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House of Commons

Monday 18 November 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Mr. Speaker: Before I call the first question, I have a short statement to make on some aspects of Question Time. In the first Session of this Parliament, progress at Question Time was disappointingly slow. In its recent report, the Procedure Committee expressed the view that the Chair should foster more incisive, tightly focused exchanges. I intend to do exactly that. I expect questions to be sharp and to the point: no long preambles; one Member, one question; and Ministerial answers no longer than a single printed paragraph of modest length in Hansard. Ministers in charge of Departments and leading Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have been some of the worst offenders. I ask them in particular to set a good example to their colleagues. I intend to enforce those ground rules. In doing that, I may have to interrupt Members in all parts of the House when they are in full flow. I regret that, but in the wider interests of the House I feel it my duty to take action.

Secondly, I remind hon. Members of the Procedure Committee's suggestion that in certain circumstances, I might invite a Member to ask a second supplementary question. I shall bear that in mind.

Finally, I should like the House to be aware that, where I call for a supplementary a Member who has a later question to the same Minister on the Order Paper, it will be automatically unstarred.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Licensed Entertainment

1. Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden): What studies her Department has made of the noise implications of the reform of licensed entertainment for residents living near licensed premises. [81368]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): We have made several such studies.

Siobhain McDonagh : Whatever the reply was, Mr. Speaker, does the Minister agree that, although it

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is important to introduce sound insulation so that residents who live close to pubs can lead good lives, it is important that the new licensing legislation increases the amount of live music in Britain?

Dr. Howells: We believe that our proposed legislation will create many venues for live music in this country. For the first time, there will be a proper review of licences that are sought and granted. It will include the views of residents who sometimes have to put up with loud music.

Nick Harvey (North Devon): Although I welcome the Government's moves to sweep away arcane licensing laws, I urge them to make their new measures deregulatory, and not replace those that they are removing with a load of new bureaucratic regulations.

On noise, would not it be better for police and environmental health officers to be told when licensed premises opened rather than acquiring all the information through the licence?

Dr. Howells: We believe that our proposed legislation is deregulatory and will do away with much red tape and bureaucracy, allowing for a premises licence that will enable the licensee not only to sell alcohol but to provide entertainment. That is a major plus for the music industry and I support it wholeheartedly.

European Capital of Culture Bid (Newcastle/Gateshead)

2. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): What discussions she has held on Newcastle-Gateshead's bid to be the European capital of culture. [81369]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): None specifically.

Joyce Quin : My right hon. Friend will appreciate that I enthusiastically welcome Newcastle-Gateshead's inclusion in the short list for European city of culture. [Interruption.] I am sure that other hon. Members welcome the inclusion of their cities, too.

The link between culture and economic regeneration is important. Does my right hon. Friend agree that awarding capital of culture status is not simply a matter of high-profile cultural projects, but a matter of considering what it means in reaching out to local communities, promoting employment and enhancing the quality of life?

Tessa Jowell: The short list that I announced on 30 October was recommended by the panel according to the clear criteria for capital of culture status that were established by the European Union and developed by the Department. Regeneration is not a specific criterion, but I accept my right hon. Friend's point that arts and culture can be powerful drivers of successful regeneration, as her cities of Newcastle and Gateshead clearly show.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): I hope that the Secretary of State is also aware of the bids made by other

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cities across the United Kingdom to become the European capital of culture, and that she will therefore see Birmingham as by far the superior bid, not least because of the cultural opportunities that that city now offers. Does the right hon. Lady not regard that as a more important benefit than the economic regeneration referred to by the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin)?

Tessa Jowell: The panel has recommended the bids received by Bristol, Birmingham, Oxford, Liverpool, Cardiff and Newcastle/Gateshead, on the basis of their excellence. The remaining shortlisted bidders—Brighton, Bradford, Belfast, Canterbury, Inverness and Norwich—were also very strong contenders. This competition has unlocked the cultural potential in many of our cities. There will only be one winner, but we hope that the efforts made by every city will be developed and capitalised on, and that the visions described in their bids will be translated into practice.

Seaside Resorts

3. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood): What plans she has to revive the tourist industry in British seaside resorts. [81370]

9. Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth): How many holidaymakers visited British seaside resorts in the summer of 2002. [81376]

10. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): What is her Department doing to encourage domestic and international visitors to visit English seaside resorts throughout the year. [81377]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): The reforms of the support given by the Government to tourism, with a new focus on domestic marketing, e-tourism, and greater involvement of regional development agencies and the private sector, will help to revive seaside resorts.

Mrs. Humble: I thank the Minister for visiting Blackpool as part of his recent tour of seaside towns. Will he take this opportunity to re-emphasise the importance of tourism as a key economic driver in regeneration, and of the role of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, working with other Departments, in regeneration projects, and especially in delivering the success of key local initiatives such as the bold vision outlined in Blackpool's master plan?

Dr. Howells: I know that my hon. Friend is a great supporter of the master plan, and so am I; it is a very imaginative project. The key to the plan will be to ensure that the regional development agencies, as well as the regional tourist boards, understand the importance of seaside resorts not only as places where people take their holidays but as the great drivers of economic success and of jobs within each of the regions. I shall expect those organisations to work closely with all local authorities in seaside resorts to ensure that they become even greater successes than they are now.

Mr. Anthony D. Wright: Does my hon. Friend agree that, to increase the visitor numbers to seaside resorts,

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we need to modernise? To that end, the Government have recently given most seaside resorts objective 2 status, which has opened up new avenues for them. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to get that finance to the seaside resorts with all speed, so that they can initiate the modernisation that they require to increase visitor numbers to the United Kingdom?

Dr. Howells: It is useful that so many seaside resorts are included in objective 2 support areas. I hope that imagination will be used in deciding where that money is to be spent. We need new attractions, and many seaside resorts need to reinvent themselves, in many ways, as major attractions of the future. Indeed, if they do not succeed in doing so, we shall have great difficulty in persuading people from abroad to visit anything other than our most established attractions. We really need seaside resorts to replenish that pool of attractions.

Lawrie Quinn: My hon. Friend will remember my constituency's unique selling points from his visit in the summer—Captain Cook in Whitby and Alan Ayckbourn in Scarborough. Should we not be focusing on the branding of seaside resorts, in terms of both international and domestic visitors?

Dr. Howells: It is true that the visitors who come here from abroad tend to spend a lot more than visitors from inside Britain, generally because they stay longer at their destinations. The figures are sometimes quite startling. When the Endeavour came to Whitby, it had such an effect on the number of visitors to the town that it has actually driven house prices up in the area, because so many people want to go and live there. If that is not the best example imaginable of a link between a successful tourism project and the general well-being and health of a town, I do not know what is.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): My grandmother came from Whitby, but I want to talk about Worthing. Will the Minister be kind enough to meet the Worthing hospitality association, and other such associations, to enable him to understand that this is a question not just of the money that the Government spend, but of the money that they might withdraw from the rate support grant? It is not only tourists and visitors, but residents as well, who help to maintain the quality of the town.

Dr. Howells: I should be pleased if the association wrote to me. I would try to fit it in.

As the hon. Gentleman implies, tourism is very much a cross-departmental issue. Important decisions have to be made in other Departments. I think those representing seaside resorts understand that, and the Government certainly understand it; putting the two together is the key.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): As the Minister surely recognises, one of the problems affecting most seaside resorts is their crumbling infrastructure. Local authority grants cannot repair it, because they are focused on statutory duties. What discussions has the Minister had

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with the Minister for Local Government and the Regions to ensure that such grants reflect the cost of improving infrastructure and wet-weather facilities?

Dr. Howells: I have discussed the matter with other Departments on numerous occasions. I want tourism to be a mainstream economic activity, and to be recognised as such by local authorities and regional development agencies, as it is by Government. If we are to create new jobs and reinvent the attractions of which I spoke earlier, we must understand the importance of infrastructure. If towns look shabby they will not keep their visitors: even their traditional visitors will eventually shy away. Tourists can spend their money anywhere in the world, and do so regularly, so it is important for our seaside resorts to look their very best.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does the Minister agree that many seaside resorts are among the most golden assets in the portfolio of tourism that we have to offer? Does he also agree that in many cases standards are so dismal, and there is so far to go, that resorts need more advice on how to make the most of themselves? Given the confused state of tourism marketing, might it be possible to establish an overarching benchmarking standard to help those resorts raise themselves to the standard of the best?

Dr. Howells: I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman, who I know is passionate about these issues, that the confusion is over. A single agency will now be responsible for the marketing of England, and indeed for the marketing of Britain generally in the world. It is important that we drive standards up; if we do not we will lose the tourists, including the most important tranche. I am thinking especially of the Americans. We must get them back, and we must keep them.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Will my hon. Friend join me in intervening with Network Rail to help resurrect the long-overdue redevelopment of the lovely seaside resort of Gourock in my constituency—a project that was scuppered by shortsighted, bureaucratic, idiotic decisions made by the thankfully now defunct Railtrack?

Dr. Howells: My hon. Friend is clearly a major attraction in his constituency. We could do worse than market him.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): Does the Minister accept that the tourism industry is the biggest contributor to the economy for which his Department is responsible, and that it should therefore have the strongest voice? So far there has been virtually no comment, in Parliament or in the press, about the abolition of the English Tourism Council, which was announced just over two weeks ago. Is it not the case that while seaside resorts in Scotland and Wales will continue to benefit from the promotion activities of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, as well as the British Tourist Authority, English tourist resorts will in future have no national voice to promote their interests?

Dr. Howells: That is not true. As I explained to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, (Mr. Soames), there will

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be a single body in future. I believe that it will do a much better job than the two separate bodies, because it will be structured and funded differently and will have different targets. The English Tourism Council worked hard at fulfilling its remit and in many respects it did an excellent job, as indeed did the British Tourist Authority, but we have picked up signals from the industry as a whole. It clearly wants one body with which to connect and work on all facets of tourism, and that is what we are providing.

Mr. Whittingdale: The Minister says that the new body will be given responsibility for marketing English tourism, but does he accept that it was a mistake for his Government to remove the marketing function from the English Tourism Council in the first place? Can he guarantee that the new body will be given sufficient resources to market England properly and that that will not be left to the regional tourism bodies in what many suspect is a further move towards this Government's regional agenda?

Dr. Howells: I am not about to attack the Government's regional agenda, but, yes, I believe that it was a mistake to take away the ETC's marketing role. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the industry has had an unprecedented sum in the #20 million that we allocated to the BTA for the 1 million visitor campaign to try to help the industry to recover after the terrible events of 11 September and foot and mouth in this country. I am confident that it is bringing good rewards now.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): I am grateful to the Minister for including Weymouth in his trip to English seaside towns earlier this year, but the single issue that tourism businesses in my constituency are raising with me is the proposal to reorganise the school year into six terms. What discussions has he had with the Department for Education and Skills on the proposal, which some tourism businesses in my constituency liken to removing from retailers the last shopping week before Christmas?

Dr. Howells: I enjoyed my visit to Weymouth, and my visits to Portland and Swanage, very much. You can tell what I have been doing with my time, Mr. Speaker.

I am confident that our discussions with the Department for Education and Skills will result in a good outcome to all that, although I say to tourism businesses that change is always difficult to accommodate and come to terms with, as well as a bit of a daunting prospect. However, I am sure that no one in the private sector, and certainly no one in the Government, wants the revival of tourism after a bad year in 2001 to be detracted from in any way by some new regime that makes people's lives much more difficult.

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