HC Deb 18 November 1996 vol 285 cc688-9
11. Mr. Robert G. Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what measures she plans to take to improve the competitiveness of the tourism industry. [2844]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Following the recent launch of my Department's latest report in the "Competing with the Best" series, we are working with the industry on an action plan to improve the quality of tourism's most important resource—its people. We are co-operating with local government and the tourist boards on the follow-up to the recent conference on tourism and the planning system. My Department and the tourist boards are now working with the recently established industry forum to draw up a new strategy for tourism, which I plan to publish early next year.

Mr. Hughes

Let me make it clear that if my old school had a tie, this would not be it.

Mr. Boateng

Chip on your shoulder.

Mr. Hughes


Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be foolish indeed to harm an industry that employs more than 1.5 million people and contributes more than £38 million to the gross national product by introducing the measures proposed in the social chapter—a minimum wage and a 48-hour week? Is not the real message to anyone living in a town that depends so much on tourism that a Labour Government would not only damage wealth but would rob the area of jobs?

Mrs. Bottomley

Whether or not my hon. Friend went to the right school, he certainly makes the right point about protecting tourism. The minimum wage, the social chapter and the working time directive all present major threats to an industry that relies on a flexible work force. That is the key message that comes over time and again. Ramon Pajares of the Savoy Group said: What I want from Government is the freedom to run my business. That is the message from Alton Towers and the British Hospitality Association. Time and again, leaders in the industry, who are creating the jobs that are necessary for future generations, say that they do not want the regulation, interference and burdens that are the only recipe offered by the Labour party. The other day, Sir Terence Conran said that London was the culinary centre of the world. The Labour party's recipe would be poison to the industry.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Does the Secretary of State accept that, if our tourism industry is to be fully competitive, visitors must be able to inform themselves of the history of the areas in which they find themselves? Does she agree that the "Victoria County History" is one of the great undertakings of British scholarship? Is she aware, however, that in many counties the project is limping along or is in abeyance for lack of funds? Will she ensure, therefore, that the National Heritage Bill is amended to make it clear that the "Victoria County History" will be eligible to receive lottery funds distributed by the national heritage memorial fund?

Mrs. Bottomley

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point and will examine it in detail. We have been modifying heritage legislation to ensure that, as with arts and sport, we can fund education, access, participation and young people, as well as old buildings and the support structure. I will certainly consider that matter.