|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 588nonsensical proposals to deregulate taxis in London, adding to congestion and confusion in the capital. Secondly, and not unrelated, taxi drivers say that they will never vote Tory again. Thirdly--more relevant to the debate--they complain about how many foreign visitors will not return next year because of the high cost of London hotels. The reason for that is not because hotels are paying high wages to their staff. Indeed, they should be subjected to the minimum wage legislation enjoyed by workers in our competitor countries, where the hotels are effectively doing much better.
For example, the owner of an hotel not far from here, which many of us frequent when we attend briefing lunches, has told me why Britain is perceived to be an expensive destination. He tells me that his hotel has cut prices to the bare minimum and his room rates are lower than in 1989. The few hotels that are still trading profitably are recording their lowest profits since the 1927 recession. His hotel made more profit in 1968, charging £5 a room, than it does today charging £170 a room. He says that VAT at 17.5 per cent. is a direct tourist tax because tourists do not benefit from the compensatory reduction in council tax and PAYE enjoyed by British subjects. France has a standard rate of 18.5 per cent., but, for hotel accommodation, it has a rate of 5.3 per cent. He points out that the cost of tour agents, foreign representatives and a flat £10 per person booking implant fee and a 2-5 per cent. card and transaction fee, all add up to a hefty burden on the hotel industry. He argues that, in addition, the red tape and how regulations are implemented and over regulated are a burden on time and money.
I do not wish to create the impression that all hotels in London and elsewhere act as honourably as that one. There are too many rogue hoteliers around, but I am convinced that the vast majority are playing the game.
The Minister must be aware of the low morale within the industry. That fact has come through in his speech. After all, the industry employs between 1.5 million and 1.6 million people and some 10 per cent. of our national work force. It is larger than the Scottish whisky and car industries put together. But it has had seven different Ministers responsible for tourism, all with their different approaches to the industry. It is no wonder that people within the industry are turning away from it in large numbers.
The Minister recognises that by far the most controversial measure within the industry is the EC package tour directive or, more specifically, the Package Travel Regulations, which came into force on 1 January. However, it is rich of the Minister not to take the blame for what has happened as a result because, since the regulations' introduction, there has been little short of a disaster within the tourist industry. A trade survey showed that 50 per cent. of independent travel agents do not know their legal position under the directive and 66 per cent. do not know how to interpret the directive in dealing with customers. Even the former ABTA president--I see that its adviser has left the Chamber, we hope, temporarily--was forced to conclude in a recent speech to British travel agents at a conference in Palma :
"Lewis Carroll at his most imaginative could never have invented anything as topsy turvy and through a cracked looking glass as Her Majesty's Government has concoted in enacting the European Directive on Package Holidays."
If introducing flawed legislation were not enough, the Government have failed outright to publicise the
Column 589measures. The problem has arisen from the most radical element of the new regulations--article 7--which require all operators, whether domestic or not, to have bonding protection for their customers. Originally, the DTI, in its consultation document of 24 July 1991, intended to implement that requirement by setting up a new licensing system for all organisers of packages with a requirement to be bonded, as well as establishing a national back-up fund to help out with the additional costs that those measures will inevitably impose on companies. Yet, to the utter dismay of ABTA, the Consumers Association and trading standards officers, the Government decided not to establish an authority to license all operators or, for that matter, a back-up fund and instead left it up to each organisation to have its own security for refunds and repatriation in the event of insolvency-- [Interruption.] I should have thought that Conservative Members would be a bit more attentive, especially if they or their constituents are affected by the measure. The absence of an overall licensing system for all organisers of package holidays has left many companies unclear on how to implement the proposals and whether the new legislation applies to them.
Both the ETB and the BTA confirm the widely held view within the industry that many of the implications of the European Community package are simply not understood by domestic tourist operators, many of which will find them impossible to comply with. Perhaps the simplest solution at the time was to expand the air travel organisers licence to include packages involving overland travel arrangements. Many companies are finding it impossible to comply with the new regulations because there is no bonding product available for non-air travel packages and no regulatory organisation for bonding. Perhaps the Minister's colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry were biased against the measure because the successful scheme was introduced by a Labour Government in 1974.
I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to explain exactly why the licensing measures outlined in the original consultation paper of July 1991 were not introduced as initially intended. I hope that he will give a firm undertaking today to look at the proposals again. It is not just the domestic tourist operators who remain in the dark over the implications of the new proposals. According to the National Consumer Council, many customers are also ignorant of the regulations.
In April this year the chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators was quoted in The Times as saying :
"The Government admits that the only way for a member of the public to find out that his money is not protected is when a company goes bust and he does not get a refund."
All hon. Members must recognise that that is a disgrace. ABTA and the Association of Independent Tour Operators estimate that only 5,000 of the 30,000 travel organisations are known to provide financial protection. Only a few small companies are able to raise the money to participate in bonding schemes, while many others are unable to make the necessary arrangements through banks and insurance companies. That failure to provide insurance has been blamed on the speed with which the regulations were initially drawn up and implemented.
Column 590Companies were give just three months to provide legal financial protection for holidaymakers in the form of insurance and bonding arrangements.
I hope that the Minister will explain why the Department of Trade and Industry has failed to provide a way of enforcing the legislation. Is he aware that trading standards officers who were handed the job of policing the regulations do not have the manpower or resources to do so? The Government should be taking steps actively to protect the consumer by introducing sensible measures without placing exorbitant costs on the small businesses in the industry which are already struggling to keep afloat in the recession.
Mr. Hendry : I am encouraged by the fact that the hon. Gentleman is taking advice from taxi drivers. Scarcely a day goes by when I am not told by a taxi driver that he had Tom Pendry in the back of his cab the other day. Conservative Members would find it encouraging if the Opposition started to promote the views of taxi drivers, which are normally more sensible than those of the official Opposition. The hon. Gentleman talks of the costs on companies--in his consultation process did he consult hoteliers and others about Labour's policy for a minimum wage? Has he asked them whether that policy will create jobs? Every hotelier in my constituency with whom I have raised that issue--I have done so with many of them--says that the policy will destroy jobs rather than create them.
Mr. Pendry : It is always a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who was only elected because his constituents thought they were voting for me. I have answered his questions on many occasions. If what he says is true, why is it that all the hoteliers in France, Germany and other places in Europe are knocking the spots off our hoteliers while paying the right wages? That was a silly intervention, but doubtless the hon. Gentleman will tell his constituents that he was listening to me in today's debate. I am sure that the matter will be described in next week's edition of his local paper.
The hon. Gentleman has thrown me off course a little--I was making a serious point to which I shall return. I said that the Government should be taking steps to protect the consumer. Instead, the Department of Trade and Industry has undermined the new regulations to the detriment of 600 people who were left without a holiday or a refund when the French self-catering specialist, SFV Holidays, collapsed in May of this year.
In view of that collapse, I should like the Minister at least to give his view on the incorrect advice that the President of the Board of Trade gave in two letters to the Secretary of State for Education in which he said that the Oxfordshire-based holiday company was a borderline case, and so did not have to comply with the EC directive and ensure that travellers' deposits and payments were returned. If the DTI is confused about what constitutes a prearranged package holiday and which companies are covered by the legislation, how on earth can tourist organisations be expected to know?
On 28 May this year, the chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators was quoted in The Financial Times as saying that if the President of the Board of Trade's arguments were accepted, "most of our members would not require bonding."
On 13 June he was quoted as saying :
Column 591"I find it alarming that the Government can allow already flawed legislation to be cracked wide open so soon after
implementation--consumers' money is seriously at risk."
Those are the issues which the Minister must address when he considers the responses to his review on the problems facing the industry that arise from over-regulation. Will the Minister confirm that the results of his review will, in his words, be made "known before the House rises."--[ Official Report, 14 June 1993 ; Vol. 226, c. 619.]
If that is true, why did the information desk at his Department state only a week ago that the review's findings were for the exclusive use of the Minister and were not to be published? Who is right? The House and the industry demand to know, and I am sure that hon. Members from both sides of the House will look forward to discovering whether the Department's initiative has duplicated the work of the retail, tourism and other services task force. Surely, the terms of reference of the DTI task force are to simplify measures and to minimise costs to business. I raised that issue with the Minister at the last National Heritage Question Time. He said that there would be no duplication. I hope that he will expand on that statement as it seems obvious that there will be some duplication. Why is the Minister asking those in the industry to take further time off to answer questions that should already have been covered by the original task force initiative?
It is a pity that the Minister did not include a question on the deregulation of British Rail in his letter to the trade associations. I am sure that he would have received some interesting replies had he done so. He must agree that the provision of good public transport is vital to the tourist industry, Plans to deregulate British Rail threaten the existence of rail rover tickets and British Rail's present inclusive tour ticketing arrangements. That could result in a considerable loss of income to the tourist industry.
The overseas visitor and the domestic traveller may not represent much income per route mile to the private sector rail finance operator, but the Minister must be aware of the considerable consumer expenditure that that brings to the United Kingdom. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has raised those issues with the Minister in parliamentary questions, but perhaps the Minister will be able today to give some more satisfactory answers than those that he gave to my hon. Friend. Will the Minister also consider one of the more controversial recommendations of the working party of the National Economic Development Council on competitiveness in tourism and leisure which was put to the Government in June 1992? I refer to its proposal for the Government to implement a compulsory grading and classification system of hotels which may well serve to protect the good hotelier from the unscrupulous one which besmirches the reputation of the tourist sector, particularly with foreign tourists. As the report states, there are many communication problems between the existing different national rating systems, particularly between EC countries. Those problems have caused much chaos and confusion among tourists. The council also suggests, as the Minister must know, that a mandatory scheme would be to the advantage of the industry, as it would enforce minimum quality standards.
Column 592As I am sure the Minister also knows, the Development of Tourism Act 1969 provides for a compulsory scheme, should such a proposal be taken up.
I realise that this issue has caused some debate in the industry because of the fears of possible price controls being
imposed--although it should be observed that other European countries, such as France, have statutory systems of hotel regulation, without price controls. The subject certainly needs further consideration, which I hope the Minister will undertake to give it in greater depth. He should also take note of the confusion and antagonism generated by the Fire Precautions Act 1971, as it affects the provision of bed spaces, and fire certificates. There is a good deal of unfairness in the application of the regulations. The Minister must agree that hotel fire precautions are far too important to be left as they are, the more so given the Government's controversial delay in implementing EC fire regulations for offices and businesses. These regulations are in need of urgent clarification, to ensure that no one's life is put at risk in an attempt to save money. If small hotels and boarding houses are forced to comply with the 1971 Act, grants to assist them with adapting their premises should be forthcoming from central Government.
Another subject for further ministerial thought is that of the tourist tax. The Minister may know that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has circulated a green paper for consultation among its members, on the merits of a tourist tax. Although I sympathise strongly with local authorities that are being hammered by the Government with tighter and tighter expenditure controls, I am not convinced at this stage that a tourist tax is the answer. But a consultative paper on the subject is no bad thing, and I hope that the Minister will make a contribution to the debate that the AMA has initiated.
Mr. Tony Banks : I hear what my hon. Friend says about a tourist tax. He must recognise that, in places like London, which attracts so many tourists, conflicts of interest may arise between those who live here all the time and those who come here as welcome visitors. That applies especially to charges for museums or to see Buckingham palace or the crown jewels. It might seem unfair that residents should have to pay the same prices as those charged to tourists, given that the former already make a contribution through their taxes. Does my hon. Friend have any thoughts on that?
Mr. Pendry : That is precisely why I have said that this consultation exercise should include a genuine debate, which would cover important points such as those that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I should like to listen to that debate and to take part in the exercise. Certainly, there are pros and cons in this argument--my hon. Friend has listed some.
I hope, too, that the Minister will take part in the exercise and not dismiss it out of hand, so that we will be able to reach sensible conclusions at the end of it all.
While w of £5 per person has been mentioned--it could yield about £150 million. Will the Minister guarantee that the money will be earmarked for the tourist industry, not swallowed up by the Treasury?
Column 593The Minister rightly pointed out how well this country has done in attracting record numbers of overseas tourists in recent years. We all applaud that. Although Britain remains fifth in the world in terms of tourist earnings, our position is under threat from competitors, which are recording higher levels of growth. According to the British Tourist Authority, Britain recorded an average growth of about 7 per cent. between 1980 and 1990 [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) should listen to this, because it is of interest to him.
Mr. Pendry : No, I am in the middle of saying something--indeed, I am prepared to repeat it for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, who was not listening. We recorded an average growth rate of about 7 per cent. between 1980 and 1990. That compares with 15 per cent. for the United States, 9 per cent. for France, 9 per cent. for Italy and 10 per cent. for Spain--they are all pulling further ahead, and Austria and Germany are close on Britain's heels, so the recent reduction in ETB and BTA funding will inevitably lead to a reduction in our market share, although there could be a time lag of between two and three years. Unless the grants are restored, especially the grants for the BTA which, as the Secretary of State recently recognised, is doing a great deal of good work, all this will undoubtedly come about. The BTA made this very point by illustrating how Britain's share of American visits to Europe fell during the 1980s, as the BTA's ability to maintain investment in the United States market declined. Without adequate resources for the BTA, the United Kingdom cannot compete effectively for the international tourist trade--a fact underlined by the Select Committee on Employment report of 1990.
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) rose --
Mr. Pendry : I conclude by welcoming this debate. I hope that the Minister will take note not only of what I have said but of the important points emanating from the industry and from other hon. Members today. Tourism is too important an industry to be ignored any longer by any Government. The Opposition have every intention of ensuring that the industry is neglected no longer. The Government have neglected it ; the industry knows that it has been neglected. We are making inroads, as never before, into the tourist industry's thinking, and we shall continue to do so--[ Hon. Members-- : "Where are Opposition Members?"] Some hon. Members are muttering that they are all off to Christchurch for the by- election, where this morning the Tory candidate refused to turn up to talk to hoteliers and small business men. The Labour party is the champion of the tourist industry and will continue to be so.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : The speech made by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) represents a considerable change in the Opposition's thought processes. I recall that when I made my maiden speech during a tourism debate, an Opposition Member rose to say that the tourism industry was not a real industry : it was a Mickey Mouse industry. Today, the hon.
Column 594Gentleman said that the industry is too important to be ignored. I wholly agree. In that debate five years ago I said that the Opposition Member who described the tourist industry thus was entirely correct. The height of professionalism--the acme of service in the tourist industry--is to be found in Disney World and the Epcot Centre in Florida. Those places show exactly how the tourist industry should be run.
I welcomed many of the Minister's remarks, and I am grateful for the time that he has spent with me when I have made representations to him. I would ask him to put himself in the position of a small business man trying to run a hotel who, before he can open his doors for business, has to comply with 44 regulations. When hoteliers make representations to the Minister I hope that he will consider the burden of bureaucracy that they have to endure.
In the past, I have brought to the attention of the House several examples of daft regulations--for instance, the food hygiene regulations, which certainly need to be looked at again. I have mentioned the case of the hotelier who was required to check the temperature of his fridge and deep freezers four times a day, and to log the results. I have mentioned how another hotelier told me that the ceiling of his kitchen had to be painted with disinfectant twice a day. We have already heard about the wooden chopping boards, but what about basins? Often, the basins required by the environmental health officers are knee operated. When environmental health officers are asked why hands cannot be washed in the existing basins in which food is prepared, they will say, "That is all right as far as I am concerned--but only after you have put in an extra wash basin. You can ignore it when I have left the room"
Over-regulation has gone to absurd lengths when hotels have to enforce crazy rules such as not allowing guests to bring their own electric shavers or other electrical appliances into hotel rooms. I have examples of health and safety at work and access for the disabled regulations being enforced in a crazy way. A property in a neighbouring constituency had to have a lift installed at great expense. It will never be used because nobody on that floor is disabled. That enormous investment had to be made, and the cost continues because, although the lift is not used, it has to be inspected every year. I welcome the fact that the debate is about deregulation.
Mr. Hendry : Does my hon. Friend agree that to tackle the cases that he has identified we need a strong Minister leading a strong Department? That would be much better than an independent commission, which is the Liberal party's proposal. Many Liberal Members represent tourist areas. Has my hon. Friend noted that the party has been represented in the debate by only one of its Members and sometimes by nobody?
Mr. Allason : That point was made during the last tourism debate when many of us from the west country were unable to be present. My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), was here throughout the debate, but, today, his elevated position in the Government prevents him from contributing. In the previous debate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) castigated the Government and made some unfair points. I welcome his presence, but he has not been here throughout the debate and did not hear the Minister's speech. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Column 595I hope that when the Minister considers the question of deregulation he will also consider the hazards of deregulation. He spoke about use class orders, which have had a detrimental effect on many tourist areas. In Belgrave road in my constituency marvellous guest houses have in effect become doss houses. It is regrettable that no applications were made to the local authority for permission for the change to hostel accommodation. My local paper sought the views of the other hoteliers in Belgrave road and found that they were afraid of intimidation. Hoteliers were not prepared to make their views known because they feared that they would get a brick through the window. They have expressed their anxieties to me. That is a manifestation of the criminal behaviour of people who take advantage of the welfare state and use guest house accommodation throughout the summer, thus preventing tourists who would contribute to the economy of the area from using that accommodation. I deplore that change and I urge the Minister to bang heads together in the Department of Social Security and the Department of the Environment so that we may have straight thinking on this issue.
I am worried about another aspect of deregulation. Many guest house owners who comply with the six-bed space rule feel that there is insufficient enforcement by the Inland Revenue of property owners who are thought to be cowboys. Rogue operators who flout the rules make life difficult for the respectable operators who provide a proper service for visitors, especially in Torbay.
I welcome the Minister's five principles. I suggest that he examines carefully the practical application of new legislation. I remind him of the draft regulation from Brussels that would have prevented smoked meat from being sent through the Royal Mail. That extraordinary measure would have put out of business all the salmon smokeries that rely on mail order. I asked the Department of Health whether at any time there had been a significant number of cases of poisoning as a result of eating contaminated food sent through the post. I was told that there had been none.
Why was the draft regulation produced? It was certainly drafted without any thought for the operators or for the fact that small businesses would be driven to bankruptcy. Therefore, we must have practical examination of legislation before it is introduced. Secondly, legislation should be reviewed with tourism in mind because what may be appropriate in one part of the country may be quite inappropriate for a small operator in another part who caters for just a few guests and struggles to run a small kitchen. It is absurd to require him to have two or three deep freezers and fridges and to have meat separated from vegetables. Such regulations are driving people out of business.
I have some special pleading. When new legislation is being reviewed, will the Minister bear the west country in mind? This issue has been raised with the Prime Minister.
Column 596All too often, regulation and legislation that are appropriate for one part of the country are wholly inappropriate for the west country. We do things well there, but we depend on our tourist industry and any handicap to our efforts must be deplored. If the Minister needs advice, I suggest that he sends a questionnaire and conducts a survey either through the regional tourist boards or through the chains of hotels. He could even approach the appropriate small operators and ask the straightforward question, "Which regulation costs you most? What handicap prevents you from being profitable and from being a success and employing more people?" Employment is the key to the future success of the industry.
The Minister should also look at dual rate VAT because the principle has been accepted by the Government and will clearly be applied next year. An examination of that would be welcomed by the tourist industry. There are many other issues that I should like to bring to the Minister's attention, but time is short. I thank him for his five principles and for his commitment to cutting red tape and slashing bureaucracy. I urge him to get rid of the May day bank holiday and respond to the tourist industry by introducing a holiday in the autumn to extend the season. Will he also consider British summer time? Extending it may not be of enormous benefit to lollipop people in the north of Scotland, but it could be enormously important to our tourist industry.
Mr. Nigel Evans : My hon. Friend speaks about scrapping May day, which has proved to be extremely unpopular. Perhaps we could replace it with deregulation day which could be held on 9 July to celebrate this debate. Bonfires could be lit throughout the country and could be used to burn all the forms that have to be completed by small businesses and hoteliers, and could include the speech by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry).
My hon. Friend the Minister made some robust remarks and I welcome everything that he said. There has been a long tradition of rhetoric without a great deal of action and I look to him to go in there and cut the red tape, to slash bureaucracy and to light the bonfire on deregulation day.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : On many occasions when I have spoken in debates about the importance of manufacturing industry, I have been wrongly accused by Conservative members of not being concerned about the tourist industry.
It being Eleven o'clock, Madam Speaker-- interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday Sittings).
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like tomake a statement about the restructuring of the Sports Council of Great Britain.
My right hon. Friend and I have decided, following consultation with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland, and with the chairmen-designate of the proposed United Kingdom Sports Commission and the Sports Council for England, that we should no longer proceed with work to put those bodies in place of the current Sports Council GB from 1 October. For some time now, the Government Departments involved, the Sports Council GB, and many other bodies involved in sport have been giving close attention to how a restructuring of the present arrangements would best deliver the overall objectives set out in our December 1991 policy statement, "Sport and Active Reaction". In particular, we have been looking at whether the original proposal for a United Kingdom body as envisaged in that report is still the best vehicle by which to deliver those objectives.
We shall therefore be considering other options, with the Sports Council, with a view to announcing fresh proposals as soon as possible. In doing that work, I shall have in mind the objective of maximising the expenditure that goes directly to sport rather than to administration, and the need for effective management of the new stream of income for sport that will follow the introduction of a national lottery. In the meantime, the Sports Council GB will continue its work. I look forward to working closely with the Sports Council. Our shared concern is to develop a structure which best serves the interests of British sport.
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde) : First, I must register a protest from this Bench that this statement is being made on a Friday, with so many Members on both sides of the House with sports interests who are away from the House and also at its being made in the middle of an important debate on the tourist industry. From a personal level, as the Opposition spokesman for both tourism and sport, I am left to deal, at very short notice indeed, with this statement, at a time when I am dealing with a major tourist debate. The statement was handed to me at 9.15,15 minutes before the commencement of the debate and I have hardly had time to digest its contents.
The statement represents to me a great opportunity lost. For some two years of discussion, we have had nothing to show for it. I put it to the Minister that had his Department introduced into the consultation process his colleagues the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, for Scotland and for Wales earlier, and had he brought in all parties in the House to discuss the issue in consultation with them, as well as talking to those at the sharp end of the British sporting scene, he would today, instead of this nebulous statement, be giving us a positive and forward-looking statement about the structures for sport. Surely the way forward is to have a realistic dialogue with all those responsible for sports administration and obvious interested parties, and to get talks going on the road again.
I should like to ask some specific questions of the Minister. He said that he would consider other options. It
Column 598was originally the Sports Council which proposed the structure for the commission in October 1991, so I find it a little odd and rich for him to be going back to the Sports Council to discuss other options. What other options has he in mind? How much time and money has been wasted? Here we have a Minister who, as we heard earlier in the debate, abhors wasteful bureaucracy, wiping clean a year and seven months of hard work in this field. How much money and time have been wasted in the process?
Perhaps the Minister will clarify what he means by "maximising the expenditure" in relation to the Sports Council, which
"goes directly to sport rather than to administration". I hope that the Minister will explain rather more what he meant by that, and will not be taking the grossly overestimated figure that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) mentioned in the sports debate recently.
What will happen to those, Mr. Ian Beer and Sir Peter Yarranton, who have been appointed to the new commission? What will happen to them and any other appointed personnel? Has he taken into account the grief and anxiety that the new proposals have caused staff in the Sports Council over the past 19 months? What will this latest example of Government failure do to the morale of the council?
As I said, we have had little time to consider the full implications of the statement. I hope that the Minister will not take this statement as being a retreat from what the Government and the Opposition said was a good way forward to rationalise the sports structures in this country. I hope that he is not going to throw that baby out with the bath water.
Therefore, I hope that the Under-Secretary will enter meaningful talks with all the bodies that I have mentioned so that we can strive for a better structure for sport. Certainly, with the lottery coming on stream, we shall need a structure to ensure that that money is fed into the areas of sport and recreation that are necessary. I hope that the Minister will take a positive step forward and involve more people in sport in any proposals that will come forward as a result of further consultation.
Mr. Sproat : The hon. Gentleman began by protesting because I was making the statement on a Friday. The original proposition was that the information should be put out in a written answer, and I said that, as a courtesy to the House, although it is only one day before the next National Heritage Question Time, which is on Monday, I would make a statement so that there would be some information on the table if hon. Members wished to raise the issue then. I was trying to do the House a courtesy, and I thought that a statement on a Friday was better than no statement at all, which is what would otherwise have happened.
As to giving the hon. Gentleman maximum notice, I appreciate the difficulties. We both had to make a speech on another subject early this morning. However, when my civil servants got in touch with the hon. Gentleman, he asked when he could have the statement and I well remember that my answer was, "He can have it as early on Friday morning as he cares to pick it up." I do my best to be courteous to the hon. Gentleman and to the House, but we are all in a slightly difficult position because of the sitting hours of the House on a Friday.
The hon. Gentleman asked me, perfectly fairly, whether we would undertake to have a realistic dialogue with all the
Column 599sports bodies that he mentioned, and we will do that as swiftly as possible over the next few months. I hope that we shall be able to give the answers to the House before the year is out. He asked what other options we had and the answer is that they are what will come out of the discussions that we shall have.
The hon. Gentleman asked me what I meant by
"maximising the expenditure that goes directly to sport". When I look at the distribution of the £51 million that the Sports Council GB gets-- that is not all the money that sport gets from various public sources--I am bound to consider the statement that 37 per cent. of that money goes on the adminstration of the Sports Council. I know that the council says that it depends how one defines administration, but I will gladly look at the matter to see whether the claim that 37 per cent. of the money is spent on the council rather than on sport directly is fair. I want to make sure that when we give money to encourage sport, it goes to the people at the sharp end and not to bureaucrats.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the position of Sir Peter Yarraton and Mr. Beer--an important and fair question. Both of them support what the Government are doing, and will be coming along with us as continuing members of the Sports Council GB.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is the Minister aware that we have come a long way since the heady days of the 1960s and the so-called age of leisure, when full employment was still on the agenda? The Sports Council was established to take advantage of that age of leisure. I remember serving on the east midlands Sports Council as a local authority representative. We were presented with a map with blue flags showing golf courses and red flags for swimming baths all over the place. I managed to get a swimming bath for Clay Cross. I suspect that the Minister's statement is made against the background of an age of mass unemployment, with the Government looking to make cuts wherever they can.
I ask the Minister not to indulge in cutting expenditure where it provides facilities. If the Government proceed with privatising the coal industry, thousands of welfares in every coalfield throughout Britain--cricket grounds, football pitches, tennis courts, bowling greens and the rest-- could be at risk. I hope that those facilities will not be lost if ever the Government privatise the coal industry but that the Government will look after them.
Column 600matter with the Treasury. It is a case of not being convinced that a United Kindom overarching body, with another supporting bureaucracy, is the best way to spend money.
The hon. Gentleman made a fair point about the need properly to support local cricket grounds and bowls clubs. I entirely agree. It was so that more money could be diverted to such facilities rather than to sports administrators that we decided to re-examine the problem.
As for properly supporting facilities such as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I hope that funds will be available not only from the Sports Council but in due course from the national lottery also.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I am disappointed that the United Kingdom sports commission concept seems to have been put on ice, if not abandoned. This country's sporting structure is already considerably fragmented, and I thought that the commission was a positive proposal. This has nothing to do with the Sports Council, but I should like to see a United Kingdom soccer team representing this country at international level. If we could use the talents of all the home countries, we might actually win a few matches. Will the Minister say from where the original proposal for the commission emanated, and what has changed the minds of Ministers, who at one stage were very supportive of the proposal?
Mr. Sproat : The hon. Gentleman asked what changed our mind. The original concept was to find a better way of delivering cash and advice to sportsmen and sportswomen throughout the country. It was thought that a United Kingdom sports commission with an overarching United Kingdom responsibility might do that. However, those excellent ideas--as they seemed--were so fleshed out that it seemed likely that we would get only another vast bureaucracy, taking up more funds that could be devoted to facilities of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
When one gets down to it, Scotland and Wales would have no intention of giving up their grip on their national sport--rightly, I believe--and there would not be a proper job for a United Kingdom sports commission to do. It could represent Britain overseas on certain occasions, and issues such as doping must be examined on a United Kingdom basis. However, although there were good reasons for a United Kingdom commission, there are better reasons for spending money not on bureaucracy but on sportsmen and sportswomen throughout the country.
Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn. 11.14 am
Mr. Pike : I was saying that I have been wrongly accused by Conservative Members of dismissing the importance of tourism to the nation by concentrating at times on manufacturing industry. That is not true, and I welcome this opportunity to contribute to this debate.
While I do not in any way dismiss tourism's importance from the point of view of jobs and the economy, I may point out, as a Member of Parliament representing a constituency in the north-west, that we had 971,000 jobs in manufacturing industry in 1979 but only 525,000 in 1992. Tourism will, of course, never fill the jobs lost in the manufacturing base.
Having said that, I point out that tourism is important to the north-west, as it generates a large amount of money and provides employment for a substantial number of people. I am glad that the Minister, in response to my earlier intervention, placed emphasis on my point about regional airports. Although I was referring specifically to Manchester, my comments apply equally to other regional airports.
It is nonsense that people from the north-west who want to go abroad are forced to fly from London, and that people entering the United Kingdom are also forced to arrive in London. That compounds London's problems. That is no way meant as a criticism of London, because, as my mother came from Burnley and my father from London, I have a foot in both camps. Too many people are unnecessarily forced to fly to London, causing additional problems with the transport system, and so on. If that can be avoided, it will benefit not only London but the regions. I am not making an anti- London point, but we all know of the nonsensical situation. There are problems even within the London airports, and the present regulatory regime should be changed.
Anyone who knows Manchester airport will have seen the results of the massive investment made there over the years, including the new second terminal that was opened recently and the rail link for which I fought, together with a number of colleagues, a few years ago. It, too, is now open and is an important added feature.
The Minister's speech focused on deregulation and he gave examples of stupid controls and regulations. Everyone agrees that if there is no useful purpose for a regulation, it should be abolished. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) stressed the importance of ensuring that anything done is not at the risk of safety. We must ensure, for example, that the incidence of food poisoning is minimised. That must be done sensibly, but the Minister made the point that certain regulations are not sensible and cannot be justified, although he accepted the need for safety.
As for fire safety, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde also mentioned, one is often confronted in a hotel with a maze of corridors, which should be adequately signed in an emergency. Obstructions caused by furniture, for example, must be avoided, because if the way is blocked there could be a major disaster. The standards in this country are far better than those in many others, but we must ensure that they