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7.45 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for tabling this Unstarred Question. I share his enthusiasm for the North West and its wide range of attractions. The more people we can get there, the better

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for everybody. I should like to follow the noble Lord, first, by supporting his views about the importance of Manchester Airport. The implementation of his well put suggestions would benefit the airport enormously.

It has been estimated that by the year 2000 tourism will be the world's biggest industry. The North West is an important economic area of the United Kingdom and it is therefore important that it should benefit from that growing industry and that it should have available the resources and opportunities to allow it to grow with that world demand. The North West has many other advantages, but they might be even greater if a little attention were paid to them.

Better and more effective co-ordination of the North West's very different tourism attractions is needed. I am thinking of attractions as diverse as Blackpool and the Lake District. Ever-increasing traffic is a problem, caused in part by the growth of day trips. The pattern of tourism is always changing. When the RDA is established, perhaps it will be instrumental in achieving a more organised approach.

There is certainly a lack of co-operation between local tourist and planning authorities when developing and promoting tourist areas. My own city of Chester has encountered considerable problems in trying to co-ordinate an approach to enable the city to take advantage of tourism opportunities while trying to meet some of the planning pressures encountered by our older cities. During my period in your Lordships' House, I have pressed both governments on this and have asked them to look more seriously at the implications of planning decisions because it appears that the planning authorities do not always consider the general well being of an area.

As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, the North West lacks a national "must visit" tourist destination. This would raise important planning issues, but the North West of England needs one major tourist attraction. That would make marketing the region a lot easier. At the moment, our attractions are diverse and we have to market a range of attractions and activities, including Blackpool, the Lake District and the City of Chester. One major attraction of world renown would have a major impact on what we can achieve in the region.

We also need effective transport planning. The North West has very good motorway links, but we do not have such good links to the areas that the tourists actually want to visit. We need greater understanding of how we can tackle overcrowding on our side roads which are used by tourists.

It is of interest that tourists do not visit as they once did. At one time, a tourist would visit Blackpool for a week; now he visits for a day. As a result, the ability of a town to offer the right facilities to tourists has changed dramatically. Transport authorities need to be much more aware of the changes. Some 38,000 jobs in the rural areas in the North West of England depend on the tourist industry. This House has had many debates on the future of the rural economy and the requirement for greater growth. The tourist industry can be one of the best providers of new job opportunities within rural

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areas and should be considered very carefully by the Government particularly when developing their rural policy.

There is speculation that the Government may scrap the English Tourist Board. It would be a very bad thing if that happened. Perhaps the Minister can refer to that matter in winding up the debate.

Competition from abroad is now fuelled very much by the strength of sterling. No doubt as time goes on this will change. Today the world-wide holidaymaker has much higher expectations of quality. What we could have got away with at one time is no longer acceptable. If the tourist board or a similar organisation is to continue it must try constantly to raise standards and provide what the public want.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, has referred to the Commonwealth Games. However, one is considering not only those games but a major festival of academia and other cultural activities that take place at the same time. The promotion of such major events which take place not only in Manchester but throughout the whole of the North West and the provision of resources and opportunities in that area will be very important. I hope that the Government will take heed of what is said in this short debate.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Montague of Oxford: My Lords, reference has been made to the possible closure of the English Tourist Board. I do not propose to dwell upon that. I am quite sure that the Government are alive to what needs to be done to promote tourism. If they have in mind better arrangements, we await them with interest. As a director of Jarvis Hotels, with many hotels in the North West and a total of 70 in this country, including Planet Hollywood, and theme restaurants that employ 700 people in the Leicester Square area alone, I am well aware of the importance of having good facilities and interesting things for people to see and do.

I am much struck by what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, about the promotion of a major attraction in the North West. During my six years as chairman of the English Tourist Board I have visited the North West on a regular basis. One of its marvellous attractions to which I draw particular attention is Blackpool. Blackpool is a major attraction, but it requires modernisation. Blackpool needs better conference and exhibition facilities. It is untrue that the Labour Party has left Blackpool and will not be holding any more conferences there. We shall skip one year only. We shall be there this year. I am sure that I speak for everyone on this side of the House when I say that we look forward to being in Blackpool this year. But I respectfully suggest that it is time to consider whether some contemporary conference and exhibition facilities should be developed further to improve that extremely important seaside resort.

It is essential to raise standards throughout the country, not merely in Blackpool, and that depends on getting tourists into the regions. More tourists mean greater profits; greater profits mean reinvestment; and reinvestment means new investment. That is what is

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required throughout the country. We also need to raise the standards of the personnel who serve visitors. Some are still a little gruff and unfriendly. I was not surprised to read today in the newspapers that British Airways had some new ideas about how its cabin staff should respond to please visitors. That must be done in all areas of tourism.

We must also be sensitive to the fact that not everyone welcomes tourists. I refer to my experiences in Oxford. I have said in this Chamber before that Oxford is schizophrenic about tourists. Tourists provide very meagre economic benefits and irritate residents by creating a good deal of congestion without a reward. I hope that those who are responsible for tourism in both central and local government will keep a constant eye on that problem. That applies particularly to London. We must try to get more tourists out of London. Surely, tourists who come here on second visits should make London simply an entry point for the purposes of seeing the rest of the beauty and interests of our wonderful country.

This is the time of devolution for Scotland, Wales and London. We must also be cautious about wasting public money. Inadvertently, we may create a good deal of duplication. For example, if we asked the British Tourist Authority to do some of the work that had been done by the English Tourist Board it might create suspicion. The tourist boards for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and perhaps even London might want to establish their own branches overseas in the belief that they could do the job better than the British Tourist Authority. That would be very unfortunate and we must guard against it.

We have been hearing about how well tourism is doing. One in five of all new jobs is created in tourism. Between 1.7 million and 2.2 million people are employed in tourism. People argue about the correct figures. There is a slight decline in inward tourism. For the first time since records were kept we have witnessed the largest quarterly deficit in the tourism account. There is some important work to be done. Therefore, it is timely that the Government appear to be reviewing this matter, although it is being done in the name of the public expenditure round. Thank goodness that that information will, we hope, be available next week and that the sword of Damocles which is now suspended over the head of the English Tourist Board will be removed and the difficulty resolved one way or another. In any sector of commerce there is nothing worse than uncertainty. Uncertainty is plaguing tourism at the moment.

7.57 p.m.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, those of us with roots in the North West are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for giving the House this opportunity to encourage the growth of the tourist industry in that region. Tourism and the jobs that go with it are absolutely vital for the future prosperity of an area that has long suffered decline.

I felt it most important to add my name to the list of speakers this evening in order to give some balance, not in the party political sense but in relation to the famous

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rivalry between Manchester men and Liverpool gentlemen. I had not appreciated that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, began his political career in Liverpool, as I did. Liverpool was part of my territorial designation. I was Member of the European Parliament for Liverpool following the first direct elections in 1979. At that time I was very much involved in a number of major European Community-funded infrastructure projects which have helped tourism in Liverpool and the whole area. For example, in 1984 we had the International Garden Festival. We have had the refurbishment of the Albert Docks and the opening-up of the South Docks which have had such a tremendous environmental impact. On one occasion--it may have been the end of the Tall Ships race which was a glamorous occasion for the Mersey or when we were extending the Maritime Museum--the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, visited as chairman of the English Tourist Board. He was helpful and encouraging.

As many noble Lords will be aware, I am a trustee of the National Museums and Galleries of Merseyside. It is one of my ongoing commitments to the area. We have had the vexed subject of entry charges to museums. We struggled not to introduce entry charges, but were eventually obliged to do so. One of my arguments was that the support for museums in London was misguided, because London had so many tourists who could well have paid their way, as they have to pay their way in their own countries. Areas such as the North West should have had more support from the Government. I know that the Minister is sympathetic to that view. Nevertheless, it is important to make the point yet again.

The museums and galleries of Merseyside are a great attraction for tourists. The Maritime Museum is the only Merchant Navy maritime museum. It has a special theme area on Irish emigration which is important for those seeking their roots. There is also the Museum of Atlantic Slavery with which the late Lord Pitt of Hampstead had so much to do. There is also the Walker Gallery. The department responsible for the heritage did a very good job in supporting the Royal Academy's recent regional art exhibition here in London. I have met a number of people who went to that exhibition and who saw paintings from the Walker Gallery in Liverpool and from Manchester's gallery. They said, "I really must go and see the collection on the spot". That was a good move.

There are those, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, who visit Liverpool regularly on a Beatles pilgrimage. There are great sporting events. We have two famous football teams as well as the Grand National course. What about the Grand National? It is an event which takes place on two days a year. The course is virtually unused for the rest of the year. Something should be done to make it a permanent sporting site and a useful centre.

We do our best with conferences. The two Liverpool universities are useful and helpful in promoting conference-type tourism. There is much more that we can do on the theme of education. There is the traditional tourism, which has been referred to, of miles and miles of golden sands at Southport and Crosby which I remember visiting as a child.

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It is clear, as my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton said, that there should be more co-ordination with local authorities as well as central government. I hope that there will be support from the Government for the latest project which is to encourage more ships back to the Mersey. There is a plan to encourage tourist ships to visit the docks in Liverpool. Some dredging of the Mersey is already taking place. It would be helpful if masses of tourists arrived who were based on their tourist ships. They could visit Liverpool and the wider region. I also support my noble friend's suggestion that there should be some major annual event.

I hope that we shall hear what plans the Government have for fitting tourist organisations--in particular, the successful Mersey partnership--into their proposed regional development agency. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Macclesfield: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may intervene. I wish to refer to the possible demise of the English Tourist Board. I would welcome that if we could promote England on a regional basis. I shall not repeat the assets of the North West of which we are already aware. I have experience of arguing for the Olympics to come to Manchester. The tourist board's portrayal abroad of England as traditional, with its guardsmen and its old empire and imperial background, oriented on London, undoubtedly attracted some tourists for this country, but it was counter-productive for the many tourists who might have come here had we shown some of the country's other assets.

We have heard about Liverpool. The last view of mainland Europe for the ancestors of many people was Liverpool docks. That is important for people returning to trace their ancestry. I do not need to elaborate on the Lake District, William Wordsworth and so forth. Chester is a Roman city. I would welcome a move towards regional promotion, because the North West has a great deal to offer. What it offers is different from what other regions offer.

8.6 p.m.

Viscount Thurso: My Lords, when speaking in your Lordships' House I am always struck by the knowledge and experience displayed. This evening has been just one such occasion. From these Benches, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for this opportunity to discuss tourism in the regions. Perhaps I may also offer the apologies of my noble friend Lord McNally, who was unavoidably detained and so is unable to be in his place this evening. I regret especially that he is not here, because he has a great knowledge of the North West, having been a Member of the other place for a constituency in the North West. I was relying upon him to speak with a north western flavour from these Benches, so that I might permit myself to speak on a broader regional theme.

As my noble friend is not here, I shall unfortunately have to confess and display my ignorance of the North West. I think I have only been to any part of the

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North West three times in my life. Once was to stay at the Chester Grosvenor, which was a splendid hotel, and I very much enjoyed my visit; once was a day trip to Blackpool to speak to the British Incoming Tour Operators Association; and the third was a visit to the Granada studios in Manchester to speak at the World Travel and Tourism Council. They were at least worthy causes in aid of tourism, but that, I am afraid, is the extent of my knowledge.

In responding to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, I shall look at the problem of the promotion of regional tourism for all the UK regions. We can all agree on the benefits of tourism. I have had the privilege of speaking on tourism on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House. There are many noble Lords here tonight who have spoken in those same debates. We usually all agree, pretty well, on the benefits of tourism. The noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, gave the figures. We know about the number of jobs and the economic benefits. However, in more and more of your Lordships' debates we now look at the other side of the tourism balance sheet, which has also been mentioned tonight; that is, some of the downsides of tourism. The noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, mentioned them in regard to Oxford. We need now a thought-through planned strategic development of tourism within the framework and objective of sustainable growth. The case for that is becoming much more widely accepted.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, spoke mainly on accessibility and transport, with particular regard to air travel. I shall not touch on that. I agree on the necessity for accessibility and I would underline the case for rail accessibility. A great many people come to the North West from other parts of the UK. We must not forget the domestic tourist. That is an important part of the tourism mix in all regions. Without doubt, an improvement in the rail infrastructure would be helpful.

We need to look at two aspects of tourism in the regions: first, organisation; and, secondly, funding. As regards organisation, we have touched this evening on the potential abolition of the English Tourist Board. There was an article in the Financial Times today. On these Benches we believe there is a clear answer: tourism is a devolved issue and the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly and the Northern Ireland assembly will deal with tourism. We therefore believe it appropriate that that parliament and those assemblies should deal with international and domestic tourism. Accordingly, the organisation whose role should be questioned is the British Tourist Authority. We propose a merger of the ETB and the BTA, calling it the English tourist board. I underline the fact that we would maintain the same level of funding of the two organisations in that one organisation. Each of the devolved countries and the remaining mother country would be responsible for its own promotion. I suspect that as a consequence all four of the tourist boards would quickly come up with a mechanism for promoting Britain. However, the fairest way is to allow them to do so under their own steam.

The second area of organisation is at local level. It is sad that so few people in tourism take part in local tourist board activities. There is clearly an opportunity

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there for considerable development. It is at the local level that the tactical delivery of tourism is so important. I am concerned about the RDAs. They clearly could work well but they are not accountable to local government. They are accountable to central government but have no proposed elected representatives. I am wary of any body which has no elected representatives.

I have mentioned that we should put together funding of the BTA and the ETB in one central organisation. A figure quoted recently is the spend per head. I totally disagree with that. There are more people in England than in the other countries. Therefore whatever figure is chosen, there will be a greater spend per head in the devolved countries than in England. One could say to noble Lords opposite that possibly it should be from each according to his means; and to each according to his needs, but that might be somewhat Old Labour. I move rapidly on.

Clearly to allow each devolved government to spend its own budget is the appropriate way forward. Rather than invidious comparisons between nations, we should allow them to do that. I urge the Minister not to use reorganisation of tourism structure to achieve an unnecessary and extremely small saving on funding which is so important to tourism.

8.12 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for introducing this interesting debate at a moment when tourism in general is highly topical.

Recently the Select Committee in another place on Culture, Media and Sport castigated the Government for neglecting tourism despite the lip service paid to its importance by Ministers and officials. When we were in government we were criticised by many for bringing under one department heritage, museums and the arts together with tourism. Some thought that tourism would dominate the department to such an extent that everything would be treated as a tourist attraction. That did not happen. However, tourism does not feature now even in the unpronounceable acronym which designates the department. This is symptomatic of the low priority that tourism is granted.

I agree with the Select Committee of the DCMS that there is the strong,

    "impression that tourism is viewed as the Cinderella of the Department".
It is greatly neglected, notwithstanding the economic importance of the sector. Contributing 5 per cent. to GDP, it is the third largest British industry. Britain as a destination ranks fifth in the world tourist market and is growing, as my noble friend Lord Wade so rightly said. It attracted 26 million visitors last year whose main reason for coming here is our great heritage and traditions. If I were the marketing director of Britain Inc, I should be very pleased, though not complacent, with the success of our product. Furthermore, on the basis of those facts I should be very cautious about launching a rebranding exercise across the board.

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Britain does not need a new image, nor mega PR stunts like the Millennium Experience. It needs an enlightened Government to act at a number of levels, supporting specific tourist attractions. As we heard from my noble friend Lady Hooper, in the North West the Tate in Liverpool, nearby the National Museum of Photography in Bradford and the Royal Armories in Leeds have contributed to raise the profiles of those cities. For instance, the Royal Armories attracts 60 per cent. of its visitors from outside Leeds and its immediate surroundings and 9 per cent. from abroad.

In Trafford, Daniel Liebeskind's project for the Imperial War Museum rivals in daring and beauty Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It may fail to find the necessary funds as a direct consequence of the changes to the National Lottery rules. I urge the Minister to press the Government to back this excellent scheme, in particular as it contributes to the regeneration of a large derelict area.

Beyond those specific measures the Government must do more to get the right framework in which tourism can flourish. The publication of a new strategy for tourism is being postponed, and in addition there is great uncertainty about future funding. Will the regional tourist boards lose the 20 per cent. from the English Tourist Board if the latter is to be abolished? What alternative arrangements are being made? Will funding be channelled via the Regional Development Authority? If so, what role will the RTB play in it?

Other than creating uncertainty--so well stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Montague--the Government have initiated yet another review: tourism towards sustainability, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, mentioned. Sustainability is the panacea of the moment, the politically correct policy par excellence. In the consultation paper, the Government put forward too rosy a picture. It sounds like a matchmaker extolling the virtues of marriage to young naive couples. In a number of cases tourism and the environment can be married successfully, as in the effective traffic management techniques adopted in Chester. In other cases, marriage can be made to work, for instance, through incentive schemes for the industry such as the Green Lantern. But sometimes it is not possible. In such cases, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said on another occasion, "conservation should always prevail". Will the Government acknowledge this?

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, concentrated many of his remarks on Manchester airport, and quite rightly so, as airports are the main gateway for incoming tourists. Gateways, however, are only one facet of a transport network which helps tourism, and sustainable tourism in particular. We should like to add our voice to the chorus calling for an integrated transport policy. But how long will we have to wait for it? Will it address the transport requirements of sustainable tourism?

Furthermore, how long will it take for the Government to understand that more regulation is damaging? We understood the significance of regulation or deregulation. For example, we removed the prohibition on 16 and 17 year-old apprentices working in bars. Most importantly for all business, and tourism

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in particular, we negotiated an opt-out to the social chapter. By signing up to it, this Government have opened the floodgates to a raft of legislation. Some is highly damaging, like the part-time workers directive and proposals for fixed term workers' treatment, as well as compulsory consultation in establishments with over 50 employees. Will the Minister give assurances that the Government will build flexibility in implementing measures of the existing directives and that they will oppose the current proposals?

We are all aware that one of the most important factors today discouraging tourism is the strength of the pound. The social chapter, together with the introduction of the minimum wage and the working time directive, are likely to increase the industry's costs and make it less competitive. It is impossible to quantify exactly by how much, but inevitably higher costs will affect inbound tourism, in particular in areas such as the North West.

The tourism industry is thus constrained by a strong pound and by environmental as well as social policy imperatives. In these circumstances, are the Government prepared to look at tax measures to help tourism? In particular, are they prepared to reduce VAT on accommodation? I look forward to the Minister's answers.

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