HC Deb 15 January 1997 vol 288 cc294-302 1.30 pm
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Only a few months ago, Newsweek International, a reputable international magazine, carried the front-page headline, "Cool Britannia", and went on to explain how Britain was such a wonderful place for tourists to visit. Those of us who live in the United Kingdom already knew that, but such headlines will increase the growth of tourism in the UK, which has already grown so much. I believe that, as Britain has given away some of its unskilled manufacturing jobs to low-wage economies, we have developed more sophisticated methods of earning money—one of which is tourism, the world's fastest growing industry.

We had an extremely successful year in 1995. There were 24 million visits to the UK—a 14 per cent. increase on the previous year—which brought in £12 billion to the UK economy. The UK tourist industry now employs almost 2 million people, which is 7 per cent. of the work force and a 31 per cent. increase on the figure 10 years ago. The industry has the potential to create up to 1 million more jobs over the next 10 years.

Tourism is a key economic activity in the area covered by the north-west tourist board, which includes Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside. Last year, visitors to the region spent slightly less than £1.5 billion, which accounts for at least 3 per cent. of the local gross domestic product. The figure is even higher in some parts of the region, such as in my constituency in the Ribble valley, and in Blackpool.

It is not surprising that so many jobs are dependent on tourism. In the most recent year for which figures are available, Blackpool, for example, attracted 19 million tourists, and even politicians trek there every two years. Its pleasure beach is Britain's No. 1 tourist attraction, with slightly fewer than 7.5 million visitors a year. Two years ago, its rollercoaster—the "Pepsi Max Big One"—was erected as a monument to my political career: it has as many ups as downs, and it takes ages to get up but only seconds to get down. Next year, the pleasure beach will open another ride, called the "Spaceshot", which represents a £2 million investment. We shall have to wait to see whose political career that will mirror.

The north-west also has less glitzy attractions. My constituency has a large area of outstanding natural beauty, which tourists visit to see historic abbeys, market towns and the forest of Boland. I congratulate the staff of the Clitheroe tourist office on their excellent and helpful approach to tourists. They always have a friendly smile when one goes there, and they are well stocked with leaflets and ready with helpful advice on where to go and stay in the area. I also congratulate them on their imaginative Internet website, which is available worldwide.

We have other tourist areas, such as Park Hall, in Charnock Richard, Chorley—in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover)—which attracts many visitors.

Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)

Although I accept that Park Hall attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and is a major regional tourist attraction, is my hon. Friend aware of misgivings in the south-east of my constituency, in Rivington, about North West Water and United Utilities' promotion of the Lever Park Bill, to which I and other hon. Members will object?

We object because Lord Leverhulme, who established the Unilever empire, gave that land, and did not want it commercialised or entry or parking charges made. The Bill's spirit is to over-commercialise the park. I am against such commercialisation—which is appropriate at Park Hall but not at the heritage site left by Lord Leverhulme, whose wishes we should honour.

Mr. Evans

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments, and I am aware of that situation. We must be very careful to ensure that we have areas to which we can attract tourists, and other areas that should perhaps be left unspoilt and not over-commercialised. In my constituency, Castle Cement has filed plans to quarry across the road from its current operation. The last thing that tourists would want to see in an area attempting to attract tourists is massive quarrying. That case is similar to the one mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Tourism creates jobs not only in the tourist sector but in non-tourist sectors—including shops, wholesalers and other providers of goods or consumables. It also creates jobs in transport, which is a massive job provider in the north-west. Manchester airport employs 14,000 people directly, and another 50,000 people in the region are dependent on the facility. The airport has plans to expand, which would double the number of off-site workers who are dependent on it. Its planned expansion includes a second runway, which I shall say more about.

London is an important magnet to attract tourists to the UK, but we must not be over-dependent on it. As world tourism increases, I want the United Kingdom to win its fair share of tourists, but I also want the regions to win their fair share of UK tourism. I have often said in the House that the Ribble valley is an extremely beautiful place and that I am proud of it. When tourists go there, I know that they enjoy its beautiful scenery. However, we are not attracting as many tourists as I would like.

For a variety of reasons, too many tourists stay in London, and are not aware of our wealth of historical sites, the beauty of our countryside, our restaurants or the number of things to do if they were to leave the capital and explore the provinces. The M25 must be regarded as a way out of London for tourists, not as a contraption to keep them in it. Therefore, we should ensure that tourists are attracted into the regions. Success in that drive will not only bring delight to those who discover the joys of the provinces, but will help local economies, such as that in the north-west.

In my constituency, for example, there are many hotels, restaurants and pubs which have won national awards. I am sure that visitors from other countries would enjoy visiting such places as the Inn at Whitewell, which this year won the pub of the year award. It is located in the area to which, allegedly, the Queen would like to retire—I suspect, not only for the beauty of the pub but for the beauty of the region. It is a smashing hotel.

We also have a restaurant called Heathcotes, which is renowned across the north-west and has won two Michelin stars, two Egon Ronay stars and other awards. The Gibbon Bridge hotel, in beautiful Chipping, boasts superb food and a beautiful garden setting. Northcote Manor is a hotel and restaurant, in Langho, which boasts a Michelin star and has recently been expanded to accommodate increased demand by tourists in the area. Foxfields hotel is nearby, and the Myton Fold Farm hotel boasts excellent accommodation, and has recently built a golf course.

There are countless other fine hotels and pubs. If I were to try to list them all, the Minister would not have a chance to respond to this debate. However, they prove that one does not have to visit only London to enjoy what Britain has to offer. There are many extremely high-quality services and facilities outside London.

Approximately 200,000 people are employed or self-employed in tourism and hospitality in the regions, which is more than 6 per cent. of the area's work force. In the region, the number employed in those sectors is at least as large as the number employed in defence, aerospace, automotive, textiles and clothing. It is vital that all regions are given at least equal billing with London.

On a practical level, the English tourist board and the British Tourist Authority should ensure that all ports and airports into Britain, including the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo, display advertisements promoting the provinces. There should be kiosks to ensure that people who want to get out of London can do so, and are provided with all the necessary information.

The British Tourist Authority is promoting a package in the United States with Continental Airlines, and uses Manchester airport as the gateway for visitors to Britain. That is a fantastic idea, representing exactly the type of advertising we require to boost regional tourism. However, I should like to see more of it—more advertising like the highly successful campaign in Scandinavia promoting Manchester as a gateway for Swedes and Finns. I think that such campaigns could bring in extra tourism and business.

On a slightly different note, the Government greatly support the industry by helping the BTA and will next year subsidise it to the tune of £35 million. I also thank the Government for their grant of £7.5 million to the Lancashire Tourism Partnership, to help it to boost its tourism strategy. However, I hope that we can find still more imaginative ways to help new businesses and ideas in the area.

I congratulate the BTA on its Internet pages, but I wish that they contained more emphasis on attractions in the north-west. I was impressed by the BTA's clever idea of including a movie map showing film and television locations in Britain, many of which are in the north-west.

My only criticism of the map is that it misses off the film "Whistle Down the Wind". If I have mentioned that film once in the Chamber, I have mentioned it many times. It is set in the village of Downham in my constituency. One of the beauties of the place is that it is still wholly unspoilt, and the same as it was when that excellent film was made many years ago. We also have the Granada Television studios, home of Britain's longest-running and much-loved soap, "Coronation Street". There is a superb themed attraction next to the studios, which attracts many visitors.

On 1 April last year, Manchester airport celebrated 10 years as a public limited company. Since 1985, it has been voted the best United Kingdom airport five times by readers of travel trade magazines, and has been rated the world's best airport in a survey of airline passengers carried out by the International Air Transport Association. They are just some of the awards that it has won. They are fantastic achievements, of which the airport and everyone who works there can rightly be proud.

The airport employs massive numbers of people, and provides indirect employment for many more. It currently serves 15 million passengers a year, and 30 per cent. of all UK holiday flights depart from Manchester. The key to the airport's success is expansion. I believe that it hopes to handle 30 million passengers a year by 2005. That means a doubling of traffic in under 10 years, and millions more visitors to the regions. In turn, the number of jobs created by the airport will be greatly increased.

Manchester airport has started a £550 million, 10-year capital spending programme, which includes a major redevelopment of the terminals, expanded rail links, a high-level fully enclosed walkway between the railway station and terminal 2, an integrated public transport exchange linking the rail and bus/coach stations, and, if the proposal goes ahead, the metrolink extension to the airport. These will all provide employment, and facilitate the arrival and journey on of any visitor.

The major plank of the programme, however, is the granting of planning permission for the second runway. I hope that the announcement today will give Manchester airport, which is already the third largest in the UK, the opportunity further to enhance its reputation as the jewel in the crown of regional airports. As it is one of the top 20 airports in the world at the moment, the expansion will surely put it at least in the top 10, and may give relief to Heathrow slots which are always under pressure. I hope that we shall hear some good news about the second runway at Manchester later today.

I must, however, issue a word of caution. There is much enthusiasm about the expansion of Manchester airport, and a further boost would be to facilitate an open skies policy in the UK. I fully understand how that would attract further carriers to Manchester, which would mean more tourists coming to the region. However, that must not be at the price of encouraging carriers to regard an open skies policy as an open door policy—an invitation to them to walk over us and not reciprocate with any deals.

I warn the chairman of Manchester airport, Labour Councillor Graham Stringer, that he should not turn the issue into a party political matter. He should not abuse his position as chairman of the airport by saying that it is the Government's fault that we do not currently have an open skies policy. No one has done more to help and promote Manchester airport and tourism than the Conservative Government.

Councillor Stringer should perhaps turn his attention to some of the damaging proposals that Labour might implement if the nightmare came true and it formed the next Government. Tourism has much to fear from a Labour Government, who would wreck it by imposing damaging and costly burdens. A Labour Government would sign up to the social chapter and adopt a minimum wage, thus undermining the competitiveness of that industry. The 48-hour directive is already threatening the industry—although we are fighting tooth and nail against its introduction, the Labour party would embrace it.

The cost of extending the rights of full-time staff to part-time and temporary employees—new Labour's tourism tax—would have to be met by consumers, who would face higher prices, and by those who would lose their jobs as a result. A Labour Government would also extend the powers of European Union institutions to interfere specifically in tourism. For example, the party has stated: we do see the need for better and more co-ordinated tourism action in EU institutions. From what we can see of Labour's plans for the industry, it talks tough but, in reality, the only people who would find it tough are those working in tourism. Everyone needs to know that Labour poses a serious threat to the tourism and leisure industry. For those people, it certainly would end all in tears.

Another way to boost tourism in the north-west would be quickly to upgrade the north-west coast main line to ensure that people who start their holiday in London are able to get to the north-west and other regions more speedily. I must applaud the work done by Regional Railways in the north-west, which has sent me a host of pamphlets advertising schemes in operation to show tourists what is on offer and inform them that they can take the train to various events. The rail companies liaise with the promoters of many special events, and put on special trains so that people can reach their destination in comfort.

One bugbear is that travelling to the north-west from London means using the M6. Although I applaud the expansion of that motorway, people travelling on a Friday or Sunday will find their journey extended by at least an hour as they try to get through Birmingham. I hope that we can direct our attention to freeing that bottleneck. Of course, some tourists want to travel from London by car because they have large families or want to travel beyond the region.

I hope that the Minister will carefully consider my suggestions. I know that he is a doughty fighter for tourists. He knows my area well and recognises the importance of tourism for the north-west, not only the present position but the potential for the future. If we continue our commitment to tourism into the next century, it will be good news for those people looking for work in the north-west and who see their future in that industry.

1.46 pm
The Minister of State, Department of National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) on securing this important debate. He is exceptionally well informed on tourism matters, and always works hard to ensure that the interests of his constituents and constituency are brought to the notice of the House.

I am also pleased that the House has another opportunity to debate tourism generally as well as the particular aspects affecting my hon. Friend's constituency so soon after we last did so on 29 November. It is a measure of the importance that hon. Members now place on tourism that this is the eighth debate on the subject in the House in the present Parliament.

The Government have long recognised the economic importance of tourism. Indeed, the Confederation of British Industry recently held a major conference on the future of Britain's tourism industry, which was addressed by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the Deputy Prime Minister.

Tourism is set to be the world's biggest industry by the year 2000. It already generates £37 billion of income annually in the United Kingdom, and employs 1.8 million people. The UK welcomed a record 24 million overseas visitors in 1995, 1.2 million of whom chose to go to the north-west. Our earnings from overseas visitors were £12.1 billion, with £1.4 billion being spent in the north-west.

North-west trade and enterprise councils have identified tourism as one of the main sectors in the region offering good employment prospects. They estimate that the hotel and catering sector is likely to create 25,000 new jobs in the region before the millennium. That reflects the national picture—tourism has created one in five jobs over the past three years. If current trends continue, tourism will be a larger employer than manufacturing by the year 2012.

The latest World Tourism Organisation figures show that, in 1995, the UK's share of world tourism receipts rose from 4.4 per cent. to 5 per cent., reversing a 10-year downward trend. We are now in the top five in the international tourism league, and we must make sure that that improvement is sustained.

I am pleased that the north-west's tourism profile has been greatly enhanced. Former industrial areas have been transformed from derelict wastelands into thriving visitor locales, often using the area's rich industrial heritage.

There are many examples of how the region has responded positively to new opportunities for development. In Manchester, for example, the Castlefield project employs urban rangers to guide visitors and conserve the site, while the success of the Granada studio tours, which my hon. Friend mentioned, has greatly boosted the area. Liverpool's Albert dock and the King's dock have been regenerated as tourist attractions, with 5.5 million visits a year, creating over 2,000 jobs. The Hamilton quarter on the south side of the Mersey is another area in the process of regeneration. Wigan now has a heritage centre that is a shining example of the regeneration that can be achieved through tourism.

Partnership between private business, local authorities and the regional tourist boards is vital in this process. The Government have provided funding through the national lottery and the single regeneration budget. The former has provided £64 million for the new Lowry centre in Salford. Such projects will undoubtedly strengthen the tourism appeal of the north-west. Blackpool has been granted £19.3 million from the single regeneration budget, and Morecambe £4.3 million. In addition, many projects in the north-west benefit from the European regional development fund.

Although Manchester may be disappointed that Wembley has been designated as the site for the English national sports stadium, the city will certainly applaud the Sports Council's announcement that Manchester is to receive lottery awards of £60 million for a 50,000-to-60,000 capacity all-seater stadium and £20 million for a swimming pool complex. Those awards will enable the city to have the necessary facilities in place to host the 2002 Commonwealth games, which will further heighten the international profile of the north-west.

Blackpool remains the largest and most popular seaside resort in Europe. I am pleased that its central and north beaches were able to meet the EU's bathing water cleanliness standard last year.

The Department of National Heritage spends almost £1 billion a year, much of it on museums, galleries, the heritage and the arts, all of which are important generators of domestic and overseas tourism.

We have allocated £35 million to the British Tourist Authority for 1997–98, which is a slight reduction on this year, but more than it had ever received before that. That level of funding will allow the BTA to continue its excellent work. We should not forget that the BTA has had great success in attracting funding from the private sector, raising around £16 million this year.

Funding to the English tourist board has been maintained at its previously planned level, before allowing for a reallocation of funds to the Government's new sector challenge fund, giving a net figure of £9.9 million. That will allow the board to continue its important work on improving classification schemes, looking for ways to grow the domestic market, and helping the industry to improve its product.

It may sometimes appear to people in the north-west that we concentrate too much of our effort on attracting overseas visitors to London. My hon. Friend rightly raised that important point. We have indeed given extra money to the Focus London campaign, because research clearly shows that London is our greatest asset in attracting overseas visitors to this country. If Britain is to do well in the world tourism market, we need London to do well. It is the principal gateway to Britain.

However, once visitors have been motivated to come here, we can show what the country as a whole has to offer, and encourage them to travel around and stay elsewhere. In fact, the need to spread tourism more widely has been central to the campaign. I am sure the north-west will benefit greatly from that in the long term.

There is more to the Government's support for tourism than provision of funds. We have completed the programmes set out in "Tourism—Competing with the Best" nearly two years ago. With the Secretary of State's tourism advisory forum, which brings together representatives from the tourist boards, consumer groups, local government and the industry, including the Confederation of British Industry, we are now developing the next phase of our strategy.

The strategy will concentrate on six key areas: championing and raising the profile of tourism; increasing competitiveness; improving the quality of the tourism product; improving service quality; making marketing more effective; and managing the impact of tourism. It will provide a clear statement of our objectives for tourism, and will set an agenda for future action.

For the strategy to succeed, we need the participation of all the key players—central and local government, the tourist boards and all the many sectors of the industry must work together. We will make every effort to ensure that the new strategy fully involves the industry and meets the needs and concerns of all parts of the country, including the north-west.

Tourism is dominated by small enterprise, having around 250,000 small businesses. The Government recognise the key role played by small firms in the economy, providing new ideas, new services and new jobs. Small firms need stability, a growing economy, low inflation and low interest rates. Our policies provide an environment in which they can succeed.

Our economy is in its fifth year of sustained growth, and we have had the longest period of low inflation for almost half a century. That is particularly beneficial to tourism, because those are the economic conditions in which leisure and business travel can thrive. Over the past 25 years, average real household disposable income has risen by 45 per cent.

The Budget includes measures to help small business: in addition to the reduction in the basic rate of income tax, corporation tax on small companies is cut to 23p, the business rate on small properties is frozen next year, and the VAT registration threshold is increased. After these changes, the UK tax rate on company profits up to £300,000 will be the lowest in the EU.

We have worked with other Government Departments significantly to reduce the burden of regulation on the industry. We want fewer, simpler, better regulations. To that end, we have simplified the rules on food hygiene, fire safety and electricity in the workplace, we have created a much less cumbersome regime on signposting, and we have extended opening hours for pubs. Our many deregulatory reforms are of particular benefit to small firms. All legislative proposals that affect them now include a small firms litmus test to show the impact of legislation on the sector.

We have been looking particularly closely at the EU working time directive. The Government continue to regard its imposition as unreasonable, and we intend to insist on changes to the treaty to ensure that social measures are never again imposed on the UK in this way.

Of course we must obey the law, but we are determined that there will be no gold plating of this, or any other, European regulation when it is implemented in the UK. We have been discussing with representatives of the industry the possible effects of the directive on their business, and will ensure that their views are fully taken into account. There are derogations for tourism in the directive, and we intend to ensure that the industry receives the fullest possible benefit. No one can doubt the cost of such measures to the industry. The British Hospitality Association has suggested that the cost to its sector might be as much as £100 million.

We continue to resist the imposition of the social chapter, for the same reason. It is not difficult to see why the latest survey of the UK economy by the Organisation for European Co-operation and Development records a steady drop in structural unemployment, and concludes: the better jobs and inflation record reflects the UK's greater exposure to market forces and competition. The well-being of tourism depends on the kind of flexible labour market policies that the Government pursue, which the social chapter would destroy. A study by the United States Bureau of Labour Statistics shows that the UK has the second lowest non-wage labour costs in the EU, with only Denmark's being lower. The UK is the only G7 country to have seen a fall in the rate of non-wage labour costs since 1990.

The majority of research evidence supports the Government's view that a national minimum wage would lead to considerable job losses, particularly among more vulnerable young and unskilled workers. Research by the Department for Education and Employment shows that a national minimum wage set at £4.15 per hour, as advocated by some trade unions, could cost 950,000 jobs nationally if pay differentials were half restored, and 1.8 million jobs if they were fully restored. It is, sadly, significant that the EU countries with a minimum wage and the social chapter, such as France and Spain, have very high levels of youth unemployment.

Our policies aim to deliver the maximum economic and social benefits from tourism. Tourism is a major source of jobs, both now and for the future. It is a major contributor to economic regeneration, and provides valuable income to our cultural heritage, which is so important to the quality of life. Government policies are designed to ensure that Britain strengthens its position as one of the world's leading tourism destinations, and the north-west is well placed to benefit from that continued success.

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

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.