|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that comment. He was absolutely right to point out the extraordinary blindspot in nearly all official and quasi-official publications--many of them have been mentioned in the course of the debate--on rural tourism and the rural economy. Perhaps--as a result of the intervention and kind words from my noble friend Lord Kimball--I should declare my interests at this point. I am chairman of St Martin's Magazines, the publishers of Country Illustrated. I am also president of the Heart of England Tourist Board.
The blindspot identified so clearly by my noble friend Lord Peel is the significant contribution made to the rural economy by what I shall call "sporting tourists". I do not understand this pervading reluctance to admit to the blindingly obvious. In a
I have one or two of those official documents with me. They have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. We can search in vain for even a fleeting mention of hunting, shooting, fishing or riding. The first, referred to also by my noble friend Lord Peel, is entitled Rural Tourism: Working for the Countryside, while the second is entitled Sharing the Nation's Prosperity, and is a rather weighty document. It is full of marvellously flatulent jargon such as "sustainable development", "market segmentation", "inclusion", "exclusion", "integration", "the enterprise environment" and I believe, for my bonus point, that I found one reference to the word "overarching". It is full of little goodies such as a paragraph explaining that 29 per cent of men living in rural areas have been observed to drink more than 21 units of alcohol per week. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, might be interested to know that that probably includes even areas such as Cheshire.
Another document reports a survey conducted to see whether rural people are friendly. According to its findings, 40 per cent are very friendly and 40 per cent are fairly friendly; in urban areas, 60 per cent are fairly friendly. I do not understand the survey. Is it suggesting that there are many "fairly friendly" in urban areas but rather fewer in rural areas?
However, the documents do not mention field sports or riding, which I find rather odd. It seems a little careless, in particular after hearing the impressive figures given by my noble friends Lord Peel and Lord Kimball which reflect the serious financial contribution made by field sports to the rural economy. Of course, sporting tourists have been with us for many years. Some noble Lords may be familiar with the works of Robert Surtees, in particular his novel, Mr Sponge's Sporting Tour. Mr Sponge was reputed to live on,
I should like to move from the general to the particular, because it might be of interest to noble Lords to learn how in real life one such enterprise works. Close to me on the borders of Warwickshire and Gloucestershire there is an enterprise that offers hunting, pony trekking and riding lessons. It has 55 horses in work and 40 young horses coming on--95 horses in all. It sends out around 15 to 20 horses each hunting day during the season, which over the
The business is thriving because of the hard graft of its owners. Their success has absolutely nothing at all to do with Euro-dosh such as Objective 1 or 2, the Leader schemes, or one or other of the multifarious little Euro-enterprises which only give us our own money back again once it has been administered by Eurocrats. The owners' success is due to their own enterprise and hard work. Furthermore, their success generates other successes in the rural economy. Their stables employ six people full time and 11 part time. In particular, some of those part-timers are farmers' wives, whose income gives them an opportunity to contribute to their farm economies and to help towards the survival of their own farm businesses in the current harsh times for agriculture. If that is not contributing to the rural local economy, I do not know what is.
The organisation uses two professional saddlers to maintain riding equipment and three independent saddlery stores. Its general supplies--there are a lot of those, as can be imagined with keeping 90 horses--are bought from a local farmers' co-operative. It uses four local veterinary practices and gives regular work to three blacksmiths. Its vehicles are maintained by the local garage and fuelled at the local petrol stations. Let us not forget the feed requirements. With 90 horses, the business needs hay, straw and oats, which are all bought from local farmers and, I am told with a catch in the voice, at premium prices.
So we have this picture emerging of a successful hub of energy with spokes radiating out all over the rural economy. But the picture is not nearly complete. There is the pub; there are the local B&Bs; the builders; the repairmen; the plumbers; and all the people who are needed to keep such a large complex going and who have to be virtually on-call all the time.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Kimball that this is not the time to have a debate on hunting, despite the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, brought it into the equation. But it is worth saying that hunting plays an important part in the success of that business. That is a fact; it is not making any specific point. A lot of its other activities are seasonal: the riding school and lessons are seasonal. Hunting takes place during the five months of the year when there is not nearly so much activity on the riding and trekking side.
So the business is dependent on the continuation of hunting, as are the local pubs and the bed-and-breakfast suppliers. I have personal experience of that when taking my 19 units a week. They all say that they would find it difficult to keep going without the clientele they get from that business; in this area not so much from hunting, but from that business. To keep
That is just one example, but it is an important example in my part of the country and I am sure that there are scores of such examples throughout the whole of the United Kingdom that contribute that sort of measure of success to the local economy. I find it a little depressing, as I am sure do the owners of that business and those who run similar businesses, that they are not mentioned; that they are wiped out of the national consciousness when it comes to talking about the local economy. We hear all sorts of other comments, but nothing about the people who offer sporting holidays, even if it includes shooting, hunting and fishing. They are simply not mentioned.
I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity in this debate to put the record straight. I am not attacking the Government. These are not government documents. But it would be nice to hear somebody say, "Yes, we recognise that field sports--riding, hunting, fishing and shooting--have a part to play in the rural economy", and perhaps the Minister might say that at the end of this debate.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, as I said, this is not the time to go into a debate about hunting. If the noble Earl, Lord Longford, would like to join me for a drink afterwards, I will explain to him the difference between drag hunting and fox hunting.
The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I too join the ever-increasing band of noble Lords congratulating my noble friend Lord Peel on bringing forward this extraordinarily important debate. As we have heard from so many noble Lords, the importance of tourism to the rural economy is enormous. It is all the more important at the present time when rural Britain is in a state of agricultural crisis and transition.
But I join the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in saying how distressing and worrying it is that there are so few noble Lords on the Government Benches this evening for such an important debate. I hope that the Government Benches will be fuller when we consider the countryside Bill in this Chamber. On the other hand, it may be a good thing if they are not and we can get our amendments through without too much hassle or worry.
As we all know, the Prime Minister has urged farmers to diversify, and many are endeavouring to do so. But the Prime Minister is saying nothing new. Many rural activities form an historic part of the rural way of life. They are a source of what one might term domestic tourism as well as international tourism. The debate this evening enables us to look at tourism in its widest context and face up to some facts that many people and public bodies seem reluctant to publicise.
I should like to confine my remarks to the area I know best; that is, the West Country, where I live. It is one of the most beautiful, varied and most frequently visited parts of Britain. Our landscape, our villages, our houses and gardens, particularly those in Devon and Cornwall, are spectacular. Indeed, they are almost certainly the best in Europe at this particular time of year, the spring. And the tourism they generate is essential to the many rural communities that exist there.
In addition, we have high quality capital projects on the way; for example, the Eden Project. That is one of the flagship millennium projects and is attracting huge interest from around the world. Through the use of one-and-a-half kilometres of plastic domes 135 feet high, it will show how plants shape our everyday life. That is extraordinary. Indeed, the project is expected to attract 750,000 visitors each year.
The West Country is an area rich in heritage and tradition. Visitors are able to partake of an astonishing array of activities. But it is also an area of high economic sensitivity. Many of the more remote villages are what might be termed marginal in economic terms, and in maintaining that economic balance in favour of the local community tourism plays a vital part. As such, we must do all we can to encourage tourism while being sensitive to the countryside, its needs and its people.
Tourism increasingly demands quality. More and more people expect and can afford quality. Yes, they expect it; and, yes, they respect it. I refer to quality of accommodation; quality of service and food at competitive prices. But quality needs not only the resources to fund it, but also an attitude of mind and an understanding of what people want. A pride and satisfaction goes with the delivery of a high quality service, and ultimately the gain from it--the profit.
But many public bodies, even those charged with promoting and planning the future of rural Britain, fail to acknowledge the crucial role played by country activities such as hunting, shooting and fishing. One cannot help but suspect that that reticence is dictated by political correctness and not by a genuine understanding of the economic, cultural and management realities of local communities such as those of the West Country. If that is the case, then those responsible are doing a gross disservice to those communities and undermining the very work that they were set up to achieve. In doing so, they are playing recklessly with people's lives and future, and indeed the future of the countryside which we all cherish and value so highly.
In the West Country in particular, country sports are as important as any other rural activity and contribute hugely to the rural economy. Those activities attract large numbers of visitors from within Britain and overseas. What must be understood, as many noble Lords have said, is that for many communities they make the difference between survival and extinction. For instance, shooting attracts a considerable number of international clients who
Noble Lords may think I exaggerate the case for country sports, but some facts should serve to illustrate my point. The Rural Economy Working Group of the West Somerset District Council commissioned a report from the Centre for Rural Studies at Cirencester. It produced some very revealing figures. In looking at hunting, the study discovered that hunting brings in £5.5 million to the rural economy in the West Country, while the estimated value of sold shooting on Exmoor alone is £7.25 million. Add on feedstuffs and, in total, Endangered Exmoor has shown that country sports directly contribute £13½ million per annum to the rural economy and, even more important, against a background of a 70 per cent drop in farming incomes in the last two years. Let us not forget also the very considerable employment that field sports give on Exmoor.
One cannot but feel that if some other authorities and public bodies were to take their heads out of the proverbial sand, then the real importance of country sports to large parts of rural Britain might be realised. This should be an area of objective fact, not sentiment.
In addition to country sports, however, there is for instance the very exciting South-West Forest Project between Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor, which will create an area for the enjoyment of all and enable numerous country pursuits from walking to rally driving to be enjoyed, thereby providing valuable business opportunities and jobs in some of the most sparsely populated and vulnerable areas of the country.
Equally important is investment and government support for the hotel sector in rural areas. We have in the West Country an ageing hotel sector, which in many areas is struggling to remain in business. The stock is old; it is dated and tired; major investment is needed to upgrade some of the stock.
I realise that many of your Lordships may be thinking, "Why should government money be invested in tourism, let alone tourism in rural England?". My Lords, you may be interested to learn that tourism in the South West generates about £1,200 per head of population and in some parts it accounts for over one-third of GDP; but the central government support for tourism is about 20p per head of population--yes, 20p. That 20p per head of population in England compares with £6.49 in Wales and £5.07 in Scotland. If England were to have the same funding for tourism as Scotland and Wales, major product improvement could be made and new products developed and marketed. That would help this vital industry to help the rural economy to flourish once more. All the research shows that there is considerable potential to grow this sector. What is needed is public sector pump-priming funding.
Lord Mancroft : My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Peel for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important subject this evening. It is a particularly interesting subject because it links the tourism industry, which is an enormous and growing industry and one of our country's great success stories, with the rural economy, whose main and oldest industry, agriculture, is probably in the worst state it has ever been in, certainly in my lifetime.
In his recent day-trip to the countryside to persuade farmers that this Government have any interest at all in their problems, the Prime Minister, as one of his solutions to the terrifying collapse in farm incomes, gave advice that farmers should diversify into businesses apart from farming. It is perfectly clear from this debate that one of the options open to them is to diversify into tourism. It is equally clear that, while it may be an option for some, it is not an option for all and it is by no means an easy option.
King Charles II once said that a man could usefully be employed outdoors on more days of the year in England than in any other country--although quite what Charles II knew about outdoor employment, I am not entirely sure. Ignoring the fact that the weather this week has not been quite as spring-like as we might wish, I suspect that I might achieve some degree of consensus in your Lordships' House this evening if I were to suggest that many overseas visitors do not come to Britain for their holidays in order to sunbathe or to swim off our coasts; though I do accept that many of our natives bravely flock to our coasts each summer.
One of the main attractions of Britain for our American, Japanese and European guests is what has come to be called our heritage. Although it is clear that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland thinks very little of military ceremonies, the tens of thousands of tourists who flock to see the changing of the Guard, the Trooping of the Colour and the Edinburgh Tattoo would seem not to agree with him.
Furthermore, although this Government have shown scant regard for the past and its traditions and values, it is the past glories of this country, conserved here as nowhere else in the world, that form one of the main attractions for the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of visitors who come here each year. The Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Eton--how New Labour must hate that!--Oxford, Stratford and Bath are among the favourite attractions; but they are not the only ones. The stately homes of England, from Chatsworth to Blenheim and from Berkeley Castle to
It is not just the great houses and estates that attract people, however; it is the British countryside that is the wonder of so many visitors to these shores, and the villages and farms that are scattered across it. Part of that attraction comes from the natural landscape; but no less of the magic comes from the fact that it is a living countryside, worked and cared for by those who farm and manage it. It is also important to remember that many of those areas which attract the most visitors are those which have been hardest hit by the current agricultural depression: Exmoor and Dartmoor, the Peak District, the dales and the moors of North Yorkshire, which my noble friend Lord Peel knows better than anyone; Snowdonia, preserved and protected for so long by that great Master of Hounds, Richard Williams, and his family, and now managed by the National Trust; the Lake District--John Peel country; the Highlands and islands of Scotland.
When the Edinburgh Festival and the Tattoo are over, thousands of visitors stream north into the Highlands, many to walk the mountains and moors; although how many recognise that the magnificent countryside which they are enjoying is the result of years of committed management of grouse moor, deer forest and salmon river, I have no idea.
There is clearly enormous potential, therefore, for further development of these great tourist assets, to enable them to be enjoyed by visitors from overseas and by holidaymakers from other parts of our own country. We need to recognise, however, that in order for this to be achieved some facts must be recognised and some problems overcome.
First and foremost, neither the visitors to our countryside nor those who live there want to see the countryside turned into a massive theme park. That would destroy the attraction both to visit and to live there. It is a cry we have heard again and again over the last few years; it is a very real concern and must be carefully considered. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in replying, will recognise and understand this point, as he has often demonstrated to the House his grasp of complex issues of style--for an issue of style is what this is.
The most important factor in achieving the right balance--and we have heard a lot about balance this evening--is that, in developing tourism in the countryside, account must be taken of the very different reasons why people visit. When I started speaking, I purposely mentioned the weather and the fact that it is not the prime motivating factor in choosing to go to some of Britain's wild areas, such as Scotland, the moors or the West Country. That is even truer in the colder months of the year. We therefore need a tourist industry which, if possible, offers attractions all the year round.
Whether or not it is politically correct, one of the main attractions of the British countryside is that, because it has been so well conserved, it is immensely appealing to field sportsmen. To sportsmen and
One specific example of what can go wrong can be seen in Scotland; and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Kimball touched on it. The catastrophic fall in salmon numbers in Scotland in recent years had led to a corresponding fall in the number of visitors. No salmon equals no fishermen, and this has caused immense damage to that part of the tourist industry, which, in some parts of Scotland, is leading to hotel closures and job losses. Between 1991 and 1995 the decline in expenditure on fishing by tourists to Scotland was over 20 per cent, but it still managed to account for over £28 million of annual expenditure in those areas. Although I am not clear about this, I suppose that responsibility for tourism in Scotland now lies with the Edinburgh parliament, but one of the most significant causes--and my noble friend Lord Kimball will correct me if I am wrong--in the decline of the salmon is the continued activities of the north-east coast driftnet fishing, which operates under Westminster's jurisdiction. I am not confident that this will be addressed in time, although it has been raised in your Lordships' House four, if not five, times in the past few years.
Another example along similar lines is the unnecessary bureaucratic arrangements that we now have for visitors from abroad when they come to shoot in this country and bring their guns. We all recognise the importance of gun controls. It is now widely recognised that the present measures place silly burdens on law-abiding sportsmen and women, while doing little to hamper real criminals. I do not believe--again, I shall be corrected if I am wrong--that I have ever heard of a case of a visiting sporting shooter committing a crime involving a gun in this country. It is time the Government recognised that shooting is an important part of the rural tourist industry which, like fishing, brings income to the most depressed parts of rural Britain and to the community that lives there, and does so in the months when income is lowest. It also contributes disproportionately to the maintenance of the landscape, which is such a key attraction to other visitors.
Field sports, too, are at the centre of many special events that take place throughout the country every year. Where I live, on the edge of the Cotswolds--the other end from my noble friend Lord Plumb--we have, as noble Lords can imagine, quite a few visitors who come to see our beautiful countryside. At present, almost on my doorstep, we are gearing up for the Badminton Horse Trials at the beginning of May. Over the course of the trials, over 250,000 visitors will
This is only one of many such events throughout the country--for example, the Game Fair and the many agricultural and county shows, like the Great Yorkshire Show, the East of England Show and the Bath and West Show. These are enormous crowd pullers from the towns into the countryside and are of immense economic significance. I shall give your Lordships only two statistics. They are both from Wales, which is not, in some cases, the centre of our rural tourist industry. However, both these things are reliant on field sports. The first is the Welsh Game Fair, which attracts 60,000 visitors a year and, the second, just down the road, is the Welsh Hawking Centre in the Vale of Glamorgan, which attracts 65,000 visitors throughout the year. Many of these visitors travel considerable distances to attend and provide ample evidence of the potential for rural tourism.
We are reaching the end of the debate. It will be clear to the whole House that tourism in the countryside is an important rural industry and that it has potential for growth and development if encouraged in a sensitive and thoughtful way. Moreover, it has the potential to generate vital income for hard-pressed farmers in some of the most depressed areas. But, more significant than that, I hope the Government realise that one of the most important aspects of rural tourism lies in the unique field sports that we have to offer in this country. They are not unique in the sense that no other countries have hunting, shooting or fishing, because they all do; they are unique in the sense that it is recognised across the world that the quality of the sport that we provide in Britain is greater than anywhere else.
Therefore, I hope that the Government will take a leaf out of what is perhaps a strange book; namely, the book of conservation in Africa, where it is increasingly recognised that the sportsman's dollar is the key to conservation and a burgeoning tourist industry; and that governments have a responsibility to help in developing this side of tourism rather than hampering it. Too many fragile rural communities depend upon the income generated in part by their field sports tourists to allow spurious ideological debates to threaten their livelihoods and ways of life.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, mentioned market towns in particular and produce marketing, which are both areas of great importance. The regeneration of market towns encompasses that holistic approach which many noble Lords agreed this afternoon is particularly important. The noble Earl also mentioned the "loved to death" honeypot areas. There is some best practice which needs to be more widely disseminated as regards how to deal with the pressure that especially beautiful landscapes bring.
I am glad that we have a Treasury Minister to answer our debate. I know that some noble Lords may perhaps be of a different opinion. But too often we have had debates about the rural economy and have been told in response, "Well, that's a matter for the Treasury". Therefore, it is a nice change to have a Minister with Treasury responsibilities on the Government Front Bench.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, mentioned trains and their importance to the rural infrastructure. I found the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, about information on trains most interesting. Indeed, the French have huge signs alongside their motorways encouraging people to turn off the motorway, so there is no reason why that idea could not be more sustainably applied to trains. However, I was much less keen on the noble Lord's idea of a myriad of Portmeirions dotted around the countryside--lovely though that one example may be.
My noble friend Lord Phillips made some telling points about the importance of difference and diversity; indeed, that is actually what tourists who come to Britain are particularly looking for. My noble friend also touched on the "agencyitis" that is still inflicting small businesses and people who are trying to apply for grants. It was about this time last year that I introduced a debate in your Lordships' House on how we would be able to deal with the huge number of agencies that were being established. My noble friend told us this afternoon about the cultural consortium, which is in addition to the RDAs, government offices and the Countryside Agency.
There is still confusion among small organisations and businesses as to where best to go for help with starting businesses and obtaining grants. The Government need to give more thought to this, although the Minister will probably say that this matter will be addressed in the White Paper. However, as has already been mentioned, the White Paper has been put back twice to my knowledge. Indeed, it is now due in the autumn; but if we are not careful we shall find ourselves on the other side of an election.
Several noble Lords mentioned the importance of cheese. I am especially pleased to be able to conclude and bat for Somerset in the way of Cheddar, just to balance the Cheshire and Leicestershire cheeses that were mentioned.
I should like to refer to the problem of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, with cormorants. I do not make light of it, but I am reminded of the imaginative use that the Chinese have made of birds that like to fish avidly. They have turned them into a tourist attraction by making them fish for the amusement of tourists. I am not sure how that works out in welfare terms, but that is what came into my mind when the noble Lord was speaking.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was quite right to draw attention to costs to landowners in the countryside Bill. I am sure that that is something which we shall discuss at length in your Lordships' House.
Tourism offers a way of linking what we value in rural areas to the willingness of the public to pay for it. I am not just talking about those who spend their money in rural areas; we need to show urban visitors what is achieved in the countryside and what it can offer. They may subsequently be more willing to see it funded out of the public purse.
Several noble Lords have said that tourism offers no solution to the agricultural crisis. It may be tempting to think that all farmers can run B&Bs and riding schools and therefore the agricultural crisis will go away. However, I believe that farmers are beginning to feel insulted at the continued suggestion that diversification will be the answer to all their problems.
Tourism, just like farming, is faced with the strong pound; in fact, it is a "double whammy" for rural areas. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, as regards the strong pound and the weak euro. The strong pound dissuades people in Britain from visiting our rural areas in that they are more likely to go abroad. A weak euro is, of course, irrelevant to Americans or those from the Far East. Nevertheless, tourism is increasingly viewed as being crucial, even in areas which have less of a tourism tradition. Short-stay breaks, weekends and out of season visiting must be encouraged; we cannot depend on a period of 10 weeks in a year.
I have listened to what has been said about hunting, shooting and fishing. Whatever our personal views on these issues, there is no doubt that the consideration of this matter by the Burns committee was long overdue. I understand that the evidence indicates that the contribution of field sports to the economy of rural areas is undeniable; and that my part of the world, Exmoor, was considered in this connection. Difficult ideological decisions will have to be made on this matter. However, as I say, the contribution of field sports to the economy of rural areas is undeniable.
I declare an interest as a councillor on Somerset County Council. Somerset is perhaps not one of the biggest tourist destinations. Many--perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Arran, feels this way--may regard it as a service station on the way to Devon and Cornwall. Nevertheless, Somerset's annual tourist expenditure is
The fact that the county and district councils produce this document is particularly relevant as regards the way in which central government view the funding of local government. Local authorities are the prime movers in their areas in developing tourism and the local economy. However, central government fund those aspects of local government in the "other services" category as if they were less important. Local government focus on their own priorities for areas and they are hard pushed to find the money to fund tourism and economic development.
I hope that the Minister will comment on the funding of infrastructure in rural areas. I refer to trains in this connection. For some time we in the West Country have awaited the Government's response on the Eurostar connection. I believe that I first raised this matter in 1998. I am still not aware of any response. We are served by two London train lines and the A303, but Eurostar provision is essential to bring visitors from the Continent.
There is also the matter of the Government's role in Internet provision. In recent months the importance of the Internet has been emphasised in every way. It will be important to rural areas and to tourism businesses in terms of advertising on the web, booking through the web and asking questions about where to visit. Rural areas and rural businesses will lose out unless the Government resolve the following problem; namely, that unless you live within two-and-a-half miles of a telephone exchange, you can access only a very slow version of the Internet.
An article in the Financial Times last week stated that the Swedish Government are committed to building broad-band networks to reach every Swedish household within two years. The Swedish Government have committed funding to this project because they feared that the rural and northern areas of Sweden would be left out of the IT boom. I fear that rural areas in Britain may develop second-class economies because they do not have the necessary infrastructure to take advantage of our fastest growing method of accessing information.
The Government need to evaluate more precisely the role of the big attractions which receive lottery funding. We have heard about the Eden project, for example. However, we need to know to what extent the benefits are spread around and what strain that puts on the infrastructure. Tourism is not a stand-alone industry. This debate has been useful in highlighting the way in which tourism ties in with many other matters.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I join those who have thanked my noble friend Lord Peel for giving us the opportunity to debate a subject on which so many of my noble friends have expert knowledge.
All noble Lords who have spoken today have expressed pride in, and have spoken knowledgeably about, the tourism projects in their areas. We have travelled from Cheshire to the wilds of Scotland and the south-west. We have had a geographical tour of tourist delights in our isles.
As other noble Lords have remarked, this is a timely debate. Last month the English Tourism Council and the Countryside Agency published a consultation document, Rural Tourism: Working for the Countryside. In the same month the Conservative Party published its tourism strategy, Tourism Today, which addresses the issue of tourism in rural areas.
Noble Lords are right to say that it is important to ensure that rural areas receive their fair share of tourism spending, but that it is vital that we should not neglect the other traditional areas of the rural economy. Nor, of course, should we promote tourism in such a way that it damages the very countryside that attracts tourists in the first place. My noble friend Lady Byford pointed out how important it is to maintain a balanced approach to development.
Many noble Lords have, rightly, put the debate in the wider context of the widespread agricultural crisis. My noble friends Lord Plumb and Lord Monro of Langholm pointed to the concern that the very fabric of our rural society is in danger of disintegrating. What can tourism do to alleviate such a crisis? Tourism has, of course, always been a key sector and, as we have heard today, its importance is likely to grow. Farmers should have the opportunity to diversify into tourism related businesses. My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu was right to point out that it is important always to bear in mind that the diversification should involve new quality businesses not only to attract tourists in the first place but also to ensure that they return.
Other speakers, such as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft, have pointed out that it is not always possible for farmers to diversify. In some areas this is not an economic possibility, particularly where there is minimal infrastructure and where access is difficult. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy pointed out that we should recognise that many farmers have already diversified into tourism, with maximum effect; sometimes almost to saturation level. For them it is not a new phenomenon.
Indeed, as we have heard, tourism often has a disproportionate significance to our rural areas. In Cornwall, expenditure by visitors represents more than 20 per cent of its GDP. In the south-west as a whole, landscapes support 43 per cent of all tourist-related jobs. I was very interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Arran said with regard to the impact of country sports upon the area. I declare an interest in that I spend my summer holidays in the south-west. I shall certainly look more carefully at the impact of country sports on Exmoor and on the spending there. My noble friend was right also to refer to the importance in the south-west of investment in the upgrading of hotel stock.
Throughout today, my noble friends have been right to emphasise the vital role played in the rural economy by those who manage the estates and market the country sports. Several of my noble friends made powerful cases. I recall the arguments put forward by my noble friends Lord Kimball, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Mancroft. They spoke eloquently of the importance of that sector of the industry to our rural economy.
I was interested in what my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton said in regard to in-coming tourism and its impact on the Highlands. I recall an occasion when I was staying in a highland hotel and found myself woken at 5 o'clock every morning by a horde of Italians. Before my noble friends get too worried, I should say that the Italians were on the other side of my hotel door, but at 5 a.m. every morning they went off to do their shooting. They brought absolutely vital income to that area of the Highlands.
But, as we have heard, there are many obstacles that face those who want to and try hard to diversify into tourism in rural areas, especially the obstacle of over-regulation--the dirigiste culture mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. My noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton referred to issues of planning. I was intrigued by the questions he asked about statutory responsibilities with regard to the need to consider environmental issues but not economic issues. I look forward to the Minister's response in relation to that matter.
In particular, farmers who want to diversify into becoming attractions find that it is difficult to persuade local councils to agree to redundant farm buildings being turned, perhaps, into parts of the farm attraction--whether it is a tea room or a place where animals can be kept for visitors to see. What steps are the Government taking to remedy that problem?
All those involved in agriculture and who want to diversify have to cope with an increasing burden of legislation and regulation. Farmers are used to regulations--my goodness they are--but when they want to diversify they find a whole new set of
I read an article in the National Farm Attractions Network which pointed out how many extra problems have been added to the list--certainly they are problems which never occurred to me. It referred me to a new publication which was issued last month by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. That sets out the Secretary of State's standards of modern zoo practice. One might wonder what on earth that has to do with a farmer setting up a farm attraction. Most people think of a zoo as somewhere to see exotics such as giraffes or lions, but the actual definition is far wider.
For example, if I am a farmer and I run a family attraction centre and, along with my sheep and my cattle, I display an animal such as a dormouse or an owl--hey presto, my farm becomes a zoo which is subject to the new standards of zoo practice to which I have referred. There is a real fear among farmers that their farm attractions will have to close because of the imposition of these new standards. Noble Lords have referred to bureaucracy and extra rules in passing, but this is an enormous document. It seems that these rules are written and framed with a traditional zoo in mind; they are simply not appropriate for the farm attractions that they also cover, whether it be farms visited by children in the south-west, which have a very high reputation, or a farm being set up for the first time as a farm attraction in the heart of England, where my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke is president of the regional tourism board.
Farm attractions are not seeking to evade good management and proper health and safety measures--they are already subject to many inspections. They want standards imposed which are more suited to their size and to the nature of their operation. Why have not the Government published standards specifically tailored for farm attractions rather than for zoos such as London Zoo? Will they undertake to do so?
I recognise that the Minister carries many spokemanships in his brief; as far as I am aware, that of the DETR is not one of them. But today he is responding on behalf of the whole Government and I therefore gave prior notice to his office that I would be asking questions about these regulations, or "standards" as I believe they are officially called.
We have also heard of other problems. In particular, my noble friend Lord Plumb referred to the issue of transport and the fact that the future success of rural tourism depends on good transport links. But, as he remarked, the Government's integrated transport policy is in a mess. Any money that they put into rural transport seems to be more than cancelled out by the huge amounts taken out of rural areas by their stealth taxes on the motorist.
We have heard of how quick the Government have been to tell farmers and growers that they should diversify to find their salvation. The Government seem slow to recognise how difficult that can be, especially
Overall, there is considerable potential in some areas for wise and sensitive growth, but not in all. All of us have a duty to ensure that tourism plays its full role as a force for good, working for the countryside in its development in the rural economy. It is important to realise that tourism can never be seen as a panacea for the ills of the countryside. It is vital that we retain a healthy balance between agriculture, tourism and the rest of the rural economy.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Earl, Lord Peel, is to be congratulated not only on the way in which he introduced the debate but on the unanimity he has engendered among all speakers. I think that every single speaker has been seized of the importance of tourism to the rural economy, and the Government do not dissent from that. There may have been differences of emphasis--an objective observer from outside may think that perhaps the emphasis on field sports and on cheese went a little further than may be accepted by other people concerned with different kinds of tourism--but, with that very mild caveat, the noble Earl has achieved something quite significant.
The Government certainly agree that tourism is a key driver of the rural economy in many areas of England. We estimate that tourism in the countryside is worth approximately £9 billion a year, including £500 million spent by overseas visitors. The total amount of employment supported either directly or indirectly by visitor activity in rural England was, some five years ago, estimated to be 380,000 jobs, and it is almost certainly more than that now.
The industry has significant potential for diversifying the economy of the countryside--not only through agriculture but in many other ways--and for assisting in the socio-economic development of rural communities. Indeed, as many noble Lords said, the spending power of tourists in rural areas is the difference between viability and business failure in many local services which do not appear on the face of it to be as dependent on tourism as they are. Many excellent examples of that were given, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke.
Many speakers, starting with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and ending with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said that tourism is not a panacea for deep-rooted rural problems. But it is a vital element in a thriving rural economy. Again, as many noble Lords said, if it is managed badly, it can damage the environment; but properly managed, it has the potential to benefit us all. It can have a positive impact on the environment and on the host community. The key is--this point was widely recognised in the debate--to manage tourism development so that it is sustainable.
We are aware of the similarities and differences between tourism in the countryside and tourism in urban areas. Nevertheless, they face continuing development pressures and we need to ensure that they contribute to the quality of the local environment and promote sustainability. It is a fact that the benefits of tourism are unevenly distributed across England. Some areas are overwhelmed. They suffer congestion and degradation. Others simply do not get enough tourists, perhaps because of poor facilities or poor infrastructure. I certainly do not want to single out particular areas in that way. Our strategy document of last year, Tomorrow's Tourism, places significant emphasis on the importance of rural tourism. It is no coincidence that the first of the 15 action plans in the strategy is a blueprint for the sustainable development of tourism to safeguard our countryside, heritage and culture for future generations. That has been the theme of this debate.
A number of noble Lords welcomed the Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit report on rural economies. That has demonstrated the need to modernise government policy frameworks so that we focus on encouraging support for productive, sustainable and inclusive rural economies. We recommended fostering the enterprise environment, lifting the burden of regulation--the noble Lord, Lord Wade, was particularly eloquent on that point--with planning controls which are more supportive of the needs of rural businesses. I shall say more about that later, but I wanted to mention it now to recognise its importance. There has to be increased support for farmers' contributions to the environment, better traffic management, better rural transport--I shall come back to that point--and improved access to the countryside. The point of all of this is that when we are looking at rural economies we see tourism as a key contributor to sustaining them.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, that some of the press coverage of this document has not been entirely accurate. We certainly do not plan to have a mandatory congestion tax, as has been suggested in some of the press. This is, after all, a discussion document. Some of the points it raises for discussion should not be taken as firm government policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to IT and the rural areas. Yes, of course, some forms of broad band technology cannot reach more than a certain number of kilometres away from exchanges, but ISDN is available in rural areas. The Government are keen to see that IT is generally available.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|