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Holiday Lettings (Taxation)

Volume 504: debated on Monday 18 January 2010

13. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effects on the tourism industry of changes in taxation of furnished holiday lettings. (310899)

I met my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in December to discuss the tourism industry’s concerns about the potential impact of the rule changes on the self-catering sector. I also helped to convene a meeting in December between representatives of the Tourism Alliance, the Financial Secretary and Treasury officials.

Well, I actually managed to speak to the Chancellor about this before Christmas in one of the Division Lobbies, when I told him how angry farmers in the north Yorkshire moors area are that some of their diversification projects have been holed below the waterline by these changes. If only 10 per cent. of the jobs in this sector go, that will amount to 2,400 jobs. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility to think of a way to give an exemption to genuine businesses, and not to throw the net around those private people who have holiday cottages, who were previously getting this exemption?

I would be delighted to hear from the hon. Gentleman if he has ideas as to how we can ensure that we implement this change, which is required because of European legislation, in a way that does not damage the particular sector that he mentions. I have been in constant discussion with people in the sector. They have put forward three proposals so far, none of which actually work—we have examined them in detail. If he or any other Conservative Member has any practical proposals to make that would enable us to meet our EU obligations and benefit the sector, I would be more than happy to listen to those and take them forward.

I am afraid that this is yet another example of tourism being pushed to the back of the queue by this Government. The tourism industry is right to ask, “What have this Government done for us?” The tourism budget has been slashed, the sea change funding has all but dried up, the responsibility for English tourism has been thrown into confusion by the introduction of regional development agencies, nothing has been done to harness the opportunities provided by the Olympics, and now there has been a raid by the Treasury on furnished holiday lets. So I ask the Minister: what have this Government done for tourism? The Romans can at least point to the aqueducts and the roads. Let us hear from her how the industry is going to be helped.

The Government invest some £2 billion in support of our tourism industry, and the Conservatives, with their plans to cut public spending before we are properly out of the recession, would damage it far more than we would.

May I give a few examples? This Government introduced free admissions to our museums. Eight out of 10 of the most popular destinations for visitors in the UK are those museums, so we supported the tourism industry by making our museums more attractive. This Government introduced the sea change programme, which has enabled us to invest, through heritage funding and in other ways, to bring back—[Interruption.] May I say to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), who is speaking from a sedentary position, that that programme is funded and has been funded? I look forward to a commitment from those on the Conservative Benches that they will continue to fund it as we intend to do.

Order. I am grateful to the Minister. Her answer was a little on the long side, but it was prolonged by excessive chuntering from a sedentary position by Opposition Front Benchers, of which we need to see no repetition.