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The Earl of Lindsay: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage resumes again not before 8.50 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Tourist Boards: Future Role

7.50 p.m.

Lord Mountevans rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what they propose as the future role of the statutory tourist boards.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am pleased to have this opportunity, and I am grateful to the usual channels for giving it to me, to introduce tonight's short debate on tourism, in which I declare an interest.

17 Jan 1995 : Column 606

Before sketching out the background and then raising concerns, I should like to take the opportunity of paying a brief tribute to our late friend, Lord Pitt of Hampstead. Reading the obituaries one realises what a bright diamond and what a multifaceted one he was. One wishes one had known him better and known him longer, but one also rejoices that one had known him at all. He was for several years a vice-president of the London Tourist Board and an active participant in our tourism debates, always fighting for more funds for the promotion of London. Noble Lords can imagine how delighted he was when, in the face of a difficult spending round, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my noble friend the Minister for Tourism were able to secure and then announce such funds on Budget day.

Tourism is, as those of us who have been involved in it know, one of this country's most important industries. It accounts for one third of all service sector exports—that is more than the financial services sector—and for well over 5 per cent. of GDP. Domestic and overseas visitors together spend perhaps £90 million each day. Around 1.5 million people depend on the industry for their livelihood. Those are impressive figures, as I am sure your Lordships will agree. But tourism has not in the past, in spite of the combined efforts of the tourist boards and the industry trade associations, got the recognition it deserves, mainly, I suspect, because it is a fragmented industry made up in many cases of very small businesses.

I have been most encouraged that the Government have paid more than lip service to the importance of the industry. The extra funds that I have already mentioned for the promotion of London are tangible proof of this enhanced commitment, and very welcome they are to us all. However, at the risk of seeming ungrateful, I want to sound a cautionary note and put down some markers for further thought.

I said that the figures I have just quoted about the tourism industry were impressive, as indeed they are, but other figures are less so, which should give the Government pause for thought. Between 1980 and 1991 international tourism to the United Kingdom grew at an annual rate of 5.7 per cent. That sounds quite good until one compares it with the world average of 8.5 per cent. We did not even keep up with the European average of 7.6 per cent. When one looks at the growth rates of the Americas—more than 10 per cent.—and the region with the fastest rate of growth—East Asia and the Pacific—where the average annual growth amounted to an amazing 15 per cent., one begins to realise the scale of the competition we are up against.

My message is that we cannot rest on our laurels and assume that people will automatically wish to take their holidays here. Domestic and overseas visitors have to be persuaded that this country offers what they want in a holiday. The Government, the tourist boards and the tourism industry all have a part to play in this.

When people talk about tourism they tend to think about international tourism and forget about people taking holidays in their own country. Yet there are very few—I should go so far as to say no—tourist facilities in this country which can survive on income from overseas

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visitors alone. We ignore the importance of domestic tourism at our peril. Over the past 10 years, the balance of spending by British residents on overseas and home holidays has completely reversed. In 1983, less than half the money spent on holidays by the British went on holidays abroad. Ten years later, well over half the money flowed overseas, and I understand that the situation has worsened since then. We now have a negative balance of payments on the tourism account where we used to have a positive one.

When I spoke almost exactly two years ago in this House on the role of the statutory tourist boards, I mentioned my concern at the disparity in funding between the boards, and particularly between the English, Scottish and Wales Tourists Boards. The gap has in fact widened since then, with what I can only describe as further savage budget cuts to the English Tourist Board, whose grant-in-aid has been reduced from more than £23 million in 1988-89 to only £10 million in the coming financial year. The Scottish and Wales Tourist Boards have over the same period had their budgets increased, with the Scottish Tourist Board having just been given additional money specifically for domestic promotion, following a substantial decline in visitors to Scotland from other parts of this country. I fail to understand how the parts of Great Britain can be so differently treated. It is not enough for government to hide behind the excuse that matters pertaining to the Scottish and Wales Tourist Boards are the responsibility of their respective Secretaries of State. The problems of attracting visitors, of stimulating investment and of reducing seasonality are no different in, say, Cornwall than in West Wales or Northern Scotland.

The British Tourist Authority—my erstwhile colleagues—continues to do excellent work overseas, each year picking up more and more accolades for its work. It has been voted top tourist office in countries as far apart as Australia, the US and Ireland. Equally gratifying to those who work for it is the number of foreign tourist offices which are now imitating our methods and as gratifying to my colleagues is the number of foreign governments who are coming to the BTA to ask how to do the job. However, the budget cuts inflicted on the English Tourist Board have hampered not only the English Tourist Board's work but also that of the authority. Since 1985, as a result of one of the numerous government reviews to which the boards have been subject, the BTA and ETB have had a joint chairman, occupied the same building and shared some joint departments serving both boards. The cuts and redundancies at ETB have left the BTA facing increased costs if it is to pick up the tab for things which the English Tourist Board can no longer afford to do or watch while valuable functions are dropped or drastically scaled down.

On a wider scale, in looking at facilities which are of importance to visitors overseas, the Government have, without apparent consistent reason, treated England, Scotland and Wales differently. Why has the English Tourist Board been required by the Department of National Heritage to review its involvement with accommodation classification and grading schemes, when the Scottish Tourist Board, with, I understand,

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Scottish Office backing, has been developing similar schemes in Scotland? Why has the value of the English Tourist Board's work with tourist information centres been questioned when that of the Scottish Tourist Board and Wales Tourist Board has not? The overseas visitor has the same need for information on where to go and what to see, the same need for reassurance on accommodation quality, wherever he is in our country. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me today that the Government's commitment to these important aspects of the English Tourist Board's work is not in doubt and that funding will continue.

A truly national approach to the challenges facing the tourism industry is needed if we are to succeed in helping this country maintain, let alone improve, its market share. I hope that the Government will be working towards achieving this, not least by supporting the work of the national tourist boards against consistent criteria for England, Scotland and Wales in persuading our people to take more holidays here and in encouraging the highest standards in what we offer to our visitors from home and abroad, and by continuing to back the excellent work of the British Tourist Authority overseas. I understand that the boards are making substantial progress in working more closely together on marketing and development issues. May I hope to see the Government adopting a similar Britain-wide stance? It will be to the benefit of us all.

7.59 p.m.

Baroness White: My Lords, I too wish to pay a brief tribute to our friend and colleague the late Lord Pitt of Hampstead. I first met him in 1959 when I lived in Hampstead. But much later on in 1964 I was the last ever Parliamentary Secretary in the Colonial Office, before it was absorbed by the Commonwealth Office. I found that David's reputation and his name opened many doors in the Caribbean which would otherwise have remained closed. There can be few people held in such esteem simultaneously in their own country and in high office in the United Kingdom, as was abundantly true of David Pitt. That includes, of course, his work for the London Tourist Board.

My own concern about contemporary tourism in the United Kingdom is centred in my own country, which is Wales. With the desperate decline in the major industries of coal and steel and in certain areas of agriculture, proportionately tourism is far more important for Wales than it is for England. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, who opened the debate will, I am sure, bear that in mind. It is a very obvious consideration to those of us who live and work in Wales.

I do not agree very often with the Secretary of State for Wales. What he is doing for local government is extremely disturbing. But in the matter of tourism he has been genuinely helpful. Last May he launched the Wales Tourist Board's current strategy, "Tourism 2000", which has won considerable praise.

The Wales Tourist Board is one of the four set up in 1969. It is now an independent statutory body financed primarily by the Welsh Office. In 1992 Wales obtained legal consent to market directly overseas, which was bestowed on Scotland in 1984. The Wales Tourist Board

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has proceeded from strength to strength and taken over some of the responsibilities of the Welsh Development Agency in promoting private sector activities.

Should some noble Lords believe that these initiatives in Wales might fragment British overseas touring interests, I am assured that the precise opposite has happened. There is now the most carefully co-ordinated programme drawn up by the Wales Tourist Board with the British Tourist Authority and with BTA managers overseas.

People in Wales have become steadily more active and interested, especially where North America is concerned. Just recently we sent a delegation across the Atlantic which included not only officials and business people, but our outstanding soloist, Bryn Terfel, our "special ambassador" from the Land of Song. He sang at the Metropolitan.

At home the Wales Tourist Board has established excellent customer-care training schemes, particularly for small and family businesses, so far with over 20,000 participants. That is a pretty good record. In 1984 only two tourist information centres in Wales were open throughout the year. Now there are nearly 50.

I could go on but time forbids. We are doing very well, thank you, in Wales. Independence has paid off well. We should be allowed to expand and to thrive. I have no doubt that that is the best course for Wales and for Britain.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Walpole: My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for giving me the opportunity of perhaps catching up with tourism. I have to declare an interest in that I run two very small tourist attractions. I have been a member of the East Anglian Tourist Board since it started. I was chairman for some six years and have been vice-president for the past six years, so I feel that I know something about tourism as it was.

It is getting late because of a certain Welsh question which we had just now. They are different from people in London. People in East Anglia, and particularly in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, are also very different from people in London. They have felt that for a very long time. Over the past few years I have watched with dismay the amount of money which the Government have handed out to the national tourist boards diminishing in real terms, particularly to the English Tourist Board. As far as I am concerned, support from the English Tourist Board to the regional boards has also diminished; perhaps not as rapidly, but certainly it has diminished. This year the East Anglian Tourist Board will expect to get some £60,000 less from the English Tourist Board than it had the year before.

I ask the Minister this question: do the Government still support the concept of regional boards or do they expect members of the boards to pick up that shortfall? Is this in fact a form of creeping privatisation? I have noticed also that the London Tourist Board—bless it because when I was involved with tourist boards it was in a fairly parlous state—has managed to attract yet further money from the Government, I believe from

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Vision 2000. I also noticed that in the last Budget statement a certain amount of what I would have called "tourist money" went to the CBI. I understand that it has a tourist action group which is looking into benchmarking.

Can the Government tell me how they view the London Tourist Board's work? Is it something particularly special? How do the Government view the work of the CBI in its relationship with the English Tourist Board? I am a little out of date, but can the Minister define what "benchmarking" actually means and why the national tourist boards cannot do it themselves?

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, has already touched on standards. Do the Government support the English Tourist Board's decision to give classification to accommodation more like that in Scotland than has been run in England for the past 10 years or so, or are the Government still sitting on the fence and not giving advice?

Do the Government still support the concept of tourist information centres being subsidised—as, indeed, they are —not in their actual day-to-day running, but in their training and the host of things which make tourist information centres places which the public should aim for? I believe that the native public should also go to tourist information centres. They are not just for foreigners. Do the Government believe, as I suspect, that the network of tourist information centres is now secure, mature and should be self-supporting? Perhaps that also should be privatised. I fear what would happen if it were. The larger tourism operators would in fact take advantage of it and any form of privatisation would militate against the thousands of smaller attractions, which would not be able to afford to use the network.

I now turn to green tourism. Not long ago that concept seemed to find favour with both the Government and the tourist boards. Perhaps I may quote from a recent letter from the English Tourist Board to the Council for the Protection of Rural England in response to a request for a meeting on the subject. The English Tourist Board stated:

    "Having lost over half our total staff numbers in two years, it has become increasingly difficult to find time for some of the things which are important rather than urgent. Hence, at least for the time being, much of our work of 'sustainability' has had to be put on the back burner".

That is to say, the English Tourist Board has not the resources to carry out green tourism. Would the Minister like to comment on that one? Finally, I understood that the Government were about to issue a policy statement on tourism. When will that emerge or are we in for a major statement tonight?

8.10 p.m.

Lord Wise: My Lords, I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lord Mountevans for raising this question this evening, but perhaps I should say first that this debate gives me an opportunity to join in the tributes that have been paid to our late friend Lord Pitt. I valued his friendship and was always very grateful for the friendly and sound advice that he gave me so readily on

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the many occasions on which I sought it. I shall miss him—perhaps not least for—how shall I put it?—his merry little chuckle.

The debate also gives us an opportunity to discuss briefly the tourism industry. I should like to dwell on the status of the smaller hotels. We all agree about the vital importance of the industry to our balance of payments problems. My noble friend dwelt on that. If tourism's importance is to continue, it is essential that visitors obtain good value for money whatever the standard of the hotel in which they choose to stay. They would then return home happily, spread the good news about the excellence of our accommodation, and other visitors would flock in. Sadly, I do not believe that that is always the case—certainly not in London in the relatively smaller hotels. There are innumerable complaints.

It is most important that there is some control to uphold standards. At the moment, hoteliers can fill in a form stating the type of accommodation and facilities that they offer and thereby obtain a relevant crown rating, albeit without the tourist board commendation. But there is no guarantee that those facilities will remain. The bar or restaurant may be open in the evenings or it may be closed. Such hoteliers advertise in tourist board brochures. When the foreign visitor sees four stars or a crown, he thinks that that is all that he needs to know. The fact that there is no tourist board commendation is immaterial to him because it means nothing to him. He probably will not understand it anyway. As the standards are lower in such hotels than in four-star commended hotels, prices are slightly lower so tourists go to those and are often bitterly disappointed. He may complain, but if he has booked for a week, he will have to pay for that. In any case, he probably will not be able to get in anywhere else. With his possibly small command of the language, he is at a tremendous disadvantage, but the hotelier does not care. He will never see the tourist again anyway.

I understand that the Department of National Heritage, which sponsors the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board, has conducted a review of the work of the tourist boards. In its report it said that it wants to give priority to reinvigorating the accommodation sector and to further strengthening the grading and classification scheme. Indeed, holiday homes and caravan parks are already quality graded as an integral part of the classification inspection process. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister can tell me whether the Government have ever considered legislation giving tourist boards powers to operate a licensing scheme on which it would be obligatory for all hotels to register. That could be self-financing given that at present in order to achieve commended status a fee has to be paid to the board. If all hotels participated, the fee would be correspondingly less and affordable, and revenue would be generated. Such a scheme within the quality grading and classification process would do much to improve standards and value for money in hotels of all levels. That power could easily be delegated to the tourist boards to enforce. It would bring about more competition within the industry as hotels would start renovating and upgrading in order to compete.

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However, if individual small hotels are to start investing their capital in order to upgrade, they need more incentives for expansion. That means that there must be some relaxation in the very stringent planning regulations. If a small hotel wishes to acquire a vacant adjoining property in order to expand, it seems that at present there is very little hope of it being granted planning permission for a change of use. Even though it could clearly demonstrate that the demand was there, it is highly unlikely that it would get that permission. One often wonders why. In fact, one often wonders about planning.

I know of one relatively small hotel in London. It is an excellent hotel. It is absolutely first-class and, if not the best, it is one of the best of its kind in London. That hotel has a small plaque outside the front door showing its tourist board four-crown commendation. The plaque is not in anyone's way. It is not obstructing anyone's vision and I cannot see what harm it is doing, but it has to be taken down. Why? Because no other hotel in that area has such a sign. But that hotel is the only hotel in that area to be entitled to such a plaque, so why should it not let the visitor looking for accommodation know it? It seems to me to be bureaucracy gone mad, but I suppose that that is the planners' thinking.

Visitors from overseas want to come to London. They want to come to Britain. We do not want them to go away unhappy and if we are to compete with the other capitals and countries of Europe we must make sure that they do not. Given the powers, the tourist boards are the means of ensuring that.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I too must express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for making this debate possible and for his words about Lord Pitt, whom we have sadly lost. Many noble Lords knew David Pitt a lot longer than I did. I first met him 20 years ago when I signed him up as, I think, the first Labour parliamentarian to join the then National Committee for Electoral Reform. I know from talking to him just before his sad death that he was much encouraged by progress in that area. He was a good friend to many noble Lords and is very much missed.

Tourism is an important subject. The OECD predicts that by the turn of the century tourism will be the largest single industry in the world, so it is relevant to ask how we are doing in Britain. How do we measure up? There have been some signal successes and we should express our appreciation to the many people who work creatively in tourism for those successes.

Overall, however—the Government should be concerned about this—we are not doing as well as we should. Our market share of global tourism has fallen over the past decade from approximately 6 per cent. to approximately 4.3 per cent. Had we maintained our market share, it would have added about 10 per cent. in employment terms to the 1.5 million people who are employed in the tourism industry—in other words, perhaps another 150,000 jobs. It would certainly have produced in earnings or revenue another £9 billion to add to the £30 billion that tourism already represents, with all that that would have meant for our balance of

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payments. So we are talking about something that is of the greatest possible significance to the national economy. If one is not doing as well as one should—I do not think that that point is arguable—I suppose that any competent marketing manager in industry would ask "Why?" and would raise questions about the product, its price and promotion. Such a marketing manager would ask, "What could we do better?"

As regards the product, this beautiful country may not have dependable sun, surf or snow, but it has some of the most incomparably beautiful countryside in the world. We have a wealth of historical buildings and a vibrant contemporary culture. There is nothing wrong with the product in Britain as a whole or in Wales, Scotland or the regions. This is an attractive place for people to visit. The answer must lie in the marketing—the way we present the country and the prices we set (the prices of our hotels are high compared to those in many other parts of the world); the service we offer; our salesmanship; and, above all, the marketing budget. Are we spending enough in the right way to promote this country's tourism around the world?

The noble Lord, Lord Walpole, asked about bench-marking. I do not want to anticipate the Minister's reply, but I believe that bench-marking means measuring oneself against the best of the competition. I wonder whether we are doing as well as we should internationally against the best of the competition. That is why the tourist boards are important and why it is important to have a clear statement of the Government's intentions and whether they are honourable; whether they see the tourist boards having a continuing and, I hope, an expanding place in the constellation of marketing effort that goes into British tourism.

There are problems. The Minister will know that Bill Davis, the former chairman of the BTA, said:

    "the Government have no consistent strategy. I have served three different Secretaries of State, all of whom had their own priorities".

There is a question about consistency. This is an area where we must think long term, as other countries and the regions of other countries do. There is the question of co-ordination. There are so many departments involved. There are the Departments of Transport, the Environment and National Heritage. In the Government's own paper Tourism in the UK they talked about establishing strong and co-ordinated leadership for all tourism sectoral interests. Co-ordination is demonstrably not as good as it should be. Now we have the cutbacks to which several noble Lords have referred. The English tourist boards have lost over half their staff numbers in the past two years.

I should like to ask the Minister about Northern Ireland, for which I have some responsibilities from these Benches. Now that Northern Ireland is relatively so much more peaceful and the prospects of it becoming permanently peaceful are improving, it must become a more attractive tourist location than it already is. It is a most attractive place to visit. Do the Government see the new situation demanding more investment to promote Northern Ireland? What are their intentions on that

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score? Will they continue to work with the Republic of Ireland to present the island of Ireland's attractions as a whole, especially in the United States?

Perhaps I may conclude by urging three points of action on the Government. The first is that they reverse the cuts. The second is that they should promote green tourism and make it possible to do that in the context of ensured environmental sustainability. The final point is one that the Government should take seriously. Some kind of equalisation and review mechanism is needed. It cannot be fair that in south-west England, for instance, it is local residents, whether through the unified business rate or water charges, who have to bear the heavy costs of making that region more attractive to tourists because it benefits us all if visitors come here to go to that part of the world. Is it sensible that local residents should bear the entire cost, as they do at present?

8.24 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I apologise to the House for how I look and how I sound, but I am not well.

I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for initiating the debate. From this Front Bench I want to respond to the moving tributes that have been paid to our dear comrade David Pitt. They were made first most eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. We all know that David Pitt was a man of immense energy, passion and emotion. He made countless friends for the causes he espoused, none more so than for the Caribbean. Undoubtedly, his West Indian credentials will have helped, but it was his deep love of London and its peoples which fitted him so well for his role as deputy chairman of the London Tourist Board. There never was an opportunity to promote or protect London or the Caribbean which he allowed to pass. He brought to both, his unique blend of wisdom mixed with humour, and laced with plain common sense. His stature in tourism, as in all other fields, was of the highest. We mourn a good man who left an indelible impression on the London and the Londoners whom he loved, and who loved him in return.

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