Previous SectionIndexHome Page

1.41 pm

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): We have had a very interesting and wide-ranging debate. Although it seems as though we may not quite use all the time allotted today, that should not be a matter for concern or critical comment for two reasons. First, these debates are usually limited to three hours, so we have had more time today to deal with the very important matters that right hon. and hon. Members have wished to draw to the attention of the House; and, secondly, it is becoming increasingly clear that the constituency work carried out by Members of Parliament is becoming ever-more demanding.

More hon. Members simply find that they cannot discharge all their proper duties in their constituency just on a Saturday. They find that they have to be there on a Friday to undertake the vast range of constituency work that faces them. That is why I am one of those members who serve on the Modernisation Committee—the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) is another—who are prepared to consider the House's sitting practices to find out whether we can improve the quality of time that we have.

For example, it was a matter of regret to me that the debate collapsed on Wednesday this week, when we could have had a debate of this nature if our procedures were able to take account of such events. The Modernisation Committee, under the excellent chairmanship of the Leader of the House, is prepared to consider such matters, and I hope that we will make proposals in due course that will be widely accepted.

Ms Drown: Would the right hon. Gentleman consider starting at 10, rather than 2.30, or even the proposed 11.30, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays? If we then sat until 7, we could have more debates in the evening. We could also finish at 3, for example, on Thursdays, which would allow more hon. Members, especially those from far-flung lands, to go home and have a full constituency day on Fridays.

Mr. Knight: The hon. Lady's comments find a degree of favour with me. I am not sure about starting at 10 o'clock, but we should certainly consider starting at an earlier hour, not only to assist our working practices, but to take account of the fact that those who report what we say in the House would probably pay more interest if it were said before they went off to have dinner.

I wish to raise with the Minister an issue of growing concern to me that directly affects my constituents' well-being. Tourism is an important feature of our

24 May 2002 : Column 556

economy throughout the United Kingdom, and English tourism dominates in Great Britain. The House may not know that English tourism represents more than 81 per cent. of the total United Kingdom tourism market. It is worth £52 billion, compared with £4.5 billion in Scotland and £2.3 billion in Wales. My view is that, with vigorous marketing, it could be worth even more. Despite the importance of English tourism to the UK economy, the English Tourism Council and the London tourist board receive only 23p per head of England's population. I wonder whether Members can guess how much the Scottish tourist board receives. Is it a little more? No, it is a lot more—a whopping £4.85 per head of population. The Wales tourist board receives a staggering £9.44 for each Welsh resident. Why should a person living in Dunfermline have 21 times as much spent on their behalf to promote tourism as a person living in Bridlington in my constituency? Why should Barmouth in north Wales—a most delightful place—have 41 times as much spent per head of population as Flamborough Head, which is also in my constituency?

The unfairness goes wider than money alone. Not only do the Scottish and Wales tourist boards receive more money than the English Tourism Council and the London tourist board—England receives £11.5 million compared with £24.8 million for Scotland and £27.8 million for Wales—but they also do less to help English tourism than English tourism does to help them. The English Tourism Council's website has a link to the Wales and the Scottish tourist boards' websites. That is reasonable, and I welcome it. Is it reciprocated by the Wales or the Scottish tourist board? No, it is not. That is to be deplored. The English Tourism Council's website mention Wales and the Welsh 42 times, and Scotland and the Scottish 51 times. How many times are England and the English mentioned on their websites? Twice.

Amazingly, although the English Tourism Council website blathers on about Scotland and Wales, it gives precious little mention to the tourist areas of east Yorkshire. I regard that as an affront. Clearly, it is not good enough. What are the chairman of the English Tourism Council and his colleagues doing to promote the delights of Yorkshire and other English counties? Will the Minister refer my concerns—more than that, my justified anger—about this dereliction of the proper promotion of the tourist delights of England to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport as soon as possible? Will he ask her to consider taking action to rectify this gross imbalance?

Ms Drown: I fully appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's comments, and agree that the three countries should help each other to promote tourism, which can result in gain for all. I would not want him to leave this issue, however, without clarifying his view on support per head. I hope that he does not think that every region of the country should receive exactly the same support for tourism. We heard strong calls to promote different regions if we are to address the pressure on housing. Tourism is a real job creator, which has an impact on population and homes. Will he confirm that he is not in favour of providing exactly the same support across the whole nation?

Mr. Knight: I am happy to give that confirmation. I have a great love for Scotland and Wales. I seek not parity but justice.

24 May 2002 : Column 557

Many issues have been raised on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) referred to the right-to-buy abuse. He advocated legislation. The abuse that is occurring highlights the value of taking legal advice before entering into a contract for the purchase or sale of land. A house or bungalow is the most valuable asset that any of us are likely to own. It is incredible that people today are still entering into contracts to buy or sell a dwelling without taking proper independent advice. If local authorities are aware that a block of housing stock may fall prey to an unscrupulous property company, there might be a case for their issuing advice to tenants to see a solicitor or to go to a law centre before they sign anything.

My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) is a vigorous advocate, and he did not let us down when he referred to several issues that affect his constituency. He started on the subject of street crime and the clear duty of the police to bring it under control. I sometimes wonder whether the police have a perverse sense of priorities.

For example, I mention a case that occurred a couple of years ago. It was not in Yorkshire or Humberside, so I am not referring to my police authority. A friend of mine, who is a musician, was leaving the venue where he had performed and a near-riot was taking place outside. Youths were fighting and bottles were being thrown, but not one police officer was to be seen. On his way home, he took a cross-country route and, as he turned down a small lane that is mainly used by farmers, he was astounded when two police officers with torches jumped out of a hedge. They stopped him at 1 am, and told him that they were doing a random check on motor vehicles. One questions whether the police have the right priorities in every case.

My hon. Friend discussed roads and the need for a new one to serve his constituency. I hope that his comments and those of other hon. Members will lead us to have a serious debate about the need for new road building. I hope that the debate will not degenerate into the sort of sloganising that we get from Friends of the Earth, which is currently running a postcard campaign saying "No new roads". If one takes that literally, no new roads means no new houses, because every housing estate must be linked to an existing highway. My hon. Friend made an excellent case for the third road that he mentioned, and I hope that it will be considered favourably.

Like a number of other hon. Members on both sides of the House, my hon. Friend then strayed on to the subject of the World cup. I enjoy the World cup finals, but not in the way that other Members do. I never watch the matches or pay them any attention. However, when they are on, I get great pleasure from getting out one of my classic cars and driving around the roads of Yorkshire. The roads are deserted, so it is like going back to the golden days of motoring. That is rather enjoyable.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) is not here, but he kindly left me a note to explain that he had a pressing constituency engagement. He raised the important issue of anti-Semitism. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I take it seriously. I am a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, and I know the details of the many shocking cases of abuse and threats of violence

24 May 2002 : Column 558

from which members of the Jewish community have to suffer. We should all deplore race hate violence from wherever it comes. More than that, we should do what we can to eradicate it.

The hon. Gentleman then discussed the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and his concern that the most vulnerable members of society could be seduced into signing the agreements offered by loan sharks. He made a very good case. I am aware that such agreements are often signed, but I am pleased to say that I am not aware of a case in my constituency. However, friends of friends of mine have suffered from signing such agreements, and I am concerned that the seductive advertisements for them are allowed to run on local radio stations. The advertisements say, "Come to us. We will offer you a loan. It doesn't matter if you have county court judgments against you or have bad debts. You don't need a deposit." Such advertising puff makes those of us who are legally qualified realise that the claims made are too good to be true, but they do have an impact on vulnerable members of society.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) complained that the geographical position of his constituency is such that his phone hardly ever rings. I would regard that as a blessing, not a curse. He expressed concern about salmon farmers and the pollution caused by the Braer incident. Indeed, he explained quite well the problems that communities often face in respect of the burden of proof when a local disaster or problem occurs. The community might know what has caused the devastation, but proving that to a judge in court is a different matter. I think that the hon. Gentleman should pursue that further. Perhaps we should even consider the burden of proof as it applies to such cases. I gather from his liberal use of Latin that he is a lawyer so, inter alia, I wish him well in pursuing his case.

The hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) began by telling us that she is a workaholic. She then went on to prove it by raising more points than any other hon. Member. I was probably a bit hard on her in my intervention because she went on to say that she supported the eight-year rule for Select Committee Chairmen, which is what I proposed in the amendment that was accepted by the House. I agree that there is a case for preventing a Select Committee from becoming the fiefdom of a particular Member. There is such a wealth of talent and expertise in the House that it is right that more Members are eligible to stand for election as Chairmen of Select Committees.

When the hon. Lady began her analysis of the health service, she sounded much like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) when he was Health Secretary. Just when I started to think that she was going to sit on the Conservative Benches, she veered off in a different direction, which was disappointing.

The hon. Lady raised many issues, such as fireworks, that concern hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am a libertarian and believe that if people want to celebrate 5 November, they should be able to do it without having to apply for a licence or being subject to a local authority restriction. However, as an animal owner I am worried how the event is spreading from the end of October to the second week in November. When I was a child, the whole community celebrated bonfire night on 5 November, and that was it. Pets had to be kept in for one

24 May 2002 : Column 559

night only, whereas now, the event is being celebrated over a two-week period in villages up and down the country, and that concerns pet owners.

Next Section

IndexHome Page