Previous Section Index Home Page

There are some basic failures in our approach to tourism. The first is the lack of leadership. Tourism is not properly represented in the House of Commons. Responsibility for tourism is divided up between various Departments. For example, the Department for Communities and Local Government deals with fire regulations for hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. The Home Office deals with visas. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport deals with a small percentage of connections with VisitBritain, and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform looks after small businesses. There is no forum to bring those voices together to ensure that legislation created in
31 Mar 2009 : Column 879
other Departments does not have a knock-on impact on the tourism industry. That is exactly what happens at the moment.

Visa costs went up about a month ago, with no consideration and no communication with the DCMS. The cost of our visas now means that we get about one fifth of the number of oriental visitors that France or Germany get. That means that we lose a lot of revenue to the Exchequer.

Let me illustrate the importance of tourism. Every pound that is spent by VisitBritain abroad brings £36 of investment into the UK. I ask hon. Members to show me another Department that has that return on an investment—paying £1 and getting £36 back. That would suggest that in these economically difficult times, particularly while exchange rates are what they are, we should be considering putting more money into our British tourism industry and, unfortunately, that is not happening.

One would think that when we are about to host one of the most important sporting events in a generation, the Olympic games, we would take advantage of that fact and harness the marketing opportunities. However, the Government are not spending a single penny on marketing to take advantage of that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Surely that must change.

Some other basic issues are hindering our tourism industry and preventing it from flourishing in the way that it could be. We have a confusing system of structures—an issue caused by the promotion of the regional development agencies. We have had 10 years in which England has had no strong voice to represent itself or to work with VisitScotland or VisitWales. Things are changing. The Government have woken up and recognise that the RDA system does not work for tourism. I am pleased that we are moving that way, but it has taken a decade for us to realise that.

We then have the problems to do with local council support for tourism. Councils in places such as Lincoln and the Isle of Wight are closing their tourism departments because that saves money. They invest that money in other departments, knowing that they will get financial rewards from Government, because such activity is financially incentivised. Surely that cannot be the way in which local authorities should support our tourism industry.

The tourism industry is large, as I mentioned. Some 200,000 small and medium-sized businesses are involved in the industry, including everything that one can imagine from the seafront arcades to the British pub. That is another example of where the Government could surely provide more support. We are all aware of the facts; we get all the literature from the organisations. Some 36 pubs close every week simply because of the duties and the taxation regimes that have been imposed on them, which are archaic. VAT has gone down, but duties have gone up. Will the Minister explain whether, when VAT goes back up, the duties imposed on alcohol will go back down? I suspect that the answer will be no.

Mr. Hoyle: The hon. Gentleman has made some valid points. On the pub industry, does he not also recognise that the pub companies charge so much to landlords that they put them out of business? The pub reopens,
31 Mar 2009 : Column 880
and then closes. People are investing their lifetime savings. The pub companies have a lot to answer for—does he not agree?

Mr. Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The pub industry itself must come to terms with that. I am focusing on what the Government can do that is positive.

I want to see a strengthened Tourism Minister who has the power to negotiate more firmly with other Departments. I want to see local authorities being encouraged to consider a tourism strategy in every part and every corner of the UK. I also want to see an empowered VisitEngland that can use the strength of the nine regions, rather than each of them individually representing their patch. It is wrong when places such as Boston, Massachusetts, have six different offices representing different corners of Great Britain and trying to get tourists back to the UK. That is madness and it must stop.

There are other aspects of British tourism—I could go on for a long time. I believe that we could have a debate on tourism itself, so important is it. I stress again that I do not believe that we give this subject the justice it deserves. Nor does the Treasury understand how much more money could be brought into this country, bearing in mind that £36 billion of British money is spent abroad simply because we do not really understand what is under our noses and what wonderful opportunities there are in British tourism. As I said, that is now changing, because the economy is working against people, so we should be harnessing those opportunities to ensure that tourism is one area that sees growth and that can help improve employment. We should be doing that rather than cutting the tourism budget, which is what the Government are doing. VisitBritain’s budget for the coming three years has been cut by 20 per cent. That must be wrong, given how much money it could make for the Treasury.

We should step back and look at the economy as a whole. Banks were lending money that they did not have to people who could not afford it and in ways that they did not understand. The Government watched the merry-go-round go round and round, but then the music stopped and they are now looking for answers. The British people are suffering as they wait for the Government to respond.

I have yet to be impressed by any of the answers given by the Government. As I said, I shall hold my breath about the G20, but I plead with the Treasury to recognise the economic benefit of investing in our tourism industry. It is the one industry that could provide a return to the Exchequer, as more people choose domestic holidays over holidays abroad.

9.16 pm

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood). Although I do not agree with everything he said, he is right to say that we should do more to promote tourism.

In the few minutes that I have this evening, I want to consider how the economic downturn has affected the north-east. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) and others, I want to drill down and look at how the economic downturn is affecting a specific area and impacting on families.


31 Mar 2009 : Column 881

I consider the downturn to be especially tragic for the north-east, because we were just starting to experience the obvious signs of regeneration. It is very curious that the Opposition should accuse the Government of not mending the roof while the sun was shining, as many hon. Members will have experienced the impact of regeneration in their constituencies.

In Durham, we could see it happening on the ground. We have a new hospital, and new GP surgeries are coming on stream just now. A number of schools have been replaced, and there are more new schools in the pipeline. We have managed to cut NHS waiting lists massively, to the point where they are almost non-existent, and we have also improved the educational attainment of our young people.

When Labour came to power in 1997, barely 30 per cent. of young people in Durham were getting five A to C grades at GCSE. Now, we are slightly above the national average, but that change in my constituency did not happen by accident. It came about because of the investment made by this Government. It is therefore particularly tragic that we should be in an economic downturn, as I said, and my plea this evening is that the Government continue to invest in those areas for growth that have been identified in the north-east’s economy, and try to turn things around sooner rather than later.

Unemployment in the north-east stands at 8.6 per cent. That is somewhat higher than the national average of 6.5 per cent. and it is very bad—but nowhere near as bad as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, when some wards in my constituency had unemployment rates of 40 per cent. That was absolutely dreadful.

I listened with some interest to the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) to see whether he would recognise what the previous Conservative Government had done, or put forward any policies to turn the situation around now. He did neither: all we got was a really pathetic and petty rant against the Prime Minister that I think was unworthy of the Opposition at this time of economic downturn.

The difference I note between what the present Government are doing and what the Conservative Government did is that now people are not being left on their own to manage the recession, as the Government’s real help packages emphasise. We have real help for pensioners, with the delivery of a one-off £60 payment to 12 million of them and an increase in pension credit by £6 to £130 a week. We have increased tax allowances to put more money into the pockets of families and, critically, the Government have brought forward an increase in child benefit and in child tax credit. We are putting more money into the pockets of hard-pressed families, not cutting child benefit in real terms, which is what happened under the Conservatives.

We are also giving real help to businesses, which is what we need now. Not only have we cut taxes for households, but we are cutting taxes for businesses and promoting policies to get credit and lending going again. We are deferring tax payments: in the north-east, 2,910 businesses have been helped by tax deferment worth £50 million. We are also, where possible, bringing forward capital projects and putting money into social housing and the building of social housing through the Homes and Communities Agency. I am not suggesting for one minute that we have done everything that we can, and I hope that the Budget will contain more
31 Mar 2009 : Column 882
measures to support businesses, but we are helping businesses. We have also put more money into training and skills development.

Business Enterprise North East—there was nothing like it in existence during the ’80s and ’90s—has a website that points businesses to a range of measures to help them. Specifically in the north-east, the regional development agency has pulled together European money from JEREMIE—joint European resources for micro to medium enterprises—the European regional development fund and the European Investment Bank to create a £125 million new venture capital fund, to help business development. That is aimed at those businesses that want to develop and grow during this period.

In addition, NatWest and RBS nationally have provided £3 billion of funding for new financial services. That amounts to £250 million for the north-east to support small and medium-sized enterprises. Some of the money is still being rolled out through the economy, but it is important in this debate to recognise that, slow though it has been—painfully slow—some of our banks, particularly where the Government have a say in how they operate, are now lending.

I have been holding my own summits in Durham—three business summits across a range of sectors. Businesses say that they found the information the Government have given them very helpful, but they want some other, additional things to happen. They want local authorities to be encouraged to direct their procurement to use local companies, where that is possible. They want more venture capital and more funding for companies that want to expand. They want prompt payment by the public sector and action to be taken on business rates. I am pleased that the Government have been listening to some of the points that they have been making. What is certain is that, as we plan to come out of recession, we must not go back to the same system as before. My plea to the Government is that they support development in particular sectors in the north-east.

On green energy, there are very good companies already in place with a substantial share of the market in solar, geothermal and wind energy. A lot of the technology for carbon capture and storage was developed in the north-east, but has not been applied there. My plea is that the Government help companies that are developing that technology to be able to apply it, so that they can create jobs in future. I also want to make a plea for green cars. I ask the Government to look at Nissan’s schemes to produce electric cars, and to support Nissan. I hope that they will also support the health and process sectors. Lastly, I ask the Government not to take their eye off the need to develop higher-level skills and high-value jobs. I hope that they will use our universities and colleges, so that we get more knowledge transfer into our local economies.

9.25 pm

Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods); it is a pleasure to follow her. In the few minutes available to me, I have a couple of quick points to make. As for the contributions from Opposition Members, it is interesting that fantastic hindsight seems to have flooded the Chamber. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor has, with extremely good timing, just come back into the Chamber.


31 Mar 2009 : Column 883

On Saturday morning I met representatives from Michelin. I thank Rob Taylor, one of the officers from Unite T & G, for organising the meeting. I met his colleagues from Pirelli, Goodyear and various other companies to talk about their main concern, which is the short-time working subsidy, or lack thereof. I heard extremely worrying accounts from places around the country. At best, some workers are being paid £21.50 by their employer. If that is in place of a 12-hour shift, their replacement income works out at something like £1.79 an hour. More worryingly still, a number of workers are not entitled to that because the terms have been changed, or because the terms have been exceeded. That means that many workers are having their pay packets halved. That has a huge impact on family life. Indeed, I heard of tragic, appalling cases in which workers have committed suicide because they could not deal with the situation in which they found themselves. To echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), that is a matter that we really must address.

One word has not been mentioned in the debate—or if it has, I missed it. It is a word that many constituents use when referring to the behaviour of the banks: greed. We have not really pointed out that we are in this mess primarily because some of our banks spotted that in the United States some people were making very large amounts of money, although they did not understand how, and they wanted some of it. In they piled, and the ordinary worker, the ordinary man and woman—my constituents—are now having to pay the price for the greed of a few, who were already earning huge amounts of money but wanted that little bit more. That is a moral disgrace, and we should take whatever powers, and whatever action, we can to address that, and to get some redress for our constituents.

I want to mention briefly the impact of the recession and the credit crunch on community cohesion, an issue that has already been mentioned a couple of times. As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)—my neighbour—has mentioned, the far right is capitalising on the situation. It is a poison or virus that is spreading across the country, and we must deal with it. We must deal with the root cause. Sorting out issues such as the short-time working subsidy is one way to do so. It needs to be addressed because some of our European neighbours have to pay a form of short-time working subsidy. Employers may say, “What shall I do? I have to pay the money anyway to this particular set of employees in another country, so I may as well have them manufacturing; I may as well give the work to them, and not to people in this country, to whom I do not have to pay any subsidy.” So the issue really needs to be addressed.

As has been mentioned time and again, we must get the banks lending; that is absolutely imperative. I want to mention briefly businesses in Stoke-on-Trent. In my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent, South, there are engineering and design firms doing fantastic work. They really need support and help at this time, and a whole raft of measures need to be introduced to provide that support and help. We still have jobs in ceramics, despite what has happened to Wedgwood in my constituency. I wanted to pay a brief tribute to Kevin Farrell, who was the chief
31 Mar 2009 : Column 884
executive of the British Ceramic Confederation and sadly died on Saturday morning. My condolences go to Jackie, his widow, and to his family and friends.

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

Mr. Flello: I am afraid I do not have time; I am sorry.

The impact on pubs has been mentioned. We need to take into account my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley’s idea of bringing VAT relief to an end. We need to explore the effect that will have and to make sure that it does not have a negative impact on pubs. The duties must be addressed.

One thing I would have loved to have had time to expand upon is state-run businesses, perhaps in the environmental sector. Now might be an opportunity to look at using the state system to get up and running some environmental businesses that perhaps later we could put back into the private sector.

As has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, we did put the roof on. I could list the countless things that we have done in Stoke-on-Trent, South, from children’s centres, Sure Start centres and health centres; huge improvements have been made in and around the constituency. I would list them if I had time.

Finally, Opposition Front Benchers lamented the fact that they have been trying to get this debate for a long time. If that were the case, I would have hoped that the shadow Chancellor, who I see in his place—although the shadow shadow Chancellor is not—would have done a much better job in his speech. Quite frankly, if that is the standard with six months’ notice, it is pitiful.

9.31 pm

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): Oh, dear, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I was going to say that I was glad that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) got in to make the important point about the rise of right-wing parties on the back of this economic recession in Stoke-on-Trent—a very important issue that concerns all of us in the House—but unfortunately he rather spoiled it towards the end.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to wind up what has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate on the most immediately important issue facing Britain today. I am sorry that the Financial Secretary did not get to hear the opening speeches and I am sorry that the Chancellor is not here to hear the closing speeches. I understand that they are both heavily engaged with G20 duties, which, no doubt, could not have been anticipated when the Government set the date for this debate 36 hours before the G20 conference.

We wish the G20 well, despite what some Labour Members have said, even if, as the shadow Chancellor has pointed out, some of the Prime Minister’s pre-positioning looks somewhat inept and designed with the domestic political scene in mind. An effective agreement to support trade and reject protectionism would indeed be a prize worth taking away from the summit.


Next Section Index Home Page