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5.41 pm

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood): I agree with the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has one of the most important jobs in the Government. I say that not just because of the Department's great importance to our economy but because I enjoy so many of the facilities that it covers. I am pleased to take part in a debate that highlights the Government's exciting initiatives. Such proposals are sadly lacking among Conservative Members.

I listened carefully to the speech by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), but there was no substance and, I fear, no style in his presentation. We should all welcome the biggest ever increase in resources for culture, and the fact that it has been placed in the context of a wide-ranging consultative document. There have been other initiatives in the past 15 months that are especially important to tourism in view of the difficulties that face many of our tourist resorts, especially seaside towns. I represent such a town, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), whom I am pleased to see in his place. We are both aware of the difficulties that seaside towns faced for many years because the previous Government did not support them. At last, we are looking forward to the support that we need.

Mr. Gray : Has the hon. Lady heard from the Labour party whether it intends to return to Blackpool for the annual conferences? Her constituents must have been concerned by the recent announcement that the standard of hotels and restaurants in Blackpool did not come up to the high standards that Labour has come to expect in Islington and elsewhere.

Mrs. Humble: My colleagues and I look forward to enjoying the party conference in the autumn in Blackpool, and to enjoying the hotel accommodation and restaurants and all the other facilities that Blackpool offers. We might go to see the illuminations. Seaside resorts should not be treated with the contempt that the hon. Gentleman has displayed. They have serious problems. Those who visit Blackpool in the summer and autumn see the bright lights, the theatres and a bustling town. They do not see behind those attractions the problem of unemployment and the difficulties that have been caused by many years of underfunding.

At last, Britain has a Government who are investing not just in tourism but in housing to improve the housing stock. They are investing in health, education and new jobs. In north Blackpool, a new technology park is being built, and already there is a queue of people waiting to develop new technology and new jobs on that site. In recent years, Blackpool council and the tourism and hospitality trade have taken steps to ensure that Blackpool

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remains Britain's premier seaside and tourist resort. However, local support, initiatives and endeavour will not be enough. The Government must be equally committed not only to Blackpool but to other seaside towns and to tourism as a whole. That is why all those who are involved in tourism and hospitality welcome many of my right hon. Friend's initiatives.

Training and the new deal initiative are important. I was pleased to attend the higher awards ceremony at Blackpool and the Fylde college. The degree ceremony there is held in conjunction with Lancaster university, and many of the degrees are in tourism, hospitality and catering to enable people to provide for the many visitors who come not just to Blackpool but to other parts of the country. I felt proud of those students as they walked across the stage to receive their degrees. Those well-educated young people will deliver the quality service that we want, and that will encourage more overseas visitors and make life more enjoyable for those who take their holidays at home.

There have been many plaudits for the minimum wage legislation. How can we develop quality services if we do not pay the rate for the job to the people, many of whom are young, who are engaged in the direct delivery of services? Those initiatives are sponsored by many Departments which have co-operated to develop a key industry. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been involved in many other initiatives. I recently took part in the debates on the Bill that became the National Lottery Act 1998. I fear that my constituency is among those that have received the lowest lottery funding.

Under the new legislation, there is hope for a more equitable allocation of resources so that the many deserving causes in my constituency and in many regions that have dropped off the list will be viewed much more sympathetically. People are already approaching me to know more about the sixth good cause, the after-school clubs and the healthy living centres. They are excited by the Government's new initiatives.

I welcome the arts initiative. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering museums and art galleries, I hope he will remember that there are many excellent examples in the regions. A museum in Fleetwood has concentrated on the history of the fishing industry there. Unfortunately, that industry has declined in recent years, but many children can visit that museum to learn more about their heritage and about the industry in which their fathers, grandfathers and uncles worked. That museum is a centre of education, as well as providing an interesting afternoon out for many families. On Friday evening, I will attend the Grundy art gallery in Blackpool, where a new exhibition is to be unveiled. It regularly has new exhibitions which highlight local as well as national talent. There are many such art galleries and museums throughout the country, so, when we look at the arts, let us remember that we are talking not just about the royal opera or metropolitan organisations, however much we all wish to support them, but about local initiatives.

I could talk at length about the theatre and the plays that I have seen in Blackpool. Instead, let me say that I just hope that the Secretary of State, when he visits Blackpool in the autumn, will take the opportunity to visit local arts establishments, as well as entering into debates

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with the tourism and hospitality industries, and will see why many people enjoy coming to Blackpool and want to keep coming back.

5.50 pm

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey): I am very happy to follow the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble). Having had many discussions with the people of Blackpool about the tourism and leisure industry--having visited Blackpool pleasure beach and talked about the importance of tourism--I endorse many of her points about the industry in Blackpool. I was especially pleased to hear the hon. Lady comment on the importance of training. At the recent British Hospitality Association annual lunch, Adair Turner commended the document that was produced by the Department of National Heritage on training and manpower issues in--I think--1996. That makes the point that the industry needs to train young people. I hope that the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), whom I welcome to the ministerial team, will be able to deploy some of the expertise that he has developed at the Department for Education and Employment in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, because human resource issues are so important.

Enjoyable though it has been, the debate so far has been characterised by a degree of selective memory. I hope that the Minister for Sport will be able to inform the House on these points in his winding-up speech. Surely, the biggest single increase in funding to culture in this country has arisen from the incredible significance of the national lottery. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will inform the House precisely how many museums, galleries, theatres and orchestras have benefited from the national lottery. For all the credit that should be given to the Department for its work, and to Britain's extraordinary ability to achieve a reputation throughout the world for its excellence in arts, sports and heritage, the person who must take the most credit is my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who said, of his founding of the Department:

The most incredible boost in funding has resulted from the national lottery, which has enabled many more people to participate in the arts, sport, heritage, culture--the things that draw people together. A dilemma of modern life is that people's lives are more fragmented and more isolated. Now, however, they have the opportunity to build communities in a way that they never previously had.

The Secretary of State was less than generous to my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister. Anyone who has served in a Department inevitably has a tremendous commitment and concern for the activities of that Department. The former Minister for Arts, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), consistently and generously paid tribute to those elements of policy for which the team that was present when I last held office had been responsible.

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The Secretary of State mentioned many initiatives that had a remarkably familiar ring. I seem to remember setting up a working group involving the British Council, the British Tourist Authority and the Department, and changing the lottery rules to allow lottery money to go into touring, to encourage access, participation and education. I remember many other themes. I was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman presented those in classic Labour fashion, rebranding and rebadging any good idea from the past, without any recognition of what had gone before.

The one respect in which the Secretary of State did give me recognition concerned the adoption of the phrase "cool Britannia." I was Secretary of State for National Heritage. I am a Conservative who is proud of our past and who believes that there is continuity. Therefore, I was happy to adopt and to apply a phrase that identified the creative, dynamic, forward-looking potential of Britain.

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