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Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 11:10 am on 29th November 1996.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, National Heritage Committee 11:10 am, 29th November 1996

The right hon. Member for South Thanet (Mr. Aitken) asked whether the Government were serious about tourism. I shall come to that in a moment. In a week in which the National Heritage Select Committee has published a unanimous report, as all our reports are on tourism, the question that I ask is how serious the country is about tourism. How serious is the House of Commons about tourism? The Secretary of State said that there was a good turnout for the debate. A maximum of 22 hon. Members have been present out of 649. Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party have been absent from the debate, even though Wales and Scotland are much more amply funded than England in terms of tourism. The Press Gallery is almost empty.

When we launched our Select Committee report on Wednesday, we had an attendance, including a team of three from the BBC, of six journalists. Yet, as the Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for South Thanet and my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) pointed out, tourism is the biggest private sector industry in Britain. Before the end of the decade, it will be the biggest industry in Britain. As our report says, it employs more people than agriculture, coal mining, steel making, automobile manufacture, aircraft manufacture, food production and the textile industry put together.

One of the special merits of the tourism industry is that it is labour intensive. In an era in which the expansion of industry is capital intensive rather than labour intensive, the propensity of tourism to employ people is one of its most, though not overwhelmingly its most, important aspect. I say to both the Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for South Thanet that the issue of the minimum wage is an important one.

I am baffled as to why Conservatives, of all people, seem to believe that a statutory minimum wage is not desirable. As the United States presidential election campaign entered its last phases, Congress voted to increase the American statutory minimum wage. The Republicans were falling over themselves to agree with the Democrats that an increase was necessary. I find it difficult to understand why a Government dedicated to capitalist economics cannot understand that the economy in the world most dedicated to capitalist economics, that of the United States, regards a statutory minimum wage as an inherent part of a burgeoning and innovating economy.

The Department of National Heritage is the most undervalued Department in the Government. I believe—I have said it and the Select Committee has said it—that the creation of the Department of National Heritage was an act of great imagination by the Prime Minister. I believe and the Select Committee which I chair believes that the centrality of the Department is not sufficiently recognised. It is responsible for the two most important industries in the country. It is responsible for the electronic and visual communications industry, which is the industry of the future, on which the basis of our economy and society will revolve as the new century progresses. It is also responsible for tourism, which is the most important private sector industry that the country possesses. It is extremely important that we do everything that we can to expand and foster that industry.

The right hon. Member for South Thanet said that tourism affected most of our constituencies—perhaps not absolutely all, but most. That is why I intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland with regard to Manchester airport. The airport was voted internationally the best airport in the world. It requires urgently a decision on the second runway. Manchester has been classified as an exceptionally important tourist city. The north-west, including the areas to which the Secretary of State referred, is one of the central areas of tourism.

I agree with the right hon. Member for South Thanet that although no one can deny the central importance of London, there is a whole United Kingdom outside London with enormous attractions for tourists, which we should do a great deal more about. I shall deal with that later. If one is dealing with London, one ought to examine not only the merits of London—who can deny them?—but the fact that there is dissatisfaction among tourists with some aspects of tourism in London. I very much hope that the Secretary of State and her right hon. Friends will tackle some of those matters. For example, tourists are exploited by phoney and exploitative theatrical booking agencies, which rip off tourists by selling tickets which are both overpriced and for badly situated seats.

One of the things that I find most annoying as I come to the House of Commons every day is the passing tourist buses run by two companies—London Pride and Blue Triangle—which have on them notices saying, "Official London Tourist Bus". That is deceptive because there is nothing official about them whatever. They claim some official status, and by doing so seriously deceive tourists. I should like to see tourists and visitors to London from other parts of the United Kingdom protected from such activities.

The Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland were both kind enough to refer to the report of the National Heritage Select Committee, which we published on Wednesday. As I say, it is a unanimous report. Although my right hon. Friend has a perfect right to make whatever claims he wishes about any similarities between our report and the Labour party document, it is important for me to point out that we compiled our report without having seen the Labour party document; the Labour party document was not discussed during the compilation of our report. Therefore, if there are resemblances, to which my right hon. Friend has a perfect right to draw attention, they are coincidences which my right hon. Friend may well call happy.