HC Deb 29 June 1998 vol 315 cc4-6
4. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

What support he is giving to encourage tourism as a means of economic regeneration for seaside towns. [46314]

The Minister for Film and Tourism (Mr. Tom Clarke)

The future of our seaside resorts has been a key consideration for the domestic tourism working group, whose final report, containing specific proposals, we received recently. These will be reflected in the tourism strategy to be published later this year.

Mr. Blizzard

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for his support for tourism in my constituency through his recent visit to Lowestoft to present the national blue flag beach awards and open our new marina, which was built with European funding. On the Agenda 2000 proposals for reform of the structural funds, will he press the President of the Board of Trade to support the inclusion of problems faced by seaside towns as a new criterion for objective 2? Will he ask the arts lottery board to take into account the capacity of projects for economic regeneration in considering applications? Lowestoft is submitting a bid for a spectacular glass monument to mark its position as Britain's most easterly point, which would be of great economic benefit to the town.

Mr. Clarke

I very much enjoyed my visit to my hon. Friend's constituency. I now understand—if I needed to learn—how popular he deservedly is. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Arts listened to the second part of my hon. Friend's question.

Tourism has already greatly benefited from European regional development fund money for projects that support and develop tourism and cultural attractions. The total value of objective 1, 2 and 5b programmes for the period 1994 to 1999 is expected to be more than 3 billion ecu, or £2 billion. As the Minister responsible for tourism, I can assure my hon. Friend and others that I shall press for that support to continue.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

Is the Minister aware that Southend is a superb centre of tourism which he would do well to visit as soon as he can? Is he aware that some areas of high unemployment are included in travel-to-work areas of low unemployment, with the result that no funding can be provided for their special problems? Will he have a look at the unfair effects thereby created for some superb seaside towns such as Southend-on-Sea?

Mr. Clarke

I have not yet had the privilege of going to Southend, but I do look forward to it. I am sure that it is almost as attractive as Cathcart.

Unlike at least one Conservative Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Gentleman makes serious points—in this case, about employment. Seaside resorts are an extremely important issue for us, discussed time and again at our tourism forum—which has not been mentioned once by Tory Front Benchers. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his fair point, and assure him that, as tourism provides 7 per cent. of all employment, I should like it to offer constituents such as the hon. Gentleman's still more employment, especially via the new deal.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that areas such as mine need economic development not just at the seaside but more widely in the rest of the region? The region, after all, feeds the local tourism economy. Does he propose to have words with the regional development agencies, once they are set up, to stimulate regional tourism and the local economy by allowing local people an input?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The tourism industry in Great Britain needs a closer working relationship between the regional tourist boards and, in due course, the RDAs. I know that my hon. Friend has contributed thoughtful ideas in that respect; I can assure him that the membership of the forum is much concerned with his excellent point.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

How closely is the Minister working with the Heritage Lottery Fund on obtaining funding for piers, not just in my constituency but in many other places? I know that he will say that he has nothing to do with influencing such funding, but surely the Department can make recommendations.

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman, for whom I and all hon. Members have a great regard, has both asked and answered his question. Of course we cannot intervene in lottery allocations; the problems affecting his pier, and of expenditure elsewhere in England, were made considerably worse by the reckless and inadequate policies of the Conservative party. Over the past 10 years, the Tories reduced public expenditure on the English tourist board from £25.8 million to a mere £9.9 million a year. They should hang their heads in shame.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

Does the Minister accept that many Labour Members are extremely supportive of and grateful for the Government's work on the new deal and appreciate their responsiveness to the particular problems of seaside towns and seasonal employment? What further representations has he received from the tourism industry in support and in respect of the new deal?

Mr. Clarke

I am happy to say that support for the new deal has been absolutely massive—[Interruption.]—as those who really work in their constituencies and in the industry understand. Would Conservative Members challenge Tim Bartlett, chief executive of the English tourist board, who said: We…believe that our industry can make a major contribution to the New Deal, and that the tourist boards can offer a practical access route to over 15,000 members—mostly small or medium sized businesses—throughout the country"? That is very positive. It appeals to us, but of course it would not register with Conservative Members.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

We have been told that a planned series of ministerial visits to seaside resorts this summer has been cancelled on the advice of officials. It was to have been called the seaside rock tour, or some such nonsense. Is it surprising that Ministers are afraid to show their faces at seaside resorts, given that all they have delivered so far to the United Kingdom tourism industry is a tide of European Union regulation and threatened abolition of the English tourist board? Was the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport not right to say that tourism is insufficiently glamorous for the current Secretary of State? Is it not true that, far from getting a kiss-me-quick on the promenade, any Minister who is rash enough to visit a seaside resort this summer is likely to be told where he can stick his rock?

Mr. Clarke

I know that Jonathan Aitken is not around these days, but one would think that the shadow Minister might have got a better scriptwriter. The fact is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I fully intend to visit many parts of the country; indeed, as the hon. Gentleman must know, we have already started. As for the speculation in which he indulges, it is that and no more. He encourages us to visit seaside resorts and we shall visit, with absolute delight, Labour Scarborough, Labour Blackpool, Labour Hove and many other resorts which will continue to return Labour Members of Parliament.