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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

The fact is that I have only to quote the words of the right hon. Member for Gorton. He rightly said that the tourism industry is a great success story. There are more visitors, more earnings and a bigger share of the world market, and we are going up in the world league. One cannot ask for much more than that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Mr. Aitken) made a point about needing competition between the ferries and the tunnel. He is entirely right. He asked whether we could not improve the reception for foreign visitors at Heathrow airport. That is a good and fair point. My noble Friend Lord Inglewood recently went to Heathrow to look at Customs and Excise and immigration procedures. He spoke to Customs officials with a view to helping them in their wish to be even more courteous and friendly by introducing them to the English tourist board's welcome hosts scheme, which is a very good idea. However, we take the point. My noble Friend has done something about it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet also made a point about the co-ordination committee. It is absolutely true that the co-ordination committee has not met for five years. Why? The reason is that it was a waste of time. We do not go on with something that is useless; we have a far better way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gets on the telephone and says to her colleagues, "This is what I want you to do", and it happens. From my experience of many and many a weary but successful hour spent in the Deregulation Committee, I know that it does more for tourism and taking burdens off the industry's back than ever the co-ordination committee did. Too often, that committee became a talking shop, and that is why we abandoned it. There is, therefore, a very simple answer to my right hon. Friend's point.

I say again to the right hon. Member for Gorton, because the point needs to be understood, that we are looking extremely closely at his Select Committee's report. We understand that it is a non-political Committee and we understand that it has made some extremely important recommendations about extra funding, about registration and about grading. We shall look at each one of the recommendations and come back to the Committee as soon as we have had a chance to give the recommendations the serious consideration they deserve.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to a second runway at Manchester airport. Manchester is a wonderful airport and I am glad that the Government pursued their liberalising policies for aviation transport. Let us not forget that those policies were totally opposed by Labour Members. I remember that when I was a Minister with responsibility for aviation, we could not get the Opposition to support the privatisation of British Airways or putting the airports out into the private sector or local authority control. The Opposition were entirely against those policies, yet they now urge us to do even more. Well, because we are generous, we shall do so and I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

The right hon. Member for Gorton used an excellent phrase when he said that there is a whole United Kingdom outside London. That is true and important. It is a difficult balance to strike because some 55 per cent. of all tourists who visit Britain come to London. Whether we like it or not, London is the single biggest magnet. My right hon. Friend has put another £1.5 million into the London focus campaign so that foreign tourists to London are made aware that they should visit Yorkshire, Scotland, the south-west, Shakespeare country, Cambridge and so on.

Tourists want to visit London first. They know about Buckingham palace, the Tower of London, the museums, galleries and all the cultural benefits that London has to offer. As I was born in Scotland and I represent a constituency that is a couple of hours away from London, I agree entirely with the importance of encouraging as many visitors as possible to travel around the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) spoke about the Prince Edward playing fields. I am pleased to inform him that we shall have a meeting on the matter as soon as possible—next week, if he can arrange it. I pay tribute to the persistence with which my hon. Friend has pursued the problem. He also mentioned currency changing booths charging unfair rates of commission. I shall draw that comment to the appropriate authorities.

I was pleased to hear from the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who has had surgery recently, is now making a speedy return to health. I am sure that we all look forward to welcoming him back to the House.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire also said that our tourism policy was too London centred. I have explained the difficulty of getting tourists to visit such places as the borders of Scotland. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's request for better signposting to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the opportunities that tourism provides for diversification. He mentioned the town of Hawick where the once-great textile industry is in decline and the potential for museums to commemorate the industry. No doubt his suggestion will be followed up.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) spoke about career opportunities in tourism, travel, hotels, restaurants and so on. My right hon. Friend and I will look at ways in which we can draw the matter to the attention of young people in schools and colleges.

The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan) gave us an excellent resumé of the Select Committee report and we shall certainly take into account the points he raised—although I do not necessarily agree with them all—when we consider that report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) talked about the Mayflower 2000 project. It is a wonderful project and I congratulate Mrs. Pickering, who has been the driving force behind it. I very much hope that the Millennium Commission will realise that it will be a reproduction of the Mayflower, not a replica—it will actually sail and is not just a toy. Perhaps I should declare a constituency interest in the project as the original Mayflower and its skipper came from Harwich.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon made an extremely well-informed speech, including the succinct and vital point that, after all the rubbish that we heard about airport taxes doing down the tourist industry, British tourism has just had its best two years ever. Of course nobody likes increased taxes, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor has to find the best and fairest way of raising revenue. He did it. We have had the airport tax and the best two years in tourism. It is a knock-down argument and it is absurd to pretend that a fiver, and now a tenner, will ruin the British tourist industry.

My hon. Friend said that he had visited Barrow. He made the important point that in the past people visited that part of the United Kingdom to see the Lake district. My hon. Friend is also extremely keen on Peter Rabbit and there are great campaigns in Japan publicising the Peter Rabbit exhibition in Cumbria, which is extremely popular with the Japanese. Barrow is an added attraction. It is an opportunity for an industrial museum. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) talked about the need for a steel museum. There is a marvellous mining museum in Wakefield, and a steel museum would be a very good idea.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon mentioned the problems of matching lottery funding. Yes, it is a problem. He will know that the Arts Council and the Sports Council very often lower the matching from 50 per cent. to as low as 10 per cent., but we certainly ought to keep the issue in mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle talked about European competence in tourism. Her Majesty's Government are totally against the idea of there being a European competence in tourism. We published a Green Paper in April last year that offered four options. The first was to scrap the current arrangements, the second to keep the status quo, the third to enhance slightly the status quo and the fourth to establish a competence. We were totally against it then, and we are totally against it now.

We have had a very good debate on the great success of the tourism industry—