HC Deb 16 October 1995 vol 264 cc6-7
5. Sir David Knox

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement about tourism in the midlands. [35902]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Tourism is an industry of vital importance to the midlands, as it is throughout Britain. In the midlands it provides 240,000 jobs and generates revenue of at least £900 million.

All parts of the country will benefit from Government initiatives to assist the tourism industry to become more competitive. These were announced in the document "Tourism: competing with the best", published by my Department earlier this year.

Sir David Knox

Does my right hon. Friend agree that overseas tourists should not confine their visits to London, but should go to parts of the midlands? Does she further agree that attractions such as Alton Towers in my constituency and the beautiful scenery surrounding it compare with anything that London can offer?

Mrs. Bottomley

Undoubtedly, tourists coming to this country should visit Alton Towers. Of course, with the increasing pursuit of leisure and holiday activities within this country, people do not need to go overseas for their breaks—they can have excellent holidays in this country.

My hon. Friend is aware of my great concern, which he shares, that an attraction such as Alton Towers, which has 250 full-time workers and up to 1,700 seasonal workers, would be grievously afflicted if this country were ever to join the social chapter. The introduction of the minimum wage and the social chapter would wreck the tourist industry. All those concerned about that industry should ensure that there is a Conservative Government for as long as possible.

Mr. Tipping

Will the Secretary of State look closely at the bid from the city pride site of Derby to be the site for the millennium exhibition? If the bid is successful, would that not be an enormous kick for tourism in the east midlands?

Mrs. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman has once again identified the way in which the lottery is resulting in wonderful regeneration projects and opportunities throughout the country. He will be aware that four sites are being closely examined for the millennium festival. We are further ahead than any other country in our preparations to celebrate the millennium. The lottery means that we can do it in a more magnificent way than anywhere else. I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's remarks about Derby.

Mr. Tredinnick

Does my right hon. Friend think that the distribution of lottery funds is sufficient to encourage tourism in the east midlands? Is she aware that there are many attractions in my constituency of Bosworth, such as the Concordia theatre, the new Hinckley museum and even Bosworth battlefield, all of which might benefit from a little more generosity?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend rightly identifies the fact that overseas tourists often refer to heritage and cultural activities as the main reasons for their visits. The lottery money enables us to improve and modernise our arts, heritage and cultural life generally, which is a great boost for tourism. I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the distributing bodies, which are independent in their decisions about the distribution of lottery money.

Mr. Maclennan

Is the Secretary of State aware that midlands tourism has much less to fear from the social chapter than from the Government's current imposition of VAT on tourism, at levels far above those set by our competitor countries in the European Union? In this pre-Budget period, is she paying particular attention to the views of the Price Waterhouse report on the reduction of VAT? Will she give that her personal support?

Mr. John Marshall

Is that a pledge?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend asks whether that is a pledge. The Opposition parties are very good at reducing sources of income while increasing spending, without even trying to make the figures add up.

I beg to differ with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). As the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said, any fool knows that the cost to our country of a minimum wage and of the social chapter would be very great indeed—an estimated 800,000 jobs. Undoubtedly, the tourist industry would be the hardest hit.