tourism industry is getting the help that it deserves from the Government.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury mentioned the 1996 European soccer championships. He made the point—fairly enough—that we should ensure that we tie into that terrific competition as much tourism interest in art galleries, museums and so on as we can. I have had a meeting with various members of the football authorities and the football supporters clubs to ensure that everything possible is done so that we benefit from tourism as much as we should when the football championships are here.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon made his usual extremely well-informed and thoughtful speech. I congratulate him on his tremendous work as chairman of the tourism group. I hope that the industry understands how valuable the group is in telling us about the grass-roots worries in tourism, which feed into the Government who try to do something about them.

My hon. Friend made one very important point about jobs in the tourism industry on which the industry as well as the House should grip tight. It is quite true that there are lower-paid jobs in tourism, but the industry provides 1.5 million jobs and if there were a minimum wage in the tourism industry, it would decimate those jobs; it would put out of work the very people that we want to put in work.

Having listened to the hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), few industries would have more cause to fear any future socialist Government. We would have a minimum wage and all the new regulations that the Labour party wants to impose. We would have statutory compulsory registration of hotels and guest houses. Has the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury any idea how much that would cost? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde says that much of the industry wants a statutory compulsory registration. Well, if so many in the industry want it, how come only 11,000 out of 225,000 small businesses in tourism have registered so far? If they think that it is such a wonderful idea, why do not they put their money where their mouths are? It is a very difficult and dangerous road to go down to say to people, "You must comply with the state scheme. You must pay hundreds of pounds to register." We would look at that very closely indeed, which is exactly what we are doing.

In the excellent document "Competing with the Best", the English tourist board said that it realised that the present crown scheme was not everything that it should be, that it recognised the value of information to tourists, whether through a crown scheme, the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club or whatever, and that it was looking very closely and urgently at what is the best way in which to improve and reform that scheme. That is right. It should not jump into something so controversial without looking at it properly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon mentioned the disabled in connection with tourism, and that is a most important point. As he rightly said, there are tremendous economic benefits to be gained, as well as social benefits for the disabled themselves. My hon. Friend knows, although not all hon. Members may share his knowledge, of the tremendous work of the holiday care service under the fine leadership of Mrs. Mary Baker, and of the co-operation that that service gets from the English tourist board, which runs a special tick scheme—that is, a tick opposite an entry means that there is access for the disabled to those premises.

My hon. Friend also talked about benefits for tourism from the lottery, and we could expatiate on that at great length. It is true that tourism as a sector does not automatically benefit directly from the lottery, but indirectly it benefits greatly. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury mentioned the European soccer championships, and sport gets 20 per cent. of the benefits.

There are also the arts, and the arrangement there mirrors what the Department of National Heritage as a whole seeks to do. The Department spends about £1 billion a year in encouraging just those features that attract tourism, although it does not deal directly with the industry itself. However, we give the English tourist board and the British Tourist Authority combined about £44 million, and if we add to that what the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland boards receive the sum approaches about £100 million a year—a serious sum. By the way, we are not at the bottom of the European league; we spend the same as France, and we are just about in the middle of the table for direct promotions.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) also spoke in the debate. Rutherglen is a constituency that I once knew well, as I had the same experience there as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) had in Islington. I agree with the hon. Member for Rutherglen that in the past many people thought that an industry that did not manufacture was not a serious industry. Well, tourism is a serious industry; it is growing into the biggest industry in the world, and I repeat that the Government are determined to everything possible to support and encourage it.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen also talked about airports, which are important too. As was mentioned in the previous debate, we have now managed to open to flights between the United States and the United Kingdom every airport in the United Kingdom, apart from Heathrow and Gatwick where crowding makes that impossible. That is a real advance in deregulation to add to the others that I have mentioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne talked about the damage that the minimum wage would do. Of course he is absolutely right. The idea of the minimum wage, on top of the fresh regulations that the Opposition intend to pour upon us if they ever get the chance, must be terrifying for the industry.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) described tourist boards as market catalysts, and that is exactly right. The industry itself must do the main part of the job. If we add up the handsome profits made in the past financial year by British Airways, the BAA and Forte, to name three major players in the game, they come to about £1.1 billion. Those are terrific success stories, but those organisations also pump their own money into tourism. It must not be forgotten that the biggest single contribution to tourism should and does come from the players themselves.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland also mentioned VAT on hotels. That is a vexed issue, but I think that the tourist industry slightly overestimates the loss of competitive edge caused by our rate of VAT, and is rather inclined to forget the advantages that they have to weigh against that. For example, food is zero-rated in this country, whereas in France it is not. We do not labour under the social chapter, and so on. So it is difficult to strike a fair balance, but the hon. Gentleman is right that it is a serious problem.

The British Tourist Authority has produced a report on the subject, which has been sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—this week I believe, but certainly in the past few days. My right hon. and learned Friend will consider the report and will shortly make recommendations.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the splendid work that is done by the Foundation for Sport and the Arts and the damage that could be done to it by the effect of the success of the lottery on the pools companies. That is an important point. It is certainly true that the pools have suffered as a result of the lottery. Not only the pools have suffered. Amusement arcades and anything that depends on disposable leisure income such as bingo and many other activities have suffered. I hope that we will be able to ensure a continuing flow of funds to the arts and sport from whatever appropriate source.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), whom I just have time to mention—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am afraid that the Minister does not have time.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.