|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have indicated their wish to speak in the debate. I tabled this Unstarred Question in order to give the House the opportunity to examine the Government's tourism strategy for England, an opportunity denied by the Government who chose to announce the strategy outside Parliament with a photo-call for the Secretary of State and Minister for Tourism in the Dome while the chairman of the BTA was left to speak about the content of the strategy in Glaziers' Hall in the City.
What do we have? Is it an English DCMS strategy masquerading as joined-up thinking across departments? For the sake of the tourism industry I hope that the Minister can persuade us that it is more than that.
The tourism industry's biggest challenge, yet its great strength, is its fragmentation and complexity. It is the fifth largest industry in the United Kingdom, worth more than £53 billion a year. Tourism directly accounts for about 5 per cent. of Britain's GDP and 8 per cent. of all consumer spending. Tourism employs 1.75 million people--7 per cent. of the UK's workforce--and in recent years it has created one in six of all new jobs. Last year it brought 25.5 million overseas visitors to Britain. Yet the industry has the potential to create even more jobs, to generate more wealth and to help rejuvenate rundown areas at a time when the profile of tourism is changing.
The strategy speaks of a joined-up approach between departments headed up by Mr. Chris Smith. That is a laudable objective in itself. How will it be achieved in practice? How will the Secretary of State fulfil the burden placed upon him to be a puppeteer, deftly operating the strings of the tourist industry marionette in order to promote the interests of tourism throughout government when the spectre of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, tweaking the odd string here and there, is never far from sight?
We are told that there will be a tourism summit next year. Can the Minister say what else will be done to persuade departments to act in a co-ordinated way now and subsequently? How often will the tourism summit meet? The action list on page 15 refers to an annual summit, but the main body of the report steps back from that commitment and merely refers to,
The English Tourist Board is regarded around the globe as the world's best, and rightly so. I welcome the Government's U-turn on their initial proposal to abolish it entirely. I was interested to see the public response to that proposal and the many press campaigns, such as that of the News of the World to save it.
However, I am appalled that the ETB will have its marketing powers removed to the regions. How can the ETB of the future be little more than a think tank? It will have neither the resources nor the remit to promote England, unlike its Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland counterparts which actively promote their own areas. The ETB is left in place without establishing structures which are a prerequisite for its success. As yet, it does not even have a name. Can the Minister say whether it will continue to be called a national body or will the "England" marque be lost?
The current political developments of devolution and regionalisation in England focus growing attention on the need for increased co-ordination. It is vital to prevent the fragmentation of strategy, making industry fragmentation even worse.
We are told that fewer than four out of every 10 holidays are taken at our seaside resorts and less than 5 per cent. of tourists from abroad go to the seaside. The strategy talks about the decline in profitability of businesses in seaside resorts and the need for their regeneration. Against that background, why did the Government increase the amusement machine licence duty last year and thereby depress economic activity at the seaside even further?
Many resorts have taken innovative measures to help themselves by diversifying and developing niche markets. Tomorrow's Tourism gives several good examples, one of which is farm tourism. I am looking forward to my own summer holiday in Devon when I shall take advantage of renting a converted farm building. There are severe problems in many resorts where diversification simply is not an option open to them. The strategy promises help in the shape of regional regeneration programmes administered via the RDAs. I quote from page 18:
Can the Minister tell the House how much of that £160 million will go to seaside resorts? Who will decide how the money is apportioned and which resorts may receive it? On behalf of seaside resorts, I ask whether the Minister can guarantee that service industries, the hospitality industries--the mainstay of seaside resorts--will qualify for payments and that they will not be limited merely to manufacturing industries? Of course, I appreciate that manufacturing rock may fall within that division.
Tourism matters to all of us but at the moment the tourism industry is paying a high price for the Government's policies. Our party's "Listening to Britain" exercise identified that key concerns for British tourist operators are burdensome, new regulations arising from matters such as the works council, the working time directive, the parental leave directive and the part-time workers directive, among many others.
The paper talks about reducing regulation but the reality is very different. If this is joined-up thinking, why are there vital gaps in the strategy, gaps of great concern to the tourist industry? Where is the section on transport? A five-minute speech on video by the Transport Minister at the launch and a fleeting reference in Annexe 4 of the strategy are no substitute.
What about planning? Planning law remains an area of real upset and contention for the tourism industry. Can the Minister confirm that the DETR's report on planning policy guidance and tourism will not be published until July at the earliest? I understand that to be the case from a Written Answer earlier this year.
What of licensing? The industry argues that the present licensing regulations hamper business and employment opportunities and greatly puzzle visitors, especially, I am told, in Scotland. As a former magistrate on a licensing bench, I recognise the conflicting issues and the difficulty in resolving them. What action do the Government propose to take?
I hope that the millennium celebrations and the opening of the Dome will attract millions of extra visitors from abroad and within the United Kingdom. It is important that we continue to develop a healthy tourist industry that gives the traveller reliability and quality. The Government have presented us with a strategy which, I believe, may be flawed, although I hope that that proves not to be the case. No doubt we shall return to this issue again to measure the results against the objectives.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, I shall be the first, I suspect, of many this evening to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, for choosing the very important subject of tourism for this debate. However, I must disagree with her slightly. The noble Baroness gave only modest praise to the Government for introducing a very comprehensive document. I concede that, inevitably, much of it is aspirational rather than prescriptive, but that is very much the nature of tourism. Tourism is not delivered by governments, but by hoteliers, restaurateurs and transport providers, among others.
If I may take just the three words which the noble Baroness quoted from those of the Tourism Society and refer to "quality", "competitiveness" and "marketing", your Lordships will realise that there are specific proposals on each. The new grading scheme puts heavy emphasis on quality--not as much, I regret to say, as the Scottish grading scheme, but I am sure that that will come in time. On competitiveness, I should have thought that setting the British tourist industry the target of matching global growth by 2010 will demand a fairly high degree of competitiveness. On marketing, I can assure the House--I speak as a member of the British Tourist Board because I am chairman of the Scottish Tourist Board--that the extra £5 million is most welcome.
The really encouraging thing about the Government's document Tomorrow's Tourism is that it puts tourism high on the agenda. This is not a party political matter; the problem has not been Westminster, but Whitehall. It has been difficult for successive tourism Ministers to convince the Treasury that tourism should be taken seriously. However, I believe that there are several ways of convincing the Treasury of that. First, over the next few years no other single industry in this country will deliver jobs on anything like the scale of tourism. More importantly, as tourism uniquely has the customer coming to the product, those are jobs which, if we do our job properly, will remain secure in Britain.
The Government are right to address several aspects of this matter. First, we must get the product right. The new grading scheme will certainly help. I sympathise in part with what the noble Baroness said about the regions and the English Tourist Board because there will always be tension between the national tourist boards, which think that they know what the country wants, and the regional tourist boards which are very close to the industry there and believe that they know a bit better. We must harmonise those and get the best of both while avoiding duplication and waste.
As I have already said, on marketing I welcome the extra money for the BTA. In marketing terms, it is also important to avoid waste resulting from each regional tourist board promoting itself abroad. We must harmonise that. I am sure that that will happen.
As regards the infrastructure, it is vitally important--I concede that this lies outwith the remit of the DCMS--that we get the transport infrastructure right for tourism. I commend to your Lordships our very good debate of exactly a week ago on airline competition, which was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes. I recognise that we must go with the grain of the market and not try to introduce services which will not be viable. Equally, we must be ruthless in rooting out restrictive practices. As somebody from Scotland, I find it galling that we are on the equivalent of the M.1 as regards long-haul air routes yet not nearly enough flights touch down in Scotland. One reason is that we do not have the fifth freedom and are not allowed to pick up passengers or freight in Scotland and move them on elsewhere. Frankly, that is ridiculous.
I hope that the high priority that the Government have given to tourism in the document will seep through to the Chancellor when considering any taxation modifications. Having had the privilege last November of initiating a debate on VAT and hotels, I shall not weary the House tonight with that. I simply suggest that if VAT in Paris is 5.5 per cent. and in London it is 17.5 per cent., we might just possibly be at a slight disadvantage.
Likewise, I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Montague of Oxford in last week's debate. The current air passenger duty impinges especially hard on the low-cost airlines and their passengers. That point needs to be considered. We must also be careful that petrol does not become too easy a hit for successive Chancellors. We must remember that a car is absolutely vital in rural areas.
Finally, tourism is important because it can help to restore pride in our country. Frankly, I was staggered by the statistic that 40 per cent. of the British population have not taken a holiday of longer than three days in Britain in the past year. If we can encourage more people to take their holidays in Britain, not only will we boost the indigenous tourist trade, but they will return home with the zeal of the convert and preach the gospel of what a wonderful country we have. That will make everyone all the more glad that we have the great pleasure of living here all the year round.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, I begin by joining the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, in thanking my noble friend Lady Anelay of St. Johns for raising this matter. I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute. I do so principally because for 33 years I had the honour of representing a large part of the Lake District. Tourism is a massive and vitally important part of the economy of that rural area, and of many other rural areas where there are tourist honeypots.
When I travel round and talk to residents of the United Kingdom I am always surprised to find how relatively few of them are familiar with the Lake District. Conversely, I am always equally surprised when travelling abroad and I meet foreigners who have been to this country and have included the Lake District in their tours. The Lake District is a hidden area for many of our fellow citizens, which is a great pity.
There have been huge changes in the Lake District. The first relates to rearranging the affairs of the area since the habit of taking long holidays in one place in Britain has declined. At the same time, there are now many more day and weekend visits. Such visits are a very important part of the tourist scene in rural areas.
The quality of the food available is hugely important. When I was first elected to the other place about 40 years ago, it was very difficult indeed to find something plain to eat, like a steak, because the facilities were oriented to over-cooked meat and two veg. All that has changed.
The facilities of the Lake District have been totally transformed as it builds on its local heritage. I think especially of those visitors who are particularly concerned about the literary heritage. Whether their interest is Wordsworth, Ruskin, Beatrix Potter or Arthur Ransome, visitors can find many fascinating exhibitions to demonstrate that great heritage.
I am not sure whether the recent television programme on Sunday evening, "The Lakes", will bring more or fewer tourists to the Lake District. Certainly, I did not recognise for one second the behaviour of those characters in that rather deplorable series and I could not relate it to the people I had the honour of
What I wish to do tonight is to draw attention to some of the highlights and the problems which face the tourist industry as the Government decide on their strategy. I shall just mention the highlights. First, there is the very strong pound, which makes it very difficult for those from overseas to afford to come here. Secondly, the higher rate of VAT and interest rates, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, mean that our interest rates are almost 50 per cent. higher than French interest rates. Thirdly, there is the very high fuel tax in the United Kingdom which very much deters tourists from visiting rural areas where a car is almost essential. Fourthly, there are the food scares that we have had over the last few years, which tend to cause particular hardships for people seeking farm accommodation. Fifthly, we have the minimum wage and working time directive. I know of one group in the Lake District whose payroll has been increased by 2½ per cent. as a result of the directive. Sixthly and finally, there has been the increase in non-domestic rates. Again I know of a hotel in the Lake District--I can give the noble Lord details if he wishes--which has had an increase of almost 30 per cent. in two years in non-domestic rates. However, the hotel has not increased its tariff over the same period.
Having pointed out all those difficulties, I wish to make one final point. Far too many hotels in the United Kingdom respond to difficulties by overcharging their guests. The cost of rooms in many instances is far too high when compared with similar hotels on the Continent. Mercifully, not everyone charges such high prices. Last weekend, my wife and I had the good fortune to attend a wedding in Scotland and stayed at an admirable hotel between Glasgow and Stirling. I will name it: the Castle Carey Hotel. It produced outstanding facilities and comfort for a very reasonable price, with a thumping breakfast thrown in. I wish that many more of our hoteliers would follow the example of that hotel. I am sure that the tourist industry would then expand very considerably.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I share the regret of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that the Minister had to be "smoked out" for this debate rather than our having a Government-initiated debate on their strategy when the White Paper was published.
In her introduction the noble Baroness toured the horizon, as was her right. I want to concentrate on one particular area, because we have only a short time available and because it is an area which I know a little about. There is a reference in the White Paper to the specific problems of our seaside towns. I grew up in the Blackpool of the 1950s, and still retain a great pride in the town and its achievements. Certainly I was never in any doubt that tourism was a real industry that created real jobs, and so I welcome the attention paid to seaside resorts in Tomorrow's Tourism.
I also welcome the belated recognition of the special problems faced by those towns. In the case of Blackpool, the town needs an infrastructure, in both physical and social terms, to cater for a population of 152,000 and 17 million visitors annually. There is the disruptive effect of having a large transient element within the resident population, which has to be dealt with in terms of housing, levels of health, quality of life, community cohesion and educational standards. The lack of a year-round economy offering stable employment is causing severe social problems.
The statistics of the town are in many ways breathtaking. The service sector employs 87 per cent. of the people living in Blackpool. Like other seaside towns, it has had to come to terms with the "double whammy" of a decline in demand for the traditional holiday week or fortnight and an increased use of its accommodation--because it is cheap--by the socially vulnerable. Add to that a narrow economic base, and one sees why towns like Blackpool have areas of social deprivation as high as any in our inner cities.
Indeed, the Director of Strategic Services for Blackpool sent me information on 10 key points relating to various deprivations in the town. However, for reasons of time and also of presentation I shall not put them on the record tonight. Ministers and government departments will be well aware of the statistics and, if they are not, I will gladly provide them to the Minister.
However, that is not the whole story, because our seaside towns represent a success story. Each year more than 20 million people spend their holidays in United Kingdom seaside towns. That generates over £4.2 billion in earnings. By any standards, that is a large and successful industry. Towns like Blackpool are fighting back. Unlike our football team, we have always stayed in the premier division in terms of resort attractions.
I am pleased to say that, even in advance of the White Paper, Blackpool launched a "challenge partnership", bringing together the public and private sectors, supported by all parties: by the Blackpool Tower and the Pleasure Beach coming together, which means that it has few parallels in terms of co-operation; the Hotel and Guest House Association; the churches; the local media; education and business. All these are attempting to bring together a strategy of regeneration for the town. We all have ideas about how that could be done, and I certainly would like to see the rapid improvement of the notorious West Coast main line, and regular direct links into Blackpool. It is not only Labour Cabinet Ministers on their way to conference who find the changeover at Preston very difficult indeed.
I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon. Blackpool has a very fine airport, and I see that airport and its expansion as a point of regeneration. I also see education as a basis for expansion. The Blackpool and Fylde College could, if we are to see an expansion in student numbers, be the basis for a university of the Fylde. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, pointed out, there is a need for the seaside resorts to be beneficiaries of regional and European funds. It is up to government to make sure that those are received. However, I should
Most people have a Blackpool story, as I realise every time a cabbie recognises my accent, because this either produces memories of a childhood visit to the illuminations, that first trip up the Tower or on the Pleasure Beach's Big Dipper, a holiday romance or a family holiday. Blackpool has always been part of our family life. Its motto is "Progress", and ever since Alderman Bickerstaff went to the Paris Exhibition, saw the Eiffel Tower and said, "We'll have one of them!" it has been a town of initiative. It is a national asset, among the many national assets that we have in our seaside resorts. The Government have said that they need to get their act together and we are now asking, if we get our act together, will we get a positive response from government?
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is to be warmly congratulated on raising this issue tonight in this debate. I support the theme adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, in his speech on 1st March when he said that tourism is enormously important in the North, particularly in Scotland. It probably provides more jobs overall than any other single subject; numbering no less than 177,000 that certainly helps local communities. It provides transport services through demand and reinvigorates local culture. The world tourist market overall is extending and it is very important that we get our share of that market. Tourists will come here because they like the environment and the people, as well as history, art and culture.
I am the first to recognise how sensitive tourists can be to adverse publicity. I recall when I was tourist Minister the "Braer" disaster and the consequent oil spillage in Shetland. No less than 800 journalists descended upon the island. In vain I argued that it was only 3 per cent. of the coastline and that it was one of the healthiest environments in the world. Temporary, over-the-top reporting did enormous harm, though I am glad to say that it did not last for more than a short period of time.
I have three points to make tonight. The first is that the Scottish Tourist Board should not only work closely with the British Tourist Authority in attracting visitors, but it should also work closely with the area tourist boards which should remain as key drivers of local tourist strategies. The area tourist boards represent the best partnership locally between the public and the private sector.
Secondly, I contend that the quality assurance scheme of the Scottish Tourist Board has proved to be an outstanding success. Some 90 per cent. of those with available accommodation in Scotland have joined the scheme as members compared to 40 per cent. in England. The Scottish Parliament should recognise the success of the quality assurance scheme, as that subject will come under its responsibility on 6th May.
In addition, I mention my deeply held conviction, derived from my days as a tourist Minister, that many will come to Britain and to Scotland for holidays if they can get access to a golf course and a good hotel. I should point out that Scotland has been the home of golf, but there are many countries in the world where golf is not the game of the people as it is in Scotland, but is an exclusive and extremely expensive occupation. It is difficult for some people to obtain access to golf courses on reasonable terms. I believe that that is an area in which we can genuinely excel.
My third point is that the Scottish Tourist Board and area tourist boards should be equipped with the very best information technology. The last Secretary of State, Michael Forsyth, greatly increased resources for the Scottish Tourist Board. In the future, the Scottish Parliament should allocate resources to the tourist board and its agencies commensurate with the need to present Scotland as a quality destination internationally. Local enterprise companies, the area tourist boards and the private sector should invest in the Scottish Tourist Board's new information technology project called Ossian.
I shall conclude by responding to a question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, in his speech on 6th May. He asked if agreement could be obtained on the top 20 visitor attractions in the Highlands. Perhaps I may suggest to him five for Scotland. First, there is one which is dear to his heart; namely, the Burrell Collection, which enhanced Glasgow's role as European City of Culture. Secondly, there is the Forth Railway Bridge in the constituency for which I am a prospective candidate. It is every bit as impressive as the Eiffel Tower but, if I may say so frankly, far more useful.
Thirdly, there are the Callanish Stones. The best way to describe them is by saying that Stonehenge is the English equivalent. Fourthly, there is Edinburgh Castle, which attracts about 1 million visitors a year. Some of us are well aware of the apocryphal story of the tattered skeleton with a medallion, which was found between the outer and inner walls of the castle. When the skeleton was dusted down and the medallion was cleaned up, all it revealed were the words:
Thinking of such stories, I would mention as the final visitor attraction, Loch Ness, the locality of the Loch Ness Monster and its sightings. When I was asked as a Minister by foreign journalists point blank, "Does the Loch Ness Monster really exist?", I always gave the same reply: "The facts cannot be conclusively established, except at disproportionate expense to the taxpayer".
I conclude by saying that a strategy for tourism in all its manifestations is vital to Scotland and to Britain. In particular, Scotland must be kept competitive and unburdened by extra taxes. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, about VAT are especially relevant. I particularly contend that there must be no tourist tax. Tourism must be worthy of the Scottish Parliament's strongest support.
Lord Freyberg: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for initiating this important debate. I also welcome the publication of Tomorrow's Tourism and last December's publication of A Cultural Framework. I am particularly happy to see that in both documents the Government appear to recognise the enormous influence of the arts and heritage on tourism. However, I am worried that though they are keen to develop an improved strategy to promote Britain's cultural attractions, the Government are failing to build on some schemes that present the best of British arts, which instead are being allowed to fall by the wayside. That is short-sighted, although I am sure that it is not deliberate.
The economic impact of arts tourism is considerable. Indeed, the British Tourist Authority has quantified its value to Britain as £5 billion a year and furthermore states that it is one of the fastest growing areas of tourism demand. As surveys published over the past few years show, culture in Britain plays a major part in helping people decide to come here for their holidays, as it does for UK tourists to stay in their own country. Once here, more than 50 per cent. of overseas tourists enjoy arts activities.
The tourism industry has become extremely important to the UK's economy; indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned, it represents some 4 or 5 per cent. of UK GDP and is still growing, while 7 per cent. of the working population is employed in tourism and one in six of all new jobs in Britain in the past 10 years is connected to the tourist trade.
The Government state that they are keen to realise the full potential of the tourism industry. To that end they have introduced a 15-point action plan. They have also, among other suggestions, called for a "joined-up" approach by which different government bodies in Whitehall and the regions will work closely together to promote Britain as a major tourism destination. That approach strikes me as sensible.
However, its results are more complicated. To take one example, the British Council and the BTA signed a memorandum of understanding in July 1998 seeking to co-operate where their objectives overlapped. The two organisations have quite separate basic aims: the British Council seeks to promote the English language and Britain's culture abroad while the BTA is more interested in attracting people to the UK on purely commercial grounds. Nonetheless, while naturally wary of each other's functions, it is within both their remits to participate in marketing Britain as an attractive venue. The British Council has already taken over from the BTA as a public tourist information service in 11 countries, including Mexico, Korea, Poland and the Czech Republic.
While the BTA pays for the cost of that service, it does not contribute towards those activities of the British Council, which is one of the most effective showcases of Britain's lively arts scene abroad, thus providing exactly what the Government are looking for: effective, though not overt, advertisements for Britain. The Government promise,
Clearly the joined-up approach has to be financially as well as departmentally meaningful. I therefore ask the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to consider the provision of additional and possibly ring-fenced funding in order to encourage and assist the arts section of the British Council to address its dual role as a promoter of British culture and of British cultural tourism. That would fulfil the Government's promise to,
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|