HC Deb 20 November 1995 vol 267 cc322-5
6. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what are the latest statistics on overseas visitors to the United Kingdom, and the income that they generate; and if she will make a statement. [486]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Britain earns more from international tourism than from financial services or North sea oil. More than 21 million overseas visitors—a record number—came to the UK in 1994. In the first eight months of this year, 15.7 million overseas visitors came to this country—an increase of 11 per cent. on the same period last year. Their spending amounted to £7.5 billion—up 12 per cent. on the same months in 1994.

Mr. Coombs

It seems clear from those figures that we are heading for a record year for tourism in 1995. Does she agree that the remarkable turnaround in the British weather may have something to do with it? Will she take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the British Tourism Association and the English tourist board for the way in which they have responded to the challenges set them by the Government in reorganising themselves and the excellent work that they are now doing to boost tourism?

Does she further agree that it would be a disaster for tourism in the United Kingdom if we were to sign up to the European social chapter, which the Leader of the Opposition seems to think is an a la carte menu but which would be a set of manacles around the ankle of every small business in the tourism industry—an industry that depends on easily obtained labour to be successful?

Mrs. Bottomley

I strongly share my hon. Friend's view, and commend his work in promoting the tourism industry, which is one of the most crucial industries not only in Britain but in the world today. He is absolutely right to say that that of all industries would stand to lose from the mad idea of signing up to the social chapter.

According to Sir Rocco Forte, chairman of Trust House Forte and a member of the British Tourist Authority: Social security costs make labour 50 per cent. more expensive in France and Germany, and 100 per cent. more expensive in Italy. The introduction of the Social Chapter and the imposition of a national minimum wage would have a devastating effect on the flexibility and competitiveness of this industry, which is one of the largest providers of employment in the UK.

Mr. Pike

Does the Secretary of State recognise that our companies selling package tours are probably the best in Europe? If they operated in Europe bringing tourism into this country—on the basis on which we send tourism abroad—the figures that the right hon. Lady gave a moment ago would be considerably better.

Mrs. Bottomley

That is an example of Labour's inability to learn anything, despite all its many years in opposition. Tourism, of all industries, involves seasonal and part-time work, and the part-time work, parental leave and works council directives would inflict damage and job losses on it. As has been pointed out, Butlins would become self-catering overnight. I am delighted to welcome tourists from the rest of Europe, and the fact that so many visit our wonderful heritage and arts facilities, which have benefited so greatly from our wonderful national lottery.

Mr. Sykes

My right hon. Friend knows full well the adverse impact that badly run Department of Social Security hostels have on constituencies such as mine, in Scarborough and Whitby. Does she therefore welcome the new housing Bill, which would deal effectively with the problem once and for all?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend knows that I strongly support the campaign that, together with a number of our colleagues, he has been running. It is vital for our British tourist resorts to go from strength to strength. I, for one, always spend my holidays in the United Kingdom; I go abroad to work, and stay at home to have a holiday. My hon. Friend is entirely right to identify the damage that DSS hostels are doing to the tourist industry.

Dr. John Cunningham

Is not Britain losing out in the tough international battle for a greater share of world tourism—as evidenced by the fact that last year our share of international receipts from tourism fell by 2 per cent.?

The right hon. Lady may take her holidays in Britain, but she certainly seems to work in cloud cuckoo land. The fact is that other European Union countries, in which the social chapter applies—Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Greece—are not at all put off by the "damaging" provisions of the social chapter; on the contrary, they believe that those provisions help their tourist industries.

Given that one of the keys to future success is the stronger and more effective promotion of Britain abroad—particularly in the European Union—will the right hon. Lady increase the budget of the British Tourist Authority in real terms next year for that purpose?

Mrs. Bottomley

I think that that constitutes a spending pledge from the Labour party. As we know, Labour's answer to every question of endeavour is to increase spending—but somehow we never hear about the taxes that they are going to increase, which would clearly impose a burden on industry.

I shall, of course, examine the Department's priorities for the year ahead, but what would undoubtedly damage our tourist industry more than anything else would be the folly of signing up to the social chapter and the imposition of a statutory minimum wage. I am determined that we should do more to promote and encourage the tourist industry, and I was delighted that, last week, for the first time, the CBI chose to hold a session on the industry at its conference. That demonstrates the seriousness with which it—like the Government—takes this vital industry.

Mr. Brandreth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that more than 5.5 million people now visit Britain's premier tourist city—the city of Chester? One of the reasons for that is the expansion of Manchester airport. Will my right hon. Friend and her colleagues do everything they can to ensure that airports away from London continue to expand in the way that they have been expanding so that they will attract international visitors directly to the regions of the United Kingdom that are so enormously attractive to tourists?

Mrs. Bottomley

I had thought that tourists also visited my hon. Friend's distinguished city because of the quality of its democratic representation by my hon. Friend. He speaks about the importance of transport. As with so many other policies, the work of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to improve law and order and to fight crime on the streets affects tourism. Transport policies and Department of the Environment policies also affect it, and our job is to maximise co-operation between local government and central Government Departments to promote this vital industry. I shall certainly pursue my hon. Friend's point about regional airports.

7. Mr. Bayley

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what new initiatives she proposes to take to encourage a greater proportion of overseas tourists to Britain to visit English regions outside the south-east. [487]

Mr. Sproat

The whole of Britain, including the English regions, will benefit from the Government's new initiatives to assist the tourism industry to become more competitive, which were announced in the document, "Tourism: Competing with the Best", published by my Department earlier this year.

Mr. Bayley

Has the Minister seen the figures in the British Tourist Authority's latest report, which show that more than half of all overseas visitors to Britain come to London and that barely 40 per cent. visit the whole of the rest of England? Does he agree that a much more radical Government policy is called for to spread over the whole country the £10,000 million a year that overseas visitors spend and the 1.5 million jobs that they create? Will the Minister consider abolishing the airport tax for northern airports and consider something that the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) implied— the need to build fast rail links from airports in the north to London, and the possible development of northern airports as an alternative to terminal 5 at Heathrow? Does he realise that every plane using Heathrow after crossing the north Atlantic has flown directly over Manchester and that it would save some 5 per cent. of its fuel, with environmental advantages, if it were to land at Manchester airport and people were to travel down to the south, if they wanted to visit it, by train?

Mr. Sproat

I agree that it is extremely important that the 55 per cent. of tourists who come to London only are encouraged to travel as widely as possible throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that the new market segmentation initiative that the British Tourist Authority is implementing in the United States will contribute to that. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point about taxation to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I shall draw his point about airports to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.