HC Deb 19 January 1998 vol 304 cc676-7
4. Mr. Fallon

What plans he has to encourage the growth of employment in the tourism industry. [21444]

Mr. Chris Smith

The Government's new deal initiative will promote growth in tourism, which already supports some 1.7 million jobs, by helping tourism-related employers to meet their recruitment and skill needs. This has been warmly welcomed throughout the industry.

Mr. Fallon

Will not the most likely new jobs in tourism be those administering museum charges? If he really wants to encourage tourism, why does not the Secretary of State rule out charges for important national collections—or is this another broken promise?

Mr. Smith

I am interested in the fact that the hon. Gentleman is taking such a keen and unwonted interest in the British tourism industry, which has much to be grateful to him for. I am referring to his patronage of the industry during his long search for a safe Tory seat, which took him on a tour from Darlington to more than 15 constituencies, including Woking, Kensington and Chelsea, Bromley, Horsham, Worthing and finally Sevenoaks. None the less, I am delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance that our great national museums and galleries offer in drawing tourists to this country and in providing good things for them to see once they are here.

Mrs. Humble

What progress has been made in involving the tourism industry in the new deal, especially in co-ordinating education and training programmes for areas such as Blackpool which rely on a seasonal tourist trade?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend will probably know that, a month and a half ago, we held a major conference in London with the tourism and hospitality industries to talk about how they can take advantage of the new deal. The response was positive. For example, the managing director of Radisson Edwardian Hotels said: The new programme provides a strong element of training which is a key need for the industry if we are to continue to offer a world class service. That is the key to the future of the tourism industry—high-quality, well-trained and well-motivated staff who are decently remunerated. That is the way to get good service and to bring the customers back.

Mr. Fabricant

Following the news this morning that the exchange rate is DM3 to the pound and that the value of the pound has reached $1.67—thanks to the Chancellor's initiative in encouraging the Bank of England to raise interest rates sky-high—what hope is there of attracting foreign visitors to the United Kingdom when going out to a restaurant in London is about twice the price of going out to a restaurant in New York?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the enormous importance of the currency exchange rates in attracting or deterring visitors. Despite the strength of the pound, overseas visits and expenditure in the first 10 months of 1997—up to October—were up by 1 per cent. compared with the same period in the previous year.