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Tourism

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 1:49 pm on 29th November 1996.

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Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde 1:49 pm, 29th November 1996

The hon. Lady is trying to divert me from the bingo argument. I was speaking to bingo representatives and they told me that she was no champion of theirs for pushing through a second weekly national lottery draw. The Budget has not helped them. She must at least stop calling herself the champion of bingo.

As a former boxing champion, I think that I could give the Secretary of State a few tips. She has got to start winning some rounds with her Cabinet colleagues. I understand that at the Conservative party conference tourism breakfast for which guests were asked to pay £500 to meet her, she spoke of being stunned at the professionalism of the British Tourist Authority having visited their offices in Japan and the United States". She has some way of showing it by cutting its budget.

On top of that, the doubling of air passenger duty has been described by Robert Ayling, the chief executive of British Airways, as an imposition that will penalise one of our most successful export industries by adding further to the cost of incoming tourism to Britain at a time when competition in the international market place is becoming ever more intense. Again, some champion.

Last week the Secretary of State asked me how I had the gall to mention the Labour party's document on tourism and hospitality strategy, "Breaking New Ground". She said that it had sunk without trace. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins), soon to be somewhere in Sussex or wherever, agreed with her. The thing is that she does not read, and nor does he, the national press or the tourism press, where the document received considerable coverage. Perhaps the Secretary of State did not have a chance to read the endorsements, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland listed.

Far from sinking without trace, the document has been in such demand that we have had requests for more than 2,000 copies, including bulk orders from the Confederation of British Industry, the English tourist board, the Association of District Councils, the British Resorts Association, the British Hospitality Association and the British Incoming Tour Operators Association. The chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, Jeremy Logie, wrote a letter saying: As you may know, we have distributed Breaking New Ground to many of our members and we are discussing the contents all round the country at our autumn series of regional meetings.On the whole, my members are delighted to learn of your very positive attitude to our industry and to learn of your pledge of real commitment and involvement. Sunk without trace? The Secretary of State really must look again.

The Secretary of State made great mention of Blackpool pleasure beach, which has invited us to hold a regional launch of "Breaking New Ground" in the north-west next week. We have had a similar invitation from the east midlands and there is more to follow. Such a response shows that the industry now recognises that we are the party with a positive agenda for tourism, in contrast to the Government's lacklustre approach.

Let us take accommodation standards. We know that there is a serious problem with the quality and standard of service offered. The Government's own report "Competing with the best"—[Interruption.] If Front-Bench Members care to listen, they may learn something. I am quoting their own document. Surely they are proud of it. It says: There is clear evidence that too many visitors are disappointed with the value for money they get from some hotels. In a recent survey, 30 per cent. of overseas visitors to London said that their hotel did not meet expectations. That is more than 3 million a year, and clearly that is not good enough. How many of them will return? How many will report poor opinions to their friends when they go home? Yet what is the Government's answer? A benchmark scheme is certainly better than nothing, but it is not good enough. Visitors to accommodation premises want a comprehensive grading structure which they trust to describe approximately the standard of the accommodation that is on offer, not a confusing array of stars, crowns, stripes and various descriptions. They need a clearly identifiable scheme which demonstrates certain basic standards of service and provision.

If the Government listened to the industry, they would be aware that the Tourism Society recently published the results of a detailed study that it had undertaken with accommodation providers of the standards of hotel provision, called "Tourist Accommodation: Classification and Grading Schemes". The report revealed wide industry support for statutory registration of all accommodation premises and the introduction of an industry-led grading scheme.

During our consultations with the industry, we were persuaded of the merits of such an approach and, because we are a listening party, we reviewed our previous position of outright support for a statutory grading scheme, which is what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam wants. That reviewed position is now outlined in "Breaking New Ground". In her heart of hearts, the Secretary of State knows that that is the best approach, but the ideology of her party prevents her, I am sure, from responding to the industry's needs. Now she has perhaps one good last chance to do something positive.

The first report of the National Heritage Select Committee, published this week, comes down very much on our side. I was pleased to hear the Chairman of that Committee, who spoke so eloquently, make that point as well as others. I was pleased to note that that far-reaching report comes much closer to understanding the needs of the industry than anything that the Government have produced. It also recommended an identical approach to our own on certain issues.

Today hon. Members cited certain statistics that are always heard in debates on tourism, for example, whether 1.6 million, 1.7 million or 1.8 million people are employed in the industry. It may sound a bit tedious, but it is worth repeating those statistics, because, as was said earlier, the more we do that, the more people will understand the importance of the tourism industry.

Several hon. Members have referred to legislation that will affect the industry. The Labour party makes no apology whatever for wanting to improve the pay, training and recognition of Britain's tourism and hospitality workers. That is essential if we are to compete with the world's other skilled countries.

When the Secretary of State wrote to me on the day of the launch of her Department's paper, entitled, "People Working in Tourism and Hospitality", she noted: The quality of the workforce is a key driver of both customer satisfaction and the competitive success of the tourism industry. The report shows how progressive firms use good management practices to help them retain staff, deliver quality and achieve customer success. That is an endorsement of our policy. The right hon. Lady did not say, however, that the progressive firms to which she referred also pay good wages and invest in their staff. Peter Moore of Center Pares, who the Secretary of State rightly praised at a Business in Sport and Leisure conference on Wednesday, was quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland to say: You can't pay low wages". The Secretary of State is out of touch because Mr. Moore is quite right. Labour will ensure that we invest in those who work in tourism and hospitality. We will provide them with positive training opportunities by producing individual learning accounts that will encourage people to train. The British Incoming Tour Operators Association, the Hospitality Foundation and many others, according to the tourism papers, have expressed support for our policy.

We make it clear in our document that we will work with the private sector to create a university of the industry to utilise the potential of information technology in education. We will end the poverty pay, low-status, high turnover jobs by introducing a statutory national minimum wage. No one should be worried about that, including the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, because the Leader of the Opposition has said clearly that the low pay commission to be established after the election will include representatives from tourism and the hospitality industries. They will help to determine the right level of pay that should be set, and that has satisfied most people in the industry.

I do not expect that the Government's strategy will match Labour's plans to introduce a development of tourism Act. The need for restructuring is clear, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland has already outlined how Labour will make that new Act work for the industry.

Integral to our aims is the need to encourage the British travel agent to sell more domestic holidays, including short breaks. [Interruption.] I hope that I can get some attention from those on the Government Front Bench. Currently domestic tourism represents about 15 per cent. of travel agents' turnover. We must work to ensure that the skills they possess in information technology and marketing and in offering a good-value product are more aligned to the domestic industry. I hope that the Secretary of State agrees with that.

Colin Trigger, president of ABTA, has praised Labour's initiative and he wonders why he has not heard anything from the Department of National Heritage. I would welcome the Minister's comment on that.

Some hon. Members have spoken of the importance of sustainable tourism. I hope that the Secretary of State will not say that I am straying into a debate on transport when I say that she knows something of Sustrans, the charity-based project to develop a national cycle network. I accompanied my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland when he officially opened in his beautiful constituency the impressive C2C cycle network, which links Whitehaven to Newcastle.

I hope that cycling, which has the potential to be big business in terms of tourism, attracts the Secretary of State's attention. Already, it is estimated that 500,000 holidays are primarily for cycling. Cycling has many appeals—it promotes a healthy life style, boosts local tourism and is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Cycling and the cycling network should be at the forefront of our attempts to promote more short-break domestic holidays. The development of the national cycle network will provide the tourism industry with the infrastructure for a UK-wide tourist attraction that will appeal to UK residents of all ages and will attract overseas visitors.

When he replies, will the Minister tell us what talks his Department has had with the Department of Transport? As the right hon. Member for South Thanet (Mr. Aitken) said, it appears that few interdepartmental talks go on these days. Will he tell us what the Government's cycling strategy is? Will he tell us what measures the tourist boards are taking to promote Britain as a cycling destination? What efforts have he or the Secretary of State made to assist that process?

As they should, the Government will propose a tourism strategy for the new year. They are always following our lead and we are pleased that they have done so in this instance. We take the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton that it is best to avoid political punch-ups in this respect. I give due credit to the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs), who spoke for 33 minutes today. When not straying into the realm of political punch-ups, he is generally supportive of the industry and is well-respected within it.

In the spirit of co-operation, I hope that the Secretary of State will look more closely at our document and see that it was drawn up following a great deal of consultation with representatives of the industry, many of whom have endorsed the end result. When she gets round to drawing up her strategy, I hope that she will address the following points. First, there should be a determined effort to improve hotel standards. Secondly, there should be real investment in people who work in the industry, including protection against poverty pay. Thirdly, there should be a commitment to a new development of tourism Act to ensure that the structures are updated. Fourthly, there should be recognition of the needs of the hospitality industry, including a review of the present licensing laws. Fifthly, local authorities should be required to provide a tourism strategy for their local areas.

The right hon. Lady might want to re-examine "Breaking New Ground". She clearly did not read it properly the first time, because she said it contained no reference to the minimum wage. She will find in it the issues that I have outlined and many positive ideas for the industry, which have widespread industry backing. Sadly, I believe that she will again fail to meet the challenge. The tourism and hospitality industry will know, once and for all, that only a Labour Government will provide new life for tourism in this country.