HC Deb 05 May 1999 vol 330 cc857-77

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

9.33 am
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of the British tourism industry. This is not the first time that the industry has been debated in this Parliament, but there has not been a debate on the issue in Government time. It has fallen to the Opposition and to Back Benchers to seek to bring the importance of the industry and its circumstances to the attention of the House.

The debate is timely and necessary, not least because of the publication in February of the Government's document "Tomorrow's Tourism", which sets out the Government's view of the strategy for tourism. Last Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced the conversion of the English tourist board into the English Tourism Council, so it is entirely right that we should debate tourism at this time.

We should keep the interests of the tourism industry at the forefront of our deliberations because of the industry's importance. The industry generates expenditure of £53 billion a year, and accounts for up to 5 per cent. of our gross domestic product. It is our largest invisible export, and provides employment for 1.75 million people. It has been responsible for one in five of the new jobs created in this country over the past decade. The industry is managed by some 200,000 businesses around the country, the great majority of which are small businesses. In my constituency—as in all others—tourism bulks large as a provider of employment and expenditure, and as a generator of enterprise.

In that context, I should like to reflect on the fact that restaurants, bars and shops, as part of the hospitality and leisure sector, are at the heart of many high streets and city centres, including the city centre of Cambridge, part of which I have the honour to represent. In London, our thoughts must go to those who run the restaurants, bars and shops of Soho, who were providing hospitality and leisure last Friday when the area was bombed. Yesterday, they set about "business as usual". Our thoughts and congratulations should go to them for the way in which they have responded to those challenging circumstances.

Not all is well in the tourism industry. The latest statistics on overseas travel and tourism show that, in the year to February 1999—as compared with the year to February 1998—the deficit on the travel account of our balance of payments grew from £5 billion to £7 billion.

In Cambridge, an effective strategy was put in place in 1996. It was set up on the basis of the then figure of 3.6 million visitors to Cambridge, and on the expectation that, by 2001, the city would be dealing with 4.2 million visitors. In 1998, the numbers fell to 3.2 million visitors. What was essentially a strategy devised around the dispersal and management of a growth in visitor numbers is now being adapted to one that emphasises the enhancement of the visitor experience and the opportunities to visit Cambridge.

The strategy also makes sure that visitors have ample opportunity to take in attractions outside Cambridge, of which the imperial war museum at Duxford, with the American air museum—opened recently with lottery support and following considerable fundraising in my constituency—is an example.

In the past few days, the English tourist board has published its summary statistics on visits to tourist attractions, which show an overall drop of 2 per cent. in such visits. We are not simply managing long-term growth, and it is clear that we are working with an industry that is not maintaining its share of world markets, and is in continuing need of a strategy.

The Government's document "Tomorrow's Tourism" is an aspirational document, as is often the case. However, as is equally often the case with Government documents, the aspirations look fine, but the actions set out are more of a work in progress than an attempt to match up to the strategy. I share the concern of the industry—expressed not least by the British Incoming Tour Operators Association—that it is necessary to determine strategy first, and then to move to structure. However, the Government seem to be changing the structure and letting the strategy flow from it. That is the wrong way round. I would rather that we concentrated on purposes than processes in the first instance.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

My hon. Friend will recall that Mr. Rodgers of the Labour party, who later became Lord Rodgers of the Social Democratic party, signed 35 of my amendments to set up the English tourist board, which was not in the original Bill that became the Development of Tourism Act 1969. The idea was to try to ensure that England was helped equally with Scotland and Wales, which had never previously been the case, and has never been the case since. I hope that my hon. Friend will urge the Government to ensure that there is equality.

Mr. Lansley

My right hon. Friend brings a great wealth of experience to the subject, and he is absolutely right. The grant in aid to the various tourist bodies in England is about 20p per head, whereas it is £3.76 in Scotland and £4.99 in Wales.

The British Incoming Tour Operators Association said that it is clear that Ministers in Scotland and Wales, and indeed Northern Ireland, have understood that investment in the tourism industry can have high rates of return, whereas in England the message has not been understood. Joined-up government, as the buzz phrase has it, does not seem to work in the tourism industry.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the situation is worse in real terms than in per capita terms, because the English tourist board last year received £9.9 million, whereas the Scottish tourist board received £19.3 million? There is double the spending in Scotland in absolute, let alone per capita, terms.

Mr. Lansley

My hon. Friend is right. Comparisons are odious, and I am not suggesting that the Scottish tourist board is acting in anything but an effective manner, but that effectiveness shows how much of the potential for action in England remains unrealised.

I am worried that there may be even further division within England of the way in which marketing is carried out. London is to have a mayor and its own direct marketing budget. Where does that leave other parts of England, such as South Cambridgeshire, which are considerable visitor attractions but receive little support?

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the deeply frustrating question of the differential funding of tourist boards, the steps that the Government have taken have further disintegrated the joint approach to promoting Britain around the world? Scotland and Wales, being so much more generously funded than England, inevitably have much more affluent teams of people selling their part of the United Kingdom. There is a disintegration into different tribes promoting their own separate areas.

Mr. Lansley

If the Government intend that there should be a strategy, what more obvious example of joined-up thinking—to use their parlance—could there be than for overseas marketing to be conducted in a co-ordinated way on behalf of all the countries of the United Kingdom? There is some scope for the Scottish and Welsh boards to undertake their overseas marketing through the British Tourist Authority, but that is not true across the board.

I fear that there will be further fracturing, with London undertaking its own promotion. I applaud the idea of the mayor taking an activist stance in promoting London, because our tourist industry as a whole depends more on the role of London as a gateway than on any other single factor, but that should not be done in isolation from the promotion of other destinations—Scotland is a prime example—to which visitors can be drawn.

We need a strategy rather than simply work in progress. "Tomorrow's Tourism" contains references to transport, but they amount to no more than an assertion that tourism must be part of the integrated transport policy announced in the transport White Paper. There is a very close relationship between the way in which transport is managed locally and the volume of visitors to a location such as Cambridge, for example.

In 2000, local authorities will produce local transport plans for the first time. It should be incumbent on those authorities to prepare the plans in co-operation with other local authorities, the private sector and the tourist industry, so that we can see that they are consistent with local visitor management plans. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions should take explicit account of the impact on the local economy when considering transport policies and programmes bids.

Positive planning is important. Because it is mostly small businesses, rather than the big battalions, that are involved, tourism is often at the behest of planning rather than being able to influence it directly. We must view tourism as a positive part of the planning process, not least because, as is evident in Cambridge and many other places, bringing in visitors can generate money that can regenerate an area if it is spent well.

Our heritage, with all our historic buildings, is the principal reason that visitors come to this country. We can use tourism as a positive agency for conserving our heritage. It brings in a lot of money, and we can use the tourist dollar in the planning process—through the preparation of conservation plans for historic assets, for example—to achieve broader environmental and planning objectives.

Planning policy guidance 21 is several years old. When, in the plethora of PPG reviews, do the Government intend to review it, in the light of, for example, the discussion on sustainable tourism? Tourism can be better managed so that it does not degrade the environment and, just as historic assets can be improved by tourism resources, it can make a positive impact on sustaining our environment.

Historic buildings brought back into use for tourism purposes can be better preserved as well as enhancing the visitor experience. For example, in the cities of New England there are buildings from the industrial revolution which have been preserved simply because they are being used as a visitor attraction.

In the range of joined-up government, what thought have the Government given to taxation in this context? I know that the British Tourist Authority has considered the impact of VAT on the competitive position of the United Kingdom economy in comparison with other European economies. Will the Minister respond to that? What scope is there, for example, for considering zero rating for the repair and adaptive reuse of historic buildings, which, as I explained in respect of the promotion of environmental sustainability, would certainly be a considerable incentive for the undertaking such work?

As for joined-up government, the principal failing at the moment—I am afraid that "Tomorrow's Tourism" neglects this altogether—is the impact of Government regulation on the industry. From talking to representatives of many businesses, I have found that most staff in my area are already paid more than £3.60 an hour. That is not entirely true across the country. The wages of many employees in restaurants, bars and shops, for example, have been raised to the minimum level.

Bearing in mind the experience of my area, the Government might take the view that the minimum wage and the working time directive do not cause businesses problems because they do not impose a direct cost on them. However, the compliance costs falling on businesses are substantial. For example, the working time directive is having a considerable impact on the way in which businesses can manage shift patterns for employees such as night porters in hotels. In a very flexible industry of many small businesses that do not benefit from a large administrative infrastructure, and in which staff come and go reasonably frequently, the minimum wage and the working time directive impose a burden of compliance that is out of all proportion to the benefits either to the employee or—certainly—the business.

One hotelier to whom I have spoken—he knows that it is true for many of his colleagues—has had to employ one person virtually full-time to manage the requirements of the minimum wage and the working time directive, given the presumption that an employer is not paying the minimum wage unless he can prove the contrary.

One obvious further example of the need for co-ordination is in accommodation grading. One of the things trumpeted in "Tomorrow's Tourism" is that there is to be a new unified accommodation grading system, but it will harmonised, not unified. We will still be dealing with three organisations—the English tourist board, the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club will be working together—and there will still be different systems in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Sir Peter Emery

It is a nonsense.

Mr. Lansley

As my right hon. Friend rightly says, it is a nonsense, especially because people do not have to visit the United Kingdom. We must encourage them to come here, and make it easier and pleasurable for them to do so. If they find that the accommodation is not what they expected or they cannot anticipate what it will be like, they will not be attracted to this country. That is a further example of why we need to make things connect.

I was very disappointed by the response in "Tomorrow's Tourism" on training. From the very beginning, the document says that people are the key to how we can provide quality in the service industry. Although that is true, the document's exploration of training is weak. It is perfectly clear that, for the industry to be able to make its impact on, for example, training and enterprise councils and local training activity, there ought to be a national tourism training organisation. That is the only way in which sectors can have a strong voice and make the appropriate impact on local training decisions.

As a great devotee of and former incumbent of the British Chambers of Commerce, I should say that "Tomorrow's Tourism" pays far too little attention to the strategic desire for local partnerships to promote tourism activities. In America, for example, chambers of commerce and municipalities work very closely together on managing tourism activity.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for referring to partnership; I was waiting for that word to come up. To me and to the people who work in tourism and the hospitality industry in Scarborough and Whitby, partnership is the key word. In "Tomorrow's Tourism", the hon. Gentleman will find a clear example of effective partnership in my part of the world, which is developing hospitality in particular. We are looking at matters such as training, too. I urge him to look very carefully at our example. Does he agree that the industry will develop and be far better in the future as a result of such partnership?

Mr. Lansley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I saw the reference to Scarborough and Whitby. There are several very good examples of local partnership in the document, as there often are in tourism. The partnership between the Cambridge tourism group and Cambridge city council is another good example. That reinforces my point.

If one works towards a strategy that is based on good practice, one often finds that, valuable though the work of, for example, the East Anglian regional tourist board may be, the focus of action must be complementary to the visitor's view of the area. The Cambridge sub-region and Cambridge might therefore connect with Huntingdon, Cromwell and Constable country and the imperial war museum in my area. By and large, visitors do not visit East Anglia as a whole. Although seaside resorts such as Yarmouth are important, their marketing must be different from that for Cambridge.

Mr. Quinn

I agree with the hon. Gentleman up to a point. The people in the industry whom I represent have struggled for many years under Governments of both parties, and have concluded that establishing partnerships with local authorities and others in the area is the way to ensure that tourism thrives. Where did the industry in my part of the world go wrong over the past 18 years under the hon. Gentleman's Government? People in my area did not see an approach such as that suggested in "Tomorrow's Tourism". We did not receive any national help or hear of any national strategy, as he seems to be saying we did.

Mr. Lansley

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to revisit the past; I am talking about a strategy for the future. It is important that we focus on the future. It seems perfectly clear that if we built a strategy on examples of good practice and first principles, we would be putting more effort and power into the ability to create local partnerships, so that visitors are managed, and businesses—often small ones—can feel that they have an influence. A national body should provide a strategy and, through the BTA, marketing in England in order to attract visitors to local areas.

The Government have gone in the wrong direction. They are trying to shift the national role to regional tourist boards—the relationship between the ETB and the consumer and marketing is to disappear completely, for example—but such boards should be responsive to local action and be drawing their role from local communities and partnerships. The role should not be set from the top down.

The Government are obsessed with regionalism, but pursuing it for tourism is not what the industry is looking for—it is looking for effective overseas marketing co-ordinated by the BTA, for national champions to market and promote harmonised national products, and for power and resources to get behind local partnerships so that they can provide the visitor experience, visitor management plans and destination management systems which are able to work successfully at a local level.

It is right that the Government should publish a strategy document, but it is a pity that they have not sought to expose it to debate in the House. I therefore hope that this debate serves some purpose. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will propose further ideas on how to create a strategy where, at the moment, there is none.

10 am

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) introducing this debate on a matter that, as he rightly says, is of considerable national importance, given that the tourism industry contributes nearly 5 per cent. to our gross domestic product. Indeed, if one also takes into account the leisure industry, the contribution is probably considerably greater. I shall make one or two brief comments, the first of which has to do with the principle of joined-up Government. I very much supported the idea that responsibility for tourism should be moved from the Department of Employment, as it was at the time—it is now under the control of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire has pointed out, a great many of the visitors to this country come for our cultural heritage, historic buildings and royal palaces, and to experience many of our cultural activities.

That leaves me rather puzzled at the arrangement of responsibilities within the Department. For example, the Minister for the Arts is responsible for arts, crafts, music and the Government's art collection; for museums, galleries and libraries; for the built heritage, the royal estate and architecture and design; and also for the Department's interests in information technology, training and education. Training and education also play a big part in the tourism industry, but, as all those responsibilities tie in closely with that industry, one would expect that Minister's role to include tourism.

I mean no criticism of the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, but her responsibilities, in addition to tourism, include broadcasting, film and the press, and the creative industries. She supports the Secretary of State on the millennium project and she is responsible for international, European, regional and local authority policy issues. However, those issues do not tie in very closely with tourism. Given that tourism, appropriately, is allied with her Department, why is it that that alliance is not reflected in the allocation of ministerial responsibilities?

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire referred to the importance of tourism to the nation, but tourism's local importance varies greatly between areas. More than one third of the local economy in my constituency is derived from tourism. If one adds in the associated leisure activities, the figure could be around 50 per cent. Those proportions apply equally to many other towns and cities in the United Kingdom, where tourism is the lifeblood of the local economy, and not just an ancillary industry.

Therefore, it is important that the industry be encouraged in a way that is dynamic and creative. I am afraid that not many examples of dynamism and creativity are evident at present. My hon. Friend mentioned the funding given to the English tourist board, but British Tourist Authority funding is also vital when it comes to attracting visitors, and it has been cut under this Government. That is extraordinary, given that, for every pound that it spends, the BTA returns about £27 to the Exchequer. Britain is the fifth largest recipient of overseas visitors in the world, but the numbers coming here are well below those visiting Spain, France and Italy. Given our heritage—and how important that is for international tourism—that is not very satisfactory.

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

I apologise for intervening on what I recognise is Back-Bench time, but I must correct the hon. Gentleman. Is he aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced an additional £5 million for the British Tourist Authority over the next three years?

Mr. Butterfill

I am aware of that, but Library figures show that the amount available to the BTA went down last year, and that the increase, which is spread over three years, will do little more than keep up with inflation—so there will probably still be a real-terms cut in the amount being spent. The Government's approach is timorous where it needs to be much more dynamic. Last year's cut in the money for the BTA caused much anxiety across the industry, not least in the BTA itself.

The disparity between England on the one hand, and Scotland and Wales on the other was mentioned earlier. The ETB receives £9.9 million, but its counterpart in Scotland gets twice that, and that in Wales receives nearly £15 million. It is extraordinary that so small a country as Wales should be spending so much more on tourism than England.

I want now to deal with the question of value added tax. The Government have said that they are keen to harmonise VAT rates across the European Union, but VAT rates for hotels in this country are the second highest in Europe, which puts our hotels at a substantial disadvantage. In addition, air passenger duty means that visitors to the United Kingdom from outside the EU pay £20 to enter the country, while visitors from the EU pay £10. The Government doubled the air passenger duty last year: surely that is the wrong signal to give to visitors.

Mr. Quinn

What is the hon. Gentleman's opinion of the proposed reduction in value added tax for tourism and hospitality? Does he support that proposal? I do, as I believe that it will free up resources for reinvestment at the grass roots of our tourism industry.

Mr. Butterfill

As I have made clear, the present disparity between our VAT rates and those of other countries is not sustainable in the long term. In a moment, I shall describe the other ways in which we ought to invest in the industry, especially at a local level.

The question of raising standards has been discussed already, as has the extraordinary nature of the so-called semi-official classification. That helps neither overseas visitors nor domestic tourists. We need to work to some internationally agreed standard, so that people travelling here from around the world will have some idea of what they will encounter.

An even more difficult problem is posed by the cowboys in the industry—the small unregistered establishments that I believe ought to be registered. Some of them get away with murder: they do not pay their proper contribution in taxes, they offer substandard accommodation, and they gain all sorts of other advantages. For example, landlords of holiday flats in my constituency came to me recently to query the requirement—imposed on them because they are registered—that water meters be installed in the flats. In contrast, the cowboys in that industry, who are not registered, do not have to install water meters. The landlords to whom I spoke therefore have to bear an additional cost as a result of being registered. I urge the Government to clamp down, through local authorities, on those who often give the industry a bad reputation. Other legislation has also had an impact. For example, there is no doubt that the minimum wage is causing job losses in my constituency. An hotelier with three establishments in Bournemouth told me that the minimum wage will cause about seven full-time-equivalent jobs in his business to be lost. That is a great worry for him, as for many others in the same line of business.

Even more difficult is the working time directive. Very often it concentrates merely on the 48-hour maximum, but the real problem lies in the rigid shift patterns and break requirements that the directive imposes. All that sits uneasily with an industry that often operates on a 24-hour basis and must provide service to people who stay in hotels or visit clubs and restaurants. The industry works huge hours, and its shift patterns have been severely disrupted by the working time directive.

Bournemouth is one of the most successful seaside towns, and rightly so. Successive local authorities have invested in the town's future, building premises such as the Bournemouth International Centre, which can encourage different types of visitors from conference tourism. All local authorities must invest in the future if they want to survive and succeed. The country is littered with resorts that have not invested and have declined as a result.

At present, there is no real incentive for authorities to invest. There is no Government encouragement and there is no benefit. Authorities that do invest often face a disbenefit because the national non-domestic rate is clawed back in its entirety by the Government. Authorities end up paying for their investment, getting little or nothing back in return.

The Government might consider a mechanism under which local authorities could be rewarded for investment by being allowed to keep part of their national non-domestic rate, hypothecated for tourism. I appreciate that that idea falls outside the Minister's direct departmental responsibilities, but she may wish to consider it and to make representations to the appropriate Department.

The Government are obsessed with regionalism, but the existing regions unfortunately fail to reflect the true economic boundaries within which we operate. Bournemouth and Dorset are in the south-west region. We were moved there by a previous Conservative Government in an appalling act of vandalism. Bournemouth was snatched from Hampshire and thrust into Dorset.

We have no particular connection with the south-west. The road links from Dorset to the south-west are virtually non-existent, and the rail links are totally non-existent. All our connections are towards London and the central south coast region. My local authority and others along the south coast have developed the South Coast Metropole, which works together to market attractions and economic development. That is sensible, and we should have a central southern region that incorporates all the areas that sit together naturally.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that the same problem exists in other parts of the country. For example, Gloucestershire has far more in common with Hereford and Worcester than with what is termed the south-west, for which Cornwall and Devon are given priority and Gloucestershire loses out.

Mr. Butterfill

My hon. Friend makes precisely the point that I sought to make, although I was concentrating on my own constituency. Areas throughout the country feel that they do not properly belong to the region into which a Department of Government has thrust them. If the Government intend to pursue a regional policy, I hope that they will re-examine the regional boundaries to try to fix them on the basis of economic cohesion rather than by drawing inappropriate lines on a map.

10.14 am
Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

I am pleased that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has given us another opportunity to debate tourism. At one time, I thought that tourism debates were taboo, but we have had three of them since then.

The Government's long-awaited strategy for tourism has been published. I welcomed the establishment of a tourism forum that included many sectors of the industry and employee representatives, because only through consultation with the industry can we progress. The forum sets high goals. I agree that standards must be raised, so we must invest in the people who work in the industry and in our attractions. We must market effectively at home and abroad.

If we are to increase the tourism yield without damaging the environment, quality must be the name of the game. I make no bones about congratulating the Government on their decision to make the tourism forum a permanent fixture. The forum and the Government will together monitor the progress and assess the annual achievement of goals at a tourism summit. Continued monitoring by those who have real enthusiasm for the industry, and a great deal of expertise, is essential if we are to achieve our goals.

A national body is the only group that can effectively monitor international developments, despite changes in Scotland and Wales. The forum must take care to assess the best achievements of our competitors abroad. I do not mean that we should duplicate what they provide, but we should learn from them and match the quality of their facilities and service.

Both the tourist and the business traveller are becoming ever more discerning, and they demand good standards. Many of our hotel prices—especially in London—are high in comparison with those of Europe, the United States and Asia. We must ensure, therefore, that our standards of service and the quality of our facilities are improved and kept high.

Visitors should also be entitled to clarity and ease of understanding. The new national grading system for hotels and guest houses must achieve that. It should be simple to understand, and it should be implemented without delay. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House when she expects the programme to be achieved.

The tourism forum is very much in line with the Liberal Democrat call for a permanent tourism commission. Nine months ahead of the Government's strategy, we called for a joint Government and industry body, headed by the Tourism Minister. Its role would be to propose strategy, set standards and monitor achievements.

It is of paramount importance that the tourism forum and summits do not disintegrate into talking shops. I seek assurances from the Minister that agendas for the summits

will be wide reaching and that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will give priority and vigour to implementing recommendations.

For many years, successive Governments neglected to recognise how much tourism contributes to the economy. Governments must never forget that the industry is worth £53 billion a year, employing 1.75 million people, or 7 per cent. of the work force. It is more important, economically, point of view, than all the Department's other functions put together.

I cannot join those who oppose the minimum wage. I recognise that the cost of living is much higher in London than in, for example, the north-west, and I should prefer a regional minimum wage. However, I also accept that the minimum wage has, for the time being, been set fairly. For far too long, businesses in the tourism industry have suffered excessively high staff turnover because of low wages and poor prospects for training. There has been a vicious circle. Many businesses have traditionally paid low wages not because they wanted to, or because they thought it right, but because they felt compelled to do so because their competitors did so. Now, forward-thinking businesses will be able to retain and train their staff. Training and skill retention are the key to much of the Government's strategy to raise standards and quality.

I suggest that the Government go further by considering a proposal that businesses should give training to their staff—an investment in education and training—through the introduction of a 2 per cent. levy on payrolls. The training could be provided in-house, or by approved training providers. Small and new businesses would be exempt. Some pioneering businesses already provide in-house training above that level, and their success shows how advantageous it is in the long term.

In other areas, Government policy remains sadly lacking. Transport is a major component in the tourism product, and the tourism document suggests that hotels, shops and restaurants should be built near main transport routes. Does the Minister intend to have Stonehenge and the lake district moved? The very nature of tourism is that tourism-related facilities must be placed very close to attractions if they are to be used and so be viable. Much of our tourism product is based on our landscape and existing heritage sites, many of which are located in areas that receive little publicity and have few public transport facilities.

One of the greatest problems facing our domestic tourist industry is that our traditional resorts are declining. Through funding from the lottery, special regeneration budgets and European grants, it is gradually becoming possible to preserve and upgrade some existing attractions and to create new ones at those resorts. The funding is currently only a trickle, but I hope that the regional development agencies will concentrate on meeting the pressing need for funds.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

My hon. Friend raises an important point about the regeneration of some of our traditional seaside resorts, which currently have to cope with crumbling infrastructure and with being on the periphery, both geographically and economically. The danger is that many of them will become fixed-income economies unless more is done to boost economic activity. The debate has concentrated on foreign tourism, but less than 10 per cent. of tourists come from overseas. The problem for our seaside resorts is that most people in this country live within an hour of their regional airport, rather than their seaside resort. Will my hon. Friend urge the Government to do more to regenerate seaside economies?

Mr. Fearn

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The improvements that we have mentioned will be of no value if potential customers are prevented from having access to the resorts, most of which are located around the coast. Since the election, the Government's refusal to upgrade roads to the resorts has been a continuing problem. It would be an acceptable and even laudable policy if only public transport access to those towns were increased; sadly, no such improvements have materialised. It really is a case of putting the cart before the horse.

In my constituency, there is continued investment in infrastructure and in old and new attractions through the construction of the attractive new promenade, grants for the restoration of the pier and the new modern tourist entertainment site that is soon to be developed on the seafront. However, there has been no improvement in rail services or roads feeding into the area, despite our receiving more than 4 million day visitors per year. The story is the same throughout the country: even if resorts are developed, the congestion involving in getting to them and going home, which causes irritation and pollution, deters visitors from returning. Does that help or encourage the 40 per cent. of the population who do not even take holidays to visit our coast, or our attractive inland resorts and countryside?

I urge the Minister to ask her colleagues at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to rethink their current policies. I do not mean that they should tarmac everything in sight, but they should invest more in public transport that is geared to tourism areas and occasionally allow the placing of a strategic route to an unserved area whose economy depends on it. Reopening some of the excellent tourist rail routes closed by Beeching, such as the one that ran from Preston to Southport via the Burscough Curves, would be a real step towards making our railways a public asset once more; many such lines are still available for redevelopment.

The Government must do more to create the right economic climate for tourism to flourish. I have asked time and again what progress has been made in investigating the proposal to reduce value added tax on hotel accommodation to average European levels. That question has not been answered in the tourism document, or by the Minister.

Will the Minister vigorously fight the threat to impose air passenger duty both ways on internal flights in the United Kingdom? Tourism is the largest industry in Scotland and is essential to the economic future of Northern Ireland. As the great majority of international visitors to the UK arrive in London and then travel on within the UK, is not that tax an incentive to the tourist to stay in the London area, which already teems with tourists in summer? Surely, sustainable tourism involves encouraging visitors to spread throughout the country, rather than deterring them from doing so. The BTA and the BITOA are especially alarmed by that development and I ask the Minister to take the matter seriously. It cannot be handled by the new Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly, but must be dealt with here in Westminster; I urge her to support Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Finally, may I remind the Minister that, in spite of promises to do so, she has yet to visit Southport?

10.26 am
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

I shall be brief and raise only three points, as I know that other hon. Members want to speak.

The first point follows from the remarks about the south-west by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill). Although there are indeed concerns about the borders of the south-west, even as they stand, it is worth pointing out to the Minister that the south-west, with its infinitesimal amount of grant per head compared with that of Wales and Scotland, takes nearly double the number of tourists as Wales and Scotland combined. That cannot make sense. Along the whole Devon coast, tourism is almost, if not outright, the largest employer and biggest industry in seaside towns. Without tourism, there would be a major collapse of infrastructure in those areas, so it is essential that the Government pay greater attention to the creation of jobs in the tourist industry. We have not heard about job creation so far in the debate, and I urge the Minister to take that into consideration.

My other two points relate to upgrading. We must take positive steps to upgrade the standing of those who work in the catering and hotel industries. A chef in France is a person of considerable standing, but a chef in a hotel in Sidmouth is just a chef, because those who work in the tourist industry have no standing in their community. Many people come from Italy and France to work in hotels in this country, but I should prefer that we raise the standing in the community of such work, so that English people can take pride in working in the catering and hotel industry.

Mr. Quinn

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many young people perceive a career in hospitality and catering—especially the culinary crafts—as being an attractive prospect? That enthusiasm is owed in part to the phenomenon of the television chef. As well as good English people, we have good Scottish, Irish and Welsh people, some of whom serve up fantastic dishes in Scarborough and Whitby in Yorkshire—I urge the right hon. Gentleman to come and try them.

Sir Peter Emery

We are doing better—no one would suggest that we are not on the up slope—but in most of the seaside resorts the number of people with good qualifications is extremely limited, so I want the Government to do more to upgrade in that area of work.

My last point relates to the upgrading of the standard of food and food preparation. One of the great features of France is the Michelin guide and the fact that one can go to nearly any town or village within France—the same applies to Italy—and enjoy food of the very highest standard. Unfortunately, that is not the position in Britain. However, Egon Ronay, with great ability, has raised the standard of cooking and the status of the chef, and amazingly in London we have two three-star Michelin restaurants. That would not have been thought possible a few years ago.

One of the great pleasures for a tourist or a holidaymaker is to go to a restaurant and have a special meal of a high standard. The Government should pay much greater attention to upgrading the standard of food and the standard of restaurants throughout the tourist industry. If the Minister were to pay some attention to that, she would do well. I apologise to the hon. Lady because I may not be able to remain in the Chamber to hear her entire speech. Madam Speaker has a ceremony at 11 o'clock in the Royal Gallery and I have to be in attendance. I thank the Minister for paying attention to what I have had to say.

10.31 am
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to an extremely important debate about an extremely important industry. Indeed, it is the growth industry, as the Organisation for Co-operation and Development has indicated on many occasions. That applies not only to my area, the west country and especially Cornwall, but to the entire United Kingdom.

The trend towards a widening gap between support for the tourist industry in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the one hand and for England on the other has been apparent for a long time. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) may be forgiven for not recollecting what happened in the previous Parliament because he was not then a Member of this place. However, I thought I saw just now the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) in her place. Indeed, I thought that she got to her feet. I thought she said that she found this "deeply frustrating … differential funding" something to complain about and deplore.

I thought that the right hon. Lady was the Minister with responsibilities for tourism in the previous Government. I do not recall her making such a comment when I and many other hon. Members from other holiday industry areas complained about the widening gap. Indeed, the per capita figure, to which hon. Members have referred, widened dramatically during the period of the Conservative Government, to a point where mere pence were being used to promote the industry in important areas of England, while the pounds were increasing in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. During the right hon. Lady's period in office—if it was she who was here and not her ghost—the gap widened drastically.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the development of the Government's devolution policies have added a new dimension to the debate about the disparity in funding between the various parts of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Tyler

I do indeed. I hope that the Government will respond by expressing a clear view. I welcome sinners who repent; if the hon. Gentleman is saying that the previous Conservative Government were deplorable in this regard, I entirely agree with him. I hope that we can redress the balance.

In Cornwall, which is the holiday destination par excellence in the United Kingdom after London, we have had very little tourism promotion and we still have, as has been accepted in our bid for objective 1 status under European Union regional funds, the lowest household incomes in the country. We still have high levels of unemployment. Therefore, the promotion of the industry is extremely important.

I take up a specific point that was referred to briefly by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), and that is what he described as cowboys. I prefer to refer to them as pirates. I am talking about the differential in terms of costs and controls between legitimate real businesses and those who by various means escape costs and controls. This differential is widening dramatically. I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree—he made the point himself—that that is largely the result of controls and regulations introduced by the previous Conservative Government rather than since the general election.

For example, fire regulations dramatically ratcheted up costs. I do not understand why it is better for a visitor to be burnt in his or her bed when there are five bed places in the establishment than to be burnt if there are six or more. There must come a point where that differential does not make sense. As for health and hygiene, why is it better to contract food poisoning in a small establishment than in a large one? Surely that is something that we need to redress.

Trade refuse charges have been introduced throughout holiday areas as a means of trying to maintain a healthy local authority economy. Those charges impinge so much more heavily on legitimate businesses than on pirates. The uniform business rate brings about a dramatic difference between those who are registered as businesses and those that are not. As for value added tax, throughout the previous Parliament those of us who represented holiday areas were complaining about the lack of harmony, not only in terms of accommodation but in respect of all facilities. Having failed miserably to persuade the Conservative Government to take the issue seriously, I hope that the Labour Government will reconsider the matter.

All these matters differentiate between two separate groups. The pirates, as I describe them, evade extra costs. For example, they have more bed spaces than is legitimate and they manage to escape detection. They must be effectively monitored and then brought within the system.

However, now that the cost differential is so very great, we must find a way of bringing those who run perfectly reasonable, good small businesses, offering a welcome to their visitors, for example, within the system.

I think that there is genuine unanimity about the importance of the industry. I believe that all three parties are taking it a great deal more seriously than they did 10 years ago, for example. However, let us not forget that the trend has been against us for many years. Reversing that trend will require all the Minister's energies and enthusiasm, and those of many other Departments of government.

10.37 am
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) on securing this brief but important debate on the tourism industry. I congratulate him also on the characteristically thoughtful and articulate way in which he introduced the debate. He spoke of the things that really matter to those who are involved in the industry. He referred to its economic importance, which is not in doubt. He spoke of issues relating to transport, planning, sustainable development and regulation. These are the things which those in the tourism industry want to hear discussed in this place.

I thank my other right hon. and hon. Friends who have participated in the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) both made immensely worthwhile contributions based on long experience and knowledge of the tourism industry. I was particularly struck by the points that they made about the local importance of tourism to their constituents as well as the national importance of tourism, with which we are all familiar.

It is pleasant to see the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn), who alone represents Labour interests on the Government Back Benches. It is a pity that not more of his colleagues came into the Chamber to join in the debate. I had the opportunity of visiting Scarborough not long ago. I know how much work is going on in that town to support the tourism industry. I know, for example, of the transport problems that it faces. I will not embarrass the hon. Gentleman by reminding him of the Deputy Prime Minister's visit and the story of the bogus train ride.

Mr. Quinn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ainsworth

No. I do not have time to give way. We can talk about the matter afterwards, if the hon. Gentleman wishes.

Everyone in this place agrees about the huge economic significance of tourism. Since taking up her office, the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting has tried quite hard. She has a warm personality, but, unfortunately, that and warm words are not enough. I feel that there is growing frustration in the tourism industry. It is not only that the Department's budget for tourism is being cut by ¢2 million in real terms; there are growing concerns that most of the major issues that confront tourism are not being addressed.

We looked forward to the publication of the tourism strategy. Ten months overdue, and boasting the fatuous new logo of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, it appeared. However, it is not a strategy at all. Like so much else that emanates from the Government, it is designed to give the impression of busy activity, without committing Ministers to doing anything much, except attending the occasional summit. Publicly, the industry was lukewarm about the document, though others were more critical. Privately, those in the industry are angry at the wasted opportunity. They are angry that the document was bereft of useful national data and failed utterly to address their key concerns.

What are those concerns? The Minister may be told and may even believe that all is well. It is not. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire about the trade deficit. We heard about falling visitor numbers to the main attractions and our declining position in world markets. There are other problems—regulation, bureaucracy, planning constraints, licensing problems and transport gridlock. Those are the issues which we hear about when we listen to the tourism industry. Nowhere does the Government's tourism strategy document offer any hope or practical suggestions on those matters. The tourism industry is defending the front line against the Government's remorseless extension of bureaucracy and new taxes. Since I May 1997, the Government have introduced no fewer than 2,400 new regulations, many of which bear hardest on the tourism industry—for example, the national minimum wage. The problem for decent, hard-working people in smaller businesses is not the cost of paying the national minimum wage, as the overwhelming proportion of them do anyway, but the cost of administering it—the extra paperwork, the extra systems, the extra associated costs and the consequent lower profits, leading to less investment and fewer jobs.

For some, like members of the British Activity Holiday Association, who employ large numbers of younger people away from home on short contracts, the minimum wage spells possible disaster. I know that strong representations have been made to the Minister about the adequacy of the £20 accommodation off-set, and whether it will be increased or even maintained. I hope that those representations have not fallen on deaf ears, and I look forward to the Minister's comments on that in her reply. The activity holiday industry will be listening carefully, too.

Let us consider the working time directive. The tourist industry, more than any other, needs flexibility in its labour force. It is true that the majority of large corporations in this sector can absorb the extra costs of such measures. They do not want to do so, it will cost them many millions of pounds and it will mean fewer jobs, but they can do it. However, the majority of the industry is made up of small businesses, which can ill afford the extra costs of bureaucracy. The fixed on-costs of compliance in terms of extra clerical work, computer systems and so on are much the same whether a business is turning over £50 million or £500,000, but the burden is greater on smaller businesses.

The parental leave directive, the part-time workers directive, the working families tax credit and the child care credit all pile further costs on to an industry that the Minister claims to support. Then there is the Government's policy of fairness at work in the Employment Relations Bill currently under consideration. I wonder how many people running small hotels or restaurants are aware of what the Government have up their sleeve for them, such as compulsory trade union recognition for companies employing as few as 21 people, and parental leave proposals whose only social and economic effect will be to make it harder for women to get jobs in an industry that has traditionally led the way in providing employment opportunities for women, training them and promoting them.

Each and all of those measures are bad for the tourist industry, but the cumulative effect could be crippling. In the short term, it could drive many businesses out, and in the long run the Government are erecting enormous barriers to new entrants to the market. Does the Minister know that, while she goes around heaping praise on the tourism industry, her Government are busily erecting barriers to those dynamic new entrants who want to make it grow? In doing so, the Government are creating an underlying structural weakness in the entire industry, which it will take years to put right.

I have dwelt on the sins of omission perpetrated by the so-called tourism strategy. There is one sin of commission that cannot go unmentioned. It was touched on earlier. The Government's original intention was to abolish the English tourist board. No one asked for that. It was proposed as part of the Government's overall political agenda to do with the federalisation of England. Faced with enormous hostility from the industry, the Government at first dithered, then fudged. We are now to have an English tourism council.

The most striking feature of this new body is that, unlike its counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it will have no remit to market the country that it purports to represent. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that there will be no one to handle the 300 or so consumer and media calls each month that are taken at present by the English tourist board, and that there will be no one to answer questions about tourism in England. Does she expect that work to be undertaken by the British Tourist Authority? If so, will the BTA be remunerated for that? It is already closing offices around the world because it cannot afford to keep them open. Incidentally, it does an excellent job, as do the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland tourist boards, and many of the regional tourist boards.

The replacement of the English tourist board by a neutered central bureaucracy is a slap in the face for England. As the Minister knows, the chief executive of the English tourist board has resigned. He was a marketing man, who was brought in to do a marketing job. That job has been removed and he has gone. There is no chairman at present, either, so matters are being allowed to drift.

I say that England needs a voice. It is not surprising, but it is depressing none the less, that I increasingly hear people in the industry questioning whether they would be better off if they were sponsored by another Department. The answer to that, in my view, is that they would not. It is not a different Department that they need, but a different Government. They need a Department that will believe in them, that will act for them and that can carry clout across Whitehall. It is already abundantly clear that they will not get that from Labour.

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) on securing the debate on an extremely important industry, as he rightly said. That is why the Government produced the strategy that has been referred to frequently in the debate, and which I shall deal with later.

Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the world. As has already been said, one in five new jobs that have been created in the past 10 years have been in the industry. The Government estimate that it is worth £53 billion a year to the economy, and as we know, it employs 1,750,000 people.

Hon. Members have touched on various issues that are the responsibility of other Government Departments, such as VAT on accommodation—

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

What about joined-up government?

Janet Anderson

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government's strategy contains a proposal to do with joined-up government. For the first time ever, we shall have a tourism summit that will bring together Ministers from all Government Departments to discuss the needs of the industry. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me what his Government did to support the industry? I remind him that for the first time ever, this Government have a Minister with the word "Tourism" in her title. The previous Government were not prepared to give the industry such acknowledgement.

I see that the Opposition have belatedly set up a forum to consult the industry. In the course of producing our strategy, we consulted no fewer than 200 representatives of the industry. That is a record which the hon. Gentleman quite simply cannot match.

Many hon. Members have referred to funding and the disparities between England and Scotland and Wales. I am sorry, but I have to say yet again that the previous Government reduced funding for the English tourist board from £25.8 million in 1988–89 to less than £10 million when they left office. It is relevant to remind the House that the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) was parliamentary private secretary to the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) when she was Secretary of State.

We have heard much criticism and, first, the national minimum wage and the great burdens that it is putting on the industry was mentioned.

Mr. Butterfill

Although it is absolutely true, as the Minister says, that funding was reduced under the previous Government, this Government have continued that process. Funding for the English tourist board was £10.3 million when they came to power; they reduced it to £9.9 million. Funding for the British Tourist Authority was reduced from £36.5 million to £35 million. Even if the much-vaunted £5 million over three years is included, that comes to £40 million for the BTA by the end of that period. If the Government had simply put funding up by 3 per cent. on the figure that they inherited, the total would have been £41.08 million.

Janet Anderson

We would all like there to be more money, but what we do with what we have available is the important issue. There has been an increase in funding to the BTA, the ETB has been restructured and the new English tourism council has been set up. One reason for that—I will come to this later, if I have time—is to release more money into the regions. Would Conservative Members prefer that money not to go to the regions?

Mr. Ainsworth

Before the Minister moves on—and, I hope, moves away from her trip down memory lane—will she confirm that the departmental budget for tourism is being cut?

Janet Anderson

I do not want to repeat things over and over again, because we do not have that much time, but the hon. Gentleman knows that funding to support tourism has been increased for the first time in many years. Through our restructuring, we have made sure that there will be more money to go into the regions, and that has been widely welcomed by the regions.

May I quickly counter some of the criticism that we have heard this morning by quoting some of the comments that we have received about our strategy? The British Casino Association said: I write to congratulate you on the publication of 'Tomorrow's Tourism' which shows a cohesive approach to improving Britain's competitiveness as a world class tourism destination. The Holiday Care Service said: I was very pleased to see that the new Tourism Strategy which your Department published a couple of weeks ago highlights the way in which the industry can play its part in helping to create a fully inclusive society. CenterParcs wrote: Firstly, I don't want the launch of 'Tomorrow's Tourism' to go by without congratulating you again on the very considerable feat of having managed to get a very clear and focused strategy document from the many and quite disparate views held within the tourism industry. There are many more

Mr. Ainsworth

Will the Minister give way?

Janet Anderson

No, I will not give way again; I have given way several times and I want to get on with what I have to say.

Conservative Members have referred to the national minimum wage. I do not know whether they are aware that, on the day that the pay of 2 million employees increased as a result of the national minimum wage, a new independent report showed that companies in the sector most affected—the service sector—are experiencing expansion, not job losses as some predicted. I suggest that Conservative Members refer to the report of the Low Pay Commission and study it with care.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) has been helpful to me in my post as Tourism Minister and I compliment him on what has been happening in his constituency. Reference was made to lack of partnership, but, as my hon. Friend said, partnership is very much in evidence in Scarborough and Whitby and previously declining seaside resorts are going through a substantial period of regeneration. I congratulate him on his contribution to that.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) said that he did not understand the division of ministerial responsibilities in the Department. We have not only joined-up government, but a joined up Department as well. We speak to each other.

The hon. Gentleman referred in particular to cowboys in the industry; we want to deal with them. We also want to do something about quality in the industry. Only yesterday, I was consulting a group of hoteliers to see what we can do.

The reputation of the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) is well known and he knows the problems of the industry only too well. I will do my best to visit Southport soon. He referred to transport routes and to the lake district in particular. I invite him to keep a close eye on developments because, before too long and following consultations with my colleagues in other Departments, we will be making announcements to do with the lake district. The Cumbria tourist board has already put together its own business plan based on our strategy, "Tomorrow's Tourism".

"Tomorrow's Tourism", the Government's new strategy for the development of tourism in England, was developed with the help of Departments across Whitehall and with the co-operation of nearly 200 representatives of the industry. I will not set out the raft of initiatives detailed in the strategy, because we do not have time, but all are a first for any Government and such problems have never before been addressed by any Government. I say to Conservative Members that "Tomorrow's Tourism" will not be a "here today, forgotten tomorrow" strategy. It contains well-thought-out, genuine commitments to action and is a springboard to the future. It will remain the basis of our agenda for years to come. Unlike the hon. Member for East Surrey, we set up a tourism forum—some considerable time ago—which will continue and will be followed by a ministerial summit with Ministers from all Departments.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, who initiated the debate, said that there is no national training organisation for the industry. I reassure him that the Hospitality Training Foundation is the NTO for those in hospitality-related occupations. There is widespread recognition that the quality of customer service provided by the people employed by the tourism, hospitality and leisure businesses is crucial to success. That is why a working group of our tourism forum considered how the industry could improve the way in which it recruits, manages, motivates and equips its people with the skills that they need to provide excellent customer service. The objective is to build a more stable, appropriately-skilled work force for the future.

I invite hon. Members on both sides of the House to join in national hospitality week in June, and to initiate events in their areas to highlight the importance of the industry and the career opportunities it can provide for our young people.

Particular reference has been made to planning. As reported in "Tomorrow's Tourism"—I wonder whether some of the hon. Members who spoke in the debate have bothered to read it—the Government are researching how planning policy guidance for England can best facilitate leisure and tourism developments while achieving more sustainable patterns of development in travel. That research will be completed this year.

Concern, of which we are aware, has rightly been expressed about the burden of regulations on the industry. The forum and the summit will be considering that issue. There has also been much criticism of regionalism. We are creating the English tourism council—which will be a more effective, leaner national body for tourism in England—to focus on the national strategic framework rather than on provision of direct services.

Reference was made to the lack of national data; that will be one of the functions for the new strategic body. We will also ensure that all the regions of England can benefit from the future growth of tourism. A greater proportion of funding will directly support tourism in the regions and the new regional development associations will make tourism a key part of their economic development strategies.

Finally, I say again that the Government take the industry very seriously.

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