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Tourism

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 2:07 pm on 29th November 1996.

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Photo of Mr Iain Sproat Mr Iain Sproat , Harwich 2:07 pm, 29th November 1996

I was interested to hear the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) say that the late Mr. Costain, who was once a Member of Parliament, had told him that it was a tradition of the House that Friday debates should be relatively uncontroversial. I had not known that. I think that it is a good idea.

Usually, when the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and I face each other over the Dispatch Boxes, the debates are fairly good-tempered. I think that, since the last election, we have had seven debates on tourism and several on sport. On balance, today's debate has revealed a great deal of common agreement; but, although it is not the first time that the hon. Gentleman and I have disagreed, the debate has also revealed a significant and central element of disagreement between the two parties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), who is exceptionally knowledgeable about the tourism industry, pointed out that difference of opinion at the start of the debate. He said, rightly, that the working time directive, minimum wage legislation and the social chapter are all abominated by the tourism industry. Perhaps, here and there in the tourism industry, some people are less worried about it than others.

The Business Services Association was quoted earlier as supporting a national minimum wage, but now the argument is unravelling. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) said, a representative of Gardner Merchant has said that it supports a minimum wage only if that is so low that it will not affect it. I understand that the chief executive of Rentokil Group plc was quoted on the BBC as supporting a national minimum wage, but Rentokil is not even a member of the association.

There is a key point there. The history and traditions of the Labour party, and its association with the trade unions, lead it to support a minimum wage. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) said so well, however well-intentioned that may be, there is only one inevitable result of a minimum wage, and it would especially apply in the tourism industry—jobs would be lost.

Many people in the tourism industry may say, as they are entitled to, that they very much welcome the Labour party's, interest—some of us may say new-found interest—in tourism. Yes, they may welcome that interest, but no, they do not believe a word that the Labour party says about it. As long as the Labour party has at the heart of its tourism policy a minimum wage, a social chapter and adherence to working time directives, the tourism industry will know that it would be its ruination, were the Labour party ever to form a Government.

I shall now discuss one non-controversial aspect of the debate. I shall treat hon. Members' contributions in chronological order in so far as that is sensible.

The right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) mentioned the opportunity for England to host the football World cup in the year 2006. The Government are extremely keen that that should happen. Earlier in the week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I had a meeting with the Football Association. I shall have another meeting with the Football Association to discuss in detail what the Government can do to ensure that we get the World cup in 2006, as we should. Our record in hosting the Euro' 96 football championships makes it extremely likely that we shall get the World cup, because the Euro' 96 championships were very well organised. Tourism benefited from Euro' 96. In June 1996, receipts from foreign visitors—£1.2 billion in that month—were up 20 per cent. on the previous June. That was in great measure a result of Euro' 96.

Once the lawyers can lick into shape the details of the proposed United Kingdom Sports Council, one of its top priorities will be to bring major sporting events to this country. Everything is being set up for that.

I say to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) that I shall now revert to a marginally more confrontational mode. The right hon. Member for Copeland said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was forced to cut everything as a result of the Budget; he was totally wrong. The reverse is true. My right hon. Friend fought fiercely and successfully in Cabinet. We obtained an increase of £3 million over plan for the Arts Council, an increase of more than £500,000 over plan in provision for the arts pairing scheme, an increase of more than £2 million over plan in provision for English Heritage, an increase of £3 million over plan in provision for museums and galleries—including £5 million for maintenance—and a £2 million scheme for public libraries.

In recognition of the fact that museums and galleries make London one of the worldwide attractions for cultural tourists, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State protected them, with £3 million more for the arts and more than £2 million more for museums and galleries. We have done what we should have done to protect—