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Column 1263points system, it is often a lengthy process to find an appropriate hotel in the area that one particularly wants to visit. The English tourist board has recognised that. John East and his colleagues have recently announced a strengthening of the crown scheme for grading hotels. It needs to be simplified as well as extended and made more accessible to the general public. Some 11,400 establishments are already inspected under the crown scheme in England. That makes it the largest scheme of its type.
We have discussed the role of London. That issue will have some £8 million devoted to it over the next two years. That will consist partly of £2 million pump-priming in the way of extra grant in aid from the Government. The gateway argument is a powerful one. I seem to recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State once referred to London as our international trump card. How right he was. I inject a note of caution into the pre-eminence given to London. It is important and a recognised part of the policy that visitors should be encouraged to go to London as well as to the various regions of the country, to Scotland, to Wales and so on. That is vital. Inherent in the scheme must be a recognition that there is some differentiation between first and second visits. I draw that to the attention of people such as Sir John Egan who are involved in the scheme. Almost invariably, people who come from America or the far east or wherever want to visit London and possibly nowhere else on their first visit. On second and subsequent visits there is ample scope for them either to visit London only briefly and move on somewhere else or not visit London at all.
The report places emphasis on short-break holidays and additional holidays. It rightly says:
"we believe there is potential for growth in the short break/additional holiday market."
Anyone can see that that is a fast-growing part of the market, particularly with the channel tunnel now in operation.
I would make the plea that the main family holiday of two weeks or more is still the one worth having. We have an excellent tourism and community services department in my constituency led by Ron Cussons, and I am indebted to Mark Smith, the tourism services manager, for some comments on the issue. He talks about the marketing of short breaks on the basis that while
"spending on long holidays is now flat, real spending on short breaks increased by nearly 15 per cent. between 1990 and 1993." That bold statistic fails to acknowledge the significance of the relative values of these different holidays, the effect of the recession and the return on marketing investment through additional business. The document shows that the value of the long-stay holiday business is three times that of the short-break market. Mr. Smith says that
"it would be 23 years before short breaks were equal in economic importance to long stay holidays."
Figures set out in the Department's strategy document show the underlying trend for long-stay holidays abroad has been increasing since the low point in 1987, and that at a time of recession. It seems to me axiomatic that the long-stay holiday market is much more vulnerable to overseas competition.
It is important that we continue to recognise the importance of the traditional family holiday. Whatever the scope for expanding short breaks and the extra holidays
Column 1264which people can now afford, the main family holiday is the one which provides the most revenue to the resort. Bookability has a major effect on all of this, but we should remember that the market in UK holidays has always been predominantly direct-sell. There is scope for expanding the existing network of tourist information centres, but most people continue to book their hotels direct rather than through an agency.
Other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so I shall summarise. The Department's document is an excellent,
well-thought-out and thought-provoking contribution to the debate. It is not claiming to be a comprehensive blueprint for every aspect of the tourism industry. But, among other things, it brings us back to the crucial fact that unless we arrest the relative decline in domestic and in-bound tourism, we shall slip further behind the rest of the world. Instead of the tourism deficit reducing, we will see it yawning ever wider. That is why the document, and this debate, is so important.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland): The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) paid tribute to the paper which the Government published six weeks ago and which inevitably forms the background to this important debate on tourism. However, the hon. Gentleman also put his finger upon what seems to me a damning weakness of the paper, which is its failure to mention the decline in the family holiday.
It was notable that the Secretary of State in opening the debate did not choose to describe or deal with the problem of the decline in long-stay holidays. The most attractive aspect of the Secretary of State's speech was that he made no grand claims about the Government's ability and willingness to do a great deal about the tourist industry. The document is suitably modest in its statement that it is not a comprehensive strategy for the industry, but the beginning of a process of identifying some key issues. That is certainly not to inflate the document.
What the document does--this is useful--is to describe the depressing relative decline suffered by the United Kingdom tourist industry in the past 10 years. Tourism's importance is beyond question, and that is accepted on all sides. In 1994, tourism provided 7 per cent. of all United Kingdom jobs--the UK's fourth-largest employment sector. Some 5 per cent. of GDP--an estimated £33 billion--was provided by tourism. Tourism, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, is due to become the biggest single industry in the world by the year 2000 and, in the 10 years from 1982 to 1982, it grew by 70 per cent.
It must be noted that the UK's world market share has fallen from 5.6 per cent. to 4.3 per cent. in 10 years, a drop of nearly 20 per cent. The Department admitted in the paper that Britain's growth has been slower than most of our European competitors, and that our share of world markets is falling. If Britain restored its share to the 1980 level, earnings would increase by £3 billion. That would be a considerable achievement, but there is little evidence that the Government have any clear view on the role they can play in bringing about such an increase in activity.
It was notable that the Secretary of State gave few examples of direct Government help to the industry. He spoke of an additional £2 million per annum to be given to help market London abroad in the next two years. It
Column 1265must be said that that is a modest amount to assist London in international marketing, and it cannot compensate in the slightest for the absence of a properly elected, local authority for London which could carry out promotional work abroad. It seems monstrous that this great capital city is alone in the civilised western world in having no city government. Tourism is undoubtedly suffering as a result. The inability to tackle London's traffic and transport problems must, in major part, be due to the absence of such an authority. The responsibility lies far beyond that of the Secretary of State--the sponsoring Minister-- but I hope that he will at least recognise that he should throw his weight behind the movement to democratise London, as it is very much in the interests of the industry that he says that he sponsors that he should do so. It is interesting to consider some of the examples of Government sponsorship of the tourist industry in the paper. Some seem patently ridiculous, for example, the reference to immigration, which states:
"under the Citizens Charter, performance times exist to minimise the time a foreign visitor has to wait before seeing an immigration officer."
In a month in which the European Union has removed border controls, that seems simply to point up this country's deficiencies in welcoming foreign visitors as compared with our rivals in continental Europe. It will also leave a rather sour taste in the mouths of the ethnic minorities, many of whom have had the unpleasant experience of trying to bring their families here for some family occasion, only for them to be turned away at the frontier, unable to join the celebration.
The truth is that those so-called sponsoring examples are the dross and the spin-offs from other policies, for example the dubious claims of benefits from macro-economic policy, including economic stability and low inflation. No one doubts that such economic management, were it to persist, would benefit the tourist industry, but it is plain that the Government's economic mismanagement, resulting in the massive increase in taxation, in particular in value added tax, has had a peculiarly adverse effect on tourism and the comparative costs of staying in British hotels and eating in British restaurants and other establishments. The Government's economic mismanagement has put our tourist industry at a direct competitive disadvantage. Nor have the Government in any way sought to offset the disadvantages caused by economic mismanagement by increasing direct assistance to the industry, through grants in aid, notwithstanding their recognition of the importance of the British Tourist Authority and the national tourist boards. The English tourist board has had its grant in aid reduced from more than £23 million in 1988-89 to £11.3 million in the present financial year, and it is expected to drop by more than £1 million more in the next financial year. The boards play an important role in providing leadership and as a catalyst in marketing and making possible the marketing of an industry which, of its nature, depends on small businesses, which are incapable of conducting effective marketing overseas on their own behalf.
The omission in the paper, to which I alluded briefly, is that it has written off the coastal industry and the longer domestic holiday. In the words of Mr. Peter Hampson, the director of the British Resorts Association, the Government
Column 1266"appear to have confused managed change with decline." There is no mention of seaside or coastal resorts in the report and I find it odd that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) could praise a report that is so defective.
Mr. Hampson states that
"the theory that coastal tourism has declined to a point where it is all but dead is nonsense, particularly when you consider that in both terms of volume and of value, the coast accounts for just under 50% of the UK's total internal holiday activity. It is the biggest sector by far".
The paper emphasises the value of short breaks and is promoting them as a new avenue for the tourist industry for the future, but the value of short breaks--I do not underestimate it--remains less than a third of that of long breaks, despite the fact that it involves three times as many individual holidaymakers.
It is questionable whether the Government have even got their sights properly adjusted. A major cause of the relative decline in UK tourism is the vast increase in the number of holidays taken abroad. The paper records that, 10 years ago, 55 per cent. of total tourist spending by the British was in the United Kingdom--today it is only 45 per cent. Certainly, United Kingdom citizens are more likely to take short breaks in the UK for reasons of convenience and, therefore, the longer-stay breaks are more vulnerable to foreign competition. Unless the Department of National Heritage is simply happy to surrender the valuable long-stay market, strong marketing support for that sector is essential for continued prosperity.
The Government have had the benefit of a commissioned report by Mckinsey and Company, which found that the most substantial opportunities to improve performance in the domestic market lie in reinvigorating the accommodation sector and making it easier book a British holiday. None the less, there is no evidence that the Government are willing to make additional public resources available for that purpose. Fifty-nine per cent. of inbound visitors stay in hotel accommodation, which accounts for 30 per cent. of their expenditure. In a recent survey, 30 per cent. of visitors said that their hotel did not meet their expectations, so it must be right to tackle that problem. I hope that the review of the crown scheme, which the Government admit does not work as effectively as it might, to alter the perception of British hotels, will achieve substantial improvements.
I mentioned briefly the impact of value-added tax on the tourist industry. What is the Government's attitude to the harmonisation of VAT? We suffer seriously from being so far out of line with other European countries. In January 1993, EC directive 92/77 agreed transitional arrangements on VAT that will remain in force until 31 December 1996. Those allow member states to apply a minimum rate of 5 per cent. to a limited list of services, including hotels. Although the directive seeks to harmonise VAT rates, if the United Kingdom detaches itself from that process, Britain's international tourism competitiveness is in danger of suffering a further serious blow. It is high time that the Government stood up to the pressure of the Euro-sceptics, which appears to stand in the way of harmonising this country's tax rates with those of other European countries. The argument against differential rates of VAT in the United Kingdom which
Column 1267might be invoked to assist the tourist industry's comparative difficulties has been exploded by the Government's decision on domestic fuel.
This is a short debate and, although I am the only spokesman for my party, I shall not speak for too long as a number of other hon. Members undoubtedly wish to speak. I must allude, however, to one of the most serious threats to tourism that this country has seen for many a day: the appallingly misconceived and mismanaged privatisation of British Rail. Its consequences on the tourist industry are not speculative. It is already clear that great damage is being done to tourism by the plans that are being announced and the franchises being proposed by the franchising director.
There are other occasions to debate what can and should be done for British Rail. I merely allude to Sir Bob Reid's clearly expressed view that it was madness to separate Railtrack from passenger service operations. It will certainly be deeply damaging to tourism and the use of railways to the more sparsely populated parts of the country such as my constituency, which has already seen the withdrawal of special tourist trains during the summer months, at great cost to local business.
That is not merely the view of a local Member of Parliament retailing some odd facts; it is the considered view of the chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Mr. Fraser Morrison, who was appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland. In a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, he made plain his concern and that of the body responsible for promoting tourism in the highlands. He said:
"With no airport at Fort William, the sleeper and Motorail services give direct links into the area from the south. We already have reports from local tourist operators of holidays being cancelled due to the loss of the sleeper service."
The Department of National Heritage should raise its voice about that.
I ask the Minister, who has had knowledge of Scotland as a result of having represented a Scottish constituency for some years--one beyond the central belt--to recognise that that form of tourism is crucial in the development of tourism in the north.
The Minister must recognise that the numbers of people who travel in no way measure the input into the region that comes from sleepers and Motorail. Many of the people who travel by those modes of transport are long-term visitors who are going for a season's sport or to stay in the remoter parts for a long time. They bring into the region valued money, which is needed to sustain the fragile economies of the sparsely populated areas of scenic attractiveness. The matter must not be dropped. Consultation should be embarked on properly, according to the statute, before the final dispositions for the summer timetables are made. It is a matter of the utmost urgency if there is not to be a sharp decline in tourism into the north of Scotland this year.
I believe that the industry is one of those with the greatest future, provided that it is handled with imagination and a willingness, not merely to point in a random way to some of the current problems, as I suggest that the report before us tonight does. It needs a strategy, but the Government have not evolved one.
Column 1268I know that the Minister is aware of the importance of the arts and heritage in drawing people into this country. I am glad that new resources are entering the capital funding of some of our great artistic enterprises. However, I am deeply worried about the apparent impact that the national lottery is having on the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. Vernons has withdrawn from the scheme to the maximum extent of which it is capable, and there are fears about what Littlewoods may do.
In a short time, the scheme has brought £300 million investment into the arts. It is especially valued in some of the smaller communities, where the foundation has, without any bureaucratic fuss or difficulty, sustained extremely important local heritage, artistic and sporting activities.
I beg the Government to look with favour on the proposals for an adjustment in the current Finance Bill to relieve the pools industry of a proportion of betting duties, to offset the great losses that it has suffered as a result of the introduction of the national lottery.
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham): The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke for 20 minutes. He is perfectly well aware that four other hon. Members hope to speak before the winding-up speeches from the Front Benchers, which are due to begin in 12 minutes, at 9.25 pm. He would receive more sympathy for the causes that he championed--he seems to want to say everything that he can think of--if he had been a little more brief.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said that, if the Greater London council were restored, it would promote tourism in London. I believe that turning the old county hall into a hotel as soon as possible would do a great deal more to promote tourism in London.
London has already figured prominently in the debate. If one is trying to sell British tourism abroad and to market it--to which my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) made an eloquent reference--one must attract people here. We cannot attract them with the weather, but the one thing that they have heard of is London. Whether they come from Chicago, Houston, Tokyo or Osaka, they have all heard of London. A few tourists might have heard of Edinburgh, York or Oxford, but hardly any will have heard of Stonehenge or Stratford-on-Avon, let alone places like Norwich and Lincoln. What brings people here to Britain is London. Once we have got them here, by attracting them through London, we can try to disperse them around the country.
London has a serious accommodation problem; it has a serious hotel problem. It has a great many excellent restaurants. In the past 20 or 30 years, the variety and standard of food in London have improved out of all recognition. Perhaps we do not make enough of that. But there are not enough hotels. They are expensive, quite a lot of them do not give satisfaction and many of them are dull and must be sparkled up.
We must get more hotels; more must be built. Unfortunately, our planning law consists of a system, under which people apply for planning permission for a particular design of building such as a hotel. A local authority either has to accept or to reject that application. There is no leadership over what sort of hotels are likely to obtain planning permission. Many of the architects
Column 1269have bad taste; they produce tall hotels with blank-looking exteriors and flat tops, except for excrescences such as the top of lift shafts. They are unpleasing to look at. Whenever someone proposes to build a hotel, it is difficult for the local authority to grant planning permission because the plan is normally so ugly that it is hotly opposed by everyone living round about. That is one of the reasons why London is short of hotels.
The demand for hotels is not met and hoteliers are able to charge exorbitant prices. That is why London has such a bad reputation in terms of value for money in hotels. It is important that something is done about that. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage will assure me that the Government are getting a grip and providing a lead.
The key to the problem is the south bank. There are places all along the south bank, not just at county hall, where hotels could be put. Let us have some attractive designs with sloping roofs such as one might see on an alpine hotel. People would not be so opposed to such hotels, which could be put along the river where they would have views of St. Paul's cathedral. In that way, we shall begin to meet more of the demand for hotels in London. We shall provide what is needed as a basis for the expansion of tourism, which is so important to this country in terms of the employment, income and tax yield to the Government that it generates.
Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): This is a timely debate because only last month the Back-Bench Labour tourism committee was formed. The debate gives us the first opportunity to participate in discussions on the subject.
One of the themes being discussed in the Back-Bench committee is to see London as a gateway to the United Kingdom, while ensuring that the regions also get their share of the action. Nobody minds extra money being used to promote London, but the concept of a gateway must include avenues that lead to the regions. We need to ensure that the regions receive their share of the action because, as we have heard, there is a declining market share of tourism. We need to set that against the background of cuts in grant in aid to the English tourist board and argue again about the relevance and importance of section 4 grants.
The Government could take other measures--for example, they could examine taxation policies. There has been discussion this evening about the non- domestic rating revaluation from 1 April, and I shall give the Under- Secretary an example from my constituency. The rateable value of a small snack bar near the major oak in Sherwood forest has increased by 100 per cent. That clearly cannot be right, and all tourist businesses in Nottinghamshire face increases well above the rate of inflation.
We must also examine the question of value added tax on accommodation. The rate of VAT on accommodation is well in excess of the taxation rates elsewhere in Europe, apart from Denmark. If the rate of VAT were reduced, there is a real chance that the tax take would increase. Currently, some 50 per cent. of hotel beds are unoccupied and something must be done to address that problem. I welcome the liberalisation to which reference has been made tonight. There have also been changes in policy concerning tourist signs. The Under-Secretary
Column 1270might care to address the issue of liberalisation in pubs. Children's certificates were available for the first time last month, but the system is not working properly. There are different benchmarks all across the country and there are many unreal expectations. If pubs are to move from the sawdust days to being places where one would be proud to take one's family, we must focus on that problem and establish proper criteria nationwide. For example, in Birmingham licensing magistrates will not award children's certificates during term time. That interpretation must be wrong. We have been told that the Department of National Heritage is keen to talk to other Departments. It should consider extending daylight hours. That would be a real shot in the arm for tourism. Lighter nights would mean more leisure time in the evening.
I do not wish to be a tourist in my own county of Nottinghamshire, but I must say something about the new Millennicom project, which is a private- public sector initiative--the sort of thing that the Government are always promoting. Nottinghamshire is moving away from the old coal tradition to new information technology. The scheme will involve more than £1 billion over 10 years and could create 14,000 jobs in the area. There will be pavilions for new technology. It is a good scheme for the future which will transform the landscape. Nottinghamshire is changing from coal to tourism; tourism can be a part of our new future.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives): In the three minutes available, all that I can do is highlight some of the concerns that have been raised with me in a series of meetings with local hoteliers and representatives of tourism in my constituency. I have held three meetings in Penzance, St. Ives and Helston, which also covers the Lizard. At the top of the agenda was undoubtedly the topical issue of revaluation--a subject that I raised with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State during his speech.
The issue has surfaced again and again in the debate. There is real concern about the measure, particularly among the operators of caravan and holiday home parks. I urge my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State to take seriously the points that have been made by the British Holiday and Home Parks Association. I am willing to join with colleagues on both sides of the House to try to right a clear wrong. Valuations do not affect only holiday parks, as there have also been valuations on some hotels.
My second point--I underline what the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) has said--deals with value added tax. In all my years in the House, I have never believed that we have had the right structure for the promotion of the tourism trade. I illustrate that, as I have before in the presence of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, by pointing out that the West Country tourist board stretches from the Isles of Scilly in my constituency to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs). That is an unmarketable area and there should be a radical review of the whole system of marketing and promoting holidays.
Transport is vital to areas that are a long way from London, such as my constituency. London certainly has a part to play. It must be the catalyst that brings in many
Column 1271people, but it is not the only centre of tourism in the United Kingdom. We must, therefore, have good transport links from the centre to the periphery. I am delighted that the sleeper-- you have a vested interest in this, Madam Deputy Speaker--to the south-west and Penzance is safe for the foreseeable future, in my opinion as a result of privatisation.
We also need to develop flights right into the west country. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), a former Minister with responsibility for tourism, who proposed an idea which I back and on which we have been working--that Newquay airport should be developed for incoming flights. Nevertheless, he is the son of a late Bishop of Truro.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): I have fewer than five minutes to speak, which is more than for some and better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but I suggest that some hon. Members who spoke for a considerable time are very selfish. They know who they are and I hope they will bear that in mind in future. I shall speak for a few moments about tourism in London. It is extremely important to the capital city. Last year, tourism earned more than £5.5 billion, 80 per cent. of which was in foreign exchange. Tourism ranks among the top three industries in terms of economic importance, employing more than 200,000 London residents and representing between 4 and 5 per cent. of the capital's gross domestic product. It is certainly one of our most significant industries, but one can voice many criticisms about tourism in London.
There is a scarcity of multi-language signposting around the capital city and a lack of announcements on the transport system that are understandable even to natives. There is an appalling lack of tourist information booths and offices in London. One gets the feeling that, all too often, tourists are regarded as a nuisance--a valuable nuisance but still a nuisance--and we must do far more to enhance standards of information, transport, accommodation and publicity.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) made some fairly inaccurate comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and the attractions of the borough of Islington, and I was able to correct him. He went on to compound his ignorance by talking rather disparagingly about the east end of London, where I come from, and suggesting that not even in the furthest extreme of my imagination could I say that it would attract tourists. He could not be further from the truth.
The hon. Gentleman should have been in Newham this morning when we took the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration to see the city challenge part of Stratford and the tidal mill at Three Mills--a wonderful tourist centre which has been developed with Government money through city challenge and English Heritage and which will provide an enormous tourist attraction for people not only in the east end but throughout London, if people get to know about it.
Many things going on in the east end of London, as opposed to the centre, are worthy of being developed for tourism purposes. I wish that the hon. Member for
Column 1272Eastbourne were in his place. Having told us about delights of his area, he could at least have listened to other hon. Members speaking about the delights of their constituencies.
Today, a new tourist map was unveiled in the east end of London: "Tour East London--what to do and how to get there", a fold-out guide to east London which lists more than 150 attractions and has an illustrated hand-drawn map on the reverse to help visitors. The map sets out heritage sites, museums and galleries and urban farms and gives examples of the best in contemporary architecture. It provides details of opening hours, admission charges, the nearest bus, rail, tube or docklands light railway services and information on facilities for the disabled. It includes suggestions of places to eat and drink and lists the area's theatres, clubs and cinemas, while shopping includes the famous east end markets such as the Columbia road flower market, the cosmopolitan food stalls in Ridley road and the Sunday flea market around Brick lane. I am sure that there were quite a few tourists there the other day to see Ronnie Kray laid to rest. Ronnie is no longer with us--if indeed he ever was--and he is probably now up in heaven pulling the wings off angels. I am not suggesting that we should regularly bury gangsters as a way of attracting tourists to the east end of London, but many people were able to look around and see that there are many things in the east end that are so much more attractive than the Krays.
The House should have more information about what is available in London as a whole. If hon. Members knew more about London, we would be far better able to inform tourists who come to this great capital city that London is not just about Westminster in the centre and that it stretches right out to the east end to the wonderful London borough of Newham, which I have the honour to represent in this place.
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde): This has been a good debate but it has been too short. Some interesting and thoughtful speeches have been made. We heard a very long but thoughtful speech from the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs). I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) raised the importance of job creation in tourism and the potential of tourism in Northern Ireland. As a former Northern Ireland Minister, I fell in love with that beautiful Province. It is good that tourism is returning there in abundance.
Unfortunately, many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), and my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) had to make very short speeches because of the lack of time. Indeed, hon. Members will be sad to hear that I have had to reduce my speech.
We seldom have an opportunity to debate tourism, so I am sure that I am joined by many of my hon. Friends and, indeed, others on the Conservative Benches, in being disappointed that today's debate should be held in what was described to me last week by one Minister as the "black hole" of the weekly parliamentary timetable. Perhaps that is one of the telling signs of the industry's lack of importance on the Government's agenda. Tourism deserves better treatment than that. It seems to run
Column 1273contrary to what the Secretary of State--I am glad to see that he has arrived back in the Chamber--said last Monday at Question Time. He said:
"It is only right that the DNH should accord substantial importance to the sector."--[ Official Report , 27 March 1995; Vol. 257, c. 677.]
I am sure that all hon. Members present and all those who have spoken in the debate are like me--grateful that we have at least had an opportunity to debate tourism today. This evening's debate has served only to highlight further the differences of opinion between the parties on tourism, which seem to grow ever more pronounced. The contradictions in the Government's own message, or messages, are clear, and nowhere more so than in their document, "Tourism--Competing with the Best", which has been mentioned by many hon. Members, and the shortcomings of which were highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) in his forceful and timely opening remarks. What a damp squib it has turned out to be, especially when one considers that the management consultants' input works out at £10,000 a page--or to put it another way, £150,000 of taxpayers' money. It told us nothing that the industry did not know already.
Admittedly, the document is useful to a certain extent. It at least acknowledges that the rosy picture painted for the past 15 years was false, as throughout that time we were losing market share. I shall not go over the figures that my hon. Friend gave the House, but we have gone from trade surplus to deficit in a big way. The figures are well known to the House.
Here is the fundamental contradiction: the document recognises the Government's responsibility for an industry that is diverse and fragmented and where co-ordination is difficult. At the same time, it states that the industry must solve its own problems--a point repeated by the Secretary of State at Question Time on Monday and again this evening.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury pointed out, the document is notable for its omissions--no mention was made of the contribution of local authorities, the importance of visitor attractions or of self-catering accommodation, and many others as well.
In his thoughtful speech, the hon. Member for Swindon raised many important issues, such as access for disabled people and the rating of caravan sites. Having spoken recently at the Home Parks Association conference, I know of the fears that exist, and it is right that they should have been expressed in today's debate. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that we must watch the tendency to provide tourism signposts, but let me also put in a plea on behalf of the motor heritage museum on the M40, which needs a signpost because it is a worthwhile attraction. It is clear that the hon. Member for Swindon has not spoken to representatives of the industry in any great depth. I met some of them at last week's British travel trade fair. The vast majority appeared to be unhappy with the document that we have discussed, which is not comprehensive and does not constitute a real step forward. It demonstrates once more that the Government are simply not prepared to listen.
For example, the management consultants who did the background work found that a majority in the industry favoured a statutory grading scheme. Resistance to the idea came from the Minister and the Department. My hon.
Column 1274Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has already spelled out the Opposition's strategy, and we have heard a number of speeches rejecting the statutory scheme. When will those hon. Members realise that the idea is not driven by ideology, as seems to be the case with everything that they do? It is on our agenda because, while appealing to common sense, it also happens to be what the industry wants. I believe that it will also prove a valuable test in overcoming the problems of bookability raised by a number of hon. Members.
At the British travel trade fair last week, I was invited to take part in a brains trust organised by the Tourism Society with about 200 representatives from local authorities, visitor attractions, tourist boards, travel companies and, most important, hotel groups. When the question of a statutory grading scheme was put to that audience of 200 by Ken Robinson, the society's chairman, all but one voted in favour of such a scheme. The British Incoming Tour Operators Association--a highly respected professional body that was represented at the event--has cast its vote in favour of the scheme. How can Conservative Members deny that strength of opinion? How long can that continue?
I understand that the British Tourist Authority is currently studying the effect of a cut in VAT on hotel accommodation and its impact on the industry. Nearly all our European competitors enjoy a lower rate than ours. Will the Government at least take the arguments on board when the BTA's report is published, rather than dismissing them out of hand? I hope that the Minister will refer to that in his reply.
I recently asked the Secretary of State for his views on VAT in a written parliamentary question. He replied dismissively, pointing out that our employers did not have to pay the costs of the social chapter, which has already been mentioned in the debate. Hon. Members who support that line are usually those who set great store by the Government's deregulatory approach. We agree that there is duplication and unnecessary regulation-- much of which stems from the last 15 years of Conservative government--and we, too, want to cut some of it, but we also recognise that quality is what will give us a competitive edge. In tourism most of all, perhaps, that quality will come from the quality of service provided by well-trained, well-paid and well-treated employees. Do Conservative Members really think we will win back our lost market share by under-investing in staff who are made to work in poor conditions?
On a similar note to the VAT argument, mention has been made of the multiplier effect that applies to the Government's spending on marketing. Studies such as those completed by McKinsey for the tourist boards make the case very clearly, as do regional studies for Cumbria and other areas. More spending on marketing equals greater returns for the Treasury.
When it comes to bringing in overseas visitors, which our competitors continue to do better than us, as was pointed out by many of my hon. Friends, the Secretary of State should be looking at more than just the confines of his own Department.
In the case of Russian visitors, for instance, the Department should be looking to encourage the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to take a stronger line on visa allocations. It seems, according to the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, that the British consulates in Moscow and St. Petersburg are
Column 1275processing visa applications very slowly. Because the officers are being so unrealistic with them, potential visitors are simply giving up and going elsewhere, spending their holiday money in our competitor countries.
I wonder what steps have been taken to alleviate that problem. I hope again that the Minister, when he replies, will at least say that he will enter into talks with Ministers in that other Department to find out whether that problem can be overcome. From my own encounters with industry representatives--I think that many hon. Members know that I frequently go around the industry--my impression is that people in tourism are most disappointed with the Government's lack of imagination and their failure to grasp the nettle of partnership action. That is increasingly what divides us and the Government, as was demonstrated by this evening's speeches.
The commitment to tourism of my hon. Friends has not gone unnoticed outside the House. Tonight, we have heard from the new secretary of the Back-Bench committee of Labour Members involved in tourism. The chairman of that committee is also in the Chamber. We had a meeting yesterday, which was addressed by John East of the English tourist board and Adele Biss, the chairwoman of both the ETB and the British Tourist Authority.
A little bird has told me--I am sure that the hon. Member for Swindon will want to know this--that there were five times more Labour Members at our meeting than Conservative Members at theirs two weeks ago. The fact that we have a keen Back-Bench committee demonstrates how seriously Labour Members take the industry.
Mr. Pendry: I shall not give way because of the time, but if the hon. Gentleman can persuade the Leader of the House to give us more time for debates on tourism, I shall certainly give way on another occasion.
Throughout the country--in Brighton and Blackpool, to name but two towns which we will win next time--that commitment is being recognised. Labour's imaginative and committed approach has won friends in seaside resorts across the country. Seaside problems, which other hon. Members have already referred to, are another element missing from the Secretary of State's document, I might add. Tourism affects all our constituencies these days. It is not just about seaside resorts, Stratford, Bath or Oxford. There are many other regions. Stoke-on-Trent is rapidly catching up on Stratford-on- Avon as a visitor attraction. Stoke attracted about 1.8 million visitors, bringing £75 million to the local economy last year. Thirty-eight per cent. of overseas visitors were there for the first time. That was a high figure, as I am sure that the House will appreciate.
In Manchester, the regeneration of the Castlefield area, the G-MEX and the Granada studio tour are all examples of tourism bringing jobs to places that some narrow-minded people would have said were unlikely areas for tourism growth. In Wigan, the constituency of another member of our Back- Bench committee, the success of Wigan pier is exemplary of the kind of strategy that can succeed in reviving the local economy. Bradford,