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10.50 am

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on securing this morning's debate. We all welcome the opportunity to discuss what is undoubtedly one of Britain's most important industries.

I take the strongest possible exception to the allegations by Opposition Members that the Government do not recognise the importance of tourism, which contributes some £53 billion a year to the economy and employs 1.7 million people. It is also one of our fastest growing industries, and we certainly take it extremely seriously. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) said that he hoped that cheap party political points would not be made during the debate, and that is certainly not my intention.

The hon. Member for North Essex highlighted the industry's importance for employment. We have been liaising closely with the industry on the Government's proposals for the new deal to get young people off benefit and into work.

Many hon. Members have also mentioned our current consultation on the structure of support for the industry, and I shall return to that later in my speech. The aim of our consultation was to make sure that what funds were available were used wisely. Under the departmental spending review, the British Tourist Authority has been allocated an increase of £6 million, in contrast to reductions in funding to tourism in recent years.

Tourism is extremely important in my constituency of Rossendale and Darwen. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister appointed me to this post, I was very encouraged when the Manchester Evening News visited one of my local tourist information centres in Rawtenstall and said what a wonderful service it provided.

Other hon. Members raised important constituency matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith) rightly referred to the plight of many seaside resorts around the country. Our domestic tourism working group charged a quality sub-group with looking at that problem. It examined a resort regeneration

25 Nov 1998 : Column 142

action plan piloted by Redcar and Cleveland borough council, and that is likely to form part of the tourism strategy.

Before I leave the subject, let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale, who is truly a champion of tourism in her constituency, and to the excellent work in Morecambe which has transformed the town in recent years. Of course I can give her the assurance that I shall visit Morecambe as soon as I can. It will not be my first visit there, but I look forward to visiting it again.

I thank the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) for his kind words. He mentioned the success of the industry and its potential for growth. I also congratulate him, as he has become the champion of the English piers. We were all delighted to learn that Southport pier was to be refurbished and renovated.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: May I remind the Minister that it was with lottery money?

Janet Anderson: It was indeed. We are grateful for and supportive of the money that the lottery is putting into similar projects around the country. During my fact-finding mission in August--I reassure the Opposition that it was truly a fact-finding mission--I visited the west pier in Brighton, which is also to be renovated using some lottery money, as well as considerable private sector investment. We see that very much as the way ahead.

The hon. Member for Southport said that he thought that a strategy for the industry was missing. Let me assure him that that is no longer the case, and I shall return to that later in my speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) referred to my visit to his constituency in the summer. I greatly enjoyed talking to the local tourism forum, which greatly assisted our consideration of the strategy and what was needed to help the industry. We were particularly impressed by the forum in Scarborough, which included local residents as well as hoteliers and people who ran the various amusements and attractions in the area. When considering sustainable tourism, it is important to include the impact on local communities--another factor that our strategy will take into account.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the millennium dome. We are proud of our decision to go ahead with the millennium dome, which will benefit not only London--although we expect some 3 million visitors to London for the millennium--but many other parts of the country. The excitement that has been generated by the project is incalculable. On Sunday, I very much look forward to switching on the floodlights at St. Anne's church in Turton, which have been funded specifically by millennium money.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) mentioned that London was a gateway. Of course it is. Many people who come to London also visit other parts of the country. He referred to hereditary peers as a particular attraction. That may be true, but whether they have a vote is probably irrelevant.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser) is a member of the Select Committee. He and some of his hon. Friends made much of the criticism by the Select Committee that the Department does not take tourism seriously. He may not be aware that one of

25 Nov 1998 : Column 143

the first things that I did on taking this job was to change the order of my title, so I am now the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting. It may seem a small gesture, but it has been warmly welcomed by the industry.

The hon. Gentleman may not know that I visited his part of the country in the summer and was most impressed. I was delighted to return to Studland bay, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. I spent a lot of my childhood there. I was most impressed by the management scheme on Purbeck, which is an important tourism attraction. A great deal has been done to introduce park-and-ride schemes and manage the number of visitors.

Mr. Fraser: I was aware of the hon. Lady's visit to Dorset, where there was much comment about why she did not go up in a hot air balloon in Bournemouth.

Janet Anderson: I did many other things, but I did not go up in a hot air balloon because I did not fancy the idea, but it did not diminish my ability to learn about the local tourism industry.

Mr. Jenkin: In the very short time she has left, will the Minister address the issue of the English tourist board?

Janet Anderson: Of course. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman was most concerned about that issue and I shall address it before I finish my speech.

Let me briefly thank the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) for her kind words. I agree with her whole-heartedly that the industry needs a champion. It is a fragmented industry which needs leadership. Our consultation with all sections of the industry has made that plain. We shall certainly take it on board in our strategy, which will be published in the new year because that is when most people think about their holidays.

I should like to address the point raised by the hon. Member for North Essex about the consultation process. We consulted widely with the industry because we wanted what public money was available to be spent as wisely as possible. Despite his criticism that the consultation process was carried out over the summer, we received more than 300 responses. The overwhelming majority called for a central co-ordinating body. That will be reflected in our decision, which will be announced soon. One of the main aims of the process was to get better help to the regions. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will welcome that commitment.

25 Nov 1998 : Column 144

Gulf Crisis

10.59 am

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): This is a profoundly important subject which affects many people's lives and touches our country's vital interests. I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Minister a series of questions, not all of which I expect him to answer today, but on which I hope he will write to me in due course.

The fact that there is a crisis in the Arabian gulf cannot be gainsaid. Just over a week ago, American and British sailors and airmen readied themselves, we are told, for political orders from the United States President and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to launch a series of devastating raids involving cruise missiles and a massive bombardment of Iraq.

By the grace of God and the skilful diplomacy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, the slaughter that would have resulted was averted--much, it seems, to the disappointment of some. It was reported that, after the Secretary-General had accepted Tariq Aziz's letter, President Clinton felt that he could not justify the attacks, especially as the Pentagon's assessment was that they would have left 10,000 people dead--every one of them somebody's son or daughter, father or mother, husband or wife.

Do Her Majesty's Government share the Pentagon's estimate that 10,000 Iraqis would have been killed if the attack had gone ahead? If not, what is their estimate of what the death toll would have been? How many of the dead Iraqis does my right hon. Friend estimate would have been high officials of the Ba'ath party, important military or security officers, or innocent men, women and children with no responsibility whatever for the actions of their Government, whom they never elected and cannot remove?

We keep hearing that the Government have no quarrel with the Iraqi people, but how many dead does my right hon. Friend think would constitute a price worth paying? Does he recall the words of the American officer who said, as he incinerated yet another hamlet on the Mekong delta, that the village would have to be destroyed in order to save it?

My right hon. Friend will be familiar with the words of Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State. During an interview on US television, Lesley Stahl asked her:

Albright replied:

    "It's a very hard choice but the price . . . we think the price is worth it."

Do Her Majesty's Government share the view that the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children--who, I assure my right hon. Friend, bleed just like his children and mine--is a price worth paying for their political objectives?

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