HC Deb 25 November 1998 vol 321 cc121-43

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hill.]

9.33 am
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

It is a great pleasure to introduce this debate on tourism, which is a much under-debated subject in the House.

Looking around my constituency, which surrounds Colchester and includes many villages, one sees that north Essex is typical of the riches that England has to offer visitors from abroad and from other parts of the United Kingdom. With all due respect to the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), Colchester has a fabulous history from Roman times, when it was established as the capital of Roman England—until it was sacked by Queen Boadicea in the Iceni uprising.

Today, there remains most of a huge Roman wall that surrounded the old town. The town is dominated by the largest Norman keep in Europe, which was constructed over the vaults of the Roman temple that the Iceni destroyed. The so-called Dutch quarter of the town contains a wealth of timber-framed houses that were constructed from the middle ages onward.

The scars of the English civil war remain visible on many of the buildings in the area, such as the church tower at Little Tey, which was partly destroyed by the royalists' cannon. The bullet holes from their muskets mark the beams of the pub, which is now called the Siege inn.

Around Colchester, scores of tiny villages have survived the influx of new building, cars and commuters. They retain their charm and tranquillity, and each has its own gem of a church, many of which are of Norman or even Saxon origin. The Stour valley and estuary, which stretch along the Essex-Suffolk border and include some of the most stunning scenery in the east of England, contain Dedham Vale—dubbed Constable country by his famous travelling companion on the train.

That is the historical, cultural and natural heritage that provides the background and basis for hundreds of businesses and thousands of livelihoods in that little corner of eastern England. Scores of bed-and-breakfast businesses depend on the regular tourist traffic that comes off the Harwich ferry. The hotels, restaurants and teashops cater for the day trippers and weekend breakers. The East of England tourist board tells me that Colchester's shops have attracted 20,000 shoppers from Europe this year, despite the excessive strength of the pound.

That is the first message: tourism is big business. Tourism and leisure are the United Kingdom's fastest-growing industry, and already comprise the fifth largest industry in the United Kingdom—it is bigger than the construction industry. Estimates vary, but it is worth more than £53 billion a year—5 per cent. of United Kingdom gross domestic product—and provides about 1.7 million jobs, which represents about 7 per cent. of employment in the United Kingdom. The British Tourist Authority claims that that is more than five times the number of jobs in the motor industry. In recent years, tourism has accounted for about 20 per cent. of new jobs in the United Kingdom economy.

In 1997, 26.2 million visitors came to Britain. They spent more than £12.8 billion—up 3 per cent. on the previous year. In addition, £3 billion was spent on travel with British couriers. In England alone, tourism is worth £42 billion a year and employs about 1.5 million people. In Scotland and Wales, tourism is the most important industry, and provides the only growing source of employment in many areas. Tourism employs more than 8 per cent. of the work force in Scotland and 9 per cent. in Wales. Now that there is a real prospect of lasting peace in Northern Ireland, tourism is fast becoming a major growth industry there as well, so I make no apology for claiming an hour and a half of the House's time on the subject.

The fast growth of tourism does not, however, make it an easy industry. Much employment is in the small business sector, where people work extremely hard, and long hours, for relatively little reward to establish the viability of their businesses. The BTA estimated last year that there were 220,000 businesses involved in providing services to tourism in Great Britain.

Because of our climate, the pattern of demand is highly seasonal. One would hope, therefore, that the tourist industry would rate as one of the Government's top priorities, especially as the potential for job creation continues to be huge. I hope, therefore, that the Government have fully taken to heart the criticisms made by the Labour-dominated Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which complained about the stated aim of the Department. Its declared aim … is to improve the quality of life for all through cultural and sporting activities, and to strengthen the creative industries". The Select Committee report complained about the narrowness of the aim, and added: Nor, most importantly, does it make any direct reference to tourism and thus is reinforced the impression that tourism is viewed as the Cinderella of the Department. Yet it is far and away the largest industry for which the Department is responsible and, in economic terms, the most important. On the page dealing with the aim and objectives in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport document, tourism is conspicuous by its absence. The Select Committee concluded: We are, therefore, deeply concerned that, in policy statements by the Department and in public statements by Ministers, tourism is subordinated in favour of more glamorous and trivial matters. I am an opera-goer. I do not think that opera is trivial, but we must also recognise the importance of tourism.

This is not a good start, after more than a year in office. Typically, once the spin doctors had got hold of the issue, there was a flurry of activity in the press, and the hapless Minister was sent on a somewhat ludicrous public relations exercise. On 10 August, the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting began a fact-finding tour of England. I am delighted that she felt the need to find out the facts, which should have already been at her fingertips. A press release states: Tourism Minister … begins a major fact finding tour of English tourist destinations in Brighton today, ahead of the publication of the Tourism strategy later this year. Over the next two months she will visit every region in England to meet local tourism representatives and hear their views on the future of tourism and what the Government can do to support it. That is after more than a year in office. The press release continues by quoting the Minister: 'With the holiday season upon us I look forward to seeing examples of best practice for myself … I want to hear … how we can back the industry locally and regionally to increase its competitiveness. I will also be seeing how we can help". It is a great privilege for the tourist industry to have a Minister offering help after more than a year in office. If she has listened to what real people involved with the tourism industry say, she will have heard what the problems are.

Miss Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

It is a bit rich of a Conservative Member to talk about what the Government have done after 18 months in power when they had 18 years in power. As a representative of a seaside resort, I have seen the tourism industry decline. Jobs have been lost in the industry and 70 per cent. of our local tourist accommodation is now being made into housing in multiple occupation. Five-bedroomed guest houses are selling for £5,000 in the resort of Morecambe. That is happening after 18 years of Conservative government. What did the Conservatives do for British tourism and for seaside resorts? They had their chance and they blew it.

Mr. Jenkin

The important point that the hon. Lady is making is that she agrees with the Select Committee that tourism should be the Department's first priority. It is sad that, at least for the first year in government, tourism did not figure on the Department' s radar screen.

What will the Minister have heard on her visits around the country? I hope that it went better than the social security ratios.

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson)

As the hon. Gentleman declined to answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith), I shall answer it on his behalf. Is he aware that, under the previous Government, the English tourist board's grant fell from £25 million to less than £10 million? Does he regard that as an illustration of the previous Government's commitment to tourism?

Mr. Jenkin

The Minister is trying to deflect attention from the Select Committee's report. We should concentrate on her job in government and the fact that she has been reprimanded by the Select Committee for neglecting tourism after a year in office. That is what should occupy her, not the previous Government's record.

What will the Minister have heard in all those tourist destinations that she visited during the recess? On the economic climate, she will have heard time and again— if she listened—how high interest rates and a high pound have hit the cash flow of many businesses in the past 18 months. Those factors are a direct result of the Government's mistakes on economic policy.

Independence for the Bank of England meant that interest rates rose higher and for longer than was necessary, and the British Incoming Tour Operators Association estimates that the number of overseas visitors in the current year ending in September was 4 per cent. lower than in the equivalent period for 1997, and said that the trend is still downwards. There have been 1 million fewer visitors to the United Kingdom, resulting lost income of at least £1 billion. David Quarmby, chairman of the British Tourist Authority, estimates that that will have cost the UK some 30,000 jobs.

The Government have piled new costs on business. Those affect the labour-intensive tourist sector badly, making it more difficult to employ people flexibly, and more expensive. The Government have introduced regulations arising from the EC directives on working time, on parental leave, and on part-time workers. Much in the directives simply reflects the good practice of good employers, but the regulations necessarily involve a lot of paperwork and monitoring, and create the potential for discord between employer and employee. Perhaps the worst aspect of those new laws is that they are likely to reduce job opportunities for women, because they tend to prefer part-time jobs, many of which will be replaced by full-time jobs, which are more likely to taken by men. I should have thought that that would concern the Minister.

Those regulations are intended to do no more than replicate the burdens on employers that already exist in other EU countries. As usual, the EU raises the level of regulation upward at a cost to the UK's industry and jobs.

Sir Rocco Forte told Caterer and Hotelkeeper on 27 March 1997: I have operated in every single one of the continental European countries and seen very clearly the disadvantages they work under. The Government are actively promoting the disadvantages under which the tourist industry will have to operate. The effects of the national minimum wage have yet to be felt, but that will be yet another burden.

Miss Geraldine Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin

I have given way to the hon. Lady already. I intend to be brief because I know that other hon. Members want an opportunity to speak in this debate.

The Government have disregarded tourism, our fifth biggest industry. They have damaged the industry with the downturn made in Downing street, and have burdened it with extra regulations and costs, which will damage growth and job creation. However, what have Ministers responsible for tourism done? I refer to a document issued following the comprehensive spending review, paragraph 1 of which states: For the past year we have been conducting a review of the Department's activities as part of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review. The document goes on: Our principal conclusion has been that all the areas for which DCMS is responsible are important". That stunning analysis seems to dominate the Government's flaccid thinking on that whole question. On the pretext of that earth-shattering conclusion, Ministers announced yet another round of consultation on all aspects of DCMS, including tourism. With incredible ineptitude, they put forward four options for the future of the English tourist board, not one of which includes the possibility of its continuing in existence.

I accept that the present relationship between the English tourist board and its regional counterparts is far from perfect. However, there are some real "sillies". For example, the English tourist board has produced a brochure entitled, "The Essential England". It deals with neither the west nor the east of England, because it was cheaper to produce a brochure that covers the east and the west. It places Buxton in the same region as Basildon and Hereford in the same region as Lowestoft. It is ludicrous to suggest that such an entity is marketable across Europe and the rest of the world.

The correct way to market the east of England, particularly to the short-haul overseas market, is to keep it as the east of England. I commend the tremendously good brochure, which I understand has been very popular, advertising the east of England. The East of England tourist board was unable to produce enough copies, possibly because of its over-centralising attitude towards the regions.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely symptomatic of the Secretary of State's attitude towards tourism that the consultation process on the future of the ETB took place during the high summer season? Anyone who understands small businesses would know that that placed an impossible burden on hoteliers, which underlines what my hon. Friend has been saying—that, in practice, the Government care nothing for the tourist industry.

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend is right. Whatever the problems faced by the English tourist board, the answer is none of the four answers provided to the question that nobody has asked: do we need to get rid of the English tourist board?

The ETB and its regional offspring look jealously at their Scottish and Welsh counterparts, which have much more substantial funding. Scotland spends £18.3 million, or £4.81 per head of population; Wales spends £14.6 million, or £6.36 per head of population; and England spends £9.73 million, or only 25p per head of population. The problems that we face in England are simply a reflection of that imbalance. I do not begrudge what the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office choose to spend on tourism, nor am I calling for higher public spending in England; but it is ludicrous to suggest that we can solve these problems by abolishing England's shop window on the world.

The east of England, including north Essex, has its attractions, but every region of England must live under the brand name of England, or it is nowhere. I used to work for the Ford Motor Company in sales and marketing. It would be much harder to sell a Mondeo or a Focus if it did not have a Ford badge on it.

One can only conclude that the name of England has become something of an embarrassment to Ministers in this post-devolutionary world. Scotland can have a Parliament, Wales can have an Assembly, but England must be lectured to by the Scottish Secretary. We cannot have a Parliament—we cannot even have a tourist board. The tourist industry does not need this myopic obsession with regionalism. It would not be sensible to submerge the regional tourist boards into the new regional development authorities, because their functions would be swamped by all the other things the authorities will want to do.

I am sure that the Minister will have a lot to say—Ministers always do—but I would be happy with quite a short speech from her. It would be nice to think that she will make an announcement to the House today on the conclusions drawn from her consultation on the future of the English tourist board, but I doubt that the Government want the House to be the first to know.

The tourist industry is highly fragmented. Thousands of small businesses are not geared to the strategic international promotion that English tourism requires. There may well be better ways to deliver such a strategy through greater involvement of the private sector. Will the Minister tell the House—I have given her notice of this question—that the English tourist board will stay? Despite its limited budget, it plays a vital role in promoting one of our major national industries, and it should stay.

9.52 am
Miss Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

I shall highlight the enormous difficulties faced by British seaside resorts, especially those affecting my constituency. It is outrageous that our seaside resorts are still reeling from the effects of the decline of the British seaside holiday in the late 1970s and early 1980s, despite the fact that tourism is forecast to be the world's largest industry by 2000. It is vital for the future prosperity of our nation that the British tourist industry play its full part in that expansion.

I blame the Conservatives for these problems, because they were in government for 18 years, and they did nothing to help British seaside resorts. We are living with the consequences. The town in which I grew up and have lived for most of my life was prosperous, and I have seen how the Conservatives allowed it to decline.

Many of our resorts have great natural beauty—magnificent beaches, splendid coastal terrain and breathtaking views—but they now play host to areas of dereliction and social deprivation that would match the worst found in any of our inner cities. Without a clear recognition that those conditions exist, and action is taken to remedy the situation, these resorts, which should be the cornerstone of British tourism, will continue to decline, and our tourist industry will fail to fulfil its potential.

I shall illustrate the problems that exist in many of our seaside resorts by referring to the position in my constituency. Over the past 20 years, 70 per cent. of the holiday accommodation in Morecambe and Heysham has ceased to be used for that purpose. Many of the huge number of redundant guesthouses and hotels are now used for multiple occupation, and are rented to families and individuals on social security benefits. Unscrupulous and usually absentee landlords have advertised extensively throughout Lancashire and elsewhere, exhorting people to come and live by the seaside. This huge pool of cheap and often sub-standard accommodation has acted as a magnet for the urban poor, the unemployed and the socially disadvantaged from those areas.

As a result, many parts of Morecambe and Heysham have a largely migrant population without roots in the area, and those people have few prospects in life. Hon. Members can imagine the pressure that that places on our schools, especially those providing special needs education, and on social services. People come and go from the area. The daily flow in and out of those properties makes it impossible to establish any sense of community, and it makes nonsense of any attempt to provide reliable statistics on unemployment and social needs.

These areas not only are unemployment black spots, but have become hotbeds of crime and drug abuse. Three of the worst 10 and six of the worst 30 wards in Lancashire are in Morecambe and Lunesdale. Ill health, dereliction and social deprivation abound, but perhaps the most worrying aspect is the impact that they have on adjacent areas, causing them to decline and thus perpetuating the cycle.

Mr. Spring

The hon. Lady describes clearly the position in her constituency. What escapes me is the role that the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council and other councils in the area have played in letting the problems develop in the first place.

Miss Smith

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that Lancaster city council has done a good job of trying to regenerate Morecambe. Obviously, a great deal more has to be done, and we need help from central Government—I make no bones about that. I shall ask the Minister for the help we require, because we received no help during 18 years of Tory government. Local councils had to act in isolation and in very difficult circumstances.

Morecambe and Heysham remains a beautiful area, despite these problems. I am proud to have grown up and to live there, and I want to stay there for the rest of my life. It is ideally located as a gateway to the lakes. Its views and abundant wildlife rival any in the country, and it has enormous potential for the tourism trade to be expanded. I pay tribute to our beleaguered business community, which has worked tirelessly to regenerate the resort and, against all the odds, has been remarkably successful through private-public partnerships.

However, it is high time those in Morecambe and other seaside resorts received the full support of Government to help them in what they are trying to achieve. Like many others, my area has applied for assisted area status. Our case is fully justified, but it remains to be seen whether we will be successful.

British seaside resorts have suffered through the collapse of their domestic tourism industries every bit as much as other areas have suffered from the decline of their core industries. Coalfield communities and areas affected by the decline in manufacturing have received assistance, and we need the same assistance. The Government should provide a package of measures aimed at regenerating seaside resorts. That is not only in the interest of those who live and work in the resorts, but in the economic interest of the nation.

I hope that the Minister will offer some hope to seaside resorts. It is important for us to be given hope, because we have immense problems to overcome. We also have immense opportunities. Morecambe is doing well as a seaside resort, and is striving to overcome the difficulties. I cannot miss this opportunity to ask the Minister to visit my constituency in the new year. I will be interested to hear what help she can offer British seaside resorts. That support is vital, and has been lacking for many years.

9.59 am
Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

I welcome the new Minister to the first real debate on tourism that we have had, at least since the last Session. Having spoken to members of tourism bodies over the summer, I am pleased to learn that the hon. Lady is already regarded as a well informed and enthusiastic Minister. I trust that she will raise the profile of tourism in Government, as it is one of our largest and most job-creating industries. Its success and growth are vital to a modern Britain.

I am also pleased that the Minister has acceded to my request that she visit the beautiful and go-ahead resort of Southport. She will have plenty to see—both our traditional heritage, and the new investment that is taking place. Thanks to European, lottery and other funding, Southport's new promenade and sea defences have now been completed. The new town centre gardens have been opened on famous Lord street, the pier is to be renovated, and preparations are being made for the construction of a major new indoor complex.

As I see it, British tourism is approaching a crossroads. Year on year there has been growth in the industry, but two major obstacles lie in the way. First, owing to the very success of the industry up to this point—it is now the fifth largest in Britain—it has grown so large that a measure of strategic planning has been essential to overcome the problem of fragmentation, and also to protect our environment from the excesses that uncontrolled and sustained growth in an industry brings.

We need a permanent strategic body that does not merely cover the same ground as the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. I ask the Minister to consider establishing a tourism commission for England, consisting of representatives of the industry and Government. The DCMS should be involved, but so should the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. We must get away from the image of tourism as solely part of culture, rather than part of economic development.

The tourism commission should also include tourism business leaders, as well as representatives of small businesses and other interested bodies. It could draw up a modern and relevant remit for the essential English tourist board and the British Tourist Authority; it could propose new planning regulations relevant to the needs of resorts and other tourist sites, and take evidence from trade unions and the Low Pay Commission. Tourism is one of the lowest-paying industries, with the least job security. The commission could also advise Government on their new transport policies. Tourism in England has no ombudsman, and standards vary considerably; a commission could set those standards, and appoint a watchdog to monitor them. Being a strategic rather than an operational body, it would not require any significant funding.

I trust that the Minister recognises that those issues need to be tackled in the medium and the long term if the industry is to be stabilised, and I hope that the Department's forthcoming tourism forum document will contain proposals to that effect.

The second obstacle to progress is the cost of tourism in Britain, compared to other European countries. As the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport observed at a recent dinner of the Tourism Society, to attract overseas visitors we must market ourselves on quality. To secure that quality, however, we shall need investment for the upgrading and maintaining of standards. I am glad that regional development agencies will have a major responsibility to tourism. Investment for tourism projects, which can be highly influenced by the exact needs of the location, should be directed at the projects themselves, rather than being decided centrally. It is, however, essential for funds available to tourism through regional development agencies to be spent on investment. Regional tourist boards have done a great job so far on their small budgets, especially in obtaining partnership moneys, and they should be maintained; but they must take on a new role, liaising with regional development agencies.

The lottery, through the national heritage memorial fund, has been a valuable source of money for the less commercial and non-commercial aspects of tourism, and for some major renovation projects. For example, although our Victorian piers and parks are not in themselves big money spinners, their presence attracts visitors, thus generating business for many resorts. I am keen for RDA funds for tourism to be used widely as match-funding for such investments. Many traditional resorts are members of the excellent British Resorts Association, whose advice should be sought on all aspects of regenerating our seaside towns.

With the ending of section 4 grants, small businesses in England and Wales lost access to funds to upgrade their facilities; yet the emphasis is now on quality. Small businesses in tourism have short seasons, and work to tight budgets. Because tourism is not an industry in which major profits are generally made—except in large London enterprises—funds from within the industry are seldom available to cover even the relatively small sums that are required. RDAs should have the option of helping to fund that sort of investment as well.

Another aspect of quality is who will monitor it. If, as is widely rumoured, the English tourist board's remit is to be reassessed, the Government must make alternative arrangements for the monitoring of standards. Another job for a tourism commission would be the drawing up of national guidelines, and the appointment of an independent monitor. That monitor should not work on a commercial basis, unlike the various bodies that currently grade hotels.

Notwithstanding new initiatives in respect of quality, prices and costs still matter. According to figures released by the British Tourist Authority, tourism receipts, for the first time, did not grow last year. We still have many visitors, despite the crisis in Asia, but the strong pound is reducing their spending power significantly, and they are not staying as long as they used to. The big issue relating to price, however, is that many more Britons are taking advantage of the relative cheapness of travelling abroad. If prices continue to be so high that it is cheaper for most people to take a summer holiday abroad—not even taking the climate into account—our domestic tourism may go into long-term decline, unless the Government take steps to redress the balance.

The introduction of the euro across the channel, but not in the United Kingdom, may damage us. International and business travellers will need to change their money into just one currency. Selling our holidays to Europeans will involve the expense of currency exchange, which will push up costs in comparison.

Mr. Jenkin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fearn

I will certainly give way to my friend from the Select Committee.

Mr. Jenkin

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the vast majority of people who visit this country come from Europe? If so, he is much mistaken. People come from throughout the world. For instance, we have many visitors from the United States, south-east Asia and Japan, in whose decision-making the European currency issue is not paramount.

Mr. Fearn

The Americans have certainly been a major contributor to the industry so far, and American tourists will continue to come here; but as I am sure the hon. Gentleman has noticed, the Japanese are no longer visiting the country in such large numbers.

It is plain that, from the point of view of tourism—for which currency exchange is a major cost—the sooner the euro is introduced here, the better. I am pleased that the Government have moved to a position of "when" rather than "if'. At least our attitude is becoming clearer, and that is much better for industry than the limbo in which we have been living.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

Is the hon. Gentleman going to mention his party's proposals for the abolition of the BTA, and explain why he considers its abolition to be good for tourism?

Mr. Fearn

I have already mentioned the BTA twice; I have also mentioned the English tourist board. The proposal for abolition is not final, and there has been no firm statement in any of our documents.

Until recently, much of the work of the DCMS has been preoccupied with the "cool Britannia" image and similar diversions. Issues such as the strength of the pound, and one of the highest VAT rates levied on hotel accommodation providers anywhere in Europe, have been brushed under the carpet. The VAT crisis is particularly important, and the Government should tackle it.

Earlier this year, Deloitte and Touche published an extensive report on the likely effects on the industry, and revenue for the Treasury, of a cut in VAT on accommodation to the European average. The Government have had plenty of time to assess the report's findings. I ask the Minister—as I asked her predecessor—whether she has made any decisions on the basis of those findings, and whether she intends to press the case for a reduction of VAT to average European levels with the Treasury. Both this and the previous Government have pledged to equalise VAT rates across Europe as part of the establishment of the single market and the deal to end duty-free, which in itself will cost jobs. So far, however, the Treasury is stonewalling on the subject; nothing has happened. By equalising VAT, the Treasury could help tourism and raise revenue in the medium and long term.

Tourism needs to be a higher priority in investment and economic development, and there should be both a closer concentration on the quality of the product that we offer the consumer and a national long-term strategy for development. So far, such a strategy is lacking.

10.10 am
Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this short debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on securing it, thereby giving the House the opportunity to discuss tourism and hospitality. He and I share the view that those industries are important not only to Britain and our constituencies, but to the economy and the social well-being of all our citizens. Most commentators predict that they will soon be the largest in Britain—indeed, globally. I rise to offer the House a snapshot—a postcard from the seaside, I suppose—of local developments in the industries.

If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were to travel to my constituency, which would of course be a great honour, you would see on entering Scarborough a sign which says, "Welcome to Scarborough … Britain's First Resort". That is true, and it represents the industries' vision in Scarborough and Whitby. I am very pleased that the Minister's tour of seaside resorts and of representatives of the tourism industry included a visit to my constituency in August. It was very closely followed by a visit from the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), the Opposition spokesman. So both parties are apparently in listening mode.

As in the rest of the United Kingdom, the tourism industry in my constituency is fragmented and segregated. It is spread throughout rural areas, small villages, market towns and large conurbations such as Scarborough and Whitby. Tourism is of special and growing importance in north Yorkshire, especially in the North Yorkshire moors national park, which constitutes about 60 per cent. of my constituency.

Perhaps I should send you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a postcard from the beautiful parts of the national park, such as the Esk valley. Instead of the comic seaside card that I had in mind when I got to my feet, perhaps I should be saying to all in the House, "Wish you were here." That is certainly the message that all people who work in tourism and hospitality in my constituency want me to convey. We do indeed wish that hon. Members would spend some of their hard-earned money in our resorts.

People visit Britain not only for the great delight of its scenic beauty but for our arts and culture—our museums, galleries and theatres. Indeed, one of the best regional theatres in the country is the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough, which is run by Sir Alan Ayckbourn.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

It is funded by the lottery.

Mr. Quinn

The right hon. Lady is quite right to say that the theatre received a substantial capital contribution from the lottery, although revenue support was not thought through, and we failed to supply money. I am glad that, on the Minister's visit to Scarborough, I was able to accompany her to the theatre, where we discovered from Sir Alan Ayckbourn, no less, that tourism and hospitality are not only creative but vital industries. I take issue with the suggestion of the hon. Member for North Essex that the Department's vision does not cover the industries' creative side. The aspect is clearly stated in the Department's vision statement.

Sporting events are very important to our industries, attracting many international visitors. There has been the recent European football championship, and there are bids to stage the world cup and the olympic games. Given Scarborough's experience of hosting the Bulgarian football team, I would urge a note of caution. We were promised that many thousands of football fans would accompany the team, filling vacant spaces on caravan sites and in bed-and-breakfasts and hotels. Unfortunately, the fans did not visit the delights of the Yorkshire coast.

I therefore urge that, in planning international sporting events and attractions at globally renowned venues, such as the Millennium dome, which is not too far from Scarborough, the Government contemplate ensuring that the virtuous aspects of trade and tourism spill over to the more peripheral areas, such as the north-east of England and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith). We need to plan and think about where visitors will stay.

When my hon. Friend the Minister visited Scarborough in August, we were able to share a business breakfast with many key members of the local industry. On that occasion, she showed not only that she was in listening mode but that, a mere two weeks into her new job, she was willing to take on board the ideas, problems and concerns of people who work in the industry in my part of the world. She certainly greatly impressed many people who attended. I know that she has received many letters from my constituents who were grateful that she visited us.

Mr. Spring

Has the hon. Gentleman asked the Deputy Prime Minister how many letters he received following his visit to Scarborough, which caused great hilarity because he left on a train but descended at the first available stop to get into his ministerial Jaguar? That was part of his listening to integrated transport strategy.

Mr. Quinn

I am sorry to have to correct the Opposition spokesperson, but my right hon. Friend had been opening my constituency office—the first ever in Scarborough. My office is a mere five minutes walk from the railway station. The hon. Gentleman is right: my right hon. Friend took the train to Seamer. From there, he visited two proposed park-and-ride sites.[Laughter.] I am sorry, but that is on record. Those two sites are very close to Seamer railway station. Far from not being concerned with integrated transport policy, my right hon. Friend demonstrated his great concern to the people of Scarborough and Whitby. In fact, we are hopeful that, in due course, we shall be hearing about the policy.

As evidence of the high regard in which the Minister is held in the tourist industry and the impact that she has made, I shall quote the chairman of the Scarborough hotels association, who told the local media shortly after her visit: It's great to see tourism recognised as an industry and on the political agenda. We welcome this initiative and are pleased to contribute to the Minister's listening brief so early into her new role in government". Far from ignoring my constituents' concerns and comments, work is being done. I look forward to hearing the Minister make a statement, which will build on the Labour party policy devised under the auspices of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry).

Labour's document "Breaking New Ground—Labour's Strategy for Hospitality" was instrumental not only in my election to represent the seaside community of Scarborough and Whitney but in helping to elect hon. Members across the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale, too, was elected on Labour's promise to fill the vacuum in tourism policy that was created by 18 years of the previous Government's failure. We are fulfilling that promise by listening to the industry, dealing with its concerns and working in partnership.

I should like to mention to the House one local initiative in Scarborough with which I have been involved. We have established a Scarborough tourism forum that brings together everyone involved in tourism and hospitality. The forum is a place where we can debate the real issues of the day and look forward to the future. The Minister was able on her visit to hear about the forum's work, and I hope that she will take on board the lessons it offered when she considers any future tourism strategies and initiatives.

I hope also that, in the near future, we shall see at all points of entry to the United Kingdom signs stating not only that Scarborough is our first national resort but that Britain is the first global resort.

10.21 am
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on securing this debate on such an important subject, and on using the time allocated so wisely. As I realise the enormous value and importance of tourism to the United Kingdom—especially to London, which itself draws in much tourism to the United Kingdom—I should say first, in a non-political speech, that our hereditary monarchy and hereditary peerage are extremely valuable and important to tourism in London.

As I said, tourism is important to London, and tourism in London is important to the United Kingdom. However, London is not everything in tourism. Also, with great respect to hon. Members who have already spoken in the debate, seaside resorts are not everything in tourism. We have to market the other parts of the United Kingdom abroad, and to market UK tourism inside the United Kingdom.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex, I am concerned by plans to abolish the English tourist board. What will replace it? We have heard that responsibility for tourism may be given to regional development agencies. I am troubled by such a proposal for various reasons, the first of which is that my constituency will be on the very edge of the south-west RDA, which will also include Cornwall and Devon. The south-west RDA would tend to promote Cornwall and Devon—I have nothing against those areas—at the expense of other parts of the region.

My constituency and Gloucestershire generally, have far more in common with Herefordshire and Worcestershire than with Devon and Cornwall, and there is a strong likelihood that we in Tewkesbury would lose as a part of the south-west region. If responsibility for promoting tourism is given to RDAs, or to any similar regional authority, Tewkesbury would lose. I do not want that to happen.

Tourism is extremely important to the town of Tewkesbury, to the Cotswolds, to many other villages in the area and to the racecourse in my constituency. In Tewkesbury, excluding the racecourse, 12 per cent. of jobs depend on tourism, compared with the national average of 7 per cent. Tourism is a vital factor in job creation and sustainability, in education and in the preservation of old buildings.

Tewkesbury has many old buildings. However, it also has many shops that have closed, primarily because of a shortage of tourists. Although Tewkesbury is a very beautiful and historic town, it suffers from proximity to Cheltenham, which has many chain stores. The town of Tewkesbury therefore specialises in and relies on speciality and novelty shops, on the abbey, on its many old buildings and on the river. Although those aspects of the town are extremely important—some of them are very beautiful—that is not enough. They have not only to look attractive but to draw in trade.

I should like to stress again the importance of tourism both to my constituency and to the United Kingdom.

10.25 am
Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)

The United Kingdom tourism industry, one of our most important money earners, now faces extremely testing times. For a long time, it has offered good prospects to those providing a high level of customer service, although rewards have rarely been achieved without significant investment and disregard of the timetable of an "ordinary" working week.

Tourism's importance to both the national and local economies is difficult to overestimate. I shall not go back over the figures on tourism's importance to the United Kingdom, as those have been dealt with sufficiently already in this debate. Nevertheless, the business generated by tourism accounts for more than 1.5 million jobs. We should not forget that fact. Certainly in the south-west, where my constituency is located, tourism is vital.

Foreign exchange earnings from overseas visitors make a valuable contribution to the UK's balance of payments and contribute directly to economic activity in favoured tourist destinations across the country. In Dorset, tourism plays a crucial role in local and regional economic activity and boosts local people's employment prospects—especially of school leavers, who may be unwilling or unable to move on to further or higher education. At its best, tourism produces good examples of training on the job. Many very committed young people go on to have a very successful career in the industry.

Tourism is vital for my constituents, and a great many jobs depend on it. Any decline in trade hits our employment and economic prospects immediately and hard. Many hotels, restaurants and entertainment facilities enjoyed by local people could not survive without a thriving tourism market to support their turnover.

We live in a popular area for visitors, not least because of the area's outstanding natural beauty. Our beaches win awards. Many people have second homes in Dorset, and, as we know, Bournemouth is a popular destination for both Conservative party and Labour party conferences.

The economic uncertainty faced regularly by many smaller providers in the industry is compounded by the seasonal nature of much tourist activity. Almost a quarter of trips to or within Britain occur in July and August. In the off-peak months, that can cause cash flow problems, especially for smaller family-run businesses.

Then, of course, there is the weather. Apart from agriculture, the impact of poor weather is felt most keenly by tourism. If the summer is particularly bad one year, domestic demand may drop sharply. Consequent economic damage may be compounded if there is very little income at other times of year.

It is thought that tourism has growth potential in creating jobs and generating revenue. However, many issues—not least the Government's current policies—cloud the horizon and will undermine that potential. The Government's economic policies have had a heavy impact on the industry. Interest rates and exchange rates took their toll at the height of last summer's tourism season, and extra costs will continue to pile on pressure.

Red tape and regulation abound, and—with the introduction of the minimum wage, for example—will have a very real impact. Tourism relies on large numbers of students who undertake seasonal employment. It is also an industry in which young people have fewer qualifications but are willing to work hard for low initial reward, so that they may, with time, gain experience and better rewards.

I fear that the Government's proposals could damage the industry, particularly in the south-west.

Miss Geraldine Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fraser

I shall not give way to the hon. Lady. We have precious little time, and other hon. Members would like to speak.

If starting wages increase, employers will have to rethink their strategy and staffing levels to remain competitive in the global market.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said, implementation of the European working time directive on work hours, annual leave and rest breaks also will have a major impact on the tourism industry. I am concerned that the Government have introduced regulations without adequate consultation with the tourism industry. The parental leave and the part-time workers directives are yet to come and they promise increased difficulties for an industry already under pressure.

I hope that the Minister will answer a couple of questions. Why does England get so much less grant in aid per head of population than Scotland and Wales? The south-west—as I have said, an area in which I have a particular interest—does especially badly. Perhaps the hon. Lady will respond on that point. The south-west is not a rich area. Indeed, it is an area of great poverty; and the further west one goes, the more poverty there is. Yet there is no reward, as there is in Scotland and Wales, for the industry with which we have to work in the area that I represent.

So far, our tourism industry has flourished, despite the rival attractions of overseas package holidays, the strength of the pound and the eternal problem of sometimes miserable weather, but I now fear for its future. Will tourism continue to prosper, and our local economy continue to reap the benefit, under a Labour Government? We face more costs, the import of more bureaucracy and the probable demise of the English tourist board, which fights for the industry at the national level. It is symptomatic of the Government's attitude that they want to abolish the ETB without knowing how to replace it—despite the almost universal support in the industry for a strengthened and properly financed tourist board.

Tourism is low on the Government's list of priorities. It is an afterthought and, perhaps, sometimes an irritation. The industry is misunderstood and sorely undervalued. Why else would the Department for Culture, Media and Sport issue a consultation paper requiring an industry response at its busiest time?

I am a member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. It recommended that the Department's annual report should provide specific information on how its sponsorship results in enhanced economic performance in each of its sectors, based on the view of the Select Committee, which was overwhelmingly stuffed with Labour Members, that the Department's objective should be to foster the tourism industry. The Government have yet to persuade us and the House that they care. There are challenging days ahead and I urge the Government, once and for all, to take tourism seriously.

10.32 am
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

I am delighted to contribute to the debate. I heartily congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on initiating it. Many hon. Members have spoken about the attractions of their constituencies and the importance of the tourism industry. That is certainly the case in South-West Surrey. The only problem for the industry is the Government's inaction in tackling the A3 at Hindhead—but more of that on another occasion.

Tourism needs champions. It is a fascinating industry and I congratulate the Minister on taking on these responsibilities. If she can leave the Department with the official responsible for tourism being most highly regarded and envied, she will have made a difference. The legacy which she inherits is one where the snobbery of the Department gives prestige to the arts, sport and culture, but not to the industry that can create jobs and make a difference.

Tourism could be a catalyst for the Department. We have discussed the errors that it has already made—the omission from the title, the omission from the mission, the censure from the Select Committee and its inability for several months to arrange a debate on tourism in the House. It has made many mistakes, but the hon. Lady may be able to save the day and join the list of champions of tourism and hospitality as the real sectors of growth for the next century.

I commend some other champions to the Minister. It is a people industry; it is about education, training and the people involved thinking that they are valued. Many are taking that message seriously. David Harborne has been doing splendid work at the Hospitality Training Foundation. I commend Professor Airey at the department of tourism at my university of Surrey. They are people who think that investing in people from vocational qualifications through to degrees will make a difference. I commend the Confederation of British Industry and its tourism task force. Some of the leaders of the industry—Rank, Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle, Madame Tussaud's and many others—say that we have to act in partnership and put more back into the industry.

Above all, I commend David Quarmby, head of the British Tourist Authority and English tourist board. It was disgraceful to launch the consultation document in such a way that it appeared to obliterate the English tourist board. My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) has done a magnificent job as our spokesman. He was at the launch of the BTA report on the day these insulting matters were being handled, and the people concerned were in ignorance of them. It is vital that there is a strong role for English tourism as well as a powerful and effective British Tourist Authority.

I hope that the Minister will persuade her Cabinet colleague to fight for the industry in Cabinet. She can do much to raise the profile, but she has to win the battles as well. Regional development authorities and local authorities can help by being more generous on planning. Rural areas could do better if only they could get the planning consents that they needed. Many of our heritage buildings could be transformed if they could get the planning consent and support that they need. The danger is that the RDAs and the local authorities want to municipalise tourism, rather than promote it. It is essentially a private sector enterprise, not a municipal activity.

Much has been made of seaside resorts. I happen to have a great liking for the Isle of Wight and understand the significance of tourism there. I am a great admirer of the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) and understand the importance of tourism there, too. I think that I have visited the constituencies of every hon. Member who has spoken today and appreciates the importance of the industry. I am tempted to remind the House that, when I was Secretary of State, it was the Year of the Pier. I think that people understand the importance of piers in our coastal resorts. I hope that the House will regard this as the "Year of the Peer" and understand the importance of peers in our constitution.

10.37 am
Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on initiating the debate and thank him for his generous comments about my constituency. I make but one addition to the civil war aspect and remind him that Colchester stood for Parliament.

In a forum where there is a great deal of political disunity, tourism should be a subject that unites us. If I have any regret today, it is about the politicking that has taken place—until this morning, I was not aware that tourism was a party political issue. That is certainly not my experience in the area that I represent.

Tourism is an inward industry, with visitors from overseas. Certainly Colchester has benefited recently from day tourists from the continent, so our greater European links need to be mentioned in that context. However, there is also tourism from within the United Kingdom, and I want to flag up one or two issues. One is the beach hut, and I declare an interest as I have a beach hut in the hon. Gentleman's constituency at Brightlingsea. The previous Government introduced value added tax on beach huts, of all things. That is not an incentive for people wishing to spend their holidays at home and be day visitors to many of our seaside resorts. The Minister is smiling, but this is an important issue in many of our smaller seaside resorts.

The second matter concerns the need for cheap accommodation, especially for young tourists from home and overseas. I make a special plea for capital grant funding for the Youth Hostels Association and similar organisations that provide accommodation for young people. I ask the Minister to investigate whether there is any way in which the Government could provide capital funding for new hostels and for refurbishment of existing ones.

10.39 am
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

This has been a good debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), without whose initiative in calling this debate we would still be waiting for the Government to hold one. It is remarkable that there has been no Government-inspired debate on tourism since the election more than 18 months ago.

There have been some excellent speeches, and one theme was clear throughout—tourism is important; tourism matters. Tourism matters in a constituency such as mine, where it brings in more than £100 million a year and is responsible for about 6,000 jobs. That is one reason why I take such an interest in the subject and am pleased to be part of our Front-Bench team. I also speak as a vice-president of the British Resorts Association and as patron of the Eastbourne Hotels Association.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken this morning with knowledge of the subject and conviction, and I thank them all. I fondly remember the visit to Eastbourne of my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) during the Year of the Pier. I was not sure whether the mention of civil war made by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) was historical, or referred to the one currently raging in his own parliamentary party.

I have already mentioned my constituency. In a letter to me, the excellent director of tourism in Eastbourne, Ron Cussons, expressed his own concerns and supported those of the British Resorts Association. The Government have drawn on the BRA's excellent work in projects such as those to measure the local impact of tourism, but the director of the BRA, Peter Hampson, expressed in a letter his concerns about the new structure and role of the English tourist board. He asked: Will the forthcoming tourism strategy be truly strategic …? Will Government recognise that large and medium sized coastal resort towns now all have pockets … of social and economic deprivation …? Will Government take action to ensure that the short term dispersal of asylum seekers will not have long term social and economic implications for coastal resort towns? Mr. Cussons endorsed those concerns and went on: The season this year has not been good due to the World Cup, the inclement weather for Eastbourne and the high exchange rate. Fortunately, the conference trade has been exceptionally good. Therefore, the hotels have traded reasonably well. We recently held a "listening to Britain" meeting for those involved in tourism in Eastbourne attended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), the deputy Leader of the Opposition, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). Those present, who represented a good cross-section of local tourism interests, voiced their concerns on several issues, including the widening tourism deficit, current rates of value added tax, the abolition of the ETB, inadequate transport infrastructure, interest rates, the strong pound, the minimum wage and inadequate funding for tourism generally.

We shall return to those themes, but for now I simply ask the Minister whether she agrees with David Quarmby, the chairman of the British Tourist Authority, who said: 1997 was a very tough year for the British tourist industry, and all the signs show that 1998 is going to be just as bad. Without the strong pound, we would have expected 30,000 new jobs and £1 billion extra revenue next year. As it is, we did well to hold on to what we had. What a damning indictment of the Government's economic policies. What does the Minister have to say to those 30,000 people who would have had jobs in tourism, but for her Government's policies? In opposition, the Labour party had many honeyed words for people involved in tourism throughout the country. After more than 18 months in office, how have the Labour Government risen to the challenges that other hon. Members and I have described?

The Government's first act was to change the name of the Department, but in such a way as to emphasise the importance of other activities at the expense of tourism. I have never heard a remotely convincing explanation for the omission of tourism from the title of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. No doubt the Minister will have another try today.

In its own statement of aims and objectives, the Department made no mention of tourism—a glaring omission. More recently, on the occasion of the appointment of the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson) to the post of Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, the Government took the opportunity to downgrade the role of Tourism Minister from Minister of State to Under-Secretary of State. Apart from the gross discourtesy to the Minister, for whom I have a high regard as a former Whip, what message does that send to an already beleaguered industry?

In the most recent spending review, tourism received only 2 per cent. of the Department's total allocation—£6 million, compared to £115 million and £125 million for museums and the arts—yet it generates more than 80 per cent. of the Department's revenue. No wonder Richard Tobias, chief executive of the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, described the sum as "meagre". On top of all that, the Government are seriously proposing to abolish the English tourist board, while leaving the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland tourist boards in place. That has brought forth a howl of protest from every corner of the country and every section of the industry. I presume the Minister has seen the conclusion of Travel Weekly—that there is 97 per cent. support in the industry for an enhanced and strengthened ETB. The feelings of the industry were in no way assuaged by the absurdly short consultation period.

We already know the funding figures: 25p per head for the population of England; £4.81 for Scotland; and £6.36 for Wales. The figures speak for themselves. There is no sign of the Government reintroducing section 4 grants to England, even though those are enjoyed by other parts of the UK. Fred Cubbage and his team at the South East England tourist board have stated: There are more overseas visitors to the counties of South East England than to Scotland, and …. unemployment in parts of the South East are far higher than the average situation in Scotland. Is it time to level the playing field and acknowledge the power of the England brand as one of the key magnets for overseas tourism? We think so. Against that background, combined with the worrying slide in revenue figures, what is the Government's solution? It is to abolish the ETB.

That could not come at a worse time. There is a record deficit in tourism across the country and a record 10 million holidays were taken abroad last year. As if that were not bad enough, devolution is upon us: I have little doubt that Scotland and Wales will grasp the opportunity of devolution to increase their spending on promoting their countries—and why not? What implications are there for the long-term future of the BTA? The Government have become masters of the law of unintended consequences, but who is to speak up for tourism in England if the ETB is destroyed? How would the Government ensure that the strategic role now played by the ETB continued to be carried out?

"Ah, yes," I hear the Minister say, "but what about the long-awaited tourism strategy?" What indeed? I must congratulate the hon. Lady on her attempts to right some of her predecessor's sins of omission by visiting at least some tourist resorts. However, there was a strange omission from the list that I saw, as the hon. Lady did not propose to visit the premier seaside resort in the country. Let me put that right now, by extending an enthusiastic invitation to her to visit Eastbourne and assuring her of a warm and friendly welcome.

When are the Government going to start to listen to the tourism industry? When can we expect the Government's strategy? It has been a long time coming. We were told originally—last year—that it would be published "next summer"; then, this year, the promise was, "later this year"; and the most recent prognosis was that it would come in the next few months. On the subject of tourism, one can say without fear of contradiction that the Labour Government have hit the deck limping. Will the Minister tell the House today when precisely her strategy document will see the light of day and when the ETB will be put out of its misery?

Today's debate is a wake-up call for a Government who have shown precious little concern for tourism—our fifth largest industry—since their election. As we have heard, the industry brings more than £50 billion a year to the British Exchequer and employs nearly 2 million British people. It directly accounts for 5 per cent. of British gross domestic product and 8 per cent. of all consumer spending.

I can promise our tourism and hospitality industry that the Conservative party will battle for tourism in Britain. We have pushed hard to secure this opportunity to debate the crisis facing our seaside towns and tourist attractions, which is a result of the Government's lacklustre attitude toward the industry. Towns across the country, from Bournemouth and Blackpool to Skegness and Southend, need the support of the Government if they are to thrive. That support is patently not forthcoming.

Tourists and employers are paying a high price for Labour's damaging policies. There have been four basic economic blunders: raising taxes, punishing savers, massively overspending taxpayers' money, and piling suffocating costs on to business. Those have combined to drive up interest rates and artificially strengthen the pound, causing domestic and foreign holidaymakers to stay away from Britain's coastal resorts, national parks and major tourist attractions. In addition, the stifling regulation of job-destroying legislation, such as that on the working time directive and the minimum wage, will serve only to deepen a growing crisis in British tourism that the Government have engineered. It shows just how low a priority the Prime Minister places on that valuable national industry that his Department for Culture, Media and Sport does not identify tourism in its name, its aims or its objectives. The all-party Select Committee even acknowledged that tourism is far and away the largest industry for which the Department is responsible and, in economic terms, the most important … yet tourism is subordinated in favour of more glamorous and trivial matters. The only attention that the Government have given to British seaside towns since the election has been to turn guesthouses into overspill DSS hostels for asylum seekers, and to delay and delay again over a fantasy tourism strategy. To add insult to injury, they have forged ahead with plans to abolish the ETB. Tourism is paying a very high price for the inadequate policies of this Labour Government.

10.50 am
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson)

I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on securing this morning's debate. We all welcome the opportunity to discuss what is undoubtedly one of Britain's most important industries.

I take the strongest possible exception to the allegations by Opposition Members that the Government do not recognise the importance of tourism, which contributes some £53 billion a year to the economy and employs 1.7 million people. It is also one of our fastest growing industries, and we certainly take it extremely seriously. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) said that he hoped that cheap party political points would not be made during the debate, and that is certainly not my intention.

The hon. Member for North Essex highlighted the industry's importance for employment. We have been liaising closely with the industry on the Government's proposals for the new deal to get young people off benefit and into work.

Many hon. Members have also mentioned our current consultation on the structure of support for the industry, and I shall return to that later in my speech. The aim of our consultation was to make sure that what funds were available were used wisely. Under the departmental spending review, the British Tourist Authority has been allocated an increase of £6 million, in contrast to reductions in funding to tourism in recent years.

Tourism is extremely important in my constituency of Rossendale and Darwen. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister appointed me to this post, I was very encouraged when the Manchester Evening News visited one of my local tourist information centres in Rawtenstall and said what a wonderful service it provided.

Other hon. Members raised important constituency matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith) rightly referred to the plight of many seaside resorts around the country. Our domestic tourism working group charged a quality sub-group with looking at that problem. It examined a resort regeneration action plan piloted by Redcar and Cleveland borough council, and that is likely to form part of the tourism strategy.

Before I leave the subject, let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale, who is truly a champion of tourism in her constituency, and to the excellent work in Morecambe which has transformed the town in recent years. Of course I can give her the assurance that I shall visit Morecambe as soon as I can. It will not be my first visit there, but I look forward to visiting it again.

I thank the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) for his kind words. He mentioned the success of the industry and its potential for growth. I also congratulate him, as he has become the champion of the English piers. We were all delighted to learn that Southport pier was to be refurbished and renovated.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

May I remind the Minister that it was with lottery money?

Janet Anderson

It was indeed. We are grateful for and supportive of the money that the lottery is putting into similar projects around the country. During my fact-finding mission in August—I reassure the Opposition that it was truly a fact-finding mission—I visited the west pier in Brighton, which is also to be renovated using some lottery money, as well as considerable private sector investment. We see that very much as the way ahead.

The hon. Member for Southport said that he thought that a strategy for the industry was missing. Let me assure him that that is no longer the case, and I shall return to that later in my speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) referred to my visit to his constituency in the summer. I greatly enjoyed talking to the local tourism forum, which greatly assisted our consideration of the strategy and what was needed to help the industry. We were particularly impressed by the forum in Scarborough, which included local residents as well as hoteliers and people who ran the various amusements and attractions in the area. When considering sustainable tourism, it is important to include the impact on local communities—another factor that our strategy will take into account.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the millennium dome. We are proud of our decision to go ahead with the millennium dome, which will benefit not only London—although we expect some 3 million visitors to London for the millennium—but many other parts of the country. The excitement that has been generated by the project is incalculable. On Sunday, I very much look forward to switching on the floodlights at St. Anne's church in Turton, which have been funded specifically by millennium money.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) mentioned that London was a gateway. Of course it is. Many people who come to London also visit other parts of the country. He referred to hereditary peers as a particular attraction. That may be true, but whether they have a vote is probably irrelevant.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser) is a member of the Select Committee. He and some of his hon. Friends made much of the criticism by the Select Committee that the Department does not take tourism seriously. He may not be aware that one of the first things that I did on taking this job was to change the order of my title, so I am now the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting. It may seem a small gesture, but it has been warmly welcomed by the industry.

The hon. Gentleman may not know that I visited his part of the country in the summer and was most impressed. I was delighted to return to Studland bay, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. I spent a lot of my childhood there. I was most impressed by the management scheme on Purbeck, which is an important tourism attraction. A great deal has been done to introduce park-and-ride schemes and manage the number of visitors.

Mr. Fraser

I was aware of the hon. Lady's visit to Dorset, where there was much comment about why she did not go up in a hot air balloon in Bournemouth.

Janet Anderson

I did many other things, but I did not go up in a hot air balloon because I did not fancy the idea, but it did not diminish my ability to learn about the local tourism industry.

Mr. Jenkin

In the very short time she has left, will the Minister address the issue of the English tourist board?

Janet Anderson

Of course. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman was most concerned about that issue and I shall address it before I finish my speech.

Let me briefly thank the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) for her kind words. I agree with her whole-heartedly that the industry needs a champion. It is a fragmented industry which needs leadership. Our consultation with all sections of the industry has made that plain. We shall certainly take it on board in our strategy, which will be published in the new year because that is when most people think about their holidays.

I should like to address the point raised by the hon. Member for North Essex about the consultation process. We consulted widely with the industry because we wanted what public money was available to be spent as wisely as possible. Despite his criticism that the consultation process was carried out over the summer, we received more than 300 responses. The overwhelming majority called for a central co-ordinating body. That will be reflected in our decision, which will be announced soon. One of the main aims of the process was to get better help to the regions. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will welcome that commitment.

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