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Mr. Clifton-Brown : Does my hon. Friend welcome the fact that, for the first time in the distribution to local authorities via the standard spending assessment system, specific reference has been made to the number of day visitors and that that is helping areas such as his and mine which receive large numbers of tourists ?
Mr. Banks : That is my first substantive point and I am about to deal with it. My hon. Friend is entirely right and I welcome the introduction of an allowance for day visitors in the standard spending assessment for local authorities. That is long overdue and Conservative Members welcome
Column 468it. It is time to lay down a marker for the SSA because it is not a case of thus far and no more. We need to look at the definition of a day visitor ; that is crucial to the issue that my hon. Friend mentions. I support a formula increase from one sixth to one third of a resident for 1995. I also want to see a tighter definition of the term "day visitor", because that will aid British resorts. The BRA lobbied the Minister on that issue on 17 June, when it made it clear that it would be prepared to provide supporting statistics, costs and information. I have every confidence that the information that it provides will not fall on deaf ears and I look forward in the not-too-distant future to an increase from one sixth towards one third for which local authority representatives and others have been asking.
One of the greatest concerns of some of my hon. Friends who are in the Chamber relates to hotels changing to hostels. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) has expressed concern about the issues of Department of Social Security money being limited, the number of people who stay in our resorts and the changing nature of our resorts. I am reminded that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), who is in his place, and some of my other hon. Friends take a similar view.
We need a clearer definition of the word "hostel" and hostels must have a proper licensing scheme to ensure that standards of management, safety and insurance are improved. I do not propose to develop that theme now, because to do so would take us wide of the matter under discussion. However, I have put down a marker to the effect that it is vital not to allow, by default, the nature of our tourist resorts to change.
Mr. Sykes : I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. He is not straying wide of the matter being debated, because the preservation of our resorts as jewels is important to the leisure industry. I, therefore, urge him to continue on that line.
Mr. Banks : It is difficult to refuse such an invitation and I know that if I stray wide of the mark you will bring me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend will shortly have an opportunity to make his own speech and deal with the issues that are important to him. I shall tackle those that I wish to deal with. I hope that the Minister will support the marker that I have laid down, although I dare say that there will be some resistance, especially from the Department of Employment, to my suggestions on planning and licensing.
Two areas of concern are the single regeneration budget and European reconstruction and development funding. It is right to express concern about the failure to recognise the economic value and impact of tourism projects. The evaluation process for those funds has been too heavily weighted in favour of industrial rather than tourism projects. I hope that the Minister will exert pressure, as I do, on his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment to adjust the selection criteria to give tourism projects a better chance of success. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon said, tourism and leisure provide a considerable number of jobs and, hitherto, the industry has not been given the credit that it deserves as a major employer.
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North) : Would my hon. Friend care to suggest to the hon. Member for Redcar
Column 469(Ms Mowlam) that she should talk to the Labour group in the European Parliament, which has consistently opposed tourism being classified for objective 5b status ? Is that not disgraceful ?
Mr. Banks : I agree with my hon. Friend. The hon. Lady, who is in her place on the Opposition Front Bench, will have heard his comments and I hope that she will act positively on them. We recently had European elections. The Labour MEP who has represented Merseyside, West for some years, managed to drop into my seaside resort constituency, which is in his constituency, for the first time in about a couple of years when no elections were taking place. I regret the total lack of interest in tourism of some socialists in the European Parliament. Tourism is undervalued and it is time that they did something about that.
I hope that the Minister will agree that the industry bias should be changed slightly so that tourism and tourist projects will have a better chance of success. I hope that, as I have suggested, he will press other Departments to change the evaluation process for tourism bids and recognise that such projects have a significant impact not just on my resort, but on others throughout the United Kingdom. For different reasons, the quality of bathing water is an important and sensitive subject. My hon. Friends and colleagues in the leisure industry will stress the importance of there being no delay in the private water companies pressing ahead with their programmes with the utmost vigour so as to satisfy the requirements of the European Union directive. I know that the Minister also wishes to see that happen. It is significant that, since the advent of privatisation, North West Water plc in my part of the world, in the north-west, has been able to find the necessary £85 million to reinvest in a new sewerage system which will prevent sewage drifting out into the Irish sea on days when there is heavy rain. That investment work is almost complete and will mean a significant improvement in bathing water quality in Southport and surrounding beaches. It is important to stress that many beaches, especially in my area of the north-west, are particularly clean and the Ainsdale beach received a Tidy Britain award last year. I know that Ministers have agreed with the British Resorts Association that we should continue to be active in that respect and I welcome the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Minister that there should be regular, possibly thrice- yearly, meetings with representatives of the BRA in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon mentioned the national lottery. I agree very much with his comments about the advisory board and I especially liked his idea of a scholarship fund. We want to see more of the Christies, the Gunnells and the Coes, as he suggested. Did I say Coes ? Perhaps I should have said Jacksons, but my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) certainly deserves mention, too. The Minister has stated in the past that tourism projects would not be eligible for money from the national lottery. However, I hope that when he replies to the debate he will take the opportunity to make it clear, as I believe that he should, that it will be possible for projects such as those in the arts, for cultural or sporting matters, or for built environment projects such as the renovation of historic piers such as the one in my
Column 470constituency of Southport, to benefit from money from the national lottery. It is important that my hon. Friend the Minister should draw up advice and guidance for the national lottery to encourage applications that would have an important tourism impact. I should also like to comment on compulsory competitive tendering for entertainment services in local authorities. While I can see advantages in compulsory competitive tendering--certainly in a number of areas on which the Government have embarked in recent years, which has led to greater efficiency and services being provided at less cost to the council tax payer--it is now time that my hon. Friend and other Ministers made clear their intentions as to whether there is a timetable. If there is a timetable, what is it and how do the Government intend to proceed on the matter ? What is the latest position ? Shall we be legislating on the issue ? That is important and local authority representatives would welcome advice on it. My hon. Friends have already mentioned the question of tax. I am very much aware that, right across the board, Britain's hoteliers are subjected to a 17.5 per cent. tax regime. In other countries in the European Union, there are varying taxes affecting different parts of the industry. While I recognise that we are unlikely to be able to reduce particular taxes, if only because of European law, I hope that it will be possible for my hon. Friend the Minister to join me in expressing the view that we should not add to the existing tax burden on the tourism and leisure industry and that we especially do not want a tourism or bed tax.
I know that a number of my hon. Friends wish to catch your eye this morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall draw my remarks to a close. In so doing, I shall highlight what I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks : the importance of partnership between Government,the private sector and local authorities. My constituency of Southport is a classic example of what can be achieved if there is a positive framework of co-operation. I am delighted that during the time I have been a Member of Parliament the Southport sea front redevelopment proposals have pressed ahead with the utmost vigour. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, some £310,000 of pump-priming money got that multi-million pound project off the ground. That shows what can be done, and I know that some of my hon. Friends also bat very hard for their constituencies. We received the £310,000 for Southport from the urban partnership fund. Although my constituency is part of an authority in the inner area, the constituency itself is not and, as my hon. Friend the Minister knows, a considerable amount of arm-twisting went on behind the scenes and I am especially grateful for his support and the support of Ministers in other Departments. I hope that we shall be able to see further Government support for the development of the much-needed sea wall defences in Southport, because without it we shall not be able to see the important public-private sector initiative of the Redelco plc development, which is vital to the future of Southport. I pay tribute to Mr. Phil King, who was chairman of the officers advisory group of the BRA and is manager of the tourism and attractions department of the metropolitan borough of Sefton ; he is based in my constituency and has done sterling work, as have his colleagues in the BRA. The debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon is a vital opportunity to which we should all contribute. I regret that, with the exception of the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), there are no other
Column 471Labour Members and no Liberal Democrats in the Chamber to contribute to the debate. However, looking around the Conservative side, I am delighted to see that British resorts and the city of Chester are represented and that my hon. Friends the Members for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) are also here to bat for the British leisure industry.
Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough) : Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) : Opposition Members are all in Wimbledon enjoying the sunshine.
I am grateful to be called in this important debate and especially to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs), who gave a well- versed and well-thought-out speech, and my wise hon. Friend the Member for Southport. My constituency is well known to hon. Members. When I first became the Member for Scarborough in 1992, I was pleased to note how many hon. Members knew that Scarborough was England's first resort. In a host of ways, our town remains so, although our local economy has diversified. Apart from its craggy 45-mile coastline, we may all also boast some of England's finest countryside--the wild, rugged North Yorkshire moors and the valleys forged millions of years ago by ice-age glaciers, which left in their wake the notoriously unstable boulder clay on which the unfortunate Holbeck Hall hotel foundered a year ago.
Scarborough and Whitby are thriving towns and world-class resorts and the leisure industry forms a major component of our livelihood. People choose particular holiday destinations partly according to whether they are easy to reach. That is exactly how it has always been. Our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors knew that the considerable charms of Scarborough and Whitby were within easy reach by virtue of the most up-to-date communication system that human ingenuity had devised--the railway. With royal patronage, too, my constituency prospered and continues to prosper to this day because of the railway.
I attach the greatest importance to the railways. The Esk valley railway is not only a link to Whitby for surrounding villages, but a link for Teessiders and Tynesiders intent on having a good holiday. I am vice- president of the North Yorkshire Moors railway and I yearn for the day when, instead of stopping altogether at Grosmont, the trains continue into Whitby and bring with them an extra 300,000 visitors a year. I acknowledge, too, the importance to Scarborough of the service to York, to West Riding and to Manchester airport and beyond. There are 17 trains a day during the season--except, of course, when it suits the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. One can only guess at the precise effect that the two strikes so far have had on the leisure industry, those whose holidays were disgracefully disrupted and the nation at large. We can only wonder at the posturing of Opposition Members caught with their trousers down, so to speak, in the midst of probably the most boring leadership election in parliamentary history. Perhaps they are in need of counselling, like many of their febrile colleagues in the BBC--or perhaps not.
Perhaps one should refer instead to last Friday's Hansard to obtain a clue. By chance, I have a copy with
Column 472me. An important debate on competitiveness was in full spate--a subject as vital to the leisure industry as any other. I questioned Labour's Front-Bench spokesman--who, incidentally, prefers to be known as a spokesperson--on the rail strike, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler). The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) made a brilliant response. I pay tribute to him. He told the House in one sentence Labour's new industrial and leisure policy.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. The hon. Gentleman is beginning to stray. I shall be grateful if he will stick to the subject of the debate.
Mr. Sykes : I am guided by your wise advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, perhaps the House would be interested to know how Labour's Front- Bench spokesmen viewed the rail strike, because, as he knows, communications are important to the leisure industry.
Mr. Sykes : Can I coax the hon. Lady out of her closet ?
Ms Mowlam : I am not in a closet. I am seated on the Front Bench.
Mr. Sykes : It remains the case that Labour Members are timorous supplicants to the trade union movement.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : The hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) says that she is female. Does she now wish to be referred to as "a spoke"--like "a chair ?"
Ms Mowlam rose
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Let us proceed with the debate in a serious way.
Mr. Sykes : Fortunately, these days the railway is not the only means of transport. The A64 is one of the principal routes to Scarborough and Whitby, along which the majority of our visitors travel. It is a bad road, being busy and dangerous. For much of its length past York, it is single carriageway. I will share with the House the experience of holidaymakers during the Whitsun bank holiday. The Scarborough Evening News reported :
"About 6.30 pm yesterday, Radio 5 Live singled out just two roads to avoid- -the A64 and the A1 in North Yorkshire.
AA Roadwatch said cars were stacked up all morning from York to Scarborough, and then again for more than four hours in the opposite direction last night.
Among the worst-hit areas was Whitwell-on-the-Hill, where traffic was reduced to a virtual standstill during much of the evening." Since the 1930s, the authorities have planned to upgrade that road to a modern dual carriageway. It was believed that a scheme was imminent and a preferred route in place, until the Department of Transport put it on the back burner.
I want that road, and I want it as soon as possible, not just because I am the constituency's Member of Parliament but because I am a manufacturer in the area ; I declare my interest in that regard. I discovered that the Department has three possible reasons for delaying the scheme-- environmental, economic and strategic. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is also the Member of Parliament for Salisbury, so I was able to reassure him on environmental grounds--that no Stonehenge straddles the preferred route and that no colony of lesser-crested newts or of Greenham common women nests there to prostrate themselves before the excavators and halt progress.
Column 473Having satisfied myself on environmental grounds, I looked for economic reasons for delaying the scheme, but in vain. The preferred route is efficient. Much of it travels through the Vale of Pickering, which is level ground--a construction engineer's idea of heaven throughout the ages. It shadows the 19th-century railway that gave Scarborough its present-day prosperity.
The cost to the community of accidents--quite apart from the immeasurable loss of human life itself--is huge and would pay for two of the major schemes in one section alone in two years. The construction of that road would improve and sustain the wealth-creating and, by implication, tax- paying manufacturing, service and leisure sectors, which are already a considerable source of employment on the east coast.
That has already been recognised by the European Community, through our objective 5b status, thanks to Edward McMillan-Scott, our newly re-elected MEP. A number of my hon. Friends have also played their part. The dualling of the two sections would represent good value for money.
Having ruled out environmental and economic objections, I was left with strategic objections. Scarborough and Whitby are world-class resorts with their own economies which depend not only on tourism but on manufacturing, service industries, fishing, farming and people who wish to enjoy their retirement. We must compete for our customers with the best of the rest. We do not mind that--in fact, we thrive on it.
I decided to consider how Scarborough and Whitby compared strategically with other resorts. I took an up-to-date road map and made a survey of all major resorts in England and Wales, comparing their proximity to a dual carriageway or motorway. I tabulated them, starting with the nearest and ending with the resort farthest away. I was astonished and upset by the result.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) will be pleased to hear that Blackpool was at the top of the list. It is nil miles from the nearest dual carriageway, as are Brighton, Bournemouth, Colwyn Bay, Conwy and Margate. Cleethorpes is only two miles from a dual carriageway. Ramsgate, Bognor Regis, Morecambe, Clacton-on-Sea, Southport and Eastbourne are all within easy reach of one. Last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) told me that Eastbourne has just been given £25 million by the Department of Transport to upgrade the main road right to his back door. Imagine how upset I was to read that Scarborough shared joint bottom place with Minehead and Ilfracombe in its proximity to a major motorway network--40 miles away from the nearest continuous dual carriageway. England's fourth most important resort shares joint bottom place with Ilfracombe, which has a population of 9,000.
Mr. Fabricant : As my hon. Friend knows, I have experienced the road from York to Scarborough a number of times. Its status is most unfortunate, as Scarborough is a beautiful area to visit. Does my hon. Friend agree that Yorkshire in general is disadvantaged in its roads system ? Perhaps that is the reason why fewer visitors come to Yorkshire and why tourism is centred more on the south of England.
Mr. Sykes : People will visit Yorkshire for many reasons, not least for the welcome and hospitality that greet them when they arrive. Many people think that we have a good road system, and we do--I just wish that that particular scheme could be brought forward. My constituents can knock spots off the competition. As we approach the 21st century, road usage is bound to leap, regardless of what the "antis" say, so time is not on our side. Even if the Government gave it the green light today, the new road could not be used until 2005. I do not begrudge any hon. Member a road scheme, but it has been galling to hear a number of hon. Members complain about schemes proposed for their constituencies. I beg my hon. Friend the Minister to persuade the Government to reconsider the case for an early start on the dualling of the A64.
Mr. Matthew Banks : While I am deeply envious that Scarborough has considerable rail links to Manchester airport, which Southport does not, I feel that I must point out that my hon. Friend's genuine modesty forbids him from telling us that, as a result of considerable lobbying on his part, the scheme to which he referred has not completely dropped off the Department of Transport's programme. The dual carriageway will be constructed as a result of my hon. Friend's pressure, if not as quickly as he would like.
Mr. Sykes : At the same time that parts of my constituency are disappearing, I am glad to agree with my hon. Friend that the scheme itself has not entirely disappeared but has perhaps been put off. As a Member of Parliament, I regard it as important to do my best to ensure that road is built sooner rather than later.
One reason for one's choice of holiday destination is whether or not it is easy to reach. Another reason why visitors come to Scarborough and Whitby is quite simply that my constituency is a nice place to visit. The hoteliers and landladies are renowned for their hospitality and the warmth of their welcome--even for Lancastrians. They work long hours in the service of their guests and are always cheerful. There is plenty to do and much family fun to be had, along with the best possible value for money.
Incomparable scenery and a remarkable heritage combine to povide a holiday to suit all tastes. It is possible to sail from Whitby and see little that one's 19th-century counterpart would not have seen. Captain Cook set sail from Whitby in the 18th century to discover Australia ; if the health and safety people had been around then, he would still be in Whitby harbour today.
The Yorkshire Television series "Heartbeat"--a wonderful programme--is set in the glorious North Yorkshire moors. As the Yorkshire Post reported only yesterday, the area is achieving world fame among tourists and film crews alike. Let me make a special plea for the authorities to try their best to preserve the village of Goathland--known as Aidensfield in the programme-- by ensuring that the best parking facilities for our visitors, and the quality of life for those who live there, are preserved.
Another issue that has caused us some concern for the future is the gradual emergence of badly run DSS hostels.
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) : My hon. Friend sang the praises of Scarborough without mentioning the Stephen Joseph theatre and the contribution of Alan Ayckbourn. That is a marvellous example of a regional theatre's contributing not only to local culture but to
Column 475national culture, and to the international reputation of this country. Although that is true of many of our theatres, the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough is a prime example.
Mr. Sykes : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Early one fine February morning, I was privileged to be able to take the Select Committee on National Heritage--of which I am a member--to Scarborough. We went to the top of Olivers Mount and, on that cold February day, we had a magnificent view of the town and all its beauties. I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot possibly list all the beauties of my constituency today : our business is due to finish at about 2.30 pm and I do not wish to detain the House.
I was talking about DSS hostels, which have already been mentioned--badly run DSS hostels, that is ; many are well run. My constituency contains few such hostels, but the behaviour of some tenants in the badly run ones has put tourists off. Neighbouring hotels have then had to consider whether to convert themselves to that type of accommodation, and a vicious circle was in the making. Along with my good and hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North, I did my best to bring the problem to the attention of the powers that be. I pay special tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Harwich (Mr. Sproat), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, and for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), the Minister for Local Government and Planning, for the considerable efforts that they put into gaining a satisfactory response to our representations.
Planning permission is now required. For my part, I must say that the level of complaints has subsided ; we must ensure that the current sensible regulation stays in place. In order to deal with existing hostels, the Government announced that they would consider a licensing scheme to give tenants the same standard of safe accommodation that is available elsewhere. That is indeed welcome news. One of the requirements is fire safety--as we know to our cost in Scarborough.
I understand that the owner of that particular hostel had no public liability insurance. Such insurance is a legal requirement for a hotel, but not for a hostel. I suggest that owners who appear to be contriving tenancies to give themselves a relatively easy income from housing benefit should be required to insure themselves and their tenants in a similar way to hoteliers.
The action taken by the Government so far has helped to ensure that England's greatest resorts have a prosperous future. As Member of Parliament for two of England's greatest jewels, I am grateful for that. I do not accept the trendy, untenable notion that seaside resorts are done for in England. Next year, my constituency will celebrate having returned Members of Parliament to Westminster for 700 years. When I am no longer Member of Parliament for Scarborough--by the people's choice or my own--I hope to leave it as the holidaymaker's first choice : a place where the elderly can retire in peace and enjoyment, where business continues to succeed and, above all, where young school leavers find opportunities and are able to prosper like the generations who have gone before them. 11.3 am
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North) : I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes). I congratulate him on his thorough speech and the points that he raised about tourism
Column 476and coastal resorts. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) on managing to secure a debate on this important subject. He dealt with it in a detailed and comprehensive way, demonstrating the importance of the leisure industry to the United Kingdom's economy as a whole.
I must add--I know that my hon. Friends will agree with me--that I find it extraordinary that, apart from the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), no Opposition Members are present. The hon. Lady sits in splendid isolation, but in isolation none the less. She was joined briefly by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) ; I did not know whether to feel pleased for the hon. Lady, or sorry that he had had to come and help. A grey- bearded old Liberal came in for a short time, but he has now disappeared-- heaven knows where. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon pointed out, the leisure industry accounts for £80 billion a year--the entire social security budget. It is shocking that no Opposition Member except the hon. Member for Redcar should be present to take part in the debate. People living in major tourist resorts that depend substantially on the leisure industry--such as Scarborough, Southport and Blackpool--will note that, and will particularly note the hypocrisy of the Liberal party. Its Members, who so often pretend to be the friends of the tourism and leisure industries, now cannot even be bothered to turn up.
Mr. Matthew Banks : May I clarify a point of detail ? Presumably my hon. Friend is referring to the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal party is a separate party, whose national headquarters are in my constituency and which was far too sensible to merge with the Social Democratic party.
Mr. Elletson : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is quite right : I was, of course, referring to the Liberal Democrats, not to the Literal Democrats or any other flavour of Liberalism. I apologise for using shorthand of that kind. No doubt it is an example of the abuse of language to which my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon referred so convincingly, and which we should all try to avoid.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon demonstrated, the leisure industry emcompasses an enormous variety of sectors : music, including opera, sport and, of course, tourism. My hon. Friend examined some of them in detail, particularly sport. He mentioned the Manchester Olympic bid. I hope that all hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Minister, join me in hoping that although Manchester lost on this occasion, it will persist in its attempt to become the world's Olympic city and will receive the full, unqualified backing of the British Government next time. Let us hope that it will be third time lucky for Manchester.
I do not want to cover the ground covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon as comprehensively as he did. I wish to deal specifically with one aspect of the leisure industry : tourism, which was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon explained how important the industry is to the economy. Tourism alone accounts for 4 per cent. of gross domestic product. It employs about 1.5 million people, accounting for 10 per cent. of the national work force. It is now the second
Column 477biggest industry in the United Kingdom : £25 billion a year is spent on tourism and there were 18 million foreign visitors in 1992. Over the past 10 years, employment in the tourism industry has grown by 28 per cent., compared with employment growth of just 1 per cent. in the country generally. Around the world, one person in 15 is involved in the industry, and it accounts for 6 per cent. of world GDP. It is, therefore, a massive and very important industry, which is growing year by year and which offers tremendous opportunity for job creation in this country and worldwide. Its importance is fully recognised by the Minister. My hon. Friends and I recognise that he is truly a friend of tourism and that, in the past year, he has fought some major and important battles on behalf of the industry. I thank him for the work that he has done on behalf of my constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) discussed Department of Social Security hostels, an issue of particular concern to his and my constituents and to people living in coastal resorts throughout the country. It may be difficult for people from other areas to understand the scale of the decay that has developed in the United Kingdom's major tourist resorts in the past 10 years as a result of the unregulated and uncontrolled influx of DSS benefit claimants into coastal resorts. That has had a shocking effect on the tourist industry and on people's quality of life in those areas. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough, I have received hundreds of letters of complaint about the sudden overnight establishment of DSS hostels in tourist and residential areas. We have heard a constantly repeated range of complaints about people urinating in the streets, swearing, drinking and taking drugs. The problem appears to be almost universally swamping people in coastal areas, which is shocking. It has greatly contributed to the decline of the quality of our resorts.
I am delighted that the Minister has taken the problem seriously and that he has done his best to fight a battle within Government to ensure that the Department of the Environment took up the case and agreed to introduce legislation.
Mr. Sykes : Does my hon. Friend consider it important that we had thought that the problem might have been confined to relatively few resorts, including Scarborough and Whitby, but that, as a result of conducting a survey of England's major resorts, which included the advice of my hon. Friends representing those resorts, we found out the true extent and nature of the dreadful problem ?
Mr. Elletson : That is right. Like my hon. Friend, I was grateful to our hon. Friends and colleagues who contributed to that survey, which showed the scale of the problem across the country. The Department of Environment has sought to tackle it temporarily by changing the use classes order, which will mean that planning permission will be required for hostels. That will, however, deal only with problems arising in the future, not with the problem that exists now.
My hon. Friend is right to say that a licensing system is the long-term answer to the problem. I know that we shall be able to count on the Minister's support in pushing for
Column 478the establishment of that system as quickly as possible. He does not underestimate the scale of the problem and the damage that it is doing to tourist resorts.
Like some of my hon. Friends, I have been slightly critical of the role of the Department of National Heritage in the tourism and leisure industry. It has seemed slightly unfocused and not fully aware of the extent to which it is an industrial Ministry. The Minister understands that, and regards his role primarily as that of an industrial Minister who is running a Department responsible for one of the largest industries in this country. He has an important role in co-ordinating attempts to assist the industry to develop in the best way that it can and to recognise the opportunities available across the spectrum of Government responsibility. That is a massive task.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) mentioned transport and its effects on tourism. Day by day, we see environment problems that affect the tourism industry. The quality of life is bound up with people's enjoyment of their leisure time and the leisure industry.
We have had a problem in Blackpool and other tourist resorts with the quality of our bathing waters. I am delighted that the Minister has taken that issue seriously and that he has sought to ensure that the European Community and European Commissioners were not able to ban bathing off British beaches, which would have been entirely unnecessary and done a great deal of damage to the British tourist industry.
The local Labour party in Lancashire behaved in a grossly irresponsible manner in that matter. I was delighted that the ban has not been imposed and that we shall be able to move peacefully and successfully towards ensuring that our bathing waters meet European standards by 1996, which has been made possible by the amount of money that North West Water has invested in a new sewage treatment plant based at Fleetwood, which would not have been possible under the old regime.
Mr. Sykes : Does my hon. Friend agree that England's bathing waters are among the finest in the world and that some of our European partners-- or so-called partners--apart from not obeying their own laws, do not obey the European directives and are well known for cheating on tests, for which we are so castigated in this country ?
Mr. Elletson : I agree with my hon. Friend. I know that we can count on the Minister to ensure that the Department of the Environment monitors thoroughly the appalling abuses that take place in countries such as Italy and Greece, which are so quick and ready to criticise British resorts and the quality of British waters, without paying attention to the shocking state of affairs that exists in their resorts.
The tourist industry offers huge opportunities for job creation and economic growth. We must examine ways in which we can assist that potential. I am sure that all Conservative Members believe in backing genuine winners. We believe not in propping up lame duck industries but in assisting profitable, successful industries to become even more profitable and successful, and to employ even more people. Tourism in Britain is a growing, winning industry. It recorded an average growth of 7 per cent. between 1980 and 1990. Unfortunately, that compares with 15 per cent. growth in the United States of America, 9 per cent. growth
Column 479in Italy and 10 per cent. growth in Spain. We have to ask ourselves what they are doing to support tourism that we are not but could be doing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon touched on some of the issues that we should deal with. He was right to suggest that we should reinstate section 4 tourism development grants, which no longer exist. Although he did not mention it, I know that he is fully aware of the fact that it is only in England that they no longer exist. That is an iniquitous and unjust feature of the present system : they exist in Scotland and in Wales, but not in England.
Mr. Brandreth : I have always been reasonably persuaded by the argument that there are different states of maturity in the different parts of the United Kingdom, in terms of tourism, which justify the imbalance in investment between Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and England. I know that some people--my hon. Friend is obviously one--take a different view.
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would elaborate a little more on why he thinks that there is no justification in the argument that there is a maturity in the English tourist industry. It has been there longer, and it is self-evidently more thriving, than the industry in other parts of the country, such as those that are slightly more remote from the major airports. Will my hon. Friend explore that point a little more ?
Mr. Elletson : I shall be delighted to do that, because my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) is himself a very mature and distinguished Member of Parliament. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary, he is a member of the Treasury team. It is delightful that he can join us this morning and hear something of the importance of the tourist industry to the Treasury. Of course there are differences in the maturity of the tourist industry throughout the United Kingdom. However, the present system does not take account of the relative maturity of different sectors of the tourist industry within Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England ; for example, we do not take account of the relative lack of provision for disabled tourists. We can do nothing for them here. No grants are available in England for projects that might assist the development of tourism by disabled people. That problem could be addressed, however, because funds are available, in Scotland and Wales.
We must look at the question seriously. I do not think that it is a reasonable argument to say that Scotland and Wales are less mature or to say that because a particular project lies 10 miles across the Solway firth, it should find that massive funding is available from central Government. In a united kingdom, that argument does not work.
Mr. Matthew Banks : Is my hon. Friend saying--if so, I very much agree--that there is no difference of maturity between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland ? It seems to be just a matter of the Welsh Office, the Scottish Office and the Northern Ireland Office having taken a decision that has not been taken in England.
Mr. Elletson : Yes, that is right. Those are the advantages that the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish have--and which they are extremely lucky to have. We in England do not have those advantages. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester, a member of the Treasury team, will
Column 480consider that point seriously, and will consider the return of section 4 development grants in the next Budget. I assure them that that would be one of the most popular moves that they could make in tourist resorts, including my hon. Friend's own very distinguished, very important and popular tourist resort of Chester.
Mr. Brandreth : Of course every tourist resort would welcome any support that it can get. What is interesting is that, although the city of Chester, which borders Wales, does not get the additional help given to north Wales to promote itself, its attractions are so great that, even without that support, it flourishes. The tourist industry in Chester is mature and is helping itself. It thrives, flourishes and grows at an even greater pace than the areas that are getting help.
Mr. Elletson : I take my hon. Friend's point, but I believe that Chester has so much to offer, that there is so much more that Chester could do and that there are so many ways in which Chester could continue to grow. I would hesitate to say that it was fully mature.
Mr. Fabricant : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great treasures of Chester is its Member of Parliament ?
Mr. Elletson : I certainly agree. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester is little short of a national institution.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : He should certainly be in one.
Mr. Elletson : I am sure that, if my hon. Friend were in an institution, he would join many Opposition Members.
As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester is here this morning, and as he is a member of the Treasury team, I want to draw another issue to his attention, which many of my hon. Friends also wish to emphasise. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon raised the question of VAT rates on some of our tourist attractions. My hon. Friend the Minister will be well aware of this issue, which tourist attractions and leisure parks have taken up with him.
It is clearly ludicrous that we have such a wide range of different rates of VAT on the various tourist attractions, hotels and restaurants throughout the European Community. It may be difficult to remove VAT, or to lower the rate of VAT once it has been levied, without totally changing the system at European level, and without a new European directive. However, I hope that the Minister will take the matter seriously and that he will ensure that we continue to fight this battle on Europe.
The variations in VAT levels throughout the European Community are astonishing. VAT on hotel accommodation is levied at 6 per cent. in Belgium, 5.5 per cent. in France and 3 per cent. in Luxembourg, but at 17.5 per cent. in the United Kingdom, 15 per cent. in Germany and 25 per cent. in Denmark.
VAT on hotel and restaurant meals is levied at 20.5 per cent. in Belgium, 18 per cent. in France, 16 per cent. in Portugal and 17.5 per cent. in the UK, but at only 8 per cent. in Greece, 3 per cent. in Luxembourg and 6 per cent. in the Netherlands.
VAT on leisure and tourism admissions is 6 per cent. in Belgium, 5.5 per cent. in France and 3 per cent. in Luxembourg, but 17.5 per cent. in the UK, 17.5 per cent. in the Netherlands and 25 per cent. in Denmark.