Adjournment (Easter and Monday 6 May)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 14th March 1991.

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Photo of Mr Conal Gregory Mr Conal Gregory , City of York 5:52 pm, 14th March 1991

Before we rise for the Easter adjournment, I should like to mention the problems that are facing tourism, particularly following the crisis in the Gulf. Those problems present an opportunity for the Government to assist, perhaps as never before, those working in and dependent on tourism.

When agriculture experienced difficulties with BSE, the Government paid £587 compensation for each mad cow. In 1989, the last year for which statistics are available, each overseas visitor to the United Kingdom brought £397 into this country, yet I am afraid that the Government have given the British Tourist Authority a derisory £800,000 to promote the United Kingdom out of the tourism crisis. We are not giving good value to those who are employed in Britain's fastest-growing industry, and are risking the long-term future of tourism.

The position nationally and in York and Yorkshire is extremely worrying. I should declare an interest as the parliamentary consultant to Consort Hotels, which is based in my constituency and is the largest consortium of independent hoteliers in this country. It is appropriate that it keeps me in touch with developments.

I have calculated that as many as 20,000 jobs in tour operators, airlines and hotels could be lost, representing an estimated whole-year cost to the Treasury of £6,000 per job.

The knock-on effects of that on jobs in retail and other sectors have begun to show. Overseas earnings are very important but are often neglected when commentators consider invisible earnings. Of whole-year earnings of £8 billion, £700 million has been lost in the first quarter, and of £1·5 billion of earnings from the United States, we expect £500 million to be lost. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor must take into account the dramatic effect of that on tourism when he prepares the Budget for Tuesday. I should not be surprised by a year-end loss in earnings of £1·5 billion unless—this is the important opportunity for the Government—the Government support a major promotion of tourism.

Those who reside in London during the week are aware that 38 per cent. of London's theatregoers and 44 per cent. of people who attend London art galleries are overseas tourists. Sadly, the figures for the first three months of this year are down. The retail sector derives up to 20 per cent. of its income from overseas visitors, and the Treasury derives more than £60 from each visitor in value added tax.

The earnings and jobs of every constituency are affected by tourism. In Yorkshire, there has been a worrying fall in bookings by overseas visitors. Tour operators, hoteliers and coach companies have all received cancellations. But our message should he that Britain is a safe destination for business travel or recreation. We have increased security at our airports, ferry terminals and railway stations. We must follow that with a high-profile marketing campaign targeted on north America, the far east and Australasia, so that we have not just quantity but quality of visitors.

Tourism is worth £14 billion in England and £994 million in Yorkshire and Humberside. Investment must continue. York has been fortunate in attracting new construction and venues such as the museum of automata, and other sites have been imaginatively developed. I would welcome my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to Fairfax house and the Yorkshire museum, both of which have been extensively developed in recent years. However, more hotels are being built in Paris than in London.

Too many local authorities are unsympathetic to tourism and will not carefully interpret planning applications which seek to turn former warehouses that are of no use into potential hotels.

Do the Hastings, Folkestones or Cliftonvilles have the infrastructure that we expect and see in Blackpool and Bournemouth? Sadly, they do not. Devolution from London to the regions will need a co-ordinated national campaign.

The Gulf crises will help in other respects. Many more British people will take short breaks not only in the delightful constituency of Norfolk, South—my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council was my Member of Parliament when I lived there—but in centres such as York. Given the strength of the United States dollar, we must look further afield. Anyone in Britain can enjoy our theatres and, except for "Phantom of the Opera", which I have been unable to see, can get into any London theatre. That is a very worrying development.

To achieve a boom in tourism, there must be a campaign. The uniform business rate is not helping small travel agents who wish to move from one site to another and sell their premises. The stepping-stone principle, which particularly affects the constituencies of City of Chester, Bath and York, effectively cripples the ability of small businesses to move, which is a great problem.

We must also abolish red tape. I commend my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment for securing the removal of visa requirements for visitors from the United States and for those travelling from this country to North America. That improvement must spread to other countries. Far too many youngsters do not know on which continent a certain country is to be found. If they want to visit, for example, Aruba on a package holiday, they do not know on which continent it is to be found. I hope that before too long they will pass their GCSE in tourism—at the moment offered by only one examination board—and that they will then know where such places are. I hope that they will also learn to appreciate the benefits of tourism in the United Kingdom and the opportunities that this country provides for them.

All too often, a person who goes into a Chicago or Tokyo travel agency when considering booking a holiday in the United Kingdom does not receive correct information. If that person books his holiday with a particular airline, he may find that it is locked into a hotel group, which may result in him not visiting the United Kingdom. Paris is increasingly becoming the central attraction for people coming to Europe. If they go to Paris —and shortly to Disneyland—will they then come to London and the rest of the United Kingdom?

Tourism is an international issue. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend is unable to discuss it with the World Tourism Organisation. We are one of the very few developed countries that is not a member of the WTO, though I have yet to discover why. By the payment of a very small sum of money, we could have a major influence, in terms of British consultancies, on world tourism. The WTO is based in Madrid. It has master plans, apart from environmental issues which include blue tourism—a reference to safe beaches—and green tourism. If we are to have a major voice in world tourism, I hope that in due course my right hon. Friend will announce that this country intends to play a leading role in the World Tourism Organisation

We should place emphasis on attracting quality markets. We should not attempt to exert pressure on eastern European visitors to come here. Many coachloads of people already enter Venice with their packed lunches. Those many thousands of people use its public facilities and see some of the wonders of Venice, but they spend not a single lira there. That form of tourism would be an unwelcome development here, though it would be nice to see people from Poland, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia coming to this country on "fam" trips, as they are termed, to visit friends and relatives.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will discuss with the Secretary of State for Transport the environmental problems that assail north American and Japanese visitors to this country. I refer in particular to coach parking. When the changing of the guard takes place at Buckingham palace, we see coaches there belching out diesel fumes. That is an improper use of coach facilities. Coach parking has been neglected, but that problem could be tackled if a Minister were to be given responsibility for tourism throughout the United Kingdom.

Junior members of the Government—usually in the other place—are responsible for tourism. I want elected Members of Parliament to be given that responsibility. They ought not to change their portfolio every 10 months or every year. They rush around at a great rate of knots, but by the time they have scoured the whole of their territory, they are promoted to another job.

The facilities available at our ports of entry are still poor. At our busiest port of entry, Dover, people have to find the road out of England en route for France if they want to visit the tourist information centre.

I could give many other examples, but I realise that this is not I April—All Fools day. Sadly, such examples ought more appropriately to be given on that day. People's jobs are at risk from such inefficiencies. I hope, therefore, that before Easter the Government will give a strong lead to this key industry, having recognised the jobs that depend upon it, and that, from Easter onwards, the tourist industry will enjoy a substantial revival.