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Column 1250While we are on the subject of the quality of accommodation, let me remind the House that Opposition Members believe in the establishment of a national minimum wage, which would help hundreds of thousands of low-paid hotel and catering workers. On average, male employees earn £297 a week, while women earn £207 a week. The overall adult rate is £328 a week. Low pay leads to low morale, and lower-quality accommodation.
Mr. Smith: I will not be tempted down that path. It is the principle that is important, and it is the principle that Conservative Members have rejected. I hear them murmur that a minimum wage would put people out of business, but that has not happened in continental countries where a statutory minimum wage already exists and the quality of accommodation is better. Staff motivation is also better in those countries, and they are not losing their market share in tourism as we are.
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York): Four years ago, York city council established a "York tourist employer of distinction" award for employers who pay above the going rate, train staff, go for quality, innovate and provide child care. In the first year, about 10 employers signed; now, employers are clamouring to do so. Two weeks ago, I presented awards to nearly 50 York businesses that wished their high quality of employment to be recognised. None of them is concerned about a possible minimum wage, because they are paying rather more than the rate that a Labour Government would set, whatever that rate might be.
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend has made the case very clearly. Conservative Members favour poor-quality accommodation and shoddy wages, under employers who are not prepared to pay the going rate for the job.
At present, the responsibilities of the British Tourist Authority, the regional tourist boards, the national tourist boards and local authorities overlap. All are doing good work in their own ways, many despite tight financial constraints; but there ought to be a better way of co-ordinating that work. I looked for that in the Government's document on tourism policy, but it was not there. I wish that the Government would turn their attention to ways of rationalising promotional activities.
The Government should also do something about the state of our beaches and bathing water. One fifth of our beaches currently fail to meet mandatory standards, and two thirds fail to meet guideline standards.
Mr. Dorrell: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are doing something about that. Ten years ago, half Britain's beaches did not meet the standards; now, only 20 per cent. do not meet them. By the end of the decade, all beaches will meet the standards and £2 billion will have been invested in the process. Does the
Column 1251hon. Gentleman want us to spend any more? Does he want us to do more than ensure that every beach meets those standards?
Mr. Smith: I would have appreciated the Secretary of State's point more if he had not omitted to mention that eight years ago, during the European elections, the Tory party said that all beaches would meet the mandatory standards within five years. Now, eight years later, one fifth still do not meet those standards. Of course progress is being made, but it is being made painfully slowly. Opposition Members have long argued that the water companies--whose primary responsibility this is--should be borrowing long to fund work that will last for 50 years, rather than placing virtually all the burden on today's customers. People living in the south-west feel particularly strongly about that.
Of course people do not come to Britain to sunbathe, but both international and domestic visitors like to stroll along a clear beach. They like to let the kids play in rock pools and paddle; perhaps they themselves like to go windsurfing or sailing. With the water and the beaches in their current state, that is not possible. The state of our public transport networks also needs attention. In particular, the Secretary of State must not be so dismissive about the real concern felt by tourism about the prospect of rail privatisation. "Guidelines for Tourism to Britain", published by the British Tourist Authority in late 1993, puts it very clearly: "The impact of British Rail privatisation on tourism (and on the marketing of it) is . . . of particular concern to BTA. If the rail facilities currently offered to overseas visitors are discontinued and/or the network becomes more fragmented, complex and expensive . . . for these visitors to use, valuable tourism earnings could be lost to nearby competitor countries".
Precisely that complexity and fragmentation are being introduced to the public rail network by privatisation, which is bound to create further problems for the development of tourism.
The Secretary of State lightly dismissed the point about the Fort William sleeper, but it is a classic case in point. To travel on the sleeper, which I suspect the Secretary of State has never done, is to experience one of the great railway journeys of the world.
Mr. Smith: In fact, those who try to book a place on the sleeper between now and the end of May will find that there is hardly a place left. People are only now learning of the existence of the service, because of all the publicity that has attended its threatened demise. If it had been marketed thoroughly and intelligently over the past five or 10 years, more people would have used it and we should have been able to retain that valuable service.
Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Gentleman has attacked the management of British Rail for failing to promote the service properly, but that is exactly the management model that he wishes to preserve. How does he reconcile the two arguments?
Column 1252individual policies. The Government will not recognise that; what they will do is create a disaster from a service that works reasonably well, if imperfectly.
The Government should pay more attention to tourism's impact on the environment. The Council for the Protection of Rural England's recent report, entitled "Leisure Landscapes", raises serious concerns. The Government have not really begun to deal with them. Tourist activity and attractions do not need to be incompatible with environmental protection, but account must be taken, with careful planning, to ensure that they respect the needs of the environment in which they occur. Perhaps it would be sensible for the Government specifically to charge the English tourist board and the other national boards with the task of overseeing and of ensuring that that takes place. On the Secretary of State's announcement today about tourism signpost deregulation, we are in favour of more signposting. Quite a number of tourist attractions could usefully be included among those that are signposted. We would strongly argue, however, that the familiar brown and white signpost format should be maintained and that it should not become a free-for-all. We do not want to see advertisements for McDonald's at every motorway turn-off. Tourism related to sport is becoming increasingly important, but better information about sporting activities in Britain must be made available to people who would not normally automatically receive that information. It would be difficult, for example, for someone living in Europe to find out when and where test matches were taking place in Britain. Let us make that information more widely available. Work can and should be done for Euro 96 next year. Many thousands of visitors will come to Britain for the football matches. Let us ensure that the people who come to the cities for the football matches will be informed of cultural and heritage programmes and other tourist activity. Again, little sign exists of the Government taking any initiative in that.
Finally, let us urge the Government to recognise that patterns of tourism and tourist activity are changing. There is more desire for activity-based holidaymaking. Visitors to Britain seek a wide range of activities. Some may want to visit Stratford, York, Cambridge and others of our fine heritage cities. Some may want to visit London's fashion shows and the Ministry of Sound. Others may want to enjoy the Edinburgh festival and, at the same time, discover some of Glasgow's delights. Others may want to walk the Pembrokeshire coastal path. They do not necessarily respond automatically to posters of beefeaters, the tower and London's red buses, the number of which is declining.
Marketing ourselves abroad, providing information about what is available and how to reach places, encouraging more people from Britain to sample the wonderful things in Britain and encouraging more visitors to explore outside London and the other honeypot centres are essential, important and rewarding tasks in the oversight of tourism in Britain. To be carried out, they require an overall vision and a sense of direction from the Government. At present, they are simply not getting that.
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Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon): This is, I think, the fourth debate on tourism in the House since the last general election. I welcome the further opportunity to discuss this most important and growing world industry. Some of my hon. Friends are veterans of those debates. I welcome the newest arrival, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). He has clearly mastered some elements of his brief extremely well.
One could feel some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman on a number of points. I want to say a word, as he would not let me say one earlier. In debates of this sort, the normal courtesy is to give way more than once to Back Benchers. As he did not, let me say to him that Conservative Members are not in favour of low-paid jobs; we do not want cheap labour. As the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley) said, jobs in the tourist industry are not low paid.
Let me correct the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury on one point. In Spain, which has a powerful tourism industry, unemployment, both among the population and among young people, is 5 or 6 per cent. higher than in this country, and Spain has a national minimum wage. The issue is where one sets the level. The hon. Gentleman simply refused to answer that question. As he knew that I was going to ask it again, he would not allow me a second bite of the cherry.
If one sets the level, for example, at half average male earnings in this country, it is estimated that 750,000 jobs, many of which would be in the tourist industry, would disappear. Employers, small hotels and many other small operations in the industry would also disappear.
Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough): Many Conservative Members were dying to make that point during the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). In 1995, unemployment in Spain is up 33 per cent. because of the social chapter and the minimum wage. What would the hon. Gentleman say to hoteliers in my constituency who are having to compete with Spanish holidays costing £100 a week? Our hoteliers provide excellent service and accommodation at about £14 a night. What would the minimum wage do to those jobs? Please tell us.
Mr. Coombs: My hon. Friend is intervening on a different speech from mine. I agree with him. Perhaps he will have an opportunity to intervene on other hon. Members who might want to try to convince us that a national minimum wage would help tourism.
Mr. Bayley: The hon. Gentleman was, I felt, scaremongering when, without any justification, he tossed out the figure of 750,000 jobs being at risk if the minimum wage was set at half national average earnings. How many people in tourism industry earn less than that? How many jobs in tourism would be at risk? How does he make his calculation?
Mr. Coombs: I should resist the temptation to get into an employment debate. It is a fair question, but the hon. Gentleman must realise that, if we debate a national minimum wage, tourism will lose out. Perhaps, in the time-honoured phrase, we could discuss it outside the
Column 1254Chamber. I would be happy to give him the detail. At this stage, it would be more sensible if I moved on. I simply say that he has a point. Of course there are many lower-paid jobs in tourism, but those jobs that would be most at risk from a national minimum wage. Many of them would disappear.
The precise proportion of the 750,000 jobs that would be affected does not immediately occur to me. I do not think that I know it, but that is hardly the point. We must be wary of the minimum wage's effect on jobs in the industry.
Tourism is a well developed--some would say, mature--industry. Both the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the Opposition spokesman quoted figures showing how Britain has lagged behind other countries. The figures tend to overlook the fact that this country has a mature, well- established tourist industry, in which a large proportion of our fellow countrymen and women are already engaged. Tourism in countries whose growth has overtaken ours is often not as well developed.
I shall take just one example. Austria has overtaken us to move into fifth place. Until just three or four years ago, the Austrian border with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary was closed. Immediately after the changes in eastern Europe, movement in and out of Austria increased dramatically. Therefore, it is not surprising that the tourist industry of such a country which, incidentally, counts every movement from one side of the country to the other even if a person is merely in transit to a third country, has increased to such an extent.
I accept that there is a strong case for helping tourism in this country to grow. We should welcome more visitors although there is always a need to consider the environmental impact, especially in areas of the country that already receive large numbers of people. Let us welcome the fact that there is agreement on some issues and debate the points raised by the Government's recent agenda for action. The document entitled "Tourism-- Competing with the Best" is to be warmly welcomed. It is right that, like the report, we should debate the supply of and demand for the United Kingdom product. How can we improve that product and increase demand for it?
The report emphasises the need to ensure quality, whether in accommodation, the welcome that we give to visitors or the range of attractions on offer. I fully support the proposal in the report to develop benchmarking and best practice in accommodation. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was quick to denounce the idea of a review. Over the years, I have had to deal with the difficulties caused by the operation of two systems-- the star scheme run by the Automobile Association and the crown scheme run by the English tourist board--and I can tell him that it is a difficult issue.
It would not be right for the Government or the ETB to launch straight into major changes without considering carefully how best to go about ensuring that visitors to hotels and other forms of accommodation have the best possible information about the quality of the product on offer. I hope that the review will be conducted quickly and that changes will be made, but I stress that it is entirely right that we should have the review in the first place. There is a need to consider how hotels and small guest houses and boarding houses in seaside resorts are to find the funding to make the necessary improvements. The Welsh tourist board, which is still able to use section 4 grants,
Column 1255turned £23 million of public money into £171 million of private sector capital. That is a ratio of 7.5:1, and anyone who has dealt with development corporations over the years will know that that is not a bad ratio to achieve. I rather wish that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would reconsider the whole issue and find a way, not necessarily in the form of section 4 grants, to give greater encouragement to small hotels and boarding houses to improve accommodation.
The effect of that investment in Wales was to increase the number of jobs in the Principality by 39 per cent. in 10 years, which is a substantial achievement. Tourism is a major creator of jobs. Accessibility and affordability are two other aspects of accommodation that need to be considered. The report does not mention access for disabled people. I fear that disabled people are sometimes the forgotten ones of the tourist industry yet, if one is to believe the remarkable figures in the recently published Touche Ross report entitled "Tourism for all", there could be an additional £17 billion of additional expenditure available every year in Europe if disabled people were able to go on holiday, visit attractions and stay in hotels.
I know that the Government have moved a long way on how to make life better for disabled people--only this week the House gave a Third Reading to a Bill that will make a big difference to them--but it is important that they are not forgotten in the industry or left behind. We owe it to them to make accommodation and attractions accessible and they, in turn, will spend their money, thus helping the industry to become bigger and better.
We need more budget-price accommodation, especially in London. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to emphasise the importance of encouraging people to visit London but they have to stay somewhere and not all are so wealthy that they can afford the prices of some London hotels. Budget-price accommodation is, however, also needed elsewhere in the country and is important to tourism. A French company, Accor, owns the Ibis hotel chain. There is a successful Ibis hotel in my constituency, which is always full of people who cannot afford the higher prices charged by some of the supposedly better hotels. The chain gives a good basic service that is well appreciated. It would be nice if British financiers examined this corner of the market and found ways to support it.
Mention has been made of the rating revaluation. There is great concern in the industry about the effect that the latest revaluation is already having, especially, as has been said, on caravan parks. They are likely to be hit especially hard. I have heard increases of 50 per cent. up to 400 per cent. in rateable values mentioned. The revaluation is based on the period between 1988, when the economy was extremely strong and such businesses were doing very well, and 1993, when the country was only just beginning to come out of recession and the market was somewhat depressed in this as in other spheres. I strongly urge my right hon. Friend to carry on his secret negotiations with the utmost vigour. I know that he will. I am delighted with the news given to me today by the Minister for Railways and Roads in response to a parliamentary question. The Department is to examine tourism signing. My right hon. Friend said that he and the Under-Secretary of State have put a lot of effort into this in
Column 1256recent years. I was very much involved in the writing of a report by the Select Committee on Employment in 1990, which drew attention to the importance of signing and the need to expand it. I therefore welcome today's announcement.
It has been suggested that the new signs will need a name. Just as the beacons at pedestrian crossings became known as Belisha beacons, perhaps we are today heralding the arrival of the Sproat or the Dorrell sign. We must wait and see.
I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that, as well as flexibility, there must be some of caution to ensure that the quality of signing is maintained. It is my reading of the press statement that the brown and white signs will be the basis for the consultation and that we should not envisage a plethora of ugly signs for burger bars. I believe that that point will emerge in the consultation.
Clearly, the lottery is going to make a difference to tourism. According to the latest figures, lottery proceeds are now more than £60 million a week. The lottery is on course for a total of £1 billion in the first year of operation, and we should congratulate Camelot on the effective and efficient way in which it has got it started. I think that Camelot and the lottery will go from strength from strength. If the £1 billion target is reached in the first year, £225 million will be available for arts, sport, heritage and the millennium fund--four out of the five good causes from which tourism stands to a benefit.
Sport has been first off the mark with the announcement of the first awards, but perhaps it is the least likely to benefit. I agree again, however, with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that we most certainly want to ensure that we take advantage of important international sporting occasions and boost tourism attendances.
The arts will benefit. The creative arts, inevitably, will see major capital investment, principally at a local level. Apart from London, that investment will primarily affect British tourists. I look forward to seeing a concert hall in my constituency one day. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may remember that after three days of the lottery I was able to tell him that enough money had already been raised to satisfy all the wants in my constituency. He did not answer me, which perhaps is not surprising. The heritage stands to gain. My constituency is very interested in the idea of a railway heritage centre to boost industrial tourism, which is sometimes forgotten but is of key importance. The public sector will also benefit from lottery proceeds going to heritage. Private sector heritage sites and historic houses will face a problem as a result of the regulation that provides that the lottery's proceeds can go only to public or charitable bodies. Privately owned historic houses will have to achieve charitable status to benefit, which will create considerable problems for many of their owners. The tax regime burdens the owners of historic houses and, as a result, dilapidation is continuing and the heritage is suffering. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not lose sight of that problem and will continue to look at ways in which help can be given to preserve our national built heritage that is in private hands.
Of the lottery's causes, the millennium fund will benefit tourism most. It will make a major contribution, especially in London. Several imaginative schemes are already being talked about. One thinks of the proposals for Greenwich, the Bankside power station and Kensington. I hope that
Column 1257those schemes might catch the eye of the commissioners, although I realise that we can spend the likely total proceeds many times over on excellent schemes ultimately presented to them. I hope that those who are responsible for disbursing all lottery proceeds in the four areas that I have mentioned will keep the impact on tourism very much in mind.
I welcome the additional funding for the promotion of London as a tourism destination. I also welcome the report of the working party on the future of the River Thames. New attractions are important, such as--potentially-- the Battersea power station, if it can be sorted out. Indeed, dare I say, the Palace of Westminster is a great attraction to tourists the world over and sadly, we do not pay it enough attention. We take a rather negative attitude to the attractions of the Palace of Westminster as a tourism destination. Such attractions, lying alongside the River Thames, are likely to lead to an increase in the use of the Thames. Access is crucial. New services, such as that recently introduced by Catamaran Cruisers, the Symphony and the Bateaux Mouches, which some hon. Members may have seen from the Terrace, need encouragement. We need new and refurbished wharves along the Thames to take advantage of one of the world's most famous and most attractive rivers. They can do it in Paris and we should be able to do it in London. I hope that we shall.
Having said a great deal about the way in which we can improve our product- -I could have spoken for much longer, but my hon. Friends will want to add many other examples--I shall briefly comment on the selling of United Kingdom tourism. I very much welcome the proposal in "Tourism--Competing with the Best" to look at bookability. It cannot be right that in any typical high street travel agent there are 15 times more brochures for overseas holidays than there are for holidays in Britain.
I warn my right hon. Friend that the margins on overseas holidays are very much greater. There is a financial inducement to travel agents to sell overseas package holidays--it is how travel agents make their money. We shall have to run very hard to stand still if we are to turn around the decline in the share of holidays that British people take in the United Kingdom.
We also need to consider vertical integration of the travel industry--the joining together of tour operators, travel agents and airlines into single companies, enabling travel agents to concentrate their efforts on package holidays requiring overseas aeroplane trips. That problem will definitely confront the British tourism industry. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the decline in United Kingdom holidays is related to the fall in funding for the English tourist board, just as the fall in the United Kingdom market share is related to the rapid rise in promotional expenditure by many other countries. That is not to say that we have not spent a great deal or worked very hard to boost British tourism--we have, but the simple fact is that others have done more.
I pay tribute to the British Tourist Authority, which has made the most of resources, sometimes squeezed from the ruins of currency fluctuations which have left the pound with less purchasing power overseas, to promote Britain in its principal overseas markets. The United Kingdom is an attractive destination, but there are many others and we must work hard to maintain our share. Direct marketing
Column 1258from the millions of inquiries that we receive every year is an important way forward. The Welsh tourist board has also shown a lead in that area, which is bearing fruit.
Many of the issues to which I have referred are the responsibility of other Departments. In the course of my speech I have mentioned five issues on which my right hon. Friend has to engage in discussions with other Departments. It is not easy to be Secretary of State for National Heritage when one knows that, all around, people have other responsibilities and considerations to bear in mind. The Secretary of State is very much on the side of UK tourism and I rely on him to continue to do his best, as a sponsoring Department with a co-ordinating role. The success of the effort on tourism signing is a good indication that progress is being made.
Despite some of the doom and gloom and some of the figures which are used to justify criticism of their work, the BTA and BTB do a good job and we must ensure that they have the resources and the backing to do an even better job so that UK tourism will continue to go from strength to strength.
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen): I am conscious of the constraints on time, so I shall try to be brief. In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State, even taking into account the fact that the Under- Secretary, the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat) holds the main responsibility, showed a less than committed approach to the tourism industry. His parliamentary private secretary getting upset is one thing that I am pleased about. The Secretary of State showed his lack of solid commitment to the tourism industry by, for instance, mentioning only Britain, in comparison with the breadth of knowledge shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who mentioning attractions for tourists in many parts of the United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State compounded his approach by referring to the M6 taking him to north Britain.
Mr. McAvoy: Yes he did. He referred twice to the M6 taking him up to the north of Britain. Of course the M6 goes to the north of England and certainly does not go anywhere near the north of Britain. Although that is a minor point, it epitomises the Secretary of State's approach to this subject.
As the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) said, the debate takes place against the background of Britain's reduced share in the world tourism market. Rightly and fairly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the reduction in the grant to the English tourist board. I am afraid that the attitude that the tourist and travel trade is somehow not manly and not British, and that in order to work in an industry that people respect people have actually to make things, is not confined to the Government. The whole British nation, not just the Government, needs to change its attitude.
However, it is the Government's job to try to change that attitude, so that business and employment in the travel and tourist trade is every bit as valued as work in manufacturing industry. The Government fail to recognise the economic contribution made to the country by the tourist industry. It would serve us better if they did more to recognise and encourage that contribution.
Column 1259When they try to change social attitudes towards work in the travel and tourism industries, the Government should ensure that the impact of those industries and their potential is understood across all Departments. They should help to develop a national strategy to integrate travel and tourism into their mainstream policies for job creation, export growth, infrastructure development and investment stimulation. There is a whole range of opportunities there for the Government to be involved in, and they should be doing just that bit more.
We should also ensure that the infrastructure is expanded. For instance, there should be more emphasis on expanding airports. Glasgow airport is a model of expansion within limited space--work that has been carried out by the BAA. Such activity should be encouraged.
The Government should also have a role in persuading schools, higher education programmes and career guidance schemes to cover travel and tourism, so that training for the industry has full access to public funding and job creation grants.
Of course transport is important, and airport departure tax, like all other taxes on travel and tourism, has a negative impact on a developing industry. Moreover, the impact of the privatisation of British Rail on rail services, especially to the regions of England and to the countries of Wales and Scotland, has not been fully taken on board by the Conservatives.
Anyone who comes to the United Kingdom as a tourist benefits the country as a whole. I certainly agree that London is a first-class attraction--but surely at some point the transport chaos, the traffic congestion and the time wasted in travelling will actively discourage people from visiting the city. However, there has to be a balance, and I strongly oppose any change in emphasis intended to fund London tourism better, to the detriment of other parts of the United Kingdom. A balance means spending in London, but spending in Scotland and Wales too.
The hon. Member for Swindon also talked about sport as an attraction. Some Conservative Members expressed ridicule when my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury mentioned the role of sport in attracting tourists into the country, but the hon. Member for Swindon did not associate himself with their attitude. I agree with him that sport can be a great attraction for tourists. For example, there is no doubt that if we managed to get a new Hampden Park national stadium in Scotland for football and other sports, it would attract many tourists into Scotland and thus into the United Kingdom, and would help to secure us our share of the industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury talked about Edinburgh and Glasgow, and I shall spend some time talking about another part of the United Kingdom. I am very much in favour of Scotland, which I think has not been properly developed because of a lack of Government support to make it more attractive to tourists. Someone said earlier that people will not come to Scotland to get a sun tan. Nevertheless, Scotland has many attractions that could be a great draw and bring people into the country.
Column 1260I shall now spend a few minutes on Northern Ireland; as a member of the Select Committee I have a particular interest in it. We should not neglect anywhere else in the kingdom, but Northern Ireland deserves a few minutes. The peace process in Northern Ireland presents the travel and tourism industries there with great opportunities and challenges. They could provide much employment, which as we all know will contribute to the peace process in its own way, by giving people a stake in their own country and giving them something that they can look forward to each day.
Between 1990 and 1993, visitor tourism to Northern Ireland grew at an average rate of 3 per cent. per year. Within that total, holiday visitors increased by about 5 per cent. That increase was achieved at a difficult period for the travel industry in general, and in spite of the problems that we all know were and are specific to Northern Ireland. The fact that, despite those difficult circumstances, the Northern Ireland tourist trade grew in real terms shows its great potential.
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that one of the major growth areas in tourism to Northern Ireland consists of citizens of the Republic of Ireland, Eire, going there for their holidays?
Mr. McAvoy: That is right. It has been estimated that only 5 per cent. of the population of the Republic of Ireland have spent a night in Northern Ireland, so there is great potential there. And the potential goes two ways. So there is a practical basis for cross-border co-operation in the island of Ireland.
If we can achieve the peace dividend in Northern Ireland, that will present great opportunities, because there will be construction work and work in the hotel trade. As has been said, as well as the more luxurious type of hotel facilities, small businesses will be providing bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
All that needs support, and we need to give people who go to Northern Ireland as well as to other parts of the United Kingdom the benefit of a change in our attitudes to travel and tourism. There is hope--as I know, because during a recent Select Committee visit to Northern Ireland we visited some first-class structures and potential tourist attractions. One of those was the equestrian centre at Necarne castle at Irvinestown in County Fermanagh, where we met some young people involved in the hotel trade.
One young man, Stephen Conway, epitomised the change in attitude for which we hope. He is at Durham university studying travel, tourism and the leisure industry, although he originally thought of training as a teacher. That shows a realistic appreciation of the future job opportunities in Northern Ireland. Younger people may be a bit less inhibited in considering new ways of earning their living, and that says a lot about where we are going.
However, all that needs support, and the Government are reducing their support for the industry. I do not think that that is deliberately malicious, but it is short-sighted and shows their lack of recognition of the country's real potential for growth and earnings through the tourist trade.
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Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) said, we have had several such debates so far during the life of this Parliament.
I have a major interest in tourism, as I represent Eastbourne, Britain's premier seaside resort, in which some 6,000 jobs and more than £100 million are accounted for by tourism. I am also a regular columnist for Travel Weekly , so I take a considerable interest in the industry as a whole.
I wish to say a few words about the great British holiday and to what extent we can preserve and enhance it in the latter part of this century. Eastbourne was originally laid out by the then Duke of Devonshire. It was described as a place built by a gentleman for gentlemen. With the advent of the railway and the growth of sea bathing as a leisure pursuit, it developed as a resort. Later, perhaps up to the mid to late 1950s, we had the bucket-and-spade type of holiday, which I believe is still popular in resorts such as Blackpool.
Like every seaside resort, we have seen basic structural changes over the years. To survive and prosper, we have to move with the times. Things have changed. It has become easier to travel abroad. With the abolition of exchange controls and the growth of package holidays to the Mediterranean, people's pattern of holidaymaking has changed, perhaps irrevocably, in many respects. Figures from the British Tourist Authority show that just over half of the 58 million holidays taken last year were spent in Britain, compared with 86 per cent. in 1965 and a staggering 93 per cent. in 1955. If that trend continued, more people would take a holiday abroad than at home by the end of the century. Perhaps even more relevant is the fact that the average sum spent on a British holiday was £146 while on a foreign holiday it was £564.
With exposure to foreign holidays, people's tastes have inevitably changed. I have described the old bucket-and-spade week by the seaside. That no longer has the attraction that it used to have. Many resorts like my constituency have had to move with the times. They see that the modern visitor is more sophisticated. They look not only for good value for money but a more interesting range of activities. One such example in my constituency is the Butterfly Centre, which has been an enormous success. My hon. Friend the Minister had the opportunity to visit it during his visit to Eastbourne. It also has similar tourist attractions.
Linked with the range of attractions is the question of quality accommodation, food and so on. We had a discussion earlier about the national minimum wage, which is part of Labour party policy, even if the party is coy about the level at which it would fix the minimum wage.
I appreciate the difficulty of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). I know his constituency intimately, having fought it in 1979, albeit unsuccessfully. It is a splendid constituency full of splendid people, but it is by no stretch of the imagination a regular and important tourist centre. The hon. Gentleman is labouring under the difficulty that he does not appreciate in a practical sense the problems that a minimum wage would bring. I invite him to come to Eastbourne and meet the
Column 1262hoteliers and guest house operators and hear from them at first hand how much they wish to see deregulation not only in the labour market but across the board so that their businesses can survive and grow. If the national minimum wage is imposed across the board we shall see job losses, especially in the tourist and leisure industry, and we will see businesses, particularly those on the margin, go out of business.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): The only reason why I interrupt is that the hon. Gentleman does less than justice to the London borough of Islington. Camden passage, for example, has a wonderful array of antique shops which are regularly visited by large numbers of people who come to London. Sadler's Wells is also in Islington. The hon. Gentleman's comments about Islington clearly reveal that he does not know a great deal about a constituency and borough which he fought unsuccessfully. I now understand why he did not succeed.
Mr. Waterson: I was making the point not that Islington is not part of the exciting, vibrant London experience but that it is not, as a borough, a tourism centre in the same way as Eastbourne, any more than the hon. Gentleman's constituency could be so described by any stretch of even his imagination.
I move on from the national minimum wage to other exciting developments in terms of the product that Britain offers. A perfect example is the Centerparcs company, which provides modern, popular resorts dotted around the country, one of which I have had the pleasure of visiting.
The point that we must keep coming back to is the tourism deficit of some £3 billion or more. Inevitably, we are debating this evening the document "Tourism--Competing with the Best". I should like to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to my hon. Friend the Minister and to everyone involved in producing that superb document. It sets out some important landmarks--signposts, if I may use that expression, to the road ahead for British tourism. The report tells us that United Kingdom revenues from domestic and in-bound tourism came to £33 billion last year and that we had more than 20 million visitors from overseas. However, the problem is that although tourism may be the world's fastest growing industry, growth in Britain has been significantly slower than that in many of our competitors. As the report points out:
"If Britain could restore the share to its 1980 level, earnings would increase by £3 billion."
That equates almost exactly to the size of the current deficit. We have heard about the importance of increasing the quality of accommodation and value for money and the issue of benchmarking, which is so important. I am delighted that the Government have mounted the initiative in co-operation with the Confederation of British Industry because I see benchmarking as the way ahead. Not that we do not have a large stock already of excellent accommodation, but there is always scope for improving what we have and getting more.
Bookability has rightly come to the fore. It is easier to book a hotel abroad than one in this country. Once people stumble across a good hotel here, they tend to go back to it over and over again on the basis that they have found one with which they are happy. Although there are many books and guides, often with their own registration and