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House of Commons

Friday 24 June 1994

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]


Heathrow (Third Runway)

9.34 am

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : I beg to present a petition of 7, 335 signatures from the London borough of Hillingdon with the full support of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), who is in his place beside me, and in the interest of our neighbour my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson).

The petition of the London borough of Hillingdon, its residents and other interested residents in the surrounding area.

Declares that the blight in the surrounding area and the uncertainty surrounding the illustrative scheme contained in the RUCATSE report

by the working party to examine the need for runway capacity in the south- east of England

in addition to the unprecedented scale of environmental damage a third runway at Heathrow would cause is an unacceptable burden on thousands of residents.

The petitioners therefore request the House of Commons' early as possible outright rejection of Heathrow as an option for further runway capacity in the south-east, and certainly before the end of 1994.

And the petitioners remain your sincere servants.

To lie upon the table.

Leisure Industry

9.35 am

Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon) : I beg to move,

That this House congratulates the Department of National Heritage on its first two years ; recognises its contribution to the development of leisure in the United Kingdom ; calls for a continuing debate on the purposes for which the proceeds of the National Lottery should be used ; and expresses the hope that, in future, encouragement will thereby be given to the promotion of more active leisure pursuits.

This is the first time for a number of years that the House has had the opportunity to discuss the leisure industry in this country. I do not have to point out the importance of leisure to all of us. It is a major industry, employing some 1.5 million people--7.4 per cent. of the work force--with annual consumer expenditure running to £85 billion.

The Department of National Heritage spends just under £1 billion on promoting and supporting a variety of leisure-related activities but it is essentially a consumer-led private sector industry. All of us make decisions on leisure most days of our lives, and we spend on average £41 per household each week on leisure goods and services, or 15 per cent. of total household expenditure. I want to explore a number of issues that concern the leisure industry and, at

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the same time, review the role and activities of the Department of National Heritage, which has now been in existence for a little over two years.

It will also be appropriate to consider the likely impact of the national lottery, the proceeds from which will go largely into leisure-related activities and which could dramatically improve the quality of sporting, artistic and other facilities throughout the country. Lottery proceeds will significantly alter the balance between consumers and providers when decisions on spending are to be made and we shall have to be careful not to tip the balance too far towards provision which is of no interest to the general public, who are the ultimate consumers.

Having said that, however, I hope that the debate will focus also on the pursuit of excellence and on the encouragement of success. The nature of leisure and, therefore, of the leisure industry, is always changing. Spending on leisure is, of course, a function of disposable income. As that rises, there is more money for leisure.

Not surprisingly, low-income families typically spend only one tenth of their income on leisure, but that rises to more than a quarter for those on high incomes. Another significant trend is towards home entertainment of different kinds, brought on by the growth of television and video, with the result that leisure has become far more passive than it was. That has also led to the individualisation of leisure--towards what might be called the earplug society. We may have different views on the desirability of those trends, but they are largely technology-driven, and they would be extremely hard to reverse in a free society.

It is, therefore, appropriate to begin this review of leisure by considering the increasingly important area of television and video, which are the dominant features of home entertainment. Last year, a Gallup survey revealed that 53 per cent. of respondents regarded watching a good film on television as a good way to spend an evening at home, while 29 per cent. said the same about hiring a video. In contrast, 42 per cent. endorsed listening to music at home, and 40 per cent. reading a good book. Of those surveyed, 41 per cent. of males were attracted by the notion of a romantic evening at home, while only 38 per cent. of females felt the same. Similarly, 28 per cent. of males opted for cooking and eating in, whereas only 23 per cent. of females wished to join them.

It is estimated that the average television viewer spends three hours 45 minutes every day watching television--viewing figures are lower in the summer and higher in the winter. On average, people aged over 55 and housewives watch more than four hours of television each day. Television audiences are regularly estimated to account for between a third and a half of the population. Choice is steadily expanding for them.

The number of homes able to receive either cable or satellite television is rapidly increasing, especially as the £6 billion cable-laying programme reaches most major towns and cities, bringing 30 channels of television to each home.

In my constituency, more than 30 per cent. of homes are already connected to cable and, therefore, have access to satellite television. I have no quarrel with the principle of expanding choice. It is right that viewers should have access to a variety of programming, but quality is important, too. The number of hours that we spend watching television should also come under scrutiny.

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Quality comes from adequate funding and soon the Government will have to decide how that funding should be provided. It is hard to see how the BBC can survive in its present form without the licence fee, yet its inevitable decline in market share, coupled with the growth of subscription and pay-per-view television makes the BBC's position look increasingly anachronistic.

Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar) : I do not dissent from a word that the hon. Gentleman has said and I greatly respect his opinion. It would be within the rules of the House, however, if, at this point, he declared his interest as parliamentary consultant to British Telecom and Blick International (Communications).

Mr. Coombs : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding the House of what I suspect most hon. Members already knew, because it is in the Register of Members' Interests. I was unaware that it was necessary to declare such an interest, but if the hon. Lady feels better for having got that off her chest, I am happy to put it on the record.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : I should like to make a more constructive intervention. Is my hon. Friend aware that the point he made about the licence fee was the very conclusion reached by the Select Committee on National Heritage in its recent report ?

Mr. Coombs : I was, of course, aware of that. I always study the work of the Select Committee, even though from time to time I find it necessary to disagree with it. In a few moments, I shall mention another matter and it will be clear to my hon. Friend that I disagree totally with the Select Committee about it.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South) : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the advantages of the expansion of the medium of television is that it has given people in different parts of the country the opportunity to see programmes about our leading resorts ? Given that my constituency of Blackpool is one of the leading resorts of Britain, and the world, does my hon. Friend agree that there are now greater opportunities for people to see the beauties of Blackpool through the medium of television and that it offers unrivalled opportunities for low and high-income families to enjoy leisure and tourism ?

Mr. Coombs : I am not sure what I admire more--my hon. Friend's ready and excellent support for his constituents, who live in half of our premier seaside resort, or his ingenuity in turning my speech back to front. He has got to the last topic in my speech, while I am still trying to deal with the first one. I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend said.

I have no doubt that one of the contributions of television in the past 50 years has been to draw the population's attention to all the delights of Blackpool and, dare I say, those of other seaside resorts, although I hesitate to mention them since my hon. Friend is sitting close behind me. Now that I have dealt with all the pent-up feelings of hon. Members, perhaps I can continue where I left off. In the end, general taxation may be needed to support the BBC's continuance in its areas of excellence, such as news and current affairs. It is, however, facing increasing challenges to such coverage from its rivals, both terrestrial

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and satellite, just as Independent Television can match the BBC in drama and cultural programming. Pressure on advertising revenue from commercial radio and television and regional newspapers probably guarantees the survival of the licence fee in the short term. I hope that the Government will want to spell out a long-term vision, which is designed to ensure choice and quality.

It would be wrong to leave the vexed question of the future of television without paying warm tribute to the historic role of the BBC as a purveyor and supporter of arts and sport. For 68 years, the BBC has supported the Henry Wood promenade concerts. BBC Radio 3, now in healthy competition with Classic FM, continues to offer a classic music station unmatched elsewhere in the world.

The BBC's television and radio programmes win countless awards and its sports coverage of popular and minority sport is of uniformly high calibre. As we move towards the era of the information super-highway, when the interactive consumer will be all powerful, that commitment to excellence will be challenged increasingly. The growth of video recorders adds another dimension to the debate about home leisure. After less than 20 years, the video recorder is pervasive. Surveys reveal that 60 per cent. of the homes of the lowest 10 per cent. of income earners have video recorders. Video cassettes, whether bought, hired or previously recorded from television, have significantly altered the viewing pattern of those households that have worked out how to operate the recorders. The personal freedom that videos offer makes them an obvious target for the purveyors of pornography and violence. In the interests of children in particular, the Government will have to find a way in which to prevent exploitation and corruption from becoming endemic. It is in the nature of today's technology that freedom and licence are so nearly entwined.

The growth of videos should represent a wonderful opportunity for the British film industry, about which I shall say more later. Although Britons spent £9 billion in 1992 on television and radio, they spent nearly £5 billion on newspapers, books and magazines. The growth of television news, with its ability to provide rapid coverage of events, has imperceptibly altered the role of newspapers, almost to the point of making that description inaccurate. Newspapers now provide as much opinion and views as hard fact, with plenty of prediction thrown in. The aim seems to be as much entertainment as information, if not more, so gossip and speculation about the famous and not-so-famous compete for space in the endless circulation war. Freedom of the press is taken as read in this country, but there is also a role for responsibility. That is not a concept which comes readily to mind when one reads the pages of some national newspapers. Once again, the Government will have a tightrope to walk if they seek to balance freedom and responsibility. I suspect that some courage will be needed.

There has been a steady decline in the quality and quantity of reading matter in the home, particularly as a function of the rise of other forms of entertainment. The bestseller lists tell a tale of easy reading in preference to more stimulating material. The answer must lie with the promotion of the classics of literature in schools. Recent anecdotal evidence has not been encouraging and, among the young, the video game is king.

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Music in the home has become more and more the province of the compact disc. CD sales are rising every year, by 17 per cent. in 1993 and 27.3 per cent. in 1994--those are first quarter figures in each year--to 95.6 million in the first quarter of 1994, despite occasional ill-informed complaints about their price. I welcome the fact that record companies, both large ones such as EMI and smaller ones like Chandos and Conifer, have been able to expand their repertoire dramatically through more obscure areas of classic music to the encouragement of new, young composers and artistes in both popular and classic music.

The British music recording industry, which leads the world in its technical and artistic achievements, deserves our strong support, not the constant sniping based on ignorance which sometimes seems to be its lot. I, therefore, welcome the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the industry published yesterday, which clears it completely of the charge of acting against the public interest. The reverse is true.

I have mentioned the great popularity of eating at home. I only wish that the Department for Education would listen to the wise advice of the National Association of Teachers of Home Economics and give the teaching of safe, nutritious cooking a more secure place in the national curriculum, thus helping to reduce the incidence of food poisoning in the home. But I am, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in danger of straying some distance from my subject.

Staying in during the hours of leisure has become increasingly passive. We listen and we watch, but we hardly create. Few families do without television and radio, and even fewer make their own music or other entertainment, which I regret. Although chess has become increasingly popular in the past 20 years, culminating in Nigel Short bravely challenging for the world championship last year, families generally do less together than in the past. The Victorian stereotype of singing round the piano has long since gone in the vast majority of homes, which leads me to question whether this nation puts enough resources into teaching music in schools.

Even the noble art of conversation is now imperilled by the individualisation of leisure. Articulate speech is becoming harder to find, with phrases like, "you know", "I mean", and "sort of" used as substitutes for punctuation, and the redundant "actually" the favourite means by which infinitives are now split. Perhaps we need to reinvent the family. We certainly need to reinvent the art of communication.

Mr. Fabricant : Is my hon. Friend as horrified as I was to read in yesterday's newspapers that more than 44 per cent. of pregnancies in the United Kingdom are of single mothers ?

Mr. Coombs : I wish that I felt happier about the link between split infinitives and unwanted pregnancies. But, as I said to a number of hon. Members before the debate, this is an opportunity for people to talk about most subjects, provided that they are fun. I suppose that, on that basis, I must accept that intervention as being as helpful as it was clearly intended to be.

An honourable exception to the trend towards inactivity is gardening, which remains hugely popular, with more than £2 billion spent on it every year. I am obviously not alone in finding weeding therapeutic.

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The Department of National Heritage, together with other Departments of state, can and does influence a number of home-based leisure activities. Forthcoming pronouncements on the media will be of particular importance. However, in the wider world, the Department of National Heritage is a vital catalyst in the effort to provide better facilities and preserve our heritage. Ministers, however, have been content to hand over much of their power to influence events through the well-established policy of the arm's-length relationship with such bodies as the Arts Council.

While that arrangement has the considerable advantage that Ministers can deny responsibility when things go wrong, it is unsatisfactory for Ministers and, therefore, Parliament to be denied a say when mistakes are made. The recent fiasco of the so-called "beauty contest" for the London orchestras made the Arts Council look philistine and Ministers impotent.

The idea that London should be forced to surrender its position as the music capital of the world by the destruction of two of its world-class orchestras was appalling. I should like to think that the new Arts Council for England has completely abandoned such a notion, but can we be sure ? Can Ministers be sure ? One has only to look at the employment and earnings generated by each of those orchestras to judge the excellence of the return on the grants that they receive. Other European music capitals were aghast at what was proposed, and wait to see whether common sense and pride have now been restored. I hope that we shall not hear too much talk in this debate about cuts in arts funding. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Arts Council's budget increased from £152.4 million in 1988-89 to £225.6 million in 1993-94. In that context, the recent small reduction in funding should occasion careful thought, perhaps some tough decisions, but not the widespread hysteria which we have witnessed. I wonder whether it is sensible for Ministers to run the risk that others might implement reductions in ways designed to generate maximum distress.

The funding scenario is about to change dramatically. As we celebrate 10 successful years of the business sponsorship incentive scheme, which has produced £64 million in new money and 3,000 first-time business sponsors for the arts, all eyes are now turning to the potential of the national lottery.

A new advisory board will make far-reaching decisions on arts spending up to and beyond the next century. Glittering prospects are already opening up. Naturally, the House would expect me to say that the new concert hall for which many of my constituents in Swindon have long been waiting must be a strong candidate for funding. In the meantime, guidelines on funding have emphasised the need for matching funding and for longer-term viability. At one extreme of interpretation, one can see a time when every town will have its own arts facilities but insufficient funds to sustain them. At the other extreme, we shall see applications turned down amid general disappointment, because revenue funding cannot be satisfactorily identified and because the Arts Council's existing budget cannot be stretched far enough.

There must be a happy medium, based on the recognition that the Arts Council's budget should never be substituted for lottery funds. I suspect that it lies in recognising that, over time, the emphasis on lottery funds' disposal will gradually shift towards revenue support and

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away from capital formation. That may mean a slower rate of infrastructure creation, but there should be fewer funding crises at a later date.

Ms Mowlam : I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about revenue costs being a problem for many capital projects sponsored by the lottery, and none of us wants white elephants to continue until the turn of the century with money that has come from the lottery, but can he explain my worry that, if we accept some revenue costs, additionality battles with the Treasury, whoever is in Government, would be a problem ?

Mr. Coombs : Yes, I accept that there is always that risk. We have to live in the real world, and in the real world the Treasury is there, whether we like it or not. However, we have to look to the Department of National Heritage to ring-fence lottery funding and to look at the totality of the problem with regard to capital costs and revenue implications in the longer term. I am suggesting that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State should address himself to that. There needs to be a happy medium, which may mean a slower rate of infrastructure creation. A new generation of fine public buildings is all very well, but we need the quality of artistic performance to fill them with distinction. Similarly, I hope that the desirability of matching funding will not be too rigidly enforced. If it is, lottery funds will never reach some parts of the country, thus defeating what should be one of our objectives--to bring the arts within reach of all the people.

I need say little about the west end theatre, which remains a jewel in the crown of Britain's culture, but we should not forget the degree to which foreign visitors support it financially. Our actors, designers, writers and directors lead the way in musical theatre and drama, but we must remember how important it is to sustain the flow of overseas visitors to London by a positive attitude to tourism marketing. I shall discuss that later.

The position of the British film industry is perhaps slightly less satisfactory, but there are good grounds for optimism. We await the Government's review of the industry with the greatest interest. So soon after the 60th anniversary of Charles Laughton's first acting Oscar for Britain in 1933, it is appropriate to ask whether it is possible to revitalise the British film industry--after all, we should remember that cinema admissions in 1946 were 1.6 billion, and are now 113 million, albeit increasing by 15 per cent. in 1993. The answer must surely be yes.

It would require only a limited proportion of the lottery proceeds destined for the arts, channelled through the British Film Commission, to act as seedcorn for a revival of film-making in this country. We have the talent in acting, directing, and technical aspects to maintain a challenge for the Academy awards that is genuinely home based. Matching funding can be achieved with a more benign tax regime, and the seedcorn can then produce a harvest to match the palmy days of Alexander Korda and Ealing Studios. The recent success of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" should be enough to convince even the doubters what can be achieved.

Before discussing the prospects for British sport, I must mention the millennium fund, guidelines for the operation of which the Secretary of State set out in his speech this

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week, and draw to the House's attention the fact that London needs a new modern concert hall, preferably on the west side of the capital, to complement the Barbican in the east and the Royal Festival hall to the south. A building of suitable size, quality and accessibility would be an appropriate way to commemorate the millennium. I hope that such a proposal will emerge, just as the Royal Festival hall was a crowning achievement of the Festival of Britain in 1951. The new hall might even have a good acoustic.

Attendance at sporting events has been in general decline since the war, largely because television coverage of sport has become so pervasive and so good. New spectator sports have been created by television. Snooker and darts are two that come readily to mind, but the development of the instant replay camera has made armchair viewing and criticism of major sports such as football and cricket a far more attractive pastime.

In spite of that, stadiums in this country, especially in our cities, have been modernised, and new facilities to enhance growth sports such as athletics have been created in Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester and other cities. The football levy is helping to improve football grounds in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy and the Taylor report, but there will be scope for further improving regional and local sporting facilities with the proceeds of the national lottery. It should be our aim to seek an overall improvement in British sporting achievement, and I hope that the Sports Council will think carefully about how that is to be done.

I especially hope that the general presumption in favour of capital schemes will not militate against investment in human capital. This country produces many fine sportsmen and sportswomen, whose talent cannot be nurtured to the fullest extent because of lack of funds. I propose the establishment of a scholarship fund from lottery proceeds to help develop those talents on which the next generation of sporting success will be based. As a nation, we need to win more gold medals, more world championships, than we do. The Christies, Gunnells and Jacksons are too few and far between, outstanding as their contribution to athletics has been.

It is also a tragedy that there is no British participation in this year's football world cup. Other countries invest heavily in their sporting future. Why not Britain ?

The growing interest in keep fit classes, jogging and personal physical development, not to mention running and walking, is encouraging. Who could fail to be inspired by the sight of the annual London marathon getting under way ? Yet I wonder whether we should be worried about the fact that, for many people, such a race is more about personal times than about winning or beating other people. The move away from competitive sport in some schools is deeply regrettable and I fully support the efforts of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in that respect.

I mention to my hon. Friend, in passing, the possibility of inflation- indexing the Sports Council's financial memorandum guideline that requires Government approval for expenditure of more than £200,000 on capital works or £50,000 on policy research or monitoring. Those figures have not been increased since 1972 and now represent a restrictive curb on the council's activity.

The House should know that the Sports Council is extremely keen to foster excellence in UK sport. Through its £1.5 million grants to the National Coaching Foundation and through its support for sports science and sports medicine, it has done much to help sportspeople. Its

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national junior sports programme will, if properly integrated in the national curriculum, help to improve the prospects of British success in many sports. I know that the House would wish me to add that the grant aid given to the Sports Council should in no way be affected by the future availability of lottery funds.

There was great disappointment that Manchester's Olympic bid was unsuccessful, in spite of the efforts of Sir Bob Scott and the Prime Minister. Even so, Britain continues to be regarded as a leading sporting nation, full of good ideas and programmes.

I have spoken about the need to match funds with the proceeds of the national lottery. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will now clarify the position of the private sector. Is the private sector to be allowed to contribute to partnership schemes that might, in time, offer a return on investment to the national lottery fund ?

In the sport of tennis, for example, an organisation such as David Lloyd Leisure is keen to develop facilities, not just for profit, but because its founder hopes to find a future Wimbledon winner for Britain. Does the Minister want such a partnership to work in future ? Can he assure me that he is committed to the principle that the participation of young people in active sport, both in and out of school, is high on his agenda ?

We now have the means to provide the right facilities and we need the will to set them up. The figures suggest that more than half the population participate in some form of physical activity, but in organised participative sport the figures are much lower. That is the challenge which the House and the country should seek to meet. In the debate on sport that I initiated last year, I talked about the huge potential for tourism offered by the Manchester Olympic bid. I have already referred to the importance of overseas visitors to the success of London theatres, and the same is true of many other sporting and artistic facilities in this country, as well as the nation's built and national heritage.

In 1993, tourists made 19.3 million visits to Britain, during the course of which a record £9.1 billion was spent. That makes Britain the sixth most popular tourist destination in the world, after the United States of America, France, Spain, Italy and Austria. Other countries are constantly amazed at the relatively small amount of money we spend on the promotion of Britain as a tourist destination. The countries that I have mentioned spend far more than we do, as do many other countries that are far less attractive than ours. Germany outspends this country by five to one on overseas tourism promotion. Our limited commitment of public funds is justified on the ground that the tourism industry is so successful, but surely the question is whether public resources spent on advertising Britain in lucrative overseas markets would bring a return to the taxpayer. The answer in other countries is a resounding yes, and we should not rest on our reputation when there are jobs to be created and revenue to be earned in return for a modest additional outlay. I propose that the Department of National Heritage, in conjunction with independent organisations such as the Institute of Travel and Tourism or the Tourism Society, should conduct an urgent study of other countries' rates of return on overseas promotional advertising. Tourism stands to gain from four of the five elements of the national lottery's proceeds. I have already spoken about the arts and sport. The Millennium Commission will

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undoubtedly want to reflect on the international impact of the schemes that it will endorse. Similarly, the contribution of the lottery to the maintenance of our national heritage will be crucial to tourism.

The work of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England-- the headquarters of which, I am pleased to say, is now in my constituency-- and of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, which is known as English Heritage, does much to preserve and enhance the sort of Britain that visitors from the world come to see. The lottery can significantly enhance our ability to restore and preserve the built heritage of Britain, as well as its museums and galleries. But what about those parts of the heritage that are still in private hands and are so excellently represented by the Historic Houses Association ? Is the Minister willing to see funds made available to the owners of the great houses, castles and palaces of Britain on appropriate terms ? If not, we may find ourselves contributing to a form of creeping nationalisation, which would be wrong.

I know that the Treasury has been reluctant to alter the tax regime to enable the owners of historic houses to maintain their properties more readily, but lottery proceeds could do much to overcome that handicap by adding to the £200 million per annum that the Department of National Heritage already spends.

I offer my congratulations to David Beaton and the staff of the Historic Royal Palaces Agency for the great progress that they have made in the past five years, when there have been steadily increasing visitor numbers and profitability. I hope that other visitor attractions will follow the excellent example of the Victoria and Albert museum and open for longer hours on Sundays. It is sad that an important national treasure house such as the national gallery does not open on bank holidays.

The contribution of tourism to our national heritage, arts and sport is enormous. The British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board are constantly engaged in the task of promoting events in Britain to potential overseas visitors. The London arts season in February and March of this year was marketed in Germany, Spain, Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Ireland, the Nordic countries and Switzerland at an overall cost of £1.25 million.

Visitor inquiries and numbers were dramatically influenced by that expenditure and the latest estimate, which can as yet be merely anecdotal, is that many millions of pounds of extra business came to London as a result of the outlay of £1.25 million.

With more resources, much more could have been achieved, but I pay tribute to the fact that the British Tourist Authority has been able to recycle money--as much as £1 million--to overseas promotions in the past year. That has made an enormous difference to the number of inquiries coming to BTA offices in North America, where the increase in inquiries has been as much as one third--from 750,000 to 1 million in the past year.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, especially as his speech has been such a thoughtful tour d'horizon of the tourist industry. Will he consider the total resources that we spend, via the British Tourist Association and individual tourist boards ?

Will he consider the fact that the BTA promotes British industry in, for example, Boston in the United States, while

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the Wales tourist board promotes Wales ? Would it not be better for the British Tourist Association to promote the United Kingdom ? It is important that visitors come to the United Kingdom-- it does not matter where within it. Will my hon. Friend consider whether our resources are being spent as wisely as possible ?

Mr. Coombs : I have the greatest sympathy with what my hon. Friend sayhs. He is right ; we should be in the business of promoting the United Kingdom plc in any way that we can. I know that my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary is keenly aware of that, as we have debated it more than once. I was proposing to spare him another onslaught on that issue this morning, partly in the interests of allowing one or two other hon. Members to participate in the debate before 2.30 pm. If my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) will forgive me, I shall not go into that subject in detail. If he has the chance to make his own speech, he can press the Minister on how best to promote all the United Kingdom, not just England--or, indeed, London--to those lucrative overseas markets that I mentioned, in the far east, America and some of the emerging nations elsewhere.

The London arts season has been a tremendous success as a result of the extra finance provided by the BTA and the ETB. The opening of the channel tunnel offers the prospect of a huge increase in visitor numbers. We can make a parallel with the case of Austria, where the recent changes in eastern Europe have resulted in the opening of the borders with the east-- the former Czechoslovakia and Hungary. That led Austria to leap up the international visitors' table from seventh to fifth place in four years. I have no doubt that the opening of the channel tunnel gives this country the best opportunity in a century to increase the numbers of visitors to these shores.

We need to encourage visitors to travel beyond London, to discover the other England which has so much to offer : a friendly welcome and, possibly, less congestion. Tourism in Britain will benefit from continuing improvements in road and rail links, from more budget-priced hotels and from a greater willingness by those in the industry to learn and speak the languages of our visitors--especially French, German and Japanese.

A well-trained work force must be the central focus of Government policy in the next few years if Britain is to sustain its share of world tourism. The "welcome host" customer service training scheme, developed by the national tourist boards, should be supported by every training and enterprise council in the land.

The Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that there remains a strong case for giving more help to the private sector in the form of grant aid. Almost all the resources disbursed by the Department of National Heritage go to public sector bodies ; the private sector benefits only indirectly.

Grants given under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 offered useful assistance to the private sector, but have now been discontinued. Small hotels and boarding houses benefited from extra bathrooms and renovations in a way that is no longer possible, yet the need still exists. If one or two of my hon. Friends who represent

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seaside resorts manage to catch the Chair's eye later today, I am sure that they will want to emphasise that point strongly. The whole industry would welcome any sign from the Minister that he is sympathetic to this point. After all, such small establishments continue to bear the brunt of the excessive regulation which the Minister is pledged to reduce and of the anti-competitive effect of VAT at 17.5 per cent., which hoteliers and others feel puts them at a disadvantage vis-a- vis their rivals in other European countries, where the tax is as low as 5 per cent.

The vast potential of the British tourist industry needs to be more effectively recognised by the Government. The industry repeatedly calls for a designated Minister for tourism, but a clearer sign of the Government's understanding would be a commitment to additional funding for overseas promotion, stimulation of more holiday taking by the British in Britain and more help for the widely fragmented private sector--the small, self- employing businesses on which the industry significantly depends. There is no more exciting challenge for the Department.

During the short lifetime of the Department of National Heritage, the many different bodies under its aegis have been drawn together. Links between regional tourist boards and regional Sports Council offices have been encouraged. In the west country, the tourist board has produced joint strategy policy statements with the Sports Council south-west, South-west Arts and the area museums council. Other regional bodies have followed that lead. Similarly, the access initiative has been developing ways in which more people can gain access to sports and leisure facilities.

I have heard criticism of the mere fact of the existence of the Department of National Heritage, but the evidence is clear : it is beginning to make a worthwhile impact in a number of areas by acting as a catalyst and by making the sum greater than its parts. The advent of the lottery proceeds will be the greatest shot in the arm that United Kingdom leisure has had in 100 years--if we use them wisely.

I should like to think that a major policy objective for the future will be the promotion of active sport, and of participation in sport and the arts by a much larger proportion of the population. I hope that the Minister will feel able to respond positively to the suggestions that I have made on this and other matters, and that, ultimately, the whole nation will benefit from this Department's important work.

10.24 am

Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport) : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in this important debate. Unfortunately, I have important engagements later in my constituency. As my hon. Friends know, I am punctilious about ensuring that I look after my constituents' interests. I, therefore, apologise to the House for the fact that I shall have to leave in a couple of hours' time.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough) : Does my hon. Friend intend to speak for that long ?

Mr. Banks : I shall try to leave my hon. Friend a little time in which to make his own speech.

Column 467

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs), in an excellent and thorough speech, rightly referred to the statistics that show that 19.3 million visitors spent about £9.1 billion in Britain and that Britain is the sixth most visited country in the world. All too often, our leisure and tourism industries are not given the credit that they deserve, but they are a vital source of employment for many people and they are important to our balance of payments. Those industries rank high among the top 10 employers in the British Isles.

I wish to refer to several of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon. I agree with what he said about section 4 grants and I hope that the Minister will feel able to express some sympathy with my hon. Friend's comments. I certainly think it unfair that the leisure industries of Scotland and Wales have been able to take advantage of those grants for quite some time now, whereas hoteliers south of the border have not. I understand the reasons behind the decision to discontinue the grants some time ago ; nevertheless, I think that no area of the United Kingdom should be disadvantaged in the way that England is.

My hon. Friend referred to the importance of transport links with the tourism areas and resorts of this country and I agreed with what he said about them. Recently, the Secretary of State for Transport made an announcement about the roads programme. I was pleased to note that some of the road schemes might have dropped off the Department's list, but did not, were links with tourist resorts. I was especially pleased that the Scarisbrick and Pinfold bypass linking my constituency with the national motorway network remains in the programme.

I welcomed my hon. Friend's comments about reappointing a Minister with specific responsibility for tourism. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State, who has had to look after a long list of responsibilities since arriving at the Department. I am convinced that it would be possible to remove a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry and send him or her to the Department of National Heritage. Two Ministers are not enough to look after the diverse portfolios at the Department of National Heritage.

I know that the Minister had a useful meeting recently in Aberdeen with the British Resorts Association. Hon. Members will know that the BRA's headquarters is in my constituency of Southport. I should like to touch on some of the issues raised at the BRA's last meeting because that important body helps to engender greater co-operation between the Government, local authorities and the private sector. Such co-operation is becoming paramount and I hope to give one or two examples of how it is promoting tourism and will lead to further important developments in tourism infrastructure throughout the United Kingdom.

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