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8.31 p.m.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, for asking this important Question tonight.

I must declare an interest as my home is open to the visiting public and I am chairman of the Historic Houses Association for Scotland, which represents 40 of the largest privately owned stately homes and castles open to the public and last year we were enjoyed by 2 million visitors thus generating major public benefit.

Scottish tourism generated £2.4 billion last year. This included £389 million from within Scotland, £1,100 million from the rest of the UK and £935 million from overseas. So these figures prove how vital the tourism industry is and prove how important it is for the Government to continue to support it. In the past five years overseas tourism in Scotland has grown from £578 million to £935 million, an increase of 62 per cent. There cannot be many other industries which can claim such an increase.

Last year, Scottish tourism sustained 177,000 people in employment, which is some 8 per cent. of the Scottish workforce. It is hoped that with government support a further 20,000 jobs will be created before the turn of the century.

Many of Scotland's traditional industries--coal, steel, textiles, fishing--have declined and now country sports are also under a very real threat. Country sports keep the countryside alive and well--without them the countryside would literally die. Country sports sustain 60,000 full-time jobs and indirect employment is estimated at a further 31,000 full-time jobs; and I urge Her Majesty's Government to give no support whatsoever to Mr. Foster's Bill to outlaw hunting. The countryside rally in Hyde Park on 10th July will prove just how many people depend on country sports for their livelihoods and their very existence.

In many areas of Scotland tourism is the only growth industry with the prospect to create and safeguard future jobs on any meaningful scale. It has the potential of becoming the industry upon which the future of many of Scotland's small and medium-size enterprises depend. It is for that reason that government support is so vital.

Tourism regenerates local culture, providing amenities and benefits for visitors and residents alike. It is no surprise that tourism features so strongly in the Scottish economy, in the industry portfolio of the Scottish Office, and in the economic development plans of all local authorities.

Scotland has a rich inheritance, and her national assets are world-class in tourism terms. Her heritage, her environment, her natural history, and her culture provide a product which can stand beside the leading destinations of the world.

Scotland has a unique and distinctive brand image, evolved over years of emigration, pageantry and, crucially, the resourcefulness and success of the whisky industry. Doctors the world over have endorsed it for its medical qualities!

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A recent survey of "Tourism Futures" by the Henley Centre concluded that tomorrow's tourist is looking for: a genuine heritage; a quality environment; active leisure; and a fulfilling experience. All these things Scotland can and does supply. The same research indicates that tourists also expect: good quality accommodation; appetising food; quality service; and affordable and efficient transport.

In the field of training we have been most deficient in the past. However, more than 26,000 people have completed the Scottish Tourist Board's "Welcome Host" scheme and a further 3,500 have completed "Scotland's Best".

Seasonality remains an Achilles Heel; more than half of the overseas visitors to Scotland are here during the three-month period June/July/August. A genuine 12-month tourism season is needed to ensure the success of many of the smaller businesses, and to provide quality and viable employment for those in the industry. This again is where country sports are so vitally important for Scotland.

We know that change lies ahead and so far as Scotland is concerned we look forward to an understanding of the extent to which a Scottish parliament will be involved in the promotion and development of this vital industry to the Scottish economy.

There are exciting times ahead for the UK tourism industry and for Scotland in particular and I hope and pray that the Government will give the tourism industry the support it so rightly and justly deserves.

8.35 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, while not in any way dissenting from anything that has so far been said in this splendid debate on what is a vast subject, I want to move away from the tribal areas, controversial though they may be, and concentrate on two issues which arose in the debate on licensing reform introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, on 29th January. I have spoken many times in this House on licensing reform. It is an issue that directly affects the restaurant trade, which plays a major role in tourism in the United Kingdom. I must declare a non-pecuniary interest as Patron of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain.

The first issue concerns supper hours certificates. The RAGB hopes that the permitted hours for serving drinks with meals can be extended to midnight on weekdays and 11.30 p.m. on Sundays, without the need for a supper hours certificate. In practice, such certificates are rarely refused, so the requirement is merely a bureaucratic imposition on what are, generally speaking, extremely small businesses.

The second issue concerns extended hours orders (EHOs). At present, if a restaurant wishes to serve drinks with meals up to 1 a.m., there is an even more complicated procedure. First, a restaurant needs a supper hours certificate, and then has to provide entertainment with a minimum of two live musicians. That is costly, impractical and severely limits consumer choice since

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many customers want to dine late and have quiet meals. The RAGB hopes that the entertainment requirement can be dropped in order to qualify for an EHO.

In the debate on 29th January, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, then speaking for the Government, stated (at col. 1238) that the matters to which I just referred were being studied and that possibly a short licensing amendment Bill might be required. We now have the splendid and robust noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, on the Front Bench speaking for the Government. That is very welcome. I know that he has a great deal of knowledge on this subject. I have already given him notice of these matters, so I hope that in replying he will be able to comment as to whether there has been any progress and when we might expect a solution. There are a whole number of other licensing issues which need simplification. I appreciate that the noble Lord may not have enough time in replying to mention them; perhaps in those circumstances he could write to me, and to others who are interested in the subject subsequently.

The proposals that I have mentioned are part of a most desirable move towards deregulation. They would simplify life for an industry which plays a major role in our national life and provide a better service to tourists, both national and international, and to the community at large.

As I have two more minutes, I shall stray on to one other subject which I have not talked about before; namely training, which was mentioned by other noble Lords. The RAGB runs an annual event to award a major prize to the young chef and young waiter of the year. This award attracts enormous attention and is a great stimulus to people who usually go on to other successes. Likewise, the Academy of Food and Wine Service--and here I have to declare yet another interest in that I am its honorary President--runs a wine waiter award and also provides training packs on service skills to promote training in a large industry. I think those are important organisations which do valiant work in improving standards in a vast industry. I am sure that this is something which the Government much appreciate.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, the number of Peers speaking in this debate tonight possibly reflects the expertise in this House on tourism rather than self-interest. These days we live in an age of political reviews, but I do not think we can blame the present Government for the current tourism reviews which have been going on for about two years. It was, after all, a previous Secretary of State, Stephen Dorrell, who first acknowledged that Britain was losing its world share of tourism to our competitors. After that, much good work was done by his successor, Virginia Bottomley, and my noble friend Lord Inglewood in raising the profile of publications on accommodation quality standards, human resources and bench marking. The appointment of senior industry representatives to the Tourism

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Advisory Forum was helpful in improving the dialogue between government and the industry, and the interest of the CBI in tourism has further raised the profile.

The Conservative strategy document, Successes Through Partnership, setting out the Government's intentions, was launched last February. It took into account the comments of the advisory forum, whose 30-plus members ensured a broad consensus on its proposals. It fairly reflects the status quo on tourism but was not on its own a strategic plan, although it set out a programme of work and consultation. Some were impatient with this approach, but after so many years without a definitive government-backed national policy on tourism it was necessary to engage in fairly widespread consultation on the key issues to be addressed in the future strategy.

Consequently, the major ETB consultative exercise entitled "Agenda 2000" was commenced, aiming at consulting the tourism industry and local authorities. Never before had the ETB engaged in such a widespread, open, consultative exercise. To engage in such a comprehensive consultation in England at this key time was a major and laudable commitment by a board with scarce resources.

The timing of this exercise was such that it continued beyond the election, but it was indeed commendable that after the election the Labour Party approved the process, the findings of which will soon land on the desk of the present Secretary of State. Labour's post-election record is of immediate progress in pursuit of its mandate promises. It pledged "New Labour--New Development of Tourism Act". Now perhaps it is time to move forward on that promise. Tourism is the world's biggest growth industry which presents unparalleled opportunities, matched by growing global challenges, which even the Labour Government's massive parliamentary majority may not readily or easily resolve.

However, the Labour Party has a good precedent, as Labour's decision in 1969 to introduce the first Development of Tourism Act coincided with the first jet taking to the air, starting the revolution in international mass tourism. The Act established the framework for government sponsorship of tourism, creating the British Tourist Authority to market Britain overseas and the boards for England, Scotland and Wales. These national boards subsequently set up the non-statutory regional and area boards. I must declare my interest as President of the Southern Tourist Board. That has achieved many otherwise unattainable benefits such as information collection and dissemination, research, quality standards, IT and networks for advice and co-ordination--all vital to the industry's operational efficiency, especially because it is fragmented, comprising over 200,000 businesses, mostly small.

Over recent years the BTA budget has been maintained in real terms but the ETB funding has been cut, coupled with a directive that most of its grant in aid should go to its regional boards. This has seriously weakened the central infrastructure, yet England is the dynamo that drives all of Britain's tourism. Introverted nationalism is often divisive. The national boards for

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Scotland and Wales have been administered by the Scottish and Welsh Offices, with no structured co-ordinating mechanism with ETB, although they have board representation on the BTA. The original clarity that BTA would promote Britain overseas has been weakened by allowing Scotland and Wales to spend some of their grant independently.

Labour has announced that it will, if necessary, introduce statutory classification and grading of tourist accommodation. After two years attempts to amalgamate the AA, RAC and tourist board schemes have failed. Scotland has opted out and confusingly intends to adopt the same symbols with different definitions. How does such independence square with the demands for devolution? There can be no justification or right for any national or regional entity to frustrate the effective co-operation of these systems if they are publicly funded. Here lies a tourism devolution puzzle for Labour.

Labour plans to create regional development agencies with a remit for tourism. Regional tourist boards must adapt to work closely with the new bodies at regional and national level. Perhaps the number of regional tourist boards and their boundaries should be looked at anew to see whether they can fit more closely with the new regional development agency areas. Certainly their relationship must be defined.

Finally, this disparity encourages national differences to persist, and I believe that they do great damage to tourism as a whole. Tourism should not be a politically divisive subject. All parties believe that tourism has great potential and there is a vital role for the Government to play.

8.46 p.m.

The Earl of Dundonald: My Lords, may I also thank my noble friend Lord Bradford for initiating this short and useful debate. I should like to stray north of the Border to Scotland and to re-emphasise the points made by my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein on licensing and licensed premises in particular. I disclose at this time an interest in the sector as a director and founder of a small family entertainment business which provides licensed entertainment in a number of towns and cities in Scotland.

Tourism, as we have all heard this evening, is a major employer and critical part of UK plc. Scotland as a whole is probably more dependent on tourism than other parts of the UK. We have benefited in the last few years from increased awareness of what Scotland has to offer, in part from a weakened pound and a number of Hollywood blockbusters. Last year was a record for Scottish tourism. This year has been disappointing in the areas of Scotland where we are located. I should be surprised if the financial returns for this year for the industry as a whole are not substantially down on the previous year. No Hollywood blockbusters and a much stronger pound have certainly played their part.

I am certain that the new Government are keen to show their credentials to small business in this sector. It is, after all, these businesses which provide a large proportion of the licensed premises in Scotland. Perhaps

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tonight I can tempt the Minister in his reply to demonstrate them in a positive way by taking action in the area of licensing law.

As the House will be aware, the previous Government made an attempt at reforming our Dickensian system by consolidating and tidying up previous legislation in this area. While that has helped, it has in no way solved the problem. If you operate licensed premises in Scotland you can apply for a public house licence, an entertainment licence, a restaurant licence, a family licence--the list goes on and on. The licence has to be renewed annually at one of the quarterly board meetings. One can apply for regular hours, regular extension to hours, further extension of hours, special one-off extension of hours--the list is endless.

If one wishes to make a material change to one's premises, not only must one seek planning approval--building warrant--but also consent of the full board. That can only be done at the quarterly meeting. It makes making even minor alterations a nightmare. Even moving an AWP requires the board's consent.

If one is opening new premises, one applies for a site licence which is then confirmed by a board member once all statutory authorities approve the building: environmental health, building control, planning, licensing police and the fire brigade. No one person is in charge of the process and unless the licensee arranges the whole process himself it can take weeks. Meanwhile a building stands empty, fully staffed, while the various departments take their time--or not, as the case may be. While it is critical that the premises meet current standards, I can see no reason why the system that delivers the results has to be so cumbersome and bureaucratic.

Different boards use different procedures, different time periods and different forms. Nothing is standard and everything is up to the individual board's interpretation of the law.

When you open premises you cannot be granted a regular extension to trading hours. You have to wait until the next quarterly board meeting to make the application. Businesses usually succeed, or not, in the first three months. In the licensed trade, a new operation, even if the licensee has an exemplary record in the area or in another board's area, is precluded from competing on a level playing field on day one. That is not very helpful, as I am sure your Lordships will agree.

The tourist, whether he is a British citizen or comes from overseas, expects and increasingly demands good quality licensed facilities. Today's regulations and licensing law do not help matters. I do not criticise the licensing boards. They put in their time voluntarily and do the job to the best of their ability. The trouble is that the system is cumbersome, open to too much procedural interpretation and is non-standard throughout the country.

I hope that the new Government can be persuaded to look again at that whole area of the law and greatly simplify it, so that the licensed leisure industry can concentrate on improving its standards and its training and as a result make the UK a more comfortable and convivial place to visit. I have no doubt that that would

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help to attract more tourists to the UK, and Scotland in particular. I look forward to the Minister making a positive reply in relation to the matter I have raised. I know that it will be greatly welcomed in the industry.

8.52 p.m.

Lord Rathcavan: My Lords, last year I completed eight years as chairman of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and a member of the British Tourist Authority. That experience has left me always alert to the efficient development of this hugely important industry.

I wish to make only two points in the short time available. The first concerns the classification and grading of hotels, which my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu mentioned briefly.

The noble Lord the Leader of the House gets justifiable pleasure from often quoting to us his party manifesto and its endorsement by the electorate. I should like to remind the Minister tonight of his Government's commitment in their manifesto, for Wales and Scotland as well as England, to bring in new quality assurance for hotel accommodation. In fact, in a Labour Party policy document last year, that proposal was set out more clearly. I quote:

    "Labour ... will introduce statutory registration of all accommodation premises in the country".
If the various organisations do not voluntarily agree and harmonise internationally recognisable classification and grading schemes, then:

    "Labour will ... [introduce] a statutory national accommodation grading scheme".
I hope that the Government will do just that and do it as soon as possible.

The English Tourist Board has recently gone out on its own to introduce a voluntary star grade scheme with the AA and the RAC, a scheme based on physical facilities and not on quality. Scotland has broken away, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, mentioned, to launch a new and voluntary star grade scheme with a quality-led approach. It is rumoured that Wales may follow Scotland. So we shall then have in Great Britain the confusing situation in which grades and stars indicate different standards. The real problem remains in London, where much accommodation is not even registered and cowboy operators continue to fleece the visitor. Surveys show that one third of visitors to Britain are unhappy with the standards of accommodation, as are over 50 per cent. of visitors to London.

In Northern Ireland we introduced a scheme which is now common to the whole of Ireland, with statutory registration and classification to an international standard. It has done an enormous amount to improve standards, encourage investment in better facilities, make hotels concentrate on which area of the market they wish to serve and join in joint marketing schemes orchestrated by the tourist boards. In Ireland it is illegal to offer to visitors accommodation which has not been registered, inspected and graded. There are no cowboys. Such is the attraction and strength of the scheme that it has not been necessary yet to take anyone to law.

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It is clear that the voluntary approach is not working in Great Britain, as England, Wales and Scotland go their different ways and so many hotels are still neither registered nor classified. I hope that the Minister will confirm tonight that the Government will soon introduce the statutory quality assurance scheme that they promised, so that the bad standards of so much visitor accommodation in London at least can be tackled.

The second and final point that I wish to make concerns the future of the British Tourist Authority and its branding of Britain in overseas markets. The further away one gets from home, the more important an easily recognised brand becomes and the Far East is now the fastest growing market for inward tourism to Europe. There have been suggestions that the Government are proposing to give a more important role in tourism promotion to local authorities and councils. To promote Hull, Cumbria or even Wales in the Far East is not practical. The launch of the British Tourist Authority's new Branding of Britain, which starts this autumn, will be very important in the whole development of selling Britain overseas. It would be folly to dilute that effort.

The BTA is now recognised worldwide as the most effective and efficient tourism body. The devolution proposals may make the Wales and Scottish Tourist Boards even more independent of the BTA, but England is where 80 per cent. of visitors to the UK go. I hope that the Minister tonight will give his full backing to the BTA as the pivotal body to market Britain overseas.

8.56 p.m.

Lord Cochrane of Cults: My Lords, first, I must thank the noble Earl for drawing up such a tightly defined and useful Unstarred Question. Secondly, I must declare an interest. I have been engaged in a caravan industry family business for some 25 years. It is a great pity that, on a subject of such importance, time is so short.

I must reluctantly take issue with the previous speaker, my noble kinsman Lord Rathcavan. After long study, I am convinced, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, is also, that a mixture of the two methods of definition of standards, classification, and grading, in the accommodation business is inevitable and that the only symbol that the public recognise--which is due to the pioneering work of the AA over many years, far longer than my lifetime--is stars. Therefore, I fully support the decision of the Scottish Tourist Board to go down that road. I am sure that it is right.

I gave the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, notice that I proposed to speak on an exceptionally complicated and indeed rather boring issue. But it has enormous implications for the tourist industry in that it deters tourists from coming into this country and encourages our indigenous tourists to leave the country. It arises as a result of the distortions caused by the Tour Operators' Margin Scheme. I assure the noble Lord that if he does not want to reply to me tonight, I shall be happy to receive a letter, which I am sure he will agree to publish.

The effect of that scheme, which is part of a Brussels directive, would be neutral if VAT rates were uniform across the European Community. It sticks in my throat

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to call it a federation or anything else. There is a huge difference between 5 per cent. VAT in much of the Community and 17½ per cent. in this country. That has the effect of making it artificially--or apparently--cheaper to go abroad from this country to another EC country and correspondingly more expensive (because our VAT rate is higher) for other citizens of the European Community to come into the country. Surely that cannot be sensible.

There have been numerous protests about that situation. The British Tourist Authority has raised the issue on numerous occasions with the Treasury, which has always said that the tax base would be eroded if it were to reduce the applicable rate of VAT. I suggest that that is nonsense--my Lords, nonsense. What would happen would be that the cost of holidays in this country to foreigners--that is to say, other citizens of the European Community--would fall. More of them would come here.

As is well known, and as the previous speaker said, the tourism industry has plenty of spare capacity available at marginal rates, so every extra chap you get works directly through to your profit and loss account. The result is that tourism businesses, whether large or small, would become more profitable and employ more people, and the Government in due course would receive more tax from those businesses, whether by corporation tax or individual taxation. The amount disbursed through the social security budget in unemployment pay and suchlike then falls. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that that would be even better news than a windfall tax, which apparently will prevent, among other things, the modernisation of Paddington Station.

With those words I commend this change in the VAT scheme to give a level playing field. I apologise for that cliche. I am sorry that so far it has been resisted. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us good news in due course.

9 p.m.

Lord Mountevans: My Lords, five minutes a head concentrates the mind wonderfully and so I shall start with three brief bullet points. First, I must declare an interest as an occasional consultant to the British Tourist Authority. Secondly, I must thank my noble friend Lord Bradford for tabling this Unstarred Question and for the speech with which he introduced it. He has attracted, as usual, a good list of speakers, a select club, if I may say so. Thirdly, I join him in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to our club; select, I have said, and small, but, as I am sure the noble Lord will have gathered, well informed and wide ranging, reflecting an industry which has a great deal of which to be proud. Much has been said by other speakers and much has been positive, but that does not mean that there are no problems which need to be addressed. I should like to raise two of these. The first is the balance of payments deficit on tourism and the second is devolution.

On Monday of last week a Written Answer in another place (cols. 310 to 312 of the Official Report) highlighted the success of our inward tourism industry

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but also underlined the ever increasing sums we spend on travel overseas. Going beyond the Written Answer I found a yet to be published study, Balance of Payments and Travel Account--Surplus or Deficit. It was written by the British Tourist Authority's Chandra Sonpal and was funded by means of a grant from the British Travel Education Trust.

Chandra Sonpal's figures show that in cash terms the travel account had a deficit of £23 million as long ago as 1946. In 1985 the surplus--our profit--peaked at £571 million but by 1994 the deficit was £4,600 million, reducing to a provisional 1995 figure of £3,700 million. Income--the thing we are very good at in terms of selling ourselves abroad and welcoming overseas visitors--had risen 637-fold since 1946 but, sadly, the amount we spend on travel abroad--our import figure--started with double the base and had risen 373-fold.

Governments have done well by the industry. Our attractions have been improved. The commercial sector started by getting its act together and continues to enhance its act. Transport costs have fallen. Our habits have changed. I can remember being best man at a wedding in 1964 when the Channel Islands were the honeymoon destination. That was going abroad. It was venturesome. Nowadays a honeymoon couple can reach almost the whole of the known world in 24 hours. The numbers I have quoted are horrifying. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, what plans the Government have to address them.

I turn to devolution, which was touched on just once in yesterday's debate. For decades we in the tourism industry have enjoyed a bipartisan approach--for as long almost as the figures I have quoted, and I started in 1946. Harold Wilson was President of the Board of Trade during the Attlee Government and embarked on establishing the framework of statutory tourism as we now know it. During his premiership the Labour Government passed the Development of Tourism Act of 1969. This established the BTA as a primus inter pares and as the overseas promotional arm. It also established the English, Scottish and Welsh boards as both product development organisations--through Section 4, now alas lost in England--and as promoters within the domestic market. On our side of the House we can take pride in giving the Scottish Tourist Board overseas marketing powers in 1984 and doing the same for Wales in 1992.

On both occasions there were reservations--I do not mean bookings, I mean concerns--that this would rather wreck things. But in practice that sequence of legislation has given us a model to consider. It is illustrated by the inputs that the national boards achieve through their chairmen being ex officio members of the British Tourist Authority and, at a lower level, by national board staff being fully involved in the development and execution of BTA's marketing plan each year. The national boards have the product knowledge while the BTA's specialty is the market place.

Last, we have national board evidence to the Select Committee of another place last year, a point touched on by other speakers, welcoming the ability to have

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implants in BTA's overseas offices--a synergic benefit--and expressing no wish to set up overseas offices on their own account. BTA was by implication welcomed as an umbrella organisation--a 1969 concept that I hope the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, can confirm by reminding us of the Labour Party's document Breaking New Ground, which recognised the need for a pan-Britain approach. Better still, may I hope that the devolution White Paper, which was mentioned rather more frequently--probably 100 times--yesterday, will recognise that fact?

I have gone over time. I cannot argue that all is for the best; I cannot say that all is Panglossian. I remind your Lordships of the British Tourist Authority's annual report and a quote from Richard Branson on the competence of the British Tourist Authority and, two pages earlier, a factor which my linguistic and mathematical knowledge does not quite cope with; namely, that two plus two equals funf. Britain is best sold as Britain and not as its separate constituents.

9.8 p.m.

Lord Luke: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Bradford for introducing this debate. I would like to add my name to those who welcomed the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to his new position. As we are so short of time and I have only five minutes, I must attempt to gallop through a series of soundbites and I ask your Lordships' pardon for that.

The splendid river on which this palace sits is one of the most important tourist attractions, or should be. Why do we not restore direct access from the river to the palace? The line of route, up the steps, through the security barrier and round the palace, would take quite a lot of pressure off the local road network, which needs it. It would also encourage the proper use of a vital facility of this city, which has not been properly utilised for over 100 years. London's attitude to the Thames is so inexplicably different from that of Paris to the Seine.

Adding to what the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, said, why is it that, whatever the authority, whether it is the British Tourist Authority or the English Tourist Board, at entry ports it publicises almost exclusively London, Windsor, Stratford and Bath when these main centres, throughout the whole of the tourist season, are grossly overcrowded whereas nearly all tourists coming to England will want to come to London to shop otherwise their wives will be extremely angry? With a selective and imaginative marketing campaign it should be possible to persuade far more of our visitors to travel to the North, the Midlands and the West. A friend of mine was lecturing to 900 Americans at Williamsburg, Maryland, recently and he asked them how many had visited England. The answer was all 900. To the question how many had visited points north of Stratford, the answer was precisely three.

It has long been a bugbear to me that we in this country have some of the finest scenery, features, buildings, museums and galleries yet our motorway network is almost completely neglected as a means of persuading tourists to divert. I am sure that many noble

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Lords will have driven down European motorways, particularly in France, where hardly a mile--or should I say a kilometre--goes by without some local feature being depicted on a large brown sign. Some are perhaps overlarge, but they certainly work. Windsor on the M.4 and Hardwick on the M.1 are the only ones that I can call to mind in this country and they are very poor by French standards. There must be many more which are also not very good, because I cannot remember them.

Tentatively, I remind the Government in relation to their difficult problem over what to do about the millennium project at Greenwich that we must surely provide a show at least as good as those that our European competitors in the tourism field will certainly stage, as I am quite sure that in the year of the millennium tourists will decide which country to visit largely on the basis of the attractiveness or otherwise of that individual country's millennium show. A watered down scheme--or worse, some diversion to the regions of a collection of small schemes of no interest to foreigners--will be a disaster. I ask the Government, who have made a very good start in their ideas about vision and daring, to go all the way with Greenwich.

As an example of an organisation which really goes for the international aspect, perhaps I may mention the Royal Show of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. That is our premier agricultural event. It attracts some 20,000 foreign visitors over four days every year. That provides an example to many similar organisations of what can be done, with effort.

I conclude by saying that one of the greatest advantages that we have in Britain compared with some other tourist destinations is that in this country places which say that they will be open to visitors at a particular time are open to visitors at that time.

9.12 p.m.

Viscount Thurso: My Lords, as always, I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl for bringing to your Lordships' attention the importance of tourism and for setting out in his opening remarks, with his customary elegance, the case for tourism. I have spoken on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House on the subject of tourism. My interests are fairly well-known and in the interests of time and of not wishing to bore your Lordships, perhaps I may take those as read.

On the last day of the debate on the humble Address I had the opportunity to express my concern to the Government that they were not placing tourism as high on the agenda as their policy document Breaking New Ground had indicated. I am delighted to be able to tell your Lordships that the Secretary of State for National Heritage has written to me making very clear the Government's commitment to tourism and indeed his own enthusiasm. I would like to take this opportunity to ask his noble friend whether he will be kind enough to pass on my gratitude both for his response and for the reassurances which it contains.

Given the shortage of time, I should like to concentrate briefly on just two points. First, we should ask ourselves exactly what we want from tourism, as the noble Earl mentioned when he opened the debate. It may

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seem a rather self-evident statement, but tourism is an economic activity which, just like any other economic activity, has a downside. The objective of tourism must be to provide maximum economic benefit for the minimum disruption to the local community and the environment in which that activity takes place. That point was well made by my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie.

Shortly before the election, the last government produced a policy document entitled Success Through Partnership. It contained a number of interesting statistics, showing that the inbound tourist's average spend per visit has steadily declined since 1989, with the exception of one year, from £561 per visit to £504 per visit in 1995. The downward trend is also largely mirrored by domestic tourism trips of one night or more. Although the number of visitors has increased, the overall value of tourism over the period 1989-95 remained largely static. That leads me to the conclusion that the number of visitors is a false measure of the prosperity of the tourism industry and that we should turn our attention from numbers of visitors to the yield given by those visitors. In order to do that, we need a clear and well understood strategy for tourism.

That brings me to my second point, which is that the extremely fragmented nature of the tourism industry, with virtually all businesses within it being either micro or small businesses, makes it extremely difficult for the industry to formulate a clear strategy. It is imperative that the Government provide that leadership. I give one example of why I believe that such a strategy is important. There are a great number of tourism assets in this country which have become outdated and run down. I am thinking particularly of our seaside resorts. We need to look at those assets, in both physical and human resource terms, to see how best we can revive them.

Furthermore, if the BTA and the ETB are to have a clear understanding of what is required of them, there must be an easily understood and coherent strategy which all the players in the industry can follow. To do that, we on these Benches have proposed a tourism commission. It would be a body led by the Minister responsible for tourism and would have representatives from other key departments, such as the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions; the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Department for Education and Employment, together with some representatives of the industry. The commission would report to the Secretary of State and would be required to develop and recommend a national tourism strategy and to monitor its prosecution. It would have four key objectives: first, to analyse existing assets and to recommend the best policies for their revival; secondly, to examine the role and the work of the BTA and to recommend measures to create a coherent and effective national marketing policy; thirdly, to examine the current local and regional tourist board structure and to recommend measures for improving their effectiveness in selling local and regional tourism products; and fourthly and finally, to advise the Government on which areas of the industry are most suited for future development towards achieving the goals of supportable and sustainable growth.

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We believe that the tourism and hospitality industry is an essential plank of the future economic development and prosperity of the United Kingdom. We believe that it is essential to the strategic development of the industry to have an agreed, integrated national strategy. I very much hope that that is what the Government will do.

9.17 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, one of the characteristics of your Lordships' House is the regularity with which we debate tourism, and I should like to add my thanks to those already given to my noble friend Lord Bradford for tabling this Unstarred Question. In our tourism debates, some things change and I should like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to the Dispatch Box where I served for two years. Sadly for me, I now find myself on this side of the Chamber. Other things, however, do not change; for instance, I have noticed the tie worn by the noble Lord, Lord Graham--

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