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Mr. Tyler: I do indeed. I hope that the Government will respond by expressing a clear view. I welcome sinners who repent; if the hon. Gentleman is saying that the previous Conservative Government were deplorable in this regard, I entirely agree with him. I hope that we can redress the balance.

In Cornwall, which is the holiday destination par excellence in the United Kingdom after London, we have had very little tourism promotion and we still have, as has been accepted in our bid for objective 1 status under European Union regional funds, the lowest household

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incomes in the country. We still have high levels of unemployment. Therefore, the promotion of the industry is extremely important.

I take up a specific point that was referred to briefly by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), and that is what he described as cowboys. I prefer to refer to them as pirates. I am talking about the differential in terms of costs and controls between legitimate real businesses and those who by various means escape costs and controls. This differential is widening dramatically. I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree--he made the point himself--that that is largely the result of controls and regulations introduced by the previous Conservative Government rather than since the general election.

For example, fire regulations dramatically ratcheted up costs. I do not understand why it is better for a visitor to be burnt in his or her bed when there are five bed places in the establishment than to be burnt if there are six or more. There must come a point where that differential does not make sense. As for health and hygiene, why is it better to contract food poisoning in a small establishment than in a large one? Surely that is something that we need to redress.

Trade refuse charges have been introduced throughout holiday areas as a means of trying to maintain a healthy local authority economy. Those charges impinge so much more heavily on legitimate businesses than on pirates. The uniform business rate brings about a dramatic difference between those who are registered as businesses and those that are not. As for value added tax, throughout the previous Parliament those of us who represented holiday areas were complaining about the lack of harmony, not only in terms of accommodation but in respect of all facilities. Having failed miserably to persuade the Conservative Government to take the issue seriously, I hope that the Labour Government will reconsider the matter.

All these matters differentiate between two separate groups. The pirates, as I describe them, evade extra costs. For example, they have more bed spaces than is legitimate and they manage to escape detection. They must be effectively monitored and then brought within the system.

However, now that the cost differential is so very great, we must find a way of bringing those who run perfectly reasonable, good small businesses, offering a welcome to their visitors, for example, within the system.

I think that there is genuine unanimity about the importance of the industry. I believe that all three parties are taking it a great deal more seriously than they did 10 years ago, for example. However, let us not forget that the trend has been against us for many years. Reversing that trend will require all the Minister's energies and enthusiasm, and those of many other Departments of government.

10.37 am

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) on securing this brief but important debate on the tourism industry. I congratulate him also on the characteristically thoughtful and articulate way in which he introduced the debate. He spoke of the things that really matter to those who are involved in

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the industry. He referred to its economic importance, which is not in doubt. He spoke of issues relating to transport, planning, sustainable development and regulation. These are the things which those in the tourism industry want to hear discussed in this place.

I thank my other right hon. and hon. Friends who have participated in the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) both made immensely worthwhile contributions based on long experience and knowledge of the tourism industry. I was particularly struck by the points that they made about the local importance of tourism to their constituents as well as the national importance of tourism, with which we are all familiar.

It is pleasant to see the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn), who alone represents Labour interests on the Government Back Benches. It is a pity that not more of his colleagues came into the Chamber to join in the debate. I had the opportunity of visiting Scarborough not long ago. I know how much work is going on in that town to support the tourism industry. I know, for example, of the transport problems that it faces. I will not embarrass the hon. Gentleman by reminding him of the Deputy Prime Minister's visit and the story of the bogus train ride.

Mr. Quinn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: No. I do not have time to give way. We can talk about the matter afterwards, if the hon. Gentleman wishes.

Everyone in this place agrees about the huge economic significance of tourism. Since taking up her office, the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting has tried quite hard. She has a warm personality, but, unfortunately, that and warm words are not enough. I feel that there is growing frustration in the tourism industry. It is not only that the Department's budget for tourism is being cut by £2 million in real terms; there are growing concerns that most of the major issues that confront tourism are not being addressed.

We looked forward to the publication of the tourism strategy. Ten months overdue, and boasting the fatuous new logo of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, it appeared. However, it is not a strategy at all. Like so much else that emanates from the Government, it is designed to give the impression of busy activity, without committing Ministers to doing anything much, except attending the occasional summit. Publicly, the industry was lukewarm about the document, though others were more critical. Privately, those in the industry are angry at the wasted opportunity. They are angry that the document was bereft of useful national data and failed utterly to address their key concerns.

What are those concerns? The Minister may be told and may even believe that all is well. It is not. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire about the trade deficit. We heard about falling visitor numbers to the main attractions and our declining position in world markets. There are other problems--regulation, bureaucracy, planning constraints, licensing problems and transport gridlock. Those are the issues which we hear about when we listen to the tourism industry. Nowhere does the Government's tourism strategy document offer any hope or practical suggestions on those matters.

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The tourism industry is defending the front line against the Government's remorseless extension of bureaucracy and new taxes. Since 1 May 1997, the Government have introduced no fewer than 2,400 new regulations, many of which bear hardest on the tourism industry--for example, the national minimum wage. The problem for decent, hard-working people in smaller businesses is not thecost of paying the national minimum wage, as the overwhelming proportion of them do anyway, but the cost of administering it--the extra paperwork, the extra systems, the extra associated costs and the consequent lower profits, leading to less investment and fewer jobs.

For some, like members of the British Activity Holiday Association, who employ large numbers of younger people away from home on short contracts, the minimum wage spells possible disaster. I know that strong representations have been made to the Minister about the adequacy of the £20 accommodation off-set, and whether it will be increased or even maintained. I hope that those representations have not fallen on deaf ears, and I look forward to the Minister's comments on that in her reply. The activity holiday industry will be listening carefully, too.

Let us consider the working time directive. The tourist industry, more than any other, needs flexibility in its labour force. It is true that the majority of large corporations in this sector can absorb the extra costs of such measures. They do not want to do so, it will cost them many millions of pounds and it will mean fewer jobs, but they can do it. However, the majority of the industry is made up of small businesses, which can ill afford the extra costs of bureaucracy. The fixed on-costs of compliance in terms of extra clerical work, computer systems and so on are much the same whether a business is turning over £50 million or £500,000, but the burden is greater on smaller businesses.

The parental leave directive, the part-time workers directive, the working families tax credit and the child care credit all pile further costs on to an industry thatthe Minister claims to support. Then there is the Government's policy of fairness at work in the Employment Relations Bill currently under consideration. I wonder how many people running small hotels or restaurants are aware of what the Government have up their sleeve for them, such as compulsory trade union recognition for companies employing as few as 21 people, and parental leave proposals whose only social and economic effect will be to make it harder for women to get jobs in an industry that has traditionally led the way in providing employment opportunities for women, training them and promoting them.

Each and all of those measures are bad for the tourist industry, but the cumulative effect could be crippling. In the short term, it could drive many businesses out, and in the long run the Government are erecting enormous barriers to new entrants to the market. Does the Minister know that, while she goes around heaping praise on the tourism industry, her Government are busily erecting barriers to those dynamic new entrants who want to make it grow? In doing so, the Government are creating an underlying structural weakness in the entire industry, which it will take years to put right.

I have dwelt on the sins of omission perpetrated by the so-called tourism strategy. There is one sin of commission that cannot go unmentioned. It was touched on earlier. The Government's original intention was to abolish the

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English tourist board. No one asked for that. It was proposed as part of the Government's overall political agenda to do with the federalisation of England. Faced with enormous hostility from the industry, the Government at first dithered, then fudged. We are now to have an English tourism council.

The most striking feature of this new body is that, unlike its counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it will have no remit to market the country that it purports to represent. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that there will be no one to handle the 300 or so consumer and media calls each month that are taken at present by the English tourist board, and that there will be no one to answer questions about tourism in England. Does she expect that work to be undertaken by the British Tourist Authority? If so, will the BTA be remunerated for that? It is already closing offices around the world because it cannot afford to keep them open. Incidentally, it does an excellent job, as do the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland tourist boards, and many of the regional tourist boards.

The replacement of the English tourist board by a neutered central bureaucracy is a slap in the face for England. As the Minister knows, the chief executive of the English tourist board has resigned. He was a marketing man, who was brought in to do a marketing job. That job has been removed and he has gone. There is no chairman at present, either, so matters are being allowed to drift.

I say that England needs a voice. It is not surprising, but it is depressing none the less, that I increasingly hear people in the industry questioning whether they would be better off if they were sponsored by another Department. The answer to that, in my view, is that they would not. It is not a different Department that they need, but a different Government. They need a Department that will believe in them, that will act for them and that can carry clout across Whitehall. It is already abundantly clear that they will not get that from Labour.

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