Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask him whether he can give us some guidance on timetabling as regards policy implementation. There is an advisory group which is due to report, an audit in process and a White Paper to be published. Are we to assume that the Government will collect the information from those sources before their precise targeting on allocation of resources is under way?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I should tell the noble Baroness that such matters are still under consideration. The various advisory committees have yet to meet and the timing of their work is very much a matter for them. However, I can assure the noble Baroness that my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade is most anxious for this work to be carried out quickly. Some committees are already meeting and the intention is that this work will be carried out quickly.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 1311

8.10 p.m.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, I thank my noble friends and indeed noble Lords from all parts of the House for their effective contributions. Indeed there was a series of contributions covering a wide range of matters relevant to competitiveness. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, on his first appearance on the Opposition Front Bench.

I wished the word "industry" in the Motion to be treated widely, and I am delighted that it has been. Retailing industry, services and financial services have been covered as well as manufacturing industry. I was delighted that noble Lords took a broad view as regards the matters which are relevant to competitiveness, including human resources--as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, put it--skills training, education and even matters which I must admit I had not contemplated but which I now fully understand are relevant to competitiveness. I refer to safety which the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, mentioned. I am grateful for the contribution in the gap by the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, on the importance of currency stability as regards competitiveness. We have had an excellent debate. It only remains for me to withdraw the Motion standing in my name. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


8.11 p.m.


The Earl of Bradford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what measures they propose to take to ensure the continued growth of tourism to Britain.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for once again returning to a subject that is dear to my heart, and occasionally to my wallet, which is why I must declare an interest as president of the Wrekin Tourism Association, owner of Porters Restaurant, chairman of Weston Park Enterprises and president of the Master Chefs of Great Britain.

First, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to his position on the Front Benches opposite. His daughter-in-law, a delightful and lovely young Australian lady, worked for some time at my Porters Restaurant, so I feel we already have something in common.

Secondly, I thank in advance all the noble Lords who are taking part in the debate this evening. It illustrates the importance of the subject that we have as many speakers as in the previous debate. I note that there seems to be a slight imbalance in that nearly half the speakers come from Scotland--it is quite a notable gathering of the clans--but I feel that they should take notice of the fact that Scotland receives considerably more in grant for promotion per head of population than does England.

Unfortunately the previous Government never seemed to understand the difference between investment that paid back, as in funding the promotion of tourism, and spending, as in "kiss it goodbye" with no actual visible financial return. Always one heard that blandly quoted

18 Jun 1997 : Column 1312

excuse, "no hypothecation"--the method by which the Treasury absolves itself from any responsibility in making positive decisions by continually stating that it needs to keep government spending under control.

Now we have a new Administration which I hope is receptive to sensible proposals, and which is certainly prepared to stand up for its pre-election pledges. It is already quite apparently demonstrating that it has different ideas from those of previous Labour Governments. The Government have a clearly stated commitment to bring down unemployment which, although it has decreased considerably from former high levels, is still well above the post-War average. The Government particularly wish to get the youth and long-term unemployed back into jobs. I wish to demonstrate to the Government an easy and relatively inexpensive way to achieve that laudable aim, and at the same time ensure the continued growth of an industry projected to become the world's largest by the year 2000. It is an industry that already produces 5 per cent. of gross domestic product in Britain, and employs over 1.7 million people.

Regrettably, tourism to Britain went through a period of relative decline under the previous Administration. I refer to its falling share of world tourism, its poor standing in the European league tables of growth in tourism, and its appalling balance of payments performance, from being in the black in the early 1980s to a still increasing deficit of £3.9 billion.

Professor Stephen Wonhill of Cardiff University has demonstrated that it takes an increased tourism spend of only £28,500 to produce one new full-time job. If we had merely maintained the previous balance of payments position, we would have expanded employment in Britain by over 150,000, as opposed to effectively exporting the jobs instead. All in all, that was an exceedingly negative performance. Yet estimates by the World Travel and Tourism Council suggest that the UK travel and tourism industry presently contributes well over £25 billion in tax revenue to the Exchequer.

Some people have stated that, given the size of the industry and its relative success, it should raise the money for its promotion from the private sector. However, 175,000 of the 225,000 tourist businesses are owner operated. How would they ever manage to promote effectively unless it was done centrally and paid for by the Treasury? In fact the niggardly amount allocated to the statutory bodies to promote tourism to Britain is a paltry £93 million in the current year; a figure that has not been raised in real terms for the past 18 years. Surely, given all the evidence, including that of the previous Select Committee, chaired by Gerald Kaufman, a Labour Member in another place, the argument for increasing this sum has been proven time and time again.

During that same period tax upon tax has been loaded onto the industry. VAT increased from 8 per cent. to 17.5 per cent. There was the imposition of the airport tax, which is now raising £400 million a year, many times the annual grant, and which is about to double as a result of the previous Budget. There is also the horrendous financial effect of business rates. Now is the time for the Government to stop just taking and instead to support; to

18 Jun 1997 : Column 1313

spend sensibly to achieve some necessary ends. However, there are certain factors that also need to be taken into account. Tourism is not necessarily a boon to everyone, as one business's or town's benefit can be another person's nightmare. It must be sustainable and produce a satisfactory return in compensation for the undoubted burden that it can create on this country's infrastructure, whilst the effect on the local population must also be considered. After all, how many people would have predicted that some simple amusing stories written by a vet or a television series about three elderly gentlemen behaving irresponsibly would have transformed life in two rural Yorkshire villages and altered their character for ever?

It is absolutely vital that we look at re-orientating how we target potential visitors and stop the constant pursuit of ever-increasing numbers. Instead we must turn our attention to raising the overall spend by attracting the business traveller and the more upmarket tourist. As many of our attractions are what might be termed "real history", they can only cope with limited numbers going round their facilities before they begin to suffer under the strain. If one of the important aims of attracting tourists is to pay for the upkeep and improvement of our great buildings and institutions, we have to be careful that the patient is not overwhelmed by numbers, and ultimately succumbs under the overload.

Surely it is self-evident that Great Britain plc derives greater benefit from catering to one person splashing out £5,000 on a luxury trip than from 100 parting with just £100 each, or even 1,000 spending just £5. This is not being elitist, merely practical. However, on studying the reaction to my recent statement that we might need to consider limiting low spending cross-Channel day visitors to London, who even bring their own packed lunches, one might have thought that I was a latter day Marie Antoinette saying, "Let them leave their baguettes at home and buy British cakes"!

We must encourage the development of more out of season tourism, as we shall derive greater benefit by boosting full-time employment. Most importantly, we need to educate potential tourists that Britain is not just London and persuade them to be adventurous and move out to other parts of the country.

Another geographical problem is that the two major airports, the ferry ports and Eurostar are all based in the south east of England. We would all gain, and spread the benefits of tourism, if more visitors could be persuaded to enter Britain through gateways in the rest of the country.

That is why projects like Manchester Airport's second runway are so important. Perhaps Swampy might feel slightly differently about it if he realised how much unnecessary traffic the project will remove from the roads by giving people in the north of England better and more convenient services nearer to where they live, while also providing an entry point to Britain which should be closer to many visitors' ultimate destinations.

Let us hope that salutary lessons will have been learned by scrutinising the previous Government's attitude towards tourism promotion, and that by examining the reasons for their relative failure the new Administration will produce a very different plan of action. After all, it

18 Jun 1997 : Column 1314

would seem that increased spending on tourism promotion would be in accord with all their aims. Surely there cannot be any other kind of government expenditure which achieves all the following: a net effect of actually raising revenue; a reduction in unemployment; and a positive impact on our balance of payments.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, what a splendid opening to a reunion of the old lags--the repertory company is assembled once more! The only difference is that the Government have changed. Let us hope that the attitude of the new Government will also have changed. However, I congratulate the noble Earl on his opening remarks.

I have the needs of the consumer much in mind, with my background in the Co-operative movement to guide me. I wish to share with your Lordships what has happened as a result of the impact of tourism upon a not inconsiderably-sized business, the Co-operative movement.

Over the past five years there has been considerable rationalisation within the travel industry. This has led to formal links being developed between the major high street travel agency chains and the key tour operators. Those links are between Thomson Tour Operator and Lunn Poly, Airtours and Going Places, Sunworld and Thomas Cook, and Inspirations and A.T. Mays. That is vertical integration.

In order to counter that move, the majority of the retail co-operatives formed an alliance under the banner of Co-op Travel Limited. That created a group of 432 travel agencies which is the only truly independent group of any size within the United Kingdom. The function of the alliance is to negotiate with tour operators as a group, improve the commercial terms, and thereby reduce the costs of holidays to Co-op clients. The retail trade industry has been discount led over the past few years, and therefore without the ability to enhance our commercial terms the Co-ops would not have been able to compete in the high street and as a result consumer choice would have been restricted still further.

Let me illustrate the changes that have been made. In 1974 the Co-op travel turnover was £12.6 million; this year it has grown to £680 million. In 1974 it employed 220 people; it now employs 2,400. That indicates that when we talk of the tourist industry it is a very disparate, wide organisation, a point mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Bradford. People think of package holidays, going abroad or visiting this country, but there is a great deal more to tourism.

I was delighted to see earlier this year that the Labour Party has produced a strategy for tourism and hospitality called Breaking New Ground. I am sure that the Minister will comment on that. I am delighted to note that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will speak as a Minister for the first time in this debate. He will

18 Jun 1997 : Column 1315

have noted the intention of the Government to produce a new development of tourism Act. We are told that,

    "The new Act will build upon the sound foundations of Labour's 1969 Act. [It will concentrate on] updating tourism structures, enhancing standards in service and provision, introducing a co-ordinating mechanism for overseas tourism marketing [and] encouraging partnerships between local authorities, tourist boards and the private sector including hospitality interests"--
whatever all that means.

We have had not just promises but assurances that everything will be all right. The noble Earl touched upon the point of the ludicrous amount of spend by the Government direct to the tourist boards out of the enormous sums of money which tourism brings into this country. We know that the figure is ludicrous. I believe that it is £90 million to the tourist boards, and that has to be sub-divided to the regions.

Perhaps I may conclude with a renewed plea for a Ministry for Tourism and a Minister of Tourism. Many of our major competitor countries have such a structure. It concentrates the mind wonderfully. It elevates and enhances the stature of tourism and indicates that those countries believe that tourism is vital to the economy. I, too, believe that it is vital to our economy.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister to comment on three issues. I refer, first, to the unfairness of the recently imposed insurance premium tax whereby a tax rate of 17.5 per cent. is levied on policies sold by travel agencies but only 4 per cent. on policies sold direct to the public by insurance companies. Whoever that benefits, it is punishing travel agents. Why?

Secondly, are the Government concerned at the growth of the Internet, with its dangers to consumer protection compared with that provided in the high street?

Thirdly, and finally, can the Minister comment on the situation if and when Scotland and Wales secure devolved powers? Will he agree that there will still be a need to maximise co-ordinated marketing overseas with a strengthened BTA? I thank the noble Earl for allowing us to air an important topic.

8.27 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, for drawing my attention to this short debate. I must declare a non-pecuniary interest. I am a member of the Council of the National Trust for Scotland and the Clackmannanshire Heritage Trust.

There is no doubt that tourism makes a substantial contribution to the Scottish economy, achieving at least an annual turnover of £2 billion. Clearly tourism demands that visitors must be attracted to a locality in preference to other locations, have a range of places in which to stay, have many things to see and do and have a means of both getting to the area and getting around. Similarly, any visitor attraction needs to provide three basic services: somewhere to park, a "loo" and a cup of tea. After that, visitors are ready for whatever the attraction can offer them.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 1316

In Clackmannan we have the historic background and layout of a medieval village built on a crag-and-tail hill, with a 15th century tower-house related to the Bruce family, and local walks which take in parts of the Mar and Kellie estate. There is adequate parking space. There are nasty public loos, and nowhere for a cup of tea. The issue of the dismal public loos raises an often ignored fundamental of a tourist economy: residents in the area must want tourism. Having strangers poking around may not suit everyone. The residents need to believe that they benefit from what they may feel is an intrusion.

The off-putting public loos are mainly the result of vandalism. Of course I do not suggest that vandalism to these facilities is directly aimed at stifling an embryonic tourist economy. It is obviously the result of much deeper problems. That there is no tea room is something of a commercial Catch-22 situation. I have no doubt that an entrepreneur would open a tea room if the tourist market was there, but we cannot market Clackmannan as a tourist venue until there is one. There is a solution in the form of temporary intervention by the state, either by the local tourist board or by the Clackmannanshire Council.

I now turn to experience of the early stages of running a tourist attraction. Ten years ago my late father and the chief executive of the then Clackmannan District Council drew up an agreement to repair and bring into public use the Erskine family's historic home, Alloa Tower. The district council backed the project and appointed a dynamic project officer, in the person of Mr. Andrew Millar, to make it happen. It has happened, and Alloa Tower will be opened by Her Majesty next month.

In the interim, the Clackmannanshire Heritage Trust has been opening the tower on a daily basis in the summer months, under the management of the National Trust for Scotland. Funding from the lottery has been delayed by a year, so we are left to run the tower without the tea-room in the stables. I tell this story to draw out the operating problems of a tourist attraction. We have parking, loos, facilities for taking people's money and completely unbiased stories to tell the visitors about the tower and the contribution of the Erskine Earls of Mar and Kellie to Scotland's past, and no doubt the mess we are currently in!

It is the temporary lack of a tea-room that shows up. As the leader of what feels like a thousand guided tours, I feel the missing link of not being able to sit down with the visitors afterwards and speak with them informally or even listen to them. Curiously, during the nine-year repair phase this was accepted as I led tours around the ever less derelict towerhouse.

I look forward to the reply of the noble Lord to the Question. I have not troubled him at all. I hope that increased and well targeted investment in the tourist industry will be part of the new Government's strategy.

My noble friend Lord Thurso, who is an undoubted professional in this industry, will be glad that I have not distorted the tourism strategy that he has developed for these Benches. May our tourist industry flourish.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 1317

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page