Dr Julian Lewis: The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) complained that it is rather cold in Westminster Hall today. I can recommend the House of Commons Library to him. It is an absolute furnace there, where I prepared the great oration that I was going to make, 90% of which is now going to be chucked because of the time limit [3 minutes]. However, that is a measure of the importance of the debate, because so many people want to contribute to it. That is why our time is so limited.
When I last looked, more than 206,000 people had signed the petition, and the group with the highest number was people from the New Forest. In New Forest East alone almost 300 businesses are in the food and accommodation sectors, employing 4,000 people and constituting 10.8% of the working population. The hospitality industry is the UK’s largest employer of under 25-year-olds and, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) said in her able introduction, the importance, post Brexit, of our having an appealing environment for people to come and invest in cannot be overstated.
As the vaccine programme is implemented, one might reasonably expect the reintroduction of tiered restrictions on a gradually reducing basis. That is where the significance of adequate ministerial representation for the hospitality industry comes into play. For a sector of this size – the third largest in the UK – ranging from pubs through to restaurants and hotels, tourism and travel, not having a separate specialist and dedicated voice at the core of Government has led to a justified sense of disregard and discrimination.
Robin Hutson, who was mentioned earlier and who is my constituent, said,
“It is our belief that we do not have a respected, truly invested senior Minister with deep sector knowledge, but who also has the power and the ear of the PM to effectively defend our corner.”
It took more than four months for the Treasury to respond to one letter that I sent from a concerned constituent. Having a separate dedicated Minister would prevent that sort of delay. It would matter less that responsibilities are spread over more than one Department if only it were the same Minister who held the post in each Department. It is not uncommon to have a specialist Minister with a focused role in more than one Department. Initially, that could be on a temporary, emergency basis, as a hospitality industry recovery Minister. If it is found to work well during that phase, making it permanent might well be the logical next step.
[NOTE: For a follow-up Business Question, click here.]