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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, to be fair, I did understand what the noble Lord said about the current consultation being the reason for blocking my honourable friend's Bill. However, I am afraid that I did not quite understand--though I do now--what followed. I understand the Minister to be saying that now the consultation is over the powers under Section 74 of the 1991 Act will be exercised--

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: That is correct.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I am pleased to hear that, my Lords. In that case, we are at least taking a slight step forward. However, I hope that there will be other steps forward. One of the issues about which I am particularly concerned relates to local authorities. I have a great deal of sympathy with people who work on local authorities. Their powers have been filleted and their resources diminished, but at the same time their tasks and their responsibilities have been greatly multiplied. I was seeking a simple answer to the question: what are the Government going to do to fortify local authorities in order to enable them to perform their complicated and difficult tasks? They need both muscle and resources. But, as far as I can see, they are not going to get them.

In view of the time, all I can do now is to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. However, I hope that I may register my sharp disappointment that the debate took on a DTI colour when what we were concerned with, both first and last, were transport problems. As I have no desire whatever to receive any Papers currently, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Tourism and the Rural Economy

4.50 p.m.

Earl Peel rose to call attention to the place of tourism in the future development of the rural economy; and to move for Papers.

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The noble Earl said: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to move the Motion this afternoon and I should like to say how grateful I am to all noble Lords who have agreed to take part in this debate. Perhaps I may begin by declaring an interest in that I am a shareholder in a company registered in Wales which provides quality control services for the tourist industry in both the private sector and in various government departments around the world--but not in England.

To get tourism into some degree of context, I can tell the House that the industry is worth £61 billion per year to the United Kingdom economy, which represents 4 per cent of gross domestic product. The overseas contribution--these are 1988 figures--was £12.7 billion, which was generated from 25.7 million visitors. Tourism in the United Kingdom employs 1.7 million people, which is 6 per cent of the UK workforce.

Another statistic which, I have to say, I find particularly interesting is that the British Tourist Authority, whose role it is to promote Britain abroad, does so on an annual budget of £37 million, which, incidentally, is less than that received by English Nature or the Countryside Agency. I was interested to note that it managed to generate £27 of expenditure in the United Kingdom for every £1 spent. I call that pretty good value for money. I used to have considerable dealings with the BTA both in the USA and Scandinavia in the days when I was more closely involved with the tourist industry. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to it. Not only was it always an extremely good body to deal with, but it was also extremely efficient. It represents us extremely well.

I also welcome the recently launched consultation document on rural tourism, Working for the Countryside. It is produced jointly by the English Tourism Council and the Countryside Agency. This is a significant partnership for it shows that the English Tourism Council acknowledges just how important rural Britain is to tourism, and the Countryside Agency acknowledges the importance of tourism to rural Britain. Whereas rural tourism may be responsible for only 20 per cent of the total value of the industry, in Cornwall, for example--I am sure that my noble friend Lord Arran will refer to this matter as, I believe, one of our two west country speakers in the debate--it represents 20 per cent of the GDP of the county. In many other rural areas, it will also have a disproportionate significance.

As we are all only too well aware, the farming crisis has concentrated every rural mind on opportunities to diversify. Many new enterprises have evolved, quite a number of which cater for tourism. However, we need to recognise that "farmer tourism", if I may call it that, represents only a small part of total rural tourism. It is important that we do not get too carried away into believing that tourism is the panacea for the crisis facing agriculture. Tourism is not an easy option that can simply be seized upon to meet a perceived demand but must respond to a better informed and more sophisticated customer. This means quality, professionalism, and, of course, value for money. That

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final element is difficult to achieve at the moment because of the strength of the pound, both in terms of expensive imports--if I may put it that way--and cheaper exports.

Everyone involved in tourism needs to remember that they are competing in a global market. Even a farmer's wife offering bed and breakfast in a farmhouse in Northumberland, an equestrian centre on Dartmoor or a Center Parc in Cumbria should not lose sight of that fact. I know several people on relatively low incomes who have recently travelled to Florida and regard it as extremely good value for money. We must not forget, of course, that Florida has sun, something which in this country is occasionally in short supply. Therefore, we have to make up for that in other ways. When I was involved in the tourist industry I was always told, as a rule of thumb, that holiday accommodation must always be as good, or preferably better, than what the customer experiences at home. The tourist boards can, and do, play an essential part in getting this message across by setting standards through quality control initiatives.

To illustrate that tourism is not an easy option it is perhaps worth noting that the average term of ownership of a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Scotland is only two years. So it is clear that there needs to be a proper appreciation and understanding of the business which will often require assistance for training, marketing and investment strategy. Whereas I welcome the recent announcement of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of new resources to help rural businesses under the rural development regulation--I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will tell us what other opportunities exist--given the plethora of agencies, I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would tell the House which one is specifically responsible for co-ordinating the strategy for helping new tourism businesses to develop in rural areas, and giving the necessary advice and support. Furthermore, it would be helpful if the noble Lord could also tell the House what steps the Government are taking to make planning policies more flexible to allow the conversion of existing rural businesses, which, I suspect, in most cases will be farm businesses, to those suitable for tourist activities.

When I used to visit BTA offices abroad I was always struck by the recurring themes that they used to promote the United Kingdom. There were always photographs of the Changing of the Guard, London buses, historical features, famous houses and, of course, the British countryside. But the point was that the "Britishness" and the traditions were always promoted. Sometimes I used to challenge that, but I was always told that that was what visitors from abroad want to see when they visit the UK. This was illustrated only too well recently when British Airways replaced the Union Jack tailfin with that ghastly psychedelic mess. I am glad to say that that situation has now been partially reversed, but, I think, only partially.

I am also convinced that if rural Britain is to continue to attract visitors, it must offer a working countryside with strong regional identities and must

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not at any cost slip into being some large, nebulous theme park. I believe that that point is well made in the consultation document. I regard my next quotation as an important statement. The consultation paper states:

    "Tourism management should seek a balance between the needs of the visitor, the tourism industry, the host community and the environment".

The expression "host community" is a ghastly term, but I think that we all know what is meant by that. That point is well made, for I believe that it is imperative to avoid conflicts of interest. There is a real danger that the forthcoming right to roam may cause that kind of conflict unless the Government show more sensitivity on that matter than they appear to be doing at the moment in another place.

Clearly, increased tourism will help to maintain local services, but, equally, local services need to aspire to the needs of the visitor. There are also local produce marketing opportunities. Visitors who have had a good experience in an area may well buy the produce of that area if they see it on a shop or supermarket shelf. But, again, that will require specialist marketing--something that we in this country are not particularly good at and something which we must improve enormously. There are great opportunities there.

I also welcome the special commitment in the consultation document to market towns. For too long they have lost their status. They deserve to be restored as the thriving centres of rural communities. However, I believe that this revival must revolve around a combination of all that is best from the past--history, tradition and a sense of identity--and all the best that modern technology can provide. I am delighted to note that my local newspaper, the Darlington and Stockton Times, is running an effective market town revival campaign which has caught the attention of, and some useful promises of help from, two of the north-east's rural development agencies. I hope that those promises are converted into real help.

The downside of tourism is, of course, over-exploitation. We are undoubtedly witnessing areas such as the Lake District "being loved to death", as I believe David Bellamy said. I suspect that bold moves will be required to resolve this conflict. Great care will be necessary in the future to ensure that proper assessment procedures are in place to ensure that sustainability in all its guises--environment, infrastructure, transport, water, and sewerage--is thoroughly scrutinised. In other words, we must not destroy or irreparably damage the goose that has so steadfastly provided us with so many golden eggs.

There is a need to monitor the cost of tourism as well as the gains. I am sure that the Minister is only too well aware of the need to consider both sides of the balance sheet. This will require a clear lead from government in co-ordinating the aspirations of the various government departments and agencies involved. There are so many that I shall not name them, but they are all competing in their own way. That will not be an easy task but I believe that it is absolutely essential.

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I draw your Lordships' attention to one aspect of tourism which I believe is conspicuous by its absence, not just from the rural consultation paper but also from other government publications. I am talking about an activity that generated direct expenditure in 1996 of £3.8 billion and a further £2.4 billion in indirect expenditure; an activity that in the same year contributed £655 million to the Government in taxes and licences, and which provides directly over 60,000 full-time jobs, and indirectly just short of 31,000 jobs. I am, of course, referring to field sports, which, apart from one small reference to fishing, failed to get a mention in the consultation document on rural tourism.

Many of our remote rural areas generate substantial amounts of money from the letting of sporting activities, very often to visitors from abroad. This maintains employment in otherwise difficult circumstances and provides hotels with vital income, often in the difficult winter months. Indeed, many would not survive without this support. Furthermore, the knock-on effects to the local economy are obvious.

Much play--quite rightly--is made of the importance to rural tourism of maintaining high quality landscapes and the wildlife that is associated with their habitats. There is no better example of any other activity in the British countryside that has achieved this, maintaining and managing whole swathes of landscape that might otherwise have been damaged. What is more, this has been done, by and large, at no cost to the taxpayer, entirely through the incentives of those committed to their sport. This has often been achieved against a remorseless and ill-directed tide of money which has, in too many cases, supported an environmentally unsympathetic agriculture through the common agricultural policy. What is more, field sports have managed to keep the heavily subsidised forestry industry at bay in large areas of the hills which would otherwise have been converted into millions of ranks of sterile conifers.

From the purple heather hills to the woodlands and the copses of lowland Britain, to the rivers and wetlands that lie between, habitat and wildlife have been managed not simply for game but for a whole range of other species besides. Indeed, many of the SSSIs that we all appreciate today--some of which are now of international importance--would never have been designated but for the long traditions of field sports that have served this country so well for so long. It is about time that this Government recognised and acknowledged this hugely significant contribution to rural Britain, both in terms of employment, landscape, biodiversity and, of course, tourism.

One last point, which I think is extremely significant, is that it is important for the Treasury to recognise that in the absence of this enormous contribution of funds either the countryside would suffer or the gap would need to be filled from the public purse. I hope therefore that in the coming White Paper the Government will recognise the contribution of field sports as a positive contribution to the countryside as a whole

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In conclusion, tourism continues to offer hope to rural Britain and vice versa; but clearly great care will be needed to maintain standards and to ensure that a balance is achieved between what is positive and what could be negative. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.13 p.m.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, tourism is a serious business which we politicians do not take seriously. Mention holidays to us and we are thinking how quickly we can pack our bags and get away from Westminster, and not of how we can help an industry which provides 350,000 jobs and, astonishingly, an £11,500 million spend in Britain's countryside each year. That is why I am particularly grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, for giving us the opportunity to debate the new English Tourism Council and Countryside Agency document, Rural Tourism: Working for the Countryside, and to the Government for their active engagement with the vital tourism and hospitality industry. After all, leisure and pleasure provide a higher percentage share of jobs and prosperity proportionately in our rural areas than in our towns and cities. Those who cheerfully work in the tourism and hospitality trade should be regarded as the heroes and heroines of British industry.

Of course, tourism's fortunes provide a sharp contrast with agriculture, fisheries and forestry, which are industries in decline and now represent only 4 per cent of economic activity in Britain's countryside. It must be right to prompt and promote this healthy adolescent of tourism while farming convalesces from its current woes.

We should not, of course, overstate tourism's restorative powers. The loss of the Synchatron project at Daresbury in Cheshire will not be compensated for by the fact that Daresbury is the home and birthplace of Lewis Carroll, himself a potent visitor attraction. We need more than that to bring a feline grin to our faces in Cheshire; but every tourism-related job helps.

In placing our faith in tourism and in diversification in the farming industry, we must advocate sensible policies to help such diversification to work. The fact that the average term of ownership of a bed-and-breakfast hotel in the Highlands of Scotland is a mere two years should give us pause for thought. Such enterprises desperately need support services, such as good SME business advice, marketing and networking, to make them truly sustainable.

With that caveat, let me nevertheless voice my optimism about tourism and give your Lordships' House some examples from Britain's finest county, Cheshire, of how constructive tourist policies can revive flagging businesses in the countryside and bring new ones to fruition. The Cheshire Fine Food Trail, for instance, acknowledges that British farming and food production is changing in nature, and does something about it. The previous emphasis on quantity food production is replaced by highlighting quality and specialist foods. Thus The Cheshire Fine Food Trail, a free map which entwines tourism and economic development, gives information on some of Cheshire's

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finest food, including cheese, ice-cream and venison, and mixes information on visits to producers with knowledge of where to find a local pub on the country trail out of Cheshire's market towns--a win-win result for producer, publican and public. It is one which I know will be appreciated by my colleague from Cheshire, the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton.

The use of modern technology is crucial to another Cheshire initiative, which will have in addition beneficial environmental results. The proposed launch of A Walker's Cheshire will attract visitors to the remoter parts of the county by providing a dedicated walker's website for the dedicated walker, thereby refreshing those parts of the county that other tourist trails do not reach. In this, of course, the trail is a paradigm of tourism itself. Tourism is quintessentially an industry which successfully penetrates the nooks and crannies of rural Britain where other industries fear to tread. Strengthening the countryside for the tourist has the happy consequential effect of strengthening its supporting infrastructure--pubs, post offices, banks, shops and transport--to the distinct advantage of those living and working in the countryside.

But more can be done. The Working for the Countryside document asks whether the British Tourist Authority should have a role in promoting Britain's countryside in its overseas literature. The answer is a resounding "yes". Here is how and why. Last week, returning to Cheshire on the train, I came across four American tourists in my carriage. As we passed Peckforton and Beeston castles--local landmarks eight miles out of Chester--our visitors wondered what castles they were and what incidents of English history they concealed. It occurred to me there and then how the railway carriage might itself have contained an explanation in written or televisual form of the historical panorama that was passing before our eyes out of the carriage window, and that such an explanation might, in turn, have prolonged their stay in my home town by encouraging them to explore Chester's fascinating hinterland of historic castles and comely countryside.

One other thought occurs to me. It is the fact that in two years' time, those American visitors will be jangling euro coins and notes in their pockets. Are Britain's village shops and guesthouses literally ready for change and to change money? They, and we, will need to be, to maintain a competitive advantage over other EU countries which will have the advantage of a single currency available in town and country. It is not just Britain's farmers who will profit from the euro. All the countryside stands to gain.

Mention of Europe brings me to a deficiency of the Working for the Countryside document, whose first key issue underscores the need to,

    "ensure co-ordination between national, regional and local initiatives",

entirely omitting mention of vital European links. In an earlier passage, allusion is made to European tourism policy. In my view, it is vital to maximise use of funds and policy initiatives concerning Europe's rural areas which can so perceptibly benefit Britain's

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countryside. It is one reason why I believe that Britain should be foremost in encouraging tourism to be accepted as an EU competency at this year's intergovernmental conference.

I have one word of caution, however. While warmly welcoming EU rural initiatives like the LEADER + programme and the Objective 1 moneys, which will bring employment to west Wales, Cornwall and Yorkshire, I hope that the Government are rigorous in vetting those moneys applied under the rubric of tourism. Such moneys should be spent in the most sustainable way possible. Tourism should not be enlisted as a catch-all for second-rate schemes which cannot be pigeon-holed elsewhere in development programmes, as has sometimes happened in the past.

I have two further points. First, there is much anxiety about housing development in Britain's rural areas. I share those concerns but recognise the need for adequate social housing. But why should such developments not be of the highest quality in design and materials? Would it not be a tourist attraction to build some new villages in the countryside which have, say, the architectural merit of the Italianate village of Portmeirion in north Wales? I am sure that we have the talent in this country to construct new-build that satisfies common objectives of much needed housing and distinctive architecture. I should also love to see the siting of a new-build art gallery in Britain's countryside, as an outrigger of Tate Britain perhaps, similar to the Kroller-Muller museum at Otterloo in the heart of Holland's countryside, putting art at the heart of Britain's countryside.

Finally, I return to Cheshire for my final suggestion which relates to fox-hunting and drag-hunting. Some of your Lordships, I know, fear job losses in our rural areas should fox-hunting be abolished. I share Sir Paul McCartney's belief that drag-hunting as a substitute will not only preserve jobs but could increase them. After all, there are many in the equestrian community who abhor fox-hunting but who love riding. If hunting were rid of its most unacceptable feature--the killing of the fox--more of those attracted to the pageantry, colour and display associated with hunting would be drawn in as visitors; indeed, as tourists. In addition, would it be too fanciful to suggest that a museum could be inaugurated in a hunting county like Cheshire to explain the development of hunting in Britain and its transformation into the safer and more inclusive sport of drag-hunting? Perhaps the urban fox whose trail runs through Downing Street might pass that suggestion on to the Prime Minister, whose supreme interest is to help Britain to transform itself into a modern, tolerant and outward-looking country, fit for heroes to live in and for tourists to visit.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Plumb: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Peel for initiating this debate and for so ably calling our attention to the place of tourism in the future development of rural policy. We have had many debates on rural issues in recent months. This is yet another aspect of rural development. As we heard

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from my noble friend, tourism creates jobs and, bringing £11.5 billion to the economy of rural areas, it creates incomes for many local people, shops, post offices, banks, pubs and others. However, as he so rightly said, it is no panacea in the farming crisis which we face at the moment.

In many cases, tourism has created indirect support to local people who can enjoy more varied services, since none of those services could survive on local business alone. But it is an irony that the viability of local business is strengthened by the tourist pound, while the strength of the pound in the United Kingdom and government's failure to redress the balance through the agrimonetary system over recent months have already driven many people from the land, and young people are losing faith in any prospects in farming or work in the countryside.

It has been recognised in many debates in this House that the negative effect on rural economies through a strategically weakened agriculture is likely to outweigh the benefit provided by support for non-farming interests. It is equally recognised that neglected hills and upland, or unfarmed lowlands, is not an option if we are to encourage tourists to visit those attractive areas which we ourselves enjoy, bearing in mind that growth in the tourism industry can lead to a major source of employment. In the context of tourism, protecting the environment and contributing to the rural economy, social fabric and maintaining an attractive, habitable and viable landscape for the enjoyment of others are vital since few people wish to visit a barren waste. At the same time, there are negative effects of traffic congestion, dealing with large crowds and clearing litter. It is not surprising that environmental policy has been, and still is, seen as contradicting the objectives of development policy. Therefore, the core of our consideration should be focused on finding the right balance rather than on making a choice between "enhancing the tourism industry" and "considering environmental consequences" out of context.

Any attempt to achieve such balance ought to include the extent to which tourism may prove a major cause of environmental harm against the prospects of long-term economic sustainability. In finding that balance, the emphasis should be on finding suitable and justifiable grounds for interaction rather than shifting ingredients at random, from the one bowl into the other.

The first task is to decide on assessment criteria focused on impact and control, bearing in mind that tourism includes a variable determined by seasonality, and therefore an important factor in calculation procedures. Seasonality is not necessarily a detrimental factor if the right formula can be applied--in other words, based on the spread of income and expenditure. Assessment criteria should also include each and every option to maximise the benefits of tourism such as improvement of public transport and roads, which will be of benefit to schools and other organisations all year round. Assessment criteria should not ignore issues such as space available on trains. For example, if people want to take their bikes on the train, they have to book in advance and

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space is always limited. Compare that with the position in Denmark, where trains are crammed full of cyclists and their bikes.

With reference to the way in which the Government decide on assessment criteria and the subsequent recommendations, I hope that in his reply the Minister will comment on press speculation regarding the imposition of tourist taxes and congestion tolls on popular beauty spots under a blueprint for a reform of the countryside. What form would such schemes take? A Cabinet Office report suggests that they could be useful in rationing access to overcrowded areas and generating revenue to invest in improving local infrastructure. The authors of the inquiry said that the package could form the basis for the most radical transformation of rural policy for 50 years. It certainly would be. In setting out to modernise one of the last untouched aspects of the post-war settlement, the report also calls for an overhaul of the planning system to give more support to enterprise.

Rural tourism requires good transport links, and the Government appear to be proud of their achievements. Perhaps I may quote briefly from a report to the Tourist Summit. It stated:

    "We are developing a modern, safe and efficient transport system for the 21st century that will rival the best in Europe. We have made great progress since the 1998 White Paper".

That was written before we heard the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Peyton on holes in the roads and the experience of those who have attempted to get from Euston to this House in reasonable time. As my noble friend rightly said, the matter requires a transport debate. A debate on tourism is equally important.

The report cites successes: for example, £1.8 billion to improve local and public transport and road maintenance over the next three years; £700 million to implement transport plans produced by local authorities; and £3.3 billion of private sector investment for the £6 billion Channel Tunnel rail link. Those figures are impressive. However, will the Minister explain how the Government intend to put that money into rural transport and how the sum can be positively interpreted against the huge amount taken out of rural areas: for example, by stealth taxes on the motorist?

I repeat: rural tourism will prosper only if the countryside is managed correctly. Unfortunately, the Government's Countryside and Rights of Way Bill is a missed opportunity to address the real problems of the countryside such as over-development, badly sited mobile phone masts, loss of rural services and the crisis in agriculture. So the challenges facing rural areas are often thwarted by increased legislation and unnecessary regulations leading to increased costs and, therefore, the demise of smaller rural businesses, with negative influences on entire communities.

Educating urban people about rural issues brings its own conflict. Such education is essential to meet the objectives of improving tourism, recreation and field sports, which are important in the countryside, and to meet the needs of those who derive their living from the

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land and those who are concerned with wildlife and habitats. Comprehensive consultation is required, based on well-balanced socio-demographic variables. The outcome of any analysis of views needs to be incorporated into an overall policy.

I declare an interest. I have the privilege of being president of the Cotswolds AONB. The area is known internationally as the quintessential English landscape, together with Cheshire. I am reminded that I have Cheshire blood in my veins. The value of such areas of "outstanding natural beauty" is less well known than it should be. The view from the hotel, bed-and-breakfast, holiday cottage, caravan or tent business, needs managing and requires investment.

The Cotswolds are criss-crossed by 17 local authorities, three Government Offices, three RDAs, and three different tourist boards. As we speak, my AONB is meeting with a variety of accommodation providers to explore the potential for visitors to add a nominal sum to their bill to reinvest in the countryside. We need to exploit those natural resources in a way in which provision for tourism also provides for and assists local communities and services, not limited to improving provision of rural transport but also tourist information points within pubs and post offices, as well as realistic opportunities to promote local produce and local food, which is extremely important.

The need to remove barriers to rural tourism should be given full consideration and requires a review of the assessment criteria. It should take into account the benefits of dialogue with such bodies as AONBs and the need to brief tourist information centre staff on opportunities for tourism and recreation.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Peel, for introducing the debate. Perhaps I may comment from a broad standpoint. Effective tourism is in some respects intrinsically at odds with too great an intervention on the part of government. What people look for most when they travel--whether they are Britons travelling within Britain or people from abroad coming to this country--is difference, flavour, idiosyncrasy, variety and diversity.

Two days ago, I spoke with the chief executive of the East of England Tourist Board, Tess Wright. She wrote to me, making the interesting point that,

    "One of the key motivations behind travel is the opportunity to experience somewhere different. Yet widespread travel and the harmonisation of cultures is making the world increasingly homogenous".

How true that is; and how true and universal it is of travel abroad. I suspect that our concern for the natural ecology will one day be seen as rather bizarre against our almost total lack of concern for the human ecology and the variety within it.

I put it to the House that, in spite of their good intentions, many of the initiatives put forward by previous governments as well as this one have, if anything, a suffocating effect rather than a liberating one. Some noble Lords may have obtained from the

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Printed Paper Office the Draft Regional Planning Guidance for--in this case, my native part of the world--East Anglia. I have in front of me one of two volumes. If one looks at the section devoted to tourism, sport recreation and the arts--which seem to go together these days--one will be fairly surprised to realise that there is now in existence a so-called Cultural Consortium for the East of England (CCEE).

It goes alongside the Development Agency which will no doubt have been established last year for your Lordships' regions as well as for mine. In East Anglia we are lucky enough to have the Government Office of East Anglia, the East of England Local Government Conference, the Standing Conference of East Anglian Local Authorities (SCEALA) and the East of England Regional Assembly, to name but a few.

We need to face up to the fact that a great deal of the work of these worthy bodies is completely ineffectual. I do not for a minute want to disparage those who produce such reports, but this is a massive, two-volume consultation document, and respondents had to reply to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions within two months. Anyone who is familiar with the speed with which local organisations work, the cycle of their meetings and the need to consult wider groups than merely committees, councils or whatever other bodies one is talking about knows it is nonsensical to pretend that consultation on a massive document of this kind, which covers huge areas--tourism, sport, recreation, the arts and a great deal else and their overall planning--is an effective exercise.

My second point is related to the first. I am sure that noble Lords will be aware of the fantastic "killer" document Rural Economies produced at Christmas by the Cabinet Office. There is some very good stuff in it. However, such documents have a dirigiste quality about them. For example, at one point Rural Economies talks about new commitments to rural communities and a specific commitment to market towns, which was also touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. But the document goes on to say:

    "The Government should consider introducing a new commitment to market towns, recognising the key role these settlements play in rural economies and rural communities. This commitment could be realised in part by more effective integration of the wide range of existing initiatives and in part by the introduction of new initiatives".

We are inundated and drowned by task forces and initiatives. I fear that the citizens of this country are nowhere near many of them, if any. En masse, these task forces and initiatives have a psychologically disabling, rather than enabling, effect. I call to mind my home town of Sudbury and its council. I doubt whether many of those excellent councillors have any apprehension of just what is being done in their name.

It is about time that we looked at one root cause: the lack of vigour in some of the activities connected with tourism within the rural economy. Over the past decade the number of overnight stays by tourists in rural areas has remained static, while tourism in general and affluence have much increased.

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I believe that one of the keys to a healthy, organic and diverse tourist economy is the restoration of local government powers. Some noble Lords may regard that as a rather big idea to introduce into a specific debate; I do not. I believe that we must restore local autonomy so that, in turn, we can restore local diversity, variety and organic growth, not pursue initiatives that are showered down, however beneficently, from Downing Street, Whitehall, the regions or any of the new bodies, for example the Cultural Consortium for the East of England.

The key factor which underpins the long-term health of tourism is quality of life. Tourists seek a different and identifiable quality of life, and it is that which underpins the economic health of rural areas. It is interesting to note that 90 per cent of businesses in rural areas employ fewer than 10 people, which is a much higher proportion than in the country as a whole. Two-thirds of those small businesses are created by incomers who say that, overwhelmingly, the reason for siting them in rural areas is precisely the quality of life. I believe that the quality of life can be preserved, enhanced and diversified most effectively in rural areas if we look at, and act upon, local government powers. I say no more than that in view of the time that is available to me.

We all have our wish lists of particular improvements that we should like to see take place. For example, can we do something about the proliferation of road signs? Although this is a small point, it is at least as important as holes in the road. Road signs are a severe scar on many, if not most, rural areas.

Can we not do much more to promote the parish churches of this country? Rural areas are thick with parish churches. Many people, including myself, regard these churches as Britain's greatest single asset both internally and in terms of incoming tourist. Those churches are vastly under-appreciated and under-used. I commend the activities of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, who has initiated a scheme in Suffolk of assured church openings, with guidance to people on arrival to encourage them to sample, as they rarely do, the glories on their doorstep.

I refer also to local pubs and post offices. In East Anglia pubs close at the rate of six a month. Like post offices, pubs are crucial to both tourism and the health of local communities.

I refer next to local arts. I am a trustee of Gainsborough's house in Sudbury, which is a marvellous local and regional arts resource. However, the ability of that resource, and many other arts centres, theatres and so on to improve what they do and the facilities that they provide depends to a significant degree upon secure long-term funding. All arts organisations say that they do not have that.

We all wish for many things in this debate, but I hope that what I have said is of use to the outcome of it.

5.46 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Peel for introducing this debate and

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covering all the major points so splendidly. It was also a great pleasure to hear the noble Lord opposite extolling the virtues of Cheshire cheese. That is the first time that I have heard it from the Benches opposite. Let us hope that more noble Lords on the Benches opposite will extol the virtues of Cheshire cheese.

By chance, it was 10 years ago this month that I had the privilege of becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. During that period I have taken part in innumerable debates upon the rural economy and the state of British agriculture under both governments. Both governments have expressed a good deal of sympathy with, and talked much about, the need to restructure land use, agriculture and the rural economy. However, neither government appears to face up to those issues which make it possible to carry out that restructuring. It is on that aspect that I should like to concentrate and put to the Minister a number of questions.

I declare an interest as chairman of an organisation called Enterprise Business Solutions which gives advice to farmers and others involved in country activities who wish to diversify. As other noble Lords have said, clearly this is not everybody's cup of tea. One requires special skills, facilities, finance and opportunity to diversify from a traditional agricultural holding to an organisation involved in tourism or any other economic activity. Once one has the necessary skill, the desire to change and the ability to work very hard to make other ideas work in a rural setting, one requires the finance and, above all, the necessary planning permission. I emphasise the need for planning permission, to which all noble Lords who have spoken so far have referred.

Successive governments have said time and again that if we want to restructure something the planning system has to be sympathetic, and take away the unnecessary legislation and controls which make restructuring virtually impossible. The question of how we encourage more interesting tourism in rural areas needs to be addressed seriously.

In his reply, I should like the Minister to tell me why the Government--they have been positive about support for economic development and the need to create jobs and foster new businesses--have made it a statutory responsibility on a planning authority to consider the environmental but not the economic issues of its decisions. If we wish to look at alternative ways of creating economic activities in the rural areas, and in areas of declining agricultural support, that issue has to be addressed.

I made the same points to the previous government. They took no notice. It does not look as though this Government will take much notice. However, the Minister who sits there smiling at me may change all that and generate some enthusiasm which we have not seen to date. I did not hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in the previous debate. However, he generally comments on the fact that government ears are generally for decorative purposes only. On this issue, that has certainly been the case.

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Although we are debating tourism in rural areas, one cannot isolate it from the importance of tourism in urban areas. People often stay in hotels in an urban area--the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, nods at me. People can stay in the Grosvenor Hotel in Chester and yet wander out to the rural areas of North Wales, Cheshire and Lancashire. That relationship is important. One cannot isolate what happens in towns from what occurs in rural areas. Those who stay in towns bringing wealth and activity to those areas then move out into the rural community because they want the quality of the rural community. My noble friend Lord Plumb made the point strongly. People do not want to see dereliction. And if we do not assist other wealth-creating activities in rural areas we shall have continuing dereliction within our rural communities as farmers are more and more unable to provide the resources to maintain their buildings, hedges and land. It is important to recognise that the two factors are closely connected.

My noble friend Lord Peel referred to country sports and country pursuits. In many areas of rural economy they have been the key to maintaining activities. I do not speak of Cheshire or Lancashire but of parts of Wales and the more marginal areas where those are the only commercial activities which are attracting outside wealth. Many of us know Americans or people from Europe who come to Great Britain for country sports and country pursuits. They spend a lot of money, and they do not take much away with them. If they take a couple of pheasants they are lucky. The benefit that those people bring to our countryside must be appreciated. Without them, we have seriously to address the economic viability of those areas.

It is an important debate. I hope that the Minister will address the planning aspect which is key to the issue. I congratulate those who have taken part in the debate, and my noble friend who introduced it.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl for so eloquently introducing this important topic. I have several interests to declare. First, I am legally obliged (which, I hasten to add, I much enjoy) to open my home and garden to the public. I try to farm and as such am custodian to 1,500 acres of beautiful rural Berwickshire countryside; and I should state that I am a life member of the Countryside Alliance.

As the Prime Minister finally admitted last Thursday, farming is in real crisis. He has urged those of us involved in agriculture to diversify. But in remote rural areas this is not possible. There is no alternative to farming on a barren Glenshee mountain face. However, with farming incomes being at an all-time low, tourism can and should provide a vital element of countryside income. I have to say, I find it deeply distressing to see how few Members of the Government are taking part in, or, indeed, for that matter even listening to this important debate.

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Well-managed quality tourism in rural areas provides employment and economic benefits in these economically fragile areas. Tourism also assists in sustaining local businesses, such as shops, pubs and hotels, through expenditure by visitors providing additional income which in turn enables such businesses to remain viable. In this way, local services for local people have a better chance of being maintained, which in turn helps to maintain a good quality of life for people in rural areas. In this way, tourism increasingly must play a key role in sustainable development in rural areas. A prosperous rural environment is vital to the British countryside. This is what tourists from both within and without the United Kingdom want to visit and, most importantly, to enjoy.

Tourism in rural Scotland has declined, while tourism to the cities has improved. In the light of that it is necessary to look at opportunities to encourage tourism opportunities in rural areas.

Traditional sporting activities, for example, provide a quality tourism experience and help to sustain local jobs. Those activities often take place in the "quieter" months from a tourism perspective and, properly promoted, would assist in extending the season which is seen to be so vitally important to Scottish tourism.

As regards informal countryside recreation--walking, cycling and horse-riding--legislation is proposed in Scotland and in England and Wales to increase opportunities for the public to enjoy the countryside. Such activities provide low impact, sustainable tourism opportunities, and along with traditional sporting activities can possibly extend the season.

Unfortunately the Scottish tourism strategy illustrates a lack of joined-up thinking, with these activities not being seen as a niche market. Specifically identified, they can improve tourism in rural areas. That is despite the fact that study after study shows that people visit Scotland for the countryside and landscape.

Prices for admission to tourist attractions are ridiculously low in relationship, for example, to sporting events. To give one small example, we at home this year are charging £6 per adult which entitles a visitor to three hours of enjoyment. Had the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, visited Murrayfield on Sunday he would have paid £35 to gain entry for 90 minutes of enjoyment. Twenty years ago we used regularly to get 14,000 visitors a year. What with the strong pound and the high cost of petrol in rural areas, we are now lucky to get 8,000 visitors as more and more UK residents take advantage of cheap package holidays abroad.

If, for example, we look at one aspect of rural tourism, in Scotland shooting, for example, accounts for 2,171 full-time jobs. A further 7,212 full-time jobs are directly or indirectly reliant on shooting. Fifty per cent of our tourism income at home this year will be field sports based. Direct or indirect expenditure on shooting in Scotland has steadily grown over the years

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and now exceeds £100 million. Thus shooting is vital to help maintain Scotland's rural population at around 20 per cent.

Outside rural areas the conservation benefits of shooting often go unrecognised. Conservation and shooting go hand in hand. Gamekeepers, for example, in Scotland have a management interest in 3½ million hectares. Forty-eight per cent of Scottish gamekeepers manage land that is in an SSSI; 15 per cent of them manage land that is in an ESA; and 13 per cent in areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Over 150,000 people participate in shooting in Scotland. To put this into perspective, that is more than those who participate in nine other sports, including rugby and hockey.

I do not think that anyone realises the real dangers of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and, although a devolved matter, pressure must be put on him to withdraw it. The First Minister must persuade him, but if necessary this pressure must come from the Prime Minister himself. The horrific consequences of this Bill will be shattering for the rural economy, an important element of rural tourism for Scotland.

As sure as night follows day these same consequences will happen in due course in England and Wales, which will result in anarchy in the countryside. The real irony is that if such a Bill became law it still would not save the life of one single wild animal. It would also be extremely expensive to police. The mind boggles at the idea of helicopters patrolling the Lammermuir Hills twice weekly. And I cannot believe that there is a single Chief Constable in the country who would wish to spend his limited resources implementing this Bill.

The noble Lord's right honourable friend the First Minister was recently overheard to have said something along the following lines: "I do wish this hunting thing would go away--it is the civil liberty aspect which scares me". Surely there are far more pressing problems to be tackled by the Scottish Executive and Parliament. It must not be forgotten that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has admitted publicly he is only bringing forward this Bill to test the system. And it stinks.

One of the real pleasures of field sports is the people you meet. All classes and creeds are united in a shared love of the sport, a delight of wild places and the duty of care of our natural heritage. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I urge Her Majesty's Government to be more imaginative with rural planning laws and to give rural tourism a higher priority.

The Prime Minister has often been quoted as saying, "This Government will govern for all the people". For those of us involved in rural tourism we have not so far seen much evidence of that. I urge Her Majesty's Government to put measures in place at once in order that we can all have a viable and beautiful countryside so that we can pass it on to future generations of this country to enjoy with pride.

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6.4 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Peel for giving us the opportunity to debate tourism and the rural economy. I agreed with all that he said, as I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, particularly about the legislation before the Scottish Parliament. I do not believe that many noble Lords in this House realise how vindictive it is and the dangerous repercussions which will occur in Scotland if it is passed unamended.

The countryside, the landscape and the rural economy must be in a healthy state if tourism is to prosper. At the present time it is not so. I am a farmer and I know that the farming element is at an all-time low. What are the Government doing about it? I am disappointed that there is no agriculture Minister on the Front Bench today.

For two years the industry has made it plain to the Government what a serious crisis surrounds it. Last week the Prime Minister called a summit, but at the end of the day all farmers believe that although £200 million is valuable, when spread over all the farmers in the United Kingdom it is a drop in the ocean. I hope that the Prime Minister made an impact on those representing the food chain who have a great deal to do with the prices that farmers must now accept.

It is important that the Minister brings home to his colleagues in MAFF and the rest of the Government just how serious the situation is. We must do something about the exchange rate, despite what the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, and we must urgently tackle the numerous rules and regulations which are thrust on farmers almost weekly. Without profitable farming, as was rightly said by my noble friends Lord Wade and Lord Plumb, the countryside cannot prosper.

In the main, farming made the countryside: the woodlands, the hedges, the well-cultivated fields and the heather moorland, which takes a lot of managing. All that is due to good husbandry by the farming community. Yet they are receiving little thankful support from the Government. Farming supports the rural economy--the blacksmiths, the machinery operators and the feeding stuff mills--but banks and post offices are rapidly becoming non-existent.

I have seen the reverse. I was in northern New York State last fall driving in an area where farming has failed. There was nothing but derelict farm houses, broken fences, uncultivated fields and woodlands cut down without any sense of replanting. No one wants to see that. What tourist would want to see such dereliction of the countryside? As my noble friend Lord Wade rightly said, that will happen here if steps are not taken to make agriculture profitable.

We must also re-examine our national parks. We face overcrowding, litter and erosion of the hillside, which I can see through binoculars from my home in the south of Scotland looking into the Lake District. We know of the traffic jams, too. Sometimes they

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overwhelm the tourists and they will not return. I am certain that neither the New Forest nor the South Downs will benefit from becoming national parks.

It is all very well to say that farming must change, certainly within the CAP, but, as my noble friend Lord Wade rightly pointed out, that is not easy. Diversification, the conversion of farm buildings and everything else requires a cash flow and capital. Most farmers have neither. There may be grants from regions and enterprise in Scotland, but if one undertakes a major conversion of a farm building into, say, a tea-room, one ends up paying additional council tax. At the present time, it is not easy to develop alternative forms of income in the countryside.

Furthermore, if one wants to develop, it is essential to be in a strategically satisfactory position. It is no use developing around the corner, out of sight of the main road, because the majority of tourists will not leave the main road. Again, that reduces substantially the number of farms that can diversify.

The Government will--as, I have no doubt, will the Minister when he replies--take great credit for their rural transport plan. However, that does not affect tourists because they arrive in package tour buses and the rest come by motor car. Those with a motor car say, "Heavens above. I am paying nearly £4 a gallon". How on earth does that encourage anyone to visit the West Highlands of Scotland, where fuel costs even more than £4 a gallon, to see the great tourist attractions that we have there? I do not believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has quite taken on board the serious situation of rural transport relative to the cost of fuel, both petrol and diesel.

How right my noble friend Lord Wade was to raise the matter of the importance of planning. Anyone who is currently trying to get anything through any planning authority knows that it is a nightmare. The procedure goes on and on: as councils feel that they must try to be transparent, a month goes by as matters are passed to sub-committees and they come back again another month later, often ending up in an appeal to various Secretaries of State. It is very difficult to get through the planning procedure. We must try to find a more speedy and flexible way of obtaining decisions. Even if the answer is "no", that is something! When one is trying to improve the countryside, it is very dispiriting simply to sit on the fence waiting for it to crumble while nothing happens.

In the same way, I feel depressed at the attitude of the last and perhaps the present Government to objects in the countryside such as telephone masts, wind farms and pylons. I raised that matter in a debate in another place in October 1996, highlighting the exact damage that telephone masts caused in the rural countryside. Yet, even now, nothing has happened. Planning authorities have very little control over the erection of telephone masts. Almost every hill between my home and Glasgow or Edinburgh has a wireless mast stuck on the top. I believe that it is high time that we took a tougher stance and stopped it happening.

I finish by broadening a point which was rightly raised by my noble friend Lord Peel and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, concerning country sport. Sport

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forms an extremely important part of the countryside, particularly for tourists. In particular, I want to highlight the lack of action in relation to fishing. A tremendous amount of money comes into the Borders--as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, will know--from people who wish to fish on the Tweed and further north on the Spey, the Dee and the Don, and so on; yet all those rivers are being affected dramatically by the continuation of drift netting off the north-east coast of England. Therefore, it is an English responsibility.

The English have objected every time the Scottish Office has tried to resolve the matter; so, too, have the Environment Agency and its predecessors. Some licences have been reduced but last year the catch of salmon was up substantially. Every salmon that is caught in the North Sea will not reach the rivers of Scotland to spawn and develop fishing which is such an important tourist attraction to the country towns of Scotland and, indeed, to the North of England.

The Labour Party, which referred in its manifesto to an "anglers' charter", was going to do everything possible--move Heaven and earth--to help the fishermen. However, it has done nothing except to set up a commission which I believe is to report some time. However, when will we see action to ensure that the wild salmon of the sea reach the rivers of Scotland and the North of England? Scotland banned drift netting years ago. It is an absolute disgrace that England has not done so thus far.

All in all, I agree entirely with everything that has been said on this side of the House and, indeed, with much of what was said about Cheshire, except for drag hunting, which I do not want to go into now. I believe that the Government must look seriously at the way that they treat the countryside. They talk a great deal about it but do nothing.

6.14 p.m.

Lord Kimball: My Lords, it is to be hoped that by his judicious and timely choice of this debate, my noble friend Lord Peel will succeed in obtaining from the Minister, when he comes to reply, at least a statement about when we shall see the rural White Paper. It has been hanging about for over a year and I believe that the time has come when we should know what progress has been made.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison--a somewhat lonely figure on those Benches--that a national hunting museum is being established, quite correctly, at Melton Mowbray. However, I can give him some comfort that the historian of the Tarporley Hunt is on our advisory committee and is being extremely helpful. Departmental liaison Peers are now being appointed by the mass of special advisers that the leaders in the Lords now have. I am rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, is not at least supported by the appropriate departmental liaison Peer.

This debate takes place at a time when, as has already been said, the pressure on the agricultural budget is downwards and downwards. To counteract

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that, the new buzzword seems to be "diversification". Alternative activities hold out some future. I suspect that when the noble Lord comes to reply, he will make some play of the powers of the rural development agencies and the help that they may be able to give. The awful truth is that the rural development agencies have been stripped of the one power that would really help; namely, the ability to give grants for converting farm buildings and farm machinery. That was taken away from them and given to the urban development agencies. Therefore, those grants are no longer available. In fact, the rural development agencies represent, purely and simply, a way of trying to encourage people in the countryside to think in terms of European regions.

As has already been said, country life is now at a cross-roads between the mirages of city life, with its claims to social, economic and cultural advantages, and the growing demand for a better quality of life, far from pollution and other worries. Today, in the age of the Internet and telecommunications, rural dwellers have many strengths. Each year the statistics show the terrific desire and need of people to return to their roots. Let us look at the demand for countryside holidays, and the opening and visiting of stately homes, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who has already dealt with that point. At present, rural tourism, sport and accommodation to suit all budgets are a lifeline in the countryside, as are farm trails and, above all, the contribution made by country sports: hunting, shooting and fishing.

As my noble friend Lord Peel has already said, the total budget of the three country sports amounts to £3.8 billion a year, as researched by the Cobham Research Institute in 1997. I say to my noble friend Lord Wade that it is not just "a brace of pheasants"; the actual worth of game sold from the countryside today is some £18 million. That is a good many braces of pheasants. Even with the poor fishing, fishing is worth £0.65 million. Today, an income of over £9 million from venison comes into the countryside.

What have the Government done to help the 3.3 million people who go to rural areas to fish? If one talks to any fisherman today, what will he tell you? The biggest plague for fishermen is cormorants, which come in and decimate inland fisheries. One constructive thing that the Government could do would be to say that we shall have a "no fly zone" for cormorants beyond the high-tide area. They are a sea-nesting, sea-feeding bird and are not part of the English countryside.

What are the Government going to do about the grey seal population? When the fishing was good, the grey seal population was limited to 25,000. It is now 109,000 and growing at 8 per cent per year.

What will the Government do to help the fishermen regarding the fact that the Danes are now removing all the sand eels in order to fire their power stations despite the fact that there has been a report which says that sand eel fishing should cease? What about sea lice? I refer also not only to legal sea netting, but also to

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illegal sea netting. Those matters work against the 3.3 million people who come to fish in our countryside.

What will the Government do to help the 0.75 million shooters who come as tourists to rural areas? We were told that no action was to be taken against the shooting community; and yet the Home Affairs Select Committee is inquiring into the ownership of airguns, shotguns and firearms. It is to propose further regulations. Nobody seems to realise that if only the rules and law relating to airguns were properly enforced, there would be no more problems in that sphere.

What have the Government done to make it easier for more people to shoot and enjoy the countryside? They have banned lead shot over a wide area, far beyond the necessary wetland areas and have spread that ban to the inclusion of snipe and golden plover, adding to a quarry list. They are forcing people out of shooting simply because the price of non-lead cartridges is £16 for 25. That makes it a very expensive hobby.

There has been a complete failure to meet the demands of the Game Conservancy Trust that we should do something about avian predation and the densities, and have some experiments, licensed by the EU, on translocation of avian predators.

Finally, what are the Government doing to help the quarter of a million people who come into the rural countryside as visitors and residents to follow hounds, directly employing some 16,000 people and indirectly creating some 60,000 full-time jobs? It is not appropriate today to discuss the question of a ban on hunting with hounds. We all await the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. It is significant that The Times today states categorically that the Home Secretary will take no action until he has had time to consider the recommendations of the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns.

In my county of Leicestershire, the money spent on hunting (and brought into one county) is £9.2 million, and some 240 direct jobs are involved. That is only one county's expenditure from a total annual expenditure of £243 million by the hunts of England.

In conclusion, I draw attention to something which I believe helps the countryside enormously and helps our tourist industry; that is, the marvellous part played by the quality of our sporting press--The Field, Country Life, Horse and Hound, and the Shooting Times. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Willoughby on adding a fifth title and a fifth quality magazine to that list. Every single one of those magazines is read by four people. Whatever the circulation figures are, they should be multiplied by four. Their articles and their presentation of countryside matters whet the appetite of people for rural visits and sportsmanship. They make a notable contribution to our rural economy.

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