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Column 481That is an extraordinary range of VAT rates and it clearly helps to ensure that our tourist attractions, are not competitive. When one considers the effect of that on major attractions such as Blackpool pleasure beach, which every year attract 6 million visitors, and when one considers the effect on their ability to compete with the likes of Euro Disney, one realises that they are placed at a significant competitive disadvantage.
Mr. Sykes : Quintupled, then. Will my hon. Friend comment for a moment on duty on beer, which is a serious threat to our brewing industry and, therefore, indirectly to the leisure industry ? The difference between duty in France and in the United Kingdom is a sore point at the moment. It could lead to a reduction in the number of pubs and a reduction in brewing prosperity. Will my hon. Friend comment on that ?
Mr. Elletson : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is clearly a serious problem, not so much for us in the north of England, as for the south of England, where it is having an appalling effect on coastal resorts and towns. Many of our hon. Friends who represent those areas are very concerned.
Since I began to speak, more Opposition Members have decided to come into the Chamber. Obviously, the message has gone out that the empty Opposition Benches were a disgrace.
People in coastal resorts and people in our historic towns, who are concerned about tourism and about the leisure industry, will continue to regard those empty Benches as disgraceful. They will see how little the Labour party cares about this major industry. I hope that such people will remember that and that they will remember that, although a few Labour Members have now crawled in, the Liberal Democrats continue to be absent. What lesson can we draw from that ? I urge the Minister, who, unlike Opposition Members, is a genuine friend of tourism and the leisure industry, to continue his good work in fighting the battle for tourism and the battle for the leisure industry. I urge my hon. Friend to continue to ensure that this vital British industry continues to grow, as it can.
Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar) : In response to the final comment by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), I am very pleased to be joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Newport (Mr. Flynn), for Stoke -on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks).
Yes, the turnout has been bad this morning, but I think that the issue is poorly supported on both sides of the House. Even though there may be a poor turnout from Opposition Members, the complacency of some of the speeches from Government Members matches that lack of interest. It is a problem which we must deal with, and we readily acknowledge that it is an important industry.
I shall briefly respond to a point on hostels made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North at the end of his speech.
Column 482The problems that he outlined are in his view created as result of having particular hostels occupied by people on benefit. I understand that difficulties are created when people are living on benefit in hostels on very little money. They do not have jobs and can be seen sitting about the front at seaside resorts. They are not perceived as positive for many resorts and they are not a sight--if one can talk about human beings in that way--that many of hoteliers in his constituency like to see.
The hon. Gentleman talked about dealing with the difficulties of people who are living on benefit, about changing class orders and about long-term structural changes. The hon. Gentleman and his local authority know the real answer very well. If we could build more houses and get people back to work, we would not have to hear the way in which he talked about human beings.
Mr. Elletson rose
May I just apologise on behalf of my colleague the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) who, as hon. Members from both sides of the House know, speaks for the Opposition on tourism ? My hon. Friend has done a lot of excellent work on tourism and is a valuable member of the team. Unfortunately, he drew the short straw and had to go to the world cup finals this week, so he is not able to be with us. He is obviously sad to have missed the debate. I shall pick up on the speech by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs). I welcome the fact that he managed to get this debate today. The hon. Gentleman's commitment to the leisure industry and to tourism over the years has been solid. He has participated in every debate that I have read that the House had throughout the 1980s. The sad thing is that the hon. Gentleman has to keep saying the same thing. The House heard him today talk about vital catalysts that can be provided by the Department of National Heritage. That was similar to what he said two years ago, when he said :
"my hon. Friend the Minister speaks up for the industry, but words are not always enough ;"--[ Official Report , 19 March 1993 ; Vol. 221, c. 562.]
The hon. Member for Swindon has given admirable support to the industry and has tried by various means in the past couple of years to get a greater response from the Government on tourism and the leisure industry. I would say that he had a chance of being the Minister for Tourism after the upcoming reshuffle, but I presume that if I say that from the Opposition Dispatch Box, it will harm his chances.
Speakers today have shown how many issues could be covered in a debate on leisure and tourism. I thought that the quickest way of covering some of them would be to respond to two or three points made by the hon. Member
Column 483for Swindon. I shall not take up too much time and stop other hon. Members who have sat through the whole debate getting in. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to say that the film industry should receive money from the lottery. "Four Weddings and a Funeral" proves that it can be done, but how much longer do we have to wait for an initiative on film ? We are waiting for a White Paper on the BBC and for statements on privacy and on cross-media ownership.
The film industry is so crucial : I agree whole-heartedly with the hon. Gentleman. Let us have some action and statements from the Department of National Heritage on the industry. Let us hope that those are not blocked again by the Department of Trade and Industry or by No. 10 and that we do not have to wait many more months before valuable partnership work is done with the British film industry. On the BBC, I support the licence fee a little more strongly than the hon. Gentleman. He talks about the necessity in future for taxation in addition to the licence fee. The BBC is undertaking joint venturing, which it is doing internationally. If it remains international, and does not infringe on the licence fee as a part of the national public service that the BBC offers, some of the financial questions raised by the hon. Gentleman will not be a problem for the BBC in next 10 to 15 years.
There are two difficult questions that the BBC is facing immediately ; the hon. Gentleman highlighted them and then skirted around them. The first is sport.
Sport is an important part of the leisure industry and the difficulty now is that, if sport remains on cable and satellite, large numbers of people will not be able to see it without paying : it is not a part of the public service as terrestrial television is. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) has been doing a lot of work on the subject and he says that there is a way in which sport should remain in the national domain until cable and satellite penetrate the market to such an extent that there is a genuine choice for people.
The other difficult question relates to pornography in relation to cable and satellite television. The hon. Member for Swindon talked about the importance of freedom of choice for individuals, and he is absolutely right. But with cable and satellite, and some other changes that will come with interactives through fibre-optics and the development of e-mail that we see with Internet, there are problems there for a Government of any hue. Those will be difficult and we ought look at them a little harder.
The hon. Member for Swindon referred to excellence and gave the teaching of music as a good example. We could not agree more. The difficulty is that constraints have been placed on local authorities in terms of the few discretionary awards which are available. Those grants are now so rare that many of the music places at our colleges are taken by students from overseas, because our students cannot afford to go. We should love to see more excellence in music and in art. The problem is that the chance for students is not there, because discretionary awards, regardless of any political points, are a thing of the past.
I emphasise again our support for some of the points made by other hon. Members during the debate. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) talked about divisions between the English, Welsh and other tourist boards, and emphasised the importance of
Column 484section 4 and pump-priming. The Opposition support all that and we hope that the Minister will listen to his colleagues, if he does not listen to us.
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) asked us to talk to our Labour colleagues--all 62 of them, who make up a major group in the European Parliament--about objective 5. I am sure that we will do what we can in partnership with them to get a shift to a greater emphasis on tourism at a European level. If there is anything else that we can do to help the hon. Gentleman with bits of assistance from our MEPs, all he has to do is ask. They are a strong group and we will work with them.
Mr. Matthew Banks : The hon. Lady has taken seriously the point that I made. So far as my own Euro-constituency of Merseyside West is concerned, perhaps she could encourage her colleague Mr. Stewart to come and visit my constituency a little more regularly. The years go by, and we do not see him.
Ms Mowlam : We all know the problems faced by MEPs, many of whom have eight parliamentary constituencies in their area. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, one can visit one's constituency every weekend and someone is sure to come up and say, "I haven't seen you for years, and I cannot contact you." We all know of those problems, however hard we work. Many of us work very hard.
I will not dwell on some of the other points made by hon. Members, but I shall ask the Minister--if he is awake-- [Interruption.] His eyes were closed and I was worried that he was no longer with us. There were points raised by other hon. Members which the Opposition would also have emphasised.
I do not think that I need to emphasise the importance of the leisure industry. Hon. Members talked about "4 per cent. of GDP", "1.5 million workers", "every two jobs in the tourist industry means one extra job created", "the fourth largest growth area in the EEC". We all know the statistics and how important tourism is to the economy. The problem is getting it on to the political agenda and avoiding the drift in policy that, sadly, has been apparent even in the two years since the Department was created. The Department needs to be far more proactive in providing a lead for which the industry is desperate. The Department has, sadly, failed to do that. It should also be possible to foster greater co-operation between Departments. About nine months ago, when I became shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage, the very next day I appeared on "Any Questions" in Chesterfield. I was put up in the Abbeydale hotel owned by Mr. and Mrs. Bramhill. They were delighted that the shadow Secretary of State was staying with them. In common with all hon. Members, when I left I said that, if there was ever anything I could do to help, they should contact me. Sadly, they contacted me two months later because of difficulties they were experiencing. The problem was caused by a minor issue, but it highlights the lack of Government activity. The English tourist board used to publish a guide called, "Let's Go", which advertised small hotels such as the Abbeydale. Mr. Bramhill wrote to me to say :
"We were dismayed to learn that the ETB is not publishing Let's Go' this year. Business arising from Let's Go' is a significant factor for us."
He said that it was one of the major factors that attracted business to the hotel, and noted :
Column 485"Small businesses like ours rely heavily on ETB publications". The ETB responded that it had ceased to publish the guide partly because of Government cuts in finance and because it intended to publish regional leaflets instead. When looking for somewhere to stay, no one wants to look at seven regional leaflets : one wants to look through a proper publication. It is fair to say, therefore, that I was made aware of the difficulties that the tourist industry faces soon after I became shadow Secretary of State.
In the past nine months, I have travelled extensively, and have visited every seaside resort that has been mentioned today. I have gone from Aberdeen and the Lemon Tree right down through Yorkshire to Scarborough, where I will be tomorrow.
The sad thing is that, whether one speaks to people who work in the hotel industry, leisure parks or whatever, the message is the same. All they want is decent leadership and a clear strategy. I agree with the hon. Member for Swindon that it is partly a matter of investment. I also agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool, North, who hinted that is also partly a matter of funding. The difficulty with such funding is that one has to dip into so many different pots to put the money together.
As the hon. Member for Southport said, money is available through the European regional development fund to aid regeneration, but the capping of local authorities means that they have less to spend on such projects. If those local authorities received a decent sum of money to enable them to repair local infrastructure, the problem facing certain resorts could be overcome. All that is needed is a bit of direction and strategic thinking. The difficulty is that, in the past two years, we have not been given such a lead.
I do not want to dwell on my constituency, but it is a classic example of what happens when the necessary funds are unavailable. Redcar, which is further up the coast from Scarborough, used to be a seaside resort. People would go there from Scarborough during Whit week, and then go on to Seahouses and elsewhere.
If we are honest with one another, we will admit that the difficulty is that decay and lack of regeneration and growth have happened quicker in some seaside resorts than in others. The hon. Member for Scarborough is bullish and vibrant about its future, and my local authority and local industries want to behave in the same manner. They are fighting very hard, just like you, to win grants for joint ventures and to target areas for development.
The honest answer is that the number of visitors has declined. The state of the infrastructure in various resorts is a serious problem whether it is your pier at Southport, the front at Scarborough or the decline in Redcar
The problems caused by lack of investment and difficulties in raising new investment to combat infrastructure problems are common to all of us, but some
Column 486resorts are feeling it harder than others. We are all struggling because we all have to dip into different pots of money to get better assistance, whether from the European Community or through local initiatives and urban programmes. If we had some Government lead, those problems would not be so severe.
Mr. Matthew Banks : I accept some of the points that the hon. Lady has made, but I hope that you will accept, as I said earlier, that my constituency is a classic example of the kind of partnership that we should all promote. The Government, through the urban partnership fund, pump- primed with £310,000 the multi-million sea front redevelopment strategy in my constituency. That is the way forward and that is what the Government are now doing.
I am pleased by that intervention from the hon. Member for Southport, because it reinforces the argument that the Labour party has made for the past 15 years--one cannot depend on the market alone to deliver. The market is important, but, as we both know, it cannot deliver the developments that we need to regenerate seaside resorts. I accept that joint partnerships can be entered into to cover the large expenditure that is needed from the private sector, but we need the public-private mix for pump priming, future development and proactive strategic thinking. It is sad that it has taken the Government so long to understand that. We have argued for such a mix for the past 15 years, we remain consistent, but the Government have body- swerved and shifted.
I have highlighted the common problems that are caused by the lack of leadership from the Department. That is not only appreciated by the Opposition and recognised by some hon. Members who have spoken today, but supported in a recent document from the Confederation of British Industry, entitled " A Wealth of Attraction", which was published a couple of months ago. It notes that the Government have not given tourism a sufficiently central position in their thinking :
"The Government must demonstrate its commitment to the industry as a source of growth and jobs. It is not sufficient for the Government to delegate responsibility for the industry to the tourist boards, valuable though the work of these boards is."
That very point was made by one Conservative Member today. I will not bother the House with the views of the British Tourist Authority and the ETB, but they, too, want specific steps to be taken by the Government, because they would make a difference to the well-being of the tourist industry.
There are four things that the Government could do which would make a difference to the future of the leisure and tourist industry. First, the Government should provide basic information. That is a basic task, and it is depressing that the Government have not already performed it. As I listened to the facts cited this morning, I was interested to note that we all churn out the same ones. We have got them from the same reports, which are a couple of years old. The CBI used those same reports.
When one asks what is the multiplier in terms of jobs in tourism or in terms of rebuilding infrastructure, the facts are not in the public domain. The odd City report is published, the London Arts Board report is about to be
Column 487published and other odd reports are published about various towns, but we do not have the kind of detailed statistics that should be available. They would make a difference, because they would enable us to argue for the industry and achieve a better understanding of it. We would then be able to demonstrate how crucial it is to the economy.
I believe that the figures we have quoted are lower than the real ones. We could put a much stronger case about the importance of tourism if the Government provided the proper factual base. Secondly, the Government must become more proactive about tourism. I am quite ready to acknowledge that the current Minister was better than the previous one, and that the next one may be better than this one.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat) indicated dissent .
The difficulty is that no Minister is prepared to put tourism at the centre of his or her agenda and to be as proactive as necessary.
D-day was a classic example. One has only to look at how other countries used D-day as a tourist opportunity. The French airlines and public and private sectors worked out packages for anyone with a D-day veteran in the family going from the United States to France in August.
Mr. Fabricant : Does the hon. Lady accept that the French airline to which she refers, Air France, which is owned by the French Government, made a thumping great loss last year compared to British Airways, which is not owned by the British Government ?
Ms Mowlam : We can discuss the advantages of one company over another at another time. We could then quote British companies that have done better than French companies. The point that I am making is the importance of tourism and its knock-on effect on other industries. D-day was a good example of how the French used an occasion to make a difference to people visiting the country. When I ask the Government to be more proactive, I mean that their role is to act in partnership with the private sector to deal with the problems of regional imbalance, for example. We are sometimes told that Cambridge is full of tourists and can take no more, whereas other parts of the country are desperately looking for more tourists.
Ms Mowlam : Durham is a good example. If the Government had some kind of proactive strategy, it would make a difference not only to tourism but to the quality of life of people who live in tourist areas.
If the Government were more proactive, they could also look at some of the changes taking place in tourism. Tourists who visit England now do not have the kind of holidays that they had before. The hon. Member for Swindon was absolutely right to talk about a "quality service". That is why it was wrong to abolish the wages councils and why we need a minimum wage, but I shall not go into that matter now. Quality holidays must be offered. Yesterday, I spoke to two Americans who came here to cycle between castles. Different types of holiday are developing, and the
Column 488Department must have a strategy by which it can work with the private sector to see where the industry can go. I am simply asking it to do some thinking to assist the BTB and ETB in seeing what the future holds.
If the Government had such a proactive policy, it would make a difference in terms of a coherent strategy for the important relationship between tourism and the environment. Conservative Members who have spoken so far did not mention the Council for the Protection of Rural England study published earlier this year. In "Leisure Landscapes", Jonathan Dimbleby said :
"There are growing conflicts between the needs of tourism and leisure in the English countryside and the protection of our precious environment. The inadequacies of public policy and failures in practice mean these conflicts are going virtually unrecognised. We must wake up and put things right."
One is not saying that the environment or tourism should predominate, but if we had a proactive Government who were thinking about the issues, we could have a strategy between the demands of the environment and those of the tourist industry.
The Department of National Heritage is trying to co-ordinate between regional sports councils and regional tourist boards. That is fine, but unless we have better co-operation between Departments on issues that affect the leisure industry and tourism, we shall not achieve the changes that will make a difference. The privatisation of British Rail is a classic example. The loss of the rover pass and the travelcard will make a big difference to tourists. If Departments had better relationships, our tourist and leisure industry would be much better. The whole question of deregulation comes into that. Some simple measures could be taken speedily to make a difference to the leisure industry. Hotel insurance was mentioned by the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes). Holiday insurance is a continuing problem. As every hon. Member who deals with his or her constituency mail knows, there is a lack of adequate insurance for holidaymakers, who often take out the wrong kind.
If the Jopling report is discussed by the end of July, it may mean that we shall work more sensible hours, which will be a plus for everybody. Given the low standing in which most members of the public hold us, it will not help if we work even fewer hours than they think we already work. I have compared the public holidays of other EU countries and, yet again, we are bottom of the list. Germany has 15 days ; Luxembourg has 14 days ; Portugal has 13 days ; and, as with so many other European tables, we are bottom of the list with nine. I throw that fact into the debate as a suggestion. It is being debated elsewhere, but it could be considered.
Although the national lottery could make a great difference to leisure and tourism in the coming year, it will be merely a secondary source of funding. The hon. Member for Southport said that the Minister should draw up proposals, but he is meant to be independent, so he cannot do so.
The problem is that big organisations such as Covent Garden, Albertropolis and the Tate have whole departments working on the national lottery, whereas smaller projects around the country have no such backup. I support the lottery, which, potentially could make a great difference to arts and leisure, but, if we are not careful, it will become metropolis-based. There will be problems with the partnership between public funding and private funding, which is less available outside London.
Column 489I hope to goodness that the Government are not daft enough to indulge in the political short-termism in which they have indulged elsewhere. I am not scoring cheap points : I genuinely believe that. They have appointed political placepeople to the five bodies that give out the money, which is incredible short sightedness for the country's future. We could have worked on that for the good of the country as we approach the next century. If the Government indulge in political short-termism, people will say, "What a surprise--another millennium project in a Tory marginal constituency in the run-up to the next election." That will be appalling.
Let us hope that that does not happen, because it will destroy another potential opportunity held by the tourist and leisure industries. They have a great future. It is sad that the Government do not believe it.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : I am glad to have an opportunity to catch your eye this morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a wide-ranging debate which, given the furtive imagination of some hon. Members in their books recently, could take us down some interesting alleys. I wish to concentrate on the tourism industry, about which much has already been said this morning. The tourist industry forms the fourth biggest employer in my constituency, the Cotswolds. I commend any hon. Members listening to or reading my speech to visit the Cotswolds. The choice of hotels is excellent, from the luxury end of the market to the good-value end. We have the highest number of listed buildings of any local authority in the country. The Cotswold stone market towns and villages are an excellent architectural feature and well worth visiting. The countryside in the Cotswolds forms one of the most important areas of outstanding natural beauty in the country. Following the commercial break, I move on.
Tourism is an important industry in the Cotswolds. It has managed to employ an additional 5,000 people in the past decade. That is important to employment in Gloucestershire because that industry now employs about 17,000 jobs directly and about 25,000 jobs on the basis of the Heart of England tourist board's estimate of one tourism job creating another half a job elsewhere in the economy. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) said that there were no published statistics. That report is one source of published statistics.It is interesting that in the past decade in manufacturing, which still forms the largest single sector of industry in my constituency, the number of jobs has declined by 6 per cent. while in tourism the number has increased by 2 per cent., providing a further 5,000 jobs. The Department of National Heritage has been formed for only two years and combines many different functions, which were portrayed in our last election manifesto. Incidentally, that manifesto had a far more ambitious target for the cultural and built heritage of this country than either of the two Opposition parties pledged in theirs. The Department encompasses broadcasting, arts, sports, the film industry, national heritage, national lottery and tourism.
Column 490All those functions of the Department of National Heritage are basically tax consuming, with the exception of the lottery and tourism, which contributes so much to decrease our balance of payments deficit. It would, therefore, be encouraging if, instead of specifying tourism last in its list of priorities, the Department would alter the list in its next annual report and place tourism first. As chapter 9 of the Department's report says, that huge industry earned almost £9 billion this year in foreign earnings. Spending on tourism in this country amounts to about £20 billion, or 4 per cent. of our gross domestic product, and employs more than 1.5 million people. The important aspect of that employment is that those people are employed in thousands of diverse small and medium-sized businesses. I hope that when the next annual report is produced, tourism will be moved up the list of priorities.
I commend to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State the format of the Department of the Environment's report, whereby achievements are laid out in one column and targets to be met are laid out in a different column. That is a good format and I commend it, not only to the Department of National Heritage, but to all Government Departments as a useful format for their annual reports.
Given the size of the industry, more attention could be paid to tourism. Although we are doing well in this country, we could do much better in the tourist industry. The British Tourist Authority and the National Trust provided me with useful information. As has already been mentioned, Britain is the sixth most popular destination after the United States of America, France, Spain, Italy and Austria. Where do the visitors come from ? Almost two thirds come from western Europe and 18 per cent. come from North America. What do they do ? A high percentage of those visitors are return visitors, which is extremely encouraging for the future health of our tourist industry, and 48 per cent. of visitors say that they use a hotel as their main or major residence while staying here.
Why do those visitors come here ? By far the largest advantage that we have in this country is that English is the most universally used language in the world. Not only is it the number one language in the old Commonwealth countries, but it is the second language in many other countries. The British Tourist Authority's overseas visitors survey discovered that most people were happy with the linguistic reception that they received in this country. The most notable exception was, of course, the French, who complained that they were not met often enough with their mother tongue.
What do visitors do when they come to this country ? The survey confirmed that they come here mainly for our culture. They come here particularly for our stately homes and art galleries, and especially our museums, with up to 62 per cent. relating the latter as being quite or very important to them.
What are the future trends ? How can we improve the deficit in the balance of trade and tourism ? Obviously, some tourist organisations, such as the National Trust, do an excellent job in encouraging visitors to come to this country. Between 1975 and 1988, the number of visitors to its properties increased by 60 per cent. and it now has more than 10 million visitors to its properties.That is a remarkable achievement and brings considerable problems. The sheer numbers of feet trampling through some of the National Trust properties and some of our national
Column 491parks means that the trust has a considerable task in preventing deterioration of those properties and carrying out refurbishment works to public rights of way in the national parks. However, that is surely a small price to pay when one considers the number of visitors, domestic and foreign, that the National Trust encourages to visit those excellent properties and parks, and the amount of tourism that it brings to this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) made an excellent, wide- ranging speech. I congratulate him on bringing about today's debate and I am glad to be able to support my near neighbour in making a contribution today. As I said in an intervention on his speech, when one considers the amounts spent by the regional tourist boards--the English tourist board, the Welsh tourist board, the Scottish tourist board and the Irish tourist board--one finds that in the past year the English tourist board has had a cut of about £2.5 million, while the Scottish tourist board has had an increase of about £3.5 billion, and both the Irish and Welsh tourist boards spend more than the English tourist board. However, the number of visitors are about 83 per cent. for England, about 10 per cent. for Scotland, 3.5 per cent. for Wales and a mere 0.5 per cent. for Northern Ireland. It therefore seems to me that we have got the balance of our spending on tourism wrong.
As I mentioned earlier, if one goes to Boston in the USA, for example, one finds that, from two separate offices, the Welsh tourist board is promoting Wales and the British tourist board is promoting other parts of the kingdom. It is surely much more important to encourage visitors to come to anywhere in the United Kingdom rather than go to France, Italy, Austria or any of the other destinations. I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State seriously to consider co-ordinating with his hon. Friends and with the Welsh, Scottish and Irish tourist boards to discover whether the resources that we spend on tourism could be spent more effectively on promoting Britain.
After all, the British Tourist Authority, in the survey to which I referred earlier, has found that a quarter of all intending visitors to this country contact one or other of the tourist boards before they come here. More important, when they contact that tourist board they have probably already made up their minds where they want to visit in this country. If we could encourage more general knowledge about the diversity of culture and built heritage in this country, before visitors make up their minds to go to other destinations they might consider choosing Britain as their destination for this year's foreign holiday. I believe that we could do even better and create yet more jobs in our tourist industry if we co- ordinated the money that we spend, which becomes increasingly precious as Government expenditure becomes tighter.
Provided that we continue to improve our facilities, the future for inward tourism is excellent. As has already been said this morning, the channel tunnel, with a potential market of 350 million citizens of the European Union by the end of this year after the accession of Austria, Sweden, Norway and Finland, gives us additional and increased opportunities in tourism. It is interesting to note that the European Travel Commission report forecast that demographic changes across Europe will mean that by the year 2000 one in three Europeans will be aged more than 55. The visitors to this country will thus be an increasingly aging bunch, which will also provide the tourist industry with a considerable challenge. We must cater for that trend.
Column 492Members of that group are likely to have more spending power. As the prosperity of western Europe has increased, they will have built up greater occupational pensions. They will require more personal attention from the tourist industries, more hospitality in their reception and higher standards of comfort in hotels. They will require hotels that provide increasingly higher standards, are cleaner and offer a wider diversity of health facilities and facilities such as swimming pools. That demographic trend presents a huge challenge to our industry.
The aim must be to promote greater tourism in this country. We must compare our tourist facilities with those of other places. I have come back from a visit with the Select Committee on the Environment to look at shopping centres in France and Germany. It was interesting to look at the tourist facilities in Paris, in the charming town of Freiburg in west Germany and in the industrial city of Leipzig. I found that the standard of hotels in Paris was not particularly good--or at any rate, the standard was not that high in the hotel in which the taxpayer was prepared to put up the members of the Select Committee--but when I visited the tourist attractions in France, such as the Louvre with its new glass pyramid, I found that facilities were excellent. The directional signs were superb, and the quality of shops and information below the galleries was first class. Institutions in this country have something to learn from that. Some of our major institutions, such as the Tate, have had major facelifts. Without wishing to cast aspersions, however, I must say that many of our other national institutions present, on the face of it, an unattractive image to tourists. They have wonderful cultural aspects, antiquities and pictures inside, but on the face of it they appear unappealing. My hon. Friend the Minister could encourage our institutions to see whether they can become more appealing to visitors. Some of the facilities seem to be there merely for the benefit of the curators rather than the visitors.
It is excellent that the Victoria and Albert museum now opens for longer hours on Sundays. I wish that other attractions would take into account the wishes of tourists and stay open for longer hours. In my market town of Tewkesbury, we have one of the finest stone work carvings of any abbey in Europe. Visitors flock to see the abbey which is open all hours, but at 5 pm the tearooms and shops close and one sees tourists milling around with nothing to do until they are able to return to their bed and breakfast or other accommodation. Surely the top shops, many of which complain that they are finding it hard to make a living, could be a little more innovative and inventive and stay open a little longer. When I mentioned that possibility, however, the employers shrug their shoulders and say that it would be hard on those who have to work in the shops. If more of the unemployed people in Gloucestershire were employed on a part-time basis, that would allow shops to stay open longer and make the businesses more viable.
I conclude by quoting from the report of the Department of National Heritage. I can sum up the debate no better than by quoting from paragraph 1.4 of that excellent report, which states :
"Each of the sectors for which the Department has responsibility in Government makes an important contribution to the quality of life. They provide enjoyment, relaxation and stimulation. They help to create a well- educated and well-informed society with a rich and varied cultural life, a society which places value on the mental and physical well-being of the individual. They contribute to a sense of national identity
Column 493and national pride."
If we strive to create excellence in this country in everything that we do in our cultural and tourist life, surely the lives of our citizens will be enriched, both culturally and commercially via the tourist industry. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to take every possible action that he and the Government can take to promote this country abroad and help our citizens with a varied cultural life in this country.