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Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): I am delighted to have this opportunity to debate such an important subject. I am also pleased to have the support of so many of my Conservative colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), who is sitting next to me. Many hon. Members from all parties want to speak, so I shall speak so far as it relates to Bournemouth for both of us. My hon. Friend wants to be firmly associated with my comments.
Tourism is very important to the economy of the United Kingdom and the south-west in particular. It is the country's fourth largest industry and earns about £75 billion a year for the UK economy. The south-west is one of the regions most dependent on tourism as a percentage of its overall economic activity. Bournemouth, part of which I have the honour to represent, earns £500 million a year from tourism. We welcome 5 million visitors a year and employ in tourism 20,000 people. That gives some background to the scale of our subject.
Much as I admire the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, the Government have not given the support to tourism that they promised. We have had constant platitudes but no delivery. For example, there has been no help with marketing. The Scottish tourist board spends £19.4 million on marketing, which is £3.77 per head. The Wales tourist board spends £15.5 million, which is £4.03 per head. The English tourist board and the regional tourist boards combined receive only £11.7 million from the Government; the actual spend is 20p per head. That gives us some idea of the scale of the problem for England and the south-west in particular.
We no longer have an English tourist board with the responsibility to promote tourism in England, and we should revert to that. We are told that the British Tourist Authority does a lot of work that benefits England. However, in its latest UKOK campaign, which was supposed to support the south-east and south-west of England, it managed to miss out any mention of Dorset, Bournemouth and the New forest, despite the fact that we have England's first world heritage coastline and that the New forest is a national park of outstanding importance. The New forest was the only national park not mentioned in the campaign. The Government's record on support for marketing is tragic.
We should also consider support for local authorities. Resorts should be able, and encouraged, to improve their visitor facilities. We should ensure that visitors to resorts in the south-west find the amenities that they are entitled to expect. They should be at least comparable with those of our major overseas competitors. What is the Government's record in relation to resort towns? I am a vice-president of the British Resorts Association, and we have repeatedly had to tell the Government that we are not receiving anything like adequate support. The way in which the Government's subvention to local authorities in general and resort towns in particular is organised, discriminates against resorts. More and more burdens have been imposed on tourist towns through increased regulations and requests to take more asylum seekers and to set up drug rehabilitation centres, which we in Bournemouth and other resorts have done.
The resorts and the south-west in general have a disproportionately high number of retired people. The problems of the elderly impact most severely on many resort towns, but the support that we receive for them is declining. Bournemouth has lost £3 million of support for rest homes every year since the Government came to power. Overall, Government support for Bournemouth has gone down from 73 per cent. in 1997 to 65.8 per cent. now. We have lost £13 million in Bournemouth alone. That is mirrored in resorts throughout the country and in the south-west in particular.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I am sure that my hon. Friend will be as concerned as I am that the seaside and market towns scheme, which looked like a good scheme, has run into the ground because it has been stop go, stop go. Bureaucracy has been added to it. Some towns that started out on the scheme with a lot of enthusiasm have now backed off. There does not seem to be any clarity about how the scheme works and how it can be taken forward. It has done more harm than good because of the way in which it has been administered.
Mr. Butterfill : My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. She is absolutely right. Often, the Government have ideas that sound terribly good, but at the end of the day they do not deliver. How on earth are we supposed to support tourism facilities within our resorts if we are not given the financial support that increasing Government burdens demand?
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): My hon. Friend, in his inimitable way, puts forward a cogent and powerful case. The reduction in Government expenditure to Bournemouth is mirrored in Torbay, Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. Does he agree that the Government's insistence on audits means that, instead of going to seaside towns, money is being used on audits of every conceivable kind? There is more bureaucracy and more intervention from the centre.
Mr. Butterfill : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is the new stealth tax. There have been huge reductions in Government support for major towns, particularly resort towns, throughout the south-west. Because the Government are giving us less, we have to raise revenue through council tax to maintain anything like adequate support facilities. Expenditure in Bournemouth has increased by less than 2.3 per cent. a year in each of the years that the Government have been in power. That is less than the rate of inflation over the same period. However, we have had to increase our council tax by over 10 per cent. this year. That is an absolute disgrace. The Government hope that the electors will blame our councillors, who are doing a cracking job, but they may find in the local elections up and down the country that they have been rumbled on that new stealth tax.
One of the many other points that I wish to deal with is infrastructure and infrastructure investment. The south-west is suffering incredibly badly. We have heard what happens in Scotland. Other regions have had huge investment from the Government, but the south-west
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Devon to Cornwall line was closed over Easter and the Exeter to Plymouth line will be closed for four weeks in May, which is likely to cost the region up to £20 billion in lost revenue?
Mr. Butterfill : I was indeed aware of that, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing it to our attention.
Anyone wanting to go from Bournemouth or any of the south-east Dorset conurbations to the putative seat of regional government, which the Government are so keen on, would have to go back on the railway line as far as Basingstoke, wait there for another train and go back in the other direction. It is complete and utter nonsense to say that it is part of the region. It takes one and a half hours to get to London and two and a half hours to get to Exeter. There are no railway lines at all to Bristol and the north.
As for roads, there is the main south-west spine, the A30-A303, which is supposed to bring tourists from London and the major conurbations, but it is still not dualled, despite protestations that that would be done. Anyone who wants to go from Bournemouth to Exeter by road must travel from Dorchester onwards on the mediaeval cart track that dignifies itself with the name the A31. The Highways Agency has just published a report about what it intends to do about the road.
Jim Knight (South Dorset): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) opposes trunk road status beyond Dorchester because he does not want the traffic rumbling through the villages in his constituency?
Mr. Butterfill : Nimbyism exists in every part of the House, especially among the Liberal Democrats.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I followed with interest the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the result of the privatisation of the rail industry, which he voted for. The dualling of the A30 in Cornwall, which is a serious issue, was delayed by the Government whom he supported. We are only now getting back to where we were 10 years ago.
Mr. Butterfill : I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but we must move on. The Government have been in power since 1997 and they said that they would change all that. They have failed to do so and have often been supported by the Liberal Democrats.
There are no links to the north on the A350 from Dorset; to describe many parts of that road as a mediaeval cart track would be charitable. From Bournemouth and its conurbations, the only way to go north is on the M27 to the M3, then up the M3 to pick up the A34. Torbay still needs the Kingkerswell bypass
The wonderful regional government based in Exeter is beloved of the Liberal Democrats, but the problem is that the boundaries do not relate to any form of economic activity or to the infrastructure. We are doing the best we can about that. We have good relations with the poor people who are charged with making progress. That is the only way to go forward, but what is needed is a properly defined role for the agencies and an inter-relationship with Government Departments, which is still lacking.
Agriculture and tourism are the lynchpins of the south-west economy; they play a vital part in everything that goes on there. However, we have had no real Government initiatives to support or encourage rural tourism. I know that a number of my hon. Friends will speak much more lucidly on that issue than I can, because they represent rural constituencies.
With regard to our international competition, we have some of the best destinations in Europe. However, we often do not qualify for European aid or regeneration grants; Bournemouth is an example. Those grants go to other competitor resorts. In addition, VAT is higher in the UK than in many continental competitor countries, and the Government have now imposed on the industry the working time directive.
That is another wonderful European idea, which is supported of course by the Liberal Democrats, who love everything that comes from Brussels. Far more important, however, is the way in which the 48-hour restriction affects shift patterns. The hospitality industry, among others, has to operate 24 hours a day, a fact that the Government seem not to realise. We have to look after our visitors all day, every day24 hours a day, seven days a week. That imposes shift patterns, but those are in no way recognised by the nonsense to which the Government have agreed.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): My hon. Friend will have noted in the Budget the increase in national insurance contributions for employers. That will have a major impact on the tourism industry, which employs many people in the Bournemouth and Poole area, and will be detrimental to its business prospects.
Mr. Butterfill : The increase will be hugely damaging. The Government do not understand that national insurance increases impact particularly severely on industries and businesses that are already in great difficulty, on the margin, not making profits and struggling to stay alive. That applies throughout the south-west, particularly after foot and mouth. The increase is the equivalent of a 3 per cent. rise in corporation tax. Of course if it had been a tax increase, the businesses that are not making profits anyway would not have been affected. The increase in national insurance contributions, however, will probably ensure that some of them fail.
Jim Knight : I do not wish to rehearse the whole Budget debate, but surely the hon. Gentleman welcomes the use of national insurance for the sake of the many pensioners whom he talked about earlier. They have
Mr. Butterfill : The hon. Gentleman is right, but pensioners do not pay corporation tax either. My point is that the measure could have been targeted much more effectively to support the industries in his constituency that I am sure he, too, holds dear.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall be brief. Throughout the south-west, language schools are a success story. Every year, 30,000 students come to Bournemouth alone to learn English as a foreign language. However, they have terrible problems with the Government when it comes to getting visas. People come to me repeatedly from the Association of Recognised English Language Services, saying that they cannot get their students into the country because of the enormous delays in Departments and at Lunar houselunatic house, some people call it. The system is supposed to be administered there, but the delays run into months and months.
If students want to extend their stay so that they can take a further course, they cannot get permission to do so. They cannot go home for Christmas either, because if they do so, they will not be let back in. The situation is complete madness. I know that the Minister is sympathetic to the problems, but more must be done. If we are to have joined-up government, we should be able to make better arrangements for such educational purposes, particularly for the people whom we have already let in.
One of the final indignities involves the British Council. It does a wonderful job in the countries where it operates, but it should not set up English language courses subsidised by the Government in those countries. Such courses take business away from language schools in this country. I hope that the Government will make that clear to the British Council.
There is a great tourist industry in the south-west. Bournemouth is a world-class resort, but we need a little more support and a little more joined-up government. I hope that the Minister can do something about that.
Jim Knight (South Dorset): I should declare that I am a trustee of the Tank museum, an important tourist attraction in the south-west.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) on securing this important debate, which gives us a valuable opportunity to discuss important issues for a crucial industry in our region. Her Majesty the Queen is in Falmouth today launching her golden jubilee tour of the country. That is one reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) could not be here, although she would have liked to be.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Where are the rest of them?
Jim Knight : I cannot account for everyone, but I was specifically asked to pass on apologies from my hon.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West talked about the importance of tourism to the country and the south-west. It accounts for 10 per cent. of that region's gross domestic product. The spending that tourism generates is equivalent to £1,150 per resident of the region, so it is clearly of huge significance. It is the same size as the tourist industries of Wales and Scotland combined. We in the south-west would be most grateful if we received the £34.8 million that their tourist boards received in subsidy from the Government, but I suspect that we are being a little optimistic in hoping to receive that.
Mrs. Browning : I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman says, but is he making a proposal for the Barnett formula to be revisited?
Jim Knight : I am grateful for that most helpful contribution. I do not want to re-rehearse the Barnett formula. I hope that the formula is named after my predecessor, the only other Labour Member for South Dorset, Guy Barnett, although I should know whether that is so. [Hon. Members: "Joel Barnett."] Never mind. At least I had a chance to plug Guy Barnett.
I am privileged to represent South Dorset. The traditional seaside tourism industry is crucial in Weymouth and Swanage, which is in my patch. We have heard how important it is to Bournemouth from the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West. Tourism is becoming much more important in the countryside, as is environmental tourism. The previous time I spoke in Westminster Hall we debated world heritage status. I talked at some length about the importance of world heritage coast status not only to South Dorset but to the whole area. I am sure that if the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) makes a contribution, he will mention its importance to Devon.
The tourism industry, important as it is, does not have a loud enough voice. That is one of the reasons why I welcome this debate. If tourism had the strength of voice that the farming industry has through the National Farmers Union, for example, some of the issues that we want to address today might be higher up the public agenda. Perhaps if we had the strength of such a lobby, there would be more support for the tourism industry, which is what I am sure most of us will be arguing for today. Given that the voice of the industry is not as loud as I would like it to be, this is an opportunity to question the Minister on its behalf.
Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): Given the importance of the voice of tourism, will the hon. Gentleman recommend to his party that the seaside group of MPs should be broadened to become an all-party group and not be the exclusive domain of Labour MPs?
Jim Knight : I am sure that it would be open to hon. Members to form an all-party group. I would be happy to support it. There is value in Labour Members holding
Does the Department view tourism as a domestic industrial issue, which it is, or as an industry that is just about attracting inward visitors? The balance of payments deficit for tourism has now increased to £12 billion a year. That is a huge gap. Given the proposal for schools to have six terms, I wonder whether the Department has listened properly to the voice of our domestic tourism industry. For example, Monkey World is an excellent tourist attraction in my constituency. I have received faxes galore from it about the proposal. The weather in this country is neither reliable nor perfect and Monkey World is worried that restricting the summer holiday to five weeks could have a significant impact on its business. It could cope, because there are other aspects of the business, but it is concerned about some of the smaller outlets, such as Farmer Giles' farm, the family farm that people can visit to understand agriculture. If we contract the tourism season, smaller businesses could suffer.
Our traditional seaside tourism industry relies on good weather and a long summer holiday to make the vast bulk of its income. A contraction of the summer holiday may cause significant damage to some of its businesses. I should be interested to know whether the Minister has discussed such matters with his colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills and what the outcome was. Schools in other countries, such as France, for example, are out for specific winter weeks. The winter sports industry can benefit from that. If the Government have five or six school terms, surely holidays could be arranged to benefit the tourism industry. I should be interested to know whether that will happen.
Are the needs of the tourism industry dealt with by all the Departments? I know that the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting and his Department focus well on the tourism industry and I am sure that they are doing their best to broaden that throughout the Government, but it important that other Departments pay due attention to it. I have spoken previously about the world heritage coast in the belief that that Minister had responsibility for that coast. To my embarrassment, I found out that the Minister with responsibility was my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs.
I am grateful to the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting for visiting the area. He has walked along part of the coast in west Dorset, and I am sure that he will represent the interests of the world heritage coast well. However, only a few of the points that I raised in my contribution on world heritage statussuch as improving the standard of accommodation and of access through better transport, and the things that must be dealt with to allow the world heritage coast to prosperare necessarily issues for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Some of them would be better addressed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and others by a variety of other Departments.
I have mentioned the school term issue facing the Department for Education and Skills. It is also responsible for further education. Increasing the level of
We need that sector to prosper. We need it to focus on making better links with the economic development strategies of our local authorities to deal with things such as skills gaps in our industries. I know some good work is being done: Bournemouth university has just started a degree course that includes sports management, particularly golf management. Work is being done in education, but that needs to be extended. In the local care sector in Dorset, excellent work is being done to deal with the skills gaps.
I turn to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. The funding to local authorities has been mentioned. It is historically low in Dorset. It is too low; it is unfair. There is something wrong with the funding formula, and we are hopeful that that will be dealt with by the Department this year.
We need to ensure that our local authorities have a better settlement so that they can fully carry out those of their responsibilities that have an impact on our tourism industry. For example, we are trying to encourage some of our farmers to diversify into equestrian facilities. That should be developed, as it is an important element of the tourism industry in our countryside. However, our local authorities are struggling to ensure that our bridleways are properly maintained. My wife and daughter are regular horse riders. In the area where I live, it is a great problem for them properly to enjoy the Dorset coast on horseback, because bridleways are not properly maintained, and they are not connected to make decent routes. I would love the local authority to be given the funding to enable it to resolve that issue. That is just one example of the point that I am making.
Infrastructure is largely a responsibility of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I have talked about heritage coast access, and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West talked at length about the infrastructure problems in the south-west. I sympathise with what he said. That must be improved, and the Department must make it a priority.
I turn to the Department for Trade and Industry. Monkey World is keen to see an improvement in the appalling broadband access in our area. It is the only primate rescue centre in Europe, and there is considerable interest in it from educational establishments. They wish to be able to follow and monitor what is going on with the primates that it looks after. It is now working with the learning and skills council and others to get some broadband access.
South West Tourism agrees with me that it is important that we see an improvement in e-tourism, so that people can book online, and understand what the area has to offer online, prior to visiting the area.
The regional development agency is the responsibility of the Department for Trade and Industry, and I would be interested to hear whether the Minister feels that it is properly addressing tourism. There is some evidence of that locally. The RDA is supporting Portland and understands that extending and improving the sailing
The Government have made good progress on tourism as a whole, especially in improving the economy. The fact that we have such low unemployment and inflation and that economically we are doing well means that people have more money in their pockets to spend, are out visiting things and coming to our region. Tourism is doing reasonably well. The introduction of the minimum wage ensured that the lowest paid people, who are the most likely to want to enjoy our seaside tourism industry, had more money in their pockets, more disposable income and could come to enjoy bucket and spade holidays on Weymouth beach.
The "Your countryside, you're welcome" initiative has been a success, and my final plea is for more such initiatives. For every pound that the Government spent on it, £30 was generated in bookings in the region. The Treasury gains 30 per cent. of that income. For every pound that is put in, the Treasury gains many times over.
I wish the Minister every good fortune in the comprehensive spending review to ensure that he secures more money for tourism and that, instead of spending more in Wales and Scotland, which receive enough, we spend it in the south-west.
David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind hon. Members that I intend to call the three Front-Bench spokesmen at 12 o'clock. Four people are standing. If they confine themselves to five or six minutes, we can fit everyone in.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): Thank you, Mr. Taylor, for calling me to speak in this important debate for the economy of the south-west.
I shall first discuss the south-west as an artificial construct. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) mentioned that his constituency had few links with Exeter. Mine has a few more, but not many.
In a previous debate in this Chamber, the Liberal Democrat spokesman accused me of being a Wessex regionalist. I shall speak a little about Wessex, if only because I am terribly proud that my constituency contains the site of the battle of Ethandune, where King Alfred saw off the Vikings and where he established[Interruption.] That may be disputed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), but we can safely say that the battle of Ethandune took place in my constituency, which is where Alfred established his kingdom, which became England. It is an extremely good tourist destination, and hon. Members who have not visited the site must do so, if only to improve the local economy.
Tourists do not visit regional tourist board areas. They may go on their holidays to the Chilterns, the Cotswolds or the highlands and islands, but they do not say to themselves, "Let's go to the English Tourism
In the south-west, although the number of UK visitors has increased slightly, and the number of nights spent in the south-west has increased, by even less than that, the number of overseas visitors has declined over the past five years. That cannot be blamed only on foot and mouth and the tragic events of 11 September because the decline started well before that.
Structural arrangements to support tourism could be inadequate, and we have heard about arrangements for marketing. Local government's statutory tasks are underfunded, and funding for tourism will always be a low priority because it is difficult to define a return on the investment in a way that would satisfy elected local authorities. That is reflected right the way up, because tourism is only a small part of the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is hardly a leviathan. That is a great shame because UK tourism generated £75 billion in 2000, which is about four times the amount of revenue generated by agriculture.
The tourism sector remains disproportionately significant in the south-west despite the ravages of foot and mouth. The sector is surprisingly hidden, partly because it is so disparate and fragmentary. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) commented on that and noted that no effective voice is heard from the industry.
A chief brake on the sector has undoubtedly been its skills base. Traditionally, it relied on low-skilled staff on low pay who probably had a fairly low status and did not mind working antisocial hours or putting up with poor career prospects. Although the inevitable service product may have been acceptable to the United Kingdom market at one time, it is no longer because people demand higher quality. The product is certainly not acceptable to our overseas visitors.
Many colleges have put on imaginative courses. However, we are dealing exclusively with small and medium enterprises that, in times of financial hardship, experience great difficulty investing in the skills of their staff because of the marginal nature of their business. When times get hard, such enterprises must inevitably make difficult choices, and one choice is how much to invest in staff.
I hope that the newly formed Sector Skills Council will deal with such issues. The SSC for travel, tourism and hospitality has an ambitious remit. We are told that it will reduce skills gaps and shortages, improve
The project sounds very vague, and I was especially worried when I heard that the Government would pay up to £1 million of match funding to support it. The match funding will come from employers. Given the project's ambitious remit, I do not know how £2 million will cover the task. I am unclear how the money will be extracted from employers, and I shall welcome the Minister's comments.
Diana Organ (Forest of Dean): I am supporting the debate secured by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) because my south-west constituency is unusual. Most south-west Members present represent coastal towns, but my constituency contains a beautiful forest surrounded by beautiful rivers and has a landscape to die for. We have tourist attractions slightly different from piers and bucket-and-spade holidays.
The Government have recognised our landscape. We received £1 million from the Countryside Agency to secure environmental development that goes hand in hand with economic and social development. That has been successful in promoting our area and giving it a type of brand.
Along with most of the south-west, last year we suffered the devastating effects of the foot and mouth outbreak. The Forest of Dean had a difficult time, because there were 47 confirmed cases and the whole landscape was closed. That had a major impact. Our outdoor centres were closed, as was access to rivers for canoeing and other water sports. Our forest was closed, so school trips were cancelled because nobody could access the landscape to enjoy any activity. Our youth hostels and campsites were closed. Only this spring did we start to remarket our youth hostels, when the Minister visited and walked a little of Offa's Dyke as part of the "Your countryside, you're welcome" initiative, to advertise the fact that places had re-opened. We were devastated.
It was not until we experienced the closure of the countryside that we recognised the inextricable link between agriculture and tourism. We had thought that tourism was something that involved London, the coastal resorts or, possibly, walking in the Cotswolds, and that agriculture was something different. We had not realised how linked the two activities were.
We had not really noticed what tourism was. No Governmentneither the previous Conservative Government nor the present Government had bothered to support it in our area, because it had flourished. The number of jobs had increasedone in four new jobs since 1997 were in the tourism sector. Our
In a small way we have started to move forward in the Forest of Dean. We have been one of the most successful districts in the south-west in obtaining grants from the Government after foot and mouth to help us remarket the area. We have had a fantastic response. We set up a light show at Beechenhurst on the sculpture trail, and 45,000 people visited it. We were expecting 4,000 or 5,000 cars to come, but we had 10 times that number of people. A little marketing, advertising and promotion and we had a huge response. That is the way forward.
We also had a food fair in Speech house to promote local produce, reflecting the link between agriculture and tourism. We have given grants to individual companies such as canoe companies, to get them restarted. There are outdoor experiment companies such as Motiva, in which people climb ropes. Presumably Monkey World, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) could have something to do with that. With the little money that is coming through, we are starting to build and develop.
We have considered the problems sporadically. The Government have not completely ignored the sector. Hon. Members have mentioned the minimum wage, and we have talked about how the growth of the economy has meant that more people can use the tourism sector. The minimum wage was crucial in lifting wage levels in a sector in which pay was traditionally very low.
Mr. Swire : I am not aware that anyone else has mentioned the minimum wage today. We talked about national insurance, and the hon. Lady should be aware that an average firm employing 10 people, which in my part of the west country means an enormous number of firms, will have an increased NI bill of £2,361 as a result of the Budget. That is the problem that we were drawing attention to, not the minimum wage.
Diana Organ : I am more concerned about the vast numbers of people who work in the sector. They had a rough time until the introduction of the minimum wage because they were poorly paid.
We have also developed training initiatives. The new targets are vocational training courses in colleges, and the ability to tell people that they should stay in either full-time training or education until the age of 19 will help develop that area of training for the sector.
As we have said this morning, the key issue is to promote and market the sector in the south-west if we want it to recover and develop. The Forest of Dean used to be covered by the Heart of England tourist board, but because of recent changes, we are being taken over by the South West Tourism. I am happy about that, because I was visited by the chair of the board, Cairns Boston, who I believe is in the Chamber today as an observer. He asked me how we could bring together
Mr David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. I would be grateful if the hon. Lady drew her remarks to a close to allow other speakers to contribute.
Diana Organ : Thank you, Mr. Taylor.
The marketing budget of South West Tourism and other tourist offices and local councils is too small. My only plea to the Minister is that more resources for specialised marketing should go into those areas of the south-west where tourism needs to recover from the devastation of last summer's foot and mouth.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): We have developed a clear strategy for tourism in the far south-west in the past few years. We have tried to promote quality and professionalism and make the industry less seasonal so that it can provide us with full-time, well paid rather than part-time, seasonal jobs. We have also tried to create a targeted and co-ordinated marketing campaign to drive up the number of visitors who will spend money in and bring economic benefits to our region.
There are three aspects in which the Government can assist the process. First, planning guidance must move away from considering only land use to examining all resources, so that decisions can be taken in the context of an economic environment. Individual planning applications should not be accepted without considering the total economic context that we want. One simple but rather silly example concerns the use of brown signs to promote attractions and direct people to them. It is an absolute minefield of bureaucracy and stupidity. For a couple of hundred pounds' worth of signs, we must go through an amazing plethora of decision making.
Secondly, hon. Members have mentioned rail delays when talking about infrastructure. There will be delays on roads, too, and we all accept that, but timing is crucial. Is it not possible to involve elected representatives in ensuring that when programmes are made for rail or road infrastructure improvements, they take into account the needs of the tourism industry, including their possible economic benefits? Even if it will cost a bit more to repair a certain bit of railway or road in a slightly prolonged programme, it is vital that we get the voice of tourism into the decision making. People will be turned off from coming down to the far south-west if they have to wait in long traffic jams or get off the train and on to a bus for an unplanned 20-mile bus ride.
Dr. Murrison : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Breed : I am sorry, but I do not have time.
My third point concerns grants. I ask the Minister to examine diversification versus upgrading and the way in which grants are applied post-foot and mouth. A lot of money is going into diversification, but some of it is merely working against the strategy. We do not want a
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): Objective 1 covers Cornwall, and objective 2 covers part of Somerset. Our problem in Somerset is that we cannot match the necessary funding in order to take up the difference. Councils want to be able to market directly and to take steps to encourage tourism, but they cannot as they cannot match the funding. Will the Minister consider that problem in the light of foot and mouth disease? There could be more direct marketing under objective 2 if the funding could be matched.
It was obvious at a meeting with the regional development agency that it wanted to be the prime producer of marketing for tourism in the south-west. It cannot be, as the south-west is a diversified area. I admit that my constituency has little in common with Cornwall, Weymouth or anywhere else. It is unique. I hope that the Minister will continue to pressurise bodies such as the regional development agencies to target their money where it is required. Exmoor encourages many people to come to it, as do the Quantocks and the Levels. I will not even talk about the battle of Sedgemoor. We will encourage people to come much more if we can target the resources through the RDAs and keep out the regional assemblies.
Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton): It is a question not only of investing the money, but of the speed at which the response is required. During the foot and mouth crisis last year, organisations did not help people on Exmoor quickly enough.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger : I agree. I will excite the Minister even more, and I know that he will approve, as I will talk about Butlins. It is a tremendous place, and he should go there. Some 9,000 people a week gather in one place, and the repeat rate is almost 66 per cent. a year. Last year, Butlins had to produce videos and brochures, as the local council could not produce them during the foot and mouth crisis. It was let down by the people who said that they would promote tourism in the south-west, but did not. It was left to a major employer of 750 peoplehon. Members may like to imagine what their national insurance bill will be this yearto make its own video for the council. Butlins is vital to areas such as mine. It is the largest employer by far, yet it receives almost no help to encourage people to come.
I also wonder about Taste of the West, which was trumpeted as an opportunity for producers to promote their food and drink products in an organisation that could foster the best of the west. What has happened to it? Where has it gone? Why are the regional development agencies not using it as a marketing tool to increase productivity and provide genuine reasons for people to come? Cream teas are synonymous with the south-west. What has happened to them? Why is there no marketing budget? Why are the Government not promoting schemes such as Taste of the West as a tool to encourage people to come to the south-west?
Direct marketing is the way forward. If we want to encourage people to come, we must target them specifically. We have 20p per head, unlike the Welsh and the Scots. There is palpable jealousy towards Wales, which my constituency overlooks, because of the money that is available to it, but not to us. Why cannot the Minister target that money through counties, if necessary, so that they can raise the profile of their areas and promote good tourist attractions, such as the battle of Sedgemoor or Monkey World? That would avoid having to go through the plethora of organisations. I suspect that the money will go where it is easier, such as to objective 1 areas such as Cornwall, and not to areas like ours which are rather unsexy because they are out on a limb in the middle of Somerset. Will the Minister think about it?
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): In view of the pressure of time, I will concentrate on the issues on which there has been broad agreement this morning. I should first like to take up the point that the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) just made. The proportion per capita that is being invested in promoting this extremely important industry in England is a disgrace, but there is nothing new in that. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) will recall that in the 1992-97 Parliament I tried to persuade the then Conservative Government to recognise that inequality. The discrepancy worsened during the course of that Parliament and is now, frankly, deplorable.
I agree with what has been said about the need to ensure that we get a quality product. I was at the Eden project this Monday and there were thousands of visitors. Although a great many of the projects that came out of the millennium have been far from satisfactory and disappointingthe dome was obviously at the forefront of thatthe Eden project has been a triumphant success. It is firmly based on a good-quality product that is already in Cornwall. People do not come to Cornwall just for that project; they come for the whole Cornish experience. We have a brand in Cornwall that is saleable all over the world. If we can achieve that in other parts of the United Kingdom, we could make huge progress.
Mr. David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. I will let the hon. Member continue, but the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman will need to finish at ten minutes past 12.
Mr. Tyler : I thank the Liberal Democrat spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), for co-operating on that.
I wanted to mention two other issues that have not attracted much attention this morning. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West mentioned VAT in passing, but the discrepancy between the cost of a holiday in the United Kingdom and the cost of a comparable holiday in continental Europe acts as a disincentive to people, not only to come to Britain, but to keep coming here. I, too, am a vice-president of the British Resorts Association. The work that was done for the industry to identify the effect of that discrepancyagain it was under the previous Tory Governmenthas never been properly addressed by the Treasury. It must be.
Mr. Swire : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Tyler : I do not have time.
It is a major problem and I hope that the Government will look at that issue again. It arises every time we have a discussion in my constituency.
The other issue, perhaps the word that dare not speak its name, is the euro. Every holiday business in my constituency, in the rest of Cornwall and throughout the south-west is suffering from the overvalued, uncompetitive pound. That problem must be addressed. Those who argue that it is giving way to the euro and that Britain should never enter the euro, should recognise that the euro has already entered Britain. It is part of our national economy now. It is a major factor. It affects this industry and the farming and fishing industries to an extent that is almost impossible to calculate. It is the biggest single problem that the industry now faces.
Something has to be done, both to enable the industry to compete more effectivelythat means that the value of the pound must be addressedand to prepare it if, in due course, we find ourselves going into the eurozone. Already the enterprising businesses in this industry are catering for the euro, but they are not best helped by the way in which the Government drag their heels on the wider issue. I am grateful for the brief opportunity to contribute to the debate. I thank my hon. Friend for giving me that time.
Andrew George (St. Ives): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) on securing this debate on an important subject at a crucial time for the industry. The season has begun and we can see whether tourism across the whole of the south-west will improve, following the difficulties that it faced last year.
I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman gave a number of reasons not to visit Bournemouthits mediaeval cart tracks and other problems.
Mr. Butterfill : Will the hon. Member give way?
Andrew George : I am sure that representatives of the tourism industry will want to thank the hon. Gentleman for his efforts in that respect. Had he chosen a less combative approach he might have
Mr. Butterfill : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Butterfill : The hon. Gentleman mentioned me, and my constituency. I did not say that Bournemouth
Andrew George : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to put the record straight as far as he is concerned. In advancing his arguments, he must be careful not to dissuade people from going to Bournemouth. His approach to the issue should be less combative.
Mr. Butterfill : Will the hon. Member give way?
Andrew George : I will not give way. I will make some headway. I have little time left.
We need to identify the many shared interests in planning for a more effective tourism industry in the south-west. People have been talking about the foot and mouth disease that has affected the region; humans are suffering from benefit of hindsight disease, the symptoms of which are a brass neck and short-term memory loss. We heard a litany of failure on the subject of Railtrack, VAT on accommodation, lack of investment in roads and the funding formula for tourism authorities, but the seeds of those problems were sewn by the previous Conservative Government.
Mr. Swire : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Sanders : Will my hon. Friend give way?
Andrew George : I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) as he has not spoken.
Mr. Sanders : The Kingkerswell bypassthe essential link between Torbay, the third largest tourist resort in the country, and the rest of the UKwould have been built by now if the previous Government had not de-trunked it in 1996.
Andrew George : My hon. Friend is right. In view of earlier comments, it is fair that he should have the opportunity to put the record straight.
The hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) made some helpful points. He said that he was hurt to be described as a Wessex regionalist, but he should not be worried about that. I agree with his fundamental point: as far as marketing is concerned, the south-west is an artificial administrative construct. In tourism terms, places, not artificial constructs, should have a brand. Any additional funding to tourism outside Scotland and Wales should be directed to places that have a clear identity, whether they be in Wessex, Cornwall or elsewhere, and should be used to market those places effectively. Opportunities for joint marketing in a wider area should, of course, be encouraged but such opportunities should enable places to become involved; they should not be cajoled or forced into joint marketing.
Branding will provide a good opportunity to integrate tourism and other sectors, which the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ) wanted to encourage. Objective 1 in Cornwall will provide an opportunity to establish a clear Cornish brand. People who have
My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cornwall rightly said that we should be careful that public funds do not result simply in more diversification and thereby saturate the market. The Government cannot simply shift the problems of farming on to tourism; they must be addressed in farming.
My hon. Friend also referred to infrastructure. In a debate in January, I took up the prospective closure of the Albert bridge at Easter. At that stage, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), said that it was wrong that Railtrack had consulted only within the industry and not with tourism agencies and commercial and other passenger users. We were told that something would be done about that, but now we face the closure of the rail service between Exeter and Plymouth every weekend in May. There will be further road closures throughout and beyond May. The Minister must take on board the need for Government agencies to consult more widely.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I remind colleagues of my entry in the Register of Members' Interests, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) on securing this debate on tourism. I look forward to visiting Bournemouth in September and October.
We last debated tourism in Westminster Hall in November, when coincidentally we also focused on tourism in the south-west. Perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that we are concentrating on south-west England again, because tourism is a major industry in that region and its tourism businesses were badly hit by the foot and mouth crisis. Geographically, the south-west is one of England's largest regions. A huge diversity of potentially enjoyable visitor experiences is on offer in Britain as a whole.
As my hon. Friend said, the south-west enjoys a long and scenically beautiful coastline, as a result of which many tourism businesses depend on the seaside resorts and visits to the seaside for their prosperity. Those seaside resorts face some of the greatest difficulties in attracting and retaining long-stay visitors and in adapting to the changing pattern of leisure and holidays in recent times. As my hon. Friend reminded us, the future success of the tourism industry in many seaside resorts such as Bournemouth depends on the support given to tourism by local authorities and the ability of local government and other agencies, including the RDAs, local tourist associations and chambers of commerce, to attract and secure funding for regeneration, to improve the infrastructure, such as transport and the provision of car parking, and to provide better facilities and enhanced amenities.
My hon. Friend rightly said that this year's local government settlement for seaside resorts has been disgraceful. I can report that Scarborough, which is partly in my constituencypart of the borough includes the seaside resort of Filey has had a desperately poor
I visited Bournemouth in autumn 2000 and I commend the efforts of the local council to boost tourism in the area. We cannot assume that even a resort such as Bournemouth, which is one of the most popular and prestigious, will for ever retain its leading position. It is essential to continue new investment to make the town and surrounding area more attractive and to help businesses modernise and improve accommodation facilities. This is as much an issue for the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and the support that it gives to local authorities, as it is for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, with its responsibility as the sponsoring Department for the tourism and leisure industry as a whole.
Since last November's debate, I have also had the chance to spend time visiting many other parts of the south-west, where I have met people from businesses large and small: from small farm guest houses through seaside and historic city centre hotels to major theme parks. I was in Devon in March, visiting Dartmouth, Totnes and Exeter. I also spent an enjoyable morning on Dartmoor, for which I am grateful to Mr. Malcolm Bell, the chief executive of South West Tourism. I commend him and his staff for all that they have done to promote tourism in the south-west during the difficulties of recent times.
Several issues emerged during my visits, some of which I shall raise with the Minister. I was struck by the tremendous resilience of the people working in the tourism industry, especially those running their own businesses. The year 2001 was not a good year, but they are keen to make progress in 2002. They do not ask for favours, although they think that the Government could do more to help. National insurance contribution increases will not do that, as the chairman of Tourism Alliance said in a letter to hon. Members dated 26 April. It was suggested that the NIC increase will cost £250 million to tourism businesses throughout Britain next year.
The tourism industry is worried that the Government have no apparent strategy to deal with a further outbreak of foot and mouth. It is keen to promote self-help and to do the best for itself. I commend the Dartmoor Tourist Association and others in south Hampshire for their work to improve the quality of destinations, hotels, guest houses and other attractions and for their promotion of literature. The association is keen to improve quality. One of the paradoxes of the money that got through to tourism businesses following the outbreak of the foot and mouth crisis was that they were able to improve facilities. As one guest house proprietor in Dartmoor said, "We have this wonderful new facility. We are all up to date. We have refurbished, but we have no customers." That is the key issue.
The tourism industry is keen to invest in training, and it would like more money to be made available for training. It wants to ensure that some of the attractions that have been supported and created by the private sector do not lose their customers to the many other attractions that have received substantial public subsidy through the lottery, such as the Eden project to which the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)
Mr. Butterfill : Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of training, I hope that he shares my hope that the Government will, in future schemes, do better than they did with individual learning accounts, which have been so comprehensively criticised.
Mr. Greenway : My hon. Friend has made an extremely good point. The tourism industry wants more patronage, and that brings me to marketing. Last November when we discussed such matters in Westminster Hall, the Minister had the courage to admit that the Government had not taken the industry seriously enough and were wrong to remove the marketing role from the English Tourism Council. I remind the hon. Members for North Cornwall and for St. Ives (Andrew George) that, under the Conservatives, the old English Tourist Board had a marketing function. This Government removed it from the English Tourism Council.
Andrew George : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Greenway : No, I do not have time.
Andrew George : But the hon. Gentleman named me by constituency.
Mr. Greenway : I know, but I am only reacting to what has been said. I am slightly surprised that the Liberal Democrat spokesman has not restated what I understood was Liberal Democrat policy, which was to call for the English Tourism Council to be given a marketing function. Over the past six months, there have been encouraging suggestions. I believe that the Minister and the Secretary of State are trying hard to convince colleagues in the Government that that is the way forward. I hope that the Minister will have something more to say about it today. Everyone in tourism believes that we need a national marketing strategy for Englandeven in remote parts, such as Dartmoor. Regional promotion has its place. It is important, but regional government is not the answer.
It was suggested in the Financial Times today that the Government may be publishing a White Paper about regionalism this Friday, when the House is not sitting. It is a serious matter and the Government must recognise that what is needed is not a competition between different regions of Britain for the same customers, but a strategic marketing strategy to persuade more domestic tourists to take holidays, short breaks, leisure breaks and so on in this country. Since last November's debate, Tourism Alliance, which the Minister can take some pride in having launched, has published its report, and I welcome it. One of the key conclusions is that we must give the English Tourism Council a strategic marketing role.
The vast majority of tourism businesses in south-west England, and the rest of the country, depend on the domestic market for most of their visitors. As Tourism Alliance said, £4 of every £5 spent in our tourism businesses comes from the domestic market. The alliance suggests that we increase the value of domestic
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells) : I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) on inspiring an interesting debate. It is great to see half the Conservative party on either side of him. I have never seen such enthusiasm for a debate of this sort. That is good news. We have little time, but I shall try to answer some of the questions that have been asked.
I agree with almost every word that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said. The lack of a marketing role was a mistake, and that was exposed when there was a downturn in the American economy, then foot and mouth, and then the events of 11 September. We have got to sort out the marketing role, and some interesting suggestions have been made about how we might take marketing forward.
We must not forget that Bournemouth is a great success story for tourism. As the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West said, it generates an enormous amount of revenue and employs many people. I think that I am right in saying that tourism brings £500 million to Bournemoutha tremendous amountand employs some 20,000. He is right to point out that Bournemouth is peculiar in terms of its geography. I hope that he does not mind me saying so. Several hon. Members pointed out that people go to a place to visit attractions, or perhaps because they want to explore it. They do not go because it lies within an artificial administrative configuration, but for lots of other reasons, and the hon. Gentleman's colleagues have made some of them obvious.
Mrs. Browning : Many of those attractions are signposted by brown tourism signs. I have already raised with other Ministers my concern that the Highways Agency has said that it would like fewer such signs. I thoroughly disapprove of that, and hope that the Minister will use his influence with the Highways Agency to ensure that it does not take action on the matter, because many small rural businesses and attractions will lose out if it does.
Dr. Howells : I assure the hon. Lady that we are trying to punch our weight in such debates. I think that there is too much road signage, but that is not a matter for this debate. We must be rational on the matter, but we must not lose the benefit that brown signs can bring to tourist attractions, especially in areas where there are no other industries, or in rural areas with no obvious tourist attractions. We need to be guided to hidden attractions. The hon. Lady is right, and we shall certainly play our part in the debate.
The hon. Member for Ryedale will be interested to hear me admit that I have taken my model for how to take tourism forwards from the south-west. There were shortcomings in every part of the country in the way that help was given during and after the foot and mouth
I have travelled all around this country looking at tourism projects and the way in which public funding tries to help them, and I think that the most successful area is the south-west.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): The Minister has visited Percy's hotel at Virginstow in my constituency, and he has seen the importance of training for excellence. We would benefit from seeing more of that helptraining for excellencethroughout the far south-west.
The hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) raised the important issue of training. I am sure that he did not mean to give the impression that it is all right to carry on using people who do not mind having low wages and unsocial hoursI think that that was the way that he put it. I do not know anyone who does not mind having a low wage.
Dr. Murrison : Will the Minister give way?
Dr. Howells : No, I will not give way. If the hon. Gentleman will sit down, he will find out that I am just about to praise him.
It is important that we understand what makes a success story such as Percy's hotel. It is a magnificent hotel: it is in the middle of countryside; it is a great project altogether, and there are great plans for it. Such a success story depends on notions of quality. That point has been highlighted by hon. Members of all parties. It is important that we increase skills and quality, and we cannot do that on the cheap.
I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger). As I understood it, he suggested that the money should be targeted at people who know the attractions of their areas, so that they can market them better. I have a lot of sympathy for that view. However, as the hon. Member for Ryedale pointed out, there is also a vital need for generic marketing, for the marketing of England, and that must be on a par with the way in which the Scots and the Welsh market their countries. What is interesting about the examples of Scotland and Wales is that those devolved Administrations have understood the enormous economic driving power of tourism, so they have put it right in the middle of economic developmentnot on the periphery, but in the middle of it.
Mr. Swire : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr. Howells : I will not give way at the moment, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, as I must continue.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) was right to draw hon. Members' attention to the attraction of the Jurassic coast. It is a world heritage site. That is a tremendous achievement.
My hon. Friend also talked about qualitythat point was made by hon. Members of all parties. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West knows better than I do that we may attract 5 million visitors to Bournemouth, but if the quality of the product is not good enough, they will not return, because this is one of the most competitive industries. However, I must tell him that every time I have visited Bournemouth, I have had a good holiday. Generally, it offers high quality, but that is not the case with regard to a lot of resorts.
I commend those who have made the point that we must take resorts far more seriously than we have done. We should take a look at the success story that is Bournemouth. I think that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West will admit that it has been a great partnership venture: all sorts of people have been involved in it. They have had to overcome difficulties, but they have been very good at marketing the wonderful spot that Bournemouth occupies, its visual beauty, its nearness to the New forest and to a wonderful heritage coastline
Mr. Swire : Will the Minister give way?
Dr. Howells : I am sorry, but I will not.
We can learn from Bournemouth, because it is realising that it has a symbiotic relationship with the New forest, and it is marketing itself not simply as a tourist resort, but as a gateway to a very beautiful hinterland. That is the way forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ) talked about the almost hybrid situation that her constituency finds itself in with the tourism industry. It is realising that it has some tremendous niche markets to exploit. It was a joy to stay at the St. Briavel's youth hostel. I could not believe that it was a youth hostel when I walked in and discovered that there were carpets on the floor. That was completely alien to my experience, but it was very nice to be there.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West on drawing attention to this major issue. Any industry that generates £75 billion of revenue for this country every year is important. We have managed to get £20 million out of the Treasury to market Britain this year. We have never had such sums for marketing and that is cause for celebration.
Mr. Bill O' Brien (in the Chair): Order. Time is up.